Cornrows and Dill Pickles

by Malon Edwards

The last time Nee-Nee did my hair I rushed for two hundred twenty-four yards and three touchdowns against Lane Tech in the Chicago Public League title game. Them dudes couldn’t tackle me.

Closest they came was midway through the third quarter on a little arrow pass. I juked the defensive end, trucked the Will linebacker, and then tiptoed twelve yards down the far sideline until the strong safety pushed me out of bounds into Coach Taylor. Yeah, I know; dude’s stat sheet will record it as a tackle, but my uniform was clean when I walked off the field at the end of the game.

“They say I can’t do this no more.”

Nee-Nee’s deft almond brown fingers plait my blowed out hair into thick, neat cornrows. I shift between her legs, my ass numb from sitting so long on the cracked and pitted steps of her front porch. Her breath is scented with the tang of peppermint and dill pickles.

“’They’?”

“Big Mama. Miss Nora. The Council.”

“Why?”

“They say it’s time for me to settle down with one of my own.”

“You’re not even seventeen yet.”

“We marry young and live long.”

“You were the only girl I ever caught during Catch-A-Girl, Kiss-A-Girl. It wasn’t that I was bad at the game. I just wanted to kiss you.”

“We were five years old.”

“We said we were going to get married when we grow up.”

“We said a lot of things that will never come true.”

“You knew then, didn’t you?” Nee-Nee continues to braid my hair, silent. “LaNeisha?” She ignores me, little girl stubborn all over again. I snatch my head away from her hands, turn, look up at her. I have to know.

“Yes.” Her voice is whisper soft, apologetic.

I face forward and watch a pimped out Chevy Nova sitting on dubs roll past us at ten miles an hour. She goes back to doing my hair.

“My people go back to the Dahomey, too,” I say.

“On the wrong side.”

The first time I kissed Nee-Nee we stood in the piss-watered weeds between our garages. I was sure if Big Mama caught us she would have taken a switch to both of us and wore our little asses out.

“Why did they let this go on for so long then?”

“They were young girls once.”

“Do I know him?”

“No. He’s just some Aziz boy who lives in Chatham off 87th and King Drive.”

“You haven’t met him, have you?”

Nee-Nee doesn’t say anything for a long while. Then: “These braids will last longer than usual.”

“The first round of the state playoffs is in three weeks.”

“Don’t worry. They’ll hold through championship weekend.”

“And then on to the next charity case.” I mean mug something fierce, suck my teeth, squeeze my fists tight until my fingernails draw blood. “Do you already know who he is? Does he play ball? You getting him a scholarship, too? Or will y’all just be bonin’ partners?”

She yanks my hair. “I loved you.”

“You can’t turn love off and on like a faucet.”

“No, but you can put it away and lock it up for safe-keeping.”

“Whatever, man. Y’all Aziza fae swear up and down that y’all are benevolent and kind and helpful, but when it really comes down to it, y’all ain’t nothing but bogus.”

Nee-Nee’s tears drop onto my scalp. “Maybe so. But this is how we’ve done it for hundreds of years, and this is how we’ll do it for hundreds more.”

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