THE HEART OF A WOMAN
Thursday morning I agreed to meet Make for lunch a few blocks from my office. I would explain to him why he had to accept my rejection.
Wells Restaurant, pride of Harlem, on 132nd Street and Seventh Avenue, had been popular since the twenties, when it was a favorite stop on the route of whites, visiting what many called "Nigger Heaven."
The food had remained good, the menus still listed white items such as steaks and lamb chops, but its main offerings, fried chicken, smothered pork chops, short ribs and biscuits, catered to the local palates.
Make stood as I entered. He wore yet another well-tailored suit and custom-made shirt. I didn't need to look at his shoes to know they were shining like new money. He began talking before I sat down.
He was pleased that I had overcome my timidity. My coming showed I had courage, a virtue which we both knew was a prerequisite in the struggle. He had talked to Paule Marshall, by telephone, and told her that his intention was to marry me and take me to Africa. I couldn't focus on the menu, but we ordered lunch. He continued talking and I ate food I could neither see nor taste.
He had been jailed for political action in South Africa. When the government released him, the police took him to an isolated desert area near South-West Africa and left him there, hundreds of miles from the nearest human beings. A city-bred man, with no knowledge of open country, he had scrabbled over rocky ridges and found water. He pulled caterpillars from shrubs and ate them (they taste a lot like shrimp). He encountered a group of Hottentot hunters and because he could speak a little of their language, they gave him dried meat and a small water pouch. Keeping away from large towns and following the stars, he walked out of South Africa into Bechuanaland. The Boers' control and spies had pervaded that country as well, so he kept to the forest. He made a slingshot and killed small animals and ate them raw, or cooked when it was safe enough to light a fire. Their skins padded his worn-out shoes or were laid inside his shirt for warmth. Days passed when the only things he saw moving were the vultures that lazed high in the sky above him. He walked through South and North Rhodesia, making sparse contacts with revolutionaries he had heard about, who were themselves in hiding or on the run. He took his first breath of freedom when he crossed into Ethiopia.
"I was the first Pan-African Congress member to escape. But, Miss Angelou, when I left exile without water or food, I intended to reach Ethiopia. When I knew I was coming to the yew ess, I came with the intention of finding a strong, beautiful black American woman, who would be a helpmate, who understood the struggle and who was not afraid of a fight. I heard about you and you sounded like the one. I met Guy and I was impressed with his manliness and intelligence, obviously your work, and then I saw you."
He reached across the table and took my hand. His little brown fingers tapered down to small white nails. I tried to picture those exquisite hands carrying caterpillars, wiggling, to his mouth.
"You are exactly what I dreamed on my long march. Tall and clear-eyed. Needing to be loved. Ready to fight and needing protection. And not the protection of a bloody bail bondsman."
Oh Lord, that reminded me.
"Mr. Make, I agreed to have lunch with you to tell you I am going to marry the bloody bail bondsman."
He leaned his bulk back in the chair and his face darkened and clouded over with resignation.
"You are breaking my heart. I am an African with large things to do. I have left my father and mother in Jo'Burg, and given the ordinary run of time, I shall never see them again. Unless the revolution takes place during my lifetime, I shall never see the land again. To an African, the family and the land ... I need you. I want to marry you."
''I'm sorry." And God knew I meant that.
"I shall finish at the U.N. tomorrow. On the next day, I shall fly to Amsterdam, an open city, where I am told whiskey is cheap and a variety of entertainment is available to a lonely man."
I saw those delicate hands sliding over white women's bodies and in their long, lank hair. But I couldn't imagine him kissing the white lips.
"I shall stay in Amsterdam four or five days and then I shall go to Copenhagen, another open city. My desire for you is total, Miss Angelou. I want your mind, and spirit and your body. After all, I may be an African with a mission, but I am also a man. I must attend a conference in London in ten days, but before the conference, I must try to drive thoughts of you out of my mind." He stopped talking and I waited in the silence for a second before I excused myself and went to the toilet.
Wells had wasted none of its elegance on the women's room. There were two small cubicles for toilets and a small outer area which was only large enough for two people.
A woman bumped into me on her way out. She saw the tears on my face.
"Hey, are you O.K? You sick?"
I shook my head and walked through the open door. She poked her head in. "You sure you don't need any help?" I shook my head again and thanked her.
The little mirror over the washstand was vague with dust but I looked in it and saw misery in sharp outline. If I went through with the wedding to Thomas, I would load our marriage with such disappointment, the structure couldn't stand. He was too good a man to abuse, yet I knew that I would never forget or forgive the facts. Because of him, I would have lost Make, a life of beckoning adventure and Africa. Africa. I would hate him for that. And Make. Make needed me. I would be a help to him. I was brave. Abbey had once told me I was too crazy to be afraid. I would be a fool to let Make go to a bunch of whorish white women in Amsterdam. In fact, I might be betraying the entire struggle. I wouldn't do that. And then Guy. Guy would have the chance to have an African father. There could be no greater future for a black American boy than to have a strong, black, politically aware father. His being African would add an enriching spice.
Admitting for the first time a decision I had made at the fancy-dress ball, I would accept Make's offer.
I called Abbey from a pay phone. She answered.
"Just wanted to make sure you were there."
"Nothing yet, I'll call back."
"Are you all right?"
"Yeah. Really. I'll call you in a few minutes."
Make stood again as I reached the table. I sat down and took the napkin in my hands. The words refused to get themselves in order.
"Mr. Make, I'll do it. I'll do it. I'll go with you."
His face broke open. A brown moon splitting, showing its white core. The room was filled with large even teeth and shining round eyes.
I'll marry you, Miss Angelou. I'll make you happy. We will be known as the happiest family in Africa." He came around the table and pulled me to my feet to kiss me. I noticed other customers for the first time and drew away.
Make laughed, turning to the tables of black people openly watching us.
"It is all right. She has just said she'll marry me."
Applause and laughter. The folks liked a happy story.
He held my hand as if I had just won a race, "This is the joining of Africa and Africa-America! Two great peoples back together again."
I tried to sit back down. He was going to make a speech. A laugh rumbled up his chest and between the perfect teeth.
"No. I claim my engagement kiss."
His lips were full and soft. Shaken by the physical touching, we took our seats again. The woman who had offered to help me in the toilet came to our table.
"Honey, I should have known you weren't crying out of sadness." She smiled. "You all have a drink with us. We've been married eighteen of the best years of my life."
A man's voice shouted across the room, "Ernestine, just offer the folks a drink and come on back and sit down."
The woman grinned. "See how nice we get along? He orders. I obey. Sometimes."
Make and I laughed as she strutted back to her table.
After a few nervous minutes of finding no way to say all the things which needed to be said, I asked Make if he was free for the afternoon. He said he was. I excused myself and went to the telephone.
"I've done it this time, Ab."
"It. I've told Vusumzi Make I'll marry him."
"Who?" Her voice was strong with shock.
"A South African freedom fighter. He's brilliant, Abbey, and pretty. Beautiful, in fact. And we've fallen in love."
"Well, hell, Maya Angelou, what about Thomas?"
"I want to talk to you about that."
"Seems like to me, you'll have to talk to Thomas."
At the moment that chore didn't seem so onerous.
"I wish you'd come down to Wells and meet him and take him to your house. I have to go back to the office, but I'll come over after work. Will you?"
She didn't use a second to deliberate.
"Of course I'll come. Are you going to wait or do I just walk in and ask for the African who's going to marry Maya Angelou?"
I told Make that my friend, Abbey Lincoln, was coming to pick him up.
He recognized her name immediately and began to tell me how the Max Roach/Abbey Lincoln records were smuggled into South Africa and then passed around like the hot revolutionary material they were. He knew the title of every track and most of the words to all their songs. The man, indeed, was a wonder.
When I looked through the window and saw Abbey double-parking her Lincoln sedan, we left the restaurant. Abbey got out of the car and shook hands with my latest fiance. They drove away and the rest of the afternoon passed like film in slow motion starring a stranger. I answered telephones, signed letters, spoke to volunteers, but my mind hovered somewhere between the Serengeti plains, Thomas's apartment in Brooklyn and the sweet scent of patchouli which rose each time Mr. Make shifted his heavy body.
Max and Mr. Make were talking and Abbey was preparing dinner when I arrived at the Columbus Avenue apartment. Abbey shouted a welcome from the kitchen and both men embraced me.
Make said proudly, "Ah, here is my beautiful wife."
Max nodded. "Maya, you got yourself one this time. Yeah, you got yourself a man."
I sat through dinner in a stupor. Max and Abbey's place was no more real than my office had been. A man I had met exactly one week earlier was grinning possessively at me across the table. Max, who had seen enough of life to be healthily suspicious, approved of the stranger. Later, when I helped Abbey dry the dishes, she said that she thought I was better suited to the unknown Make than to the known Thomas. And anyway, I was just wild enough to make it work.
Make slipped close to me over the ribbing of the corduroy couch.
"I am tired, and would like to rest. Max has said I might stretch out in that room." I was supposed to agree. I did want to grab his hand and lug him to bed, but I said, "Mr. Make, I ..."
"Please, we are going to be married, call me Vus."
"Vus, I'm obliged to clear up the matter with Thomas." Make leaned against the back of the sofa and kept quiet for a few minutes.
"Yes. I agree. But when you talk to him I want to be present. He might be difficult."
'Til speak to him alone tomorrow night. And then ..."
"Shouldn't I come with you? It might be dangerous."
I refused his offer. Talking with Thomas was my responsibility. My pompous idiocy had gotten me into the mess, and rash emotion was further complicating the jumble. And I felt a little excitement at the coming confrontation.
"Then I shall be the one to talk to Guy. I'm going to be his father and we must begin our relationship properly."
Vus put me into a taxi heading for Brooklyn.
Guy had rocks in the jaws and flint in his eyes. He had called the office and had been told that I had left early. He went to the Killenses' and they had no news of my whereabouts. Thomas hadn't heard from me and Paule Marshall didn't know where I was. He couldn't find Abbey's number. He chided me. It wasn't fair to insist that he be considerate and phone home if I was going to treat him with casual indifference. It was nearly eleven o'clock.
Three men looked to me for proof of devotion.
My son expected warmth, food, housing, clothes and stability. He could be certain that no matter which way my fortune turned he would receive most of the things he desired. Stability, however, was not possible in my world; consequently it couldn't be possible in his. Too often I had had to decline unplayable hands dealt to me by a capricious life, and take fresh cards just to remain in the game. My son could rely on my love, but never expect our lives to be unchanging.
Thomas wanted equilibrium, also. He was looking for a nice wife, who was a good cook and was neither so pretty or so ugly that she drew attention to herself. I tried his number again. I had to tell him that he hadn't yet found his mate. He didn't answer the ring.
Vus saw me as the flesh of his youthful dream. I would bring to him the vitality of jazz and the endurance of a people who had survived three hundred and fifty years of slavery. With me in his bed he would challenge the loneliness of exile. With my courage added to his own, he would succeed in bringing the ignominious white rule in South Africa to an end. If I didn't already have the qualities he needed, then I would just develop them. Infatuation made me believe in my ability to create myself into my lover's desire. That would be nothing for a stepper.
At dawn Thomas answered the telephone. He said he would pick me up from the office and collect the wedding gifts. We would stop at my house and after dinner with Guy, we would go back to his apartment for "a little you-know-what."
The day jerked itself to evening in stops and starts. Time either wouldn't move at all or it raced like a whirlwind.
At last, and too soon, Thomas stood in my office doorway, smiling, showing his death-white teeth.
"Hey, baby, where's the stuff?"
I said "Hi" and pointed him to the cartons against the wall. While I was saying good night to the office staff, he carried the gifts downstairs, and when I joined him on the pavement he was loading them in the trunk of his car.
He was still smiling. I wondered how could anybody say goodbye to a smiling man.
"You like the luggage, baby?"
"Yes. Where did you buy it?"
The question wiped the smile from his face. "Why?"
"Oh, in case I want to add to the set."
He relaxed and the smile returned as full as it was before. "I got them from a fellow I know. And if you want some more, I'll get them for you."
I had suspected that the bags were stolen when they appeared in my office in supermarket cardboard boxes, and Thomas now confirmed my suspicions. I needed all the hurt feelings I could muster for the imminent farewell scene, so I kept quiet and waited.
At home, Guy watched television and Thomas read the sports pages while I cooked dinner. I knew that but for my shocking plans, we were acting out the tableau of our future. Into eternity. Guy would be in his room, laughing at I Love Lucy and Thomas would be evaluating the chances of an athlete or a national baseball team, and I would be leaning over the stove, preparing food for the "shining dinner hour." Into eternity.
We ate without excitement and Guy said good night, going back to his room.
Thomas rose to bring in the luggage but I stopped him.
"I have some talk for you. Why don't we have a drink?"
I began talking slowly and quietly. "I've met a South African. He escaped over the desert. He kept himself alive by eating worms. The whites sent him out to die but he survived. He has come to the United States and he deserves our support." I looked at Thomas, who had become a terrapin, his large head withdrawn into his shoulders, his eyes steady and unblinking.
I continued my story, saying that the man was inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King and had come to petition the United Nations on behalf of his people. I used small words and short sentences as if! were telling a fairy tale to a child. Thomas was not enthralled.
I said, "A large conference is going to be held in London, where other people who have escaped from South Africa will meet and form a joint freedom-fighting organization." So far I was telling the truth. But since I didn't have the courage to tell Thomas I was leaving him, I knew I was building up to a lie.
The man in front of me had turned into a big red rock, and his freckles blotched dark brown on his face.
"Indians from the South Africa Indian Congress and Africans from both South Africa and South-West Africa will take two weeks to work out an accepted charter. As we know, 'In unity there is strength.' "
There was no light in Thomas's eyes.
We sat in dangerous silence.
I balled up my nerve. "They ... Anyway, this African I've just met has asked me to attend the conference. They want a black American woman who can explain the philosophy of nonviolence." I was getting there.
Thomas twitched his shoulders, raised his body an inch, then slid deeper into the chair. His eyes still reflected nothing.
"I have decided to accept the invitation and deliver a paper on Martin Luther King."
The invention came as a wonderful surprise. I had been searching all day and during the preparation of dinner in vain for a way to say what I had to say, and nothing had come to me. Obviously, apprehension had sharpened my imagination.
"I don't know how long I'll be gone, but I may go to Africa after that."
Thomas, in an unexpectedly fast move, sat up straight. He looked at me, his face wise and hard.
"You got another nigger." He hadn't raised his voice. "All that shit was to tell me you got yourself another nigger."
The moment I dreaded and had lied to avoid had arrived.
"Say it. Say it in plain words. Say, 'Thomas' "-he mimicked my speech-" 'Thomas, I got myself another nigger.' Say it."
He was the interrogator and I was the suspect.
"Well, he's not a nigger."
"He's African, ain't he? Then, he's a nigger just like me and just like you. Except you try to act like a goddam ofay girl. But you just as much a nigger as I am. And so is your goddam holy Martin Luther King, another blackass nigger."
He knew I loathed that word and didn't allow its use in my home. Now each time he said "nigger" he sharpened it and thrust it, rapierlike, into my body.
"Thomas"-I forced a sweet calm into my voice" Thomas, there doesn't seem to be anything more to say."
He denied that we had come to the end of our conversation and the end of the relationship. I was acting above my station, putting on airs like my siditty friends who were talking about freedom and writing stupid books that nobody read. Thinking I was white, raising my son to use big words and act like a white boy. His sister had told him to watch out for me. I didn't mean him no good. I thought I was better than his family.
I didn't move, even to pick up my drink. He spoke, letting the profanity and his dislike of me fill the room.
He would be surprised if that African didn't leave me stranded in London or in Africa, and I'd come back, dragging my ass, trying to make him feel grateful for a chance to fuck me. Well, don't think that he'd be around. Forget his phone number. In fact, tomorrow, he would have his phone number changed.
I noted with relief that he was already talking about tomorrow. His shoulders fell and he leaned back against the chair, his energy spent. I still didn't move.
He rose and walked out of the room and I followed. He was so large, he filled the entry. In a sharp move, he jerked back the curtain which covered the oval window at the door.
"Come here." I was afraid to refuse, so I wedged myself close to him. "Look at that woman."
Across the street a lone black woman walked under hazy streetlight carrying two full shopping bags. I didn't know her. Thomas reached into his jacket and pulled out his gun.
"You know something? I could blow that broad's head off, and I wouldn't do a day."
He put the pistol back into its holster, opened the door and walked down the steps to his car.
I made another drink and thanked God for blessing me yet one more time. I had hurt Thomas's ego but I had not broken his heart. He wasn't injured enough to attack me, but he would never want to see me again.
STANLEY and Jack Murray accepted my news without surprise. They said they had not expected me to stay. They felt that since I was an entertainer, I would leave the organization whenever I was offered a good night-club contract or a part in a Broadway play. That's why they had brought in other dedicated workers to take over my job. I didn't bother to tell them how wrong they were.
Grace Killens laughed at me.
"You met him last week at our house, didn't you? And this week you're going to marry him. The Wild West Woman." She laughed and laughed.
John took the news solemnly. Concern tightened his face and squeezed his voice into sharpness.
"He's serious about the struggle, but what else do we know? Are you going to be a second or third wife? How is he planning to look after you? Don't forget Guy. You're putting him under a strange man's roof and he's almost a man himself. How does he feel about that?"
Because he was the most important, I had left Guy for the last. Vus had said he wanted to be the first to talk to him and I was happy to accept the much-vaunted masculine camaraderie. Let men talk to men. It was better for a woman, even a mother, to stand back, keep quiet and let the men work out their mannish problems.
Guy was spending the night with Chuck, and Abbey and Max were performing, so Vus and I were given the use of their apartment. He prepared an elaborate dinner of roast beef and sauteed vegetables and poured a delicious wine. I learned that night that he was an expert in extending pleasure.
At the dining table he spread before me the lights and shadows of Africa. Glories stood in thrilling array. Warrior queens, in necklaces of blue and white beads, led armies against marauding Europeans. Nubile girls danced in celebrations of the victories of Shaka, the Zulu king. The actual earth of Africa was "black and strong like the girls back home" and glinted with gold and diamonds. African men covered their betrothed with precious stones and specially woven cloth. He asked me to forgive the paucity of the gift he had for me and to understand that when we returned to Mother Africa he would adorn me with riches the likes of which I had never imagined. When he led me into the darkened guest room and placed a string of beads around my neck, all my senses were tantalized. I would have found the prospect of a waterless month in the Sahara not only exciting, acceptable. The amber beads on my nut-brown skin caught fire. I looked into the mirror and saw exactly what I wanted to see, and more importantly what I wanted him to see: a young African virgin, made beautiful for her chief.
The next afternoon I told Guy that the South African we had met at the Killenses' house was coming around for dinner. He took the news so casually I thought that perhaps he had forgotten who Make was. He went to his room and began playing records as I fumbled setting the table.
When the doorbell rang, Guy popped out of the back room like a bottle cork and spun through the kitchen.
"I'll get it."
Before I could set the stove burners to safe levels, I heard the rumble of voices, speaking indistinguishable words.
I reached the living room just as Vus was beginning to lower himself into Guy's favorite chair. He stood again and we shook hands. I offered him the so much more comfortable sofa. Guy shook his head and smiled wanly. "This is comfortable, too, Mom."
Since early childhood, Guy had made certain pieces of furniture his private property. In preschool years and until he was eight or so, each night he would lasso chairs or tables with toy ropes before going to bed, and he would warn his "horses" to stay in the corral. Although he grew out of the fantasy, his sense of property possession remained and everyone respected it.
Vus sat down in Guy's chair, and I thought he was getting off to a miserable start.
Guy offered to bring drinks, and the second he left the room Vus said, "There is no reason to be nervous. We are both men. Guy will understand." I nodded. Vus thought he understood, but I wondered how much of my son's temperament would really escape him.
I sat primly on the sofa across the room. Guy walked in carrying a napkin-covered tray, ice, glasses and a bottle of Scotch.
"Mom, something smells like it's sticking." He walked to Vus. "How do you like your drink?"
Vus stood and mixed his own drink from the tray in Guy's hands. The two of them seemed absorbed in an atavistic ritual. I had ceased to be the center of attention.
"Well, I'll go tend to the dinner."
Vus looked up over his drink. "Yes. Guy and I must talk." Guy nodded as if he already knew something.
"Guy, will you please come to the kitchen for a moment?"
He hesitated, reluctant to leave our guest.
We stood beside the warm stove and I opened my arms to embrace him. He stepped back, wary.
"Please come. I just want to hug you."
His eyes darted and he looked young and defenseless. Unwilling, he walked into my embrace.
"I love you. Please know that." I hadn't meant to whisper.
He extricated himself and went to the door. His face suddenly sad and old.
"You know, Mom. That sounds like goodbye."
The sensuality between parents and children often is so intense that only the age-old control by society prevents the rise of sexuality. When a single parent is of the opposite sex the situation is more strained. How to feel love and demonstrate affection without stirring in the young and innocent mind the idea of sexuality? Many parents, alarmed at the dreadful possibility of raising incestuous thoughts In their children's minds, withdraw, refusing all physical contact and leaving the children yearning and befuddled with ideas of unworthiness.
Guy and I had spent years skating the thin ice.
During his twelfth summer, we attended a party in Beverly Hills. The children's party had been catered at one end of an Olympic-sized swimming pool, and I drank Margaritas with the adults at the pool's other end.
That evening, when we returned to our house in Laurel Canyon, Guy startled me.
"You know, Mom. Everyone talks about Marilyn Monroe's body. But we were watching today and all the guys said you had a prettier shape than Marilyn Monroe."
After he went to bed, I sat pondering my next move. He was old enough to masturbate. If I began to figure in his sexual fantasies he would be scarred and I would have added one more weight to an already difficult life.
That night I went through my wardrobe separating away the provocative dresses and choosing the staid outfits which were more motherly. The next day I stopped at the Salvation Army with a large package, and never again bought a formfitting dress or a blouse with a plunging neckline.
I continued preparing the prenuptial feast, assuring myself that Guy would take the news calmly.
When I set the dining table, I consciously deadened my ears and hummed a song out loud. I was getting a husband, and a part of that gift was having someone to share responsibilities and guilt.
They came to the table and I saw from Guy's face that Vus had not told him of our marriage plans.
We sat to dinner and I ate straw.
The conversation swirled around me, making no contact. Soccer was as violent a sport as American football. Sugat Ray Robinson was a gentleman, but Ezzard Charles was of the people. Malcolm X had the right ideas but Martin Luther King was using tactics which had only been effective in India. Africa was the real "Old World" and America was aptly described by George Bernard Shaw, who said that it was "the only country which had gone from barbarism to decadence without once passing through civilization."
Guy was relaxed and entered into the exchange with his own young wit. They made each other laugh and my stomach churn.
I gathered the dishes, and when Guy rose to help clear the table, Vus stopped him.
"No, Guy, I must speak to you about our future. And I shall speak now. May we go into your room?"
A shadow of panic rushed into Guy's eyes. He turned to me peering, quickly trying to scan my thoughts. In a second he collected himself.
"Of course. Please. Come this way."
He led the big man into his bedroom; after they entered, the door slammed.
I made a clatter of dishes and a rattle of pans, slamming them together and jingling the flatware into cacophonous harmonies, trying to drown out my own thoughts and any sounds which might slide under Guy's door and slither across the kitchen floor and float up to my ears.
Suppose Guy rejected the man and our plans. He could refuse. Because the white world demonstrated in every possible way that he, a black boy, had to live within the murdering boundaries of racial restrictions, I had raised him to believe that he had a say in the living of his life, and that barring accidents, he should have a say in the dying of his death. And now, so armed, he was able to shape not only his future, but mine as well.
The kitchen was clean, every glass dried and the dishes put away. I sat with a cup of coffee at the kitchen table, controlling the opposing urges to walk without knocking into Guy's room or grab my purse and haul out the front door, running to Ray's and a triple Scotch on the rocks.
Laughter from behind the door brought me back to reality. Guy had accepted Vus, which meant I was as good as married and on my way to live in Africa.
They emerged from the room, broad grins stretched their faces. Guy's high-yellow color was reddened with excitement and Vus looked satisfied.
"Congratulations, Mom." This time Guy opened his arms offering me safe sanctuary. "I hope this will make you very happy."
I stood in Guy's arms and Vus laughed. "Now you'll have two strong men to take care of. We three will be the only invaders Mother Africa will willingly take to her breast."
That evening filled with laughter and plans. When Vus left for Manhattan, Guy spoke candidly.
"You would never have been happy with Mr. Allen."
"How do you know?"
"Yes, but how? Because he's a bail bondsman?"
"No, because he didn't love you."
"And Mr. Makes does?"
"He respects you. And maybe for an African, that's better than love."
"You know a lot, huh?" I didn't try to conceal my pride.
"Yeah, I'm a man."
THE next few days glittered, as friends, recovered from shock at my hasty decision, strung out a Mardi gras of parties. Rosa threw a Caribbean fete, where her African, black American and white liberal friends argued and laughed over plates of her famous rice and beans. Connie and Sam Sutton, an unpretentious intellectual couple, invited academic colleagues to a quiet dinner, which in time turned into a boisterous gathering. All over New York City strangers hugged me, patted my cheeks and praised my courage. Old friends told me I was crazy while struggling to control their admiration and envy.
At the end of the string of parties, Vus and I left for England, leaving Guy in the home of Pete and T. Beveridge, who lived a few blocks from my Brooklyn house.
We sat on the plane holding hands, kissing, seeing our future as a realm of struggle and eternal victory. Vus said we would marry in Oxford, such a pretty little town.
I explained that I wanted to have my mother and son present at my wedding and asked if we could wait. He patted my cheek and said, "Of course. In London we will say we married in America. When we return to New York we will say we married in England. We will have our wedding according to your wishes and whenever you say. I am marrying you this minute. Will you say yes?"
I said yes.
"Then we are married."
We never mentioned the word marriage again.