Afeni had exactly two weeks
The blank page staring back at her
She spent so many days inside her room,
only surviving on cereal and toast
and water of course, but even then,
all she could think of were words and yet none of it were falling into their right place.
. . .
Afeni borrowed her sister’s car and drove around the block
Words still hovered, however,
so she kept driving. She drove and drove all across New Jersey.
She went to Montclair. She went to Newark. She explored Jersey City and watched the New York skyline. She drove back down to New Brunswick and talked with whomever she would see outside.
The conversations ranged from the weather to favorite types of cereal, to the school to prison pipeline.
Afeni met a young man her age at a bar. The man asked her what her favorite writer was. Afeni told him it was Octavia Butler.
He liked Junot Diaz.
They went back to her place that night.
They went bungee-jumping. They went to the shore and danced at some of the clubs, although people there stared at them.
They kept dancing at the halls in Jersey City.
Afeni woke up.
The man was still sleeping.
Afeni slipped out from under the covers and got dressed and ended up at a Dunkin Donuts a few miles away.
The man called her and asked what was wrong.
She told him it wouldn’t work out.
He told her that he liked being with her.
Afeni felt her chest hurt. So she told him no, and hung up and blocked his calls.
Afeni went to her desk.
Chapter 1 was all she could write.
She looked through her past work, from novels she wrote when she was in her teens, to poems she finished a month ago.
But there were no doors. No stairs.
She went to church, mosque, hindu temple.
She ate at the Indian restaurants in Edison. She had Jamaican curry in Piscataway. She called up friends and asked what they were doing, but they would just remind her that she had less than a week left.
She asked one friend, however, if she knew about any underground fight clubs or something fun to do.
Her friend did not. But told her to try comedy. Help her think differently.
Afeni did do stand-up at open-mic nights in New Brunswick and places in Middlesex.
She wasn’t good to be honest. The other comedians would also make fun of her afro, which didn’t help.
At her last performance, she simply read lines of poetry she wrote when she felt bloated and of course people booed but she finished reciting them from start to finish.
. . .
Afeni woke up.
She went to work at the office, finished up reports, and came back to the house she shared with her sister, who again was doing overtime.
The street was empty, which was fine for Afeni, as she ascended to the roof, finding a place to stand by the attic window.
She stared out at the New Brunswick skyline, the college town merging with the run-down. The houses and apartment complexes started to glow like crystal.
She looked down at the crowd that was forming beneath her suddenly.
They called out to Afeni, asking for a drop.
They called out and gathered in the hundreds and then in the thousands.
Afeni stared at the skyline until the sun was replaced.
She closed her eyes.
She uttered a few lines, of things she wrote in her journal, and of how she was feeling that day.
“I am not in the mood to deal with all of this right now,” she said. “I feel like I can’t breathe. I feel like all I am are my words and not my actions. You are all assholes so leave me alone and come back when you feel the world is new to you.”
She opened her eyes then, and the crowd was still there, but looking back up at her.