‘Farmers twice removed,’ she would say while wiping her hands on her flowered apron. ‘That’s who we are.’ Her large hands lift the kitchen window frame. Vapours from the boiling pots rushed to confront the acrid scent of diesel and tar. She peaks outside into to the neighbouring apartment, a broom’s length away and yet so far. The Korean neighbour catches her staring into his living room and vigorously shuts his drapes. She laughs and repeats, ‘Twice removed, overstand?’
She is dead now. It’s been three years but I make sure to tell my son the same words that my aunt would tell me whenever she would prepare coucou and flying fish. I struggle to obtain the ideal cou-cou consistency. It is challenging to find balance between the viscosity of okras and the friability of cornmeal. But when I turn away from the stove and see my son, with his determined fingers meticulously peeling carrots at the kitchen table, resolution warms my body.
‘Yes Farma!’ I exclaim, as I watch his reflection in the window above the sink. His head would jolt and his locks dance in unison as though my words were the chorus to a song they all knew. ‘Twice removed, Papa’ he would chime back.
I hope to keep this ritual vibrant in the coming years. I see the kids in the downstairs lobby, beautiful black boys of blue and know that my son will eventually need to anchor his own roots in linoleum soil. I fear the ‘twice removed’ response will be followed by a criticizing smirk. Or vanish.
‘A farmer is a farmer.’ I emphasize.
‘…Is a farmer.’ he whispers.
Dear Ms. Shanice Collymore,
On behalf of The Holden Family Foundation, we would like to thank you for applying to the Communities on the Rise Funding Program. Your proposal for funding was reviewed by our board of directors and stood out as one of the more unique requests for community support amongst a slew of very impressive projects.
We do however regret to inform you that your ‘Community Garden Initiative’ was not selected as a funding recipient. Although well detailed in terms of objectives and budget, it did not align with our targeted demographics criteria.
For future reference, I stress the importance of abiding by the set parameters of our application protocol as to increase your chances. We do lay out specific population groups for selection. The ‘at-risk’ category may have been a more acceptable fit for your proposal. The ‘inner-city’ or ‘urban’ options should have been given more consideration. If applicants were to follow your lead and include their own demographic option on the application, our decision-making process becomes extremely difficult. We were not prepared for your amended demographics option of ‘Niggas In need of that white boy money’ as this did not fit with the culture that our Foundation wishes to instill in the Community.
We encourage you to better identify your targeted demographic given the recommendations of our pre-determined selections. This is how our foundation, will be in a better position to help you help yourself and provide the funding to necessary projects such as the one eloquently detailed in your recent proposal flourish.
We wish you the best of luck in all your endeavours,
Treasurer of Holden Family Foundation
This being her second visit to the grocery store, with its blinding fluorescent light and constant AC, she came prepared. The wool sweater, a gift from her best friend back in Nairobi, smells of incense and coal, the scent of safe secrets, closeness and familiarity. Its fabric caresses her chin as she exhales a memory not far away in time, but distant in space. She looks around to see if others too, had their breaths and dreams crystalized for a brief moment and ruthlessly stolen again and again as they aimlessly rummaged for deals on frozen dinners.
She used to anticipate talking and touching vegetables; a cabbage in the palm of her hand, its aroma sharing stories of sun and soil. “Best One!” The boy-seller cajoled, regardless of her selection. She kissed teeth, he smiled. The first time she brought a cantaloupe to her nose in Toronto, the entire display cascaded onto the floor, causing everyone to stare, which made her feel small.
Today, she was on a mission and briskly walked to the produce section. She picked up a plastic container of spinach, leaflets cut from the roots and incarcerated in a cold transparent cell. She abandoned the idea of being able to feel, to brush her hands across living surfaces. She had to trust what the new gods declared; that all these packages are uniform and that uniformity is good. Trust that since it says “Triple-filtered wash”, that the machines prepped it like how gran-gran did back home. Word is Bond.
In the express cash, she pulled out a five dollar bill. “$4.99, plus tax ma’am.” Said the cashier.
She didn’t have enough.