though half the pieces were missing,â Carlos said.
âAnd we were probably arguing about something,â Ruth said.
âLike whether âbeatnikâ is allowed in the game,â David said.
âWhich it was, just like I said. I looked it up later on.â
âI canât believe you did that. Okay, okay, you win.â
âWe were probably also wrangling about whoâd pay for the beers,â Carlos suggested. âIâm pretty sure it was your turn.â
âOr about how long it would take us to save the world,â Ruth said. She instinctively stepped forward to hug Carlos. He was so stiff she felt like she was hugging a coat rack.
Carlos and David shook hands energetically. âCome on in. Itâs muy bien that youâre here. Vivianâs so excited, sheâs been telling everyone we know. Talking even faster than usual.â
As they entered the apartment, Vivian emerged from the rear. âOhmygod David. Oh. My. God. I canât believe it. Itâs so incredible to see you again. Incredible. You look terrific, you havenât changed at all. Iâd know you anywhere. Oh, I canât believe it, here you two are, in my house. Iâm sosoSO happy to see you.â She hugged David warmly, standing on her toes, patting his back, breaking away from her hug to take a step back and look at him, then hugging him again.
She approached Ruth. âIt sure is lucky we were in the same place at the same time and both had to pee.â
Vivian showed them around the apartment. A floor-through on the bottom of the brownstone, a half-level below the street, it was dark, even at mid-day. As she led them into the living room, she turned on the lights.
Crammed among a couch covered with threadbare Indian-print fabric, two painted rattan armchairs, and pine desk was a hyperactivity of objects. Photos filled the walls, the bookshelves, the desk. Ruth and David walked around and watched Vivian and Carlosâs daughter, Ida, grow up in pictures. The proud parents silently observed their rapt attention. Ruth gave an occasional âAaahhh.â
There were also photos of Vivian and Carlos at work, she with her clients at the Brooklyn Shelter for Women, where she was a counselor, he at his desk as the Assistant Executive Director of the Prisonersâ Rights Foundation. Some photos showed them at political rallies and retreats where the causes and the clothing changed, but the energy remained constant.
When she saw the photo in the African print picture frame on the windowsill, Ruth brought her right hand to her chest as something between a sigh and a gasp escaped her mouth. There she was, twenty-five-year-old Ruth, in the hut she and Vivian had shared in Djembering, surrounded by crintin, Ada the refrigerator, the orange crate bookshelves, and a bunch of smiling children who would now be about thrty-five years old. She turned to look at Vivian, who was already looking at her. Vivianâs silence was more expressive than her words ever were.
Besides the photos, there was a traffic jam of African art on every wall and horizontal surface, as well as on the floor. There were wood sculptures and masks, some with metal trim, some with straw, some with cowrie shells. There was an assortment of fabric hangings, the black and white mud-painted Korhogo cloth from the Ivory Coast, the brightly-colored Abomey toiles with fabric appliquÃ©s of animals and traditional symbols, and the striped blue Malian weavings. All the art was African, even after all these years. Houseplants added to the frenzy, big ones on the floor, smaller ones competing with the photos for room on the desk and bookshelves, and hanging baskets. The small space was filled to bursting.
The clutter didnât bother Ruth as she would have expected. Nor did the water stains on the walls or the creaking and uneven planks in the ancient wooden floor. She knew this place was very different from her own orderly home
Tony Hawks, Prefers to remain anonymous