“I love you like cooked food?”
“No, I mean for real.”
“I love you like a fat kid loves cake?”
“Fine, forget it then,” Isa said, getting up from the couch in Jabari’s condo.
If there were anything Isa didn’t like about him, it was this: his tendency to joke about everything. Her boss had given her hell all week––he was going through a divorce and everyone at the office was feeling it. She just wanted to hear something sweet.
“Okay, okay, I’m playing,” he said, turning to face her as she walked away from him. “But what do you expect me to say? You can’t just ask a man that question out of nowhere.”
She stopped and turned back to look at him, “Why not?” she asked.
“Because he’s a man. We don’t do well with emotions and communication and shit.”
Isa entered the kitchen and opened the fridge, unsure of exactly what she was looking for. She wasn’t thirsty, but she reached for the carton of mango juice and poured herself a glass anyway.
“So, what, you’re just going to help yourself to my juice and not even ask if I wanted any?” Jabari made his way over to her and sat on a stool at the counter. She pulled out another glass for him and poured some juice.
“I never actually said I wanted any.”
Isa could see that he was joking but she really wasn’t in the mood. She took her time finishing the juice and hoped that by the time she put her glass down, Jabari would have stopped talking. No such luck. He continued with his stale jokes and playful jabs, talking himself into an unpleasant night. After another few minutes, he finally joined her in silence.
“I’m sorry,” she said after he had gone quiet. “You know, work stuff.”
Jabari squinted as if trying to read some fine print etched in her forehead. “You sure that’s all it is?” he asked.
“Well, I am meeting your father next weekend,” he said, gently.
“So,” he began slowly, staring at her from across the counter. “Have you ever dated any black men?”
“I mean, before me, obviously.”
“What kind of ridiculous question is that?” she asked in a tone that surprised both of them.
“I’m just saying, some people still have problems with it.”
“I’m so confused but so tired, I don’t know if I even care to figure out what you’re talking about.” Isa took up his glass, still full, and poured the juice down the sink.
“Why is this such a problem to talk about? Shouldn’t we? I know that the relationship between Blacks and Indians back in Trinidad hasn’t been the best historically. Or is it Guyana I’m thinking about?”
“Who cares? What does that have to do with you meeting Dad?” Isa was almost yelling.
“You’re going to make me say it?”
“Fine. Will your father have an issue with this Black man dating his Indian daughter?”
Isa went silent. She studied his face from where she stood across the counter to see if he was joking again. He wasn’t. She finally understood what he had been getting at. “So, you think my dad would have an issue with you because you’re black,” she said, “and we’re Indian?”
“It’s not that I think that, I’m just asking you. Like I said, I know that for some people it’s still an issue.”
“By ‘it,’ you mean, interracial dating?”
“It’s been an issue for you in the past?”
“Yeah, my last girlfriend’s father wouldn’t even let me in the house.”
“She was Indian?”
“Well, kind of. Her family was Pakistani.”
“So, you’ve got a thing for South Asian women, eh?” Isa was no longer speaking loudly, but she was still upset.
“I don’t know, my boys say I have a type. I just find them extremely attractive. Exotic. Indian women are some of the most beautiful women on earth.” Jabari leaned over the counter and kissed her on the forehead. “Maybe it’s the hair,” he laughed.
“Is that why you’re with me? Because of my hair?”
“Okay, look, whatever I did to upset you, I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to imply that your father is racist.”
“I’m not upset, I’m just tired,” she said, knowing neither of them believed it. “I should probably start heading home.” She walked around the counter to give him a hug as her peace offering.
“Okay, just let me change my pants and I’ll walk you to the subway.”
“No, it’s okay. You know how I get when I’m tired and you’ve had your fair share of my mood already. I’ll let you know when I get in.”
“Okay, make sure.”
Just as she stepped out into the corridor of his condo building, she heard him say her name.
“Yes?” she responded.
“You know I got love for you, right?”
“Yes,” she said, “I know.”
“So what’s your problem? You’ve been pouting all day. You still vex about some stupid work nonsense?” Isa’s father asked.
“No,” Isa responded.
“Nothing really. Just thinking”
Isa’s father put his fork down. He leaned back into his chair and crossed his arms over his chest, glaring at her from the other side of the dinner table.
“Isa, obviously there is something troubling you. I have all night and all day tomorrow to sit here until you come out with it. But it will be a bit uncomfortable if I should have to go to the washroom as I’m not wearing my diapers today.”
A short chuckle escaped her like a cough. Her father had a way of doing that to her. “I guess I’ve just been thinking about next weekend too much. The dinner.”
“Ah. What? You afraid I’ll give him a hard time?
“No, nothing like that. I just want you two to hit it off.”
“Why wouldn’t we?”
“I don’t know.”
Isa and father sat looking at each other, neither one ready to speak. His skin was still relatively smooth despite a few deep wrinkles that appeared when he smiled. His eyes were the colour of honey, framed with thick lashes so long that he complained that they scratched his reading glasses. Even as an old man, almost completely bald except for a crown of thin grey hair that circled his head, Isa could still see what must have caught her mother’s attention.
“What did you say his name was? Jason?”
“Well, what kind of name is that? Where are his parents from? I thought you said they were from the Caribbean? That name sounds African. You sure he’s not African?”
“Oh stop,” she said, this time laughing outright while she pushed her chair back and stood up. She walked over to her father’s side of the table and took up his plate.
“Look, just relax yourself. I will be on my best behaviour for your little friend. As long as he brings his manners, we shouldn’t have any issues, right?” Her father stood up.
“I’m going upstairs to read the papers. Fix your face, or you’ll get wrinkles earlier than you should, trust me.” Her father laughed to himself, leaving Isa alone with the dishes.
She watched him as he took his time climbing the carpeted steps. With his back hunched slightly and left arm gripping the wooden railing, it was taking him a little longer than it used to. These days his feet seemed heavy, as if laden with invisible weights. His mind was still sharp, though his body had long since lost the firmness of youth. Since he had retired, he made a point of reading at least one newspaper a day and always found time for the local Caribbean community papers on the weekend.
Even in his later years her father could still pick up on Isa’s mood and tell when she was lying. Sometimes he didn’t even have to call her on it outright, instead, he’d continue to stare at her, not saying a word, until the truth spilled out of her like water from a weak dam. But she had learned that she could keep her secrets by getting as close to the truth as possible while withholding details.
With the clean dishes drying on the plastic rack by the sink, Isa went to join her father upstairs in what he called his “reading nook”—a square-ish area at the top of the stairs that was neither room nor corridor. Against two of the walls that surrounded it were bookcases that overflowed––books literally on top of books.
When she reached the top of the stairs she saw her father in his usual spot on the sofa. Every time she found her father there, she always had the same thought: I should take a picture of this. Her father, fully engulfed in the latest issue of the local community papers, surrounded by books on either side of him––nothing could be more perfect, except perhaps, her mother at his side.
“What was she like?” Isa asked.
“God, girl, you want to give me a heart attack or what? You move like a jumbie. What was who like?”
Her father rested the paper on his lap and removed his reading glasses.
“Ah ha. That which was hidden in darkness now comes to light. Is this what’s been bothering you?”
Instead of answering, Isa pulled out one of her father’s books, turned it over in her hands without reading the summary printed on the back, and flipped through a few of the yellowed pages.
“The Wretched of the Earth,” she read aloud from the spine. “I remember hearing about this, I’ve been meaning to read it.”
“Yes, you should,” her father said. “I’m a Garvey man myself but that one’s a classic, like quite a few of those books. Very important works and still quite relevant, if you ask me. All of our young people should have access to those books.”
Isa put the fragile book back on the shelf and scanned a few other titles. A couple minutes of silence passed between them before her father spoke again.
“Your mother was a beautiful, strong, ambitious woman. The older you get, the more you remind me of her, in your own sort of quiet, Canadian way.” Isa had moved onto another shelf, missing her father’s smile.
“I thought you wanted to talk about your mother, now all of a sudden you seem so engrossed in my –what do you call them again?”
“Black Power Books,” she responded, laughing.
“Yeah, well it looks like you can’t get enough of them now. Come sit with your old father for a bit. Let’s chat.”
Since her last conversation with Jabari, Isa had been seeing her father and the home they shared with new eyes. There was the old picture of her parents embracing in the sun, wearing sharply creased polyester bell-bottoms and perfectly sculpted Afros; those oversized wooden faces with twisted mouths and patterns carved into the foreheads and cheeks that visitors somehow managed to call beautiful. The family pictures above the fireplace and the African art on the walls had all come back into focus after so many years. An inescapable Blackness would descend upon Jabari once he entered their home and it surprised her how much she cared what his reaction would be.
Isa removed the book with the lime green cover and sticker that read “$1.75,” and went to join her father on the old sofa. He raised his left arm and wrapped it around his daughter as she settled into the space he had opened up for her.
“Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey,” he read aloud. “Good choice. You know his wife put this together?”
“Tell me how you two met.”
“You know that story already.”
“Tell me again.”
“Where all this coming from, Isa?”
“Okay,” he conceded. “But you have to promise you’ll read that entire book.”