How To Say No

Work long hours and travel frequently to keep a steady income for your mother and three younger sisters. Soon enough, the five of you will shrink to three. 

Let your skin darken from too much sun, and your hands grow callouses where they clutch the handlebars of your genuine imported Italian Vespa scooter; your one indulgence. Bury your nose in the newspaper and allow your mother’s complaints about your complexion to wash over you. Keep your nose buried when she asks when you’ll marry. 

 The author's uncle on his Vespa with one of his younger sisters

The author's uncle on his Vespa with one of his younger sisters

Store away the Nos you want to say. You’ll need them later.

Cultivate a fearsome moustache, at first for gravitas at work, and then to scare your nieces and nephews into good behaviour. Your moustache and the bulging of your eyes allow you the freedom to not raise your voice to them. 

Marriage in your forties will release the Nos.

Learn to drop your voice into a resonant baritone when you say No. Imbue the two syllables of the Malayalam word with all the resistance and rejection you’ve locked deep inside, all the Nos you’ve never said; vēnda.

Speak little, laugh often and heartily, and raise your voice only to say No. Vēn-DA.

When your wife, constantly moving, constantly talking to fill the silences you leave, insists you have a second helping at lunch, boom vēnda without looking up from your plate. Laugh unrestrainedly when your tiny grandnephews giggle at the scene. Pull them, still giggling, onto your lap and teach them to say vēnda too.

 The author's uncle with her children in 2006

The author's uncle with her children in 2006

 

 

author's note: Malayalam doesn't have a generalised word for No. Instead, it directly negates verbs. Vēnda means "doesn't/don't want".

- Asha Rajan

How to Make an Introduction

Pull your fat address book out of your overstuffed tote bag and browse the names, all of them, the old friends and the grandchildren and the people you’ve met at City Council and in elder hostels and in line at Publix. Consult your notes to find two people with something in common: a glass-paperweight collection, a love of Star Trek, children the same age. Get on the phone and invite them to your condo for lunch.

Put on your best summer pantsuit. Check your teeth for errant lipstick. Pop a Tic-Tac. Pull your shoulders back: posture is important. Roll out plastic runners to protect the carpet. Gather the piles of papers and photos and books that have accumulated on tables and in corners and put them in the bedroom, where no one is allowed to peek. Put fresh guest soaps on the bathroom sink.

Answer the door with a rush of joy and a 1930s-sorority-girl lilt in your voice. Invite your guests in. Find one unusual thing about each of them to compliment. Offer them iced tea. Tell them what they have in common. Regale each with stories about the other until their formality melts into laughter. 

Recall with a start that you have not made lunch. Open the oven. Realize that it’s full of stored photos, and that your toaster does not work. Offer to microwave some bread for everyone. 

While your guests nibble politely at their hot, soggy slices, call the Yacht Club for a lunch table. As you usher your guests out the door, stop them in a sunny spot in front of some palmettos for photos. Count down to the shutter: One, two, oops, just a second, one, two, three. 

A few months later, mail these to each guest, names and dates carefully noted on the back of each photo, with an apologetic note scrawled on the envelope: you’d addressed and stamped but then shifted them to the back bedroom and forgot to mail them. Your guests will understand.

 

- Sarah Grey is a writer and editor based in Fishtown. She writes about food, politics, society, and language. Her work has appeared in Best Food Writing 2015SaveurLucky PeachSerious Eats, BitchJacobin, and Edible Philly, and in several anthologies. She received the 2016 Robinson Prize for Excellence in Copy Editing from the American Copy Editors Society. Find her on Twitter at @greyediting and on Instagram at @FridayNightMeatballs.

50 Tickets, or How to Be a Good Citizen

Do your best. Encourage others. When young men ask you for money, offer them odd jobs. Some of them will grow up to look in on you and your wife when you are old. 

 The author's grandfather, Dr. Jack Brooks addresses an audience after a 1986 civil rights march via Fort Worth Star-Telegram Archives.

The author's grandfather, Dr. Jack Brooks addresses an audience after a 1986 civil rights march via Fort Worth Star-Telegram Archives.

Open a clinic with your brother and treat everyone, regardless of their ability to pay. When your patients need to be hospitalized, refuse to treat them in the hospital’s basement. Black patients deserve to be treated like everyone else. 

Tell your granddaughter she can be anything she wants. This is not the prevailing thinking in 1970, but you don't care about that. Equality is equality. 

Accept the nomination to be the first Black member of the Parks Commission. Insist that the sign identifying a deep red rose as “Niggerboy” be removed before your family walks past it when you are sworn in. Casual racism is still racism. 

Vote. Volunteer. Take your children with you. Teach them that not voting is never an option. Your daughter will remember this when George Wallace is on the ballot in 1980. Your granddaughter will remember when she votes with her 8-week-old son in 1996. Your great-grandson will rail against not voting in 2016.

The politicians need you. They will realize, on the morning of the Chamber of Commerce breakfast for President Kennedy, that there are no Black people in the audience. When they call to invite you and your wife, tell them that two tickets are not enough. Ask for 50. They need you. They will give you 50 tickets. 

They need you. Ask for your 50 tickets.

- Jacqueline Bryant Campbell