blessings of thickets and brambles
Can you ask God to make my hair blonde?"
was stunned. He just stood there, staring into the
big brown, almost black pools of his precious little Amina's
eyes and gripped the sign-out pen, like it would perhaps spurt
out the response under enough pressure.
worry, Mina," said a little white girl whose name he
could never remember, "if you pray real hard god will
fix you because you are always a good girl and my best friend."
She had blonde hair and ice blue eyes. Charles
heard a clicking, grating noise and realized that he was gritting
his teeth. A drop of sweat rolled down his pointy nose,
an Indian trait he had been told, probably Irish he mused
often out loud to entertain his friends. The drop muddled
Oh, um, say good bye to your friend now. Sorry?"
Wilson, that's right Wilson. One of those so-called
genderless names, thought Charles. He realized that
Wilson's mommy didn't know Amina's name either.
'scuse me. May I haff the cleep boared pleeze?"
sorry, I just need to, um, the time. Yeah the…"
Charles couldn't read his watch. It suddenly
made no sense to him at all. How dumb would he look
if he asked if any body knew what time it was and he was standing
there with a Rolex on his wrist?
Li's mom offered the time, saying that he must have been sold
an imitation that "don't keepa gud tyme. You should
realized that he was. Cause times hadn't changed.
was still light out. They crossed the parking lot headed
for the gaudy gold Lexus which seemed like 'da bomb' when
he bought it 4 years ago, in a twisted moment of celebration
of his status as single, even though his girl was bursting
with his child, literally, at that very moment he was on the
car lot. "Daddy," insisted Amina," you're
squeezing my hand too tight!" Relax, relax cat.
James couldn't figure out what to say to her. She had
asked for a magic potion that would make her look like a fairy
since she was gonna be a fairy in the school spring play,
she figured she really "should look like a REAL fairy,
teacher blanched and stuttered. Trying to explain that
what she had meant when she told ALL of the girls who had
fairy roles was that they needed to make sure that their costumes
were , well, like fairies. That each child was responsible
for making and/ or acquiring her own costume.
couldn't believe that shit. Monique sure was sticking
it to him! "This bullshit hoity toity school costs
1200 bones a month and you still got to pay for this that
and the other seem like every damn week." And
now, here is HIS baby talking about she need to be white,
or else she ain't gonna be no real fairy. That's why
I wanted her to go the shule in the first place! "Better
education my ass!"
paused, put the rage in check. His therapist had warned
him about the stroke that wanted to date him very badly, so
he chilled. Got the nostrils to stand down and managed
a smile, of all things. "So, should she have butterfly
wings and sparkles, or dragonfly wings and antennae?"
How could you ask for something that, that, ridiculous?!?"
Amina just sat there on the park bench thinking she liked
her real daddy better because he had a real job and would
let her go to a real school instead of the co-op that mommy's
special friend liked better. Oh yeah, and let her watch
cartoons, daddy always let's me watch cartoons, all day.
We don't even have a TV no more! A real school, a real
TV with real people on it just like the kids on Rugrats.
"If I found all my white parts, then my hair would not
hurt and mommy would comb it. It's only fair! …Mr.
sobbed, burying her head in the throw pillows on the cream
and navy couch. Why did Robert even bother to tell
her this s-h-i-t? Why was he the one to have to tell
it at all?
I know that this is probably hard coming from me, but I am
our black daughter's daddy and I think she really does need
to be around other kids that look like her."
was not what she had wanted when she married this lanky white
boy with an affable personality, but charm that seemed anachronistic.
Who knew that he had weak genes? His daughter
was supposed to be a pretty dimpled, curly-haired girl, with
a little blonde and reddish highlights at the napless edges,
the color of a perfect cup of café au lait, more milk than
coffee. When she looked at Amina, however, all Jessica
saw was herself, slightly red, but a little on the dark side
and nappeeeeeee! Boy, did that girl need a touch-up
every week and a half or what? Robert had protested
the perm the first time, but caved in. When he realized
that it was to be an ongoing rite of passage, one that could
never be passed that had a result that looked nothing like
Coltrane's composition sounded, he panicked. Like the
good academic he was, he did some research on this black lady
hair thing, and decided to take matters into his own hands.
had Amina's relaxer cut out of her head. She was gorgeous.
Just a halo of divine wool. His little African
goddess. He had almost earned himself a divorce.
After spending all that Saturday convincing his child that
her black was the most beautiful thing in the world to him,
they got home to have her own mother remind her that she was,
in point of fact, just a nappy headed nigglet.
can you call this pickaninny your child," she had raged
in front of a distraught Amina.
just four years old! She doesn't need a perm."
She doesn't need it AND it is bad for her hair, which
hasn't finished developing."
hair, Robert not teeth." How ironic was that…
stood there, watching his brown sugar melt all over the couch,
feeling not one morsel of sympathy. He waited, but
she didn't seem to be willing to stop the antics. So
he repeated himself, then waited some more. Determined
that when his daughter was old enough to write a memoir, she
would not remember this day as the day that her momma hated
her forever after and the one on which her white daddy vanished
from her life, he said it again: "Like teeth.
She said she needed to be white like her teeth, so her hair
wouldn't stick out so much. I'm pulling her from school
Hello! May I please speak to Charles?"
Are you sure you have the right number?"
I met you in the grocery store a while back."
I think you really have dialed the wrong Charles. I'm
No! Our daughters. They have the same name.
Remember we were both saying, 'No, Amina' at the exact
same time at the end of the cereal aisle?"
yeah! The girls really seemed to hit it off.
Didn't we actually hang out?"
and we both vowed to keep in touch so that the girls could
have a playmate and, well, everything deserves a second chance."
laughed, almost like an idiot, he thought, a little too hard
on the other end of the line. Of all the days for this
white man to decide to reach out and touch someone one, he
had to pick today. And him.
I'm calling cause, well, my wife is not really into the whole
black thing, which is starting to freak me out because she
is black but…"
do they always have to give too much personal information?
My dick stays limp sometimes but I'm not running around
looking for Viagra!
when Amina said that today…'White like her teeth' ...
I'm not even white like teeth!"
did you say?"
said that Amina told her doll, which is a white porcelain
doll by the way, that she wished that she was white li- beep
-teeth so that- beep
- hair wouldn't stick
out. You got another call?"
hold on, hold ok?"
is rampant my brother!!"
What the hell you talking about?"
know what MeeMee said today? Said she needed to look
like a real fairy so we needed to get a magic potion to make
her white for the spring play!
I..I…Amina asked for me to ask god to make her blond,
I -beep- I - beep -
know what to say."
you hold on , man?"
Robert. Sorry, but I'm on hold. Another Amina.
Yeah weird I know. It gets even weirder.
I'll tell you in a minute. You won't believe it.
Shit, must be in the air. Hold the line ok?"
James, bruthu, you was right about me trying to be with this
ofay lady and her half breed kid."
I know this ain't Tyehimba."
bru it is. I just thought I would say that so you would
shut your Caucasian-hating mouth long enough to hear what
I got to say, cause I need some guidance and some love."
said she wanted to find her other white parts so that her
mommy would want to comb her hair and-"
That girl's name is Amina?"
that's my baby's na- Aw, G. I got my man Charles
on the other line. Hold up dawg. Aw'right?"
you say baby?!"
man. You remember my dawg Tyehimba. Yeah, the
black nationalist who likes white women. Yeah, well
his new lady got a kid, a girl; half black, half African in
fact. Guess what her name is?
she wants magical powers to be all white, or have straight
hair, or something like that, right."
you a hoodoo doctor now?"
man. Amina asked me something similar today.
I couldn't even answer. There's a white dude on the
other line who's got a pretty little girl named Amina who
said she needed to be white as teeth. And your baby…"
just don't know…"
what you gonna tell her? Shit, you gonna tell Audry?"
crazy? She'll..Aw, shit. How I know what she
gonna do. What you you gonna say to Meemee?
I asked you first! If I had an idea, I'da done it!"
And don't call me that no more. I done told you about
'N-word.' You whipped dude."
happy. Anyway, we off topic now."
I still ain't got an idea."
They still on hold! OK, how 'bout this:
I'ma invite Robert over. You think you can come by
this evening with Tyehimba?"
they say back in the day, 'word is bond,' 'cause I sure as
hell ain't got no clue as to what to do."
Tah , you foolish.
I'll see y'all around 7:30."
You still there?"
that's some deep tall telling you off on!"
you. I still can't believe that your playa butt is
yeah, yeah. I'ma pimp. It's just so unbelievable.
How could it have happene-"
it's settled, then. We take the four Aminas away on
a father daughter camping trip, try and deal with this thing
before it's just raging self hatred."
… how are you this committed to the 'black and proud'
thing, being white and all?"
her daddy. I want her to be proud. Successful.
Strong. It just also happens to come with black.
SO she's gotta be black and proud and successful and strong.
It's not gonna work any other way."
will my Amina feel, though, if there's a white person on the
trip and she's trying to get pure white? I mean, no
disrespect, but maybe her uncle should bring your girl."
uncle hates her mulatto half ofay ass more than he hates my
all the way ofay ass."
is silence as the men look at each other. Understanding
that a daddy is a daddy no matter what.
packed, the Amina club arrives at Robert and Jessica's creaky
little cabin, having fully enjoyed the ride up from the city
in the rented minivan. Robert sets about, checking
the wood pile, finding cleaning instruments to get the space
swept out and instructing the girls on playing in the woods.
close to the cabin. And never crawl into anything to
play hide and go seek."
daddy. You can't win if you don’t hide!"
not what…. OK, if you don't want us to forget you, don’t crawl
into the box of wood."
squeal the four little girls in unison, tingling at the possibility
of hiding so well that their own fathers, well, daddies would
forget all about them and leave them behind."
we're going to cook out here and sleep in there, right?"
the ventilation is pretty bad inside, so it's best to set
the burners up right here."
I officially appoint you all sous chefs to the great Tyehimba.
Please set about preparing my workspace and ingredients."
this look like Iron Chef to you?"
Look at James. He seems to be more than willing
to take some orders."
right. I done had the brothers cooking. He can
the daddies get Tyehimba cooking and the girls fed, that is
after they got Amina-tee out of the woodshed box, full of
bites. After some shadow play, Amina-mee announced
that she had tried to catch a butterfly for her fairy costume:
"I want a costume made of real butterfly wings!"
and giggles, Aminas all agree that it would be pretty, but
that all the butterflies would be very sad to lose their special
Do you all want to hear a story about butterflies and
how they keep their special parts?"
used to wander the world, free free free. Mariposa
means 'butterfly' in Spanish. Time was, they were the
most yummiest thing in the world. (Ew!) And also the
most special magic. People would plan for days how
they were going to catch a butterfly because it was said,
that once you had a mariposa in your hand, your wildest dreams
would come true. So people would catch the mariposa,
make a wish, and to make sure that it came true, quickly eat
it. (Nastee!). No. Not really. You have to remember
that they were the yummiest things on earth. They were
considered flying fruit.
on their color, the flavor would be different. (Banana for
yellow!) Yes, or sunlight syrup flavor. What about
other colors? (Orange. Blue for berries. What
about pink? There's no such thing as a pink butterfly.) Well,
not now, but there used to be all kinds of color of butterflies.
Pink tasted like sugar covered roses. Red was
like a pomegranate (It has all those juicy seeds).
Exactly. Green tasted like (Sour apple!), yeah! Like
sour apple (or lime Kool-Aide). Purple mariposas tasted
like grapes. And so on.
you had your mixes--pink and yellow, orange and green, red
and purple. The truly special mariposas, though, were
the ones that had three colors, since the wish was granted
before you even finished wishing it. They were also
the biggest and easiest to catch, but since most people never
know for sure exactly what they want, folks learned not to
go after a Tesoro Mariposa--a treasure maker butterfly--unless
they knew exactly what they wanted. (I would know what
I wanted, blon-) But! We forgot one of the colors:
the Black Butterfly.
these were hard to find, since they only flew during the light
of a full moon. The rest of the time, you never ever
saw them. (What did they do?) Well, it was said that if you
caught a Black Butterfly under a full moon, you could travel
anywhere on earth, anyway you wanted, in a split second.
The only thing was, it was hard to get back once you got there.
You had to keep the butterfly alive the entire time
you were getting to the new place and the entire time you
were gone. When you were ready go back home, then you
ate the Black Butterfly. Thinking that they would just get
another one on the next full moon, most folks just ate the
Black Butterfly they had caught, 'cause Black Butterflies
were the tastiest of all the butterflies--they tasted like
ice cream! (Yeah!) But! The thing with the Black
Butterfly magic was that the butterfly that gave you the trip
had to be the same one who brought you back.
people ended up staying in far away places and never getting
back home. So some people began to think that Black
Butterflies were bad (No!) Yes. Because their magic
was stronger than the Tesoro Mariposa Magic, but as easy to
use, people all over the world began to hunt down the Black
Butterfly on full moon nights and just drop 'em in jars of
oil so that the magic wouldn't work. (That's not fair! They
weren't bad.) OK. OK. (But how come butterflies
are yellow and black? Yeah, what 'bout the rain-away-bows?)
The rain? OH! What happened to all the
other mariposa that were colored like the rainbow? (yes!)
people were greedy, and ate 'em all up. Since the butterflies
flew in straight lines and never any higher than the grass,
it was easy. (Un unh! Butterflies do this. They
don't fly in lines!) Oh my! You're right.
Well didn't I tell you that when the moon wasn't full, Black
Butterflies could not be found? (Uh huh.) And didn't
I tell you that part of Black Butterfly magic was that they
didn't fly straight like the other butterflies? (No!)
I didn't tell you that? That they actually looked like
they weren't moving all that much, but could get as high as
that tree over there and as low as this log? (No, you did
not!) Hmm. I'm sorry. That's the best
part of the story. (Oh good grief!) OK I'ma tell it!
Am I telling it? (Yes!) OK, I'ma make it told.
it turns out, the Black Butterflies lived in special places
during the day and the times when there was no full moon.
This special place was the reason why the didn't really
fly, why they did a upty, hipty boopty, whirl a twirl thang.
Who can guess where they lived? (Um, in a cave?
In a box! At the ocean. In a tree?) A
tree, that's close! It's shorter, and tighter, kinda
hard to get through kinda like, like, oh my goodness! (What?)
Come here, girl. Kinda like your hair.
(My hair?) I think I see butterfly stuff in there right
now! (Where Let me see.) Oh, and you got some
too! And so do you! (What about me, Baba Tyehimba?)
Oh for sure. You definitely got some Black Butterfly
stuff. Wait a minute. All of you got the same
name AND Black Butterfly flakes in your hair? (in amazement
the girls look at the shiny heads and see shadows that look
like butterfly wings passing through their locks).
Well, can you guess where they lived, if it was like y'all's
hair but kinda like a little short tight tree? (A bush!)
That's right! And not just any kind of bush. It was
a special bush called 'bramble.'
bushes were the thorniest, stickiest, ouchiest plants on the
face of the earth. But! They smelled sooo good
and had beautiful flowers that looked like stars. Their
branches twirled like a jump rope, but were strong and sharp
like hungry baby teeth! They had leaves, mostly on
the outside of the branches and even the leaves had stickers.
(Ouch!) this was where the Black Butterflies lived.
So that they wouldn't get stuck by the bush, they learned
to razzle dazzle, to dodge the thorns of the brambles.
And since it was also very dark in a bramble bush because
of all the twirling branches, sticky leaves, and beautiful
flowers, no one ever noticed the Black Butterflies in there
and if they did and tried to get one, the bush would stick
'em, "Ow!" And the person forgot what they
thought they had seen. Brambles were a very peaceful
place to live.
all the Black Butterflies that were left, began to have meetings
to decide what to do about the humans that were hunting them
and the fact that they saw less and less of their rainbow
colored relatives. Magic was disappearing fast from
earth, and they knew that they had to stop it. They
also knew that they couldn't stop dancing on full moon nights
either, because it would make Moon very sad and lonely and
she would start staying at home. Then who knew what
would happen to people? No magic and no moon?
Not to mention, that Great Spirit had told them that she had
made them to help spread people all over the earth so that
it wouldn't get too crowded in one place. (Like in
traffic?) exactly like in traffic (Or in the store
for Christmas!) Yes, just like that. It was
the Black Butterflies job to keep peace, balance and harmony.
even the Tesoro mariposas started to vanish; things were looking
bad. One day a Tesoro happened to be flying away from
a man who had already eaten three other Tesoros just earlier
that day, when she got stuck in a bramble bush. Well,
when that guy tried to get her out, he got stuck by the thorns
and forgot what he was doing and left howling about his owie.
(Yeah!) Well, the few Black Butterflies left in that
particular bush were surprised to see her there, but it gave
them an idea. They invited the Tesoro mariposa to stay there
as long as she liked, and asked her if she could maybe spread
the news about bramble bushes to other mariposas if she left.
Well, she started to cry. Do you know why?
(Why?) because she thought she was trapped in the bush.
She didn't know how to get out and thought that all
the Black Butterflies were ghosts because she was always asleep
when they came out to dance. (Oh, man.) I know,
I can't believe it either. They were her cousins, right?
So anyway, once Ixta calmed down--that was her name,
Ixta--the Black Butterflies explained who they were and she
began to flit about, happy. "I thought you guys
were just some old story! You are real! Can
you help us? Almost all the other butterflies are gone
except the Tesoros and some green ones. The humans
are using up all the magic and Earth is in trouble!
We need to keep out of their reach; keep our families and
Earth safe. It's bad, bad! We Tesoros will follow
your plan, just say when," Then looking to her left,
then right, then up, and then down, and finally all around,
Ixta said, "…but how do I move around in here?"
was agreed. They spread the word from bramble bush
to bramble bush. The next full moon, some of the Black
Butterflies went out to dance while others went to wake up
Tesoro butterflies who were sleeping under grass leaves in
a big field. Several of the dancing Black Butterflies
were caught, but not all. Soon, the brambles were full
of color, the colors of butterfly wings! The next day,
people came out looking for butterflies to use for wishes
and food, and couldn’t find any in the usual places.
Then one somebody noticed that the brambles had more flowers
than usual, and they didn’t all look like stars either.
(It was the Tesoros!) Yes, the Tesoros were out sunning
themselves, which made them taste sweeter and give stronger
wishes. This somebody called all the other people to
tell them that what they wanted was in the bramble bushes.
Well everybody rushed to find them a bramble bush,
and the butterflies dropped down into the bush--since they
still didn't know how to fly in it yet. As soon as
each person stuck their hands down into the bush, ow!
They got poked by a torn and forgot what they were doing and
went on off trying to remember something.
went on all day. And all the next day. And into
the next week. And on to the week after that.
And soon, it was time for the next full moon. The Black
Butterflies went out to dance, and nobody was there.
Everyone had forgotten what butterflies were all about.
The bramble bush protected the butterflies, but it also hid
the magic from peoples eyes. Over time, the butterfly
families became one big family and made lots more butterflies.
had learned other ways to travel other than with Black Butterfly
magic, and nobody needed a Tesoro mariposa to get a house
built or make some food or have a baby. People could
do that all by themselves. Soon, it was safe for the
butterflies to come out of the brambles, every once in a while.
Sometimes, someone would catch one or two, but they
never made wishes any more and they never ate them.
It seems that people forgot all of what butterflies were about.
Almost. The sight of a butterfly made people
so happy, that they would try to catch them, maybe to keep
them as pets, but mostly just to be able to say that they
touched something that beautiful that day. And they
would jump and chase, and spin, and sneak, but try as they
might, people could no longer catch mariposas as easy as they
used to. And since now that all butterflies had black
on their wings, if you hold one just right in your hands,
without touching them so that they can still fly, and then
you close your eyes, they will tell you the secret of the
wonderful bramble bush.
Tyehimba finished his tale, he placed in each bushy head,
a rhinestone butterfly clip. Robert, James and Charles
each went to their daughters, and placed the second clip.
Then they whispered in the mesmerized girls ears, "like
an afro, your hair does grow, soft and strong, don't worry
about long. follow its twirl and you can skip and jump to