The Proposal

The sun isn’t hiding in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Half-dressed kids dance in front of the fire hydrant, soothing sweaty skin in the cool water blasting from its pumper nozzle. Zola, Kilimanjaro’s godsister, sits outside in their godmother’s fenced garden, plucking feathers from a limp chicken. Nandi stands in the shadow of the doorway catching a breeze before heading back to the kitchen sink. A lot of food still needs to be cooked, there’s plenty of clean up to do, and altar preparations to make for the drumming tomorrow. It’s Friday and no one is idle. The home bustles with preliminary ceremonies and cleaning. The sewing machine hums in the background as Iya Yafe, the seamstress puts the finishing touches on the initiate’s extravagant gown. Priests, laden with brilliant glass beads, move hurriedly from room to room as Nandi compiles a list of everything that needs to be done. Iya Ife, the head priestess of the house stitches the last few, miniscule glass beads onto the initiate’s crown. She pretends not to be exhausted in her presence, but Nandi knows that her Iya Ife desires rest.

Kilimanjaro walks out of the Orisha room and over to Nandi, who has returned to washing several large steel pots. He sets down the bucket he’s carrying and playfully grabs her around the waist, her back melting into his broad chest. Just a touch from him gives her tingly feelings all over. The white V-neck showing off his rich chocolate masculinity excites her, though she tries to play it cool.

Intoxicated by the scent of patchouli mixed with her perspiration, Kilimanjaro imagines Nandi’s caramel legs peeking out from under the bubble bath he will run for her later. After which, they’ll dine on coconut crusted salmon on a bed of rainbow chard at The Butta’ Cup Lounge, listening to locals strum inspiration on their cellos. Chill, Kil, stay present, he tells himself.

“Can we talk?” he asks her.

Instead of answering, she dries her hands on the towel slung over her shoulder, then grabs a biscuit from the oven, taking a large bite.

“Want some?” she asks him.

He shakes his head.

She pockets the rest of the warm bread in her yellow gingham apron.

“Come with me,” he says, leading her into the den. It is the only quiet place in the busy home. A magnificent silhouette of a peacock hangs low against the brick wall. Flower petals cover the floor. In the corner, a worn, brown leather couch beckons them to rest their tired legs. Nandi props her feet up on Kilimanjaro’s lap, wiggling newly-painted golden toenails.

“Okay. What’s up?” she asks, brushing crumbs from the corner of her mouth.

“Relax honey, everything is cool. Oshun spoke in my reading. She said to—” he hesitated, “‘stop playin’ and be clear about what you want, to avoid misunderstandings. Do you love me, Nandi?”

“Of course, I love you,” she says, puzzled.

“Do you want to have my babies?”

“What? Stop playin’.”

“I wouldn’t play around about that. Seriously, do you want to have a family with me?”

“I wasn’t expecting that question.” Her mind spins.  Her heart thumps so loudly she wonders if he can hear it.

“Well?” he persists.

“Truth is I been wanting to make a baby with you for a minute now.”

“Then will you be my wife, too?”

“Is that why you were trippin’ in the elevator yesterday? You want to make sure everybody knows I am your Queen!”

Nandi sinks back into the couch, the ground floor of the Brooklyn brownstone fades from view. She forgets for a moment about the wood floor strewn with flower petals, Zola plucking chicken feathers, the dumbwaiter stacked with dishes, and the chicken carcasses patiently awaiting her oil massage and seasoning. Suddenly, she finds herself at the edge of a stream surrounded by women dressed in white, with corals, shells, and glittery glass beads. They dance around her. One of the women carries a large basket. She walks up to Nandi, singing in a language that pulls at the strings of Nandi’s distant memories. Nandi knows the words but cannot speak them. The woman, now in front of her, is the most radiant woman Nandi has ever seen. Her skin is like tan honey, her shoulders broad but not intimidating, her hips, voluptuous, and her thick earth-brown hair pinned up in two curly puffs, fighting their containment. At the end of her song, she hands the basket full of the unknown to Nandi and walks back to the circle. The women in white jump into the stream and disappear. Nandi removes the muslin fabric covering the basket and reveals a pile of gold coins, shells, and yellow fabric. She wonders what it all means—where the singing woman came from, where she is and how she got here.

Kilimanjaro realizes that although Nandi lies next to him, she’s not there. “Nandi! Nandi!” Kilimanjaro calls. He shakes her gently, continuing to call her name.

Nandi hears her name, the voice faint, but repeating. A voice she knows well. She opens her eyes to find Kilimanjaro wrapping his vanilla-musky arms around her shoulders.

“You okay?” he asks.

“Yeah. I just felt tired all of a sudden. I was dreaming,” she said, her eyes fixed on him. She had so much she wanted to say in response to his shocking round of questions, but the words felt stuck.

Kilimanjaro ran his hands through the thick curls sitting atop her head and he tried to read her.

“I am not perfect Nandi. I don’t have to tell you that. I’m a man working through what I have to. I’m a man that wants to be with you always. I don’t want to say goodbye to you and watch you walk away to your apartment. I want us to be together. I want a family. I want to see you every morning, kiss your head, and smell the lavender on your neck. I want to wipe away your tears and kiss your smile. I want to grab hold of the tomorrow I have already seen in my visions. I watch you, how you move in the world, how you move with me, how you won’t let me get away with even a hint of jealousy. I love that you are fierce and can take a joke. I need you.”

Nandi still in a bit of a daze from her trance, pulls him to her.  Gently she kisses his thick lips and whispers softly, “Yes, Kilimanjaro…yes!  I want to make a life with you … and a couple of babies, she says, feeling the rhythm of his heart beat in harmony with her own.