The Real Housewives of AfroerotiK

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Chapter 1: Nailah Overton

The buzzer from the dryer went off, signaling to Nailah that her final load of laundry was done. She made her way to the laundry room, picking up stray toys along the way that had been left by her little ones. Order and cleanliness were imperative in a household of five so it was a constant effort to keep things where they belonged. As she pulled each item from the dryer, she meticulously folded it to be put away immediately. Laundry was an almost daily chore in their household and she refused to let it get away from her so she stayed on top of it. She would have asked her husband for help, help that he normally would have offered without her even having to ask, but he was studying for his real estate license exam. He needed peace and quiet and with three children, all below the age of seven, that was no easy feat.

If ever there was a couple supportive of one another, it was Nailah and Roderick Overton. For the last few weeks, they had worked out a schedule. Nailah would pick up the kids from day care after work and then head to the park, miniature golf, anywhere she could to stay out of the house. Normally, when Roderick got off from his job, he would pick up the kids and at least have dinner started by the time Nailah got home at 6:00 if not on the table already. Now, the minute he walked in the door till the time his eyes closed, he was studying. With the children fed, bathed, teeth brushed, stories read, and safely tucked away in bed, it was Nailah’s time to pursue her passion.

Peeking in on her hubby, Nailah kissed him on the cheek, rubbed his shoulders for a few minutes, and made her way to her studio. Well, studio was really a stretch. Let’s just call it what it is. A garage. She had to share it with her car and Rod’s tools and bikes for the kids. But, Rod had done a great job of transforming his side of the garage into an artist’s dream, complete with lighting that mimicked real sunlight. He even parked his car a block away and walked the rest of the way home, even in the rain, to give her space.

Nailah was an artist, an amazing artist in fact. She worked in several mediums but painting was her favorite. She wanted nothing more than to quit her nine to five and paint all day, every day. Roderick wanted nothing more than for her to quit her job and paint all day as well in a huge loft with real sunlight. He loved his wife and he supported her dreams. He knew it was not a question of IF she would become a famous artist one day, it was just a matter of when her big break would come. If he had his way, his wife would do nothing but stay at home and raise the kids and paint to her heart’s content. Life rarely goes the way we want it to however.

Newly married, Rod and Nailah had dreams of becoming successful in their chosen careers. The reality of a very racist world came crashing down on them when Roderick got a job in California and they moved all the way across the country from their native South Carolina only to be devastated because the old boy network refused to admit a Black man into the inner circles. He was fired one day before his six month probation was up and he suffered a crushing blow to his self-esteem and mild depression for six months after that.

Nailah suffered from something different, something she referred to as slave mentality. She was self-aware enough to identify her blockages but she hadn’t yet been able to slay that particular dragon. Her issue was, as she defined it, this nagging, ever-present tiny, little voice in her head that told her that she wasn’t good enough, that she had to be perfect in order to be successful, that no matter how hard she worked, she would never amount to anything. It was like there was a heavy, weighted chain around her self-esteem that kept her from soaring like an eagle. African American artists were particularly susceptible to this particular ailment because all of Black society, and their second cousins and their neighbors too, make sure to negate the life of an artist and demean and degrade anyone who doesn’t want to pick corporate cotton and conform to the capitalist ideal for a living.

So, Roderick took the first job he could get because he wanted to have some form of money coming in, he wanted to provide something for the family even though with the job he took he was tragically underemployed. And even though she had just started to sell a few paintings here and there, Nailah took a job because she lacked the confidence and support system white artists tend to have to just rely on their art for survival. In the meantime, every two years, the babies kept coming until they were 8 years into a wonderful marriage and trapped in dead-end jobs they both hated.

Rod had always been a great people-person but working retail in a department store with the measly salary plus commission that they offered was not enough to save up to buy a house, save for college for three dangerously bright children, or even go on a much needed family vacation. Retail has a way of sucking you in: you become accustomed to the insane hours, the ridiculous bahis firmalar─▒ demands from rude customers, the exploitation from managers who expect miracles, and the look of disgust other employers give you when you go to apply for another job and they see your resume and your retail employment background.

It was particularly painful for Roderick because after he lost his dream job, he was too shattered to pursue a career in his chosen field for quite some time. Nailah identified it as his own brand of slave mentality. Roderick was, by most standards, a genius but he was so used to a society devaluing him as a Black man, he accepted the lane he was forced into and didn’t try to change. Nailah didn’t judge him for it, she didn’t ridicule or shame him for not bringing in a six figure salary. She understood that there were centuries of oppression that went into the creation of the unfair system that plagued them and the coping mechanisms Black people came up with to push down the pain.

With an uncanny ability to communicate with people, put them at ease, and to explain things in a way that made people not even realize that they were being sold something, there was little doubt that he was the best at what he did: sell very rich customers overpriced clothing that they didn’t need. One day, Roderick was helping a customer and he ended up selling him three suits, a leather coat, several pairs of shoes, and an Italian silk tie when all he came in for was a tie. He was a producer for HGTV and he said, “Man, you could sell ice to an Eskimo.” It was not a compliment Rod was unaccustomed to hearing in his line of work, he was always the top salesperson. “With your personality and charm, and your looks, man, you could be selling million dollar homes,” and that planted the seed that led him into pursuing a new career path.

He told his wife about the exchange and she was more than supportive. All she wanted was for her husband to be happy and fulfilled and she thought the hours and the commissions would be infinitely better than working in retail, even if it was one of the most expensive retail stores in the city. Besides, Nailah wanted a house of their own one day and she knew that if Rod was able to apply his skills in a career in real estate that would not only give them a nice nest egg but also a leg up over the average buyer.

While lovely, the house they were living in was not theirs to own and they were quickly outgrowing it with each child getting older. They were renting from a lovely, older couple, the Fishers, whom they had loved like adopted parents. Nailah had worked with Mrs. Fisher at her job with the Social Security, doing little more than creating volumes of red tape and pushing papers around in a daily, monotonous grind. When Mrs. Fisher announced that she couldn’t take one more minute and she was going to take early retirement and that she and her husband were looking to rent out their house to move to Michigan to be closer to their grandchildren in Lansing, she was overjoyed when Rod and Nailah indicated that they were interested. They had been to their home dozens of times for cookouts and gatherings; their children were the same age as their own grandchildren.

The Fishers loved the children like they were their own grandchildren in fact, going to every birthday party and bringing food and baby clothes after the birth of each little one. Both Nailah and Roderick’s parents lived 3000 miles away so they gravitated to the Fishers immediately. In fact, when Mr. Fisher was in the hospital with a heart attack, Rod came by every day, either before work or after work, just to check on him, even though it was Nailah and Mrs. Fisher who were the foundation of the friendship. The Fishers loved Rod and Nailah like they were their own children and they wanted them to have a big house, a yard for the children to run and play, and pay just enough rent to pay off the final two years they had on their mortgage and not a penny more. It was a win/win for both families.

The story of how the couple met, a truly great love story, a love story for the ages, was crafted by the hand of fate. The day that Roderick walked into the Student Center of his university and saw a display of artwork from some of the students in the Fine Arts program, events and circumstances shifted his reality and put him on a course that would alter his life forever. He stopped and stared. There was a painting that not only caught his attention but that made him FEEL its essence. It was a painting of an older Black woman, in her 50s or maybe even older, scrubbing the floor for a white woman. The white woman was in the background and she was yelling and screaming and berating her maid with a pointed, boney finger. The face of the Black woman was pronounced, front and center in the painting, everything else slightly blurred around her. Her eyes were piercing and aching, the expression on her face, the emotion in the lines around her mouth and the weary expression she conveyed told the story of her pain without words.

It was as if he was transported back in time ka├žak iddaa in the image, that he could hear the white woman, distorted and grotesque, making unreasonable, racist demands and being oblivious to her help’s pain, not even seeing her as a human being. The painting made him hate that white woman, her condescension.

He hated her husband, too, who would demand sexual favors or withhold her paycheck and he wasn’t even in the painting. He hated their snotty-nosed, spoiled children who weren’t depicted either but somehow he just knew that they had loved and adored this Black woman until such time as they had been told that Blacks were inferior, then they would taunt, tease, and humiliate her as only children of privilege could do. He could read the entire story with just that one image. Rod couldn’t believe anyone could get such detail, such pure, unadulterated emotion on a 3′ x 4′ canvas. He could barely draw a stick figure himself and what he knew about art could fit in a paper cup, the tiny kind you use in the bathroom, but he knew that the person who had created that painting was talented with a capital T and they were going to be famous.

He took a card from the stand where the artist had left them, slid it into his wallet, and he made a note to himself that one day, he would own one of their original paintings and he was sure it was going to be worth a lot of money. Talent like that was rare and while he couldn’t afford it being a broke grad school student, he knew that one day, he would invest in one of the great works of this amazing artist.

When Nailah’s roommate insisted that she stop working on her latest sculpture and go to the step show that fateful Friday night, nothing could have been more unappealing to her. “Fraternities are full of crass, egotistical, overtly sexist male chauvinist pigs,” she responded. “Ughhh! No thanks!” She wouldn’t lower herself to even think about going to something so steeped in male bravado and arrogance. Nailah was an artist and she didn’t find men who needed to conform attractive, like the guys who joined fraternities in order to call someone they weren’t even related to, “brother.” She was only attracted to men who would buck the system, rebels with a cause, men who were content to go against the norm, not conform to it. Her roommate bugged her, pestered her, and outright whined to the point of Nailah breaking down and agreeing to go. “OK, only for an hour, not a minute longer. I have to get back to work while I’m feeling the inspiration.”

“Gee, Atomic Dog! How original,” Nailah mumbled under her breath as they walked in to the huge event space and Cynthia, her roommate, immediately buzzed around the gymnasium like a social butterfly pollinating friendships, a minute here, 30 seconds there, greeting everyone like it had been years since they had seen each other when in actuality it has only been a day or two at the most, and in some cases only a few hours. Nailah found a seat and tried to make the best of the rest of the 59 minutes she had committed to being there. The steppers were precise and there was something artistic about the way they moved together in unison and it was fun to watch as much as she didn’t want to admit it. The Kappas were next and as they took their place on the floor, Nailah caught the gaze of one particular gentlemen. The two stared at each other across the room, like in the movies when two lovers meet for the first time and everyone else sort of disappears in a blurry, hazy special effect.

Nailah watched him intently, to see if he made a mistake, to see if he was significantly better or worse than the others. Nothing about his movements made him stand out, he was in step with all his brothers, nothing spectacular about him. That is, other than the fact that she couldn’t keep her eyes off him. His crisp, white shirt and red bow tie against his caramel brown skin looked like a study in shades, hues, and tones. She wanted to paint him in vivid technicolor and draw out some individuality in him, both literally and figuratively. When they were finished, they left the floor and the lighting technicians changed the lights to black and gold, signaling to everyone who would be performing next. Nailah looked around to see if she could find the man who held her gaze so captive but she just assumed he had a girlfriend, or three or four steady fuck buddies because that was the modus operandi of guys in fraternities on historically black college campuses. Disgusted with herself for even being attracted to such a man, she found Cynthia and told her she was heading back to the room early and she would see her in the morning if she got in too late.

As luck would have it, Roderick saw Nailah the very next day in the cafeteria and approached her. “Hey, uhmmmm, hi. I’m Rod. Didn’t I see you last night at the step show?” He placed his tray down and only had one leg under the table before she responded.

“I’m not sure how I’m supposed to know who you saw last night. There were hundreds of people there. I was at the step show last night if that’s what you’re trying to ask, ka├žak bahis one of many in fact.” She was being aloof and distant intentionally, not ready to let him know that her heart had skipped a beat when he sat his tray down across from hers.

Rod’s ego was bruised and he picked up his tray and apologized for intruding. He excused himself and Nailah watched as he went to another table where his fraternity brothers were surrounded by women who were more than happy to sing their praises about how well they had done the previous night. Nailah was mad at herself in that moment because she had felt that tingle, that sensation you get when you meet someone and you just KNOW in your heart that there is chemistry between the two of you. She contemplated her regrets for a few minutes and then summarily dismissed them, remembering that guys in fraternities, in her mind, were only slightly more evolved than knuckle-dragging primates.

Nailah put him out of her mind completely and went back to working on her final projects. It wouldn’t be until the following semester that their paths would cross again. She was taking a required math class and failing miserably. If there is any truth to the theory that artists are right brained people who don’t do well with numbers and math, Nailah was X, searching in vain for Y, why, why in the world did she have to learn this crap anyway? Anything beyond basic addition and subtraction went over her head. She needed a tutor just to fail the class with dignity. She was hoping and praying for a D; the same woman who was adored and praised as an artistic genius by every professor she had. When she walked in the library at the appointed time to meet the person who was going to help her make sense out of basic algebra, her heart dropped.

“Oh, hi,” she stuttered nervously, “You’re . . . you’re the guy . . . we met . . . well we didn’t really meet at the step show but . . . Hey, how are you? I’m really sorry about . . . you know.”

Roderick spoke up, cutting her off. “Listen, if you want another tutor, I can call the office and tell them you need someone else. That’s fine with me.”

Nailah felt an inch big. She apologized profusely and begged his forgiveness and asked if they could put it in the past and move on. And they did. Roderick was a math whiz, he could solve complex theorems in his sleep. He had taken Algebra in the 9th grade. This was child’s play for him. He methodically, patiently helped Nailah figure out her problems where it even got to the point where she was thinking that she might actually be able to pass the class. For months, twice a week, they met for an hour.

Rod’s feelings had been hurt so he didn’t even dare say a word that would indicate that he was attracted to her. He wasn’t anymore. She was attractive, for sure, and he would have been attracted to her if she hadn’t bruised his fragile ego so completely last semester. They didn’t talk about anything other than Algebra. He didn’t inquire about her personal life, he didn’t want to chat about what happened in her life since their last meeting, he didn’t even inquire about her major. His only objective was to open up her world to the joy of math.

In the week before her finals, Nailah was a wreck. Even though she knew the material and had raised her grade point average for the class up, all because of Roderick’s guidance and tutelage, she was terrified she was going to forget everything on the day of the final exam. On their last scheduled appointment for the semester, she was beside herself with fear. She couldn’t concentrate on anything; she was just afraid she was going to freeze on the final and have to take the class all over again. He dreaded that thought, she would have rather eaten her own eyeball than take that class again, but she secretly wouldn’t have minded having Rod as her tutor again.

All of her hard work paid off because Nailah got an 85 on her final, higher than she had ever imagined she would get. She got a C- in the class, however, because her grade point was a 17 before she sought out the help of a tutor. She was so proud of herself, of her accomplishment, that she asked around campus to find out what dorm Roderick lived in and knocked on his door, unannounced.

“Which one of your star pupils got an 85 on her final,” she queried. Before giving him a chance to ask what she was doing at his door or how she found out where he lived, she did a little dance and said, “That’s right! Me! What’s my name? Say my name?” She had never been this playful and open before and Roderick melted.

“Come on in,” he invited her, not sure what else to do. He had tiny, grad school quarters which were the same, exact size as undergrads but you didn’t have to share it with a roommate and they had a kitchenette tucked into what was the second closet. Nailah noticed that it looked the like living space for a mathematician. There was no color, no art, nothing out of place. Everything was sterile and antiseptic. She stood, not wanting to get too comfortable because she was painfully aware she hadn’t been invited. As she took in everything, she noticed something on his cork bulletin board over his desk. Pinned neatly to the board, there, among multiple magazine pictures of expensive cars was a small business card she recognized as her own.

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