21 years old
The vodunshi looked at my frail body which lay in front of the altar. My father had run out of options and money and so resorted to the only thing he knew he could count on, Vodun. Even if he did not want to_ since despite not attending church he had been baptized in the church_ my skin had been covered with sores that would not heal and my body was very weak. I could walk but barely. My entire body had been covered with these sores. Everywhere except my face and that was enough for me.
I was so pretty before these painful sores and could not wait for them to go away so I could strut my beautiful skin confidently once again to get my dream. Jesus would not come down to help me. Maybe in Thembi’s house he would have but definitely not in this slum. Jesus began to sound like a politician who made promises during the campaigning season. He made promises in his bible which I read meticulously wanting to be like him. But like the politicians, he always seemed to forget his way to the slum after elections. Jesus missed his way to my slum so I had to help myself so perhaps Jesus would meet me halfway there. Afterall, they say that he helps those who help themselves, so I just had to.
That’s what I thought when the sores initially started. I noticed them first on my left thigh but thought nothing of it. Every day I would generously smear the customized concoction cooked up by the local beautician which had been praised for its ability to magically remove the black and fade brown from the skin.
18 years old
I hated my black. It was as black as charcoal, and I wanted to be white like Jesus. I wanted to be able to get into an airplane and meet Jesus and the other white people in the place called America which I was sure was heaven. Every day I rubbed this concoction on my skin. It burned like fire, but they told me that was a good sign. It only meant it was working. There was even a rumor that if you wanted it to work faster, cover it with plastic. Doing this made the concoction burn 1000 times more but in as little as two weeks I had started to see results and I was automatically hooked to this painful regiment of beautification. I understood a long time ago that something always had to give and if I had to develop a high tolerance for pain to get closer to my dreams of flowers and kisses and gowns and that shiny tiara, to the dream of Jesus, the airplane and America, then so be it!
Daddy initially thought I looked silly when I had plastic bags of different shapes and colors wrapped around me. When he asked, I only said “to be a woman is to be beautiful.” He smirked and let me be. He never paid any mind; he had other things to worry about. This was until he started hearing some of the neighborhood boys talking about me saying, “Faasi come dey be oh! Even her skin color saf.” That evening when Daddy got home, he looked at me with a questioning look in his eyes. He never said anything to me but from that day, he watched me like a hawk. Now I wish I heard his silent prayers
21 years old
The vodunshi shook her head and wore a look of disappointment on her face. She pulled my dad aside and they spoke inaudibly. I had always been good at reading the energies of a room to advise myself accordingly, however this time I was too weak to feel a thing. My spirit had deserted me. Thinking about it, I had stopped feeling energies when I turned 19. My skin at that time was lighter than a brown envelope and I had boys lining up to take me out on dates. Those who knew Aka always exclaimed their surprise with how “beautiful I had grown to become”. Those that had no contact or memory of my charcoal skin just said they had never met anyone like me. They would call me an “angel”. Oh, I loved to hear that word! Angel… was beautiful. Angel… sounded nice. It made me feel like Jesus would see my effort anytime soon and then reward my effort by making me completely white. I loved to be called Angel. I began to introduce myself as “Angel.”
The only person who called me Faasi was my dad, and he knew to never do it in public after a dramatic display of disrespect I had shown him when he had no knowledge of my new name and had called me Faasi. In the university, I signed all documents as Angel F. Elikem. I was getting what I wanted but I missed my friend. Thembi had left for America for her university studies, and I wish she was here with me or even better, I was there with her. She would not have to stand up for me and would not have to feel bad for me again because we would be equally capable of achieving the dream. We could have our weddings on the same day. We could meet twins perhaps and get married to one of them each. We will be friends forever and our children will be best friends too.
I missed Thembi. I wanted to tell her how hard I worked and share the experience of how much the concoction burned. I wanted to look at her pretty face and tell her that she was the only person who was ever good to me. I wanted all of this, but I was too weak to even breathe. The pain from the sores on my skin could be felt in my bones and speaking somehow made it worse. My entire skin felt tight and when one part of my body moved, the sensation of ripping skin traveled through my entire body.
I prayed that Daddy would be able to help me. I know I made it hard for him. He watched me and tried to be supportive, and I cannot fault him. He had dried my tears so many times that the opportunity to change something about me to make me feel content, made him content with himself. I know he feels guilty for what was happening to me, but I really wish I could tell him it was not his fault.
The vodunshi returned with dad, looked at me and said,
“The will of Mawu is undeniable
Oh, child with skin that mirrors the earth
Child with hair that mirrors the cloud
Child with blood that flows from the divine
You lost your worth indeed you did
You washed away your power
You flattened your authority with fire
You made the earth cry, and the flies rejoice
Child you are the earth
You are the cloud
My beautiful black child,
YOU are life!
I cried when the last words left her mouth. I knew what I had done wrong. I sort of knew it and was in denial, but I could not make excuses anymore. I said I’d tolerate the pain to be beautiful, but I hated that shit! Every time I put that chemical on my scalp, it felt like my brain was in a pot of boiling soup. I made myself endure this pain every single day for years and I had lied to myself to keep up my routine. I was exhausted but would not let anyone see. The vodunshi broke me. She called out my bullshit and I knew it was time for a complete evolution. The vodunshi handed Daddy some herbs, a pot of shea butter, and gave him instructions. To me she handed my ass and offered a prayer to the gods on my behalf.
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Excerpt from CHARCOAL published by Ami Tamakloe. Copyright © 2023 by Ami Tamakloe.