Kenyatta Walker, Jasmine's father, is an African American black nationalist turned conservative Republican turned black nationalist again. Kenyatta is a fat man who looks jolly and hates it because he imagines himself a militant. Actually, Kenyatta reminds everyone who knows him of Al Roker. Everything about Kenyatta is fat and more than a little oily, especially his voice, which is thick and greasy, like Church's chicken or your grand-mama's gravy. Despite that voice--or maybe because of it--everyone who knows Kenyatta falls in love with him; Kenyatta is deliciously seductive and mildly terrifying in that way that only southern politicians can be. Publicly, Kenyatta supports his daughter's decision. "We're doing this for people of African descent everywhere. We want to show that people of color have a unique sexual identity that won't be submerged into this corrupt Eurocentric culture," Kenyatta booms first on CNN and later on The View.
Delores Walker, Jasmine's mother, is a liberal white feminist turned Playboy bunny turned college professor and academic scholar. Delores looks a bit like Hillary Clinton--the senator, not the First Lady--and she, too, supports her daughter's decision. Delores has enormous breasts and three doctorates and two masters and a voice that is like wisps of pink cotton candy, and because of this she is taken seriously neither by the academic establishment nor by other former Playboy bunnies. Delores believes very strongly in horoscopes and psychotherapy and New Age religions. She favors words like empower and conscious, and she utters them whenever she can. "Unlike other pop stars who preach abstinence while exploiting their sexuality, my daughter is making a conscious decision to exploit her sexuality. She is a sensual creature who wishes to empower herself," Delores tells first Oprah and later BET Tonight.
Passion Jackson, Jasmine's best friend, is a rapper turned singer turned music video hoochie. Passion has large teeth, a round face, a golden weave, and the most nonchalant attitude in the world. "A chick's gotta do what she gotta to make that cheddar," is the simple, honest answer Passion would have given if CNN, or Oprah, or The View, or BET Tonight had asked for her opinions on Jasmine's sexuality. But Passion Jackson will never again appear on CNN, Oprah, The View, or BET Tonight. The most Passion can hope for is Howard Stern--at 16, she is considered a has-been.
Today, the terrifically out-spoken and thoroughly ghetto-fabulous Passion Jackson drives to Jasmine's house to pick her up to take her to the beach. The girls live in Atlanta; the plan is to drive four hours to Savannah so that Jasmine can see the ocean for the very first time. It is to be one of the girls' last outings together. After the public deflowering, Jasmine will move to L. A., to begin work on her singing career, but Passion has convinced her that she must see the ocean closest to her first.
Passion rings the door, and Jasmine answers in bare feet and boxing shorts and a midriff top that shows off her dolphin tattoo and belly ring. Everything about Jasmine appears half-awake: the tiny gray dolphin swims lazily against her waist, and Jasmine's half-closed eyes suggest that she hasn't been out of bed very long. Passion at first can't tell if this is true--Jasmine always looks sleepy. Jasmine's diet consists of a Power Bar and 25 Diet Cokes a day, and for 10 minutes after her first Diet Coke she's jittery, but after that all her movements and expressions become dreamlike.
"How's it, Jam?" Passion refuses to call Jasmine Lady J as her parents and members of her fan club do and instead refers to her by the acronym she gave her in the second grade. Passion, several inches shorter than Jasmine, reaches up to give her a hug, but gets pushed away.
"Got to go brush my teeth--I gots morning mouth," Jasmine explains.
Passion shrugs; the girls exchange pounds instead.
"The fam's in the kitchen. Get something to eat while I go get ready." Jasmine drags herself back upstairs while Passion heads for the kitchen.
In the kitchen, Delores is squeezing oranges, stirring grits, burning bacon--making a breakfast she knows no one in her family will eat. Delores knows that Jasmine has a phobia about all food except Diet Coke, and that her husband has another phobia as well. Kenyatta refuses to eat any food prepared by white people, even if that white person happens to be his wife. Delores herself won't eat it, because she's a vegetarian, and the minute the bacon finishes burning, she will become instantly nauseated by the sight of it.
"Passion," Delores says over the crackle of frying bacon. "I want you to read this article I just published about adolescent minority girls. Really, Passion, you must make a conscious effort to become empowered. For until you are consciously empowered and can delight in your conscious empowerment then you will have no true empowerment of the conscious."
"Whatever." Passion searches the cabinets for a plate, so she can help herself to some of Delores's grits.
"I'm just trying to rescue you from your oppression!" Delores frowns as Passion locates the plate.
"And I'm trying to rescue breakfast. Look, Mrs. Walker, you got your stove up too high," Passion turns the stove down, walks over to the Walkers' CD player, and pops in one of the Walkers' many, many Bloodie Killa CDs. Kenyatta and Delores are huge Bloodie Killa fans, and they own literally thousands of Bloodie Killa CDs, though they've never actually listened to any of them. They just like having them around. They like to tell their friends that Bloodie Killa--who's richer than either Kenyatta or Delores (who are pretty wealthy in their own right) and who claims to have come from the rough, tough streets (though it's rumored that his mother is actually a successful cardiologist)--is their boy, their main man, their ace boon coon. However, much as Kenyatta and Delores pride themselves for their social consciousness and their friendship with someone "from the streets," they are very much embarrassed by Passion who is "from the streets" and broke. After Passion's last album (Nights of Wild Passion) flopped, she'd had to declare bankruptcy. And since Passion didn't have much education, she became a "thong girl," and started dancing in several music videos in skimpy panties and not much else.
"Good morning, our little Pop Princess," Delores sings as Jasmine walks into the kitchen yawning and rolling her eyes. Jasmine's body and teeth are clean now, and she looks the way she usually does--as dazzling and empty as splinters of wet glass.
"You see yourself on the cover of Teen People?" Kenyatta asks, holding the magazine out in front of him. Jasmine is in a black lace teddy, heavy lip-gloss, and even heavier eye make up. The words "America's Favorite Virgin" dance over her head.
"Look at you," Kenyatta rubs his round little belly with pride. "You the spitting image of your daddy."
"God, I hope not," Jasmine murmurs as Delores hands Jasmine a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice that Jasmine promptly pours down the sink, before reaching in the refrigerator for the first of her 25 Diet Cokes.
Kenyatta apparently doesn't hear Jasmine's comment because he continues to smile smugly at the magazine cover. "Girl, you know you your daddy's child--you're a chip off the old block!"
"No, you're just like your mother--you look like a star," Delores whispers breathlessly.
"Actually, you look a bit like both of them--you look like a ho," Passion murmurs--a little too loudly--and there's an embarrassed silence.
Kenyatta looks up at the ceiling; Delores stares down her breasts; Jasmine's gaze is blanker than ever, and directed at the magazine's cover.
"Now listen, Passion," Delores says, her voice suddenly firm, empowered. "I know you're not happy with the way your career's been going, but that's no reason to take it out on us."
"It's because Jasmine's a star," Kenyatta adds quickly, "And you're just--"
Passion shrugs, then stares up at the ceiling. "And I'm just me."
"I'm sorry," Jasmine says, and everyone is surprised because Jasmine rarely speaks, and even more rarely apologizes.
"Don't be." Passion stands up and reaches for her fake designer purse. "It's time for us to go anyway."
"When will you be back?" Delores asks.
"Tomorrow," Passion says. "We'll stay overnight, but we'll leave early so we can be back tomorrow afternoon."
"Good," Kenyatta says. "Lady J has a lot of work to do on this album, if she's going to use her musical talents to conquer the white male power structure."
"And make that money," Passion mutters, only this time under her breath.
"Be good," Delores whispers as she hugs Jasmine tight against her silicon towers.
"Later," Jasmine says when Delores finally releases her.
"What about me?" Kenyatta asks.
Jasmine, who is a bit more affectionate with her father, turns to Kenyatta and slaps him a high five before walking out the house.
As soon as they get in the car, Passion frowns and lights a cigarette. Jasmine herself is dying for one, but she's heard that they're bad for the voice (and Jasmine has to save what little voice she has, as the grand Lady J, unfortunately, cannot sing). So, instead of cigarettes, Jasmine grows very interested in the CD player and Passion's tremendous CD collection. She puts in one CD after another, never letting one play longer than a couple of songs. Meanwhile, Passion drives and smokes with equal clarity and speed, doing about 80 and lighting new cigarettes before the old ones burn out. And so with the windows down and the music up, the two friends barely speak as cool, street swept air swirls past their heads. They bounce along in a car that vibrates with the intensity of their music; it is the music, too, that substitutes for conversation; neither Passion nor Jasmine are big talkers, and lately there's been so much publicity over Jasmine that it feels good to sit with another person and not have to discuss television or the Internet.
And it isn't until they've actually driven an hour, and Jasmine is sipping her fifteenth Diet Coke, and Passion is trying to maneuver her way around a truck, that one of them finally does speak.
"Bloodie Killa is gay," Jasmine announces to smoke-filled air.
Passion is genuinely shocked; she nearly rear-ends the truck in front of her. "How you know that?"
"He asked me if I could set up a renda--a rendi--" Jasmine closes her eyes, and her face twists like brown Play-Dough in the effort to find the right word.
"A rendezvous?" Passion's voice is gentle.
"Yeah. Bloodie wants me to set one up for him and Dyrell," Jasmine says, her eyes large, wide, innocent. "But I told him I can't set up what I can't even pronounce."
Jasmine shakes her head, and her hair swings wildly, brilliantly, in the fast-blowing breeze.
Passion sighs and remembers the day that she and Jasmine dyed that hair the color of Halloween candy corn--that bright sticky orange-yellow blonde that every female pop star (Brittany, Chistina, Beyonce, J-Lo) had to wear in order to be successful. Kenyatta and Delores were out at their respective rallies, and the house was empty, but not quiet, because every corner of every room vibrated with music. Passion, her fingertips tinged gold with dye, danced around Jasmine's foil covered hair as they sang the lyrics to Bloodie Killa's first CD.
When Passion finally swung Jasmine's chair around to face the mirror, and Jasmine stared at her newly bright hair for a long moment, Passion couldn't tell whether she loved it or hated it. "Looks like there's a giant daffodil sitting on top of my head," Jasmine whispered, then giggled, and Passion laughed, too. And then, for some strange, crazy reason, they went out to the backyard, to Kenyatta's garden, and picked flowers. They plucked his biggest, brightest, and most beautiful, and they scattered the petals everywhere, and they sang the entire time, and it was the happiest they had ever been.... But all that was many months and 20 pounds ago, back when Jasmine still ate carbs.
Passion blows a cynical ring of smoke into the air and watches it float lazily, like a gray soap bubble, out the window.
"You remember that time we picked all the flowers out your daddy's garden?"
Jasmine nods. "I gots some of the petals pressed in this journal I keep."
"You keep a journal?" Passion asks with wonder--surprised, first of all, that her friend writes. Truly shocked, moreover, that her friend thinks her life is something worth writing about.
Jasmine nods again.
"I'm gonna miss you," Passion says thoughtfully as she finally makes her way past the slow-moving truck. "You're the only real virgin I've ever met."
They reach the mid-point, Macon, GA, and Passion stops for gas and Jasmine for the restroom--all Jasmine's Diet Cokes make bathroom breaks a constant, urgent need. They pull off the highway. Passion pumps gas while Jasmine stumbles out the car and walks--with a carefree nonchalance that makes Passion sleepy--inside the gas station....
Passion is still pumping gas when a car full of teenagers pulls up. The teenagers, a group of about five or six, had been bottled up inside their compact car, but now they pour out with the fizzy energy of one of Lady J's Diet Cokes and walk purposefully inside the gas station. These teenagers look like kids everywhere else in America--sparkling and new in their glitter eye shadow and shiny designer clothes--but there's something different about them that Passion can't quite figure out.
Seconds later, another car pulls up and does the same thing. A minute later, two more.
Passion realizes that she can't remember the last time she's seen people her own age that excited about anything.
They know, Passion thinks as she runs towards the station, but she isn't sure how. Passion had told Jasmine exactly what to wear and how to act before she left the house. It isn't until Passion pulled open the gas station's glass doors and hears Jasmine politely taking autograph requests that Passion realizes--the gas station owner must have recognized Jasmine's voice.
Jasmine has on sunglasses, of course. Then there's the baseball cap and the lack of make up and the fact that, in person, Jasmine lacks the energy that bursts violently from her whenever she's on stage. So there's nothing about Jasmine's appearance that gives her away. But it's when Jasmine walks to the counter and asks where she can find the Diet Coke in her distinctive voice--smooth and slippery like Kenyatta's yet breezy and sweet like Delores's--that the gas station owner knows. It's Jasmine's voice that forever gives her away. It's that voice--a blend of cultures, dreams, opportunity, want and need--that guarantees her fame; it's a voice that makes people think she can sing even though she cannot. The owner called all his friends and loved ones while Jasmine naively hunted for the soda, and so then, when she finally looks up, Diet Coke in hand, she's surrounded by a mob.
Lucky for Jasmine, Passion is a girl who knows how to survive and, thus, knows how to push past people. She avoids the girls, who are loud and excited and grabbing at everything. The girls shriek: "We LOVE you, Lady J!" and "We voted for Dyrell--he's so fine!" The girls cry; they stomp their feet, and some of them simply shake their hands madly in front of them, and these girls remind Passion more than anything of old women she's seen in her church, women with heavy hips and southern accents, women who've been saved all their lives and who are so clean and powerful and free that Passion is sure that at any moment they will sprout wings and soar straight through the church's ceiling and well beyond the heavens.
Passion makes her way by going through the boys who are shy, almost distant, in comparison. Of course, there is a kind of religious intensity about the boys, too; the boys all worship Jasmine; she is their computer screen goddess whom they pray to every night. But the boys in this crowd are the sort of boys who are still afraid of girls, and they do not want to be near Jasmine, they only want to stare at her--long, hard, and lovingly.
And right in the midst of this throng is Jasmine looking more bewildered than ever as she holds a six-pack of Diet Coke in her right hand and a pen in her left. Passion grabs Jasmine's arm so hard she knows she'll leave a bruise, and begins pushing her towards the door.
"Did you pay for that?" Passion screams above the crowd.
"He didn't give me back my change."
"Forget your change," Passion shouts as she shoves Jasmine inside the car.
Passion speeds off, and she and Jasmine stare straight ahead as the faces pressed against the car windows blur and become sad and distant.
Neither girl says anything as Passion drives and smokes even more quickly than before. This silence is stronger than the one they'd shared previously, yet still the car seems filled with noise, even though Jasmine has yet to turn on the music.
"Which one are you hoping for?" Passion asks an hour into their silence. Passion has wondered for a long time, ever since she and Jasmine stood in her bedroom and watched the technicians install the lights and cameras over the bed.
Jasmine takes a sip from her Diet Coke and pours the remainder out the window. She shrugs as coke bubbles up against pavement.
"You don't care?" Passion asks.
"Should I?" Jasmine shrugs and reaches for a CD. It's actually Passion's first and best CD--The Passion and the Fury. Jasmine puts it in the CD player, sips her coke lovingly, and turns the music up as loud as it will go. Both she and Passion--but especially Passion--are surprised by how young she sounds.
It's off-season; the beach is empty. The sun has set; the air is cool; the sky is pink and gold.
When they'd first stepped on the beach, neither girl had said anything. There had been tension between them ever since they left the gas station. Then, with the steadiness of waves ripping apart sand, the silence between them grows comforting again. They walk in water just deep enough to brush their ankles; still, every few minutes, Jasmine topples over in the shallow water. Passion laughs, noticing for the first time how pretty her friend is. Passion sees that Jasmine's skin is the color of wet sand, that it's smooth and deliciously unmarked too--the part of the beach that hasn't yet been walked on.
"You want to go out further?" Passion steadies Jasmine.
Jasmine nods; the girls walk deeper into the ocean. The waves are strong, but each time a waved pushes her down, Jasmine laughs and wants more.
"I miss picking flowers," Jasmine whispers as a wave slaps her under and pulls her bikini top up around her shoulders.
"What?" The same wave that's rendered Jasmine momentarily topless sprays water into Passion's eyes and blurs her vision.
Jasmine curses softly and murmurs something indecipherable.
"What?" Passion asks again, but Jasmine only pulls at her swimsuit and continues swimming.
Finally, they reach water that hits Jasmine's chest and Passion's neck, and Passion complains that she's tired.
"I can't go out as far as you," Passion says. "Because I'm short, and not a good swimmer. If you want, go ahead without me."
Jasmine nods and swims far out, towards the shadowy part of the ocean while Passion heads for the shore. When Passion is at the shore, she sits down and stares in front of her.
The waves are fast, dark, dangerous; still Passion knows that though Jasmine is tired, she'll want to swim another 30, 40 minutes, at least. Passion knows, too, that right now the air around Jasmine is chilly, and that the water surrounding her is even colder, and the feel of it against Jasmine's body is like being cut or burned or shot. And Passion knows that swimming in water that cold is the only thing that can make someone feel alive in the entire world.
But it's cold, too, here on the shore. Passion shivers and brushes sand against her legs. Suddenly she wants to be anywhere but here, in the middle of this deserted beach, in the middle of November....
A wave the size of a southern state roars towards shore. Passion looks up. She hears a muffled cry that could be a sigh--or maybe a scream. Then Jasmine is waving at her. Or is she? Passion can't be sure; she can barely make out Jasmine's yellow bikini in the darkness. And then slowly, even the pale outline of Jasmine's suit fades away; now there is only dark, cloudy water, a sky the color of smoke.
Passion stands, walks towards her car. Passion knows that somewhere in the ocean Jasmine is swimming out as far as she can, facing waves so exhilarating they tear her breath away each time they pull her under. And Passion is less certain, but still hopes, that Jasmine is finding time to laugh. That somehow, even under water, Jasmine finds time to giggle and to scream the moment when the largest wave swallows her--the moment when her eyes turn red and her mouth grows dry and everything inside her turns to salt.
Rochelle Spencer teaches English at Spelman College.
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|Publication:||African American Review|
|Article Type:||Short Story|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2004|
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