"I'ma slice his fuckin' throat," Imani hissed as she watched the pregnant Shante board the prison's shuttle bus in front of her.
For two years Imani had been asking Walik if he was still fucking with Shante and he swore to her that he wasn't. He said that Shante had the type of pussy a niggah just wanted to hit it and quit it--nothing more than that. He swore on their son, Jamal, and on every block he had locked in the street that Shante was no longer a factor.
"On some real shit," Walik constantly assured Imani, "fuck that dusty bitch. She's just a used-up jump-off! Why you even sweatin' that shit? You know she hate you 'cause she ain't you. On the real, she like a stray dog around here, any niggah that feed her can keep her!"
"Come on, Imani, I made you, why would I play you?"
"Then why is she calling me, Walik?" Imani would ask.
"I don't know, her ass is crazy."
"Then you better handle her crazy ass." Imani would hand him the phone. "Call and check that bitch!"
Walik would take the phone and cuss Shante out, time and time again. And that was always enough to psych Imani up as if nothing had ever happened, returning their relationship to full-pledge "wifey and my boo" mode . . . but not this time. Imani was convinced that forgiveness was a big piece of shit found underneath a curb your dog street sign.
Imani reached for her six-year-old son's hand as he leaned against her thigh and began to fall asleep. "And to think I spent my last dime and got my wig tightened 'cause I was comin' to visit this niggah." Imani mumbled as low as she could, trying her best to keep her bottom lip from trembling. She wanted to cry, but instead she tucked in her bottom lip and began to rock slightly from side to side. "I ain't got on no drawls underneath this skirt and shit. My ass all hangin' out. I gave my son a double dose of nighttime Tylenol so this niggah could get some visiting-hall pussy in peace, and I won't have to stop bucking the dick to say, Turn around, Jamal." She pushed her burgundy-tipped wavy micro braids behind her ears and turned to board the rickety old prison bus.
Stepping onto the platform, she took a deep breath. Already the stale air and the condemned look of the bus had started to get to her. The faded, cracked leather seats, the smells of fried chicken, baby formula, and hair products, and the rough feel of octagon-shaped wire window bars that usually left imprints on Jamal's cheeks when he pressed his face against them were enough to make her feel as if she had boarded the bus to Oz.
For a moment she thought about turning around and going home, but the more she stared at Shante, the more determined she was to see Walik's face, so she could look at him and say, See why I ain't fuckin' wit' yo' ass?
Imani sucked on the inside of her cheek as her eyes started to burn. Sorry, triflin' no-good motherfucker! I swear to God, she thought, all this hold-a-niggah-down-ride-or-the-fuck-die-shit is a wrap. No more paying for your collect-call promises, no more splitting my welfare check with your commissary account, and no more playing in my pussy while you listen to me nut over the phone. Fuck you! What's good for the thug is better for the thugette. If you can get yo' cleanup woman on then it's time for the maintenance man to get in check. Besides, she started sucking on her bottom lip, I'm tired of yo' eight and a half inches of overrated, cheating-ass dick!
Imani found a seat in the third row, directly across from Shante. I'ma kill him, she thought, trying not to focus on the sticky foam rising through the cracked leather seat. Instead, while Jamal drifted back to sleep, she crossed her legs and leaned her head back. She turned her neck to the right, moved her eyes up and down, curled her lips, and cleared her throat loudly.
Shante looked up and spotted Imani. A snide grin spread across her face. Shante rubbed her nine-month-pregnant belly. "When your son wakes up," she spat at Imani, "ask him if he wants a li'l brother or sister."
Imani lifted her head. "Unless you want me to crack your shit open, you'll keep any mention of my son outta ya mouth."
"Oh, what, my stepson was created from the scraps of a golden nut? Paleeze, humph, maybe the next time you'll spend less time watching your son so nobody else'll have to marry ya man." She flashed her left hand, showing off a thin gold band with a matching solitaire. "Get a good look, 'cause it's blingin'!"
A few of the other women who were settled on the bus started to hiss and buzz. They knew something was about to jump off. "Don't get nothing started," yelled one of the passengers. "Hurry up and settle that shit, please. 'Cause I'ma go off if I lose some time from my visit."
For a split second Imani felt as if the pit of her stomach had died; she blinked and somehow it came back alive. "You fat-ass, rotten-pussy bitch! Shrek wouldn't even marry yo' crazy-lookin' wack ass, let alone Walik. Why don't you try divorcing your second baby daddy first? Or do you have to remember who he is? Oh, that's right," she snapped her fingers and twisted her neck, "you were a dyke back then! Stupid ass, you look like a walkin' STD talkin' about somebody wanna marry you and live with yo' crab-infested-ringworm-leaky-eye kids! I don't even know why you're pregnant again, don't them three baboons you already got prove you can't do nothin' with retarded-ass nuts?"
"What you say?" Shante couldn't believe that Imani was taking it there. "You talkin' about my kids?"
"Yeah, and what?" Imani looked Shante up and down, and spat out as if she were making a mix tape, "Niggah-niggah ask about me. I cusses 'em all out, from eight to eighty, if they try to play me crazy! Trust and believe you don't want it with me, you tired-ass dusty bitch! Fuckin' used-up jump-off. For real, for real, you like a stray dog around here, any niggah that feed you can keep you. Do ya'self a favor: clean up ya house and get ya kids' beds off the floor!" Imani shot Shante the gas face. She swallowed hard while trying to stop the aching tears sneaking up in the back of her throat. "Better learn to play your position, bitch!"
"Dusty bitch? A stray dog? Get my kids' beds off the floor?" Shante stood up. "You dumb-ass trick. Don't you see me here, pregnant as hell by Walik? The niggah been locked up for two years. What you think we've been doing, holding hands? You're the stupid ass! You gon' call me a used-up jump-off?" Shante squinted tight. "As a matter of fact this isn't even your day. Aren't you assigned to Saturdays? Today is uhmm, Sunday? Seems to me that you better play yo' position, bitch!"
Before Shante could blink Imani walked over and caught her in the face with a mean left hook. Instantly her lower lip popped open and blood spat out. By the time the guards, who were helping the last of the women onto the bus, looked toward the fight, they saw Shante reaching for Imani's throat. Imani balled up her fist and pounded Shante in the head, over and over again. Short of punching her in the stomach, Imani took her foot and kicked Shante in the knee, causing her to fall forward. Before she hit the floor, Imani yanked Shante's shoulder-length hair, twirled it around her fist, and pulled it so hard that the whiteness of Shante's hair follicles was rising from the root. It took three male guards and a bottle of pepper spray to break them up. As Imani wiped her eyes, trying to free herself of the stinging spray, she felt an officer grab both of her arms, placing them behind her back. "You're under arrest." Another guard wiped her eyes with a cold compress. "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you . . ." Once Imani's eyes were clear she saw the police had boarded the bus and were arresting her and Shante. Shante was hollering and screaming, desperately trying to reach for Imani. But Imani stood there, shooting her a look that said Do it, bitch, I dare you. Imani didn't care that Shante was five foot three and she was five foot seven. Or that Shante was high yellow and would wear the evidence of a slap for a week. Fuck the dumb shit, if Shante could give it, Shante could get it.
"Do you have someone that can pick up your son?" the officer asked Imani. She shook her head wildly, feeling as if she were waking up from a trance. Her heart started racing and her palms began to sweat. "Oh my God!" she cried, "My baby! My baby." She looked toward the seat where Jamal was waking up and rubbing his eyes. "I need to call my sister." Tears raced down Imani's cheeks and slid toward her neck. "She ain't gon' believe this shit."
"Every fuckin' time I turn around he's gone! Where the hell is he?" Celeste screamed at the top of her lungs while licking the salty tears that ran from her eyes and slid into the corners of her mouth. "You ain't workin' that much. Humph as much as you liked your big dick sucked. Believe me, I know you ain't the type to not be getting fucked . . . so tell me, who is she?" Celeste continued to cry hysterically as she slammed her fingers against the telephone pad, attempting to break the voice-mail code on her husband, Sharief's, cell phone. "So when did it start, huh, Sharief, when did you start to cheat? What, my pussy wasn't tight enough? What, I didn't fuck you long enough? In case you haven't noticed, I stay occupied with three kids every day, I'm tired when you come home . . . I'm not in the mood for a freak session. What the hell is wrong with missionary position? I still wanna be touched, Sharief, I wanna make love to my husband, but instead you fuckin' some bitch in the street . . . and when I find her, I'ma kill her!" Finally, Celeste broke the code: "Bingo." She grabbed a pen and wrote his code down. "Zero . . . four . . . one . . . one . . ." Celeste chuckled as she read the numbers out loud. "Stupid ass! How the hell can you hide the bitch you cheating with so well, but you're dumb enough to have oh-four-one-one as your code. Niggahs, I swear."
Celeste began to listen attentively as the message started to play . . . "Hey Sharief, this is Monica. I'm whispering because I'm in Negrils and Chauncey is hinting at popping the question. Don't worry, though, I'll be saying no. Anyway call me. Oh, be sure you remind Celeste to start early with cooking the food for the party, I couldn't reach her." Monica giggled. "Another thing, if you can tell me what UTFO stands for then I'll give you the other ticket for the Audio Two, MC Lyte, and EPMD concert. Peace out . . . wit' yo' big-ass head . . . sucker punk. Okay, let me call Listra and tell her this shit. She is going to laugh." Is it me, Celeste thought, or was my sister just a little too damn playful?
Celeste hung up, lit a cigarette, and started pacing the floor. I'm buggin'. She placed the phone back on the base as the cigarette hung from the corner of her mouth. "All of these years I've put into you, Sharief." She folded one arm under her breasts and took a drag with the other. "What else could I have done besides stand on my head and suck ya dick backward? Some kinda way you gon' have to explain this shit to me, motherfucker! Tell me, do you ever think about someone else besides yourself? What about the kids, Sharief? Kayla, Kai, and Kori. They need you, we need you." Tears were flooding Celeste's face as she continued to take neurotic puffs off her cigarette. "You're the only daddy Kayla knows. And yes, it was my idea that we play pretend. But you seemed to love her so much and you swore to me that it didn't bother you when she started calling you daddy. In fact you said you liked the sound of it. So I trusted you, because you promised to be the first daddy I knew that wouldn't leave . . . and I believed you . . . and me believing you somehow meant you were perfect. Which is why when the doctor said I had high blood pressure I still took a chance and became pregnant with your child. Because you wanted a son named Jeremiah, after your grandfather. You were so proud when you thought we were having a boy. You had it all planned out, his first haircut, his first football game, your first father-and-son talk. It was a perfect plan until I found out you were the dog." Celeste sucked the butt of her cigarette and pointed to her chest. "But what I'm trying to figure out is when you changed. I'm not sure." She ran her hand across her chin, "but I think it may have been when the little boy you wanted turned out to be twin girls. But then again, maybe it was when we moved to Jersey . . . and you wanted to stay in Brooklyn . . . Damn I can't remember . . ." Celeste took a drag and paced from one end of the bedroom to the next. "But what I do remember is putting up with the smell of your stankin'-ass feet. And I remember how you would burp and never say excuse me. Oh, and I remember how you would take a shit and leave the door cracked. And I remember forcing myself to listen to that goddamn reggae music and that fuckin' DJ Dahved Levy and his nerve-wrecking 'Rocking you--rocking you--rocking you . . .' I wanted so bad to say, Shut . . . the . . . fuck up, but I didn't . . . I listened.
"My mother always said that a woman had to be her man's whore, confidante, and a li'l bit of his mother all rolled into one. But didn't I cook, Sharief? Didn't I wash your clothes? I never denied you pussy, I just didn't want to be twisted around like a contortionist . . . and I didn't want yo' dick in my ass, but that was my choice. But I did everything else. I thought moving away from Brooklyn would bring us closer together . . . ha! Wasn't that a joke?" Celeste mashed the cigarette butt in the ashtray and nervously lit up another one. Taking a pull, she sobbed, "All I'm saying is for you to give me back my shit. And I don't mean the material things, you can keep that. Just give me back what I like to do before I met you. Give me back my independence. Give me back my moves and my grooves. Please un-ass the Anita Baker song I like to sing, my wide smile, the switch in my voluptuous hips, and my nonsaggy tits. It's quite simple, just give me back my shit. Please, take my soul off the abortion table. I'll proudly go back to being a statistic: a black, struggling single mother with a triflin' baby daddy."
Excerpted from The Ex Factor by Tu-Shonda Whitaker. Copyright © 2006 by Tu-Shonda Whitaker. Excerpted by permission of One World/Ballantine, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.