You Will be Saved

[creative nonfiction]

for Rose Williams

Close-cropped curly hair, pitted, blueberry skin—my first reaction was dread, with my incipient bias spluttering warnings: They are all violent. All a bit crazy. Stay away. We ignore each other—I huddled by the corner grading answer sheets while you ruled a coterie of veterans of shelters, prisons, rehabs, halfway houses. Bianca a juvie at twelve. Her girlfriend DeeDee who spent the days in class braiding her hair. Whose ex, Ariana, hissed at them in Spanish throughout the high school equivalency class.

I am taunted by the hour: “You speak funny. Whatcha doin here? Why don’t you go back where you belong? You Arab bitch! You think you better than us? Meet us outside… What, you chicken? What, you Buddhist or something?” I had dreamt of becoming the female version of Sidney Poitier in To Sir with Love. Now, I cringed and started searching for another job.

Till one day you surfaced showing a piece you wrote. “You really brainy, huh? Which grade did you study up to?” And then, “I write good?” Flashing a smile at my nods. The next time the class mimicked me, you stop them. “Let her be. She’s Bomb Diggity!”

I learn about your babies: “They my angels even though they got different baby daddies! Girl, I was bad. I sinned then.” About your dealing at Detroit. “Girl, I wish I had just had a taste of it once before the cops came!” This time though you claim, “It’s different. Jesus is here.” And, “Read the Bible with me! Jesus will save you!”

You predict a brilliant future for me. “Just watch, you will get a good man. And lotsa babies.” You leave outlining plans to try for your GED, and then college, and promise, “You are my dawg. I will write you.” You send one letter—bordered by brown stick-figures and red-pencil flowers. And I never hear from you again.

 

Jonaki Ray studied chemistry and computer science in India (IIT Kanpur) and the US (UIUC), and, after a brief stint as a software engineer, has returned to her first love, English. She is now a poet, writer, and editor based in India. Her poetry, essays, and short fiction have appeared in The Matador Review, So to Speak, Indian Literature, Sigh Press Literary Journal, Coldnoon, The Four Quarters Magazine, The Wire, The Times of India, and elsewhere. Her work is forthcoming in the American Journal of Poetry and For the Sonorous.

Honors for her work include first prize, EAL category, at the 2017 Oxford Brookes International Poetry Contest; longlisted at the 2016 Writers’ HQ International Fiction Contest; shortlisted, ESL category, at the 2016 Oxford Brookes International Poetry Contest; and longlisted for the 2016 RL Poetry Award. She was selected as a writer-in-residence at Joya: AiR, an inter-disciplinary residency program in Spain (Spring 2016); and La Macina di San Cresci, Italy (Summer 2017).