It was 4:30 pm on a Friday afternoon. Taylor sat tucked into herself on the windowsill of her grandmother’s sitting-room window. She held her favorite toy close to her heart - Paisley; her stuffed unicorn. Nana Meena’s place is the only place where she could fall asleep.
Her youngest brother had been born on a stormy night two weeks ago. Many say that’s why the baby wails and cries on and on like he does - so full of pain and angst - a storm within a storm.
Taylor knows it’s because her daddy beat her mama black & blue most days while she had been pregnant with Tobias.
He’d come home full of drink - defeated by his boss - scrutinized by his teammates. Who else could he take the days’ aches and pains out on? Who else was there other than the children? And he wouldn’t hit the children.
Her mama’d been strong enough to send her two eldest babies to their grandmother’s place - her mother, Ameena.
Taylor and Tiana never talked back. They did exactly as they were told. Whatever their daddy demanded, so shall it be. They listened to his wolf-like voice booming throughout their home, attentive to his words. They shuddered in fear of a man who gave them his eyes as their mama managed home, meals, love, and everything else he ignored.
“The two of you will stay with Nana Meena. Terrance and Tobias will remain here with me and Daddy. Be on your best behavior. I’ll pick you up every weekend until things settle down here. Okay?”
In all her six years, Taylor had never heard her mama’s voice sound like it was kissing a train’s tracks. She’d screeched and halted and started up again, and Taylor said only, “Okay, Mama.” Tiana looked on, unfazed and unbothered. She was 4 years old, going on 22.
Taylor gently saddled Paisley into her protective arms. She looked over to her right as her mama strapped Tiana down in her car seat. Her Aunt Coral watched the boys.
The first day of their “temporary stay” at Nana Meena’s was short and uneventful.
Nana Meena expected perfection, but she was no disciplinarian. She didn’t have to be. The look on her face and the sound of her voice equally displayed the seriousness of her demeanor. No one disobeyed her - no one.
“Homework is to be complete directly after school hours. Dinner is always at 5:30 pm, sharp. I will grant 1 hour of television after dinner. Then, you bathe and are in bed by 8:00 pm every night. Anyone got anything to say about this?”
The rolling of Nana Meena’s tongue and her slanted eyes drew the attention of both girls. They had nothing to say. They did as they were told.
Taylor knew she had been different from almost every student in her 1st-Grade class. Her hair had been thick and coiled. Eyes a chestnut brown. Her lips were two full cherry blossoms, and the sun settled just right on them. She was a little Black girl surrounded by others who othered her because everywhere she went, Paisley followed.
“When you gonna leave that thing at home, Tayla?” Harper was a little red-headed boy with freckles covering every inch of his pale face. He wore button-down long-sleeved shirts and khakis, even in the summer months. Taylor couldn’t stand him, but he’d never know it.
“It’s Tay-lor, Harper. Not ‘Tayla.’ I say your name the way you say it. Say mine the way it’s meant to be said.”
“Whateva. Why you gotta bring that stinkin’ unicorn everywhere?!” Taylor shook her head and ignored Harper. The last thing she needed was a demerit hanging over her head for talking during “silent reading” time.
The bell rang thirty minutes after their exchange, and Taylor raced outside, with Paisley in tow, to greet Nana Meena.
“Taylor, you’re 6 now. Maybe it’s time to leave Paisley at home.” The words escaping Nana Meena’s mouth did not sit well in Taylor’s ears. Paisley was a comfort to her. She needed her unicorn - it was more than a want.
She didn’t want to defy Nana Meena, but she couldn’t stomach obeying her - not for this request. “Paisley keeps me safe, Nana. I am not afraid when she’s with me.” Nana Meena looked at her with a knowing showered across her face and said nothing.
That was the end of the discussion.
For little Black girls who watch their mamas get beaten by a daddy with a belly full of drink, Paisley had been a lifesaver. Taylor had a protector, a friend, an unreal, inanimate object who loved her unconditionally. The only other thing who mattered this much to her had been Mama. And well … she couldn’t hold, embrace, or protect Mama anymore.