The thin carved shell sliced her exposed torso for the 12thth– 20thttime? Imani Parker didn’t know. She watched the abalone shell flash in the light from the fire. It struck her bare flesh again and again with precision. Before long, she could watch no longer. The pain moved like lightning through her body. She moaned pressing the back of her head into the fresh bed of mango leaves made just for her.
She struggled to remember where she was and how she got there while the razor sharp instrument seemed to take on a life of its own, knowing the path, the reason. She felt an odd rush of energy coarse through her body. She writhed.
“Stay still, you will ruin it.”
The voice sounded far away. Imani quieted herself. She breathed into the pain, accepting it. With acceptance, she remembered herself. She was there now. The blood, it was real. Warm heavy liquid rolled from her belly, racing down her sides, into the dirt under the mango tree.
She moaned hearing her own labored breaths. “Please, please let this be over soon.” Her lips could barely form the words. The stars above her began to spin.
Lena pulled up to her home, dark save one light, Tyler’s room. Her baby boy, in his room pretending to do homework. She hit the garage door opener. Lucas’ car was gone, working the late shift. Lord only knew where Dedrick or Imani were. Her problem kids.
In the kitchen she flipped on the lights and was greeted with the aftermath of Tyler’s cooking attempts. Her meeting had gone late.
“Tyler, baby I’m home.”
“Hey mom.” The greeting muffled through his closed door.
“You get enough dinner?”
“Dinner, did you…” Lena put her hand on her hip “Come down here. I am not yelling a conversation with you.”
Lena went to work, rinsing the dishes and filling the washer. Tyler leaned in the doorway.
“Maybe you could find it in your heart to do this part next time.” Lena closed the dishwasher door, and dried her hands. “You know where your brother and sister are?”
“Nope.” Tyler grabbed an apple from the bowl on the table, plopped in a chair, and bit in.
Lena poured herself a glass of wine, and joined him at the table.
“School good today? Bet you’re glad it’s Friday. Any plans this weekend?”
Tyler chewed holding up a finger. He swallowed.
“Yes, yes, and no.”
Lena sighed and tweaked her son’s nose. “What time did your sister leave?”
“Right after I got home from school. She came home, changed. Then Antoine showed up. They left.”
Lena’s face tightened. That boy was nothing but trouble. Lena checked the clock on the microwave, 8:30.
“What about Dedrick?”
Tyler shrugged, stood up, threw his apple core in the trash. “Mind if I go back to homework?”
“No baby, go ahead.”
Lena finished off her glass of wine and dug in her purse for her cell phone. She tried Imani’s number, no answer. She dialed Lucas.
“Hey mom.” She heard her oldest son’s voice.
“Hi sweetie. Hey you’re off at 9 right?”
“Yeah, what do you need?”
“It’s your sister. She is out with that Antoine again. And I have no idea where your brother is.”
She heard Lucas sigh.
“Can you grab your brother? I’m sure he is hanging with those boys down on third. Get him out of there, and go find your sister.”
“Is that all?”
“I would do it myself, you know I would. But I can’t leave a 10-year-old home alone this time of night.”
“I know ma, I know. The joys of having’ yo daddy in the big house.” Lucas laughed at his words.
“That’s not funny Lucas. I tried to call her before I called you. No answer. She’s not going to pick up when she sees it’s me calling.”
“I’m on it.”
“Thanks Lucas. Love you, stay safe.”
Lena hung up, poured a second glass of wine, and sat at the table. She thought about Imani. So independent that one. She almost had enough saved up to move out. Lena’s heart felt heavy. It was true, your little girls leave you at first chance, little boys stay forever. She sipped her wine, their last conversation bubbling in her mind.
“Baby, I hear what you are saying. But you have to know, your words, they’re not new.”
“Momma you know what they did to him? He wasn’t doing nothing and they slammed him against the wall like he was criminal.”
“Sweetie,” She took Imani’s face in her hands wishing she could depart wisdom by osmosis, through her hands. “I hear what you’re saying, but Antoine? That boy? He’s dangerous. There’s a reason those cops watching him.”
“You sound like the rest of them. We talk about blacks like you.” Imani wrenched away from her mother.
Lena shuddered and backed away. Imani was coming into her own.
“You taken the white man’s dream. It’s all ok for you. You got the job, the house… you sold out!” Imani stormed away. Soon the familiar slam of her bedroom door.
Lena swirled her wine in the glass. The red liquid clung to the sides. She checked the clock, 9:26.
Lucas found Dedrick without any problem, hanging with the wrong crowd. One stern look, a shoulder shrug, his younger brother was beside him in the car.
“You gotta find a better crowd.”
“Yeah? You sound like mom.”
Lucas shrugged it off. Maybe he did sound like her, but lately she was making more and more sense.
“Don’t wanna fight about that. Listen, Imani, she took off to the valley with that dude Antoine. We gotta find her.”
“Antoine? The uppity nigger speaks French and shit?”
“That’s the one. Her friend Lesha told me they up to something out at that farm Antoine works at. I don’t trust that fucker.”
Derrick reached behind him and pulled a gun from the waistband of his jeans. He set it in his lap. The street lights flashed off the black metal.
“Put that shit away! You crazy! And not where you found it – make it the glove box.”
“Protection, Antoine, he got a possy. No telling what we might find.
“Whatever we find don’t need a gun to solve.”
Derrick put the gun in the glove box, “Whatever man.”
“Yah whatever. We just gotta find Imani. She can’t be all tied up with some West African dude.”
“He’s cool but wants to takes everything too far.”
Dedirck was right. Antoine was a whole different guy. His fight seemed longer than days.
Antoine knelt next to Imani, stroking her scarred skin with salve from the mango tree.
“Imani,” he stroked her brow. “It is done.”
Imani’s eyes fluttered open. A small smile teased the sides of her lips.
“I am yours now, forever. You did the pattern of your tribe?”
“Perfectly, and it suits you.”
“Now we just have to tell my mother. Our intentions. That’s how it goes right?”
Antoine nodded his head. “That’s right.”
He bent and kissed Imani’s lips then continued applying the salve to her wounds. Dipping the leaf in the thick liquid he stroked his love’s skin with a gentle touch.
Lucas and Dedrick rolled into the small town, closed up for the night. Lucas checked his GPS. The farm should be up on the right. Sure enough the sign, Jenkins Farm, loomed in the dark night. He took a right onto a dirt path. There was nobody around. Rows and rows of grapevines and unidentifiable crops surrounded them. No house, a small awning, just ahead. He pointed the car toward it. That is when Lucas saw them.
There was a small fire. It was in a clearing with some trees different than the other crops around. The headlights of the car startled the couple. Lucas slammed on the brakes, and shoved the gear shift in park.
“Wait here,” he told Dedrick.
Lucas bounded from the car. He ran toward the clearing. Then he saw her, his sister, laid out on the ground, her torso looking like raw meat. Antoine set the bowl he held in his hands down and stood, waiting for Lucas.
“What the fuck man? What did you do to my sister?” Lucas bounced on his feet, fists balled.
Imani raised her head. “Lucas, it’s ok, Lucas…” she repeated.
Lucas moved forward and landed a right hook squarely under Antoine’s jaw. Antoine staggered then regained his footing.
“Don’t have to be like this man. Let me explain.”
Lucas heard footsteps coming fast behind him. He turned and saw Dedrick. The glint of the metal, he had the gun.
“Dedrick – no!” Lucas’ voice was drowned out. A shot shattered the silence of the night.
Antoine fell to his knees. A guttural moan escaped his lips. The bullet missed its target. Antoine hovered over Imani’s motionless body. Her now dead eyes purveyed the night sky. Their scarification ritual rendered pointless.