Sweet Cocoa Butter Skin



The more she looked into his face, the more certain Nyanjala had been that he was from one of those clans whose dynasties had ensured none of their descendants would be spared of either beauty or sense of purpose. His lips were too full and rounded. His skin too smooth against the beard that cradled his neck and his eyes too clear and wide to hold deceptiveness in them, giving the illusion of a body too solid for this pretentious of a room. She swallowed her breath and smoothed her black dress across her belly, holding her arm there as the only protection against his charms. 

Eventually, they had chosen a quieter painting to hold their meeting under. There, looking but not looking at the painting, Nyanjala and Jamal’s words had sat between them so round and full that they resembled ripe watermelons, or like onions waiting to be peeled back to reveal their layers. Their conversation seemed to have a beginning but no end. For this reason, they had never stopped talking and though he had never asked and she had never answered, they established a reflexive routine in the undertaking of whatever truths the celestial beings had placed between them. 

In meeting after meeting, held in rooms whose colors changed as often as their scents and sounds, and which sometimes were nothing but roofs overhead with the open city as their walls, they continued to unravel that first conversation. And when they had found that their words could no longer fill the rooms they found themselves in, Nyanjala and Jamal had taken to making love by the light of lamps and the sun, the dark and the breath between their bodies. Now, as they sat trading confidences and humilities on her couch, the small green pillow resting under Nyanjala's knees where Jamal's arm sat, she stopped herself. Practicality, she remembered. Pulling her feet out from under him, she stiffened her body against him, exhaling exaggeratedly.

"I don't know what we're doing Jamal."

Jamal accused her of seriousness, "None of us do Nyanjala. Don't get too serious about it."  

He always thought she was "too serious," the result of an immutable characteristic she had inherited as the oldest child of three. He crooned at her, “Ny-aaaan-ja-la-la why you wanna be ma-ad when I just wanna make you gla-ah-ah-d.”

 A rattling in her chest spoke of laughter on her lips which Jamal followed to its source. Their lips pressed together, they chased the taste of unspoken words on each other’s tongues, Nyanjala abandoning whatever notions of flight she had been entertaining. Their hands were roaming each other's bodies, finding the seams and zippers to be pulled up or down as they traded her couch for amatory panting on white sheets, leaving a trail of askew furniture on the way to the bedroom that sat on the upper floor. When they could finally detangle themselves limb by limb, Jamal and Nyanjala lay holding onto each other’s skin as contented lovers do, finding the new edges and curves for their fingers to caress.

“You know your eyes tell your secrets,” he said.

“I'll have to teach them how to be quiet.”

“But even silent whispers are meant to be heard by someone.” 

Nyanjala could feel the bittersweetness gathering in her throat. She tried to swallow it, turning over in her bed. The clouds were still expectant through her window, the sun disappearing into the horizon. Jamal followed her with one of the sheets, wrapping himself around her as he filled her right ear with his voice. He was rehearsing a new rendition of “Sweet Cocoa Butter Skin.” 

“Or is it shea butter?” he interrupted after a few notes. 

His smile was earnest as she turned to look at him. The kind of smile that betrayed lovers, Nyanjala thought. She closed her eyes, dropping her head onto his chest and started the waiting again.

This time she was waiting for him to leave. 

When she awoke to the darkness that had built a nest around her home, Jamal still lay wrapped next to her. Carefully pulling his arm off her, Nyanjala wrestled with her nakedness, draping it in a robe before wandering into her living room. Turning on a lamp, she returned to the couch. Tucking her legs under her, she picked up the book that had been sitting spine up on her table since Jamal arrived at her door. She turned the page:



This young man called me triggering,
“in a beautiful way” he said.

This other man told me
I was “all kinds of beautiful,”

and on TV yesterday,
this man told this woman
that she was “too beautiful to ever have to apologize for anything.”

But you, you just scare me beautifully.