Chapter 13. Write a Novel Challenge.
Surrounded by what should have been an unbearably blinding light, Neina felt a surge of strength as if her whole mind had been lit up. Her dark shadows, fears and subconscious demons had no place to hide.
Isla, the epitome of the ‘American Dream’ and the American image. Fair, young, ambitious, beautiful.
Neina’s mind was racing and raging at the same time, with a tsunami of mixed emotions and utter confusion battering against the confines of her skull. One thing was clear though, she was not going to be defeated. Ascertaining what it was she was defeating was the more pressing issue at hand. Go back to the beginning. Retrace your steps. Find what you have lost. Neina’s beautiful and complex mind spurred into action. An assassin; a mythical world full of riddles and misrepresentation; the constant and imminent threat of death. Death of what?
All of this had begun with her fear of not being perfect. Fear of sharing her career with a new and vibrant college graduate. Fear of losing the position she had worked so tirelessly to secure. Fear of not being good enough. But how did this relate to her mother? Who was Isla? What was Isla? If she had killed her mother, that would make her middle-aged at least by now. It was simply not possible for her to be the fresh-faced, doe-eyed porcelain star that had so unceremoniously catapulted into Neina’s world.
Images of her mother flashed through her mind, like scrolling through the photo albums on her mobile phone. Quickly and impassively at first, but then she landed on one image that caused her to pause and made her feel as if she had travelled back to that very moment. The sweet-scented perfume consumed Neina’s senses, as if her mother were so close that she could reach out and hug her. There was undoubtedly an elegance there in the way she carried herself, but it was a learnt elegance. Slender, stylish. Manicured in the latter stages of Neina’s memory of her. The lasting image which Neina kept being drawn to was her mother’s many battles with what she described as her ‘unruly hair’. Neina could remember the vast array of hair products her mother had: Hair oil, frizz control, keratin. A vision of straighteners and hot brushes, strewn across her mother’s dresser, lingered in Neina’s mind. Neina drew a small sentimental smile at this connection she had shared with her mother. She had inherited her mother’s hair and had learnt from a very early age to keep it under control, straight and ordered. She had never really thought to question why. She couldn’t seem to shake this question now though.
Her mother had been unquestionably beautiful. The desired heart-shaped face, almond-shaped eyes and perfectly symmetrical features. Her skin was smooth and blemish-free, with a shade of ebony that radiated through a crowded room. Neina was said to resemble her mother but was of the slightly lighter tone of her father with eyes that were sharper and deeper. Eyes that glistened with knowledge and moved with a relentless curiosity about them. Neina knew she stood out. She knew that her looks were noticed, but she was also acutely aware that her looks would never be enough. In a perfect and equitable world this would be quite rightly the case, but Neina did not live in this utopia. Her disadvantage was as concealed as Isla’s aesthetic advantage was camouflaged. She was an intelligent, well-educated and ambitious individual. Neina had always strived to be the best at whatever she did. During her school days, she had put in the hours, hadn’t gone to parties or allowed the usual teenage distractions to deter her from her academic focus. She had worked twice as hard as her counter-parts to graduate as valedictorian and hadn’t been well-liked as a result.
However, no matter how hard she worked and how brilliant she was, she also knew that she could never assume anything. Never be complacent. Never expect fairness or justice.
Work hard and always be ready to answer questions, defend your position, know when to push and when to hold back.
This conversation was had at the tender age of five. The conversation that occurred in every African-American household. The content of which Neina had always tried to deny, push aside, ignore, but no matter how hard she tried or how hard she worked, she could not shake this from her being. As with her mother, she had pushed herself into a world that was not hers by history or culture. This was her demon. This was her nemesis. It was this that killed any hope of self-gratification and self-appreciation that she may have otherwise held. It was this that was her assassin! She was her own misrepresentation and a product of a world that had allowed this. No more! Her mother had longed for milky-white hands and sky-blue eyes, but this vision was as forged as the world Neina was experiencing.
Now more than ever before, she understood what all of these bizarre and strange occurrences meant. She had to embrace with full glory who she was, what she was and what this meant. Of course, Challenge 2: recognise this illusion. Challenge 3: recognise myself. A familiar melody echoed through her ears,
‘Black is beautiful, black is exceptional, black is powerful, black is me’
Finally tears of joy fell from her eyes as the feeling of gratification cascaded through every vessel of her being. This was Isla, a killer, an assassin of the soul. But only if she chose to die. Neina chose life. She had chosen to break this cycle of subjugation that haunted the many before her. To see all that stands before her, acknowledge it but change it. Never accept.
The sound of a scream and the crack of a rifle, followed by muffled voices, resounded from her television set on the opposite side of her bedroom. The news reporter was gesticulating wildly with news of rioting and looting. It was happening. Change was coming and it was time for her to take control. Yes, she was coming for Isla, but her revenge was in the damage she had inflicted upon herself. She hurried up out of the sweat-filled bed, dazed and confused, yet with a clarity she had never possessed thus far. Everything now made sense. In a frenzy of excitement, she threw on her clothes, tossed her jacket over her shoulder and hurried out of her house, slamming the door behind her.
For the first time she could remember, her coarse, spiralled curls hung freely down her back.
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To read Chapter 11, click here.
To read Chapter 12, click here.
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