That time when I met the Legendary Queen Afua and decided to make peace (once and for all) with my emotionally unstable vagina
During the summer of 2013, I made three good decisions.
I tried Airbnb for the first time.
I bought a ticket to go see “You’re Causing Quite a Disturbance”, a live performance by Erykah Badu and the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra at BAM, in New York.
After three decades of a quite uncivil war, I decided to make peace — once and for all — with my emotionally unstable vagina.
First decision was easy. A couple of weeks before the summer, as I was riding the streetcar downtown Toronto, a girlfriend had casually asked me “Hey, have you ever tried Airbnb?” and I had casually answered “No, what’s R, B, and B?”
“It’s people renting out a room in their houses or apartments to make extra money. Cheaper than a hotel, mainly clean, and if you’re lucky, your hosts are going to be super nice and friendly.”
Cheaper than a hotel? Nice and friendly hosts? And she meant to tell me that I wouldn’t have to sleep in the bunk bed of an overcrowded youth hostel, or to beg everybody I knew for a night on their maybe-not-so-clean couch the next time I would take my annual trip to New York City? Well, that sounded like a good plan…
“Where do I sign up?”
So that’s how I ended up spending the next couple of days surfing the Internet, in an attempt to book a cozy-but-still-affordable room for my next vacation in the Big Apple. And, since “Lucky” was my middle name, after several hours of looking at everybody’s elaborated profiles, cute apartment pictures, and detailed room descriptions on Airbnb.com, I found the perfect and friendly hosts, who were renting the perfect and friendly room, in their perfect and friendly neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant (aka Bed-Stuy), in Da Republic of Brooklyn. And, I don’t know if it was the beginner’s luck, but I must say that everything worked out quite well. I couldn’t have dreamed of a duo of more perfect hosts... Her, 5-foot-3, red and curly hair, a New York city teacher from 9 to 5, and contemporary African-American art collector from 5 to 9. Him, 6-foot-2, long thick dreadlocks, a wine connoisseur by day and jazz musician by night, who owned a more than impressive jazz vinyl record collection. And, since happiness never comes alone, my new temporary landlords were just so happening to be organizing a party at their house on the night of my arrival... Of course, they invited me to be a part of it.
“Don’t feel like you’re obligated to. But, if you want to join us upstairs for a couple of hours… Feel free”, the curly red hair teacher informed me, as I was settling down in my new room.
And how can one say no when it’s asked so kindly?
So this is how I found myself partying at the house of my new landlords, on my first night back in New York City. It was quite the experience. My hipster hosts had a circle of equally hipster friends, who were coming from all over the city. Next thing I knew, I was in the company of musicians, models, artists, writers… It was as if I had been invited to one of Jay Gatsby’s infamous parties, except that we were in Brooklyn and not in Long Island. And that most of the guests were Black… Naturally, my French Parisian accent came in handy among Brooklyn’s finest.
“Oh, you grew up in Paris? Really?”
Paris is always a good conversation starter when you’re in New York… And vice-versa. However, after a few hours of nice cocktails and yummy appetizers, I decided that it was time for me to exit the party and to make my way back to my cosy and friendly room, because, as was usually the case when I was visiting New York City, my schedule was quite full, and I had to save some energy for what was coming next. And what was coming next was good decision number 2, meaning the fact that I had booked a concert ticket to go see the fabulous Miss Badu — also known as fatbellybella, also known as Maria Mexico, also known as analog girl in a digital world — who was scheduled to perform with three back up singers and a 40-piece orchestra at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
I had already seen Miss Badu perform live in Toronto a couple of years before, but there was something fresh and appealing about this new show that had prompted me to book a Megabus ticket from Toronto to New York, to make sure that I wouldn’t miss it: the pairing of the artist also known as DJ lo down Loretta Brown, with the awesomeness of the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra. They were said to be working jointly on a reimagined version of her 2008 album New Amerykah: Part One. I was thrilled. Not that I had ever needed much of an excuse to go pay a visit to the Big Apple, but the perspective of seeing “You’re Causing Quite A Disturbance” was the extra incentive that I needed at the time.
And, as one should have expected, Miss Badu delivered an incredible performance, filled with her always inspired harmonies, and supported by the Philharmonic Orchestra’s clever new arrangements for New Amerykah: Part One. I followed along as an enthusiastic crowd of well-dressed Brooklynites were throwing their hands up in the air, and singing all the lyrics of Badu’s classic hits like Twinkle, Me or my personal favorite, The Healer. In other words, the show was very good.
By the end of the concert, I felt refreshed and rejuvenated. I was ready to go home to have sweet dreams made of J Dilla beats and magical harmonies, but I needed to do just one more thing before heading off to the subway: go and use the bathrooms. I had miraculously survived two hours of show without feeling the urge to go, but, at this point, I knew that there was no way that I would be able to make it back to my Airbnb crib without a mandatory stop in the ladies’ rooms first. However, like after any live performance, the lineup to use the restrooms was ridiculously long. One had to wait for a good fifteen minutes in line... It was kinda frustrating. The line was beautiful to look at though. It felt like we were all attending a #blackgirlmagic fashion show. A sea of sisters of many different shapes and shades were all standing there, in style, sporting the latest cornrows, two-strand twists, dreadlocks, box braids, and side-shaved afros; and everyone was busy discussing the songs of “You’re Causing Quite A Disturbance”, while touching up their lipsticks and fixing their foundations.
When my turn to stand at the head of the line finally came, a beautiful sister wearing what looked like custom-made bright green pants was exiting from the bathrooms. She held the door for a couple of seconds for me, while I made my way inside. Then I executed the gymnastic routine known by many women as the “do-not-let-your-bum-touch any-part-of-that-bathroom’s-seat” for a full ten seconds, before I realized that a rectangular object had been left at the top of the toilet paper dispenser. I shook my head and sighed. The sister wearing the fancy bright green pants had forgotten her shiny and brand new iPhone, right there, in the ladies’ room…
My first thought was: “There really should be a sign in the bathrooms that says “Don’t text and pee.” But, it was not exactly the right time to play the copywriter… Maybe the young woman was still in the restrooms’ area, waiting outside to come and pick up her phone? I pulled up my pants, grabbed the shiny iPhone, and then opened the bathroom’s door. Another young woman was already waiting impatiently for her turn to get in. I held the door for her and then looked around to see if I could find the smartphone’s owner. But, no... The sister with the bright green pants was nowhere to be seen…
Alright then… I went to wash my hands and tried to think about what to do next. I honestly could not remember what that young woman’s face looked like. I remembered that she was Black. And that she was wearing her hair natural. And smelling like a mix of coconut oil and Pink hair lotion. So basically, she fitted the description of approximately two-thirds of the women who had just attended the show. This was Fort Greene, Brooklyn, after all… My chances of finding her were extremely extremely slim… But maybe I could try to see if BAM had a desk for Lost and Founds? Or maybe the sister with the bright green pants was already on the lookout for me ? But if I could barely remember what her face looked like, I highly doubted that she was in a position to remember what my own face looked like. What were the odds? Had she even noticed that she had lost her phone? And, most importantly, why did I even care?
It was true that maybe I should not have cared that much, and maybe I should have just left that phone to its own fate in the BAM’s public bathrooms, but I couldn’t help but feeling that this was important. I had to find the phone’s owner. There wasn’t going to be any “Oh my God, I went to see Badu’s show at BAM today, and then I lost my phone” type of conversation tonight. Not on my watch… I could still remember how, the previous summer, I had forgotten a beautiful and fancy belt in the seat of a Broadway theatre, and how, when I had gone back the next day to double-check if anyone had found it, a theatre employee had laughed straight to my face for two long minutes…
“Sweetie, this is New York City… Did you seriously think for a second that anyone would bring that belt here back for you?”
And then, more laughter had ensued... I had left the theatre embarrassed and pissed off at whomever had found and kept my cute belt. Or maybe I was just mad at myself for having forgotten it there in the first place. And that was only for a belt. Losing a smartphone would have been way worse for me. I couldn’t afford to lose my phone. My whole life was saved in it... I didn’t know if it was the same situation for this particular young sister, but I knew I had to find her. And maybe she wouldn’t know how to recognize my face, but I, on the contrary, had a precious piece of information about her: I knew that she was wearing some fancy and custom-made bright green pants. That outfit alone could help set her apart in the crowd… Or so I thought. I started looking for her and these pants everywhere I could think of inside of BAM (upstairs, downstairs, east, west, north, south), but the sister had turned into the Invisible Woman. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack. Maybe she had left the venue already? Meanwhile, the BAM security guards were trying hard to force everyone outside of the building, since the show was over. On my way down to the main floor, I ran into a group of youth who were still loudly sharing their views about the performance, despite the fact that two security guards had already told them twice to go finish their discussion outside.
“Wasn’t it amazing?”
“She didn’t sing Honey though.”
“And where was Yasiin Bey? Wasn’t he supposed to perform tonight too?”
“Nah, he cancelled just two days ago…”
I felt like interrupting them to ask them if, by any chance, they had seen a young Black woman wearing some fancy and bright green pants somewhere in this area, but I didn’t know how to bring the topic without sounding too creepy or stalkerish… I also thought for a second about leaving the iPhone in the security guards’ capable hands, but nah… My guts were telling me that if I were to do that, the sister with the bright green pants would never see the color of her phone again... But on the other hand, I really didn’t want to have to keep that damn phone with me either. I was convinced that it would bring me bad karma. And the last thing that I needed that summer was bad karma…
I was snapped out of my reverie by the security guards.
“Ma’am. We’re going to close the doors soon. Please exit the building this way…”
Ok, that was the end of my rope... If I weren’t able to find that young woman within the next five minutes, I was just going to leave her phone somewhere outside and that was it. I voiced my frustration out loud, while exiting the building.
“Green pants, where are you? If I don’t find you within the next five minutes…”
Well, “ask and you shall receive”, as the saying goes, because right at that moment, I saw her... The sister with the bright green pants!!! Fi-na-lly! Standing outside of BAM, having a great conversation with two of her girlfriends. Giggling and being totally carefree. She was kinda cute too, I thought, now that I was able to reconcile her pants with her face. I made my way to the girlfriends’ circle and tried to interrupt their conversation:
“Hmm, excuse me.”
But the three women paid absolutely no attention to me, and carried on with their conversation as if I were invisible... I made a second attempt, this time talking a little louder and double-tapping on the shoulder of the sister with the bright green pants to get her attention.
“Hmm, EXCUSE ME”.
The conversation stopped abruptly. Three pair of brown eyes started looking at me from head to toe, calmly evaluating if they should ask me what I wanted or get ready to jump me. I was quick to pull the shiny iPhone out of my purse to avoid any misunderstanding, and handed it over to its rightful owner.
“You left this in the bathrooms…”
The three women all looked at the phone, then at me, and then at the phone again. Then, the sister with the bright green pants shouted:
“Oh my God, that’s my phone!”
Clearly, she had not even noticed yet that she had left it in the bathrooms behind her… Le sigh. “No texting and peeing” should really be mandatory, I thought.
The sister’s girlfriends seemed to be agreeing with me.
“Girl, you left your phone in the bathrooms? For real?”
“Sis, you’ve just bought that phone…”
But with that being said, they both instinctively reached inside their purses to double-check if their own smartphones were still there.
The sister with the bright green pants turned towards me with a face full of gratitude.
“Oh, thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”
I gave her a smile in return.
“You’re welcome! I didn’t want you to go home without it…”
I was about to leave the trio alone and head off to the subway, but the sister with the bright green pants had a last question for me.
“But wait, how did you even find me?”
I smiled at my own prowess, kinda proud of my great photographic memory.
“Well, you can say thank you to these fancy bright green pants that you’re wearing, because they’re the reason why I noticed and remembered you.”
The young lady looked at her pants and started laughing. Oddly enough, my answer made sense. She waved me goodbye as I started walking away.
“Thanks again, sis! Have a good night. Stay blessed, ok?”
And voilà! Mission accomplished. This was another great win for Super Bina! But now, it was time for me to go home and go to bed, because I had a busy schedule ahead of me for the next day. And by busy, I meant that it was time for me to focus on good decision number 3: making peace with my va-jay-jay.
To be honest, I had only made decision number 3 out of sheer necessity… Only because my back was against the wall. The war between my private parts and I had recently taken an ugly turn, so I had — albeit reluctantly — came to the decision that an armistice needed to be reached. But bringing that armistice to life required the use of a book. And that book was the Legendary Queen Afua’s latest book, which was aptly titled: Overcoming an angry vagina.
Now let’s backtrack here for a minute, shall we?
Allow me to say that this was not my first foray into the Legendary Queen Afua’s work... I, like any other self-respecting, Goddess fearing, green juice drinking, Black Woman living in North America, had, of course, read most of Queen Afua’s previous publications.
And I, like any other self-respecting, Goddess fearing, green juice drinking, Black Woman living in North America, had circled, highlighted, underlined and bookmarked many times my own copy of Queen Afua’s most revered book: Sacred Woman, A Guide to Healing the Feminine Body, Mind and Spirit.
As a matter of fact, after having ordered that venerable book online, I, like any other self-respecting, Goddess fearing, green juice drinking, Black Woman living in North America, had of course changed all of my eating habits, started anointing my body with sacred oils, read the forty-two laws of ma’at, had meditated on my sacred words, sacred movement, sacred space, had refered to myself as a Sister, a Queen, an Empress, built an altar in my own bedroom, rebelled against Babylon and all that jazz... I was not the kind of sister who was doing things halfway, ok? I had put some goddamn dedication in that healing work.
My vagina was still angry at me. Pissed the fuck off. With no signs of reconciliation in sight. She would wake up and go to bed with a bad attitude every day, as if I had done her wrong in the most unforgivable way. Talk about holding a grudge…
So of course, when I had found out that the Legendary Queen Afua had a new book entitled Overcoming an angry vagina, my immediate thoughts had been: “Jesus, Mary and Joseph! (or “ Heru, Ma’at and Amon!”, depending on your sensibilities), “Queen Afua has written this book just for me!” Ok, maybe I was exaggerating a little bit, but, given my own delicate punany situation, I had valid reasons to believe that this book was a direct gift from Queen Afua to my person…
But, apparently, the Internet strongly disagreed, because Overcoming an angry vagina was nowhere to be found online. I had tried and tried and tried to order it from various online bookstores, but nope…It was totally impossible to place any order. “Not in stock” and “currently not available” were the Internet’s two favorite answers to my request.
The annoying unavailability of that book made me almost regret the time when I had actually held a physical copy of it in my own two hands, but had decided against buying it, because I was short on money. The year was 2012, I had traveled to DC to spend some quality time in Chocolate City, and I was shopping for souvenirs in a famous bookstore named Sankofa. I only had a few dollars left, and there were some other items that I wanted to buy in that bookstore too, so I had told myself : “well, I already have Sacred Woman and Heal Thyself, so Overcoming can wait.” And I had opted to buy a few African films on DVD and one or two Afrocentric books instead. Because yes, when you were a self-respecting, Goddess fearing and green juice drinking Sister paying a visit to DC, of course you absolutely had to go to a bookstore named Sankofa (owned by legendary filmmaker and Howard University professor, Haile Guerima ) and you had to attend Afrocentric talks at the said bookstore, eat all kinds of vegan food, and buy some complex books written by African-American authors who had likely rejected their former names to adopt newer and more Motherland-friendly Swahili names. Like I said, you won’t find me sleeping in the Conscious Sister department, you just won’t... I really did put some time and dedication in that bitch.
But anyway... Back to my 2013 New York City adventures.
Since the Internet was not allowing me to buy a copy of the book that I desperately needed, I had decided that I was going to use the opportunity of being in New York City to go buy it in a physical bookstore. New York was the Mecca of every North American conscious sister, so I knew that if there were only one city on Earth where I would be able to easily find Queen Afua’s book, it had to be there... And I even had found the address of a bookstore in Brooklyn that claimed to have that title in stock. It all sounded like the perfect plan, except for one little detail: I had the worst sense of directions ever. I had always been known for getting lost everywhere, even in my own hometown, so it was no wonder that I had found myself practically unable to locate the bookstore’s address on a map. And in that department , even my nice and friendly Airbnb hosts were of little to no help…
“Are you sure it’s in Brooklyn?” the curly redhead teacher asked me when I showed her the address. “This street name doesn’t look familiar…”
“Why don’t you just order that book on the Internet,” the jazz musician added. “What’s the name of it again?”
“Oh it’s a... It’s a sort of self-help book,” I replied, careful not to reveal its title. “The author is from here, so I thought I would just buy it here since I’m already in New York…”
I could have given the title away, but I didn’t want to start having conversations about my vagina with my hosts. Yes, they were hipsters and everything, but I didn’t know them like that…
“That’s ok... I have a good-ole map of Brooklyn with me. I think I know what the closest subway station to the bookstore is, so I’ll just try to find the address once I get there. Worst case scenario, I”ll just have a lovely walk in Brooklyn this morning.”
On that note, I left my cute Airbnb crib, a New York metropass in one hand, and a Brooklyn map from the Lonely Planet in the other hand, naively thinking that, for once, I would not get lost in the streets of New York. This was all before I had wifi and Google map readily accessible on my phone by the way… The year was 2013, and I was still mainly counting on the fact that I could always rely on the kindness of the good people of New York City to help me find my way in any of the five boroughs. However, maybe I had been a little too optimistic on that one, because every person I would show the bookstore’s address to that morning would just hit me back to with a:
“Where’s that? Is that even in Brooklyn? Nope. Never heard of that address before…”
So, after about forty-five minutes of walking in circles, I had to start facing the harsh reality: I was totally lost and far from finding out what the exact location of that Brooklyn bookstore was…
Also, to make matters worse, even though it had been a bright and sunny day earlier as I had left the house, the weather had since drastically changed, and it was now raining cats and dogs all over Brooklyn. The weather forecast had been very wrong: most channels had predicted that the whole day would be nice and sunny, but the total opposite was happening. Luckily, I had an umbrella with me (being from Toronto where the weather could change six times a day, going from snow, to rain, to sunshine, and to snow again in a blink, having an umbrella with me at all times was second nature), but the rain got so bad eventually, that it almost rendered it useless. At that point, most people had gone back to their houses to avoid the bad weather, and the streets were all empty. Obviously, the day was not progressing according to my plans…
And since when it rains, it pours, my emotional va-jay-jay decided to have a fit just at that moment too. Despite the fact that I had been extremely cautious not to drink anything before leaving the house that morning, the familiar pressure on my bladder was happening again… I needed to go use the bathroom. And it was kinda urgent. But I didn’t know the area at all, so I had no idea where to look for one. And since the streets were empty, I couldn’t ask anyone. I didn’t know how to make my way back to the subway either, as I had walked too far away from it. So basically, my clothes were drenched, I had a half-broken umbrella and my bladder was about to implode. That was an epic fail for Super Bina... How had I even found myself in that situation? I could have just left my ass at home and slept the whole morning but nope, I had to decide to go on an adventure to try to find a book about vaginas. Le sigh... Ok. Now, I needed to focus on how I would get myself out of that mess… The only way I knew how not to pee my pants at that moment was to keep walking. Walking, walking. Movement. Constant movement. That’s how kids did it when they were trying to avoid having “accidents”. And singing. Singing, singing. Moving and singing. That’s how you tricked your brain and made it believe that you didn’t need to go pee any more. It worked for kids, it had to work for adults too... Of course, given the circumstances, the first songs that came to my mind came straight from the catalogue of Miss Badoula. So I turned myself into a walking jukebox, while remembering the lyrics of some of her songs…
My eyes are green cause I eat a lot of vegetables…
Honey, ow, you’re so sweet…
Alhamdulillah Allah Jehovah
Yahweh Dios Ma’at Jah
Rastafari fyah dance, sex, music, hip-hop
Ok, I was starting to get that bladder thing under control… Now, if I could just find that damn bookstore so that I could go buy my book…
Well, “ask and you shall receive”, as the saying goes... I could barely believe it with my own two brown eyes, but yes, it had suddenly appeared in front of me… The address that I had spent the last sixty minutes looking for, and that most Brooklynites were trying to tell me didn’t exist... But it was there, in front of me. Except that it was not a bookstore… It was a house. A residential house. Top floor, main floor and basement. Definitely not a bookstore... There was no way this could even have been a bookstore in the past, because the house looked way too ancient. It hadn’t been built overnight. I looked at my piece of paper with the address on it, with the same look that Mookie gives to Sal at the beginning of Do The Right Thing:
“Is this the right address?
I needed to double-check… And triple-check... But no doubt, that was the right address.
And I might have been checking a little too obviously, because right at that moment, a young black woman opened the basement’s door, raised her thick eyebrows at me and asked:
“May I help you?”
She was wearing a white t-shirt, grey sports pants, and she looked like she had been spending her Sunday chilling at home before my interruption. I tried my best not to sound creepy.
“Yes, hi… I think I’m lost… I’m looking for… a bookstore?”
Ok, that sounded creepy as hell…
“You’re looking for a bookstore?” the young woman asked, raising her thick eyebrows again.
“Yes, ahem... The address I have is…”
I read her the address out loud.
“But maybe I have the wrong address…”
Now that I was forming longer sentences, the young woman could clearly hear that I was not from New York. She seemed intrigued. Which would happen to me a lot whenever people were trying to place my accent.
“Where are you from?” she asked.
She was standing close to the basement’s door, therefore not receiving any rain drops, while I was still upstairs, in front of the house’s main entrance, at the mercy of the rain.
“I’m from Toronto, Canada. I came all the way here just to buy a book, and I thought… I thought that there was a bookstore at this address”, I said, sounding a little bit dramatic now.
“What book are you looking for?” the sister asked.
I had definitely piqued her curiosity…
There was no point in trying to lie about the title of the book now, so, even though I didn’t want to share any of my private business with a stranger, I replied:
“Overcoming an angry vagina… It’s a book by Queen Afua.”
Suddenly, it was as if I had said some magical incantation. The young woman’s face lit up.
“Oh… Then you need to go to Nicholas Bookstore, sis... Nicholas Bookstore on Fulton Street.”
I sighed so loudly that I’m sure that all the neighborhood heard me… Trying to go look for another Brooklyn street in this rain? Oh no, no, no. Super Bina was done for the day. I could not even start thinking about going on another quest. I was drenched. And cold. And tired of the whole thing.
“I can’t get lost again today,” I said out loud, more for myself than for the woman with the thick eyebrows. “I just can’t…”
The word “can’t” must not have been part of that sister’s vocabulary, because she looked at me like I had just said some kind of blasphemy. And then she explained:
“Sister… You’re not at a Bookstore. This is Queen Afua’s house.
My jaw fell instantly to the floor.
“This is Queen Afua’s house?” I repeated, in disbelief.
The sister with the thick eyebrows looked at me as if she was trying to read my mind. Maybe until then, she had been wondering if I weren’t some kind of stalker or disturbed fan. But the look of surprise on my face seemed very real, so after a quick second, she asked:
“How many books do you need?”
“Do you have any cash?”
I nodded my head yes.
And then, until this day, I don’t have any clear explanation for what happened next, but I like to believe that it was only good karma… The sister with the thick eyebrows took another good look at me, and then she opened the basement’s door.
“Alright, come down. I will sell you a book.”
Once inside the apartment, I mustered the courage to ask her the one question that I had been aching to ask ever since the beginning of our conversation... It was a little embarrassing, but, I didn’t really have the choice. It was either that or peeing my pants.
“Can I use your bathroom please?”
The sister with the thick eyebrows seemed a little taken aback. First the book, then the bathroom, it seemed like I was demanding a lot from her, for someone whom she had just met a couple of minutes ago. Still, she maintained a nice and polite demeanour and, after having shown me a spot near the entrance door where she said I could leave my umbrella, she walked me inside the basement to show me where the bathroom was. I locked myself inside and heaved a sigh of relief…
That feeling… That feeling you get when you can finally empty your bladder after having waited for a long long time… When you can finally relax all of your perineal muscles... When your womb finally stops swelling and aching. Lord… This has to be one of the best feelings in the world. And this time, no need for crazy olympic moves. These bathrooms were totally clean. Well, I still had to take a little bit of precautions, because these were not my personal bathrooms, but that was nothing compared to the double-salto I had had to pull out at BAM or in any of the public bathrooms of downtown Manhattan... After having washed my hands, I went back to the living room. A copy of Overcoming an angry vagina was already waiting for me on the dinner table. I reached into my purse for a $20 bill and gave it to the young sister. She opened a small cash box and put the bill in it.
“Do you want anything to drink? she asked, inviting me to take a seat at the table. Tea? Juice?”
“Oh no… I don’t want anything. I don’t want to abuse your hospitality… I’m gonna go now. Thank you for everything.”
“Oh, but you can’t go now,” the sister replied, almost offended. Her tone was still nice and polite, but there was also a strange firmness in her voice. It felt as if she wasn’t really leaving me any choice.
“A glass of water, maybe?” she asked, while setting up the table.
My body tensed up a little bit. All kinds of crazy scenarios started playing in my head. This was New York City, after all... What had I just gotten myself into?
“No, I’m good, thanks. I think I’m gonna go…”
I tried to calmly evaluate how far I was from the entrance’s door.
“Oh, but you can’t leave now”, the sister with the thick eyebrows reiterated. And then, she must have finally noticed the anxiety on my face, because she quickly added:
“Queen Afua wants to meet you. She is going to come down and sign your book in just a few minutes.”
She had made the announcement casually, as if it were no big deal. Meanwhile, I almost fainted…
“Queen Afua wants to meet… me?”
“Uh-huh, the sister confirmed, while still setting up the table. So, do you want anything to drink, yes or no?”
I reached out for a chair, because I definitely needed to be seated for that one…
“Actually, yes…Can I have a glass of water, please?”
The sister with the thick eyebrows disappeared for twenty seconds and then came back with a glass of water that tasted like it was coming straight from the sources of Wakanda. It was pure and extremely alkaline. I drank the full glass straight, then put it back on the table. I was still having a hard time processing what the young woman had just said. Queen Afua wanted to meet with me? The real Queen Afua? The legendary woman whose books I had studied and read a good thousand times? The master healer who was usually dealing with A-list clients like Erykah Badu, Roberta Flack and Stevie Wonder? That was the Queen Afua who was about to come meet me and sign my book? And at her house on top of that? What was I even supposed to say? How was I even supposed to act?
I was starting to hyperventilate when my thoughts got suddenly interrupted by the arrival of another young woman in the basement. She was coming from upstairs. She was wearing a grey t-shirt, black sports pants, and an African wrapper around her hips. She looked slightly older than the sister with the thick eyebrows. Her own eyebrows were very thin though. It looked like she had had them done very recently. I wondered if she was related to the other sister. But it seemed like it wasn’t really the right time to ask... The sister with the thin eyebrows looked furious. She didn’t even acknowledge my presence — which I felt was kinda rude — and started talking to the sister with the thick eyebrows as if I were not in the room. Part of me wanted to say something, but I didn’t want the younger sister who had just sold me the book to get in trouble. But apparently, it was too late… The sister with the thin eyebrows went off.
“What’s going on here?”
“This sister wanted to buy Queen Afua’s book,” the sister with the thick eyebrows calmly explained. “I’ve just sold her one copy.”
The sister with the thin eyebrows rolled her eyes to let everyone know that she was not in favor of that transaction.
“You should have just sent her to Nicholas Bookstore.”
“Our guest is from Canada,” the younger sister explained; she was keeping her voice low and respectful. “She doesn’t know where Fulton street is…”
“Oh yes? And how did she get this address then?”
The sister with the thin eyebrows was still not looking at me, but I could hear the “Yes, right, do you really think I was born yesterday?” implied by her comments.
“I don’t know,” the younger sister replied, still keeping calm. You know how we used to sell books before. So maybe she’s…”
But the older sister interrupted her explanation. She was clearly out of patience.
“Alright, the sister has her book, she can go now…”
I didn’t like how passive aggressive her tone was. Again, I wanted to say something, but I didn’t want to escalate the situation for no reason. This was not my house. So I got ready to grab my purse and confirm that yes, I was about to go, and there was really no need for anyone to raise their voices about it. But, as if she had sensed what I was just about to do or say, the sister with the thick eyebrows replied faster than me on this one.
“Oh no, but she can’t go… Queen Afua said that she was going to come down and sign her book.”
At this point, the older sister went ballistic.
“What?!? But you can’t just go and disturb the Queen now. SHE’S MEDITATING.”
The sister with the thick eyebrows acted as if she had not heard the capital letters’ part of the other sister’s statement, and she reiterated calmly:
“Queen Afua said she wants to meet with our guest. She’s going to come down and sign her book in just a few minutes.”
This was the straw that broke the camel’s back… The sister with the thin eyebrows refused to even dignify that last comment with an answer. Instead, she turned towards me for the very first time, and said the following words:
“You need to leave.”
Ok. This whole situation started feeling like we were in an episode of the Twilight Zone, Family Feud edition. I didn’t want to get the sister with the thick eyebrows in too much trouble in the house, so it was just better to leave. And, as much as I had really wanted to meet Queen Afua, I was also ok with the fact that it probably wasn’t going to happen. And how could I even have been naive enough to believe that I would have the opportunity to meet with the Legendary Queen? That I could just show up at her house, uninvited, and then expect to meet the world-renowned herbalist, midwife, yoga teacher, holistic practitioner and khamitic priestess, as if she had nothing more important to do with her life than granting me five minutes of her time? So yes, maybe the sister with the thin eyebrows was right; I had come for a book, I had already bought the book, so I could go... I stood up and grabbed my purse.
“Thank you so much for the book. I’m so sorry I came down to your house. I had no idea this was Queen Afua’s house. I apologize profusely. Let me just grab my umbrella real quick, and I’ll be on my way in two seconds…”
The younger sister’s voice had resonated across the whole apartment.
The older sister and I had been left speechless, but, after the initial shock, the sister with the thin eyebrows was quick to launch a counterattack.
“Oh, you know damn well that you can’t go and disturb the Queen while she’s meditating! YOU KNOW DAMN WELL.”
The capital letters were back... I knew I needed to say something, anything, to de-escalate the situation (which again, I felt totally responsible for), but I couldn’t think quickly enough of what to say in such circumstance. I had the feeling that both sisters were getting ready for another battle of words, but none of us got the opportunity to add anything to the conversation, because, before we could even open our mouths, a sweet voice came from upstairs to interrupt us all. It danced upon the basement stairs and then gently asked:
“Now who’s this sister who’s coming all the way from Canada just to buy my book?”
And just like that, Queen Afua made her royal entrance…
I had seen many pictures of her over the years. I had also heard many people sing her praises… But nothing had quite prepared me for the unique experience of meeting Queen Afua. First off, she was astoningly beautiful. Not the kind of beauty that a camera could have ever captured. The charisma... The aura... The effortless grace with which she was moving her body. None of it could even be properly described with words… Her skin was flawless. No blemishes, no wrinkles. Just black, dark and beautiful. Her long dreadlocks were absolutely gorgeous too. She looked like she could have been taking daily milk baths with Queen Nefertiti herself… But, despite her regal aura, she was dressed very modestly. In a simple African boubou. No make up. No ornament… And she was still glowing from her morning meditation.
Her presence alone commanded respect. The two sisters and I had immediately stopped talking as soon as she had entered the room. One could have hardly believed that there had been any tension in that space just two minutes before. We were all mesmerized by the Queen’s presence. I, personally, could not get my eyes off of her. Was she my mother’s age? Older? Younger? You could never quite tell with a Black woman, but you could definitely not easily tell when it came to Queen Afua. Her physical body seemed very young, but her aura felt like something that had been passed down straight from the ancestors. She looked at me directly in the eyes and introduced herself:
“Hi. I’m Queen Afua. And what’s your name, young sister?”
Her voice sounded calm and sweet. And yet, her tone demanded straight-to-the-point answers. It was the kind of tone that didn’t have time for small talks or for beating-around-the-bush conversations.
“Sabrina,” I replied.
My voice was barely audible. I was still not believing that the meeting was indeed happening…
“And where are you from, sister Sabrina?” Queen Afua asked using the same tone.
“I’m from Toronto, Canada.”
She smiled softly to let me know that she was expecting a different answer.
“I meant, where are your people from?” she asked again kindly, making sure that I would understand the question this time.
“Oh… my family is from Congo. But I was born and raised in France.”
“From the Kongo?” she said. “Aha, Interesting.”
I got the strange feeling that she already had all the answers to her questions, and was just asking them to see if I would confirm or deny what she already knew.
“So, what brings you here?” she asked, still looking at me directly in the eyes.
For this, my answer was ready.
“I wanted to buy your book, but I couldn’t find it online… So, then I looked for a bookstore and then I, and then I …”
There was still some shyness in my voice. I was talking fast and without giving myself enough time to breath in between sentences, like I always did when I was feeling ill at ease with a situation. Still, I went ahead with my explanation.
“I already have your books Sacred Woman and Heal Thyself, and I’ve read them many times, but I was thinking that maybe with this new book…”
The Queen interrupted me with her quiet smile again.
“I meant what exactly brings you all the way here today, sister?”
“Oh…” I replied.
There was not point in trying to hide the truth any more…
“I have a tumor in my womb… Well, doctors are saying that I have a tumor in my womb. And it’s quite big.”
I was surprised at how relaxed my own voice had suddenly sounded while saying these words…
The sister with the thick eyebrows and the sister with the thin eyebrows were both standing at the back of the room. They had given Queen Afua and I some space to talk, while standing close enough to be able to follow the whole conversation. The sister with the thick eyebrows was now smiling silently, almost triumphally, proud of herself for having sensed from the get-go that something was quite not right with me, even though she had not been able to pinpoint exactly what it was. The sister with the thin eyebrows was not showing any emotion on her face, but I could feel that she too, was listening to the conversation extremely attentively.
Meanwhile, Queen Afua hadn’t even blinked or flinched at any of my revelations. Instead, she carried on with her questions, still using her same sweet but very effective tone of voice.
“And where is that tumor exactly?”
“In the ovary,” I replied. “The left one.”
The shyness in my voice was now all gone.
“Any surgery yet?” Queen Afua asked, very matter-of-factly.
I shaked my head no.
“No. But I had an MRI, and several ultrasounds, and a lot of blood work done. A lot of blood work…” I sighed at the memory. I didn’t like to remember those times when I had had to lie down in front of so many oncologists, gynaecologists, lab assistants and the list went on…
“They all said it was bad,” I said, now looking at the Queen directly in the eyes too.
For a few seconds, I wondered if I was even allowed to do that, looking at Queen Afua directly in the eyes like this. What was the appropriate protocol when meeting with a Khametic priestess? But Queen Afua didn’t have time to bother with any of my last minute etiquette worries.
“And what do you think? How do you feel about all of this, sister?”
Still that same calm and sweet tone of voice... And that same energy, that was emanating from her body in a way that was making me feel like she already knew everything that I was about to say.
I paused for two seconds. No doctors had ever inquired about my feelings. Quite the contrary, they were always extremely careful to avoid the topic. It was not their forte. And maybe it was better for them to keep things this way, in order to be able to do their jobs... But in the meantime, all they ever wanted to discuss with me were lab results, tumor sizes, and types of surgeries. They only knew how to speak in two languages: radiation and chemo. And I hated these languages…
“It hurts,” I said, after a short silence. “I’m in pain… All the time. It just never stops…”
I placed my hands on my lower belly, just where the ovaries had been swelling the most. And that’s when the flashbacks came…
The thing with flashbacks, is that you can’t really decide when or where they’re going to happen. But over the years, I had become pretty good at avoiding them. I had taught myself how to recognize all the warning signs early enough for that. But not today. Today I was not able to fight the memories, so I allowed them to take me back. Back to being twelve. Back to being five. Back to being a child and trying to prevent adult hands from invading my body.
The last thing on my mind when I had gotten up that morning, was that I would find myself at Queen Afua’s house, in her regal presence, and just be a hot mess… But there I was, being five and terrified, all over again. The sister with the thick eyebrows brought me another glass of water. The sister with the thin eyebrows gave me a Kleenex to wipe my face with. I swear I might even have seen a tiny microscopic tear falling down her cheek, but maybe it was just an optical illusion. Who knows? She had to maintain her strong and severe composure. Meanwhile, Queen Afua opened her arms wide for me. Her royal embrace smelled like a mix of vanilla, essential oils and shea butter. She held space for me, and comforted me, safely. I was probably the latest on a long list of women who had opened up to her. Who had broken down in front of her. She had seen it all. She was the Queen Mother, after all. Still, she treated me with infinite patience, kindness and compassion. She offered me words of wisdom. And some of her ancient knowledge too. In between tears, I silently wished that I could have had a pen with me, in order to write down all of the recommendations that she was sharing. But sometimes, not everything needs to be written down. Or photographed. Or recorded. Sometimes, maybe it’s just about being there in the present moment. And listening. Freely.
I’m not sure about how long the whole meeting lasted. I had lost track of the time. All I know is that after a while, Queen Afua asked for my book and grabbed a pen to write a note on its first page. Then she gave the book back to me and said with her sweet voice:
“Sister, you’re on the path of healing. You’re doing great. And once you’re healed, you will help heal another sister. Don’t break the circle… That’s the important part. Once you’re healed, you will help heal another sister. And then she too, will help heal another sister. And another one. And another one. That’s the circle of healing…”
She held me in her arms for the second time.
“Ok, now I need to go back to my work... Have a safe travel back to Canada, sister.”
And whoosh… Just like that, she disappeared. I don’t even think that she took up the stairs. She just teleported back to the first floor of her house, or to whatever sky she needed to visit next… The sister with the thick eyebrows and the sister with the thin eyebrows both insisted to walk me back to the entrance door. They handed me my umbrella, waved me goodbye, and then the both of them said:
“Have a safe trip back, sister.”
And whoosh, the two of them disappeared too... And then somehow, I found myself walking down the streets of Brooklyn again... Or floating down the streets I should say, because I sure was feeling a high level of euphoria in my entire body at that moment… The rain had totally stopped and the weather was now back to a high of twenty-eight degrees. The sun was shining bright. The streets were filled with kids and passers-by again. Also, my clothes were totally dry. It seemed as though the last two hours had not even happened… For a moment, I seriously asked myself If I had not dreamt the whole thing…
Without even having to ask any directions to anyone, I found my way back to the subway station very easily, floating weightlessly above the sidewalk, and sometimes giggling uncontrollably.
I was wondering how long the euphoria would last ,when my cell phone suddenly started ringing. I picked up immediately. It was a girlfriend from Toronto.
“Hi Sabrina! Do you want to come to an event downtown this afternoon?”
“Oh, I’m not in Toronto right now,” I replied, trying hard to come back to reality. “I’m in New York for a few days.”
“You’re in New York? Oh, good for you!”
“Yes, and also I think… I think I’ve just met Queen Afua.”
Short silence on the other side of the phone...
“You’ve met Queen Afua? “The real Queen Afua? Girl, where?”
“In Brooklyn… At her house... It’s a long story... Let’s just talk about it when I’m back in the city…”
This sounded like a satisfying answer.
“Ok then, let’s talk when you’re back! Enjoy New York City, my dear!”
“For sure. See ya!”
I hung up the phone and entered the subway station, still feeling quite euphoric. I didn’t even check what subway line I was supposed to take to go home. I just hopped on the first train that stopped at the station, and sat in the first available seat that I saw, my head still high in the clouds. I sure looked a little off, but nobody was paying attention to me. This was the New York City subway, so, nothing that regular riders were not already used to seeing every day. I started singing to myself again, this time only out of pure happiness, and again, Miss Badu’s songs were on the playlist.
Alhamdulillah Allah Jehovah
Yahweh Dios Ma’at Jah
Rastafari fyah dance, sex, music, hip-hop
They call you indigo, we call you Afrika
Go get baptized in the ocean of the people
A brother sitting next to me seemed to be enjoying my vibe and started bumping his head in unison. I wondered if he too, had been at the show at BAM the previous day. Maybe… He looked like the type. Or maybe not? I could have asked him, but he gave me a judgy look when I changed some of the lyrics of the songs to:
This one is for Bina, hip-hop
The brother turned towards me with a face that meant “hmmm, don’t get too hyped, sis…”
I laughed. Because, yes, I had some reasons to be hyped. Just half an hour before, I had been sitting in the Legendary Queen Afua’s house, listening to her words of wisdom and sharing space with her. And the proof that it had all happened and that I had not just imagined the whole thing was sitting there, on my lap. Protected by a plastic bag. For the first time since leaving the house, I took the precious book out of the bag, and opened it to its first page to read the handwritten note.
“Blessings on your womb healing journey Sabrina Moella. Love and harmony. Queen Afua.”
I read it three times, then closed the book and carefully put it back in its plastic bag.
The brother sitting next to me gave me a nod of approval.
“That’s what’s up!”
The Legendary Queen Afua had personally signed my book. Yes, that achievement alone was deserving of its own celebration.
I started thinking silently about all of the events from the past forty-eight hours... The Megabus drive. The Gatsby-like house-party. The sister with the bright green pants... And then, finally, the long quest for the mysterious bookstore in the streets of Brooklyn... I certainly had experienced way more than what I’d initially thought I would. And in a short amount of time on top of that. But, at that moment, I also felt very thankful to myself for having pushed all the way through that crazy rollercoaster... A deep sense of calm and gratefulness invaded my body, and for the first time, I started noticing that I hadn’t actually felt any pain in my lower belly, ever since I had left Queen Afua’s house. Absolutely no pain... For the first time, in about fourteen months… “Ask and you shall receive” as the saying goes… Or more precisely:
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you…For every one that asketh receiveth; and she that seeketh findeth; and to her that knocketh it shall be opened.
So I closed my eyes, and placed both of my hands at the top of my lower abdomen…
And just like that, the peace talks between me and my emotionally unstable vagina officially began...
© Sabrina Moella