An Excerpt from THE CRISS CROSS
by Crystal Lacey Winslow

It was my eleventh birthday and my sister and I were hungry. It was nearly noon and we hadn't had anything to eat in days. My mother was in her room with the door locked as usual with Mr. John. My mother's friends were always named "Mr. John."

"Noki be quite and come over here now," I whispered. Noki's eyes grew wide with curiosity as she tiptoed to me. I kneeled and looked through the large peephole of the old fashioned door. There, I was able to see my mother and Mr. John naked. Mr. John was standing up with his legs spread apart and my mother was on her knees kissing Mr. John's pee-pee. Mr. John was holding my mother's head tightly. My mother's head was moving back and forth rapidly. My mother always said in the room she had lots of fun, but their faces looked like they were in pain. I knew they were doing grown up things. Soon enough, Mr. John let out a loud moan and said,

"Swallow it cunt!"

My mother soon released her mouth and spat out a white, gooey liquid onto the bedroom floor. Mr. John slapped my mother hard on her face-right before my very eyes. Her hand immediately shot up to shield her from further blows. I balled up my fist and banged on the door.

"Leave my mommy alone!" I screamed.

"Shut up you little brat before I make you suck it!" he roared, and then let out a hideous cackle. My mother jumped up and stuffed the peephole with tissue.

"Let me see now," Noki begged.

"It's too late Noki. I hate him anyway don't you?"

"I dunno. If you hate him, then I guess I hate him too."

How could I take my mind off of what I'd just seen? I walked to the kitchen. I was upset about Mr. John hitting my mother so I decided to do something fun.

"Noki come in here. I got a surprise for you," I said. I was excited because it was my birthday. My sister Noki was two years younger than me. She was so cute and chubby. My sister looked exactly like my mother. She had straight-silky black hair, olive skin, and Japanese eyes. There's not a hint of African American in her features. I, on the other hand, look like my father. I'm eleven-years-old, and already 5 feet 5 inches tall. Mother says I'm going to be tall and slender like my father. I have his dark-chocolate skin and full African lips. I have mother's silky hair and Japanese eyes. Mother calls us Ying and Yang.

"Come eat," I said, then continued, "then we will have some cake."

My sister's eyes widened at the mention of food. She ran to the table, but was immediately disappointed.

"I'm hungry Nikki," she cried. She bawled up her little fists out of frustration and rubbed her eyes. I sat her down and placed a bowl in front of her. The bowl was filled with water.

"Noki don't cry. Let's play make-believe. Let's pretend we're eating Nabeyaki Udon and then we'll have cake and you'll sing me 'Happy Birthday.'"

"I wanna eat!" she wailed even louder. Her fat cheeks jiggling with every word. I cupped my hand over her mouth. Mother was already angry. We knew to be quiet when Mr. John was over. Sometimes, we would get beaten with a switch for disobeying her rules.

We heard the bedroom door open-Noki shut-up abruptly! We watched Mr. John leave our apartment. Mother lingered in the shadows, then joined us in the kitchen.

"You are too defiant Nikkisi-too strong for a woman. You will have to learn to be subservient in order to find a husband. Your independent spirit will be your downfall. You're just like your father." She spoke to me in Japanese. She understands the English language, but never speaks it.

I was ashamed that my mother was disappointed with my behavior. I put my head down to avoid eye contact.

"Hold your head up high Nikkisi. Never bow your head to anyone except your husband. Do you understand me?" my mother admonished. I just shook my head

"Yes."

I thought about my father and how things had changed in the year since he died. Mother didn't have a job or money to take care of us. Soon she had to give herself to Mr. John.

"Mommy do you have money now so we can get somethin' to eat?"

She didn't answer. But with tears streaking her face she gently placed two $20 dollar bills in my hand, then bent down and kissed my cheek. She stared at me a moment, then kissed Noki.

"Mommy don't cry. We can-" Mother didn't stay to hear the rest of my sentence. She turned and walked into the bathroom. She always bathed after Mr. John left.

While she bathed, Noki and I talked about what we'd buy to eat.

"I want Oreo cookies, and frankfurters, and ice cream, and Nowalaters, and Lemonheads," Noki was now suddenly full of life.

"Noki, what would you do for a million-trillion thousand-dollars?" I asked.

"I would trade my right arm and left leg," she reasoned. Then she said, "What would you do for lots and lots of money?"

I thought for a minute.

"I don't know what I would do. But I know I wouldn't do what mommy does!" Noki stared at me. She did not quit get it--and I did not want her to.

"But I'd willingly do anything to protect you Noki. Always remember that."

Suddenly, we both looked down to see water creeping across the kitchen floor. We both jumped up, ran to the bathroom, and opened the door. Mother's lifeless body floated in a tub-full of water.

It's an old Japanese belief that a woman who disgraces and dishonors her family must take her life, and the lives of her children as well. My mother would never harm Noki or I. She loved us too much.

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