Featured Young Mind of the Week

Fatima Mohammed is an exceptional young one. She never backs down from a challenge and truly tests the limits of her writing. She’s versatile, expressive, candid, and doesn’t publish with us often, but when she does–it’s always something to look forward to. This quarter’s Young Minds of Medium Challenge was: “Tell Me About Your Neighborhood/City/Country” and Fatima not only tackled the challenge brilliantly as I knew she would–she did so uniquely. She is our Young Mind of the Week. And now, her featured work . . .


Simulation

Young Minds of Medium My Home

The sound of her friends from the next compound playing a game of ten-ten, stamping their feet in drawn up chalk squares on the dusty ground, drifted up to Ebi’s ears like the aroma of the spicy Suya from across the street often drifted up to her nose and made her mouth water. The urge to defy her mother’s rules and run out to play with them spread slowly to every inch of her body like spilled water meandering into the cracks of the kitchen tiles.

But Ebi knew she couldn’t give in, so she watched from her room. The criss-cross of the mosquito netting depicting tiny cage bars and obstructing the full view of the fast-paced movements of her friends’ hands and feet.

She imagined she was there. She was the one playing a game of tinko with Blessing, her hands moving swiftly, and every slap of their hands together caused a resounding clap that put a smile on both their faces.

Next, she saw herself playing “African bend down” as the other children, after finishing their extra lessons, joined in and the group got larger. They chanted, “sugar!” “pepper!” and clapped their hands over one another’s heads as each person ducked at their turn.

Ebi saw herself roaring in laughter as her hands collided with Amaka’s head when she failed to bend. She saw herself vehemently disagreeing when Amaka begged for another chance and explained to her that the whole point of the game was bending and if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be called African “bend down.”

Ebi felt the pain in her legs from running around after a long game of fire on the mountain. She also saw herself sitting breathlessly with the others as they each sipped a bottle of fifty Naira zobo from the vendor under the pawpaw tree. She saw herself, cheeks bulging with the red, almost blood-like colour of the sweet drink, threatening to ruin both Blessing and Amaka’s white school uniform shirts with a single drop from her mouth just because she had worn her sweater over her own shirt that day.

She saw the three of them roam the streets, stealing mangoes from Mr. Chubi’s tree, which seemed to produce long after its season. Then she saw them walking all the way to Blessing’s house just to sneak into the cinema close by and watch R-rated movies.

She saw them as they would sing “I’m not okay,” by My Chemical Romance on their way back, louder than their voices allowed them, every note cracked by their unpleasant singing as they affirmed themselves that they weren’t going through a phase like their mothers had said but they really loved everything about classic rock, metal music and screamo.

She was about to see herself under the pawpaw tree after the vendor had left; the stars illuminating the very spot she was sharing a late-night kiss with Dele, the senior boy who had taken an interest in her. But her mother shouting about the spike in Coronavirus cases in Nigeria aggressively flung her from her daydream and back into reality.

It reminded her that no one was outside. Not her friends in the next compound playing, nor the mallam selling Suya across the street orthe vendor under the pawpaw tree with chilled bottles of zobo, and the cinema hadn’t been open in months.

The sounds she thought she heard were a simulation her brain had created to survive the isolation from everything she loved. It had been happening a lot lately, but Ebi couldn’t deny that it made it all easier.

So she lay back down, ignoring her mother’s rant, and continued her conversation with Dele, standing in the spotlight from the stars, under the pawpaw tree.


Originally published in A Cornered Gurl via Medium.

Please, Let My Brothers Live

A plea to the United States Justice system

Photo by nappy via Pexels

As an older sister, one who is significantly ahead in years, I fear for the lives of my five brothers. That fear never dies. It lingers in the pit of my belly — boiling over into a never-ending pain. I worry about them; their well-being is a constant focus of mine. I pray, without ceasing, worry, and then pray some more.

I know, as a believer, I am not supposed to worry. Once I’ve given my cares over to my Lord and Savior, those worries are not my own. But tell that to my heart. Tell that to my questioning mind. Tell that to the constant survival strategies that pop up throughout every day as I think of ways to keep them safe from afar.

Our lives are meaningless to the ones meant to protect them.

There is a long list of dangerous encounters and acts of police brutality that layers itself in and around the United States of America. We are losing brothers, sisters, and valuable members of our crumbling nation. The louder we scream in protest for change, the more we are muzzled.

I cannot watch many of the videos that have circulated, leaving us with the vivid details of some of these acts, but I can read about them. I feel a sense of incredible loss when I do.

We depend on a system that claims to act upon evidence presented and provide a favorable outcome. One that is justified. One that states those responsible for these heinous crimes will be dealt with accordingly. However, the system is beyond broken.

Justice is a concept of moral rightness based ethics, rationality, law, natural law, religion, equity and fairness, as well as the administration of the law, taking into account the inalienable and inborn rights of all human beings and citizens, the right of all people and individuals to equal protection before the law . . . — ScienceDaily

For generations, there has been no justice for Black people and people of color. 2020 will be over in four months, and the United States of America is dealing with the same issues that quelled the love for our nation back in the 1950s-1960s. We are struggling to have our voices heard. We are fighting a forever-fight and we are growing tired.

This is the same fight and we’re outnumbered.

I think of everyday occurrences, events that my brothers take part in and I start my prayer with, “Dear God: cloak them in your love. Please keep them safe in their coming and going and let them find their way home when their day is done.”

I know they’re aware their sister has been praying for them since their births, but now I pray because it feels like there is nothing more to do. We march. We organize peacefully. We shout. We speak eloquently. We fight harder. And to no avail.

We are struggling to have our voices heard. We are fighting a forever-fight and we are growing tired.

This all feels like some god-awful dream that plays on a loop, and no matter how hard I try to break free from it, I’m shackled with nowhere else to go. I am being forced to watch the demise of my people and made to fear for the Black men and women in my life.

I want to believe their lives matter just as much.

I have to. Deep down, I know there’s a priceless value to human life. I want to feel like my brothers’ lives matter just as much as their white counterparts. I want to believe that when they set out on a journey around their neighborhoods for whatever reason, they too, will get a chance to go back home . . . alive and unharmed.

Given the history of various police forces across this nation since their inception, I fear more for my brothers’ lives than the actual protection of them, and that should not be.

How many more will America maim? How many more will we see hanged from trees by the hands of their evildoers, then labeled as suicide? How many more cases will the courts treat as meaningless, pulling their weight for the killers vs. the victims? Will we ever have justice?

I want to feel like my brothers’ lives matter just as much as their white counterparts.


There have been so many tears. So many cries for help, understanding, and for our voices to be heard and still . . . there are no impactful results of which to speak.

I hope that if ever there is an encounter soon with “the law” for any of them, they will be protected and served. That there will be no immediate or long-lasting harm. That their character is assessed and the situation for which an officer has stopped them, would not end in their deaths.

I have one plea, please let my brothers live.

Please.


Originally published in Our Human Family via Medium.

My Coworker Wrote a Letter for Me

And I didn’t know I needed it

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood via Pexels

It isn’t often I get letters from people I care about and love, so when my coworker told me she’d written a letter for me, my heart lit up. She was self-conscious about letting me read it, reminding me I write and how it wasn’t written in a way I’m used to reading, but I had to tell her, “Don’t worry about that. This is from your heart. I will be happy just to receive it.”

And, I was. There is nothing that can hold a candle to someone sharing their heart with you — their overall concern for who you are and what you do. And to take it a step further — how you make them feel as a human being sharing this earth with them.

My coworker was vulnerable in this letter — baring all and making it known just how much she appreciates me. She let me know what she sees in me and how she has noticed my stumbles at work. They do not overshadow my strengths.

I see the love you have for Jehovah in your life and I deeply respect that about you. Also, I admire the compassion for people and your desire to be a force for change.

I know who I am

I do not question who I am and what I do or how I do it. But, at work, I am questioning how long I can do what I do and how I do it. I am drained and every part of me loud enough for anyone to hear is silencing itself. I used to say, “I am a people person,” but of late, this is running away from me. I am sick and tired of most people.

People are work — hard work, and there’s so much about us as a collective with which I am extremely exhausted from facing. The selfishness in the hard hearts of a few beings I encounter every week puts a foul taste in my mouth. It makes me not want to be in a position so closely connected to human beings.

Because of your compassion for people, you carry the burden along with love for the right thing.

I want so much for us as inhabitants of this world

I have it in my head that I can help change the hearts of my fellow brothers, sisters, and occupants of this world, but I am tasked with first knowing they must want to change. The depths of my soul yearn for us to be more loving, understanding, willing to work with each other for the overall betterment of this world, and to respect one another.

I feel defeated when I come across someone who flat out couldn’t care less about being a responsible member of humanity. The weight of it sits on my shoulders, seeps into my system, and layers itself into the recesses of my brain. Sometimes, I get physically ill from this.

My thought process is this: during a global pandemic, one should be willing to do what needs to be done in order to protect everyone. Many do not think this way.

I take more days off — especially mental health days because a large part of me recognizes coping with my job is much harder and there is no end in sight. It will not get any easier. The more I do what I do full-time, the more I wish to end this level of activity in healthcare.

These are stressful times, so we need to be there for each other no matter when or what.

A simple deed reminded me of the goodness in others

What this letter did for me is remind me I am not alone. My team — my friends see me and they know my worth. They acknowledge my struggles and are in tune with why those struggles occur. They care about my well-being and want to help make sure my sanity remains intact. They are sounding boards who will prepare a space for me, hold it, and allow me room to move in that space however I see fit.

You have become dear to me, and I need you to know you are a strong, kind, and caring person.

A letter showed me this: although my days are full of exhausting interactions with some of our nation’s most selfish beings, my efforts in dealing with them are not in vain. Someone sees how hard I am trying — how hard I have tried. And she took the time to put it in writing.

If you’re wondering how impactful your words can be for someone else; I’ll be the first to tell you, they can build you up when you have been torn down.

I needed this. I didn’t know it.


Originally published in C.R.Y. via Medium.

The Strange, Unforgettable Little World of Tyson Liston

Part III: Directionless

Photo by Cherise Evertz via Unsplash

“No time to dillydally. We’ve got to keep moving!” The conductor takes out his compass — a shiny, gold contraption that ticked as it moved. He treasured it. His eyes focus on the direction points, he blinks quickly as the needle lands on “N.” He is beside himself with glee. The next stop is just four miles ahead, north. “Due North!”

Tyson kneels down to eye-level with the conductor and smiles at him. He is intrigued by this man who is engulfed in his role, so much so it seeps into everything he does. He spies the compass and satisfies his curiosity.

“Whatcha got there, Mr. Conductor?” He leans his gigantic head closer to the windows of the toy locomotive and awaits an answer.

“Why it’s my compass, my dear boy! I never leave home without it. I’ve been railroading for twenty-three years now and this baby has been by my side. It has never once steered us wrong.”

Tyson flops his body down on the hardwood floors, lowers his head onto his hands, and props up his elbows. He can feel a story coming on.

“My pop gave me this compass when I was about your age. He was a conductor too. He’d seen so many beautiful, interesting, and unbelievable places. I’d see him two, maybe three days per month, but upon every visit, he had something for me — some new thing I couldn’t wait to get my hands on.”

Tyson could feel himself smiling, but getting sad too. Two or three days out of each month? He knew he couldn’t go that long without seeing his dad. He felt encouraged to ask the conductor how this made him feel.

“How’d you feel growing up not seeing your daddy a lot?”

“Oh, I don’t think I minded as much. They kept me pretty busy. My mom had me in so many activities after school, I barely had time to miss him. Plus, it was like a special occasion — this grand adventure whenever he came home. We all filled to the brims of our hearts with delight and anticipation.”

The conductor flips open the compass, smiles earnestly, bats a few tears from his eyes, and continues with his story.

“My pop conducted his train like no one else. The passengers loved him and the engineers depended on him. That train ran like clockwork — dependable and on time. Folks used to say, ‘You can bet on Smitty’s train. It’s one thing that’s sure in life.’ And they were right.”


Photo by Andrew Neel via Unsplash

Tyson watches the conductor. He feels himself shedding a few tears and wipes them quickly before anyone can see. The train slows down, approaching what Tyson thinks is the next stop. The conductor slaps his compass shut, twists his mustache by the ends, and hurries to the front of the train. Tyson looks on, enraptured by the magic.


To read the rest of this story, please click here. Originally published in The Weekly Knob via Medium.

Part I and Part II

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This War Rages On

We are the battlefield

Photo by The Creative Exchange via Unsplash

I don’t know the woman who walks past me in the grocery store at 07:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning. She’s wearing blue jeans, a cropped top, and sensible slides on her feet. She brushes against me lightly. I’ve forgotten what that feels like. Her hair is everywhere — neatly. It’s organized chaos — a private dancer for the wind.

She excuses herself.

She’s not wearing a mask and upon seeing that I have on mine, she panics. She cannot believe she stepped out of her car, walked into the store, brushed against another human being, and spoke to her — all without the proper face covering.

I deal with this sort of thing daily. I feel like a soldier, manning a station from a deadly enemy as his allies try to trickle in without one of the things combating it — a face mask. She has forgotten hers and I feel the need to reclaim safety for myself and those around me.

I calmly advise her that anyone can make this mistake, anyone. She is a fit of tears and apologetic to the point that I’ve now stepped closer to her with my hands slightly raised indicating that I mean no harm and I motion for her to follow me to the automatic doors.

We exit.

We locate her car. We locate her mask. She’s still apologizing — telling me all the ways she’s done stupid things in life but this is now the stupidest. I don’t think silence is the best response. That would mean, I agree. I don’t. There are a ton of things far more stupid than what we found ourselves rectifying and I tell her this.

The tears pool deeply in the beds of her eyes. She blinks and two tears plop to the ground with a loud thud. I wait with her while she covers her face. We walk back to the store and I spot my cart and the unattended bananas, apples, spinach, and yogurt. I retrieve it. I am eager to finish my shopping and get back home.

She’s still beside herself with intense emotion but there are no more tears — only the puffiness of her eyes and reddened cheeks. And freckles. Freckles I didn’t notice before. She tells me — sweet onions are on sale as well as all-purpose flour and at this early in the morning, pre-breakfast and coffee, I’m struggling not to morph into an Addams Family character and spook her.

I want to move on.

This is my war. The store is my battlefield. She has fought her battle in the middle of a war and I want to move on from it. I let her know the morning is incredibly young and she is in the store early enough to catch all the sales. I wish her well. I mean it.

These days, I always mean it.

She grips the handlebar of her cart, pops it twice, and removes two pieces of tissue from her handbag. She splashes hand sanitizer on the tissue and smooths it over the bar and the sides of the cart. I nod to her and move toward the “No Pulp” orange juice and mouth a goodbye (out of habit).

Her glasses fog up and I miss her freckles. I wonder, what will be on the menu if there are sweet onions and all-purpose flour, both on sale. She follows me. She is talking to my back, luring a conversation.

The gods must dislike me this morning because my energy was zapped the night before at work and as much as I love to empathize, listen, and give my all to someone in need, my body nor mind can take it this morning.

“You like the ‘no pulp’ kind too, huh?”

Oh, this is about the orange juice. While I would love to skip meaningless chit chat, I do love talking about interests with another person. “Yes, I prefer it.”

She smiles. I can’t see her beautiful mouth anymore — her full lips, but I notice the eyes — they light up. She remains six feet away from me but leans in toward my cart and slaps an orange juice in her hands. It lands across her cropped top. I move along to the dairy section. I need cheese and milk. She comes along as well.

*What is going on here? Why does she keep following me*

“I have to get cheese, milk, biscuits, and creamer. They’re on my list.”

“Oh. I need cheese and milk as well. Please, after you.” I move to the side, allowing her to brisk by, and I walk slowly behind her. She glides — it’s not a stutter-step. She is floating toward the dairy section and her everywhere hair bounces as she moves.

*Am I smiling? I am. I am smiling. Why?*

I wait until it is my turn to retrieve cheese and milk. She stands idly by — watching as I retrieve said items, patting her feet while coating her hands with sanitizer. “I’m sorry. Is there a reason you keep waiting for me? Is there anything you need?”

I didn’t want to seem crass, but I am not used to people accompanying me as I shop. It’s a self-sufficiency thing. I’d much rather get in, get what I need, get out, and keep it moving. But this woman, the one whose eyes pool tears quicker than I keep breaths . . . the one with the organized chaos for hair . . . the one with freckles right under her eyes, just above her cheeks — freckles that come alive when she smiles — wants something from me and I have to know. What is it?

“Oh. Um. Well. I like your shirt. I also like your mask. I don’t know what half of your face looks like, but I’m willing to bet it’s likable too. I’m Rain.”

She extends her hand, and immediately, I tense up. Am I supposed to touch her? This is my battlefield. This is a war. A war between doing what I would normally do in the past without hesitation versus not doing it because it could well, kill me . . . And of course, her name is ‘Rain,’ of course, it is.

“Oh. um. Is it okay for me to shake your hand? You are okay with this?”

“Sure. You’ve already seen me without a mask. You helped me get it. I doubt my shaking your hand would do us any harm. But if you’re opposed, that’s okay too. Is it all right for me to give you my number? I don’t have many friends here — moved three weeks ago from Van Nuys, in Cali.”

“Get out! As in Los Angeles? A good friend of mine lived there for years before moving back east. What are the odds?”

Her eyes light up again. Her freckles dance. I watch her patting feet. I don’t know what this is, but I welcome it for a few moments. It feels nice — something I remember doing before — communicating with others outside of work and in person.

“So, is that a yes, me giving you my number. What’s your name?”

“Oh, okay. Sure. That’d be cool. It’s Tremaine, Tre for short. That’s ‘Tree-Maine.” I pull out my phone, hit contacts, and add her name, then her number.

“You live on this side of town, ‘That’s Tree-Maine.?’”

“Haha. You got jokes. Nice. Yeah, I’m about three miles away, right off the highway.” She smiles again. I smile. I give her my number and watch her sway back and forth on the balls of her feet. That’s odd. She must’ve danced in the past or maybe she still does.

“I know it ain’t the right time to be dating. Social distancing is a motherfucker, but I’ve been holed up in my new apartment for the last three weeks and you’re the first person to make me smile since I moved here. You wanna grab dinner one day next week — my treat?”

“Dating? Oh. Is this a date? Are you asking me out? You’ll have to excuse me, I am out of practice on this bit.”

She smiles again and I find myself loving the sight of dancing freckles and everywhere hair.

“Let’s just call it a thing until it becomes whatever it needs to be. But for now, it’s dinner, my treat.”

“Okay. Bet.”

I tell her I must finish shopping. I have work waiting for me at home and a dog who likes to boss me around. She laughs and a few customers look at us. I shrink into myself — hating to be stared at, but okay with it too. That’s odd. Everything is odd around this woman — this Rain whose eyes pool tears and freckles that dance, and hair that does its own thing without any regard for the goings-on around it. I look back, she’s watching me. Eyes curved — lit up. She’s smiling.

This is my battlefield. The war rages on.


*Author’s Note: This is part fiction/nonfiction/fantasy. Originally published on Medium.

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