Amina Susi Ali
Amina Susi Ali is a poet and short fiction writer. Her work has been published in Nuyorican Poetry; Cuentos: Stories by Latinas; Hispanic, Female and Young: An Anthology; and the New Voices Anthology (La Pluma y La Tinta, 2016). She was the 2019 First Prize winner in the Brooklyn Caribbean Literary Festival Short Story Contest. She holds a certificate in Fiction Writing from the NYU School of Professional Studies.
Follow her on Instagram @aminasusi.
Upper West Side
It is late afternoon; who knows what day. None of that matters very much when you’re dead. Here he is, sitting in that little kitchen where I made his ungrateful ass café con leche every day, where we toasted our bagels and got ourselves toasted on Heinekens, joints, and Nicaraguan rum. He still has hair, a mustache and goatee, a little grey around the edges, but I can tell he still thinks he’s cute. Wearing shorts and a T-shirt, kind of sweaty, probably after playing soccer in the park with people much younger than him.
What’s this I’m hearing? He’s listening to the Spanish radio station? Since when? He doesn’t speak Spanish. Hell, maybe that’s what he does to impress chicks now.
He’s sitting at that little table with a takeout aluminum plate. He takes a ceramic plate from the cupboard and slowly puts his food on it. Two pasteles! A heap of arroz con gandules! I smell the olives and seasoning. What is this sellout Puerto Rican doing eating pasteles and arroz con gandules? I shake the table with my anger. No, No, No! Shake him up a little bit.
Hey, hey, hey. Why is this table shaking? Probably those tenants with the washing machine upstairs, the one they have been hiding from building management all these years. Good. It stopped.
Today was a scorcher. Get that coconut water out of the fridge to go with this tropical food. Whew. It feels good to sit down after that game. Water, water. Hydrate, hydrate. Ha, ha. I can hear her nagging me now. I was just passing by that little Dominican hole-in-the-wall-joint and the smells and the music reminded me of her, so I went in and got this. I remember how she told me that the vegetables and seasonings in the pasteles were cultivated by the Taino Indians and that those were our ancestral foods. Foods for our souls. And the music in that place reminded me of how she used to love to dance, how she was the life of every party while I would just retreat into a room or a corner and drink a beer or smoke a joint and try to appear intelligent. She abandoned me for some other world; some other world was calling her.
I miss the café con leche she made every day with that white-cloth thing they still sell in the bodegas. She warmed up the milk the same way her mother and grandmother did.
What went wrong? Why couldn’t she find that part of me that needed comfort from her? Why couldn’t I show it? Instead, I spend my life looking for that person. Does she even exist?
This is the world that we all inhabited. I still visit there.
The lobby, the elevator, the apartment. On Broadway, the movie theater, laundromat, supermarket, food coop.
We walked from the #1 train station at 96th St (or 103rd Street, but you avoided that one) uptown on Broadway, passing the movie theater that showed sophisticated date-night movies on Saturdays usually with subtitles, which is where we met. We were with a group of mutual friends. While we filed out of the theater, I felt a pull on the strap of my ever-present shoulder bag. I turned around to see him smile and wink at me. At that time, I barely knew his name. Atrevido, I thought.
Then I saw him at a party. We started talking and ended up on a park bench talking until the sun came up. He told me he had a girlfriend in Boston, but it wasn’t working out. I told him I had a boyfriend in Puerto Rico who didn’t want to let me go even though I was already gone. He asked to kiss me. I said OK. He said, “Let’s take it slow and keep this between us, for the time being.” “For the time being,” I said. I was the understudy.
The problem was, after marriage, I was still the understudy. I always felt he was looking for something better.
As you walk from the subway on 96th Street, you pass medium-sized supermarkets, fruit stands, a couple of corner Greek diners, and two restaurants, one Middle Eastern and one vegetarian-health food. It is usually sunny and full of life. Women with shopping carts all hours of the day and night, people walking dogs, a person on the traffic island screaming.
Now I can spend all the time I want there. I say that because before I left for good, I was usually in class or at one of my two jobs in downtown Manhattan while he was making films 20 hours a day and/or meeting people.
The prolific grey stones that comprise the front stoop are still there, the heavy glass and metal front door, which I only saw in the very early morning or late at night. The apartment has its recycled containers with everything from brown rice, dried beans, coffee. The old movie posters. Books, books, books (mine). Films, films, films (his).
Damn, do I need a shower. I am a hot, sweaty mess. I sure do need to drink more water. I’ll probably watch a movie later, propped up on the couch. The knee, as usual, is acting up.
It just doesn’t get better. Been doing the warmups and exercises, but I guess after 50 it’s a wrap.
That party tonight, I don’t know. There’s always a party around here and I remember going to every single one. Always good to cop a joint. Now I need the CBD for my joints, Ha ha. Bad joke. I was never funny, but women once thought I was clever. Because I acted as if I didn’t need them. I did then, and I do now, now that my wife is gone. The end part of the cancer was not easy. Shit, none of the parts of the cancer were easy. I tried to be there with her to make up for all the pain I caused her, even though we were already divorced. I never cried so much in my life.
I never once set out to cheat on her, but you know how it is...
I couldn’t help it if women thought I was cute (once).
I was always around women. I worked with women. I filmed women. I interviewed women.
She worked with kids. Nothing I could do.
Why did she have to come at me with all that jealousy?
Why couldn’t she just calm down and be someone I wanted to go home to or come home with?
Instead of wanting to believe the bullshit other women would tell me.
It was crazy.
It’s amazing how women can manipulate a guy, by telling him the BS he wants to hear. They can have you like putty in their hands.
Now, I’ve lost my youth and my money. I don’t think that money meant as much When I was younger.
Things Women Love: I always had a self-deprecating sense of humor. It makes you seem non-threatening. The veneer of helplessness. It makes them feel competent. The Number One player tactic.
One time when I was in Nicaragua, we went to visit a volcano. I asked if I could go inside.
“No, no Senorita!” they told me. “It’s dangerous!”
They had never had anyone ask them that before.
Later on, I wondered why that thought had come to me. Did I want to understand myself? Or why I got myself into certain situations?
I came home to the States and ended up getting married. Then I knew what it was like to be inside a volcano, an earthquake, and a hurricane all at once.
Him + Me = Natural Disaster
Like a war correspondent, I loved danger.
His job was all the excitement. Mine, not so much. Teaching ballet to kids.
He went everywhere making documentary films and meeting all kinds of people.
When we went to parties, people recognized him. So, I let him talk and I got lost in the liquid refreshments and the music. Usually, it was I who ended up stealing the show.
I don’t know what is it about the Latin culture. Men never thinking one woman is enough for them. Like they all got mad crazy dick.
As for me, one of those knuckleheads was more than enough. Who needed more than one of those ‘can’t find anything, no directions asking, heavy, sweaty, come home drunk in the middle of the night crying about something that happened twenty years ago’ geniuses? Not me.
Right now, I see him lying on the couch, watching a movie, with his leg propped up on a stool.
The old man has run out of women to chase and the legs to chase them with.
I have run out of fucks to give here in the afterlife.
The glory he sought was always out of reach. The love he wanted was always in front of him, waiting to feel safe.
My short-lived spectacularness blew up, evaporated, and now I live on air and memory, and there is no regret where I am.
You can’t stay frozen in regret for all eternity.
What the hell? Did I doze off or something? Third time I’ve seen that film.
Tomorrow is another day. Gotta get back to promoting my film, get someone’s attention.
Kinda feels weird in here. Hot, explosive. Like someone’s watching.