by Roderick L. Britt
It's Friday, and quitting time is quickly approaching. To say that it has been a trying week would truly be what they call an understatement. The only thing I can think of is getting away from this place, then doing something to help ease the stress the week has brought. I decide to call Mecca to see what we can get into tonight. She's already left the office, so I try her on her cellular phone. After the third ring, she picks up. I ask Mecca if her week was as trying as mine. She assures me that it has been. I suggest we meet for dinner some place, then see where the night takes us from there. Although we enjoyed the screening of Like Water for Chocolate at the Naro in Ghent last weekend, I'm in the mood for something more tonight. We agree to meet at 6:30.
I pick Mecca up from her place at about 6:45. Normally, I try to be on time, but traffic was a little heavy on the highway. From the looks of it, there was an accident just outside of the tunnel, which explains the rush hour-like scene coming over the bridge. I ring the doorbell. Mecca appears wearing an ankle-length printed sundress, which hugs her curves just so. And as if that was not enough, she completes the look with a nice pair of open-toe sandals, accented by freshly painted toenails. The beaded choker around her neck captures her Sista-of-the-Nile-like regalness, of which I find absolutely stunning. I nod my head in approval. She flashes a knowing smile as if to say, "thank you." The weather is perfect out. Hints of the sun remain, as the city becomes seduced by a gentle summer breeze. A better setting couldn't have been scripted in a Hollywood movie.
"So, where are we heading tonight?" Mecca asks.
"Well, I found this nice French-style cafe over in Portsmouth. it's called Brutti's, and I hear the food is excellent." I continue, "Afterwards, I thought we might check out the reggae concert at the Boathouse. Buju Banton is playing, so it should be quite a show."
"Mmmmm, now that sounds like a plan. Well, I'm ready if you are."
As we drive along the highway, Jill Scott's "A Long Walk" is pumping from the radio. The traffic that was once at a standstill now appears to be moving, as we head in the opposite direction. With the passenger seat slightly reclined, Mecca looks relaxed; eyes closed, as if meditating to sista Jill's every word. Though I try to maintain my focus upon the road, I can't help but glance over at her from time to time. Watching her, reclined there, eyes closed, reminds me of the many "mornings-after" when I would watch her sleep. I've always found her to be so precious during those times, just as I do at this moment. I marvel at her beauty, like some shy child, and the thought is confirmed by the sudden skipping of my heartbeat. Just then, she stirs, and begins to speak.
"Jill is so bad," Mecca says. "Her brand of soulsista-in-love poetry is so inspiring, it could make even the most heartless person believe in it again."
"And what about you, Mec...does it make you believe in love again?" I ask.
"No, dear...your kisses took care of that a long time ago."
I smile, genuinely touched by the tenderness of her words. At that moment, I realize again what a dynamic sista she truly is.
Brutti's is packed tonight. The place is buzzing with people of all kinds...blacks, whites, the elderly, and the young. We're seated at a table near a group of wine-sipping yuppies, a large and extremely beautiful picture of the Eiffel Tower hovers just above our heads. As our waiter brings us our coffee and tea, I notice Mecca checking out the place approvingly. Though clearly not the afrocentric haunts that we usually frequent, she admits that Brutti's does indeed have a great deal of appeal to it. Known for its infamous sandwiches, various breads, and wines, Brutti's is the kind of place where one could easily expect to see some gang of beatnik poets reciting their recent work. In fact, as Dave Brubeck's 'Take Five" plays in the background, we jokingly begin to snap our fingers like they do in those old beatnik-style movies. As we laugh, we are met by stares from our yuppie friends at the next table. We ignore both their silliness and arrogant glances. Our pre-concert 'snack" arrives...soup and a sandwich for me; pasta for Mecca. Anticipating the satisfaction of jerk chicken at the reggae concert, I decide to eat light. We spend the next forty-five minutes or so enjoying our meal, as well as each other's presence. The atmosphere at Brutti's is getting looser and looser by the minute. Even our snobby friends at the next table seem to be lightening up. As the restaurant fills with the sound of chatter, I notice the time.
"Oh, babe, we really need to roll. Finding somewhere to park at the show is going to be a task in itself."
The hint of sunshine that lead us to Brutti's has now been replaced by what has turned out to be a very beautiful, moonlit night. The show starts in about a half an hour, but one couldn't tell by the nonchalant pace of our footsteps. As we're walking towards the car, we hear the sounds of a band coming from afar. The streets in Old Towne Portsmouth are busy with people, bringing to mind the old block parties of my youth. We notice the steady stream of people heading around the corner about a block or so away from Brutti's, so we make a quick detour in that direction. I look at my watch, keeping in mind the start of the concert. Upon reaching the scene, there is a quintet playing ƒ?Ý saxophonist, drummer, pianist, bassist, and guitarist. At the mike is a female vocalist, who's singing a jazzy rendition of Chaka Khan's "Stay."
The entire scene is circus-like. There are street vendors, artists, and all kinds of food and drink stands. The mood is festive, and I sense that the music is pulling us in. We decide to join in the fun, which pretty much rules out the reggae concert. I'm not disappointed though, and neither is Mecca. For the next two hours, we find ourselves totally immersed in this Friday night street festival. We share a snow cone, or at least until I discover that all of the syrupy flavoring can no longer be tasted. We mingle with the various artists who are out there pushing their work. Among them is an artist from New York, who talks us into purchasing a couple of his original prints. As I find a spot beneath a tree, not far from the band, I notice Mecca holding court with a group of three little girls. By her gestures, I can tell that they are fascinated by her beaded choker. I study her every movement, as Mecca shares smiles with her young audience. I marvel at how natural the setting seems to be for her. Equally impressive is her willingness to allow her child-like playful side to surface during this encounter. Mecca looks up at me, as if sensing my stares, then winks at me. Even I can't resist the allure of her charm.
Mecca says goodbye to her newfound friends, then joins me beneath the tree. By now, the band has mellowed its groove. Mecca throws her arms around my neck and begins to sway to the band's instrumental ballad. With the crowd thinning out, and the vendors starting to close up shop, we are only one of what are now three couples still enjoying the music. Without uttering a word, we begin to dance slowly to the music. Once again, we have given our love a public stage, and the feeling couldn't be more wonderful.
"Are you sorry we missed the concert?" Mecca asks.
"Not at all, sweetness. I think this street festival was exactly what I needed. Besides, we've seen numerous reggae shows, and I'm sure there will be more."
At this moment, she kisses me slowly, tenderly. And as if reading my mind, Mecca grabs my hand and leads us in the direction of the car.
"I think this moment is best if we're alone," she says.
Silently, I agree.
After leaving the street festival in Portsmouth, we decide to go back to my place. The weather outside has become quite inviting, like a lover's whisper in a receptive ear. Since we both favor such a night, we decide to open the windows and let the night air lead us to wherever. I remember that I have a chilled bottle of wine in the refrigerator, so I make my way to retrieve it. As I pop the cork, I hear Mecca slipping something into the CD player. I pour two glasses of white wine, then rejoin her in the living room. The sounds of Miki Howard now fill the room.
"Hmmm, '...Miki sings Billie,' huh?" I say. "I'm surprised by your choice."
"Oh, I absolutely love this CD. I thought she did an excellent job on it. Too bad not enough people were listening."
"I agree, baby. People definitely slept on this one."
At this moment, I recognize the lyrics of Miki singing Billie Holiday's classic "Don't Explain."
"Mmmmm," I say, glass to my mouth, wine slightly dripping from its corners, "that's my favorite song on the CD. It's a sad ode to unconditional love."
Mecca and I sit in silence on my living room floor; across from each other; eyes locked; music low. I wonder what's on her mind, and can't help but feel that she's wondering the same thing about me. Our relationship has grown over these last two years, but it hasn't always been easy. Some issues have been more disturbing than others, but we've been able to endure, though not without our battle scars. As we sit here, listening to Miki sing of Billie's love for an unfaithful man, I wonder if our past problems have somehow resurfaced in her thoughts. Since it's always been a touchy subject for us, I try not to think about it. She's here with me, on this cool, romantic night, so that's all that matters to me. As I take another sip of wine, Mecca begins to speak.
"You know, babe...Leslie says that I'm a fool for trusting you."
Leslie, Mecca's best friend, who tears me down in front of her, but flirts with me almost uncontrollably when she is not around. Leslie and I used to be close when Mecca and I first started seeing each other, but that changed when our relationship became more serious. She's a beautiful sista, but obviously paralyzed by her own bitterness from failed relationships. Even Mecca has questioned her motives with me.
"Is that so?" I say, somewhat sarcastically. "And tell me, Mec, what makes you such a fool?"
"Well, she says that a man in your position...attractive, successful, mentally-stable, straight...can have his pick of the "litter," so to speak. And to hear Leslie tell it, you're doing just that."
I can't help but laugh at this assessment; then I find myself becoming agitated.
"Leslie...the same sista who cried on my shoulder at the New Year's Eve party, drunk out of her mind, telling me that she loved me? Truthfully, Mec, I don't even know why you talk to that sista. I don't mean any disrespect, but her mess is quite raggedy."
Miki continues to sing:
"...cry to hear folks chatter
I'm standing at the window now, trying to catch a whiff of the night's air. I need to cool off. I've never been one to hold on to what others have to say, but something about Leslie bothers me. I have always been courteous and kind to the sista, of which she has seemed appreciative. Still, every three months or so, she starts back on this "what's up with you and Miles" kick. It's quite annoying.
"Baby, look..." Mecca begins, trying to calm me down, "I'm not worried about what Leslie says, so why are you? I love her like a sister, but I also see her for who she is. She likes you, Miles, and I honestly believe that's why she trips like she does. If you would bend an inch, she would be all up in the goods with you. Honey, I'm not blind."
"So, why do you even listen to her?"
"Miles, I just let her run her mouth, that's all. Her comments don't hold any water with me, sweetie. Truth be told, I regret even telling her about what happened last summer."
Mecca walks up behind me and wraps her arms around my waist. Even upset, I can't deny the tenderness of such a gesture. Still, I can't help but wonder if Leslie's off-colored remarks conjure up any less-than memorable thoughts.
"Mec," I begin, "does that episode with Tonya last year still bother you?"
Tonya is an old love of mine who visited the area last summer. She and I hadn't seen each other in three years or so, when she popped up in church one Sunday morning. Our love affair was one of intense physical attraction, however our two and a half year relationship possessed nothing else. She never had an appreciation for the things I enjoy, but we were more than compatible in the bedroom. During her visit, I'm afraid, I found myself in a compromising position with her. I've never fully forgiven myself for bringing that drama into Mecca's life. She deserved so much more from me, and I knew this.
Rubbing her hands up and down the center of my chest, Mec hesitantly replies, "No."
I accept her answer, though aware that those wounds are still there. The breeze coming through the window causes Mecca to hold me closer. The trees are swaying, rhythmically to the night's sweet serenade. I enjoy the one-ness of such moments with my lady. It's when, I feel, we're at our strongest.
"Miles," Mecca continues, in a low tone, "let's just love each other, baby."
With her hands still dancing upon my chest, I grab them and kiss them absorbingly. We stand there, contemplating our future, perhaps...or mentally burying our past. As Mother Nature whispers gently through my window, the sound of Miki singing Billie's pain lingers in the air.
"...skip the lipstick, baby...don't explain."