“We gave the Future to the winds, and slumbered tranquilly in the Present, weaving the dull world around us into dreams.” ― Edgar Allan Poe, The Mystery of Marie Rogêt
I spent most of my early teens in the Bronx. The street I lived on, corner to corner, ran the length of three average city blocks and was the picture of diversity—the melting pot that New York had become famous for. It was all about migration. Italians were moving to new ground as black people nestled in and on their tail were Hispanics followed by West Indians. It was a neighborhood in transition where multi-cultures learn by cohabitation that differences in race didn’t make a person less human.
It was also the 70’s and I rocked a killer afro to end all ‘fros. Metal pronged afro pick with the handle clenched in a black power fist and a peace symbol carved out on the base, tucked in the back of my hair.
It drove my parent crazy. They rode my back constantly to get it cut but there was that preteen Samsonian fear that the strength of my personality—-my Rhyan-ness—-would be stripped away, were a barber to lay clippers on my precious locks. When I got the “as long as you’re living under my roof” speech, I knew I needed a solution and I needed it quick.
Enter: Cynthia Holloway. I mentioned my plight in passing and out of nowhere she offered to braid my hair into cornrows. So, we sat on the stoop of a private house and armed with only a comb and hair grease, Cynthia worked her nimble fingers like a loom.
She was one of those neighborhood girls that I’d never really spoken to before outside the odd hello. Not that there was anything wrong with her, she was simply a person that kept herself to herself. The type of person you’d have to make an effort to get to know.
It would take many years for me to become that type of person.
But in sitting with her I discovered she was both intelligent and imaginative, with interesting stories to tell. Her father was a retried Army Ranger colonel, who spent a great deal of his free time on the road in a jazz band.
I’m not sure how much of that was true. No one could ever remember seeing Cynthia’s dad, so maybe it was a story she invented to keep nosy kids at bay. Or perhaps it was one of the quiet lies that parents tell their children to spare them from the harsh realities of troubled marriages.
Since we had nothing but time to kill, we talked about our constricted home lives, mentioned the odd hobby, told a few jokes and had a couple of laughs, and when all the conversation wells had run dry, we told each other stories.
At the end of every month, when the braids began to look a little ratty, I’d take them out and Cynthia met me back on that stoop to repeat the process. And after a brief bit of catch-up, we’d go back to telling each other imaginary stories and without meaning to, wound up designing an illusory sanctuary from the burdens and pains of our everyday pre-teenage lives.
While we mentally terraformed our neighborhood row by cornrow, we got to know each other in those months as the monarchs of our fantasy world. We explored the surroundings, went on adventures, and basically forgot the world for a few hours a month.
Come the fifth month, I sat on the stoop and waited, my hair a wild crop of imagination waiting to be plowed, but Cynthia never showed. I later learned from a friend of a friend’s sister that she and her mother had moved away in the middle of the night without telling a soul where they were headed.
I tried to imagine all the possible reasons that would cause them to make a hurried escape under the cloak of twilight and seriously hoped it had nothing to do with her retried-Army-Ranger-colonel-jazz-band-dad. Nothing negative, anyway.
And yes, I eventually had no other choice than to submit to the
butcher shop barbershop haircut. Much to my surprise, I managed to retain all of my Rhyan-ness afterwards. I was still filled with my nerdy sameness and when I missed her a bit, I’d sometimes sit on the stoop and give an imaginary Cynthia updates on the latest goings on in the world we created.
Sally forth and be world-braidingly writeful.
©2013 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys
PS. Cyn, if through some bizarre happenstance you should come across this, hit me up real quick. There’s a world in some need of serious upkeep.
What a wonderful story…I see it, and I think this could be the beginning of a lovely short story series with the imaginary tales you two spun through cornrows.
You know, that’s not a bad idea. I just today finished compiling roughly twenty-some-odd stories, older tales that I don’t think will ever find a home, into a short story collection that I’m publishing through Amazon.
I aim to empty my box of regret if it’s the last thing I do.
Besides, my time is short. I can feel dino breath on the back of my neck.
You so funny.
Great story. I think I am going to cry for that little girl who missed her friend.
It’s funny, I hadn’t thought about her in years, but I wonder how she made out in life. Hopefully she’s living the dream. At least one of us deserves to.
This was an amazing story. I’m sorry you had to lose a friend.
Thanks for that. The world’s a small place and getting smaller all the time. Our paths may cross again one day. Our world’ll keep til then.
I have always enjoyed your posts, even though I may not have commented on them, but this one really touched me. You wove the tale perfectly and the fact that it was a true story makes it that much more compelling. I could imagine the two of you sitting there. I am sorry you lost your friend. I could see this being the beginning of a collection of short stories of the stories you spun from the steps. Beautifully written. Perhaps the fates will bring your paths to meet again.
Thank you, that’s very kind, and the feeling is mutual because I enjoy your posts (most recently “The Legend of Captain Jon Blackwell”) and should really comment more than I do.
You’re the second person that suggested this as a bookend devise for a short story series and it definitely bears looking into.
Regarding Cynthia, it’s bizarre because I hadn’t given thought to her in years and out of the blue the memory hit, and I posted it on the outside chance she’ll stumble upon it. The internet has made the world a smaller place, so you never know.
Hope springs eternal.
Thank you to you as well. I will be posting more short stories as time goes on, I hope you will continue to enjoy them. I look forward to more of your stories too.
You are right, the internet has made the world a much smaller place. It’s amazing the people I have been able to reconnect with. Perhaps Cynthia will stumble across your path again; I would love to hear that story. 🙂
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