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Rebellious energy.

It was hot. The heat had transformed the atmosphere from the inconspicuous gaseous matter we recognize as air into something thicker and more tangible. This was the kind of heat that had personality and it was bold. Intent on making its presence felt, it dared to saunter up to you with the hot kisses and intimate caresses of a passionate lover. It would unabashedly crawl into unsuspecting bodies and dance up and down blood vessels, leaping and flickering like a campfire's flame. And unless you could afford to run your air conditioner all day, you would not only absorb the heat, but begin to generate it as well.

Like many New Orleanians, Asi Tendaji couldn't afford to run her air conditioner all day. Besides, it wasn't even hers - it was her mother's and her mother would throw a "nigger-bitch fit" if she did. It was ten o'clock in the morning, and the sun was parading around like it was high noon. Asi was on the bus, coming back from making groceries. She had intentionally taken the long route home so that she could enjoy the cool air on the bus, but as luck would have it, the bus that Asi caught had no AC. Right now Asi was trying her damndest to figure out how to get her heat-generating body into some cool air. After a moment's deliberation, Asi decided to visit her neighborhood friend Malene, who not only lived down the block, but also ran her AC all day.

An irritating buzzing sound drew Asi out of her thoughts. She had almost missed her stop, daydreaming of a cooler world. Asi gathered her bags together and stumbled off the bus into the bright, blinding sunlight. As she waited for enough space to appear between the speeding cars so that she could safely scurry across the street, Asi distinctly beard the words bald-head bitch float towards her. She glanced over her shoulder and discovered the source - a trio of teenagers.

Asi's eyes glazed over with the wetness that customarily precedes tears as she "turned the other cheek" with the precision of a professional cheek-turner. Because her mother adamantly refused to perm Asi's hair, she had had a natural all her life. Not that Asi wanted a perm, but ever since third grade Asi had endured cruel taunts that made her wonder if a perm could stop the abuse. Asi thought that, if she looked like all the other little girls, strangers might like her better. Now, Asi wore a natural by choice. She had come to understand the importance of her culture and appreciated her mother's stubborness, but this realization didn't make her past hurt any less.

After being called so many derogatory names for so many years - Bald-Head Bitch, Kojack, Grace Jones, Baldly, Cameo, Freak - this humiliating treatment no longer evoked the painful tears that had plagued Asi in her younger years. In fact, Asi truly believed that the name-calling no longer forced a reaction in her. Yet, here she stood, clutching her grocery bags for support, her eyes burning with tears and the trio's mocking laughter echoing in her ears.

Asi Tendaji's actions didn't reflect her name's meaning: 'rebelious energy.' There was nothing rebellious about the way Asi customarily accepted humiliation without confronting those who offended her. Finally finding enough space between the cars to safely cross the street, Asi walked away as quickly as she could without revealing to the trio that their mockery had not missed its mark. They had, indeed, hurt her.

No longer concerned with the tenaciousness of the heat, Asi rushed to Malene's house, torn between wanting to tell Malene what had happened in order to get it off her chest and not wanting to say anything because she knew exactly what Malene's response would be.

"Why didn't you do anything about it?"

"I don't know. I didn't want to sink to their level."

"All you had to do was tell them to fuck off and mind their own business or, better yet, tell them you don't make my sun shine..."

"... you don't make my world go 'round," Asi finished for her. She had heard this advice often; she just couldn't put it to use.

"You know," Asi said quietly, "I'm in college, and those kids were almost adults. I thought this shit would be over by now."

"Ignorance is ignorance," Malene replied. "It spans all barriers, including age."

"You can say that again," Asi amened.

Malene and Asi had spent many a day discussing the way this ignorance constantly intruded into their lives. Many of the things they said today they had said years ago: As their understanding of people grew, the more peoples ignorance remained the same.

"Just promise me one thing," Malene pleaded, as Asi looked at her questioningly. "Promise me you'll do something about it the next time."

Asi hesitatingly nodded her head in agreement, praying that day would never come.

Three months later, Asi was back at Spelman. It was unique because it was one of the few all-female historically black colleges in existence. Within a one-mile radius of Spelman were four other historically black institutions. The area was alive with culture and awareness. Spelman provided Asi with so much sisterhood and love that she was extremely comfortable there. Safe, like a butterfly in a cccoon.

On this particular day, Asi was strolling around campus with four of her friends. After covering the whole campus, they decided to venture outside of the gates that enclosed their school. There they discovered a group of guys, leaning back on their cars, quite obviously enjoying the beautiful weather. Adorned with Afrocentric T-shirts and paraphernalia, these guys reminded Asi and her friends of the explosion of Afrocentric ideas and consciousness that was presently taking place.

Always debating the seriousness of this newfound consciousness, Asi and her friends used this opportunity to continue the debate by smiling at each other in recognition of the trendiness of the guys' Afrocentricity. But the light, carefree mood of the afternoon came to an abrupt halt when Asi and her friends heard "Bald-head ho's" floating in the air behind them.

As she looked at her friends to catch their reactions, she examined the various shapes and sizes of the natural hairstyles that sparked this negative attention and energy. Saacoya's face was scrunched in an angry scowl; Melissa was intent on hiding her emotions behind a blank stare; Safiya looked calm, but her mouth was pinched in a tight grimace; and every line on Felicias face screamed rage. Asi wanted her friends to reassure her, to tell her she was just being paranoid and imagining the whole thing, but the expressions on their faces erased all doubts. She wasn't hallucinating.

Ignoring their comment with an axasperated sigh, Asi slowly dragged on. But with the nagging accuracy of a commitment reluctantly made, Asi's promise to Malene came nagging at her sleeve. Asi wheeled around and marched in the direction of the boys. Almost running, so she wouldn't lose the nerve to confront her offenders, Asi briskly returned to the scene of the crime and demanded, at the top of her voice, "Who called us 'bald-head ho's?"

The boys' heads snapped up in surprise. They looked at each other in confusion. There was a loud silence as Asi's friends crept up behind her.

"If you're bold enough to disrespect us, you ought to have the guts to own up to it.'

They remained silent. If she didn't know better, Asi would've sworn they were afraid she and her friends were going to beat them up.

"No matter who said it," Safiya offered, "they're all guilty 'cause not one of them objected to it."

Asi agreed, not knowing what to do now that she had confronted them. Well, she said to herself, you're in school, use your brain, analyze the situation.

"Do you know us?" Asi asked.

The guys didn't respond. They were, all of a sudden, interested in their various Afrocentric paraphernalia. Probably, Asi thought sarcastically, trying to figure out what this pro-black stuff meant and why they had it on.

"Do you know anything about us?" Asi continued, looking back at her friends for encouragement. They were staring at her, eyes open wide in astonishment, their mouths curled up in grins of pride and support.

"Did we just fuck one of you, then turn around and fuck one of your friends?" Felicia demanded, taking a bolder, more direct approach.

Still no answer.

"Then what makes us ho's?" Asi whispered fiercely, with tears in her eyes. "You know nothing about us, so what the hell is your problem?"

In a voice that sounded anything but apologetic, one of the guys replied, "Damn, baby, we didn't know it was gonna be all that."

"Well it is all that!" Asi exploded angrily, even more furious at their insensitivity. "You damn sure wasn't trying to make us feel good!"

"If we knew it was gonna be all that, we never would've said it in the first place," one of the boys offered in apology.

"Think about it," Asi commanded. "You don't know us, you've never seen us before .... You're putting us down and you didn't know it was gonna be 'all that'?" Asi paused, her brain racing to catch up with her mouth.

She thought about all the other times she'd been confronted about the way she wore her hair. She really wanted to know why. Not just why these particular guys decided to insist Asi and her friends, but the reason behind al the insults she and her sisters had endured.

"Why it gotta be that way?" Asi questioned, her voice reflecting the pain of being insulted by people she assumed understood and appreciated her natural beauty. "Why do you have to degrade us to feel good? I mean, we're supposed to be nation building, and you're standing here making fun of us 'cause we embrace our culture and love who we are.

"Are you crazy?" Asi demanded, suddenly feeling free of the self-blame and shame that had accompanied the insults. "You've got to be crazy, cuz there's not a damn thing wrong with us. You're the ones with the problem. How can you stand up here weaning all this Afrocentric garb and insult us cuz we have naturals? How Afrocentric can you be if you can't stand a sister with an Afro?" Asi's friends punctuated her speech screaming "Yeah!" and "Go 'head, girl!"

After a long pause, Asi continued. "You know, for a long time I thought I was the one with the problem, but now I see you're the ones who needs help. I got some advice for you - instead of wasting your time calling us out, I suggest you spend some time in front of the mirror. And while you're there, why don't you learn to love and accept your blackness ... all your blackness," Asi added, motioning to herself and her friends, "and leave us out of your confusion."

Asi's statement was followed by a silence even louder than the first one.

"You all need to check yourselves on that tip," Saacoya added, breaking the silence, "maybe then you'll finally understand what that Afrocentric gear you're wearing is all about."

"Nuff said," Asi remarked, happy finally to have done something, even if it wasn't exactly what Malene had in mind.

Asi and her friends strode away, on a natural high of self-confidence and pride. And as she replayed the incident in her mind, a smile appeared on Asi's face so wide and so bright that it radiated more intensely than the sun at high noon on the hottest summer day. Asi Tendaji had finally lived up to her name - she was rebellious energy.
COPYRIGHT 1993 African American Review
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Black South Fiction, Art, Culture; short story
Author:Salaam, Kiini Ibura
Publication:African American Review
Date:Jun 22, 1993
Previous Article:From 'The Leaning Trees.' (excerpt) (Black South Fiction, Art, Culture)
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