Countenance

She dreams of reviving the Black Panther Party. That is, of course, after she earns her PhD in African American Studies and shaves her head bald. “I’m very Afrocentric,” she admits. I laugh; I already know. The hammock we’re laying on sways gently, supporting our heavy bodies as our eyes grow wider, gazing at the starry sky. She says I’m the coolest Asian she’s ever met and invites me to join the Party once it gets started.

Her name is Sanday Sacoh, but Fatima’s her “black name.” Fatima Sanday Sacoh: it has a ring to it. “Fatima’s my real name,” Sanday says. She adds reassuringly, “But you can just call me Sanday.” I’ve known Sanday for half a year and, just now, I’ve met Fatima.

Fatima lives in the Bronx with her mother and her two younger sisters, not far from my family’s Chinese restaurant. Her father was deported when she was twelve for a particularly outstanding criminal record. As he stagnates in the motherland—becoming progressively quieter, farther, deeper entrenched in Africa—the women he left behind four years ago pinch their noses every time they enter their blood red house, still trapped. “The Crips gonna get us,” Sanday smirks, referring to one of the two strongest New York City gangs. Their flag is blue; the Bloods, understandably, claim red.

Inside Fatima’s red house is green. Green is red’s complement, but it does nothing to stanch the bloody exterior that is Fatima’s neighborhood. Everyone’s afraid, but used to, the shootings. Fatima’s afraid of “thugs shooting it up. Black, white, if you got a bulge in your pocket, I’m crossing the street.”

I want to visit her house, but she thinks I’m joking. “KENNY! YOU N****, GET THE F*** OUT!” Fatima’s impersonation seems flawless, even though I haven’t met the couple upstairs. “YOU CRACKHEAD!” Apparently, Kenny’s always blowing money and smoking weed. Fatima grins. Then, with a soft sigh: “It stinks.”

Fatima says I’m the coolest Asian she’s ever met. I am probably the least Asian Asian person she’s ever met. She’s probably the least black black person I’ve ever met. She prays at 8 pm every evening and fasts a couple days each month. Her mother and one of her sisters wears a hijab, but she chooses not to. She knows what people think about her, and embraces it: her black face, her two-hundred dollar kicks, her seven piercings, translate to Bronx, ghetto, with a single struggling mother. And they’re right. But they would never guess Muslim, never guess that she wrinkles her nose when she sees ham and doesn’t believe in showing too much skin.

When she gets the Party going again, there’s “no ‘n****,’ no degrading music, no violence.” It’ll be for blacks, but anyone can join. “Hey, I don’t judge,” Sanday says with both her palms facing outwards, as if in surrender. That’s classic Fatima.

Fatima has a new baby brother, who is treated like a god because he’s a he and there hasn’t been a he in the family since her father left. He wasn’t much of a father anyway, and though I want to ask her what he did that was so grossly illegal, I remain mum and let her talk.

“He screams randomly,” Fatima says of the new addition to her family, head nodding ever so slightly. I nod back, but she doesn’t seem to be looking at me anyway. We’re on a hammock underneath the stars, not in that bloody mess of a neighborhood where Fatima hears gunshots and fears for her family, where the restaurant gets prank called and egged and customers spill things on the tabletops and floor and make racist jokes. She’s cracking what has ossified for years and tonight, I am here to listen.

Fatima tells me about the thug who drove her and her two sisters home after she mistook his sleek black car for a Bronx dollar cab. She didn’t realize it wasn’t labeled as such and when the car stopped in front of them, she stuffed her sisters in and dove in after them. They drove to the front of an apartment building and paused. Another thug came out and stuck money through the driver’s window. “No, gimme the rest later,” the driver said, prompting his benefactor away, and drove on.

He was talking on his phone: “Yo, Ima rob this bank,” Sanday says in a husky voice. “We was just looking at each other like what we supposed to do?”

Somehow, they got to their house. Fatima threw the requested twelve dollars at the driver’s seat although she knew it was eight something, and they ran for it, for home, for their incredulous mother’s arms.

“Ma is all we need.” Sanday’s nodding again, in that almost imperceptible way.

“You’re a good sister.”

“Nah, chill.”

Fatima writes in the back of my journal a few nights later—not to me, but for me, and not to tell the world, but to empower ourselves—the following: “I am who I am and that’s who I be and I don’t give a damn if your eyes can’t see.” —Sanday

Karen Zheng
Age 17, Grade 12
Stuyvesant High School
Silver Key

Leave a Reply