• US BY US COLLECTIVE

Forbidden

Beautiful sunny weather expected over the city today, clear blue skies and a soft breeze all day; perfect time for some fun in the sun…

Nneka stared at the ceiling. She had been awake long before her radio. In the past, hearing it go off was like welcoming a cheerful friend into the room, but the sun was always shining on the radio, she learned. She blinked. Deep breath in, deep breath out.

Quiet the voice.

She pulled herself to a seat on the edge of the bed, and wiggled her toes, counting each one. These days, it was hard to even anchor herself to her physical envelope; every inch of it seemed to be turning against her, and into a reality she knew wasn’t hers. Behave, she reminded herself. On her feet, she switched the radio to the Morning Hits station, and turned the volume all the way up.

If the outside world gets loud enough, the inside world goes quiet.

***

Nneka hated working in retail. Pick up, tuck, fold, pile… Despite rotating through departments, her movements made her days robotic – and made her very self-aware. She straightened up a pile of red polos, and leaned against the display shelf. She pulled her phone from her back pocket. Immediate disgust. A dozen messages, each from a different man she had no interest in, but convinced herself that she could work something out with. A sigh escaped her chest. Mia, one of her coworkers, walked by her.

“No lunch, today?”

She snapped out of her mind. “Yeah, sure! I was just finishing up.” She smoothed her shirt, and started walking.

Mia looked over her shoulder and rolled her eyes. “Girl, please.”

They laughed, walked through the employee back room, and into the parking lot. Mia let her hair down, grabbed her phone, and put it up to her ear. “Hey, babe, where are you? Oh, okay. Yeah, I’m out back. See ya’.”

Inhale… Exhale… The knots were forming in Nneka’s stomach again. She had thought about skipping on lunch with Mia, but then again, it was better than time spent alone…

A black SUV pulled up to the parking lot, and Mia slowly morphed into someone else. She popped the first button on her work shirt, danced to the car, and opened the door, laughing – but her laugh sounded different. Honest, untamed, and unashamed. She sat in the front seat, while Nneka slid into the back.

“Oh, baby! Where you been?” Mia asked, smiling, as she leaned over the armrest and lustfully kissed her girlfriend.

Mia’s girlfriend smiled back. “You’re ridiculous. Hey, Nneka,” she said, looking in the rearview mirror.

Breathe… Inhale… Exhale…

“Hey, Shae,” Nneka replied, shutting the door behind her.

Tired of trying, Nneka sat back and feasted on the fruit she had forbidden herself: she watched. Shae held Mia’s hand in her lap, bringing it to her lips every couple of minutes, eating her up with her eyes as though she was seeing her for the first time. Nneka’s breath got caught in her throat. I can’t, she reminded herself. I shouldn’t. At the red light, Mia’s hand slid from Shae’s headrest to her nape. “Thank you, baby.” The sharp contrast of her red nails against Shae’s black coiled hair stirred something primitive in Nneka’s chest.

She looked away.

Though every fiber of her being cried and screamed for release, Nneka was convinced – she couldn’t live love or pleasure at the hands of another woman, although she watched the women around her do just that. I can’t– not another woman, she reminded herself, I can’t.

It’s not right.

She unlocked her phone, and opened the most desperate message she could find. “I’m tryna dick ya 9-5 stress away, wyd?

Inhale… Exhale… You can do this. She typed “I’m free after 7” and watched herself hit Send while Mia laughed again, and turned to Shae, saying, “You know I love you, right?”

Written by NOIREDELATOUR