Wednesday, January 18, 2017

You Gotta Promise

He arrived late at night. 
He was tall, dark and handsome, like Brian McKnight; those were her thoughts and she voiced them to him as he embraced her. She was six and a half years old.
“Hey! Babygirl! Wow! You got so big!”
For a split second she wondered how he could have possibly known that she used to be smaller than she was, but then she remembered that he was there. He was there when she was born and she was there when he left; when he had to go or else. She was a baby then so she didn’t necessarily remember, but she remembered the words of Uncle Joe, who was there, and Brother who was frightened, and Mommy who was hurt. They told her about it when they thought she was old enough to know. They probably wouldn’t have told her had she not asked why it was that she didn’t have a daddy to come home to like her best friend, Mariah did.
“I stand at the back of the line-up at school because I’m tall like you.” She tapped his head playfully several times as he held her in his arms. “Your hair is soft like mine. Like cotton balls.” She kept on patting his head. “Mommy says my hair is nappy. She talks about you all the time on Friday’s cause that’s when I have to get my hair done. She says I got my hair from you.” She slowed down for a quick second and looked as if she wanted to frown. “She’s right about everything.”
“Well…” Her daddy said.
“I didn’t know I had a Brian McKnight for a daddy,” she chimed in again with even more enthusiasm. “I’m glad I got your hair instead of Mommy’s. Her hair is too long and curly. I find it in the tub sometimes and if it gets on me it acts like it likes me more than Mommy’s head.”  She laughed and finally stopped talking.
“You got a mouth on you dontchu? I don’t think my head even wrapped around all that you just said, Babygirl.”  
He was to stay the night.
“One night only,” said Mommy and the side of Mommy’s mouth did that funny little thing right after she said it.
He was to sleep in the living room on the blue blow up bed, reserved for guests. This confused her a bit because Daddy wasn’t a guest, he was Daddy. Wasn’t this his home too? Where Mommy was, where Brother was, where she was; that’s where Daddy should always be, right?
“Thanks, Sherin. I really do appreciate it. I’ll be gone early in the morning.” He looked as if he were nervous. Sherin didn’t get a chance to reply because their daughter chimed in with gall beyond her years.
“Why?! Why you gotta leave early in the morning?! You just got here just now.” She didn’t feel like she’d even gotten a chance to see him. “If you leave too early it’s like I dreamt you up. You aint real if you leave before I wake up in the morning.”
“Don’t worry, Babygirl. I’ll be back during the day to pick you up. Your Mama gave me the okay. I got the whole day planned out for just the two of us.”
“Two? Brother’s not coming with us?”
“Well… He said he doesn’t want to come. Maybe another time, but for now it’s just gunna be the two of us, which is fine by me.”
“Okay. That’s fine by me.” She mocked his deep ocean floor voice and gave him another hug. She extended her pinky out to him, “You gotta promise this aint a dream and that you gunna come back tomorrow like you said.” He extended his pinky and promised. “Brother says this is like a paper signing thing. You promised so what I just said is true and real. I aint gunna forget it, not ever.”
“Okay, Babygirl.” He chuckled. “Goodnight. Sleep tight. Don’t let the bedbugs…”
“Ewww! I don’t like that. Mommy says that; so gross. Just good night or sleep tight is good.” She nodded her head up and down with her arms folded on her chest, like she often did when she felt sure that she was right. 
Her daddy began to chuckle again. As she walked away to the room she shared with her brother, she could still hear him chuckling as if she had told some kind of joke that echoed in a cave.
That night she had a flying dream and when she awoke the next morning, her daddy was gone. 
He came back the next day, like he’d promised, so he was real after all.
“So where we going?” she asked.
“Well if I tell you, it aint gunna be much of a surprise now is it?”
“You never said this was no surprise.”
“It is now so grab your things and then we can start heading out.”
As they headed out the door, she screamed bye to her mama and her brother. She didn’t wait to hear their replies because as soon as she reached the threshold she began skipping down the street; happiness overwhelmed her entire little being. She was going to a surprise place with her daddy and that was all she cared about. When he finally caught up to her she asked if she could hold his hand.
“I don’t see why not,” her daddy said.
“Mama don’t like her hand held. Anytime I ask, she tells me that I’m old enough to walk by myself. When I go outside to the store with Brother, she always tells him to hold my hand, but I’m old enough to walk by myself. I don’t get what she do and say sometimes.” She looked puzzled and more than a little bit concerned. “You got some big hands, Daddy. They like infinity my hand size.” She laughed to herself for a while and then asked where they were going again. She wasn’t too big on surprises, she preferred to know things.
“It’s a surprise, Babygirl. You’ll see when we get there. Have some patience.” He sounded more amused than annoyed. “So you’re six years old. That makes you—that puts you in second grade right?”
“I’m six and a half and I’m in first grade, but my teachers say I’m smart for a first grader. I love to read. Mama always buys me all sorts of books. Brother hates reading though. He has a hard time with letters and stuff, but he smart too. I read second grade books and sometimes third grade. I don’t like numbers though, but I love to read and I love to talk.”
“I can see that. So if I gave you a five-dollar bill right now, you wouldn’t want it?”
“Of course I would!” She looked up at him as if he had lost his mind.
“Well then you like numbers.” He chuckled and swung her by her arms. “Well I mean you may not necessarily like numbers, but you gunna need em. You can love reading, but you gotta know there is more out there than just books, Babygirl. You aint gotta love everything out in the world, but make sure you give yourself a chance to know them. Life is large.”
“Yea, like your hands!” She laughed and skipped ahead.
He took her to The Museum of Natural History in the big part of the city. She felt like she had never felt before. The only time she’d ever been able to see the city was when Mama had to go, “handle some business,” as she always put it. For that reason she hated going to the city because it meant long waits and lots of sitting, but she also secretly kind of loved it. When she went with Mama to the city she got to hold her hand because traffic was wild, like Mr. Roger’s crazy old dogs when they escaped from his yard all excited to be free. She also got to split a Hero Sandwich with Mommy after the long wait in the big tall office building. Mama would also buy her Doritos and a juice of her choosing.
But the city with Daddy was different. There was no business to be handled, only quality time, laughter, and fun. Seemed like Daddy was richer than Richie Rich the way he bought her whatever her eyes grew big upon. She knew better than to ask for things when she was out with Mommy so she didn’t ask for anything while she was out with Daddy either, but somehow he could just tell when she wanted something.
“Wow! You smell that, Daddy?! Smells like grilled hot dogs!”
“Yup, it sure does.” He pointed to a bright yellow and red cart on the corner. “The smell you smelling is coming from right over there. You want one?”
“Well, I mean it smells good so I’m sure it tastes good, but I don’t gotta have one.”
“Come on. I’m pretty hungry myself so let’s go get us some grilled hot dogs.” He grabbed her hand and so they went.
After being handed their hot dogs, they walked over to Central Park and sat underneath the nearest tree.
“Dogs probably peed right here, Daddy.”
“This area is off limits to dogs, Babygirl,” he said as he chuckled softly.
“Okay.” She said. “I wanna ask you some stuff, Daddy.”
“Sure, Babygirl. Ask away.”
“So remember just today we saw that Cheetah cat statue in the museum and I told you it was my favorite animal?”
“Yeah, I do.”
“Okay well it is and I wanna tell you why.”
“Uncle Joe and Mama told me about why you had to leave when I was just a little baby and I’ve kept it up here ever since.” She pointed to her head and had a look of contemplation on her brown little face. “I think about it and think about it and I even dream about it. I have so many questions sometimes and Mama and Uncle Joe say they don’t know what to do with me and my mouth, but I can’t help it. My teachers, they say the same thing. They say I disrupt the class with my “silly questions,” but I don’t mean to be silly, sometimes I’m serious and they think I’m just being smart, but the bad kind.”
“Bad smart?” He looked at her puzzled.
“Yeah like a smart aleck. Mama says nobody likes a smart aleck, but I don’t mean to be, that is what I mean.”
“Okay, I see. So what’s the cheetah got to do with all this?”
“Well I have these dreams sometimes where I’m running and then I fly away someplace far. I don’t know why, but I never get scared. Brother says flying dreams scare him and he’d rather stay on the ground, but not me. I like em. Looking at that Cheetah today reminded me of my dreams, but it made me think about what Uncle Joe and Mama told me about you running away from me when I was just a baby. Why did you hurt Mommy and run for? I think that’s why Brother aint wanna come. He was there and he saw and I think he don’t like you. He don’t talk or hang with people he don’t like. That’s what he do when he don’t like people. He don’t like you cause of what you did. He says mean stuff about you sometimes and we fight about it cause I don’t like the things he says, but I wanna know why you ran like a cheetah and flew away. Ever since they told me, I’ve thought and I’ve thought and decided that I have to hear what they said, but from you. I just feel like I gotta know things or my head will bother me about it forever.”
“Babygirl, I—I don’t know what to say. You sure you six years old?”
“Six and a half. Did you love my Mommy?”
“I did, Babygirl. I did. But we were no good for each other. That’s how it is sometimes. The day I left, I hurt her. We were fighting and I went too far and I hurt her, but I didn’t mean to. I swear I didn’t mean to, but I did. I hurt her bad and your Uncle Joe had to come between us. I had no choice but to leave, Babygirl or I wouldn’t be here at all. I’d be somewhere in jail and I wouldn’t be able to be here with you right now. I’m so sorry, Babygirl. I’m so sorry. I never wanted to leave you, but I had to.”
“Don’t cry, Daddy. Mommy is fine now and Brother is a big boy; he’s eleven and can be kind of mean sometimes, but I’m sure he’ll come with us next time. I just want you to promise not to hurt Mommy or me or Brother or Uncle Joe or anybody ever again.  You gotta promise.” She extended her pinky and he took it with tears in his eyes.
When he finally took her home, she didn’t ask if he could stay because she knew that he couldn’t. Later that night, her Mama asked her how her day with her daddy had gone and she told her the good news.
 “It went better than good, Mommy and guess what? I got Daddy to promise not to hurt you or anybody else ever again. He pinky promised and Brother says that’s as good as a paper signing thing. Every thing is gunna be better now.”
“That’s good, Nena. I’m glad.” Her mommy’s mouth did that funny little thing, but this time it stretched to her eyes and she began to cry.
“Don’t cry Mommy.” She grabbed both her Mama’s hands and they felt soft—not like cotton balls, but like the kind of soft that can never really be described.

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