Read an Excerpt
“This fucking food is disgusting, girl,” Isis commented, pointing to her plate with her fork. “Beggars can’t be choosers, but damn, is this supposed to be lasagna?”
Isis’ body was thin, wiry, with vanilla-colored skin impressively stretched over ridges of lean muscle tissue. She was average height but nicely portioned, with shoulder-length hair.
Kimpa cracked a sheepish grin. Kimpa Peoples was the closest thing to physical perfection that one could reach. Some said she favored the platinum, Grammy Award-winning pop-superstar, Rihanna. She possessed all the voluptuous assets men desired, including high cheekbones, a slender face accented by long, flowing black hair and a magnificent swell in the bosom department. But her best features included: long, flawless legs, adorable bedroom eyes, and a tiny waistline.
“The food at this shelter ain’t supposed to taste great,” Kimpa said, picking up a cold, hard biscuit and banging it against the table, creating splintering breadcrumbs. “This is a shelter. The folks in here afraid that if they start serving that five-star gourmet shit, us po’ folk ain’t gonna take the initiative to go out in the world and gain our independence. I’d give anything right now for my bubble bath, aromatherapy, lobster, and champagne ritual.”
“That sounds delicious, but expensive,” Isis said.
Kimpa stared at her food. “It’s a habit I picked up on Stan Larkin’s dime.”
“That your first trick, right? The lawyer guy?”
“He put me up at the Ritz-Carlton and I ordered room service until I puked. I’d chill out in a bubble bath, surrounded by scented candles, eating lobster and drinking champagne.”
“Spoiled heifer,” Isis said, teasing.
The two women laughed a little, easing the stress and tension in the air of the tiny, cramped enclosure passing for a cafeteria. The Woman’s First Shelter transcended racial boundaries to help, heal, and provide support for women who’d been physically and mentally abused.
Kimpa and Isis sat at a table for two, eating in the presence of other women from different ethnic backgrounds, all bound tightly together by the universal bonds of heartache, pain, and suffering. “Pain doesn’t recognize color,” was the Woman’s First motto, proudly displayed and beautifully painted in bright colors, across one of the walls of the corridor leading into the cafeteria.
“Kimpa, can you believe that broad over there?” Isis whispered, nodding her head at a dark-skinned woman wearing a weave pulled back into one long ponytail, sitting at a table in the corner by herself.
Kimpa turned her head. “Who you talking about?”
“Let everybody in here know we’re gossiping, why don’t you!” Isis chuckled. She discreetly nodded in the woman’s direction again. “The sistah with the bad weave sitting in the corner.”
“Yeah, ain’t that rough? Her boyfriend was having threesomes with her and their ten-year-old daughter before he disappeared with the child. He left the sistah with nothing but tons of guilt and bad memories,” Kimpa said, sipping on a glass of fruit punch.
“I hope the law catches up with his ass, cuts his nuts off, and makes him wear them around his neck.” Isis frowned at the contents on her plate. “A reminder that a sickness like his can only be cured by castration.”
“Amen to that, girl. Gimme some,” Kimpa said, dapping Isis.
Isis thoroughly examined the cafeteria, taking in all the casualties who’d managed to break free from the painful grip of misogynist-masters and who’d been lucky enough not to have been numbered amongst those women who’d fallen to the bloody feet of a much more sinister circumstance.
“This shit’s terrible, Kimpa.”
“What, these hard biscuits?”
“Get serious. I’m talking about all these women who’ve been sent here because of ungrateful-ass, selfish muthafuckin’ men. Well, with the exception of the Latina lesbian broad over there, Resa. Kimp, how long have we been shacked up at this shelter?”
“About six months.”
“Six months too long. I mean, all we ever do is sit around in a group, cackling about how badly we were treated. It’s the same routine every single fuckin’ day. And I’m about fed up to my nipples with it. Nothing’s getting resolved; the bastards that we complain about are still walking around out there in the street. The way some of these women have been mistreated, those bastards should’ve been locked away.”
“I agree with you one hundred percent. They say it’s a man’s world.”
Isis rolled her eyes at her plate before covering it with a napkin. “We’re here eating garbage. Them niggas out there who are responsible for us ending up in here, what do you think they dining on?” She pushed her plate away. “It sure ain’t generic lasagna.”
“What can we do about it?” Kimpa asked. “We’re two women among many who’ve been used up and thrown away like trash, left in places like this to die of humiliation.”
“Granted, some of these sistahs in this place can spin some tales, but nobody’s stories in here compare to yours and mine. Not that I’m trying to compare heartache and pain, but we’ve been through the storm. That’s why I believe meeting you at this shelter was fate. Do you see the cynical looks on these heifers’ faces when we recount the hell we’ve walked through? They look at us like we should be writing screenplays or some shit.”
“Isis, sis, no disrespect, but sometimes I even find our stories hard to believe. And I lived the nightmare. Had my baby took...” Kimpa’s voice flat-lined into soft sobs.
Isis handed her some napkins. “See, sis, that’s what I’m talking about right there,” Isis said, tenderly caressing Kimpa’s free hand. “We got to start snatching collars to let these men know we can get grimy, too. That bastard of yours got away with taking your baby. Shit, at least you know where your baby is. I don’t have a clue where in the land-down-under that yellow nigga of mine got off to with my child. But I’ll tell you one thing; there are a whole lot of women in this country who need to hear our stories, girl.”
An older lady, one of the servers, walked into the cafeteria dressed in a white apron, hairnet, and black-framed bifocals, carrying a portable radio. “They’ve been taking donations on the radio all day to buy shoes for needy children!” the lady yelled out to another coworker behind the serving counter. “Before I come in here, I took out my credit card and pledged two hundred dollars. Yes, I did.”
“Well, Brenda, sit that radio on the empty table right there, turn the damn thing on, and get to work!” the coworker screamed back. Brenda switched on the radio.
“Hey, Detroit, it’s five o’clock and you’re on the dial with 95.5 FM radio, with everybody’s favorite morning eye-opening shock-jock, Mindspeak the Truth,” the very distinguishable, electrifying voice boomed from the speaker of the portable stereo system. “It’s rush hour and Mindspeak will be with you for your evening commute. Yours truly has been pulling double duty, baby, since six this morning; my normal work hours. But our Shoes for Kids Campaign telethon is underway and we’ll be jumping off all day long, and since this is a worthy cause, I’ll personally be on the dial as long as it takes to champion this cause. We’re trying to put shoes on shorties, man, so we need you to go into your wallets and make a monetary contribution, or you can purchase a pair of shoes and send them to 1000 Fourth Street, Suite 120, Detroit, MI 48233.”
“I hate his undercover, woman-bashing ass,” Isis said with enough sauce in her voice to earn a few glares.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, but people are staring,” Kimpa said.
“I’m five past giving a damn. How can you women listen to this chauvinist dog? And in a shelter for abused women, for Christ’s sake,” Isis ranted.
“Mindspeak has done some good things for the city,” proclaimed a white woman with dirty blonde hair.
“I don’t give a damn,” Isis retorted. “Have ya’ll ever listened to the man’s topics? They’re inflammatory. He always goes out of his way to make the man look like the victim.”
“Sometimes they are,” added an inky-black lady with an ugly scar on the left side of her mug.
“It’s clear that group discussions aren’t helping you, Barbara,” Isis scolded. “Sweetie, you still think it was your fault that your boyfriend went off the deep end and tried to carve his initials in your face with a Rambo blade.”
“That was pretty cold, Isis,” Kimpa scolded her.
“Barbara, I’m sorry; didn’t mean that crack. It’s the pressure; that’s all,” Isis apologized.
Mindspeak spoke again from the radio. “Today’s topic is women who kill their abusive lovers. If found guilty in a court of law, should their actions warrant them life in prison?” Mindspeak paused. “This should be a touchy topic. Men, I need to hear from you. Sistas, I’m gonna hear from the brothers the first half of the hour, but don’t get ’em in a bunch because the second half belong to you. Hit me up on the hitter; call me at 222-SPEAK.”
“You see what I mean?” Isis said, the fire in her eyes present for all to see.
“Look at how the switchboard is lighting up,” Mindspeak boasted. “Caller, are you there? State your name.”
“Yeah, Mindspeak, baby boy, this is Lil’ Mike and yo’ show is da bomb, big b-a-b-y. I want to congratulate you on the success of yo’ show going national and thangs,” the caller said in a deep voice. “But to answer yo’ little question and thangs, hell yeah, them broads should receive life for killin’ kangs. They were put on this earth to serve our purpose, made from our ribs, but somehow they got it twisted that they can talk back and not get smacked up.”
“Very interesting perspective, caller, but we’re going to take another. Hi, caller, what’s your name?”
“This is Robert Macky at the Chrysler plant on the North side. And yeah, give them rats life. Likes I tells ’em on the job, playboy, equality is equality. You want to work like a man, be prepared to suffer a man’s pain. They should be at home barefoots, pregnant, and cookin’ a $#!*%@!”—the censor kicked in—“dinner anyway.”
“You hear them, ladies. Though their way of thinking might be straight from the Stone Age, they make a serious point,” Mindspeak said. “What’s good for the goose is always good for the gander. Listen, family, tomorrow’s the last day before I go on vacation. I’m gonna leave out of here with a banging show. Tune in here tomorrow for the big celebration.”
Isis went off. “That’s the kind of fucked-up thinking that’s put a lot of us in this shelter today. Fuckin’ Mindspit.” Isis was trying to be respectful of the older women serving the food, but she couldn’t help herself. Her temper was boiling, nostrils flaring like the hood of a dangerous cobra.
“You mean Mindspeak,” Kimpa said.
“Yeah, whatever. His show is national, right?” Isis whispered.
“What are you getting at?”
“Just answer the question.”
“I just found the answer to our problem.”
With a worried expression on her grill, Kimpa was afraid to ask, “What you thinking about doing?”
“What better platform to assist us in getting our stories out to all the battered women to inspire unity? To stand up and protect themselves from what happened to us?”
“Isis, where are you going with this?”
“It’s collar-snatching time. We gonna hijack Mindbender’s show. It’s the perfect way to strike a blow for the female cause. Show all these macho assholes that women are far from inferior. What a great way to emasculate the so-called masters of control, by putting Mindblender’s misogynist ass in his place.”
“Isis, what the hell are you talking about?” Kimpa asked in a voice, dripping concern.
“Getting a few pistols, laying in waiting for old Mindscratcher to roll up in the parking lot tomorrow morning, taking ’im hostage and forcing our way into the building. It’s perfect! And while we hold the guns on Mindsucka, we can use the chump’s national radio show to tell our stories, girl.”
“What you’re asking me to do is insane. Have you even factored the police into this little show-stopping equation of yours? And guns? I don’t like guns.”
Isis was intensely aware that Kimpa was worried. Hell, she was also a little apprehensive. She’d been so juiced up with adrenaline and rebellion, Isis hadn’t factored in that they’d actually be running afoul of the law. The one thing that her ordeal had taught her was to grab the bull by the balls and squeeze tight.
“Listen, Kimpa, I can’t promise you anything but a chance to take the power back from the sonofabitch who took your baby, and to take back your self-respect. A woman without it might as well be dead. You with me?”
Kimpa didn’t even have to think hard. “Yeah. We sistahs for life. Let’s do it.”
“Okay, girl,” Isis said, squeezing Kimpa’s hands. “Mindsnitch is ours tomorrow morning, right before he goes on air. We’ll be tuning in, alright. I promise you, he won’t be celebrating after tomorrow’s show.”
A pain hit Kimpa in the stomach like she’d been kicked by a mule. It started in her stomach, with the aftershock registering in this unholy pain-face she was now wearing.
Isis grabbed Kimpa’s hand. “Kimpa, you alright?”
Kimpa was holding her stomach. “The Old Lady’s here.”
“Oh, girl, your cramps bad?”
“Bad enough. Back when I was with Brody, I used to eat muscle relaxants like Skittles when she came to town. It was the only thing that took them away.”
Isis examined the women in the cafeteria.
“I don’t think you’ll get muscle relaxants around here, but they might have some Midol.”
“Isis,” Kimpa whispered, “this is a bad sign. I don’t think we should take down Mindspeak. I won’t be of any use to you. My first two days are heavy and painful. I can’t do anything but lay up.”
“Look, Kimpa. You won’t have to do much. We need to do this tomorrow. You heard Mindspender; he’s going on vacation. I understand about your situation, but this can’t wait. Trust me, it won’t take long.”
Kimpa submissively bowed her head, tears sliding down her cheeks effortlessly. She was confused and tired, wanting this chapter of her life closed. There was no running from the past. If anything, her life experiences had taught her to step on the past in order to walk to the future. This thing was going down regardless of the Old Lady’s painful protest.
© 2011 Thomas Slater