No Woman, No Cry
Bob Marley wails from the speakers in the living room. Garnet countertops are decorated with freshly picked herbs and vegetables from the garden out back: basil, parsley, chives, oregano, an unripe tomato for cooking, and two beaming fire red hot peppers. Six big, juicy steaks are sizzling on the stove while mom washes her pretty brown hands in the sink. I think of all that those hands have been through, and wonder how they continue to maintain such a soft and tender touch. She doesn’t dry them, but instead immediately begins dicing one of the peppers, the green tomato, and the herbs. She sprinkles them gracefully over the steaks and adds a splash of olive oil; they sizzle and jump a little in the pan as steam erupts and a tasty aroma fills the kitchen.
Accompanying the steaks is a pot of freshly snapped green beans, and another of Bahamian peas and rice. Mom always adds at least one Bahamian and one Italian dish to each dinner she makes. Just below, garlic bread is crisping in the oven. Mom takes a sip of her cranberry and vodka and begins preparing the Caesar salad. She rinses and cuts a variety of vegetables including: spinach, iceberg, and romaine lettuce; cucumbers; carrots; and grape tomatoes. They crunch and squirt at the slice of the knife. She tops it with her homemade Caesar dressing from earlier, along with some freshly grated romano and parmesan cheeses. Finally she dips her hand into the play-doh like feta cheese and crumples it in her hand as little chunks fall upon the lovely salad she has created. Feta cheese is my favorite, so she sets aside a small bowl of the salad and dusts the remaining cheese off of her hands into the bowl…this will be mine. She again returns to the sink to rinse her hands, and as the cool water runs over them she closes her eyes for a moment and sings, “No woman no cry”, as she sways her hips slightly. She smiles as the harmony slips through her lips, and opens her fiery blue eyes and glances at me warmly. They burn with love despite all of the hate they have seen. A smile decorates her delicately wrinkled face. I always picture my mother smiling. She is a beautiful woman, of golden brown locks, dark brown skin, high cheek bones, slanted almond blue eyes, and a brilliantly symmetrical smile set off with pearly white aligned teeth. She is an enigma of strength, love, beauty, and art. Her body is strong, but feminine, and she always dresses with class and style. Despite the tremendous stress that has plagued her life, she has aged delightfully; for she has channeled it all into her art of painting and cooking. Our home has always been lavishly decorated with underwater paintings of colorful coral reefs and exotic fish; and the kitchen countertops dedicatedly display freshly baked bread, cookies, cakes, and mini cuisines that she experiments with. She returns to the stove to flip the steaks and briefly peeks under the lids of the pots, releasing a puff of mouthwatering steam from each before turning the stove off. She briskly removes the garlic bread from the oven with impeccable timing.
A dash of salt here and a pinch of pepper there signifies the near end of the
preparation of the meal. Meanwhile, I am beginning to get antsy over the scrumptious Caribbean Italian scent lingering in the air, and Mom can see it in my eyes. She proceeds to place the bowl of salad that she had previously set aside in front of me, smiles, and laughs. Dinner is just ripening and shouldn’t be perfect for about another 15 minutes. Mom begins preparing dessert. She whips up eggs, milk, butter, brown sugar, and cake mix in a large glass bowl. I can see the strong muscles in her arms contracting as she stirs the thick substance into a creamy blend. Consecutively she slices a fresh skinned pineapple from Aunt Kim’s fruit stand, and lays the firm fruit on the bottom of a greased cake pan, tops them with brown sugar, and pours the batter over top. She calls out, “Dinner!” and the kitchen swells with bodies, as she pops the cake into the oven, and her voice echoes in the halls.
In our home, once dinner is ready, we pile the food onto our own plates in buffet-style, and take a seat at either the bar or the kitchen table. There are six people total in my family. This includes three 18-year-olds: myself, and my twin step-brothers, Marc and David; one 16-year-old, whom is my only blood sister, Alanna; and finally, my mother, and her new husband, Paul, a kind man that I always referred to as the “gentle giant”. Despite all of the resistance I put up against the two of them getting married, he somehow always managed to be calm, his eyes kind and warm, and smile sincere and everlasting. Strangely enough, he closely resembles my real father. His eyes are a milk chocolate brown and his hair is black and curly. He comes from a strong Italian background, and is even a contractor just like my dad. Ironicall they ever drive the same 4-door, white, F-150. Though they physically resemble each other, I wouldn’t dare compare their personalities. For Scott, my father is stern, and busy…Paul is just the opposite, easy going and relaxed.
My family was sort of thrown together (at least the siblings) following my parent’s divorce. However, Alanna, Marc, David, and I have become so close throughout the years. They are like real brothers to Alanna and I. There were times when we had trouble getting along. It’s difficult to open up and share everything that belonged to me with not one, but two boys –especially at a time when my heart had closed. I’m sure they felt the same way, but with time our relationship has matured into a profound sentimental bond. We have created memories and nick names that make us who we are today, and will remain with us forever.
We all begin and finish our meals at separate times because of this, but that doesn’t hinder us from family conversation. Alanna, Marc, David and me talk about school, work, and current love affairs. We discuss our evening plans, and lasts nights events, all the while Mom and Paul flash seductive glances at each other. They try to be discrete about it, but their passion overwhelms any attempts; they are so in love. The tone of the chatter in our kitchen is in high spirits, and jokes cause laughter to burst frequently. No one ever leaves the kitchen without first thanking mom, then cleaning off his or her plates. About half way through my meal, Mom removes the plump cake from the oven, and its sweetness taints the air. Marc and David (my step-brothers) are the first to finish, so they thank Mom while clearing their plates, and step outside for some fresh air. Paul (my step-dad) finishes next, and joins his sons out back, probably for some “man-talk”. Paul is generally rather conservative; however tonight he brings three bottles of Bud-Light along with him.
Now it’s just the three girls left, like the old days. I love it when the three of us are together, I feel empowered by it, and it reminds me of all that we went through together…the abuse, the fight, and the flight. We pulled through admirably, and robustly, just like our mother. Alanna is the first of the girls to leave the table, although she has not finished her meal. Most likely this is because she is extremely picky, and only nibbles at the steak, garlic bread, and separates the beans and rice, only to eat the rice. She kisses Mom on the cheek, clears her plate, and goes into the office to chat on the internet. I am finishing up my green beans, which mom always makes crispy, fresh, and perfectly seasoned with Tutu’s (my grandmother’s) Lucayan pepper salt – a blend of crushed red, green, goat, and arawak peppers and raked sea salt directly from the Bahamas. The Island that she lives on is called “Salt-Pond”, so hence its name, when the summer comes along and dries all the ponds among the island, there is nothing but salt left, vulnerable to the islanders watering taste buds.
Mom is stirring the last bite of her steak in the succulent juices left on her plate. She brings it to her lips and bites it off of her fork slowly. She chews and savors it. The sun beams in through the kitchen window and kisses her face. I can tell it is warming her blood, for a bead of sweat is rolling down her forehead. She doesn’t seem bothered by this…she loves the sun. I smile at her and nod my head in admiration over the exquisite meal she has prepared as I swallow my beans. I clear my throat and say, “I miss your cooking” as I take her plate from her. It’s true, I do miss her cooking, so fresh and so well defined –no one can do it better than she does. I can imagine that my father must have had near withdrawals from it after their divorce.
I help my mom clean the kitchen. I never used to, but now I feel as though it’s the least that I can do. Until I can lavish her as I want to, my help is all that I have to offer. So I clean the kitchen the best that I can, and put away all of the left-over food. She is so thankful, and tells me over and over again how much she appreciates my help. I feel guilty, because I feel as though I owe this to her, yet she is still so flattered. If I could change anything, I would have done this for her every night. By now the cake has cooled nicely and is ready to be flipped. Mom shouts again, “Dessert!” The kitchen crowds again, and Bob Marley continues to serenade us, “Every little thing is gonna be alright!”. In the same fashion a before, we help ourselves to the cake…no one is ever greedy about this. I derive a feeling of comfort from that first bite of warm, fluffy, sweet cake, tamed by the tangy, juicy, crunchy pineapple. It’s as if it’s the first time I have ever tasted this dessert: I was young and in my grandmother’s kitchen in the Bahamas. The evening was imposing rapidly and I remember the sun settling silently into the sea. The sky resembled whipped fruit…strawberries, blueberries, and peaches. The air was salty and moist. Like the sweat on her forhead. I remember my mother slowly biting the cake off of her fork, just as she did the steak this evening, and saying, despite her mouthful of cake, “Mom, you’ve always made the best pineapple upside down cake!” It’s funny that she thinks that, because I think hers is just as good…if not a little better. I’m not sure why this is, maybe it’s the faint smell of her pheromones still lingering on it.
The meal, as always, was excellent, and the family is great company, but for some reason I still feel empty, and even a little choked up now. “How could I have taken this all for granted?” I wonder silently. I begin to realize how much my relationship with my mother has changed over the years, from a time when I depended on her, to the years where I wanted nothing to do with her. Those years weren’t too long ago. Now, I feel as though I need her again. I need her soft touch, and her soul food. It isn’t so much that I am dependant upon her anymore, but merely that I miss her. Dinner tonight has replenished my empty body with the genuine love and fresh food that I have been deprived of: like rain falling upon a crystallized salt pond. Being on my own, I realize how difficult it is to simply prepare a meal for myself. This woman has been doing it for a family for over half of her life without complaint, despite the struggle. I admire her might, and feel accountable for not being the daughter that I could have and should have been. I decide to take action now. I want her to know that I know, and that I’m sorry. So I look deep into her eyes and say with a tear in my eye, “I love you, Mom.” She looks up at me, as though she feels my heart beating against her, and wipes the salty tear from my eye…”No woman no cry.”