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Chapter 1: PATRICE It just doesn't feel right. It feels strange. Here we are, stretched out on my living room floor, humming and kicking our sandaled feet to the rhythm of Roberta Flack singing "Killing Me Softly with His Song," and trying to compose a wedding invitation. An engraved if you please formal wedding invitation. Cherry and me. Veterans of Snick, CORE, and God alone knows how many H. Rap Brown Black Power rallies.

"Hey, Patrice, remember the Chant?"

Who could forget it? We sang it, clapped it, stomped it, and kicked it at every rally. The tune of "Land of a Thousand Dancers," by Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs. And by Wilson Pickett: E, DEDE, DEDE DBD BAB AG DEDE. It meant nothing. It meant everything: black unity, energy, the confidence that comes from knowing you are right, and a challenge flung down to the Establishment.

Later for that cool wailing dirge on the radio. These days, we have enough public mourners and freelance pallbearers as it is. More than enough premature eulogies and obituaries. The Death of the Black Family. The Endangered African American Male. The Pathology of the African American Community. The Self-Destruction of Black Youth. At least we'd done, were doing, our part to offset all of that. I turn off Miss Flack and launch into three choruses of the Chant, followed by our cheer:


"Black Power!" Cherry responds.


"Black Power!"



We follow it up with screams and a Black Power handshake: (1) my fingers grasping her thumb; (2) reversed--her fingers, my thumb; (3) fingers grasping fingers, palms up; (4) palms slapping. "There," I say, collapsing happily on the floor. "That always makes me feel better."

Cherry gives me a critical look. "There's a rip in the seam under your right arm. Patrice, do you realize we might soon be grandmothers?"

I check my Saturday caftan, black mud cloth to appease Saturn on his day. I pride myself on having the most fabulous collection of caftans on the East Coast. Just because I'm a big woman doesn't mean I can't be ravishing and gorgeously attired. Sure enough, she's right. A depressing rip under the right armpit, and no seam allowance for repairing it. That's the second time I've regretted buying something from Chic Afrique. Sometimes I think we've overromanticized these Africans. All they do is come over here and rip us off. But then I chide myself for having ungenerous and xenophobic thoughts that are probably not even my own but the result of media manipulation.

Something Cherry just said suddenly gets through to me.

"Cheryl, are you trying to tell me something? Is Aisha--"

"No, no, nothing like that. Just thinking about the probable consequences of all this, a year or two from now."

"Well, that would be wonderful, wouldn't it? Still, I'm glad there's no hurry--"

"No hurry! Patrice, do you realize how boojy you sound? We weren't worried about legitimizing our offspring."

We sure weren't. We, Cherry and I and the rest of our circle of fine, brilliant, achieving, liberated sisters, went to great lengths to arrange the opposite. We were determined to go against tradition in every way possible. Premeditated single motherhood was one of the principal ways we chose, because marriage would bring legal and property issues into our personal choices.

"It won't be wonderful," Cherry says in her smallest voice. "We thought we were going to be young forever. Remember?" I look and see two big tears rolling down her copper cheeks.

Cheryl Hopkins is a trip. She has a mouth full of razor blades disguised as pretty teeth, and she'll bare them and cut you up into person julienne in a minute. Downtown she has a reputation for being the meanest loan officer in East Coast banking. But come to her with the right sob story, especially one that features oppression, and she'll give you the entire bank--real estate, deed and all. And when she is hurt, she is all the disappointed little five-year-old girls in the world rolled into one. I give her the hug her sobs call for, but can't help noticing that she has more gray hairs on top than I can count.

"Remind me to introduce you to my friend Miss Clairol," I say when her shoulders have stopped heaving.

We are both a trip, really. One shriveling up, the other ballooning past size 20, and both middle-aged, to put it generously. A pair of grandmotherly ex-revolutionaries. Only we don't feel grandmotherly or ex-anything. Inside, we are still the same young women who dedicated themselves to the Movement, and who didn't want to come near anything bourgeois, legal, formal, or sanctioned by society. Sororities? Tea sipping? No, thank you. Hair straightening? Get outta here. Marriage? Are you outta your mind? We came of age in the sixties. We thought all rules were made to be broken. We wanted nothing to do with churches or ceremonies. Now here we are, trying to compose some la-de-da wedding invitations, and we can't even get the words right.

"How's this sound?" I say, ignoring Cherry's angry expression and her furtive inspection of her cornrows in a compact mirror. "Ms. Patrice Lumumba Barber and Ms. Cheryl Mandela Hopkins invite you--"

"Request the honour of your presence," she corrects me.

"Do you spell 'honor,' O-R or O-U-R?" I ask.

"O-U-R," she replies without hesitation. "And my middle name is Ann."

I write dutifully, trying to refrain from political comment. But it sneaks out. "Honour with a U is British spelling. Do we want to be that traditional?"

"It's what Aisha wants," she replies.

Oh, boy. We spent our youth and young adulthood kicking over traces, shaking off shackles, and brandishing our fists in our elders' faces. Sometimes I feel bad about that part, thinking of the pain I brought to the faces of Mama and Daddy and Nana, the extra wrinkles I put there. But retribution is coming, sure as rain follows thunder. Oh, yeah. We are about to be elders ourselves.

Retribution is already being visited on Cheryl, I think--in the form of a prissy, proper daughter who wants everything done by the rule book.

"British tradition is not our tradition," I cannot resist rebuking her.

"It's the only tradition we've got in America. Do you want to invite people to come and watch our kids jump the broom?"

I refrain from asking Why not? and read,





My reading is interrupted by a howl of pain from Cherry. "These days my daughter goes by Eliza," she says.

I let that pass because it doesn't deserve my attention. But when I ask Cherry what the G in her daughter's name stands for, something I've always wondered about, she only howls louder. Deep down beneath my navel I feel a funny flutter. I know what that flutter means. Something is deeply wrong.

by by Jane Haddem

  • paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: One World/Ballantine
  • ISBN-10: 0345417208
  • ISBN-13: 9780345417206