Naima Nur

By the Water

Naima Nur
By the Water

By Keniyah King

My mama keeps the window open at all times. She says she does it so nothing old is trapped in this house but I know it’s so that the neighbors can hear her screaming for help. If she does die in this cold home they knew who hid her bones.They’ve heard her die in this house over 1000 nights that stretched into mornings. I wish I could wrap the night sky around my shoulders.I can only imagine how warm those hot stars would feel on my skin. I’m always so cold. This cool home of mine feels hollow.

There is a small cut on my face from when my mother slapped me yesterday afternoon. I walk around this home as if my legs are on fire. I look her husband in the eyes as if he’s a child and it angers him. Like everything else in my life this cut will heal and everyone will act like it was never there. I will carry it with me forever.

Where we live is warm and the air is always heavy. Our block is loud. The kind of loud you learn to sleep through. The loud that makes quiet surroundings feel uncomfortable. The apartments and the houses are colors of fruits the bloom in the summer. Mama says they painted them this way to make us forget that our streets all have cracks in them big enough for babies to fall in. To distract us from the street sweeps where police take us away in bunches. Collecting us like dust on ceiling fans. There was an electrical fire on the floor below us. Everyone here is poor and black and brown. Poor enough to wait in lines for milk and eggs made of powder,canned goods and fruit that is too soft to eat with a smile on our face. Black and brown enough that the city is okay with treating us this way because they can’t even see us. No matter how many languages we say we are black and brown in, they become both deaf and blind to our existence.

On the bus this morning the boy with dark brown skin and almond shaped eyes kept staring at my left cheek. The place my new scar is currently resting. It’s making me feel insecure, so like any insecure 20 year old girl would do I become angry.

“What?” It spills out of my mouth so slow and strong I fooled myself into not crying.
I can see the fear glaze over those dark brown eyes of his. He stiffly shakes his head and turns completely towards the window. I can’t help but giggle at how nervous I’ve made that boy. Boys like him spit fear right in the face. He stops by my house sometimes to hang around my step brothers. Trouble isn’t all those boys are but it is what they pretend to be. They go around fighting people with the same scars. Fraternal twin scars. Scars that are born from the same womb but they all carry them so differently. They fight, they drink, they dance, they fuck, and they all wish to die but are too prideful to admit it.

By the time the sky turns black my feet are aching and my eyes feel so heavy it hurts to be awake. My face is covered in oil and my hair looks like all of the stress I have shouldered in my entire eight hour shift. I want to be near my lover but my lover is three bus rides away. After the longest 20 minutes of my life the bus finally arrives. Each bus is loud and each bus is full. No matter where I go chaos is around me. I can’t help but wonder if I’m the one following chaos. For the longest time I was under the impression I was the one doing the running but maybe this whole time I was in on the chase. I opt for the window seat on each ride. I spend my time searching for my lover’s almond shaped eyes in each street light that shines through this dark bus.

I’m standing outside of my neighborhood panaderia waiting for the boy that makes my chest feel hot. I’m searching for each echo of his footsteps in tonight’s harsh wind. I miss him so much I don’t want to wait for him inside. I need to see him. I need to see my boy. My man.

He holds the door for me before we step inside of the panaderia that is warm and covered in pink. He places his hand on my lower back. Each finger one by one lands on my spine cause waves of excitement to flood through me. I keep sighing because I’m too tired to get the words out. I just want to be fed and held. I want to be caressed. I want to be cared for by the man that is currently picking out all the bread that he knows I like. He’s asking for a large champurrado because he knows I am always cold no matter how dry and slightly warm these winds may be.

“You gon stare at me all night?” I’m becoming upset. Thinking about the tremor of his voice has gotten me through the day and now that it’s almost over he hasn’t said a word.

“Why you talk to me like that this morning?” He’s not even going to hide that he’s upset with me. Attitude is spilling from his voice.

“What you mean?”
“I looked at you and you came at me sideways”
“Oh when we was on the bus?”
“Where else?” He’s looking straight at me. His skin is glowing underneath the faint yellow light. He looks so brown and sweet; it’s intensifying my guilt. He’s rightfully upset with me, but I don’t have the patience to deal with it.

“I was embarrassed” It hurts to say out loud. But that’s what you do when you’re in love right? Tell the whole embarassing truth? Don’t they call it being vulnerable?

His hand is cupping my left cheek. Without will I sink into its warmth. If he let go I’m almost positive my cut would be healed. I want to tell him what happened. I want to tell him my mama hit me because her husband told her to. I want to tell him I cried so quiet and so hard I nearly threw up. But all I could say was his name.


He never walks me to my door. I’m always scared my mother will see us together. I don’t want the poison from my home to sink its claws in and kill the one thing that brings calm over me.

“Did he hit you?” The question falls out of his mouth like hot coal.
“Mama did.” I hate that what I’m saying is honest yet it still feels like a lie.
“Why?” His eyebrows are furrowed and he’s stopped walking. We’re in front of my apartments now but he’s still holding my hand.
“Because he told her to. He told her she’s too easy on me and I don’t respect him.” I look up at him to read his face but it’s blank. I’m so thrown by his non reaction. I find myself searching the curls in his hair for answers but they’re as empty as his eyes . He’s let go of my hand and told me goodnight. I’m going to cry when I get upstairs. I’m going to cry when I get to my room. I’m going to cry when I look out my window and he’s gone. Finally, I’ll cry myself to sleep.

The sound of heavy footsteps violently wakes me from my slumber. My mother is screaming because of her husband. I quickly get out of bed nearly yanking my arm from its socket with the way I pull my door open. What I expected to see was my crumpling mother underneath her husband’s hand. What I ended up seeing shook me to my core. There was blood everywhere, all over our light brown carpet and mama’s yellow nightgown. I screamed for my mother on pure instinct fearful this was the day I’d actually lose her. All that fell from her mouth was help me. I ran to her side trying to tend to a wound that wasn’t even there. Her husband beat and bloody will not stop screaming my mothers name.

“What happened?” She screams at him. He cannot answer her back. He is too busy holding on to the bloody stump where his right hand used to be. My mother and him are crying . I’m just happy none of this blood belongs to my mother.

“Help me Angel! help me!” Mama is begging me through her trembling lips. The sight of her crying was infuriating. How can she ask me to help her fix this man after all he’s done?

“Just let him die.” It barely escapes my lips, but she hears it as if I’ve screamed it right in her face.

The horror on her face is enough to get me running. In that exact moment something snapped inside of me. I ran to my room grabbing everything I set my eyes on. My head was so hot and my body full of adrenaline I grabbed everything. I ran outside barefoot with hands covered in blood and my hot phone pressed to my cheek in desperate need to hear the voice of my lover. I don’t know where I’m running to. But at least I know why. If that monster gets another chance at life I don’t want to be there to see him live it. I’d rather die.

Ten times. I called that boy ten times and he didn’t pick up once. My chest begins to feel tight. Everything on my body is beginning to shake.

“I can’t go home.” I repeat to myself over and over again.

“Angel?” The sweetest voice I’ve ever heard in my life has been said by a man that is covered in blood.


We walked in silence. His home is tiny and always warm. His bedroom and kitchen are all one. The only actual room is a bathroom so small there isn’t even room to sneeze. We’re both showered and speechless.

“I’m glad you didn’t kill him. You’d be gone forever. That man would even rob me of my happiness from his grave.” My voice feels like it’s violently disrupting the quiet we’ve been sitting in for 20 minutes.

“I’m not going back home Gabriel”
“Do you think I would send you back there? You don’t think I want you here with me?”

I know he wants me here. I just don’t want to be here. Not in this city anymore, it’s covered in too much blood.
“I want to leave,” is all that came out of my mouth.
“Where do you want to go?” he looks concerned. Like I can break at any moment. “Somewhere far away from here. Somewhere familiar. Somewhere by the water.”

“By the water?” he said in the midst of chopping onions.
“By the water.”

We ate stew in silence that night. The city was the quietest it’s ever been. It’s as if she knew I was leaving and was crying with my mother. ♦


Photograph by Kelvin Mendie