Brown Girls Don’t Get to be SadPosted: August 13, 2015
“Brown girls don’t get to be sad,” she said, her face marked by disgust and disbelief.
I put my head head down, looking at my hands, too ashamed to make eye contact with her again. She was a woman who was beautiful, but not pretty: strong jaw, long, thick jet black hair falling loose over her shoulders, eyes so dark you wondered what might be lurking in them, skin deep and rich like sweet dates. She wasn’t a small woman by any means – tall and full, her delicate green and gold sari juxtaposed the boldness of her outlines.
When she got onto the southbound train heading for downtown, everyone stared at her. She was the kind of person you want to understand as soon as you see her, she draws you in simply by existing. You find yourself wondering where she is coming from and where she is going.
I watched her scan the train for a place to sit. I remember wondering how old she was. She could have reasonably been anywhere between the ages of 30 and 50. When she chose to sit beside me I was almost flattered. I am a person who makes a habit of avoiding most people most of the time, but when I saw her I wanted to be close to her. I wanted to touch the intricate and ornate deep green sari slung over her shoulder. I wanted to touch her thick hair, each strand reminding me of a vine.
She sat beside me, smiling with perfect white teeth. When she spoke, her voice was husky and deep, like it was tempting you to her, like she might at any moment break out into a silky blues ballad. I had always wanted a voice like that. I remember being a preteen and wanting to be sultry and mysterious in the mirror.
“Salaam ‘alaykum,” she said, turning to me.
“W’alaykum asalaam,” I replied.
“How are you sister?” she asked, jutting her had out, indicating that this chance meeting should be consummated with a handshake.
I reached out and took her hand into mine, her skin wasn’t soft, but it was tender. She smelled of almond oil.
I thought for a moment, unsure as to whether it was better to lie and say, “Alhamdulillah, I’m fine,” or if this woman was to be a friend who could listen and hold my truths for me. It is not often that we women share our truths like this, on a city bus or train or in a grocery store. Often we’re struggling with the complexities of our own selves but are unable to really name them for ourselves. But on that day, this woman felt like a woman I could not lie to, and that was why I told a stranger my sadness.
“I’m sad I think. I mean, I’m not sure but today it was difficult to get out of bed. Actually, most days it’s difficult. Last week I called into work three times because I was afraid that I’d have an anxiety attack at work,” I confided.
“Today, I was walking to the bus stop and I had to stop and lean against a fence for fifteen minutes because the thought of sitting next to someone on the bus made me feel nauseous. I can’t stop crying. I hadn’t cried in almost three years, and then, the other day, BAM!, out of nowhere while typing up an essay on mitochondria. I know there is something wrong with me, I just don’t know what to do. I’m sad all of the time.”
She sat for a moment looking at me.
I watched her smile fade and confusion appear in its place. Then I watched the confusion fade and disgust appear, before the disgust turned into pity.
Shame crept into my skin. I wanted to facepalm myself into oblivion. What did I expect? It was a truth I could barely admit to myself, and here I was discussing it with a stranger.
I wondered If I had committed a violence against her. I had not thought of her triggers or her ability to absorb and hear everything I said. I questioned my intentions. Was I selfish? I began to apologize, when she interrupted.
“You know, brown girls don’t get sad. We aren’t supposed to. Sadness is for white women whose husbands sleep with the maid. We are the maid. Sadness isn’t for us. We are too busy for it. We don’t have time to be sad and small like mice.
This country will beat that out of your brown skin quick quick. See, your generation has it easy. You think you have time to call in sick to work because you want to stay home all day and cry. Cry about what? You have food? You have legs? You’re pretty? You have a job?
Still sad? Get married. When you have a husband you’ll be too busy taking care of him to be sad. Have children. Don’t fall into this white people’s trap of sadness and depression. May Allah forgive you.”
With that, she got up and moved to another section of the train away from me. Everyone watched, their eyes searching me, wondering what I could have done to upset her into leaving. All secretly hoping that she would sit next to them and give them a chance instead.
I waited for the onset of an anxiety attack. I braced myself. Placed my backpack on my lap and held it tight to my chest, crossed my legs at the ankles, locked my fingers and buried my face into the top of my backpack.
I waited for it, but it never came.
And all I could think was, “If brown girls don’t get to be sad, who does?”
When my stop came I contemplated apologizing to her before I disembarked, but the doors of the train don’t wait for sad brown girl apologies.
Read more by Key, here.
Key Ballah is a Toronto-based writer and Hip Hop enthusiast. She is the author of the poetry collection, ‘Preparing My Daughter For Rain‘, she melts faith, love and her experiences of being a woman of colour navigating the western world in her writing. She believes in empowering the brown girl to reclaim her selves and her body, by connecting and healing collectively, over borders, oceans and time zones, through story telling and poetry. She is currently working on a new project due out this autumn.
contact her via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
follow her on twitter & Instagram : @keyballah
read more of her works: www.keywrites.com