by Dondi Dancy
Lying in bed, snuggling comfortably under a cloud of soft Egyptian cotton, blinking the night away, I smile and ponder the witching hour; the sixty-minutes between 3:00am – 4:00am when human brains release melatonin.
I snuggle deep into my pillow-top mattress as I wonder which historically powerful institution is behind the world’s oldest propaganda campaign. “The witching hour, black magic, melanin, melatonin. The pigment responsible for my beautiful, golden-brown skin, isn’t the same hormone responsible for human sleep/wake cycles”, I think while yawning the last grains of slumber away.
Inhaling and slowly reaching my arms overhead, I squirm like an infant after its first nights’ sleep. I then stretch, not with happy contentment, but as if I can shake a profound sense of emptiness, loneliness, and melancholy.
I silently repeat, “I live a limitless life,” one of my many morning affirmations.
Exhaling, I close my doe-eyes, wrap my arms around my shins, and affirm, “I am a phenomenal woman.”
Awake before the birds; it is my norm: greet the sun, carve out the same seventy-eight minutes daily to watch its golden rays sweep from east to west. It is a simple pleasure and self-care: simple, convenient, and imperative to be myself with myself.
But not today, not this December 10th.
Ordinarily I would, and today I should, especially as it is my birthday.
But I will not, and I do not, because this day is not just my birthday: it is promotion to Partner Day -the one in which I materially realize my success after years of hustle and grind stocked with endless code switching to collect paychecks.
I have it great, much better than most, but I am unhappy. My heart isn’t broken, it is lonely; my friends are few and far between; and pride appears to be a best frenemy. I have the bluest of the successful career-woman blues. Bluer than indigo. My blues is damn near black.
“Perhaps I feel undeserving of my blessings,” I think when the clock slowly strikes my magic hour, 4:00am, the exact hour equal to the date of my birth, December 10th.
A deep sigh escapes my gut as I ask aloud, “is it worth it?”
“Happy Star Cycle Day,” sings Leiza (L-e-i-z-a), my trusty best friend and Paralegal.
We have been friends since starting at the firm ten years ago, except Leiza has less tenure. She took a two-year sabbatical to find herself by studying transcendental meditation and yoga at an ashram in India.
I smile and pretend to curtsey, and in return Leiza pretends to curtsey, as is our custom inter-office.
“Star cycle cocktails,” Leiza suggests too enthusiastically making it evident she has something up her designer silk sleeve
“As long as we keep it low key,” I reply while strutting away to attend the second of many meetings.
Eight hours into my day -literally my day -my birthday.
“I would rather not attend my 1st Partners Luncheon,” I think as I freshen my lipstick, then apply hand cream.
“Accept that firm shell games move quickly, as quickly as Louboutin debuts the next seasons line of pumps,” reminds my ego in return.
Standing, I measure the accoutrements of my slightly larger, more stylishly furnished Baby Partner office. Glancing out the window, I notice a perfectly circular birds’ nest perched, almost hidden, deep within an azalea bush.
“I almost overlooked it”, I think, gazing at the azalea. Its branches grow in every direction, like poisonous arrows; its flowers are plump like nickels with tiny specks of pollen; and its buds are oversized, pale, spotted... nuclear ladybugs. I stand frozen, pondering the unkempt azalea's thick branches and waxy leaves of varying shades of green--chartreuse, forest, hunter--and its dozens-upon-dozens of ivory and pale pink flowers and flower buds.
I bat my eyelashes several times, forcing my eyes to adjust to the low winter sun, then I see it: a hummingbird! Ruby throated with golden green feathers, a royal purple underbelly, and it's tracking me with a solitary tiny black eye.
Awestruck, I suddenly remember my solo trek to Cuba the summer before starting law school and diving headfirst into adulting. The colors of the hummingbird mirror the colors of the Island: vibrant, colonial, warm, and at the same time, cool.
Almost as if on cue, Leiza sashays in through the slightly ajar door to deliver a brief.
She opens her mouth, but instead of speaking she begins gasping as if an invisible noose has tightened and is crushing her windpipe.
“Are you okay,” I stammer.
Nodding affirmatively, she softly mutters, “A hummingbird in the winter is a good omen, and by the way, your aura is expanding.”
Thirteen hours into my day -literally my day -my birthday.
My promotion to Partner was announced first thing this morning. But my joy is stifled because a client and Basil, my mentor, will not stop posturing.
“As it is, my office is not large enough to accommodate four adult-size individuals,” I think while rubbing my temples, trying to taper a pending migraine.
Dave, not his actual or stage name, the rock star client, closely resembles a combative antiquated rooster, he is too fat to be plump and has a face speckled with skin tags deserving dermatological intervention.
“Why is he attired like a soft rock has been,” I wonder as I allow my eyes full displeasure of taking in the sight of his ill-fitting, polyester leisure suit and white patent leather shoes. My head pounds as the meeting drones, making it progressively more difficult to take Dave seriously. As the meeting adjourns, I stand quickly, and firmly grasp his hand to shake when he boldly suggests, “I prefer my accountants and attorneys to close deals over drinks.”
Recognizing my annoyance, Basil counters with, “Hey, let’s detour to Speakeasy – the retro-styled conference room stocked with alcoholic beverages aplenty.”
I bite my tongue fighting the urge not to advise that Speakeasy has enough physical space to accommodate an aging, overweight rock star in a hideous leisure suit.
If ever I feel subject to sensory overload, this is the moment. My ears are ringing and my eyes are sensitive, as if arrested by a sudden camera flash. Moreover, the air within my office feels oddly still. Not hot, claustrophobic or confined. Rather, it is calm almost cozy, as if Mother Nature and Father Time are harmoniously whispering, “Hush child, be still,” and the entire universe is listening.
Smiling to myself, I take two quick steps towards my desk and then see it: a large black butterfly with yellow strip markings on its long narrow, lazily flapping wings.
I forgot that Leiza, who has been surprisingly less annoyed by Dave than I, was present until I hear her whisper, “A black and yellow butterfly is a great omen, it symbolizes change and transformation …, Wow…, your aura is expanding again.”
Fourteen hours into my day -literally my day -my birthday.
At this moment, my primary thought is, “I do not recall promising Leiza that star cycle cocktails were definite,” as I casually stroll out the lobby in the direction of our favorite wine bar.
It is a beautiful December afternoon; the exact temperature is somewhere near the mid 70’s; the sun appears endless; the sky has streaks of pink and orange ribbon-like clouds, and the air is pregnant with the scent of pansies, violas, snapdragons, petunias, and sweet alyssum.
“Mama would call these eye-catching winter annuals,” I think as I unconsciously slow my pace and allow my thoughts to naturally sync with my footsteps. With each step, the simple pleasure of walking collides with the realization that I am less than happy on a day when I should be overjoyed.
Not wishing to taper whatever “low key” celebration Leiza has planned, I wish away my melancholy and feel it settling sneakily into my pores, bones, and consciousness.
Quickening my strut, I silently repeat, “I am the creator of my pathway, and I am stepping into greatness,” another of my many affirmations. I smile perfectly and enter the wine bar, then take a seat at a bistro table furthest away from all other patrons. I cross, then uncross my legs, before scanning the appetizer menu.
Plopping into the seat across from me, Leiza playfully snatches the menu and announces, “Today your money is no good here, so says Basil,” and as if by magic all my favorites--calamari, escargot, carpaccio, bruschetta, and a bottle of Bordeaux--are formally arranged on the small table.
Shortly after chiding, “is this low key enough,” while splaying her hands game-show style, Leiza eyes widen larger than saucers, as she whispers, “a ladybug is on your lapel, which is an omen for success …, your aura…, is so bright right now, and it is expanding, again.”
It has been a long day -literally my day -my birthday.
No, it has been an exceptionally long and grueling day, and although I have never had a job requiring physical labor, I am certain I am exhausted, and my body feels like I have dug coal non-stop, for sixteen-hours.
I slowly lift myself out of the bathtub filled with what was bubbles and water hot enough to boil lobster, then collapse, alone on my birthday into my king-size bed.
Too tired to feel sorry for myself, I whisper, “Congratulations on a job well done,” then wish myself, “happy birthday,” and drift off to sleep.
I awaken with a startle, feeling disoriented, and uncertain of whether I am in my own home.
Lying in bed, I will myself to calm down, and it hits me!
The scent of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, pepper, and oranges mingle together like a strange, supernatural, piping hot chai on a cold afternoon.
It is a familiar scent, too familiar, timeless, and classy.
It is unique, and earthy like a sudden fragrant and violently showy rainstorm.
It is also perplexing because it is masculine, too masculine, too familiar, and too out of place.
“I am home, alone,” I call out to a hollow empty room.
By instinct, my ego, which has more control of the moment than I, responds, “You’re not dating.” With this knowledge settling into my bones, the hair on the back of my neck rises and goose bumps creep up my arms and down my spine.
I struggle to keep paranoia at bay, but it’s difficult because I am not dating but there is obviously someone in my home carrying this scent!
My heart races uncontrollably, beads of sweat form on my forehead and my core body temperature drops a few degrees with each passing second. I initially think I am on the cusp of a vivid nightmare, one in high-definition technicolor, and where I am obviously in the incredibly early stages of sleep.
Yet, I am awake!
“That is, it”, I think as I loudly utter, “it’s a nightmare which obviously began before my brain released melatonin.”
I remind myself that “these are coherent thoughts.” However, logic is abruptly interrupted and replaced by full blown paranoia when a gentle breeze, more akin to a cosmic caress, wafts through my bedroom.
“That breeze should be punctuated with humidity, interrupted by state-of-the-art, energy efficient, zoned air conditioning,” I think aloud. “But it’s pregnant with the same intoxicating, earthy, sleep disturbing, masculine scent,” I continue, aloud, as my heart races around my chest cavity.
Lying in bed, fearfully willing myself to remain awake, I mentally struggle to remember the name of my Doorman - a fixture in my retro-nuevo, upscale, gentrified (translation: rehabbed) building. He is an older man of West African ancestry with smooth, dark skin like mahogany. Always pleasant, never overly solicitous, I inherited him, or he inherited me, when I bought my loft. He is also prone to offering compliments whenever I wear bold and vivid colors or wrap my head in the style of Continental African women. Not flirty compliments, but compliments which make me feel in control of my cultural narrative.
Ordinarily not being able to recall the name of a stranger in the middle of the night is not cause for alarm and does not warrant lying awake before daybreak.Howe ver, being unable to place a scent when scents normally evoke vivid memories with amazing clarity, has me rattled!
“Am I hallucinating, about to have a seizure, suffering a brain aneurysm or a stroke,” are my repeated thoughts as I toss and turn. Struggling to resolve what I assume can only be a mixture of exhaustion, stress, and a more taxing case of the successful career woman blues, I shut my eyes and engage in a round of meditative breathing: A … 2 … 3 … 4 … B … 2 … 3 … 4 … C … 2 … 3 …4, and slowly drift into the first stage of fitful sleep.
Without warning, I hear it …, with clarity…, softly, but a deep, rich baritone: the voice belonging to my deceased Father.
I hear my name being called: “Guigi.”
Initially bewildered, I prick my ears to make certain.
Then, I hear it again, a decibel higher, but still the same deep, rich baritone: “Guigi.”
Anticipation and a touch of recognition force me to open my eyes widely, expecting to see the full-body apparition of my Father.
But when I do, I only see the space more commonly known as my bedroom.
With my eyes darting, and my eyelids batting at the speed of a cameras shutter set on high-speed continuous, I see my immaculately decorated, austere, bedroom. I recognize potted zizi plants, my bureau, my full-length mirror, but no one, just space.
I cry involuntary, silent tears, I turn completely inward, make meaningful eye contact with my soul, and begin tapping into the core fiber of my being. I take several more deep cleansing breaths, and for the first time in an exceptionally long time, slowly and intensively, peace settles over my being, aligns my chakras, shifts my energy, and allows me to begin to heal.
12:10 Pm - One Year Later
With vivid memories of Guigi’s fondness for promptness, Leiza makes a mental note to browse “duty-free” before her return flight, then casually joins the group of non-citizens standing idly in the passport inspection line. The Tocumen International Airport is highly efficient, more efficient than Leiza anticipates, and the atmosphere is charged with energy.
Agents from Customs & Immigrations scrutinize everyone, including senior citizens eager to pass security checkpoints; and a rowdy pack of bachelors who suddenly decide to drop their frat boy routine after being denied admittance into the sterile lounge.
Leiza deftly wheels her sensibly packed carry-on towards the motorized footway and giggles, not in glee, but in pain because she has not worn sensible, travel friendly shoes.
Cautious to inch and stand as far right as possible, allowing hurrying passengers to snake past without crushing her swollen toes, she marvels at the contrasts: grey sky, white sand, blue/green sea, trans-continental diversity, and a cosmopolitan Miami-esque skyline.
Of the pair, Leiza, a former resident of an Indian ashram, is a new aged, free spirit. Yet, she did not quit a career, pack, and permanently move to another country … on a whim! And not just any country: Panama, a country so small it is little more than a strip of land, barely an island, linking Central and South America; a country so small modern maps and globes depict it as a grain of sand between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean.
“Talk about casting fate to the wind,” she whispers aloud to no one in particular.
Leiza is so entrenched in thoughts of island sand, seashells, and sandcastles that she forgets to take a step when the motorized footway deposits her in an alcove leading to baggage claim and is jostled forward by a man wheeling a luggage cart.
“Sorry for that,” he barks as suitcases topple to the floor.
Stopping to better scan the crowd, Leiza succumbs as a combination of instinct and gravity push her forward through another dizzying parade of people. Walking in pace with other travelers, she obsessively digs in her bag for sunglasses, and is muttering “sensible shoes, sensible shoes,” when she suddenly finds herself standing before what she assumes is sunlight reflecting off the sea.
But the intense beam of light is not that of the sun, nor is it a reflection, it is the aura of her best friend, Guigi, magnified by a mural depicting a ruby-throated hummingbird drinking azalea nectar.
Leiza opens her mouth to squeal a greeting but stops short when Guigi raises her pointer up at the fresco, and says, “it’s titled Good Omens, and it is a definite sign of a propitious outcome.”
Dondi Dancy is a career Paralegal and founder/facilitator of a virtual book club, who writes short stories and prose poetry to remain grounded and aware of all that is beautiful in the world. Her portfolio includes: an Open Mic Poetry Showcase with Sacred Grounds (January 2022); the short story, “Driving Home” (Rigorous Literary Magazine, Volume 5, Issue 4, January 2022); the poem “Conceptual Beauty” (Brown Sugar Literary Magazine, Spring 2021); and a brief poetry collection titled “Joy is My Superpower” (SF-Write Now Talking to Strangers Anthology, December 2021).