/ 20 November 2020

‘The Sweetest Ache’ extract: Dark brown and midnight black magic

‘Partner’ by Mercy Thokozane Minah. (Digital oil painting, 2020)

Again she was surprised by the waitress’s hands, gently brushing the offending liquid from her chin. The gesture was so subtle that Remi wondered if she hadn’t imagined the whole thing. Walking away, the waitress turned around and shared a secret smile with the hot and bothered activist. Remi felt her hard, aggressive face spread into a grin in spite of itself; felt warmth rise into her cheeks and an involuntary brightness seep into her eyes.

She had no idea what was going on here, but she liked the feeling of being carried along on something so golden and warm. Eventually everyone else in the café faded into nothingness and there was no one else left but Remi and the enchanting waitress. She watched the girl flirt and smile at customers wearilessly. She watched her deftly handle drunk and disorderly patrons with a stern but patient smile. She made them feel like she remained their friend, even when they were in trouble. Remi could understand why this girl was made to work so many tables. She had the kind of personality that would keep people coming back to a place — on the off chance that she’d send a glance their way.

Remi was so enthralled by this woman that she didn’t even notice that the meal she’d ordered still hadn’t been delivered to her table. Her beer glass was long since emptied, but her thirst was secondary to her admiration and study of this beautiful woman who had singled her out in a café filled with attractive people. She couldn’t help but notice the very feminine structure of the waitress’s body beneath her uniform.

Her body seemed like that of a goddess underneath the plain black shirt dress she, and all the other waitresses, wore to serve everyone. Her legs radiated a rich dark brown goodness and seemed to go on for an eternity. Her breasts pressed against the buttons of her shirt dress and her clavicles stood guard against the longest and most graceful neck Remi had ever seen. Remi watched the girl’s hands and wondered what it would feel like to study them up close, to taste them. She wondered what it would feel like to have that tall, perfect body pressed against her own big imperfections. Hard, sturdy arms; experienced, veined hands; a large belly softened by years of beer-jugging, hardened by bad travel food and occasional beatings from police officers and homophobic thugs.

Exhale, an anthology of queer African eroric fiction, is published by Blackbird Books

Remi found herself taking inventory of her body. This battlefield of exhaustion and dried-up excitement. This graveyard of broken hearts and shattered loves, this broken-down machine rusty from lack of use, slow and cranky from too much use. She wondered if the waitress would ever be able to accept her. Could she accept the hard arms and broad shoulders, the big belly and thickening thighs, the landscape of tattoos collected from traumatic and beautiful travels across the globe? The leg — which wasn’t really a part of her, but was very much a part of her; the result of a freak accident in a place she once called home.

She thought of her face, covered in holes from when the night’s nerves and heartache drove her to dig her nails into her flesh, digging out craters until she resembled the moon. She thought of her hair — looking like the bad aftermath of a good haircut. The thick, black curls, locks of which hung low over her hooded brown eyes and large nose. She thought of her complexion, once a caramel yellow but now a golden bronze, thanks so very much to the African sun. You’ll have to take me as I am baby, I’ve lived, she found herself muttering as her eyelids began a speedy descent onto her cheeks.

This time, she awoke from a deep sleep. Someone was sitting across from her. Remi started and sat right up, instantly alert. Her eyes met the eyes of the waitress, and they were swimming with kind mirth. “You’ve been asleep for a long time now. I even finished cleaning up the kitchen and putting up all the chairs.”

Remi thought she could listen to the complicated music of her voice forever. A rough, smoker’s voice, yet laden with a breaking timbre, as though it was arguing with itself about which octave to settle on. She looked at her face and felt a surprisingly immediate endearment towards her; too many years of heartbreak had made Remi wary of falling too quickly. The waitress looked a lot older up close and in the fluorescent lighting. Her eyes were a light honey brown and the laughing lines underneath didn’t take away from the stark beauty of the large almond-shaped eyes. Her complexion reminded Remi of late evening skies in countries whose names she couldn’t remember. A wealth of dark brown and midnight black magic.

This extract is taken from Exhale (Blackbird Books), an anthology of queer African erotic fiction