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Parallel Pasts | Exclusive Chapter

8 / Fatima


It’s five minutes after eight in the evening.  I’m standing in front of Patchouli, the poetry spot I agreed to meet my new client at.

I’ve been here for a little over ten minutes.  No sign of her yet.

A horn blows.  The driver of a red Nissan Maxima waves a frantic arm out the window.


She pulls in an empty parking space a couple of cars over from my ride.  Briskly walks in my direction by the front entrance to the lounge.  “Sorry I’m running late.  For some reason my husband forgot about my outing and made plans of his own.  But that’s a story I’ll spare you from.”

“No problem.”

I open the door for her to enter first.

The room is more crowded than it appeared outside.  Smells warm and earthy, like the name suggests, with a hint of We Shall Overcome.

“Five dollars,” the dark skinned man behind the booth tells us.  “We’re just getting started so you ladies made it just in time.”

“Perfect.”  Lauren says, pulls out a ten.  Pays for both of us.

“Thanks,” I say.

She blows me off.  Says, “There’s a table up near the front.”

On the stage is a small band.  A female and a male are sitting on stools behind microphones, singing along with the band as the crowd waits for the first poet to take the stage.

“It’s nice in here,” Lauren leans over and says in my ear.

I nod in agreement.

“I’ll have to get here earlier next time so we can put our names on the list.”

“You perform?”

“Haven’t in years.  Started my own poetry club in high school and college.”

“Never would’ve known.”

She chuckles.  “A husband and kids will do it to you.”

Handclaps and whistles surround us as a brother takes the mic on stage.  Puts a cessation to our conversation.

“Welcome to Sunday nights at Patchouli.  For the regulars, you already know what to expect.  But for my first timers, sit back, relax.  Let the stories told on this stage pull you into yesterday and carry you into tomorrow.  It doesn’t get any better than this.  I thank you all for being a part of this magnificent experience.”

The drummer begins hitting his sticks, creating a steady beat.  The keyboardist follows in.  Bass kicks in on cue with a mellow tune.  A female saxophonist seasons the mood with her own jazzy flavorings.

“Without further ado, coming to the stage, welcome Naadirah.  The rare and precious one.”


A petite woman steps on stage.  She lights up the candlelit room with her brightly-colored afro.  It bounces with the movements of her frustration as she speaks about losing herself within herself.

Too busy seeking external validation because, internally I won’t validate myself. 

Naadirah pounds her fist into her chest.

The only vaccination…emancipation…from self.

Out of the corner of my eye I see Lauren nodding her head in agreement with the poet.  Makes me wonder what part of herself does she need freeing from.

The singers on stage fade out as Naadirah steps off the stage.  Her afro not far behind her.

Lauren leans over.  “I’m going to get a drink.  You want something?”

I shake my head.  “I’ll pass.”

“Be right back.”

The MC of the evening steps back on stage.  I welcome his eye contact as he stares in my direction.

“Next to the stage is a regular here on Sunday nights.  Put your hands together for Simeon.”

“What was up with the eye contact?” Lauren asks when she sits back down at our table.

“I don’t know.  Wasn’t really paying attention.”

“He’s not bad looking.”  She sucks the cherry off its stem.  Sips on her Cosmopolitan.

I pick at a perfectly manicured fingernail as I watch the MC make his way over to the bar.

His walk holds no insecurity.  Walks like the world owes him an apology.  Regal.  He has my attention.  He runs his ringless hand through his textured fro.  Sits down, orders a drink the color of butterscotch.

To be held … and groomed into the grooves of you.

The poet’s words grab my attention, but my vision stays focused on the man in all black.

He turns in the barstool, resting his eyes on mine.  Lets me know he knows I’ve been watching him.

I move my eyes from him.  Slightly embarrassed that he caught my voyeurism.

Simeon steps down from the stage.  A woman behind me tells her companion, “I sure would like to make some melodies with him,” referring to the poet’s sexual poem.

I smile inside. Look back for the man at the bar. He’s gone.

Lauren fumbles around in her purse for her ringing cell phone.  “Hey.  She is?  You gave her a bottle?  Put her across your knees and rock her.  I’m with Fatima.”  She looks at me.  Rolls her eyes.  “From the spa.  We’re at a poetry spot.  I’ll be home in a little while.  She’s a baby … what do you expect?”  She says a few more things before flipping her phone shut.

I tried not to listen to her conversation.  Tried to make small talk with the other ladies at our table, gave them fliers to the spa.  I still heard the exasperation in my new friend’s voice, though.  “Everything all right?”

She exhales.  “My husband.  He acts like the kids are my responsibility.  He acts like he doesn’t know what to do.  Like I’m supposed to drop what I’m doing and come running to the rescue.”  She shakes her head.  Throws the homing device back in her purse.  “They’re his kids, too.”

“Maybe you need to leave them with him more often,” I instigate.

She just shakes her head in frustration.  Takes another sip of her Cosmo.

Poet after poet take the stage.  Men, women.  Everyone releasing their prophetic proclamations.

A bald-headed female steps on the stage.  Approaches the mic like they fed off of the same umbilical cord.  She commands our attention with her familiarity.

Delusion.  Illusion.  My mind … a state of … confusion.

Her switch from spoken word to song is captivating.  Makes me feel her words.  Reminds me of the eclectic sound of Me’Shell Ndegeocello.

Debating.  Contemplating.  Should I stay or should I go … go … go.

She talks and sings, and sings and talks of being the other woman.

Lauren moves around in her seat.  Sips the last of her drink.

My hand lightly touches her thigh.  I lean over, whisper, “You okay?”

She looks at me with eyes glazed over.  “I’m getting ready to go.”

“You sure you’re all right?”

She puts her purse on her shoulder.  “Yeah.”  Her eyes tell a different story.

We wait for the poetess to finish.  Wait for her applause before getting up from the table.  I walk Lauren out to her car.

She leans against the trunk.  “Married life is hard.  Too many expectations.  Sometimes I wish I could turn back the hands of time.”  She sucks on her bottom lip.  “But if I did that, I wouldn’t have my children.”

I say, “Every relationship has the same expectations.  Whether it’s parent versus child; teacher/student; coach/player; conductor/orchestra; performer/audience.”  I stop myself when I notice the I-get-the-point expression on Lauren’s face.

We lightly chuckle at my loss of focus.

“Got a little carried away there, didn’t I?”

She nods.

“What I’m getting at is, sometimes we set our expectations too high for other people.  Is it fair?  No.  Especially when we’re not willing to set those same high expectations for ourselves.”

“But, Fatima,” she counters.  “Nevermind.  I digress.”

She walks around to the driver’s side.  Opens the door.  Stands between the door and the inside of the car.  So much is in her eyes.  So much that she wants to say, but doesn’t.  Lauren sighs, gives me a hug that begs to get to know me better.  “I’ll call you,” she says before shutting the door on her emotions.  Drives off like she’s on the tracks of Nascar.

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