Section I: Chapter 9

Tulsi stopped moving, even though the doctor told her she could go closer. Tulsi remained quiet, with her hands folded.

Maybe this wasn’t the right time.

            Naima stood at the door, as the doctor tried to guide Tulsi toward the bed where Subhash lay.

Finally, Naima grabbed Tulsi’s hand and escorted her away. At the car, Tulsi began asking questions.

“Is Daddy sick?”

“He’s hurt.”

Naima drove onto the local roads, hoping to avoid rush hour.

Tulsi balled her hands into tiny fists, and tears also streamed down her face.

“Why can’t we stay at the hospital?” Tulsi said.

Naima swallowed.

“When will he wake up?”

I don’t know.

            “Soon,” Naima answered.

“How soon?”

I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.

            “Have you thought about which books you want?” Naima replied as they parked by the library.

Tulsi, however, continued to cry, and Naima held her and waited.

 

. . .

 

Since Devika and her family were visiting the Golden Temple to as she explained “re-center themselves”, Naima took Tulsi to work.

Naima applied the finishing touches on a few articles slated for the upcoming week, mostly on cultural events and crime. She let Tulsi play games on her Smartphone.

By the afternoon, the lines were busy with calls from disgruntled readers complaining about missed deliveries or others who were upset that their local church meeting or book club hadn’t been mentioned in the paper.

Naima was juggling writing and answering customers until Tulsi also received an unidentified number.

“Baby, wait,” Naima warned, but Tulsi was convinced it was Doctor Perez and accepted the call. In seconds, she dropped the Smartphone on the floor and covered her ears.

Naima dusted it off quickly.

“Hello?”

“Your antics won’t save you.” It was a man’s voice.

“Who is this? How did you get this number?”

“Are you that bitch who’s been helping those protestors?”

Naima explained that he needed to call the official newspaper phone number, but was interrupted.

“It’s people like you who are dragging this country into the pit of hell!” he yelled.

Tulsi still had her hands over her ears.

Remember to remain calm. Smile. Nod.        

            “Sir, if you want to a file a complaint…”

“Yea, I’ll file a complaint! I want all the niggers to get the fuck out of my city!”

Naima hung up and blocked the number.

She asked Tulsi if she was okay, and Tulsi slowly lowered her arms and replied, “He was mean.”

He’s just the tip of the iceberg.

“Our city is ruined,” an elderly woman exclaimed, “We had safe neighborhoods before all of them started taking over. We need the developers!”

Naima pretended to write down the caller’s name. Tulsi remained in the corner, reading her books.

It’s okay. If I can finish on time, we can go to the waterfront and you can feed the birds. You can feel the breeze.  

 

. . .

 

 

            “We can’t do it alone.”

“What about the churches? They’ll support us.”

“They’ll try and control us.”

“Not true. My pastor was part of the anti-apartheid movement.”

“Am I supposed to congratulate him for doing something obvious?”

“Let’s not forget the temples and mosques.”

“I already met with my Hindu priest last weekend. He’s not sure yet of what we’re doing.”

“It’s simple…we want affordable housing…”

“He knows. He just thinks we’re too radical.”

“People are literally being pushed out of their homes. We can’t be complacent.”

“But we’re a small group. Right now, we need to increase our size.”

“Exactly. On some of our flyers, we sound too confrontational.”

“It still depends on who we’re trying to connect with. We should join sides with the Alliance of Fast Food Workers.”

“Who?”

“They’re the ones striking at that burger place in Journal Square.”

“Definitely that’s a possibility. I don’t think we should do that now though. We have to recruit bigger players.”

“What we need is enthusiasm. And they share our values and they’re local.”

“Aligning ourselves with groups that aren’t established will do more harm than good.”

This is going nowhere.

            “I don’t want to exclude the people who need a voice.”

“Think about everyone we could be alienating.”

They don’t have a clue what they’re getting into.

            Naima jotted notes, trying not to interfere with the meeting that took place in Rhona’s apartment. Everyone seated at the dining room table were women living on Rhona’s floor, and also, Alicia, who was trying to steer the conversation.

Tulsi was next to Rhona, and at times, would ask about what colors they’d use for posters or if they’d thought of holding bake sales to raise money. The other women humored her. However, at one point, Tulsi asked, “What about the waterfront?”

Another group member carefully asked why they should go there, since it was mostly a place for tourists.

Tulsi realized everyone was listening.

“Go ahead, honey,” Rhona said, and Tulsi explained that once in a while, locals would hold major events at the waterfront, such as the annual Diwali celebration.

The other women traded glances. Tulsi giggled as Rhona told everyone how “brainy” she was.

An hour later, however, and the room was quiet and people were checking their phones.

I’ll lead with the quote from Alicia, and then follow that up with the scene of the women initially not knowing each other when they entered the apartment. “Once strangers, now friends” as a possible line in the intro. Make it less corny.  

“Let’s not leave without agreeing to something constructive,” Alicia said.

“We need to do an actual protest,” Rhona replied.

The women agreed, especially as Rhona explained their need to do something that could attract attention.

“Hey, didn’t you find out where that developer lived?” Rhona suddenly asked.

Shit.

            Naima answered it was difficult to remember.

“Wasn’t it in your article?” Rhona said, “I’m sure we can Google his name and find it.”

“Yes, but…”

“What’s the problem? Do you think he moved away?” Rhona asked.

Naima bided her time by casually packing her notepad and pens. She even slowly got up. She realized that Tulsi was still sitting.

I’m trying to understand you. I’m trying my best.

            “I’ll find it in my notes,” Naima said, and they cheered and thanked her, including Tulsi, who reacted in the same way as everyone else.

“Gather every single person you can,” Naima told them, “Otherwise, nothing will get done.”

 

. . .

 

           

Wait, have I updated our Costco membership? Can I do that over the phone? That wouldn’t make sense. My head is pounding. Why? I thought I got enough sleep last night. I don’t want to be here. This place is always so quiet…not even our neighborhood is like this. I’m guessing everyone is at Park Avenue, eating gold covered cupcakes. Note to self: call EZ Pass and let them know their stupid tracking is messing up. Why would I go to Atlantic City? As if I have time and money to waste. Actually, it would be good to one day drive all over New Jersey. I haven’t done that in ages. Funny how all of it feels like one massive sprawling city. The south is of course rural, and central more suburban and diverse, while the north remains the most fascinating since it has the major urban centers and people are packed onto every block. Tulsi should learn that we’re more than Bruce Springsteen and his corny ass.

            A caravan of vans pulled up. Naima watched Rhona and the other women hold up signs and gather. They chanted until the tall man himself appeared on his front steps, his hands in his pockets. Soon, security emerged from across the street and confronted them.

Tulsi, who was sleeping, stirred. The men pushed the protestors, knocking some to the ground.

Naima snapped pictures and turned on the car. Suddenly, there was screaming and Tulsi bolted awake.

“What’s going on? Where’s Rhona?”

“Keep your head down.”

Naima picked up speed, finding the nearest entrance to the turnpike. Tulsi turned around, and Naima boomed, “Keep your head down!”

Tulsi obeyed, but glared.

At home, Naima slammed the front door and grabbed Tulsi by the shoulders.

“When I tell you to do something, you do it!” she yelled, even as Tulsi kept glaring at the floor.

Naima was on her knees and trying to make eye contact.

“I want Daddy.”

“Just listen to me.”

“I want Daddy! I want Daddy! I want Daddy!”

“Listen! Please!”

“You’re mean!”

“I was scared!” Naima exclaimed.

Tulsi fell silent.

Naima exhaled and let go.

“I will find out what happened,” she said.

“Will Rhona be okay?” Tulsi murmured.

“She should be,” Naima replied, “She knows what she’s doing.”

Naima instructed Tulsi to go and change, and once Tulsi shut her bedroom door, Naima charged her phone and began typing on her laptop. The lampposts flickered on and she glanced at her phone every few minutes.

 

            . . .

 

The article was published early Monday morning and shared over Twitter. Those who commented were supporters and local residents. A few criticized Naima and blamed her for “wanting more projects into the neighborhood.” She blocked the ones harassing her and explained through an email to the editor that a close source had tipped her off about the rally.

That same evening, as Tulsi was falling asleep at a co-worker’s desk, Naima answered a call from someone who knew Alicia.

“I’m very excited to see someone who cares enough to let the whole world know what’s really going on,” said the young woman, whose name was Angela and a student from Rutgers.

Naima expressed gratitude, although quickly clarifying that the paper only reported on stories within Hudson County.

“Oh…” the young woman responded, sounding deflated.

“Did you want me to write something?” Naima asked.

“I’m the president of the Black Students Union and we’re pushing for a new African American center on-campus.”

“Hmm. Again, we won’t be able to cover it since that’s central New Jersey. Have you contacted the local papers?”

“None of them have returned our calls. Plus, we don’t trust them…”

Naima sighed. “If you know someone in your group who lives in Hudson County, maybe then I can make your cause a more local one for the readers,” she explained.

“We do have someone from Kearny! She’s our communications expert too!”

Naima calmly told Angela to email her the person’s contact info and their schedule for upcoming events.

Angela kept thanking her until Naima hung up.

This is going to be difficult to sell. Then again, at least people are paying attention to my work.

            Tulsi yawned.

She’s going to hate it when I wake her up. Maybe she’ll like Jamaican food. Too bad that one place in E.B. shut down. Frank’s should be perfect for now. But I’m bored of pizza. Wow. Who gets bored of pizza? I don’t want anywhere too crowded or places where they have those celebrity pictures all over the wall. It’s always a Soprano character or Bruce Springsteen at a concert, probably singing about “mean streets” and folks named Jimmy and Sally. Any proper New Jerseyan hates Springsteen.

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