This piece, which I wrote in 2006, first appeared in The Arabesque Review.
She was always known to bring in snacks and treats for her co-workers: Sugar cookies, candy bars and Now&Laters. Even though she wasn’t paid extra for her enthusiasm, her reward was the smiles of office mates as they enjoyed her goodies.
Barely a year on the job and she’s earned accolades from everyone along with numerous awards that amount to nothing more than condescending pats on the head. Kind of how a master praises his dog for entertaining his friends with tricks and being well behaved.
The things rewarded ranged from cubicle cleanliness to best personality to on-the-spot action.
Lela earned the latter that day she heard the loud, beeping sound of the fax machine and saw the blinking message indicating it was out of paper. But Lela’s swift action in ordering reams of blank sheets saved the day when her coworkers thought they were all but doomed.
“Good job!” A team manager told her.
“Keep this up. We just may have to give you a brand new name plate over your desk,” said another team manager as he glanced at her breasts and thighs. “You may even be promoted to Secretary. Way to take the initiative.”
He knew 10 months ago that she had the job when he interviewed her. He had introduced himself then as Clyde Holder.
Clyde usually took off his wedding band when he was interviewing women. That day, he wasn’t expecting to get caught up in the soft glow of Lela’s olive skin, her curly brown hair, and jell-o bosom.
The whole game of going through the interview process was so he could enjoy the eyeful. From that day on, he spent his nights lying beside his wife, dreaming of romping with Lela and sweating her curls straight.
Clyde knew then that he couldn’t go straight at her for what he wanted. No. If there was anything he’d learned from his years of office negotiations, it was to soften her up with shallow praises and phony certificates he had stacked in his drawer.
Another quality Lela’s coworkers noticed was that she was a voracious reader.
She was well-read on nearly every popular street lit novel from Hustla’s Anthem by Felon E. to I Ain’t Yo’ Father, Boy by Ms. D. Meaner to I’m ‘Bout to Slap You, Shawty by Juve Nile 10den-C.
She was reading the relationship self-help book, You Know Yo’ Man Cheating When…, co-authored Tiara Sprinkles and Mello Mike.
Their bios alone were drama. Tiara Sprinkles (birth name: “Tia Jenkins”) decided to keep her stripper name even after she was born again and co-pastored the mega church, Party of Saved, with her husband Bishop Mack McCloud, with a mission of reaching out to women at risk of straying from the love of the true man, Jesus Christ.
Mello Mike was a failed emcee, whose hype men jumped him on a video shoot after they found out they were being replaced by the GEBCO dancers.
He met Tiara during an altar call when she offered to pray for him after he blessed the basket with a large sum he’d retrieved from the church ATM.
You Know Yo’ Man Cheating… was a collection of anecdotal info from their own experiences and those of several other church members. When publishing companies refused to pick up the manuscript, they decided to self-publish and distribute it at several church seminars.
Almost half-way through You Know Yo’ Man Cheating…, Lela—who had attended one of the seminars weeks ago—moaned in affirmation at each of the passages she read at her desk.
“Hey yall. Listen to this one: ‘If a woman ask a man out, then she does not know if he’s interested in her.’
“Here’s another one: ‘If your man doesn’t want to have sex with you anymore, then he was never physically attracted to you.’ Mmph! Mello and T bringing it, yall.'”
Right across from Lela’s cubicle was Chris’s workspace.
He wasn’t in the mood for any nonsense that day. He tried ignoring her, but was pulled into the conversation when he was asked what he thought about the passages in the book.
“Are there footnotes or a page for sources that you can research on your own?” He told Lela without looking away from his computer screen. “Do they even have degrees?”
“Anybody can speak the truth,” she snapped. “You don’t need a degree to write a book like this.”
Lela flipped through and read a few more passages out loud.
“Keep that ghetto shit to yourself, then. I ain’t trying to hear you read off a checklist for sistas, who look for Mr. Right at every Happy Hour and Cabaret.”
Chris was getting ready to put his headsets on to drown out Lela with MF Doom’s Vaudeville Villain album.
“You can limit your chances of meeting these wack dudes by doing something out of the ordinary. Try going to a reading or an art exhibit.”
At 6′ 3″, he had a commanding presence when he entered the suite despite his position as clerical officer. His laidback demeanor was often mistaken for laziness and his cool temperament for being timid.
Why was he the only guy in that workspace? Chris wondered. He hated that Lela tried to make him a source for everything she wanted to know about guys.
He was only one man, who could only speak about what he liked and disliked. Chris couldn’t stand guys who tried to be a mouthpiece for every man.
That’s why he never liked Terrance Mason and his syndicated radio talk show. The guy’s divorced and he’s giving relationship advice, he thought.
He despised Terrance’s sold out plays: “Why Men Walk in the Dark” and “Disarming Shango.”
Chris had considered getting with Lela when she started working in the office, but quickly dismissed that idea. They were from two different eras despite the fact that she was a few years younger than him.
He was from an era where developing craft was the most important thing an emcee can do. Storytellers like Ghostface, MF Doom, Pharoahe Monch and others were legends that people of his era worshiped and saw as the torchbearers for true lyricism.
Lela was of the Laffy Taffy era. The era of the Chicken Noodle soup.
Great. Dances that sound like sides, he thought. What’s next? The Italian Wedding? The Cheese and Broccoli?