Naima first met Allison in the commuter lounge at Rebelson University. She was supposed to be in the second floor stacks in Williams Library reading over research about African American boys and their educational experiences so that she could shore up the proposal for the non-profit that she was creating. Instead, she was stealing a nap in the lounge, escaping from responsibility and obligation. As she drifted off, she tried to quiet her mind that was racing with all of the things that she needed to do for the girls that evening-bath time for both girls, practice reading with Angie, colors with Saniyah, and somehow fit in exchanging more than just generic pleasantries with her wife.
As she drifted off, she heard the desk attendant say “I can’t leave my post right now, but Naima over there is really friendly. She’s the short one with the big hair. She’ll show you were the ATM is.” Naima groaned at Junior volunteering her to be the welcome committee, but she appreciated the fact that he overlooked her expired student ID and let her use the library and lounges.
Naima looked up and saw an obviously new student standing near. Despite the boldness of her copper-colored afro against her café au lait skin, the woman’s hazel eyes showed her nervousness as they looked above and past Naima’s face.
“Um, the man over there said that you could show me where the ATM is..” the woman mustered while avoiding eye contact. “But it looks like you’re busy, so I can just figure it out on my own.”
“Oh it’s not a problem at all. I have no business dozing off, so Junior did me a favor by sending you this way.” Immediately, Naima wondered if her words came across more suggestively than she intended.
Rather than making the situation more awkward than it already was becoming, Naima grabbed her coat and bag, while making small talk while leading the woman into the main hall.
“Here is the backdoor that will connect you to Bradley Hall. If you go to the second floor of that building, you’ll find the Starbucks cart. Trust me, you’ll need it. And that door will let you out onto Montague Street, but you can’t enter from the street. If you go through two more doors, you’ll see the ATM on the right next to the elevator and vending machine.”
The woman looked back at me wide-eyed, obviously overwhelmed by all of this.
“Don’t worry. We all get lost a few dozen times before we finally master the tunnel system. I was in your shoes just a few months ago. By the way, I never caught your name.”
“Allison” was all she volunteered.
“Well welcome to Rebelson University. I have to run upstairs to print out some research. But feel free to email me if you have any questions. I’m ns8884 in the directory.”
She pointed the direction to the ATM once more and dashed up the stairs to the computer center.
The next time, Naima and Allison ran into each other, Naima was the one left with little to say.
It was in the grocery store on Camden Ave. Naima was ambling through the aisles trying to figure out what to prepare for dinner that required very little actual cooking. Her wife would probably be home late, and she knew she had to at least fix something for Angie and Saniyah.
Naima thought she saw Allison sunshine hair as she passed the crackers and snack aisle, but she chalked it to wishful thinking as she headed to the prepared food counter in the back. Suddenly, Allison was behind Naima wrapping her arms around her waist as if they were long lost friends. Or more. She held her breath not sure what to expect from such a bold display of affection from a virtual stranger.
“You’re much more beautiful than I remember” Allison said gently using one hand to turn Naima’s head towards her. The other hand remained wrapped around her waist.
Naima could say nothing except stare in sheer surprise and perhaps fear that she wasn’t fighting back.
“Surely someone so beautiful can’t belong to anyone because they would have never let you out of their sight.” She playfully picked up Naima’s left hand, inspecting her ring finger and was genuinely surprised by the one and a half carat that rested there. She eased her hands from Naima’s waist and chattered away, pretending that she was not just millimeters from her lips seconds before.
“I’m here shopping for some tea. Do you like tea? This place has nothing decent. Just the packaged dust they try to sell to Americans. I miss the kinds we used to have in England”
“I don’t really care for tea. My wife does and funny enough, she grew up in England too.”
“Oh really? My father was in international banking, so I lived abroad more than I did the actual States. One thing that stayed with me is that no matter where we lived, Blacks were always the underclass. Quite sobering.”
“That’s really interesting. I’m actually working on creating a non-profit to work with African American boys. That’s what I was working on when we met the first time.”
“Oh my gosh! You have to come back to my place and have tea with me. I can talk about this stuff for hours.” Allison started rattling off the names of various books, asking if Naima had read them. Though she was impressed with Allison’s wealth of knowledge, Naima found herself mesmerized by the sheer musicality of her voice. She was entranced and oblivious to the fact that she was following her to the register and then down the block to her apartment. She can’t quite identify the moment that Allison slipped her hand in hers, but Naima didn’t pull away. It felt good and a welcome change from the stress of her “real” life.