Deja struggled to make a straight part in the middle of her hair; but, her eyes were swollen from too little sleep and too much crying and her brain was churning so fast that focusing on something so minute seemed impossible. The vision of herself in the bathroom mirror– holding a pink comb in her left hand- became blurry as Deja’s eyes started to fill with tears again. Just then Porsche walked in and took the comb out of Deja’s hand.
“Come ‘ere, “ she said, signaling with her head for Deja to follow her to the family room.
Porsche sat down on the worn, purple velvet couch with her legs slightly ajar; and Deja took her place on the floor between them. Porsche then began to make tic-tac-toe parts across Deja’s head and placed a thin layer of coconut oil in the parts—just as Momma would do. She finished by placing Deja’s hair in two puffy ponytails held together by purple elastics. It was Porsche’s way of singing Deja a lullaby—giving her comfort the best way she knew how.
Momentarily, Deja was soothed. But, she knew that she had to go.
She grabbed a Pop-Tart package out of the box on the counter, grabbed her sister’s puffer coat, and backpack and started to head out of the door. She looked back at Porsche and said, “When you get back from school don’t forget to call SNAP to let them know that our EBT card has been lost. That money that Benny gave me isn’t going last forever. Love you.” Then she shut the door behind her.
She and Porsche decided last night that they needed to let the world think that their mother was there. In the suburbs, folks were scared of the IRS; in the projects they were scared of CPS. Deja knew that if she didn’t show up for school, somebody would become suspicious. She also knew that many of the neighbors in Brown projects felt that the only way you could build yourself up, was to knock others down. That’s what you do when you feel stuck—you don’t feel as if you can move up or out, so you just push others back and down. Folks that she had called Auntie, cousin and Uncle wouldn’t hesitate to call CPS if they got wind that their mom wasn’t around.
So, Deja made her way down those metal stairs, which seemed to have become steeper lately- or maybe she was heavier.
Actually everything seemed somewhat different this morning: the graffiti that she normally thought was like gorgeous, bright jewelry accessorizing her hood seemed ugly; she realized that Frank, the friendly homeless man who greeted her daily on the way to school, smelled of fresh cigarettes, old liquor and soiled underwear. And when she walked into Hudson Elementary School, instead of just knowing that she was different, every part of her felt different. She smelled the coconut oil that Porsche had put into her hair earlier and worried that everyone could smell it too.
“Your presentations will be next Thursday. Please divide your tasks amongst yourselves,” Ms. Marshall in reference to their history group project.
“I can type up the report section because my parents just got us a sick new MacBook Pro,” offered Cameron, an eager, blond-haired classmate.
Deja looked down at the pencils on her desk until they started to blur together. Parents, computer, parents, computer, kept summersaulting in her head to the point that she felt almost dizzy.
“Deja, Deja, Deja,”Ms. Marshall summoned.
Deja slowly looked up, feeling almost as if she had just awoken from a deep sleep.
“Deja, do you feel like joining us today?” Ms. Marshall questioned rather sharply.
Deja tried to speak, but couldn’t find the words. She felt everyone in the class looking at her—the girl who did everything to be invisible. She crossed her legs and pushed them beneath her chair, clasped her arms tightly across and around her body and began to slightly quiver, in spite of herself.
“Alright class, time for recess,” Ms. Marshall said although it was still 3 minutes until the bell actually rang. The students clomped out of the room–everyone but Deja. She knew that Ms. Marshall meant for her to stay.
When the last kid walked out, Ms. Marshall walked over and closed the door. She walked over to Deja, who was still sitting at her desk, put her hand on Deja’s shoulder and whispered, “What’s going on, Dear?”
All Deja could hear was her mother saying, “Ain’t no use in crying,” as her body quivers turned into quakes that jostled her shoulders and her tears chased each other down her face and off of her chin.