“Plantin’ Sucker follow de Root.”
— Antiguan Proverb
Nikki didn’t know how long the phone had been ringing before she heard it. With it, other sounds filtered in. The rusty refrigerator hummed and dripped in the corner. The dusty desk fan whirred; blowing warm, stale air at her. Foxy Brown’s “Big Bad Mama“ trumpeted, tinny, through her computer’s tiny speakers. The footsteps of one of the upstairs tenants provided the drum beat. The chorus was the cacophony of cars and chatter just outside the basement apartment of the ancient Harlem brownstone, one of the few not yet swept up in the gentrification wave.
This was work these days for Professor Winston Baltimore’s youngest daughter: Girl Friday in the office of a less than profitable non-profit organization, duties ranging from fund raising to tenant complaints. It would be reaching to call her basement abode an office; just her, the “classic” rotary phone, an ancient computer, a dented file cabinet, a square discoloration on the floor where a stove used to be, a fridge with suspect cooling abilities, and a faint but persistent smell. Some days, taking in the bleak scene, Nikki felt there just might be such a thing as taking rebellion too far. At some point, she had to grow up, right? Figure out where she fit? What she wanted? Problem was she didn’t have a clue. She didn’t lie to herself about that. If you’d delude yourself, you’d delude anyone. She’d heard a beauty pageant contestant say that once, along with her desire for world peace and the alleviation of poverty. Nikki had scoffed, but at least those perfectly coiffed, lip-sticked and sequinned girls had a compass and a clue. She felt as frozen as this building in which she was now sleep-walking through the latest in a parade of so-so-bottom-barrel-jobs.
Today, eyes locked on the computer screen, she felt frozen by indecision.
That was when the phone rang.