Mama whispers secrets to Niahra in the dark, 'cause Mama knew what would happen when she uttered those words. Mama thought, Maybe I shouldn't have said it that way...but what other way to say it? When she finally said those words,
"Look baby, it ain't easy being Black, and it's not gonna get any better। If you thought so then you've been fooled by the lies they tell you. Don't be fooled. Because they would rather have your eyes and ears blurred with smokes and screens instead of watching their world shatter. But you know what you're experiencing...so never forget. Use what you know. Use what you learn."
Mama knew this would be a lot for her daughter to stew on. And she's right। There is no other way to say it। There is no other way to tell your child that this will be life and there's no large green mountain to escape too।
And she thought...she thought...that maybe, just maybe, she wouldn't have to tell her little one anything. That she could pass the way the store clerk cut their eyes at them as happenstance. Or Niahra's noticing of the creeking cracking five levels of steps they walked up everyday to reach their cramped apartment as a, "Well, it just so happens" type of explanation. But her constant questions kept jabbing the surface, "Mama why don't these steps ever get fixed?" or, "Mama why's the rent so high?" or, "Mama, why isn't our place as nice as the houses over there?" or even, "Mama, why do those White people look at us all funny like that?"
Now her questions have become even more clear, even more spot on. Mama can't just pass it off as, "Well baby, it's just this..." or, "Niahra it's just that...it's a bad day, it's a bad attitude, it's a bad time of month, they just forgot, it's nothing to do with us, it's nothing to do with you..." Niahra sees the patterns and she's been counting them all along.
Can't blame her. I raised her to think. Mama thought.
But we've made it through. We've made it through, a long line little one, you come from a long line of fighting women, the darkest of the dark, the blackest of the black. They worked and toiled. They'd wake up 4 in the morning and walk 4 miles to the river with their empty buckets and then walk four miles back home with those empty buckets filled to the brim with water effortlessly balanced on their heads. I should know, I did it. I did it.
But Mama was worried. Worried about this young one. You see, Niahra usually talks. Just talks, all the time. Especially during dinner. You know, little conversations like, "Mama I don't like this...mama why'd you make the rice this way...mama Chinese food rather than fu-fu." You see, Niahra would talk and Mama could always figure her out. You know what I mean? Respond! Say, "Well what do you mean Chinese food rather than fu-fu, I only got fufu and this is what you'll eat..."
But Niahra. She didn't speak this time during dinner, and Mama couldn't respond to figure her little one out. Then after that, Mama usually asked Niahra to wash the dishes. Now in the normal scenario Niahra will usually fuss, suck her teeth, twist her mouth, roll those big eyes of hers...none of that, none of that this time. Just lips tightly pursed together that barely eeked out a, "yes Mama." And big brown eyes that seemed devoid of any expression. Mama didn't even know if Niahra had really heard her so she asked, "Child did you hear me?" And Mama watched this little one's head move up and down in a nodding fashion and go about washing the dishes.
No voice, just a nod. Just a nod? "Niahra! Have you lost your words?!" Mama asked. Then Niahra with the faintest of voice said, "...Nope. Just don't feel like talking much." Well why's her voice so thin, it's usually fuller than that? It can stretch for miles. For miles! Uh oh. Mama thought. Niahra doesn't know. But this is the testing ground, if her voice is caught in her throat then it'll rot her insides. Then, she'll take this to work, she'll take this to school, she'll take this to her life and she'll boil inside. Mhhmmm.
Mama stayed up with her daughter, just watching her rest inside herself. She rubbed Niahra's head and just watched. "You come from a line of fighters, survivors. With their mouth's wide open to make sense of the world around them daughter. To act. You gotta open yours. You've got to." Niahra didn't know, but for the next month Mama would watch her in her sleep. Talking to her during the day, not promising her a life of easy, but pushing her to be fearless. Pushing her for a life of survival. In the night, she would whisper other words, whisper hush-hushed things of building strength.