House Party by Ayana Edwards

The stars were playing tricks on him. Lingering among the crumbling Washington D.C. corners like burning street lights in the darkness; a glimmer of hope, a silver flirtatious wink, a flashing bright smile; they knew all along they had no interest in being touched. The shimmering dirty teases. Olivio wanted to spit at the sky, but he knew as a consequence he would be hit in the face with his own stinking saliva. Resolving to not look back up at the sky, hoping it felt heavy and ignored, he scratched his face, sweaty and itchy.

He hadn’t shaved in the six days since his conversation with the Rastafarian who sold incense and scented oils on Eighth Street; who told him, through a row of yellow teeth, that his hair was his power; that there had been conducted numerous studies on U.S. Marines, which showed they had slower reflexes and less endurance in boot camp after their heads were shaved. Hair was human thought, wound and blessed, protecting our minds and highest chakra. Olivio thought he was talking nonsense, but didn’t shave anyway. He lit a cigarette and watched its plumes of smoke caress the air, nuzzling invisibility like an alley cat.

He heard a woman's voice: “Why don’t you cut that?”

He turned, squinting his eyes in the warm darkness: squat curves with thick, wavy black hair; she had a shadowy mustache and black bushy eyebrows; her skin was exactly three shades lighter than copper.

They embraced, dirty sneakers and sweaty brown legs nearly overlapping, breathing in the scent of each other’s thick hair.

“What are you doing out here?” Olivio looked Malena’s thick legs up and down. She had on yellow high-tops, and a black and white printed romper. She slung her hair into a massive bun.

“Trying to stay cool. What you doin’ out here?”

Olivio smiled wide and tossed his sweat matted dreadlocks back, hiked up his heavy black backpack a bit.

“I’m about to meet Fee at some house party-after-party thing.”

Olivio and Malena had always been friendly; Malena was one of the last people he talked to before he dropped out of High School. She even twisted and oiled his hair twice after school during the end of tenth grade. The first time he visited she gave him two turkey sandwiches and a handful of red grapes before he went home with clean, freshly twisted hair and the memory of sitting between her big brown legs. The second time, she gave him three bottles of water and a Ziploc bag filled with fried chicken, and the first hug he’d had in a long while. When Olivio was lucky enough to have a phone, he thought of her; would try her number, and once or twice she answered, but the last few times it was disconnected.

They arrived at a nearly dilapidated townhouse in northwest; electronic music pulsed from the basement and two thin white girls with heavy bangs came laughing out of the walk-up stairs to the party.

“Fee runs with white girls now?” Olivio asked, scrunching his broad nose.

“They're her college friends or whatever.”

He usually went after girls with bad posture, that seemed ready to fold in on themselves at any moment. Malena and her big legs disappeared into the crowd, so Olivio found a window ledge to lean on, and looked about the room.

“Olivio, what are you doing here? Have you seen Malena?"

It was Fee: she was tiny and brown, with skinny legs and a mouse' face. He smiled when he saw her, she looked like she could fit into his backpack.

He hadn't seen her since he dropped out; she was never out on the streets wandering, like Malena. Fee and Olivio almost kissed once, at a back porch house party on Trinidad Ave, when Fee was drunk and one strap of her tank top was sliding down.

He didn’t know what to talk to her about now. She kept looking for Malena's bright yellow shoes and dark mustache, somehow inv
isible in the tiny basement. Olivio remarked the ice bucket near the kitchen, then an escape route.

Bending down and pulling his backpack open, the ice was calling to him. Then he heard her voice; saw the yellow sneakers somewhere in the confusion of the basement.

“Who is that guy with the dreads you came with?”

“Olivio?” she said.

“He looks Black and Puerto Rican and manly. Where does he go to school?”

Olivio could feel his heart throbbing in his ears, and the sweat of the ice cold water bottles ran over his fingertips. He started stuffing them into his backpack, as many as he could fit. One, then two at a time; he wished he had more room. He heard someone say something about taking all of the water but he didn’t care; he saw her yellow shoes coming around the corner, and knew he had to get out. He hiked up his backpack, turned on his heels and left; running up the stairs and out onto the sidewalk, around the corner and down the street, then the next and the next; running until the light of the stars turned into streaks, and the sound of their voices vanished.

Ayana Edwards was born and raised in the Washington, D.C. area. After graduating from George Mason University with a B.A. in Anthropology.