For November, we are featuring a short story about a girl at an important moment in her journey to womanhood. Despite early missteps and fumbles, Omega tries to navigate this new terrain with grace. Happy reading!
“Omega, Omega, Omega! Wake up!” Mama yells. She shakes my arm, and I groan. I roll over into my pillows. Whatever she wants, it’ll have to wait until later.
“Girl, get up!” The pillows fly from under my head.
“What?” I mumble. This better be good. Mama always wakes me up for nothing. I roll back over to peer up at her, and I can tell she’s mad even in the dark.
“Don’t get it on my side!” She barks and flips on the lights. Jesus is coming. The light is too bright, and my hands aren’t enough to shield my eyes. The light shines through the cracks of my fingers, and I notice there’s red on them. Like paint, but not paint. They feel sticky.
“Get up! You need to clean up,”
“What you mean, Mama?”
“Look at yourself. The sheets.”
The red on my fingers coats my sheets and my pants, and I know what is happening. Texas Chainsaw. “Mama, we gotta get outta here fo’ that puppet kill us!”
“Girl, stop playing and get ya butt up. I’ll go run you some bath water.” Mama rushes out of our room. Maybe it’s not the puppet, but it’s blood. It’s mine. Sitting up, I glare out the door to make sure nobody can see me. I put my hand in my pants, and I check my poonanny. Something on it feels wet and reminds me of glue.
“Omega, come on get in the tub!” Mama yells. I pull my hand out, and it’s even redder. Bright red. I run to the bathroom to show Mama.
“Look this came out my poonanny.” I hold my hand up to her face, so she can get a better look.
“Don’t say that word. It’s ya privates. Who taught you that?”
“Uncle Troy. He said girls got poonannies like his women.”
“Damn, Troy! Take them clothes off, so I can throw them in the washer.”
“Mama, am I dying?”
“No, it’s your period. You a woman now.”
I fumble off my shirt and my pants and sit in the tub. My blood spreads in the water on top of the bubbles. Who knew it would be this easy? I didn’t have to do anything. Mama made it seem so bad when she talked about being a woman.
“Gotta clean up behind everybody and put up with shit all day,” I mock. I’m not doing nothing for nobody I don’t want to do. I’m not gone iron. I’m not wash everybody clothes. I’m not gone get up to cook for everybody like Mama do. I’m not gone fuss all the time. Woman or no woman. I don’t want to do everything for everybody. I’m gone say NO.
“Girl, wash ya ass and stop sitting there,” Mama demands, “Look, you have to put the pad in your panties like this.” It looks like a big, fluffy bandaid and reminds me of my pillows, which I miss.
“Mama, can I go back to bed now?” I smile.
“Omega!” Mama’s face twists into anger again, “Listen.”
“You have to change them when they feel full.”
“How will I know they full?”
“Trust me. You’ll know. It’ll feel soggy.”
“Like a diaper?”
Mama puts my pad panties on the shelf and walks out. I didn’t know women wore diapers too, but it is what it is. I finish up my bath and sit on the toilet for a while. Watching it drip. No matter how many times I wipe, it won’t stop coming out. I hope I won’t have to be a woman for too long. I don’t think I have enough blood for this.
Uncle Troy Say:
“What the hell?” Uncle Troy bellows, “Latasha, come here!”
“Boy, what do you want?” Mama yells back at him. STOMP. STOMP. STOMP. I can hear Mama making her way to the bathroom.
“Look at this,” Uncle Troy says, “I don’t want to see this.” FLUSH.
“It ain’t gone kill you, Troy.”
“Why you ain’t flush that mess?”
“It ain’t me. Omega must’ve not flush it good.”
“I don’t care! It’s nasty and I don’t wanna see it no mo’. Best tell her to look behind herself.”
“Look at this!”
“Fuck you too, Latasha!” STOMP. STOMP. STOMP. Mama on her way back to the kitchen. Uncle Troy and her always arguing Ms. Silvester say they have been fighting cats since they were born. Uncle Troy had the bigger mouth, but Mama’s teeth were always sharper. Ms. Silvester say Uncle Troy a fool. That’s why he can’t stay with her.
My diaper feels really soggy, so I think it’s time to change it. When I roll over, something warm feels like it is moving, and my pants start turning red. My stomach tightens, and it’s a pain I’ve never felt before. Worse than the time I pulled that scab off my knee by accident. Ouchhh.
My blood starts to run down my legs as I make my way to the bathroom. It’s more than it was yesterday. FLUSH. Great, Uncle Troy is done. He swings the door open, and his face twists in horror.
“Omega, you aight?” Uncle Troy mumbles.
“My stomach hurts,” I say and push past him, “I need to get to the toilet.”
“Latasha, Omega in here dying!” STOMP. STOMP. STOMP. Mama busts into the bathroom. She scans the floor and looks at me with disgust. I know Mama hates messes, but I didn’t do this on purpose. I didn’t ask to be a woman.
“Mama, help me,” I groan. Her face softens a little. She reaches up into the cabinet and pulls out a small bottle of pills.
“Take two of these,” she commands, “It will help with the pain.”
“Mama, do I have to go to school today? My stomach feels really bad.”
“Let me see if Troy is going to be at the house.” Mama leaves the bathroom. KNOCK. KNOCK. KNOCK. “Troy, can you watch Omega today?”
“Hell no!” Uncle Troy roars, “I’m not dealing with that nasty shit and all that whining she gone be doing with that shit.”
“Troy, please! It’s her first time.”
“N-O! No, call Ms. Silvester.”
“Go to hell, Troy. You know Mama ain’t gone keep her. You ain’t gone be doing nothing no way.”
“Go away, Latasha! I don’t want none of ya’ll curse!”
Curse! What does that mean? Are we witches? Mama be using those crystal things that Ms. Silvester hates, but she never says any spells. Maybe she can use one of them to take away the pain in my stomach. Maybe she can stop me being a woman because I don’t want nobody thinking I’m nasty.
Ms. Hattie Say:
I got out of school, but Mama had to let Ms. Silvester take me to bible study. Mt. Olive. The House of Houses for the King of Kings. That’s what Ms. Silvester calls it, and she says I have to honor the King. Tonight, I’m honoring him by wearing a dress and not asking unnecessary questions. That’s what she told me in the car on the way here.
“Grandma, this thing is itchy,” I tell her as we go in.
“Omega, what did I tell you about my name?” She barks at me.
“Ms. Silvester, this thing is itchy!”
Ms. Silvester puts her hand up, and I know it’s time for me to be quiet. A few people are sitting in the benches. Mr. & Mrs. Evers sit up front like they always do. Ms. Mary rocks in the middle on the third bench. She hears music nobody else hears, and Mr. Davis takes his time to the stand with his cane.
“We about to start,” Ms. Silvester points, “Gone to the back. I told Ms. Hattie you were coming.” This house is really big, but there are never really a lot of people in it. The hall to the fellowship has pictures everywhere from when the house was full. I see Mama and Uncle Troy in a few of them.
“Omega, is that you?” Ms. Hattie asks.
“Yes, ma’am,” I reply as I go through the door.
“Good to see you! It’s been quite some time. Haven’t had many people bringing they grandbabies.”
“Ms. Silvester say it’s because we all heathens.”
“No mo’ heathen than anybody else.” We laugh. Ms. Hattie is probably the coolest old person I know. She actually will answer my questions. She doesn’t get angry. She listens to me.
“What’s been going on with you?” Ms. Hattie smiles.
“Nothing much. I finally got the curse though,” I say while digging into the big jar of peppermints on the table. Always peppermints or that nasty yellow candy.
“What do you mean by curse?”
“I became a woman last night.”
“Tell me more.”
“Mama woke me up, and there was red everywhere. I had to get in the tub. The red was my blood though. It’s a lot of it. I didn’t think I had so much blood. And Mama told me I was a woman.”
“Oh, you got your period?”
“Yeah, now I have to wear diapers again.”
Ms. Hattie bursts out laughing, but I don’t think it’s funny this time. I’m actually a little worried about being a woman. Mama’s been a woman for 30 years now, and that seems like a long time. She’s always angry. I’ve been a woman for almost a day, and I don’t think I’ll like it.
“Ms. Hattie, I don’t want to be a woman anymore,” I whisper, “I don’t want to be angry, nasty, or cursed.”
“Omega, that is not what it means to be a woman. A woman is a helper, kind, and a mother. All the things God made her to be.”
“Uncle Troy say God not real, and Mama say that ya’ll made God. She say I don’t have to believe ya’ll.”
“What you say, Omega?”
“I say. . .I say. . .”
I don’t know what I say. I don’t know what to tell her. Ms. Hattie pats me on the shoulder and nods for me to sit. She hands me a piece of paper, and we start the bible lesson.
“Mama, you mean it?” I cry as I pull at her scrubs.
“Yes, Omega!” Mama barks, “It’ll come back every month. Now, let go.”
“The red? The diapers? The pain?”
“Yes, Omega! Your period will come on again.” Mama gives me a hug and pushes me off. She has to work the night shift tonight. “Goodnight, Omega!”
“Goodnight, Mama,” I sigh. My red stopped today, and I was happy until Mama told me it’d be back.
Everybody said a lot this week. Mama was mad because me becoming a woman is just something else she got to deal with. Uncle Troy told me I need to be careful because the boys will be after me now. All because of the red. All because I became a woman. I think about all the bad things it means to be a woman, and it makes me tired. I fluff my pillows and climb into bed.
Then I remember what Ms. Hattie said: a woman is a helper, kind, a mother.
“I don’t know if she got it right,” I whisper to myself. “I just know I ain’t nasty, angry, or cursed.” I try to believe it. I repeat it to myself over and over while I rub my hands on the cool, clean sheets before drifting off to sleep.