‘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.