Photo © Isabel Snyder (Originally published in ‘Bedford Square 5’ Anthology).
BY DIRIYE OSMAN
My sister tells me I’m living in sin. ‘Tis true. But she doesn’t conk that this is my sin. She tells me it is haram for a woman to love another woman. ‘Tis also true. But I don’t need to hear it from her.
She calls me on a regular to scope the situation, to sniff traces of melancholy and dissatisfaction in my voice. But I’m a psychoanalyst and this is pop psychology 101. I see it played out like a Carry On film on my ward every day. It’s a game for rookies.
‘How’re you?’ she asks.
‘I’m fine, hon,’ I say in a warm voice. ‘Na wewe?’
‘Alhamdulilah,’ she says, although her timbre is slightly shaky, desperate to conceal. ‘What you been up to?’
‘Working,’ I say, ‘Things are hectic but exciting.’
‘Hmm.’ This is not what she wants to hear. ‘And what about – ?’ She pauses, expecting me to finish her sentence. I let the silence drag until I can hear her shallow breathing through the receiver.
‘Adrienne?’ I finally say with a smile. ‘She’s great. So sweet and gentle and’ – I sigh for a blissed-out effect – ‘giving. She makes me feel like I’m the centre of the earth, like nothing else matters. Alhamdulilah!’
The silence becomes sound. With just a few, carefully chosen words, I’ve made incisions into her vital organs. Brick by brick, her interior structure starts to crumble. That’s when the sermon begins.
‘Walaahi, I pray that you see the light,’ she says with the faux-sympathy of the faux-pious. ‘I pray that the shatan leaves your spirit; I pray that you find a man because lesbianialism can be cured. I pray that Allah cures you. I pray. All you need to do is to find a good man and settle down. ‘
‘Like you, right?’
My sister never finished high school because she wanted to play house with an illiterate bundu-boy from Bosaaso, who subsequently made her drop five babies before she was thirty, before dumping her ass for an Egyptian teenager with an air-tight clit and cash to stash. But I don’t state this. It’s not my style.
‘Abdi was a good father!’ she fumes. ‘He loved his kids!’
‘Yes,’ I say in a mellow voice. ‘Loved.’
My sister weighs my spite before she spits, ‘Are you even human?’
‘No,’ I say. ‘It’s probably my lesbianialism. I think its fucking up the rotation.’
‘Maybe you need to check into a mental hospital.’
‘Darling!’ I gasp, ‘why you hurt me so! You know those places freak me out!’
‘Hmmff! You shall chew lock one of these days.’
‘Sister girl, I always chew lock, especially when you bell me. But you know how we do. We maintain.’
‘No, sis,’ she says, ‘you maintain while the rest of us carry bare burden.’
‘Hawa,’ I say, ‘what do you want me to do for you?’
‘I want – ’ she sighs, ‘I want you to say it’ll be fine.’
‘It’ll be fine,’ I say sincerely.
‘How do you know?’
‘I just do.’
She sighs a little more easily.
‘How are the kids?’ I ask.
‘Tell them habo Ndambi will be over soon.’
‘Ati Ndambi?’ she sneers, ‘Samira, when are you going to get real? Nobody calls themselves ‘Ndambi’? Why’d you want to go from Samira to ‘Sin’?’
‘It’s ‘Ndambi,’ not ‘dhambi.’ It means ‘most beautiful.’
‘Oh please!’ she says.
‘Bye Hawa,’ I smile and hang up. After I put down the receiver I recline in my chair. I can hear one of my patients playing ‘Young Hearts Run Free’ in their room. I prick up my ears, let the rhythm ride my pulse. Candi Staton was on point when she said, self-preservation is what’s really going on today.
When I come home that evening, I listen to my answering machine. There are no messages from Adrienne. I chuckle sadly to myself. Night-time is always the hardest. It’s when the ghouls of my imagination play games with my sanity. So I get practical and run a bath. I fill the steaming water with oils and salts until the tub is slick. Adrienne used to do this for me every night after I came home from work. She used to buy ‘bath bombs’ which were fruity soaps that dissolved effervescently in water. I would emerge from the bathroom smelling of mango and sexual hunger. We would kiss like love-starved youts. She would press me hard against the wall, lick my lips, tongue would meet tits, hips, clit. She would melt me down until I stunk of sex and satisfaction. And then we would lie in bed and talk of all the love we had gained and everything we had lost. Those conversations were our way of fortifying the chord that connected us. What was once our temple, the place where we created love, has become my fortress, a space custom-built for turmoil. So what to do? Should I sink further into funk and act stone-face outside these walls? Should I continue to not mention my loss to anyone?
Should I come harder?
I decide these questions don’t need answers tonight. Tonight is about TV and takeaway and bourbon on ice. It’s about dabbing attar on my collarbone and cotton sheets. Tonight is a date with Maxwell and Coco de Mer.
I remove my bra and panties, enjoy the curve of my breasts, the groove of my nipples. I squeeze the tips, feel them tighten. I run my palm under my powder-soft arms, massage each muscle until I moan. My body has not been touched in moons and tonight I want to sweat, shimmer. My mind plays games with my body, directing my fingertips to the nook of my navel. But I don’t fully touch skin. Instead, I suck my stomach in and close my eyes. I focus on my breathing.
I do this until I am loose.
It is time.
I walk over to my closet and remove the box. It is black and the gold-leaf card attached to it reads:
The Jade Love Egg practice originated in ancient China. Taoist Masters taught the secrets of the Jade Egg only to a very small number of women: the Empress and the concubines. It was believed that these practices gave them longevity, youthful energy and extraordinary skills as lovers.
I carry the box to my bed. I lay it down and reach for the Arabian oils on my bedside table. I rub the oils all over myself. The scent is musk and morning glory. I sprawl on the bed and open my thighs wide while Maxwell’s ‘Embrya’ steams up the room. Maxwell’s falsetto is cream on wax and as I coax one, two, three fingers inside my pussy, my toes curl. As I go deeper within myself the music sounds richer and the musk smells sweeter. I push my hips back and forth to take in my fingers. When I’m wet I wipe my hands on a towel. I open the Coco de Mer box and remove the jade egg. It is smooth, shaped like a duck egg. I put it in my mouth to moisten it. As Maxwell’s bass-line becomes my heartbeat, I drop the egg onto my palm. I trace it around my nipples, torso and pubic bone, which glisten with oil and sweat. I tease myself like this until my throat is dry, until I’m panting.
I’m tight so I slowly twerk the egg inside me. It’s painful at first but I open up as I gently push and pull the semi-precious stone. The room feels so hot I can barely breathe. I inhale and exhale at a deep, hypnotic pace. I imagine Adrienne’s tongue on my clit and my body starts building up to climax, until I can no longer control my breath, until all I can do is howl. When I come, the love egg pops out of me and I simply lie there, legs shaking. After I shower and drift off to sleep, Maxwell’s ‘Embrya,’ comes to an end. The final track is a recording of an ultrasound. The last thing I hear that night is a baby’s heart beating inside my head.
The prophet once said that dreams are a window into the unseen. I have been told many times by family, friends, colleagues and strangers, that I, a black African, Muslim lesbian, am not included in this vision; that my dreams are a reflection of my upbringing in a decadent, amoral Western society that has corrupted who I really am. But who am I, really? Am I allowed to speak for myself or should my desires form the battleground for causes I do not care for? My answer to that is simple: ‘no one allows anyone anything.’ By rejecting that notion, you discover that only you can give yourself permission on how to lead your life, naysayers be damned. In the end, something gives way. The earth doesn’t move but something shifts. That shift is ‘change’ and ‘change’ is the layman’s lingo for that elusive state that lovers, dreamers, prophets and politicians call ‘freedom.’
Do I think I’m free? Well, let a sister break it down for ya. I often dream of home. It is a place that exists only in my imagination: it is my Eden, my Janna. Sometimes I associate it with my father, my mother, my grandmother, my sister, all of whom have rejected me, all of whom I still love. Sometimes home takes the shape of my ex, Adrienne. I like to think that the memory of her beautiful Afro, spiky attitude and sweetness is sacred, that I worship at her altar. Other times, I regard Somalia, my birthplace, as home, as the land where my soul will eventually be laid to rest. Many times home is Kenya or London. But none of these places or people truly embody home for me. Home is in my hair, my lips, my arms, my thighs, my feet and hands. I am my own home. And when I wake up crying every morning, thinking of how lonely I am, I pinch my skin, tug at my hair, remind myself that I am alive. Remind myself to step outside and greet the morning. Remind myself that it’s all about forward motion. It’s all about change. It’s all about that elusive state.