Tried & Tested - The Makings of Faith:
© Umm Juwayriyah
Searing. Humid. Funk. Peeling wall paper. Gangs of bold cockroaches, broken fridge, and ripped curtains - what the heck am I doing here? I still couldn't answer that truthfully.
I know that the orangey-brown rust stains that were streaked all over the concrete kitchen floor, the funky carpet mixed with the nonstop sound that was driving me a little bit more crazy, one second at a time. The sound came from the front window: the drip, drip, drip, splatter, splatter from the side pipe that ran down from the upstairs motel room carrying murky brown sewer water was bad. But the tall, wild, uncut grass to the rickety old boards on some of the other rooms to the after hours symphony of rat-a-tat-tats screaming up, around and beneath it was worst. I got what I paid for. A thirty dollar a night sanctuary for the depressed, tricking, drug addicted and no where else to go folk. Fortunately for me, I only fell in two of the the categories.
The hard thumps on the door neither alarmed nor frightened me. I grabbed the Pashmina hijab from off of the dusty plastic night stand, wrapped it around my hair neatly, grabbed a hammer with one hand and opened the door with the other. Ready.
“Yo, its check-out time, Ma,” the long-legged female in front of me started. Her long black braids,cheap hair extensions, swung rhythmically back and forth to the silent tune of her bobbing head and were streaked pink and red. The same color of her acrylic nails. “You gotta go pay up Fresh at the front desk or get'ta steppin’. A’ight?”
“Sure, today is my last day. Thank-you,” I replied. The young woman’s eyes glared at me as she sucked and slurped on a cherry red Blow pop like her life depended on it. She finally looked me up and down and furrowed her eyebrows. She was obviously thrown off by my politeness or my appearance or me being here or possibly all three. “So, um…I’mma be down in a few.” I continued in a more familiar vernacular.
“Yeah, whatever. Just make sure you checkout with Fresh and none of them other fools down there,” she said hastily and sauntered away to go bang on the next door. I lingered in the door way, may be she would look back and recognize me from before, I thought. But she didn’t. I closed the door and went back in the “hole” as I had been referring to the room for the last week.
My one bag was already packed. I was here. I've been here. Only two buses and a short walk separated me now from my mother and the home I grew up in with everything I'd left behind. I don’t know why I stayed in this bombed out motel for a week. But really I did. I’d left home over a decade ago vowing never to return.
Twelve years of separation from family, friends and everything I’d grown up with to live the life. A life full of all that stuff that TV made look important, fun...worth giving up everything to have. It was easy to find, but holding on to it, almost cost me my life. Once upon a time my life appeared like I had it all. Money, men, cars, so-called friends...drugs, too! . Allah knows I never meant to take it that far. Life just got a hold of me and I got stuck. Thing is, as much as I hated a lot of those last twelve years that I lived a big lie with Mateo now, I don’t know if I can stomach this life again. But either way I knew just like the girl had said earlier, I gotta get'ta steppin’.
At the front desk was a group of teenage looking guys dressed in the latest hip hop apparel. But, I suspected they were a lot older, probably more likely in their mid to late 20's. I clutched my Lana Marks handbag a little tighter and walked straight forward to the front desk. I wasn't scared of them and I didn't want them to think I was. Acting scared of people around this neighborhood was never a good thing.
I rung the bell and turned to the group of guys and said, “Excuse me, but have any of you seen Fresh?” None of them responded to me. They continued talking and throwing dice like I wasn't even there. I rang the bell again and again and again. I still didn't see anyone coming to the front desk, but I had got several of guys’ attention. They looked annoyed by the noise. I didn't care though.
“Ay, shorty – shorty!” One of the guys from group called out to me. “Yo, chill with that bell, yo. It’s too early for all that, nah'mean?” he said. He was tall and thin, Puerto Rican or maybe even Domincan judging by his accent. He reminded a little of a younger Mateo and that made me feel uncomfortable. Could he be spying on me with these guys? Nothing was too far fetched for Mateo. He was as crazy as they came and I would never trust him again, enshallah.
“Look, it’s almost noon. I’m just trying to get some service so that I can check out.” I shot back.
“Check it, shorty, you can leave them bills with me.” He said now smiling a crooked smile while proudly showing off his expensive but unnecessary teeth's jewelry. “I’ll make sure Fresh gets at it,” he assured me, but I knew a scammer when I saw one. The girl from earlier had told me not to give the money to anybody but Fresh. The last thing I needed upon my return home was drama from some strange man hunting me down for a measly 150 dollars.
“Yeah, thank – you, but no thanks. I’ll just wait on Fresh.” I told him with a small courteous smile. And thank goodness I didn't have to wait long. No sooner had the words slipped from my mouth did the front desk attendant arrive.
“Someone looking for me?” said Fresh with a light chuckle. He came around the desk and politely said, "How may I help you, sistah?” I assumed Fresh was also going to be some thugged out over-grown kid too, but he wasn't even hardly. Fresh was about six feet, with clear and smooth peanut butter brown skin. He was a little pudgy with evenly trimmed hair and a pleasant smell. He wore creased khakis ¾ length shorts, a pale aqua-blue short sleeved polo shirt and a pair of leather sandals. And he had no visible tattoos, gold teeth or jewelry hanging on or off of him. He looked normal, nice even.
“I need to check out.” I said clearing my throat. I pulled the room key out of my handbag and placed three fifty dollar bills onto the desk while the group of guys watched. Fresh grabbed the key and pulled a log book from under the desk and began flipping through pages like we were back in cave men time. When he got to the right page, he slid his fore finger down the list of guests until he came to the right room and name.
“Imania Colon – room 090. That you?” he asked quizzically with an arched eyebrow like he didn't believe it.
“Yes, it is.” I responded assuredly. I was ready to get out of there. I was ready to go see my mother. I was ready to go home. Fresh reached under the desk again and fumbled around with something before pulling out some change that I wasn't due. He counted out twenty-five dollars out loud and then laid the money plainly on table for all to see.
“You know,” he said walking from behind the counter back towards the hall he came from. “…you look really – really familiar. I don’t know no Colons… but, I knew someone long ago, a Muslimah from the Hill district. She…”
“I ain't t from around here. Just visiting, um some old college roommates and business associates. Thank- you for the discount.” I said lying faster than even children could. It was a filthy habit, one that my parents had never tolerated from my siblings and I growing up, but Mateo had insisted on it. He couldn’t have any of his hot shot industry friends knowing where I came from and I played my part, a little too well. The guys began to laugh, at my expense no doubt.
“Yeah, yeah.” Fresh said. “We have a lot of those types around here. They stop by the Birch Inn all the time.” He said sarcastically with a chuckle.
“I am sure they do.” I replied with as much sarcasm as he had dished out as I walked towards the exit without looking back.
“Jibril.” Fresh said.
“Huh? Are you talking to me?” I twirled around and asked knowing already that he was.
“My name. It’s Jibril. Jibril Ibrahim. And well, As salamu alaikum, sistah... Imania Colon.”
I turned around and pushed through the doors as fast as I could. I had to get away from Fresh – Jibril or whoever he wanted to be. I responded to his salaam but it was so low I barely heard it myself. I didn’t ask him for his name or his last name. What made him think I would even care? I just kept walking and thinking. What in the world was I doing back in Pittsburgh ? And staying around Hill district at that? I would hate Mateo for the rest of his life or mine. That I knew for sure. I was just embarrassed by Jibril Ibrahim. He knew who I was when he walked in the front office. I wasn’t Imania Colon even when I was Imania Colon. I had lived a long lie. Now it was all gone, just like that. I was going to have to get use to being me again, the real me: Iman Shahidah Johnson, all over again. I walked down about four blocks before I stopped, out of breath, tears flooding my eyes and tired. I saw a bus stop across the street, but a cab was coming. I put my hand up in the air and waved my hand as I stood close to the curb. It was too hot to be on some slow bus. I just wanted to go home and get over and past what ever was coming for me.
Oh Allah, please help me!
The cab stopped by the curb and I got in. A east Indian man with fair skin sat up in the driver’s seat. The smell of spicy curry filled my nostrils. “Where to Miss?” he asked softly.
“ Webster Ave , please.”