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  • Writer's pictureGeorgie Davis

Brown Girl in the Ring

Gone were the days of marching through the sweltering heat or heavy downpours to catch a taxi or win sympathy from some kind soul offering us a lift. Our 1970's white exterior VW Combi was now providing dependable transportation for our growing family. The interior wooden benches and cushions were custom-made in dark browns and quickly transformed into a sleeper camper.

The two rows of the behemoth back seats could double stack children, so on Sundays, we loaded the bus with kids from the Bassa community. When we arrived at Calvary Baptist Church on Tubman Boulevard for weekly church services, more than eighteen of us spilled out of the open side door.

One Sunday morning, in the cramped bus, my temper was still high from a wrangle I had with a girl who attended our church. I dreaded facing her in Sunday School—I could feel the sweat trickling down my spine, and my head pounded.

The Friday before, on my birthday, Mommy let me invite a few girls over for a sleepover. We talked, laughed, ate cake, and played 'Brown Girl in the Ring,'—an outdoor singing-dance game. With each "Tra la la la la," one of the girls, Grace Yhap, strutted in and out of the circle in playful poses, flinging her sleek dark ponytail from shoulder to shoulder.

I had been disgusted with the sight of her from the moment she arrived at the party.

She bragged about her looks, and my voice rose to a piercing shriek as I spat out venomous words in response. She cringed, her face stricken with shock and humiliation, but I did not relent. By Saturday morning, she went home with red, swollen eyes.

Grace Yhap had a Liberian mother and a Lebanese father. Her mother had recently passed away. The year had been difficult for her and her sibling while their dad tried to keep their spirits high. But none of this concerned me. I envied her—for her beauty, more specifically, for the color of her skin.

At eight years old, I became increasingly aware of the contrast between my skin tone and everyone surrounding me. I looked at my sisters, Rosy and Becky, with their cocoa-colored completions. They were Liberian, through and through. Bertie and I talked about what it would be like to be Black. Though being White afforded us many privileges, we didn’t like being different.

Then I met Grace.

Her complexion, light honey with bronze and caramel hues, reminded me of butterscotch candy. Her chestnut eyes sparkled like amber, making my blue irises seem pale in comparison. I decided at that moment she had just the right amount of coloring. If I couldn’t be Black, then maybe I could be Brown. Grace Yhap's kind-of-Brown.

The image of Grace’s beauty burned like fire in my mind, though I knew deep down, I was stuck with my Ivory-ness. While we jolted up and down through the pothole-filled streets, my hands clenched into fists on my lap. My cheeks burned. My new brother, Moses, sat beside me with his eyes focused on the open Bible in his lap. He gave me a knowing glance every time I mentioned Grace's name.

"Why you vexed with this girl, Grace?" He asked.

I raised my index finger and spoke in my Liberian twang, "She tink she fine past me."

"But you yourself fine, Georgie. Ain't you got long hair too? Why you vexed with her?"

"Mmmm. Her big mouth won't shut up about her fine self. She Yaps. Yaps. Yaps.—just like her last name."

Moses flipped through the thin pages he held and read aloud the words he thought were meant for me. Even after all these years, I remember the verse. "Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord. I will repay." He lifted his head and continued. "Whatever she did to you, don't worry about it. Leave it with God."

I locked my teeth in place, seething with fury and shame. On the one hand, I wished God would peel off Grace's brown skin so she'd be snowy like me, while the other side of me grew sick with regret. The jealous rage festered like a hardened coconut rolling around in my stomach. But I also ached from the guilt swelling within.

This sinful nature—the one Daddy said we were all born with had revealed itself in the ugliest possible way. This was the first time I recognized my dark side and felt remorseful in my eight years of living. Its grip on me seemed so strong. Part of me wanted to accept its shackles, while another part wanted desperately to escape them and be free.

See more excerpts of my WIP HERE 

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