I find myself running headfirst into the cluttered crowds at any chance I get. What am I running from? I sit in George Howell’s harsh bench arms surrounded by people who appear to be starved artists, without any of the starving. I bite into a BLT I ordered because I wasn’t quite sure what anything else was and it was the most I could afford without dipping into my grocery money. It tastes like $10, but mostly because I’m thinking of what else this money could have bought. I say I’m treating myself and I try not to imagine the young brown girl who is sewing a scarf identical to the one that hugs my neck—she’s working for $3 a day, if she’s lucky. This is not grocery money. I try for a moment to put this in perspective. It’s ok that I can’t help her. We’ve detached her labor from this scarf, I can detach her hunger from my sandwich that probably costs $3 to make, but we have to think about profit, the formula for money is nothing without profit. I do not want to dismantle America. I have to chant it to myself for it to feel true. I wonder if she ate today, my little brown girl, the one who gave us this $4 scarf for $3 a day. I wish I could thank her, but that’s not possible. I wish I could thank her, but she didn’t do it for the praise.
I pick up the arugula and stuff it through candy coated lips. I remember the small apartment of my hairdresser, sweet Doris, who used her deft childlike hands to twist my hair into something just manageable enough to be acceptable in George Howell’s arms but just beautiful enough to still be art, to still be black, to still shine of the skill of black hands. Her hands were so brown they made my heart sing. I love Doris like a sister. She may not even know my name. She makes me think of a home I’ve never been to, she speaks her native tongue into her Bluetooth earpiece and plays African dramas while she prods at my scalp. I smile. Doris is from Ghana. She fed me goat and gave my mother a bottle of wine because she is kind but stern. Doris eats with the tips of her fingers, but there is no shame. She has forks. I wonder when was the last time she got to go home? It costs $150 for her to make my hair into pseudo-respectable art, I wonder where that money goes? I heard her son narrating the adventures of his action figures upstairs because we were sitting in the center of her small condo on Burnside Avenue.
I use my hands to shove the arugula into my mouth, I feel hungry. I feel sad but not the worst kind of sad, the kind that came in the winter. I don’t know when that will be back to reclaim me, I don’t miss it but I feel bad that it might miss me.
I wonder if any of these beautiful souls with crossed ankles and pleated coats know what it’s like to feel hungry. My heart pops when I hear my brother’s name pass through my mind’s thick clouds. I wonder if he is hungry. Micky. Yes, like the mouse. My heart pops louder, I can hear it in my ears but I know there is no sound. That is called pain, no one can hear it but you. I can see, because I’ve closed my eyes and am looking at the memories painted on the inside of my eyelids, that my brother is offering me a sandwich filled with peanut butter and butter.Yes, the regular kind.
He smiled, his toothy smile, the smile of a boy painted a man because the artist used too much brown. The one who held me while I cried of wanting to run away, but never did out of fear that I would be too far away from my big brother. My protector. My ox. The thick bands of muscles running through him, hyper-masculine by necessity rather than by nature. He was just a boy. I think he’s sick now. I think he is lonely now. I try not to think about it. I pick up the phone to call and pretend I forgot the number. So it’s not my fault. It is my fault. If he is ill, and I do not go to his bedside it is my fault and I will have to live with that. I am in the process of living with that. My grandmother would say I’m haunted. That’s Jamaican for preoccupied with too many things at one time. She doesn’t know how my consciousness screams, but just she would say I was haunted. I stuffed PB&B through dry lips and smiled at the familiarity of having less out of nature rather than by necessity. Poor is such a strange word, made up by people who weren’t.
My brother is surrounded by love, he is the lucky one, he just doesn’t know it. He is just like his father, he puts up walls that keep him quarantined, keep him sick. If I knocked he’d probably think he was doing me a favor by keeping me out. I don’t know if that’s true, we all live on assumptions. I miss my brother. I miss my brother. It’s like the sound of my heart beating. I only have one, no I have two. But I miss my brother, singular. If he lives to see the day I want him to give me away at my wedding. So what if I’m not marrying a boy? If anyone wouldn’t flinch away, It would be him. We live on assumptions.
I sat on the wooden arms of a house in East Hartford. He sat next to me and held me, laughing as I cried, and I called our little stone house a group home. I could have been right, I could have been wrong. It didn’t matter. We survived. Some of us survive more than others.
I finished my sandwich and placed the plate in the bin for the busboy.
It was nothing like Peanut Butter and Butter. I still feel hungry.