Tonya Jones | 1283 words
Everyone stared at me like I lost my mind. In one hand, I clutched my purse. With the other, I smoothed down my favorite purple dress. The one that snatched my curves. I checked to make sure the purple rose I put in my kinky hair was still in place. I know folks were looking at my face in disbelief. I had applied layers of shimmery eyeshadow and stained my lips a luscious berry. I heard someone say “umph” as I stopped in front of Zora’s grave. I gave a slight shrug. Let these fools mourn Zora’s life wearing all black and moaning goodbye songs. They know Zora would’ve laughed at them. But folks get weird about funerals. They think they have to do everything “respectably.”
I cracked my gum, causing the same person to add on a couple more “umphs.” I took Zora’s gift out of my purse. I flipped the book to the first page. I pressed my lips against the paper leaving a perfect print. I bent down and placed the book on Zora’s headstone. I gave a silent prayer and was gone. Within minutes, I was leaning against the hood of my car. I took a deep breath, as I watched folks shake their heads and continue on with the service. I fished around in my purse, wanting to crank up one of my e-cigarettes, but I know those things are bad for me. I found a Starburst. I flicked the tired gum out of my mouth and popped in the chewy candy. Ick, lemon, but it will do. I sucked the sour away as I thought about when I first met Zora.
It was the fall of 1988, my first day at Ida B. Wells High School. It was the first and last time I almost got into a fight.
“Whatcha’ looking at?” the girl checked me as I walked down the hallway. I wasn’t looking at anything. My head was down. It was the first day of 9th grade and I was mad I had to transfer to a new school. But mom thought I should be in a more “diverse” environment. “Hey! I’m talking to you!” I looked at the girl. She was tall, bony, and sporting finger waves. The girl would’ve been fly, except for the scowl on her face. She was standing with a group of girls. “Leave me alone.” I said. “No, she didn’t!” another girl said. The main girl wasn’t about to be disrespected in front of her crew. “Whatcha’ you say?” She jumped in my face. I didn’t flinch. “Forget it. You aren’t worth my time.” I said. The girl was shocked. She reached over to knock my backpack off my shoulder. I pushed her hand away. The crew gasped. I could tell she didn’t know how to respond. I saw her ball up her fist. I was ready though. I had taken karate at camp last summer. I got into a stance. “Yo, what she dong?” a third girl yelled in alarm.
“What’s going on here?” Miss Davis, the assistant principal, suddenly appeared. I remembered her from the office when my mom registered me for this hood school. “Uh, nothing Miss Davis. We were just saying hi to the new girl.” “Yes, sure. Everyone get to class. The bell will be ringing soon.” The girl nodded at her crew. They strolled passed me. The bully gave me a dirty look. Miss Davis sighed and left. “You know Nia is going to be messing with your from now on, right?” A voice said behind me. I turned around. The cutest girl I ever saw in my life was standing near a row of lockers. I shrugged. “Dang, you always get into fights on the first day of school?” She laughed. “Don’t start none, won’t be none.” I said. The cute girl looked me over. I felt uncomfortable under her gaze. I guess she decided there was something about me. “You’re interesting.” She said. I shrugged again.
“My name’s Zora. What’s yours?” “It’s Toya.” I said. I looked at her. “Zora? Like Zora Neale Hurston” I asked. “Yep. My mama likes her books.” “Wow, how does your mom know about Zora?” I asked arrogantly. “What. You think ‘hood’ people illiterate? You sound as bad as white folks. We aren’t ignorant, just surviving.” Zora said. I felt shamed. “I meant—““Yeah, I know what you meant. You can’t believe all that mess you see on TV.” Zora wasn’t mad, just amused by me. I decided I better get moving before she wanted to fight me too. “When do you have lunch?” Zora asked. I looked at her. “Uh, 4th period.” “Dope. Me too. You want to eat together?” I didn’t know what to say. “Let’s meet here by the lockers at 12:30.” Zora said. I nodded stupidly. I don’t know why I agreed to do such a thing, but Zora had me hooked.
Zora looked at me. “You know, Nia’s my cousin. I can tell her to leave you alone if you want.” “That’s okay. I’m not scared.” Zora laughed. I liked her laugh. “Yeah, so I noticed. See you later.” I watched her walk away. For some bizarre reason, Zora had me hooked. I liked her style. I wanted her puffy hair. I only saw women from my dad’s old 70’s movies wearing Afros. It framed her cute face perfectly. I wanted her walk. I watched as a boy tried to talk to her as she passed by him in the hall. Zora winked and he tripped over his feet. I smiled. Zora would be my best friend from that day on.
I licked at the salty tears. We had been best friends for over twenty years. Even after I went away to college, got married, then divorced. Zora stayed in the community to go to school and do her activist work. I remembered the sweet kisses we shared and how we would snuggle close in bed. Or hold hands as we strolled around the mall. We had a sister girl love. Zora had fallen off a ladder while hanging a banner for a neighborhood fundraiser. She broke her neck, instantly. “Oh no, not you too.” Zora said. I looked to my side and saw Zora’s ghost relaxing next to me. A couple of nights ago, the ghost appeared in my living groom. I’d been gulping down glasses of wine to prepare for the funeral. I knew I had to be drunk, when I saw her winking at me. But when she showed up the next morning and the following night, I decided to roll with it. She had did most of the talking. I had promised not to cry.
“You got anymore Starburst?” Zora asked. I unwrapped a cherry candy and handed it to her. I watched as the candy dissolved in her mouth. Why didn’t it fall to the ground? I tried to remember ghost movies I had seen. “What am I going to do without you?” I asked. Zora gave me a look. “You are going to keep on doing you.” She said. Suddenly, I felt tired. Zora looked towards the sky. “My time is up. You promised you wouldn’t cry.” I shrugged. “You know I hate when you do that.” Zora smiled. “I love you.” I felt something brush against my face. “I love you too.” I watched as she merged into the clouds. I stood there for a few minutes, then got into my car. I dangled my hand out the window. A stream of sunlight played with my fingers until it faded away. I sighed. I guess I was going to be alright.
© 2016 by Tonya Jones