Tell the devil you told your mama you’d be home by 8

Three years ago, my 2-almost-3 year old son saw a police car pull over a taxi in front of us. The police man shouted at each person as the taxi emptied. When the grandma in the backseat stumbled in her haste to “vacate the vehicle” the police man clutched her elbow to steady her and escorted her over to a low wall to perch. He patted her back, ensured she was settled, then returned to the driver’s side.


Jude watched the whole, fairly humane scenario play out, then said lightly to me, “Mama, if any man ever grabbed you, I’d FIGHT him.” I smiled at my tiny super hero. There’d be time for Life Lessons about Who Not To Fight later.


Fast forward a couple years. A FEW YEARS. Nothing about that is funny any more. We’re at the end of “later”. Later is now.
Last month, we passed a police car, flashing lights on, parked up on the side of the road. The police man didn’t even look in my direction- he may have even been playing Candy Crush on that cell phone for all I know.


Jude said, “Mommy, I’m glad that policeman didn’t stop you, or I’d have had to FIGHT him.” I slammed on my brakes. I pulled over and parked. I turned to look at my 5 year old man child. His eyes were filled with fierce protection, but also humour: who would ever stop his Mommy?


I stared at my child: ebony curls on espresso skin. I stared at his flawless darkness. I stared at this extension of myself who was also wholly himself. I stared at the graduations I plan to attend, the grandkids I plan to meet. I stared at Hope. I stared at Dreams.


“Son,” I started to say. Then I stopped.
Son who may become Father.
How to finish when all I wanted to beg, plead and beseech was,
“Come home to me. Come home to me every day of your life. Come home to me. Cross oceans and rivers and mountains and seas. Cross sidewalks and street signs and neighbourhoods and divides. Cross platforms and backyards and barriers and life.
Cross fires and crossfires and defy death itself to come home to me.
Leave fights unfought. Leave replies unsaid.
Leave everything- EVERYTHING- in this world that tries to keep you away.
Tell the devil you promised your mama you’d be home by 8.
I don’t care how early. I don’t care how late. I don’t care how long, I don’t care where you stayed. I’ll come and get you. I’ll make the journey first.
But my heart, my life…come home to me. Alive.”


Sitting in a small blue car on a small green patch, I stared silently at my child. How could I say any of those things, as if they were enough to keep people alive? When people who look like him die for the wrong shirt, the wrong music, bags of candy and stubborn volume buttons? When prison isn’t enough and death snatches them up from the cell floors? For CDs, for OBEYING AN OFFICER’S REQUEST. For breathing then stopping.
For ever having been born.
For pigment.
For perception.
For daring to be people.


I grieve a mother’s lament. My heart is heavier than I have control over. My soul refuses to be soothed. What is distance when we’re wearing the same skin? What are miles when my child is like your child?


Once, I was “Mama.”
I’m “Mommy” now, one whole age up.


When I become “Mom,” what will I have to tell my sons?

By the time I am “Mom,” what will they have seen? What will they have learned?

What will they have gleaned from the sounds of weeping in the world around them?

Because they’ve begun to watch. They’ve begun to see. My G-rated home filters cannot always stretch to shield them from reality.

Already my two year old knows the questions, “Why he cry? Why she cry? Why you cry?”


Spanish Town.




What will we tell my sons, now that they’ve begun to ask?


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