“Mama! Ma, there’s no more milk left in the fridge, Izzy drank it all. Again!”
Ishmael, who was named after my grandfather, was my oldest brother. With my youngest brother Abraham on my left hip, I positioned him to rest closer to my body, clinging to my ribcage. Moving out of the refrigerator’s glow, I tapped the fridge door with my right foot, pushing it to close slowly. Standing up straight at a height of just a little over five feet and six inches, I shuffled Abraham back onto my hip as I waited for my mother’s response. He was getting tired and my mother’s response tangled in a thick Ethiopian accent never came. Tussling my hair out of my face, I felt my smooth palm pass over my forehead as I pushed the heavy curls from in front of my view and to the right side of my body, where he couldn’t reach. It seemed like the Shea Butter and coconut oil mixture my mother massaged into my hands every night for the past two weeks was working; I could barely see the scars or feel the ridges from the cuts in my thick palms.
Slowly shuffling down the dimly lit hallway, I found my mother draped across her bed, clutching the same pillow my father would’ve rested his head on if he was still here. This was one of the few moments when I saw how my mother really felt about my father absence while fighting in Iraq. From the doorway, I could smell the faint scent of his cologne looming over the strawberry essence my mother loved to burn, making the back of my eyes water. The baby’s stirring threw me off balance, sending me tripping over myself and banging into the doorway, my left shoulder blade bearing the full impact instead of Abraham's head.
“Askala? What are you doing?”
Steadying myself, I looked over in my mother’s direction, watching her scramble to put the image of my father underneath the abundance of pillows she fell asleep on. Moving Abraham from my hip to hold him around my waist, I turned my head to the left so that it wouldn’t hit his forehead. Out of my mother’s large window, I could see the glow coming from the White House that was only a few streets away. It always amazed me how close we were to where the President lives, but so far away from ever making it out of our tiny three bedroom apartment, even with my mother, father and Ishmael working.
“Mommy, I said that there was no milk left. I wanted some to give to Aby so he could settle down.”
“Is your brother home?”
“Wait until he comes h-”
“But mama the store’s only five minutes awa-”
“Then why did you come home two weeks ago from that same store, fifteen minutes late, panting out of breath, your hands all cut up where I put fresh henna, blood all over your shirt and tears in your eyes!?”
I couldn’t say anything. My mother wasn’t the woman to dwell on the negativity of the past, but this was one incident she couldn’t let go. Not when a group of basic degenerates tried to hurt my mother’s Askala, her only daughter. Saying nothing, I passed my little brother over to her, his soft coos bouncing off of the wall and my turned back as I walked out of the room. Turning back down the hallway, the creaky fake wooden floors turned to concrete and the peeling paint turned into old brick. And then they were there.
Surrounding. Encroaching. I wasn’t in my own space anymore; this was a battle zone. The same faces that would just watch me pass on my way from the bus stop in the afternoon brought truth to the saying “the creatures come out at night”. One had his hand in my hair, another reaching for the sleeve of my loose t-shirt and others coming behind them. The more “men” that came behind them, the more my throat closed up. I doubt anyone could’ve heard me over there jeering. Both fight and flight kicked in as I pushed through the growing crowd, swinging wildly while trying to run away from the growing mob. I ran and ran until I finally fell over the heavy wooden chair that was set too far away from the kitchen table. On the cheap tile floor, I could see the small puddles of blood starting to form around my hands, the same way they did on the dusty concrete after I’d jumped the cut up wire fence. Feeling someone trying to lift me up from behind me, I heard my brother’s voice calling my name, pulling me out of my triggered memory slowly.
“Aska, ASKALA! Wha’chu running for? What’s wrong?”
“I need, I need milk…from the store.”
I stared at my brother absently, the strong features of our Ethiopian and Syrian parents showing in his face. A smooth caramel tone in his skin spread neatly over his face, his large eyebrows arched upwards with wonder and worry. Holding me still, he pulled me up off the floor completely, standing me upright as I held onto the edge of the table. Sniffling softly as he reached for the chair and flipped back onto its legs while questioning me.
“So… why are you still here? There’s twenty bucks on top of the fridge.”
Slipping over to the refrigerator, at 6’3” Ishmael reached over quickly with a simple swoop and picked up the crumpled green twenty dollar bill off of the fridge and handed it to me. That’s when I knew he didn’t know; what my mother must have told him about my hands had to be anything but the truth. The truth would take another man out of the house, possibly forever. My mother would never be able to handle it.
“Mama wants you to… can you just walk me there, please? I know you just got home and you’re tired but I just can’t go alo-”
“Askala, it’s okay, calm down it’s fine. Just let me go to the bathroom quick.”
Gripping the money in my hand, I focused on the paling of the color on my knuckles as I held onto the table for stability, praying that my stronghold on the table would stop me from slipping back into another triggered memory. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my tall and lanky brother steps away from the bathroom. Turning as I heard the bathroom door hinge creak as it closed, I heard my brother scream. Moments later after a choked sob, I heard him yell in Amharic.
“Stuck in the gotdamm zipper again!? I’m too old for this!”
My head sprung back up and I stared at the bathroom door. That was the only thing that would’ve stopped me from being harassed. And with a memory that wouldn’t fade, as I peered at my brother as he opened the door with a scowl on his face, I wondered if I’d always be dependent on him, simply because he had something I didn’t.