The Spanish Iberia restaurant in Newark near Penn Station was crowed that night. We sat at our table, surrounded by smiling faces, imagining we were somewhere in Spain. It had drizzled hours earlier, leaving an after effect of awe, a golden gray glow. An assortment of dancing sunset colors painted the sky, the limelight of heaven shining from the horizon westwards, chilly yet sweet and the smell of a fresh lemony scent in the air, hinting at the early arrival of winter. That year as the leaves were falling in the fall, I realized I was also falling for Sabrina, expecting to sit within the fragrance of her presence every day.
The dining area was packed with happy families and couples spending the Friday night out, feasting on lobster tails, mixed seafood dishes and the mouth-watering deserts listed on the menu. It was the week after Thanksgiving and I had invited Sabrina on a dinner date at the restaurant. I wore a dark brown corduroy jacket and jeans pants with a navy blue woolen neck warmer. I was feeling alive with excitement, musing over the prospects of romance and love that would follow, if she accepted my proposal. Sabrina’s blue satin dress was very suggestive, seductive in intent. She had a yellow scarf over her shoulder which she took off after we felt comfortable in our seats. We placed our jackets behind our chairs, staring at each other, waiting for the waitress to take our orders. Her necklace of white pearl beads, rested above her upper chest, just below her neck, which brought attention to the cleavage between her full chests. Her presence, a visual feast to behold, more sumptuous than the aroma of succulent tasting appetizers and the mixed platter of seafood dishes the waitress had set before us that night. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She kept smiling. I watched her lustrous glossy lips as she eat, wondering if she could only imagine what I was thinking about as she looked back, me musing on the evidence of her presence.
I’d known Sabrina on and off the bus when she worked at the Howard Bank on Broad Street. I got her attention and soon we started talking on our way to work.
‘Hi, can I sit next to you?’ I said.
‘Oh, sure.’ She said, without looking at me, but I sat next to her. And that is how we started talking, working through the silence that sat between us. I was working at the Theatre in Newark, and I think a few days later, I asked her to come and see a play. To my surprise she accepted the invitation and showed up. A week later I went to the bank to open an account, knowing that she worked there as a cashier.
Later that summer, I saw her from my apartment window. I rushed to join her as she waited at the bus stop. After she had warmed up to me after the initial hesitation she started waiting at the bus stop for me to arrive before taking the bus to work in the mornings. Our mystic clocks of life became synchronized. Something interesting was happening. We had exchanged phone numbers and at night we expunged the stresses of the day with long conversations, chatting about countless topics: Africa, human sexuality, space travel, climbing Mt. Fuji, poetry, white people, Yoruba mysticism, the enigma of blackness, magical mysteries of love, longing and loss, imagining ourselves skydiving over Rio de Janeiro.
By day our eyes locked in a questioning glare, glittering with expectations, longing to know more; to be with each other and plant secrets into each other’s hearts. We would sit on the bus side by side, pretending to be a couple, while we elaborated on our theories about our reasons for romance. Mine was the philosophy of exile and she spoke about the theology of wounded memories. I listened, masking the perverted intentions of my thoughts, resting my gaze on the imaginary realms of pleasure that lay beyond her exposed knees into the mysterious aspects of her being, behind her short summer skirt.
Sabrina’s idea of a formal progression of courtship – our courtship – would depend on the condition that, I spend the time telling her everything about my past love life, before she would consider any proposal, romantic possibilities or otherwise; or think about consummating our attraction for each other, before or after marriage. What condition is that, I thought. On the other hand after I reconsidered it, I thought it was fair enough of her to make that request; even though I knew it was impossible.
‘Can I at least see you naked once in a while?’ I said.
‘What? Why will I do that?’ She said, startled.
‘So that at least I can know that you and I share something together.’
‘I am the one who has to be naked for you. So how are we going to share something together, when I am naked and you are not? Kwame, that is tricky, don’t go there with me.’ She said.
‘I just want to see your full beauty.’
‘You just want to see me naked? Is that it?’ She asked. ‘What shows that you wouldn’t be tempted, get excited and start something I would disagree to?’
‘I promise. I will be a gentleman. I will just look.’
‘Is that all? Just want to see me naked?’
‘Yes, just to see you in the magical glow of your beauty.’
‘And what would that do you for you?
‘I want to experience magical inspiration and the mystery of meaning.’ I said.
‘What is that supposed to mean? You think I am some showgirl or something?’
‘No, I just need something to help me to write about myself in an honest way. Maybe it will help me to write a play. I want to be naked in my heart. Your nakedness would make me honest.’
‘If you want to be honest look in the mirror and write what you see.’
‘Serious, will you let me see?’
‘Yeah right, and then you go home and do perverted things with yourself, is that it?’
‘Oh, come on. That’s a cheap shot, Sabrina.’
‘Then don’t ask me to be naked. Just write the truth and if I believe you, I will decide whether to get involved with you or not.’
‘Stop rolling your eyes at me. It makes me lose faith. What if I write the truth but you think that they are phantoms of my imagination? I would have wasted all my honestly.’ I protested.
‘Honesty is never wasted. Be true to yourself first and then you can decided later to trust me or not.’ She said.
She kept switching on and off the glitter in her eyes and I was left sitting there without anymore words to say. We stayed at the table, not really eating but playing the mind games men and women play on their first date. Seductive whispers, measured polite phrases, a vulgar joke or two, sexual innuendos, shifty eyes, hesitant looks, quick glances and sizing each other up. I wanted a way to exorcise myself from what was preventing me from finding the true love that I desired and to open myself up to the new possibilities before me. I saw love in Sabrina’s eyes; at least I thought so, whenever her emerald eyes glittered with laughter. I felt we could be together in ways that would fulfill our mutual desires, meeting our expectations in a new relationship. I kept imagining the African aspect in her merging with the African that I am; embracing, clenching, breathing life into the coupling hydraulics of love making, wet, lubricated by passion, racing towards an orgasmic finishing line; ecstasy of rebirth, renewed.
I decided to go home from the restaurant to start writing about my past, afraid I would evoke all the uneasy feelings about myself and the wounds of regret that had shaped my life till the day I met her. Later on, the night became damp from the after effect of the rain. I could hear the water running underground in the drainage beneath the pavement. I don’t know why I paid attention to the drainage, but it occurred to me that, I was descending into the underworld of my own thoughts, if I was going to spend my nights writing about my past.
Do I tell her about my escapades in Ghana, my moral transgressions, fornications and naughty encounters with the whores of Accra and the many abortions former girlfriends committed on my behalf? Exclude that from the narrative, I thought, start with the stories the innocent loves with the girls in our neighborhood. No, I must pretend as if I arrived in America a naïve boy without a sexual history. Or should I just start with my experiences in America, my rendezvous in the cubbyholes of Newark night clubs and night runs at 42nd Street in New York? Or better still, tell her the truth about the many one night stands or probably start by telling her the things I imagined doing with other women? My thoughts raced while we ate.
When we were done, Sabrina and I walked from Iberia Restaurant to Penn Station, holding hands without saying much to each other. The trains come in and out, screeching to a halt, sounding off their whistles to announce their departure. Probably she was thinking about my desire to see her naked, while I was reflecting on the history of my sex life. Sabrina was the first of the many women who asked me to tell her everything. It was a difficult request which required of me to use a diary to organize my memories. If I wanted to meet her at the altar to say my vows free of guilt, I must clear my conscience. I kept thinking about Sabrina and all the women I had loved as if I was watching a pictographic memory book of my past. That day in the restaurant on our first serious date, I remember Sabrina saying:
‘Kwame, before I get involved with you or marry you, I have to know the truth. Without the truth I cannot trust you.’ Sabrina said. ‘You fascinate me, but I need to know the truth.’ She added.
‘Why?’ I asked.
‘Because you are an enigma, you are always smiling, looking like someone who has fairies dancing on his forehead.’
‘Fairies, me? What are you trying to say?
‘Don’t read too much into it, it just means you are a dreamer and dreamers are drifters.’
‘Okay, I understand.’
‘That is why I want to know more about you. I want to know the mysterious Kwame,’ Sabrina said, with an earnestness that made me to feel that she genuinely wanted to know me.
‘I will take note of that,’ I said. Then I thought over it again and a feeling of suspicion came over me. Why will a woman want to know everything about a prospective lover and vice versa, I thought.
‘I don’t want to know whom you’ve been with…’ I said.
‘There is nothing to know.’ She assured me.
‘Then why do you want to know about my past relationships?’
‘Because I am unsullied and from how things appear you are a sullied man.’ She said.
‘What is that supposed to mean? That’s some fresh word, unsullied. Even though I don’t understand it, it feels good.’
‘You crazy, unsullied means, I am still a virgin.’
‘Oh, shit, at your age?’
‘I’ve been waiting to marry a true and serious brother like you.’
‘If you can’t tell me the truth, I’m outta here. I have walked away from many relationships because I couldn’t trust the men. I want to trust you.’ She insisted.
‘What if I write it all down then you read it, instead of me telling you everything in detail, how about that?’ I asked.
‘I will take whatever you give me to prove your honesty.’
‘Okay, this is what we will do. Because I am born again, I will tell you all the truth and if there are issues that you don’t like, will you forgive me?’
‘Don’t talk to me about being born again.’ She said.
‘Serious, I am born again. I decided to be celibate until I marry.’
‘If it is true, I will forgive you.’
‘Cool, I will give everything to you.’
Sabrina’s emerald eyes glittered in the night as thought she was a morphed being of all that was American. She embodied all the races, the cultures, the ethnicities and dreams. But she preferred to be referred to as a ‘black woman,’ an American of African descent. She would say to me, ‘I am African-American and proud,’ when I told her I thought she was from the Dominican Republic.
‘Why Dominican Republic?’ She asked.
‘Yeah, women from the Dominican Republic are mystically fine like you, all mixed up like Spanish and African.’ I said. She laughed.
‘Well, this is all honey, peach and mahogany mixed up and everything you can think about.’ She said.
Sabrina was not from the Dominican Republic, but she reminded me of the women of the exotic republic, many of whom had moved into Newark to make the city their home away from home. Sabrina graduated from Seton Hall University with a degree in Psychology before starting working at the bank. She was stunningly beautiful, playful and gorgeously attentive. She had a voluptuousness about her that was disarming. Looking at her was so distracting, I would lose sight of all the noises, smells, sensations and the presence of others would fade into the background. I would lose my sense of objectivity. Other things of material value, books, pens, plates, candles, televisions, mirrors, radios or even my own identity would disappear. In her presence I was totally absorbed.
Being next to her, I enter the realm of her charisma and my thoughts become arrested. I stare and allow myself to be lost within an imaginary garden of fragrances, mesmerized, reflecting the desires of the moment in the emerald glow of her eyes. Within those eyes are the green landscapes of Ireland, the sunsets of Africa, the Cherokee red sunny earth of America’s past. I could see America in its kaleidoscope of races, cultures, history and memory. As I got to know her and the converging narrative of her history, Irish, African-American, some Spanish, some Native American, somehow, somewhere, generations down, strands of the many Europeans alchemy of races running through her and yet, she sat there, regal and gentle, waiting for me to prove my commitment to her as an honest man worthy of her love and desires. Her eyes hedged in the place of memory, in hypnotic realms of remembrance that was seductive and sensual. She was my American dream, a Dominicano woman made real in my imagination of what I wanted her to be.
She smiles when she saw how enthralled I was with her. Her curly hair draping over her shoulders, a stunning figure with a radiance that arrests attention. Her smile complimented mine, I thought and I was eager to make love to her so much, it took a lot of effort to control myself because, whenever I was with her, I maintained a constant erection in her presence that caused me to lose my sense, beguiled. That is why I thought it would be better to write to her about my past, instead of telling her the story in person.
When she was not around me all I could think about was her scent, the perfumed memory of her lingers, transporting me to imaginary ancient places like the Orient. Her scent had the power to hold on to me like a spell. According to Sabrina she mixes her perfumes in the morning like a potion and sprinkles blue ocean musk with Egyptian mint oils before adorning it on her body. ‘Without the mint, the fragrance wouldn’t last, it wouldn’t hold on to the senses. It would just be a passing scent. It would not stay.’ She explained.
Sabrina was a feast to the senses. I felt lucky to have attracted her into my life and thought as we were holding hands walking down the streets other men would whisper; What does she see in him? Why would a woman so attractive, so beautiful fall for this African guy? He doesn’t even have a car, he takes her on the bus and she follows him around. Why Sabrina was attracted to me, I couldn’t tell besides being African. Maybe she wanted to unravel what many women told me, was the enigma of my indifference, which served as a mischievous cloak, masking my lair. She kept saying to me, ‘I want to trust someone and I think I can trust you.’ Was it the poetry, the stories I told her about my life in Ghana, the magic of things not yet visible to the initiated? Dreams of future grandeur or the veiled secrets that hid the truth about my own history, yet fascinating to a listener like Sabrina who wanted to know more about Africa.
Trust mattered to her. She wanted to make sure I was trustworthy. Deeply and dearly her eyes insisted on the need for trust. Like a glimmer of light in the distance, her eyes would brighten up and fade out with the pace of our conversation, as she sought to find, measuring and reflecting in the mirror of her eyes, depicting the level of trust she was feeling towards me. She was interested in African hip beads, wondered why Africans had tribal marks and fascinated by Yoruba fetish rituals. But even though I kept explaining to her that I was Ga-Adamgbe, from Ghana, it didn’t matter to her. To her, Igbo, Akan, Asante, Yoruba, Hausa, Fulani, Wolof, Mandingo, Kru, Zulu and all that she learnt about African history in college, only had one relevant meaning for her, Africa is Africa. Everything else was meaningless if she could not trust me. I realized that I represented to her an ideal of an Africa she wanted to believe in, just as she embodied an America I wanted to fall in love with. The question of trust goes both ways, between Africa and America, I thought.
‘I knew I could trust you the first time I saw you. But I have to make sure.’ She once told me.
‘Why did you trust me?’
‘You look innocent.’
‘Appearances are deceptive.’
‘Deception is also an appearance. Let me see how things appear, tell me the truth about yourself. I do not want to doubt you. Doubt and love don’t mix.’
From then on all I had in mind was how to seduce her, woo her, deflower her and consummate in infinite possible ways the romantic desires resting within the realm of my senses. To tell the truth at the beginning of a new relationship is to risk venturing into the realm of the unknown and to decipher the mystery of our own existence. My secret addictions, wounded and perverted inheritances, fetish passions and in my case, I was also living in exile for reasons I could not explain to her and that made it more difficult for me to be honest to Sabrina.
In any case, I decided to tell her the truth, by writing everything about my past. I agreed to accept her conditions if that would make me to become the man she would love. It would be a risk I was willing to take. Waiting in the night, the lights draping the streets with a golden lazy brightness, we milled around the bus stop, sometimes holding hands, at times standing apart, expecting Bus 21 to arrive to take us back to Orange. We lived just by the junction of Main Street, turning left to East Orange where we both rented separate apartments, facing the other side on the street from each other, single; yet waiting for the day we would live together, married; Africa to America, America to Africa.
Today, twenty years later, I still have that diary, with me in Australia. Within its pages are the stories about phantom mistress, imaginary lovers and memories of my Don Juan fantasies, closet secrets and the hidden tales about my desires enveloped within the realm of the senses. If Sabrina hadn’t asked me to tell her everything about my past, I wouldn’t have written about it. But now that I have the diaries I might as well turn it into a novel or a memoir, which I will call: An Autobiography of Desire; set in America, dreaming about Sabrina within the sensual realm of my memories of her.