March 23, 2021 · Issue 2: Space(s)

The Bitterness on Your Tongue

Listen to Tomi read from this piece:

Textile · Tomi A. - The Bitterness On Your Tongue

I am listening to Nina Simone sing “Strange Fruit” and I am trying to sleep and all around me float visions of black bodies, swinging, in the Southern breeze and wide-eyed on the bed of the Atlantic ocean and hidden in caves and gullies back in the forests of Ekiti and all of them begin to speak and they are exhausted and expelled. My ancestors, they say they are. Some, sold into slavery, never to see my family again. Some, descended from the enslaved, lynched for white satisfaction. Some dead, trying to escape a worse fate, never found, never rested. And I cannot tell them that I have no fear of the forces they feared, and one by one they break down in tears, and I cannot cry. I have none left to give.

For two unhappy weeks, I lived in London, Ontario with three men in a bungalow close to Western University. One night we were woken by a roommate screaming. Suddenly, he burst from his room, and we wondered whether the wildness of his eyes and coagulating spit at the corners of his mouth meant that he was having a reaction to something he had taken. Another roommate, someone he had yelled at the previous night, was now asking him to calm down, relax, take deep easy breaths. In response he threw something at our roommate. The situation was quickly becoming dangerous, and eventually a decision was made to call the cops.

Two officers arrived, a man and woman. They walked in while my roommate explained the situation to them. I was standing dressed in slacks and an old shirt in the right corner of the room and Gary, the enraged roommate, had temporarily retreated to his room. Upon entering the male cop looked at me and immediately began to draw his weapon. His partner tensed and reached for her sidearm. Do not move, I thought. Whatever you do, do not move. My eyes never leaving his hands as I saw the matte black instrument reaching slowly towards me, and then hearing my roommates frantically explaining that no, it was not Tolu, that’s not the person, that’s our other roommate, you have the wrong guy. Are you sure, a man’s voice said, tense like a stretched catapult. Yes, yes, yes. The sound of a door opening and my head moving against my will and my brain thinking, Fuck. I’m moving to die. Gary came out, a small Asian person with spiked hair and shorts. I turned my head back to the gun and cop, who looked at me and began to lower his arm. His partner’s face relaxed seeing the little Asian kid. Despite his powering down, the male officer kept his eyes on me. Holstering his gun, he asked Gary if he’s feeling okay.

The naked fear of blackness is everywhere. People betray their entitlement and malice towards black people with askance glances and snide looks. Crossing to the other side of the road. Reaching for a weapon. The impunity of whiteness is exhausting. Our cities and towns are burning with righteous anger. Even in the middle of a pandemic that the world is pulling together to overcome, I am always reminded that bodies like mine remain the most disposable.

My partner wakes from a nightmare and says: I dreamed we had a child, and it died at the hands of one of my brothers, and even I, in my full grief, could not save it. And my ancestors say, in a voice as still as death: If she, a white woman, cannot guarantee the safety of your child because it carries your blood, then tell me, who will free us? And Nina Simone sings: Here is a fruit / for the crows to pluck / for the rain to gather / for the wind to suck / for the sun to rot / for the leaves to drop. Here is a strange and bitter crop