Hair like strong twine, sweet like the harvest of a California grape vine, to stop the spread of your smile is the worst crime, voice melodic like summer wind chimes, spirit divine, little Black girl I love you all time.
My mother, sister, aunty, grandmother take hold of my thick, coarse head of black wool and divide my crown into sections. A sacred cross sketched down to the roots. They begin to pull. My mother’s hands interlocked with her mother’s, held steady by their mothers before as she began the art of unity. One bushel of black, two, then three, she sows a magnificent stitch into my head finer than any garment could hold. Fingers fast and intentional move from the top of my head down to my shoulders, I hear the soothing click of her nails toward the end of my first braid. The crack of her knuckles. Pushing my head down I stare at my mama’s red painted toes. I run my fingers along her soft brown skin, playing by her ankles with my tiny fingers. She’s laughing but still, she hits me.
“Keep still,” she says. Even though she’s the one that’s moving.
It’s hot. Honeysuckle smelling sweat stains hot. But I’m happy to be in the heat. Happy to have her looking down on me like I know that they still do. Spinning Black gold into my hair she hums to herself the words of Jill Scott’s Golden, she don’t know all the words so she hums one part over and over just above the short hairs on my neck. I sit patiently while she moves her fingers from one corner of my head to the next. Long nails parting sections like seas, my mother remembers to scratch my scalp and I know she loves me. Love laced in each row braided to my head. I sit between her thighs. Her warm, strong, black thighs that parted and ushered me into this world. Thighs that spread and gave me life. I am grateful for her blackness. Tender love, bestowed upon me by my Black mothers who practiced the ancient art of care. Who sat their daughters down between their legs and loved them when this world would not. Those braids that you so love to despise or colonize, I treasure. Those braids, my love lineage, the only roots traceable to finding those who came before me. History interwoven to my head. I smile and often reminisce about these moments spent between my mother and me.
Together we wait, watching as the girls come running from their houses, adorned in the latest Sunday fashion, thick twist and long braids, in all the beautiful shades of Black skin. I sit there between her thighs, head tilted to one side, and listen to the summer sweet nursery rhymes. Mailman and Cinderella ring out from the Black girls who turn rope for their comrade who jumps in the center. I listen to the tick and click of the rope against hot asphalt and watch brown sugar skin gleam under a close watching sun. Pink and blue braids and barrettes take up space in the sky with each jump as these small giants leap with full awareness that they must come back to us, to earth.
I stay close to my mother, bottom resting on the second step on the stoop as the girls from my neighborhood stand close to one another, letting their hands kiss before they back away revealing a shoelace thin clothesline between them. Double-dutch was the love language that kept us out from the sun’s first breath until its rest. A bond that roped us together both big and small in the secrecy of knowing the jump. They start to turn the rope, set by the similar queue of their minds for whoever knows what to do next. What happens after is instinct taking over: legs spread apart bent slightly at the knees, with their chest pulled forward by the anticipation of the forewarning beat. Head bobbing with wandering eyes they wait for their time to strike. I watch as she takes one large step forward, flinging herself into the gaping heart and her feet come alive.
She makes small leaps above the ground every other beat. A tap dance of only two steps and a couple of fancy tricks. Tongue poking out from the side of her parted lips, beads of sweat sure enough begin to curl her baby hairs, but it matters none. Because she has our full attention and holds on to it with the force it takes to send her in the air.
I listen as the tick, tick, tick sings out louder, and the click, click, click sounds faster. On each end of the rope, girls whip their wrist in time with the jumper, crouching lower to the ground as if to keep the rope, with a mind of its own, steady and focused on the earth. Sweet summer giggles burst from the lips of happy-go-lucky, cherry cola lip balm little girls singing “Mailman, mailman, do your duty, here comes miss American beauty. She can do the can-can, she can do the splits, but most of all she can kiss-kiss-kiss!”
I watch in awe as the girls hold steady for their sister in the center.
She’s spinning and jumping, keeping time with her hands and feet. She hops onto one foot just to jump back onto the other, crossing her feet, side to side then forward to back, my sister jumps with a carelessness that couldn’t be found outside the ropes. With one jump, she puts herself just above our concept of reality, her head reaching just short of a cloud she comes falling back down to our earth, landing right on top of the rope. Her loss of attention ripens as soon as it loses its sweetness.
“Y’all go too slow,” she says, stepping from within center.
But they weren’t turning too slow, sis just jumping too high. Trying to leave the atmosphere, she was upset she was told to come back. And so she stirs for a while, hot and upset. But allows the sweetness in once another of our sisters takes her turn.
My mother kisses my head when she’s finished, I rush to stand up and go nowhere. I stand with my ankles crossed, fingers in my mouth, watching the bigger girls talk and jump, jumping and talking, free from the world outside of that which they’ve created.
I stand by the side of a turner. Watch her flick her wrist and send shockwaves like ripples down the other end of the rope. She don’t need to see me to see me. She knows her sisters have been watching her since she picked up the rope. She could turn good, a skill to have or be prepared to face the ridicule from others if you don’t. I can tell she wants to speak to me as much I want to speak to her. Instead, she turns around and looks at me square – placing two ends in my hands.
“Ima go next. You turn for me. Don’t go slow or make it too loose.”
She took my hands and gripped them in hers, showed me the motions as if teaching herself. Lifting my right hand, then my left, I make great sweeping motions with my arms until she finds them satisfying. She steps to my side and waits for the rope to find its liveliness again. I look down the line at my taller partner who leads me through the ritual. Looped it once then twice around my hands, I followed the girl in front of me.
With the line tight, and the growing sound of the click against the asphalt, click, click, click is all I hear for a while, as if my ears were only tuned for the soft sounds. I listened for something, the breath of anticipation, the forward heaving of a body thrust to the center, but nothing came but the click, click, click. Then.
A single black blur whizzed past my face before dropping itself into our heart once again. Quick feet danced on the solid tar and I watched another small giant take her turn at reclaiming her space among the clouds. She faced me, then hopped on one foot to turn around. I listened as the girls from the side sang out in jubilee, “Teddy bear teddy bear turn around; teddy bear teddy bear touch the ground.”
Clothesline callused hands came down, smacking the ground before leaping hard back into the air. I kept spinning until her feet got tired of holding her body up, and she collapsed into a pool of laughter. When she stood up, she waved her hand at me telling me to get off her ropes. I gave them back and stood on the side again holding my smile firm in pursed lips and a tight jaw. I bounced up and down while we all waited for one sister to take her place.
Little Black girls double-dutching outside, a ritual strong enough to pull the tides. I’ve seen Black bodies line the empty spaces of sky and wonder to myself sometimes what if they never come back down to an earth that doesn’t see them as gigantic as they are.
Sometimes I still hear the tick and the click and think fondly of my time as that little Black girl on the stoop. Of the little Black girls who crafted and their own world for the cheap price of a clothesline.
I’d listen to the words they’d speak, affirming themselves and not only me, of something as simple as Black joy and beauty. It was these moments on the stoop that defined why my Black matters to me. It was from my stoop that I saw what it meant to be Black and free.
Hair like strong twine, sweet like the harvest of a California grapevine, to stop the spread of your smile is the worst crime, voice melodic like summer wind chimes, spirit divine, little Black girl I love you all time.
Are you a writer? We’re looking for short stories and personal essays to feature on our digital and print platforms. Click HERE to find out how.