A scorching September Saturday in 1997. There’s rowdy cheering and laughter of children running and hopping around outside, and metal squeaking of the playground equipment filtering into a 3rd floor apartment window of an East Harlem tower.
“You are very pretty” Babs blurted in a high pitch “…you remind me of my younger self” she sheepishly chuckled.
She forced her golden-brown hands into a prim fold on her lap with her back upright in a stiff hold to mirror her caramel toned guest.
“I’ll take that as a compliment” Ella replied with an obligated smile and nod.
She refrained from an expression of disgust – that questioned Babs’ gray tooth revealing itself from the right side side of her smile. Instead, she openly glanced around the room. Her eyes lead her head in turns and lifts while examining her surroundings.
“How long have you lived here?” Ella asked.
“About 27 years now” Babs replied eagerly while nodding her head up and down, “Since right afta you was born.”
The conversation pauses into an ear aching silence.
The two women sit on opposing sides of the taupe walls filled with a broken in brown and black corduroy couch, square mahogany coffee table, and the two tufted Parson’s chairs that they are seated in. A nectarine toned haze spotlights a corner of the ceiling from a table lamp’s shade. The household vacuum seems to be missing in action based on the appearance of the rundown dusty carpet.
Boiling from the smothering heat, Ella uses her right-hand index finger and thumb to pinch a black coated elastic off her left wrist. After it has been removed, she lifts her hands to scoop her long Jet Black coarse curly hair into a high bun. It sits like a disheveled crown with random ringlets springing from her temples.
“The air conditioning should start cooling the room off soon,” Babs says in an adoring observation. “I always knew you was gon have a head full of long hair Ellie,” she smiles.
“It’s El-la,” Ella snaps with an exaggerated enunciation. “No one has called me that since I was a baby,” she glares back at Barb.
“I named you Ella after my mother,” Babs says tenderly. “My family called you ‘Ellie’ to tell between the two of yous.”
Ella stares emotionless at Babs.
“Baby Ellie!” Babs continues. “…that’s what your aunts, uncles and cousins would say when dey come ova to see you.”
Ella’s frown turns to a slight delighted grimace.
“…but you got a nice upbringing with your Irish father and…,” Babs pauses in deep thought. “I’m sure Valentina let you think you was a Dominican like her all these years. I couldn’t be a rich house wife like your father wanted, but I always wanted you in my life.”
Ella releases her tense shoulders with an audible outward breath.
“I’m sorry sweetie,” Babs softly responds. “I figured… you were here to learn ‘bout your past. Do you want to know where you came from? How you got dat scar on your left arm?”
She points towards Ella’s left side while holding gaze.
“My mother told me I was an active baby and didn’t sit still while she held me, and the doctor gave me my shot,” Ella explained knowingly.
“Yes, me, ya motha, took you to the doctah,” Babs corrected proudly. “Yo daddy would call me and ask ‘bout you… I told him dat story.”
Silence swarms into the room while the two women stare at each other. Their blinking eyes are the only movement in the slowly cooling off room.
“Your father,” Babs starts to break the silence “He ain’t want no stripper raising his baby…hell…he ain’t want no black stripper to be his baby’s mama,” she chuckles.
Ella continues to listen.
“It doesn’t matter to me that you’re here to request my help for your blood transfusion,” Babs stifles on a tear. “I gave you all I got in the beginning and I’ll give you all that I have in me to make sure you continue to live your life.”
“I am…just in a world of shock. Disbelief. I thought I knew myself…and where I came from – ALREADY,” Ella chokes on a sob and holds it in. A shallow well forms under each eye.
Babs makes a quick step across the room with both hands extended towards Ella.
“I never wanted you to find out this way,” Babs says while clutching Ella in her arms. “…but it feels so good to be holding you now”
“I thought…” Ella sobs “I thought…I just… don’t understand…to find out that the woman who raised me … she lied…she’s not my mother… I feel incomplete.”