Millions of Tiny Things
When Hammond was very young, he had a hard time sleeping. It felt as though there were millions of tiny things crawling around beneath his skin, and the small, small spaces that separated each of these tiny things was known to him, and so it wasn’t just that there were millions of them, but that he never felt whole, and that he felt always on the brink of dissolving. He knew that the only thing keeping him together was his ability to focus on each of those tiny spaces inside—if he fell asleep, whatever small bit of force that kept the parts of him from flying apart would vanish and he’d be torn into millions of small, small pieces. Sometimes, at night, he felt his focus slipping, could feel the tension in his body as he tried and tried to will himself whole, to keep it together. But the millions of tiny things inside of him kept moving, sliding around. It was hard to keep track of them all, and on this edge of sleep, every time, he thought that he would die. He thought that he could already feel his body going to pieces, breaking up like static, so when his eyes closed, he said goodbye to his parents, goodbye to his dog Mojo, goodbye to the trees, goodbye to his bed, goodbye to the turtles in the pond out back, goodbye to the sky, goodbye.
Sometimes, Hammond makes the mistake of telling the people he loves about this time in his life. They look at him with either pity or amusement, though there was the time that the guy rolled out of bed, put clothes on, and left Hammond’s apartment while muttering something about fucking schizo nutjob. It’s always a calculated risk to tell someone something ugly about yourself, but perhaps this isn’t the best way to describe it because Hammond does not feel shame about his boyhood. He was anxious and heady and sullen as a child. Many people are these things. That he experienced long bouts of psychosis is nothing to be ashamed of, though he has learned to conceal it from people, folding this necessary article of his being away in the way one might wear long shirts over flabby arms or keloids. It’s only on the edge of sleep, when he’s curled up with someone toward whom he is experiencing the first, fluttering uneasiness of love that he makes the mistake of telling them about the times as a child he thought he’d dissolve in the middle of the night. There is always a moment of hesitation, when they aren’t sure if he’s joking or telling the truth, that he realizes is a minor kindness extended toward him, a moment in which he can take it all back and explain it away as a bad joke. It’s a fleeting, narrow possibility into which he could wedge himself and live out the rest of his time. “Oh,” he could say, “just kidding.” But he never takes the moment, never takes it all back. It is what it is, he figures. He is what he is, he figures.
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The light was gone, sucked back into the black wires that hung off the roof and stretched across the expressway, leaving the kitchen a study in blurs. Ogugua popped open the plastic crate of eggs and felt around for the matches, his pupils widening to inhale the grey air. It was so much quieter here in Owerri than it had been in Lagos. In the sky outside his glass doors, when he looked, he could see the moon hanging low and round, steeped in urine.
The match hissed and exploded into fire once Ogugua touched it to the leaking gas of the stove and he capped it with his frying pan, the one with the loose screw in the handle that he was always tightening with a butter knife. He couldn’t help comparing everything now to everything that used to be. Even the eggs here were different from the ones in America, where he used to call home, where the woman who used to be his wife still lived. Those yolks had been pale, smelling of a thick rottenness that made him peel them out and eat only the gelatinous white. But here, when he cracked them open, the eggs spilled out pools of fat yellow blood that sizzled with volume. Ogugua lifted the frying pan and touched a candle to the stove’s fire, setting it on the counter in a pool of its own wax.
He had arrived in Lagos with his daughter in early July, when the rains were still determined and flooding. During the flight, he fed her small spoonfuls of his airplane dessert, a piped thick cream with reduced fruit spilling over and staining the top. She batted her hands at the spoon and chuckled in his lap and sweetness smacked through her lips. Ogugua kissed the top of her head.
Read the rest of the post here: WELCOME
The Kimbilio Blog inaugurates a new feature: Excerpts from new books by our Fellows and Faculty.
In October of 1994, while my mom attended a funeral, I spent time with my grandmother at the Wash Tub Laundry on Fifth Street in Hartsville. I had wanted to be outside riding bikes with my cousins instead of watching daytime soap operas on ceiling mounted televisions. My grandmother removed a load from one of the large dryers and dropped the warm clothes into a rolling laundry cart. She pushed the cart over to a clear table and ordered me to help her fold. While we worked she tried to explain the plotlines on the Young and the Restless.
“You see him, with the mustache?” she said raising her chin in the direction of the nearest screen. “That’s Victor Newman. He’s a handsome white man. Him and Chuck Norris on Walker, Texas Ranger.”
I ran a finger over my smooth upper lip.
During commercial breaks, advertisements for the nightly news played clips of Susan Smith crying for the return of her children, “I just can’t express it enough, we just got to get them home. That’s just where they belong, with their momma and their daddy.”
I didn’t understand why I couldn’t play outdoors or how my freedom related to two missing children I had never met. I pleaded with my grandmother to let me leave the laundry mat. Again, she said no.
“It’s not safe for black boys to be riding around until they catch the man that took that white woman’s children or she confesses to having taken those kids out herself.”
“But I’m nine, Old Lady.”
“You think they care? Shit. They were putting children younger than you on slave ships. Ask your daddy, he’s from Ghana.”
“That was a long time ago.”
She stopped folding to remove a crumpled paper towel from the pocket of her ratty stretch pants. She pulled the Winston butt from her lips, tucked the cigarette and its fading embers into the wrinkled napkin and crushed it in her fist. A final wisp of smoke rose from between her fingers.
She leaned close to whisper to me, “It was only two decades ago, right down the road in Lamar, a hundred white folks showed up at a schoolhouse and turned over a bus full of black children. They didn’t care if they were kids. Black is black. Not a one of those people saw any real time in jail. They’re still out here, walking around. They never went anywhere, they still own everything, and who knows what they’ve raised their children to believe. They’ll treat you like a dog. Shit, a dog’s life may mean more to them.”
The Old Lady reached for the lighter and Winstons she kept in the breast pocket of her jean jacket. She lit a new cigarette, breathed deep and continued folding.
“White people get funny when they think their women are under attack. You ever hear of Rosewood?”
“No, Old Lady.”
“Cause they don’t want you to know. A town in Florida made up of freed slaves. One white girl claims a black man hurt her and the town is burned to the ground, people are hanged all strange fruit. They’re serious about their women.”
We continued folding in silence. We finished as the saxophone squeals of The Bold and The Beautiful theme song filled the laundry mat. I didn’t bother asking to go outside again
When my father was fifteen he packed his clothes in a cardboard suitcase, and, over his mother’s tearful objections, caught the bus from Elton, his tiny hometown in the heart of South Louisiana’s rice country, across the border to Port Arthur, Texas, a port town at the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico. It was home to the nation’s largest oil refinery. He moved in with his uncle, Madison Baszile, and finished high school in Port Arthur.
Madison was the most important man in my father’s life. He initiated him into the world of men offering advice on everything from love, sex, and marriage (“Before you marry, go three deep,” which meant before you tie yourself down, research the person’s family back three generations, so you’ll know what kind of people you’re really dealing with) to financial matters (“Never touch the lump” — which meant save your money, spending only the interest you earn, if you have to, but never the principal — an idea he overheard while moonlighting as a cook for the white oil executives at Texaco).
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