Standing in front of the mirror, I studied my clothes, hair, face, and body, the insecurities crawling up the longer I stare at myself. “You’re not pretty, Kalina, your bullies were right. Your hair is too oily and long, your skin is too brown, and you smell like shit. Your friends left you, look at you so crippled with anxiety, a disease that controls your every move, creating paranoia around you, from all the people judging and cursing you with negative intentions.” Letting the tears roll down my cheeks, the tear from the left eye wetted my lips, the first set of tears stained my face and the second set of tears streamed down my neck and teased me. The thick façade crumbled my exterior, rivered through my body and into my inner being, the voices echoing and thundering inside my ears. I rushed my hands to my ears blocking the screeching voices, the mascara scarred face reflecting back on me, laughing, and mocking me. Disgusted by myself, my reflection that is utterly worthless.
I closed my eyes, slowing my breath, allowing the tears to run down my face. My stomach turned in becoming in tune with my deeply inhaled breath, intentionally keeping it in for ten seconds, feeling the inside of my body vibrate and then exhaling the sadness. I inhaled, the anxiousness dissipating and I exhaled, the energy within me renewing, resigning the melancholic feelings. Inhaling and exhaling. Inhaling and exhaling. Inhaling and exhaling.
Opening my eyes, I stared back at myself in the mirror “I feel pretty,” I whispered to myself, the quiet words dying out the screaming of my worked-up mind. Hearing the ping on my phone, I reached for it “hey Kalina, I’m on my way to the gallery now. Let me know when you’re here. See you, Micah,” it said, I grabbed my things and speeded down the steps of the house.
“Ma, I’m heading out. I’ll text you when I’ll be back because I don’t know when the event finishes,” I shouted across the hallway.
“Don’t think you’re going to leave without giving me a kiss. I’m glad you’re going out so, I’m assuming that you have made a friend,” mother voiced, quirked her eyebrow, and slanted a small smile.
“I guess, you can call Micah a friend.”
“I’m happy for you. Stay safe and have fun but not too much fun okay. Use your common sense when you’re out, you’re new to the city and text me when you have reached and when you’re on the way home, I’ll be waiting,” mother sterned.
“Okay, Ma, I love you. Bye,” I shouted after kissing her on the cheek.
“See you later, my dear,” I took the subway to east Harlem, the sun was still out, gleaming and radiating heat through the windows that burnt my skin. I welcomed the heat from the sun, enjoying the lightness and happiness it brought to the streets. Stepping out the station, I walked to the gallery. I saw Micah with a male and a female, my stomach dropped from the unplanned interaction I will be doing, Micah turned around once I’ve reached the group, a smile curling his face.
“Hey, Kalina. What’s up? Let me introduce you to some of my friends – this is Alejandro, he is a musician, he’ll be playing and performing this evening, and this is Aphrodite, she is a poet, does spoken words and is a community activist. Guys, this is Kalina, she goes to NYU with me, studying English Lit,” he started, his eyes big and excited.
“Sup Kalina, cool meeting you,” Alejandro began, Aphrodite smiled at me with a wave, her expression was warm and welcoming. I relieved a small grin in return, somehow feeling comfortable within the group. The four of us went inside, the hall was already packed with people, Micah carried his arm over my shoulder, bringing me closer to him. The floor vibrated under my feet, the music ricocheted through the room, bouncing off the walls, already feeling overwhelmed, regretted saying yes to Micah’s persuasive words. I blindly followed Micah’s body, my head tilted down, trying to gain control of my beating heart and nerves, walking through a narrow hallway, the space between me and the loud crowd distinguishing, I brought my head up to see where we were. Alejandro and Aphrodite murmured amongst themselves whilst Micah and I were walking quietly side by side. Alejandro turned a corner which had now become a wide room, loitered with people. Some were talking in groups whilst, the others were seated silently with their heads down, on their phone, or leaning back with their eyes closed.
“Where are we?” I whispered.
“We’re in the back room with the people who are going to perform this evening,” he casually let out, making it seem like this was normal for him. Aphrodite called out Micah’s name, beckoning him to her and he responded with a nod, dragging me with him. Aphrodite grinned towards us, her gaze staying on me for a while.
“Kalina, I want you to meet the man of the hour, the one who brought the community together through art: Ezra Rashid. I’ve been coming here for a year, I met Micah and Alejandro through this community. Since I have started coming here a year ago, my art had become more refined, I have found the people I resonate with and found a space where I felt like I belonged, I became more confident with my art and myself and met incredible people who are part of the creative world because of the community that has been formed. It couldn’t have been possible without Uncle Ezra,” she let out, her form oozed with gratitude and respect. He returned her response with a ruffle of her hair, he released a laugh, his head going backwards and his eyes sparkling.
“I’m simply a person who had a dream to bring communities together.” He turned to me, regarding me with an intense gaze, I felt like I’m at the edge of crumbling under his orbs, wanting to say something crude in defence.
“Micah says that you are a writer, that you want to be a poet. I have a sister who is a writer and a wife who owns a publishing house, so you could say that I am familiar with the writers and publishing world. This is a great place to discover yourself, find like-minded people, and become inspired,” he voiced, softly. “Welcome to the family, Kalina. I hope you feel at home here.” I didn’t say anything in response, I nodded my head as a form of acknowledgement and averted my eyes in an attempt to lighten the brewing feelings inside me that he sparked by his words. “Alright, it’s going to start now. Micah, go and stand upstairs, you’ll get the best views from there,” Uncle Ezra advised.
“Yes sir, come on,” Micah began. He grabbed my arm and pulled me through the swarms of people crowding over the makeshift stage.
“Why exactly did you invite me here?” I said once we were upstairs, with a clear and centred view of the stage which overlooked the people.
“I wanted you to see yourself in others. We’re all similar than you think, everyone is fighting their own darkness, overcoming their darkness and found the channels of art to express themselves. I want you to know that you are not alone, and to feel a community here. Some of the realest, authentic and creative people I’ve ever met are from here, we created our own family and I want you to be a part of it, to feel the greatness of connection, belonging and humanity,” he earnestly expressed. “You ready to get inspired?”
The words whirred something deep inside the canvas of my soul, I didn’t know what it was, but the emotion that stood out was gratitude and an inkling of joy “thank you, Micah.”
“What are friends for?” he shrugged with a crooked grin.
The crowd cheered, I looked straight ahead to the front of the room, the stage lights highlighted Ezra’s form, his face smiling and his body open and expressive. “Welcome to Tranquillity, we have a great line-up for you today. Are we excited community?” Ezra roared out to the crowd. The cheers boundlessly ensued with whops and cheers, the buzz in the air was infectious. “Thank you so much community for continuously showing out, supporting, and loving those who share their art. I’m so grateful for the community we have built together as well as, the supportive and empowering energy you guys always come out with. The first performer is an activist, an intersectional womanist, and a poet with a few words to share about gentrification. Show her some love,” Ezra boomed. A small smile shaped my face, feeling the exhilarated energy exuberating from the crowd to me, feeling the contagious energy wanting to burst through the seams of my body from the responsive crowd.
“A country, that is home to immigrants, travellers, settlers, and dreamers.
The organisation that brought us to the land, giving us scraps of rights and freedom without the liberation. Without giving us compensation for the mental suffering they had caused the generations of families who were hurt and traumatised. To immigrants figuring their lives from the diaspora, disparity, racism losing their homeland to white supremacy, colonialism, imperialism, wars, and slavery. Taking our livelihood, pockets of dreams, hopes, and home with them.
Feeding it to the rich, whilst the poor scrape by, their bodies tired and old. Fighting to live for one more day. A system that is built to break us…”Aphrodite looked powerful, her dark skin bright under the lights, her body and movements exuding passion, her fluffy, kinky curls fanning over her face and body moving in rhythm with her words, her stance strong and straight, her passionate words reaching every corner and rugged edge of the room. The room silent as they drink in her words, my heart beaten in sync with her words, her words resonating with my soul. Micah was beside me listening quietly, his face was serious and regarding her with reverence as he took in her piece of art. Aphrodite bowed her head once she finished, the room shaking with cheers, screams of support, love, and encouragement, my hands were hurting from my hard-slapping claps.
It took a while for the presenter to calm the crowd after she left the stage, still feeling the corollaries of her art piece. Once they calmed down, the presenter introduced a musician to the stage, his face couldn’t be seen from where I was upstairs. His hoodie covered half of his upper face and the sunglasses hidden his eyes. As soon as the beat dropped, he began rapping, his rhymes and flows slick, clever and clean, he seemed to be in his own world, his body moved frantically with his voice, feeling his voice in the base of my stomach, entranced and mesmerised by his presence, his words and music. Curious at who he is, the curiosity burning under my skin, “you know who he is?” I questioned to Micah, who was bobbing his head to the music.
“No, I don’t. But I know that he has been coming here quite often recently, he usually keeps to himself though. Nobody really knows him since he is pretty much silent and doesn’t mingle with anyone. No-one knows his name either, he calls himself Rico.”
“Why, you interested?” he smirked, a knowingness in his eyes.
“No, his music is cool though.”
“Yeah, it’s pretty sick. What the scene needs, real and naturally talented musicians are hard to find now.”
“Yeah,” I agreed, watching his body move with the music, admiring his sound.
Wanted to post a lighter chapter. I haven’t set out a concrete plan of how this is going, nor do I know how it is going. I have imaginations and stories in my head and simply going with the flow. If you see this, thank you for reading it. I appreciate it and it means a lot. I hope to see you again. Kind Regards, Konijja