A Pearl Is a Pearl, Even in Death

She always appears to me in crowds. Sometimes I am deep in slumber when she pokes me awake. She’s a playful one. When that happens, I say a little prayer for her, tell her not yet, gently caress her smooth brown cheek and turn on my right side.

Pearl.

She’s on my mind. Lately, she is everywhere. I see her on buses, on trains and in offices. These are places we never frequented before. She’s not a figment of my imagination but an ancient past come to visit. She’s gentle yet unrelenting. Her posture erect, black curls perched on her petite shoulders. She hasn’t aged a day since I last saw her. Life goes on uninterrupted. Wincing, my shriveled hands sooth my left knee. Her laughter tinkled like a door bell. Distant memories flood back.

Pearl.

We met in 1990 at a refugee camp. Somalis had just arrived in ‘great’ numbers and taken to camps across the country. Our camp was mostly inhibited by men and so our arrival caused a commotion.

Pearl.

Life was a constant fashion show. We were all in our youth, in good shape, wore the latest fashion and partied like there was no tomorrow. People drank, smoked and entertained their fantasies. It was the height of hedonism, cultural revolution and sexual freedom. It was not uncommon to see unmarried couples dating or living together. We would eat, drink and socialize together endlessly. There was no moral policing, no fanaticism and certainly no cultural restrictions to respect. It is amazing what people are capable of when free of restrictions.

Pearl.

She lived on the second floor with a friend and was outgoing. You would hear her tinkling laughter before you’d see her. She was mild-mannered and cultured. Wherever she went, a mob of Somali men would appear, each vying for her attention. Women, even the ugly ones, had their fair share of the unwanted attention.

Pearl.

Then something happened and she drew into herself. She avoided the crowd, stuck to a few trusted friends and spent her time outside of the camp. She was more comfortable with others than with her kind. The Romanians, grappling with their own exclusion, took a liking to her and welcomed her into their fold. That did not go unnoticed.

Pearl.

Spring came and we moved to another camp. The situation diffused. The camp site was an empty hospital which was in a psychiatric compound. The air was heavy with unease and the fear of what was to come. Would we get to stay or leave? When living with madness, become mad, was the motto. Sanity, which was forcefully locked up in the nurse’s room, escaped and vanished into the night. Summer came and the mood in the camp soared. People stayed awake at night and slept in the day.

Pearl.

Cars driven by all manners of women drove in and out constantly. These were women who came to witness the myth about black men. Some of them would leave their children in the cars  for hours. Even the female patients got in on the game. They would sneak in at night and leave next morning with cornrows. As the women were getting serviced, their men would attack the camp at night, causing hysteria and fear in us. Every event teaches a lesson. I learned the benefits of keeping a frying pan under my hospital bed.

Pearl.

She watched all of this from a distance. Gave water to the kids trapped in the cars. Tended to the needs of the sick patients and cleaned the common rooms. She, along with us, avoided the TV room where men spent time watching porn. The guys later graduated to watching bestiality. The nurse, who had a huge dog, could not understand why she became a fixation.

Pearl.

She got her permit and moved to the city. Dated outside of her race and enjoyed her freedom. She was a skank, said the newly arrived wives of the men from our old camps. They called us, including her, whores because of how we dressed and the history we shared with their husbands. To avoid such occurrences, she moved to a secluded part of the city and vanished. A few years later, I got a call that she was getting married and traveled to her wedding. She looked stunning in her white wedding dress and showed off her baby bump. She was living with her husband and his family on a farm.

Pearl.

She is still beautiful. Her eyes beckon to me. They tell me that all is well. The scar on her chin is no longer there. She has no blemishes. Her heart was always in the right place. It was full yet clean. Her generosity knew no bounds. She’d collect her children’s clothes and ship them to the needy. We could count on her to follow through with her promises. She never harbored ill will and never spoke badly of others. Oppression and fanaticism were her pet peeves. She was a beautiful spirit.

Pearl.

One fine morning, she went to sleep and never woke. As her children wept over her cold body, others refused to have her buried. These religious hypocrites raised doubts about her believes. They neither saw her fast nor pray, they claimed. They not only questioned her believes they also questioned her morality. Their wives, the hyenas, were even more vicious and judgmental in lynching her.

Pearl.

I followed this discussion from afar with great interest. Separated in life and death by two continents. Would I also be in the same predicament? Who gave these people the right to question others believes? To make such hurtful remarks and soulless decisions?

Pearl.

I people questioning her morality were the porn watchers from our old camps. The same ones who entertained strange women while their children suffocated in the heated cars. A battle ensued and the righteous ones won. She was finally laid to rest by her friends and family.

Pearl.

She smiles, flips her curls back and hums. She always liked to hum. The train slowly pulls into ………. It is her destination. I know she’ll be here the next time I roll through.

Pearl.

Her name was Pearl.

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