by Jailyn Gladney
Oney stared into the mirror until the planes of her face blurred and the flare of her nostrils and fullness of her lips came together as if Picasso had positioned them just so. When her eyes began to burn she lifted the pointer finger of her right hand and traced the outline of her reflection. She saw her father's grace in the curve of her brow but recognized her mother's strength in the lines of her mouth. Both of her grandmothers lingered in the shadows beside her pupils framed by a complexion straight from the undersides of her grandfather's arms.
Oney moved her hands from her face down to her neck, breaking the amulet that held her throat in a noose-like grip and constricted her breathing. As she dropped the now broken pieces, her eyes stayed trained on the mirror. The ivory Christ fell silently to the floor, separated from the cross he had so long occupied; nothing more than any other man in his separation. She could finally breathe again. She reached for the hem of her bone white dress that floated carelessly near the tops of her knee caps and pulled it over her head.
Finally, Oney looked away from the mirror only to see her dress float down to smother the floor beneath it. As the garment hit the mahoganied floor, she noticed for the first time the red stain that blossomed in perfect contrast to the white surrounding it and in a rush she removed her plain undergarments.
It took a second for Oney to find herself again in the mirror. She studied the contours of her coffee stained body, intent upon becoming well acquainted with the open-mouthed, wild-eyed stranger that stared back at her. Her breath grew labored as she noticed the way her left breast sagged noticeably lower than its supposed twin. The room tilted right, left, right, left until her eyes landed on the graceful arc of her hip.
The arc of her hip reminded her of the rounded bottoms of ships. Oney wondered if they'd been told where they were headed when the white-faced colonizers appeared and led them to ships of their own. When the colonizers shoved the father between their legs, hid the son deep in their throats and wrapped their limbs in ropes of the ghost did they fight with Njinga-like resistance or open their mouths wide and spread their legs in acceptance? Oney's eyes made obvious the contempt she held for them; the contempt she held for them and their guns, and their language, and their diseases, and their lies... She abhorred that they had taught her and her people to hate coffee, curls and curves while embracing angles, angels and a language, that after three hundred and ninety four years still tasted of captivity and betrayal.
Decades of criticism and isolation filled the spaces between Oney's vertebrae, holding her spine straight even as the rest of her crashed to the floor in more pieces than her forgotten talisman. Atlantic tears crashed to the floor beneath her like so many violent waves against the decks of immoral ships that carried her ancestors from their original homes to the place where she now stood naked and trembling.
For the first time, Oney allowed her eyes to wander. Sunlight and a light breeze trickled through the open window highlighting the defiant stain on her colorless dress as the hem rose and fell with each whisper from the wind. The breeze sang to her in words that only her soul could understand. She was delicate; newly born yet standing firmly on two feet supported by centuries of love and sacrifice.
Finally, with her body stripped of all reminders of domination execept for those etched permanently in the blood of her veins that served to tinge the color of her skin, Oney was closer to seeing her truest self.
The man now separated from his cross watched Oney from near her feet, unsure of his place in things now. Half covered by the now ruined, bone-white garment, his muffled pleas fell on deaf ears and unconcerned eyes. Oney stepped forward in awe of all that the wind told her. As she moved closer yet to the reflection still staring deep into her eyes she felt something break beneath the weight of her left foot.
With a gasp, she watched her grandmothers slip down from the shadows of her eyes to stand proudly with her mother near the corners of her lips. Together, the four women coaxed a small smile of defiance from muscles that had forgotten how to work in their disuse.
At last, Oney began to dance. The sound of drums and flesh against flesh filled her ears, leading her home.