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African American Fiction American

"Jah Jah. JAH JAH!" Novah screamed.

"How does someone so little manage to make up so much noise?" Nonna quizzed, looking down at Novah. What's the matter with Nonna’s bean? Novah looked back at her with furrowed eyebrows.

"I want Jah."

"Joya," open this door right now. You hear this, baby."

Joya rolled her eyes. Whenever I get a second to myself, someone always finds a way to disrupt it. Five minutes! All I ask for is five . . . "Yes, ma'am," she answered, opening the door with respectful disdain.

"Jah Jah," Novah threw herself into Joya's arms. "Novah, miss you." She grabbed a handful of Joya's hair and stroked it playfully.

"Hey, aunties baby." Joya returned Novah's love wrapping her tightly in her arms while washing her face with kisses. "Had a good day? Whatchu been doing? Where's bubbie?"

"Bubbie, my baby," Novah answered, referring to her new baby brother while squirming for Joya to let her down.

Joya's room was a little girl's dream. There were floor-length mirrors on both sides of her vanity, filled with nail polishes and makeups from every color in the rainbow. The ceiling was lined with LED lights that changed color every other second, and there were stuffed Care Bears Cabbage Patch Dolls everywhere. 

"Lexa! Pay Cocomelon Novah shouted.  

Silence.

“LEXA! PAY COCOMELON Novah demanded, furrowing those eyebrows again.

Silence.

“LEXA!” she screamed.

“Why is this child screaming,” Nonna asked, sticking her head through Joya’s door.

“I’m trying to watch The Young and the Restless.

“She wants Alexa to play Cocomelon for her,” Joya replied.

“Well, don’t make her ask again. Tell Lexa or whoever she is to get to it.”

“Alexa, play Cocomelon Joya said.

On cue, Alexa responded with The Muffin Man song, and Novah ran over to one of the floor-length mirrors and began to dance. Satisfied that she was happy, Nonna shut Joya’s door, returned to stories, and Joya began to toggle between Instagram and Snapchat. Novah humored herself for hours, prissing and prancing around in Joya’s floor-length mirror. When she grew tired of the mirror, she pulled her tablet from the corner of Joya’s dresser, climbed in bed next to her, and looked for YouTube, but the screen was blank. 

          “Tee tee,” Novah bopped Joya in the head.

          “Yes, bean.”

          “Tabee not work.”

          “Huh?”

          “Tabee not work,” she fussed, shoving the iPad in Joya’s face.

          “Oh, it died,” Joya said, getting up to find a charger. “Hold on, Tee Tee will fix it for you.”          Where are your parents? As much time as you spend over here you might as well move in. 

Joya loved Novah as if she were her own. From the moment she was born, the two were inseparable. Every day after work, Joya would drive over to her sister Nevaeh’s apartment to spend time with Novah allowing Nevaeh to have time to herself while acclimating to the beautiful woes of motherhood. Nevaeh had worked as a communications liaison in the film industry for several years; however, due to a lack of proper funding amid the Covid-19 pandemic, all film projects for Celtic Studios were halted, leaving her without a job. Suffocated by the rising costs of living and providing for a toddler and a newborn, Nevaeh and her family were forced to move back home with Nonna, their mother, and Joya.  

      Ping, Novah’s tablet chimed, indicating that it was charged sufficiently enough for her to begin using it again.

      “Here you go, Novah.”

      “Tank U,” she replied chipperly, grabbing the iPad from Joya. Bracing herself against the back of Joya’s headboard and crisscrossing her legs, she lost herself in a Wheels on the Bus singalong, and Joya began to get up to clean her room. If I hear that freaking song one more time. I don’t know how much longer I can take them being here. This living arrangement was only supposed to be for six months, and it’s been almost a year. I’ve had to give up my room and all my personal amenities and move into this hovel of a guest room so that they could be comfortable, and on top of that, I still have to deal with their child after I, too, have worked a long day.  

      “Novah No!” Joya panicked. “You can’t chew on the charging cord. It’ll shock you.”

      “Mine,” Novah protested.

      “No, bean. This will hurt you. Please don’t put it in your mouth again, ok?”

           “K.” Novah smiled and went back to her iPad.

      “Jah Jah’s gotta go into the bathroom for a second. You stay right here and be a good girl until I get back. Don’t move, ok?”

      “K.” Novah nodded and smiled. Joya got up from the bed and went into the bathroom to start her nightly bedtime routine. Humming with the tune of the Itsy-Bitsy Spider, she brushed her shoulder-length hair up into a messy bun, threw on a head wrap, and began applying her makeup removal cream and cleanser. Meanwhile, Novah sang along joyously while twirling the charger between her fingers. She’d twirled it so long without realizing it’d come undone from the outlet.  

    “Jump rope,” Novah said, crawling down from the bed. “Swish, swish, swish,” she sang gleefully, twirling the rope back and forth over her head. “Swish, swish, aaaah,” Novah whined. Part of the cord had wrapped itself around her neck, and the other was tangled in her ponytail. Frustrated, she continued to throw the cord back and forth over her head, but with each throw, it grew tighter and tighter around her neck. Panicked and unable to breathe, Novah began flailing her arms and screaming violently.

      “AAAAAAAAAHHHHH,” she yelled, tears streaming down her face.

      “What’s the matter, bean . . . Novah!” Joya screamed.  

      Nonna and Nevaeh came rushing in just as Joya freed Novah from the cord’s chokehold. 

      “What are you doing to her,” Nevaeh shrieked, shoving Joya out of the way.

           “The cord was wrapped around her neck. I was trying to get it off,” Joya bawled. “Please let me see about her.”

          “How could you let this happen, Joya!” Nonna was furious. “You were supposed to be watching her. What were you doing that was so important that you could not see that after this baby?”

          “Yeah, Joya. What were you doing?” Nevaeh asked.

          “I was in the bathroom getting ready for bed. I left her sitting on the bed watching her iPad. She was fine just a second ago.”

          “Do you realize what could happen in one second. My child could have died.”

          “Well, if you were so interested in your child and her welfare, then she shouldn’t have been over here with me in the first place. If I am so incapable of watching her, then maybe you need to take her and her iPad back to your side of the house,” Joya said.

          “Now, girls, calm down. It’s over, and Novah is okay,” Nonna said. “Come on and go with Nonna. We’ll  get you some warm milk and a cookie before changing into our PJs. Then we’ll go see bubbie and read him a bedtime story.”

          Novah’s tear-stained face lit up like fireworks on the Fourth of July, “Bubbie!” she cheered.

          “Nite nite Jah Jah. Luh U,” Novah mumbled, loving on Joya before leaving with Nonna.

          “Jah Jah loves you more bean,” Joya replied.

          Joya gathered herself and prepared to go back into the bathroom to shower.

          “You’ve got some explaining to do,” Nevaeh spat.

          “I can’t believe we’re arguing over this! What else is there to explain? I went into the bathroom and left Novah on the bed playing with her iPad, she somehow got the cord loose from the outlet, and it somehow got wrapped around her neck. I got to her in time, and she’ll live to see another day,” Joya explained, showing Nevaeh to the door.

          “She’ll live to see another day. Have you lost your freaking mind?”

          “Look, Nevaeh, I love Novah with all my heart. I would never intentionally let anything bad happen to her. I love her like she was my own. Don’t you see that this was just an honest mistake?”

          “An honest mistake? Humph. Only someone who is not a mother would say something like that. How dare you?”

          “Look, Nevaeh, like I said before since I’m so incapable of taking care of your child, you keep your child on the other side of the house. I’m sick of you. You come here, invade my space, you and your husband eat us out of house and home, you let Novah wander from pillar to post without so much as checking on her for hours, and you have the mitigated gall to imply that I’m irresponsible because I’m not a mother. You have only been a mother for five seconds, so you barely qualify. Of all the things I have done for you. For all the ways I have gone out of my way to show you that I’ve been there for you and love you, this is how you treat me? You’ve belittled me in front of momma and berated my ability to be a responsible caregiver for your child. You’ve got some never Nevaeh, and if this is an example of what a mother should be, then I’m glad I’m not a mother!”      

“Girls,” Nonna intervened. “Stop this nonsense. You will not disrespect me or each other while you’re in this house. I suggest you work this out fast and work it out soon. 

          “I’m not working anything out, momma. Nevaeh has made it clear how she feels about me and my parenting style. She’s made it painfully clear that I am not a mother and am not qualified to keep watch over her child. I love her dearly, but I will not allow her to speak to me the way she has spoken to me ever again. Since she feels the way she feels about me, she and I are no longer family.”

          “Joya, you don’t mean that. She’s your sister. She’s your only sister. You two make amends right now,” Nonna insisted.

          “No, momma. If she doesn’t want to be my sister, then I don’t want to be her sister. James and I are packing our things, and we’ll be out of here first thing in the morning,” Nevaeh weeped.

          “Where are you going? You moved back in here because you couldn’t afford your rent. If you can’t pay rent there, how will you pay it elsewhere. You don’t have a pot a pot to piss in nor a back door to throw it out, so where Nevaeh? Where you going?”

          “Joya,” Nonna shouted. “There is no need to hit below the belt. We don’t kick each other when we are down. Your sister is going through a rough time, and it’s our job to support her. We’re family and must always be there for one another.”

          “I was there for her momma, and she told me that I’ve done nothing but a piss poor job of being her sister and taking care of her child. I’m done with her momma. I am done.”

July 06, 2022 00:02

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2 comments

Etya Krichmar
21:24 Jul 13, 2022

It is a beautifully written story, Mahogany Ree. I enjoyed reading it. I especially loved the dialogue between a grown-up and a toddler. You told it so well. As far as the dynamics of a dysfunctional family go, you did a good job there as well. Family relationships are high maintenance, at times. Thank for sharing.

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Mahogany Ree
03:27 Jul 16, 2022

Thank you so much for reading!

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