photo by kalamu




She had recently cut her hair. Opting for a style of convenience rather than of flair.


My first memory of her is the briefest of flashes. She was sitting on my son’s bed when I walked in the room, her back against the wall, or was she sitting Indian-style? There was a pause, no one said anything. My son looked in my direction. She looked up at me then over to Tuta and then away from us both before staring straight ahead. And I simply said, “hey,” backed out the room and went on to do whatever I was doing. And did not give the encounter a second, third or even a months-later-remembered thought.


I’m like that: what doesn’t concern me, doesn’t arouse my attention. Of course I know that everything and every one is connected, but connections can become entanglements, especially when, out of idle curiosity or just plain juicy inquisitiveness, we want to know intimate details and have no intention of doing anything constructive with the knowledge. So much of our lives are too often filled with amassing personal specifics we never use except to make judgments about people when we aren’t even sitting in the jury box.


Twenty years ago in 1990, a strong, wide, silent smile was her response to my curt, one-syllable hello. Today, she still smiles strongly, still continues to flash a quiet grin that is so alluring.


I’ve seen her pregnant. Tuta was still in engineering school at Georgia Tech. Eventually, he dropped out to be first a father and then a husband, and even though he can be a boisterous hothead, he expertly shouldered both tasks that required him to care about someone else more than thinking only of himself.


Over the years three more pregnancies followed.


They’ve gone through a long march together: young and no money, high school sweethearts now evolved like black swans into mates for life. You should see them: season Saints ticket holders traveling to at least one away-game a year, or the humorous dance of housework and cooking they do in the post-Katrina kitchen of their now remolded Gentilly home. Every time I am there, I think of Tennessee Street in the Lower Ninth Ward and how Tuta and his four siblings were reared in the tight confines of a home that seemed one-room too small but worked out fine.


I remember what I went through struggling to stand amidst constant motion, and after sixteen years failing to go on further. I know what Tuta has dealt with financially but most of all emotionally as a young man staying on the road to becoming a mature husband. And through remembering my past and knowing Tutashinda’s realities, I can vividly imagine the zigs and zags, the “too much of this and not enough of that” that Keisha has successfully juggled.


I told her she must be a saint. She just flashed her regular trademark: a quick smile and a quiet laugh. She knows I’m not religious in the Christian sense but she also knows the seriousness behind my playful banter. Her full lips, curved into a mute, upturned crescent, needed no sound to say an unmistakable “thank you.”


It’s sometimes so hard and lonely being a mother of four children and one husband. And not only hard, and not simply lonely, but increasingly in this new millennium, staying the course as a woman, a mother and a wife accompanied by one partner who crosses the finish line with you has actually become un-normal. Today, most of us can not and do not complete such social marathons.


But if you successfully hold on til death do you part (howsoever one might define “success”), and the children grow and go out into the world on their own without returning to stay in the nest; and the husband does not leave, lighting out for other parts, or should we say other arms, unknown; when beneath the bludgeoning of choice and circumstance you have withstood it all and the “you” is also a second person plural and not just a lonely, embittered, divorcee turned second-personal-singular head of household, then that doing is genuinely remarkable.


And beyond remarkable such successful survival means… well, it means a lot to all of us. Although I or some others of us might not achieve it, their example proves that actualizing a strong relationship is possible, even over the long haul of starting out by going steady in high school.


And, hey, as certain as sunshine and as deep as midnight, no doubt on the mundane day-to-day basis, this human miracle is usually and majorly due to great effort, sacrifice, and steadfastness by the female partner. Typically, as a mother within a patriarchal society, the female has less options to leave as well as less desire to leave everything and everyone behind than does her male partner. Ultimately, the success of any traditional marriage is due to and sustained by the great beauty, great, great beauty offered by the woman.


I am not ignoring the men who hold up their half of the family sky, but regardless of whether the man does his part, for most of our families, ultimately our women are the ones who keep our skies from falling.


Keisha always laughs when we hug and affectionately refers to me by he Swahili appellation “baba,” which simply meets father. We spend very, very little time together but her image stays with me. A woman called Keisha who has cut her hair short and is resplendent, her head surrounded by an incandescent aura of glory.


 —kalamu ya salaam