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Sybil Barkley-Staples

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Member Since: Before 2003

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Excerpt from She'll Learn
By Sybil Barkley-Staples
Monday, July 29, 2002

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Maxine took on the task of picking up a little around the house, before Sydney and Indira arrived. Maxine had been looking forward to this night all week. Thursdays belonged to Maxine, Sydney and Indira. It was the one night they had to get away from everything and everybody.
Maxine had been down and out, because all she's done is work, work, work and no play.
Sometimes this big old house her grandmother left her can get real lonely, and having company always did her good. Maxine ran her fingers over her short hair and stopped to give the place the once over. "Looks good to me." Maxine began looking at her watch, just as she heard the doorbell. Maxine knew it had to be Sydney, since she was never late to anything.

"Right on time as usual, Sydney." Sydney stepped through the doorway with a tightly wrapped bundle in her arms. "I came right after I got Jasmine from Mrs. Lee's." Maxine closed the door behind her. "Girl, it is cold as I don't know what out there." Sydney laid her daughter on the couch and began taking off the three layers of clothing on her. Maxine watched her friend from the foyer, it was so funny to see little Sydney with a baby, she's twenty-two and still a baby herself.
"Has Indira called?" Sydney began taking off her own coat. "No. But she said she'd be here. "Girl, show me some love." Maxine walked over to Sydney with outstretched arms. "Uh, oh, what's wrong?" Sydney knew what the problem was beforehand, but Maxine needed to tell her anyway. Maxine looked up at Sydney. "Don't act stupid, you know what's wrong with me. I need a man." Sydney shook her head. Neither of them had such a prize, but Maxine's need was much greater. "Maxine, you ain't telling me nothing different from my own problems. You seem to forget that I don't have a man either." Sydney finished undressing Jasmine. "Oh, but you are thirty so time is running out." Sydney knew this would get her. Maxine jokingly pushed away from Sydney. "What you talking about, I've got plenty of time. And I'm twenty-nine thank you." Maxine mumbled.
"I heard that, but anyway this is the same thing you get all depressed about every week." Sydney sat down on the couch next to Jasmine, who was still asleep. "When my status changes I won't have nothing to be depressed about." Maxine began to laugh at herself. "Don't be so sure of that girl. Did you get the invitation to the art gallery from Indira?" Sydney sounded so excited. "Yeah I got it, but I don't think I'm gonna go." Maxine looked down at the carpet and picked up a candy wrapper from the floor. "Why not, we haven't been anywhere nice like that in a long time?" Sydney looked at Maxine oddly. "I just don't feel like getting all sharp and shit, for some man to make me feel like nothing." Maxine was really down this time.

"I thought you wanted one so bad, and who says you have to go with a man anyway. You can go with me, you know I ain't got no date." Sydney thought she had a good idea, but Maxine still wasn't down. "Uh, yes you do. I took the liberty of getting you a date." Maxine tried to look innocent. She's been trying to get Sydney to go out on a date every since Anthony flew the coop. "A date, with who?" Sydney couldn't believe what she was hearing.
Maxine got up to look out the window for Indira. "Don't worry I'll tell you about him later." A light snow began to fall from the sky, and the street was soon blanketed with a white cover. "Where in the world is Indira?"

Indira sat at her desk and looked out the glass doors of the gallery, watching as cars hurriedly dashed down the slushy street. There was a bitter November wind blowing the people that walked up Jefferson Avenue around in circles. The wet drizzle that continuously fell turned the white snow to a gray mush along the sides of the street.

Omari walked out of his office and came toward Indira as he slung his scarf around his neck. "Good night Indira, I'm on my way home." Omari smiled and pulled his hat further down on his head. Indira smiled back awkwardly at her boss. "Good night darling." Omari switched and swayed his was down the stairs. "And please don't stay in here too late, I'm pretty sure that handsome husband of yours is waiting for you." Indira looked over the balcony and saw Omari blowing a kiss up to her. He then stepped out the front door to join the ranks of pedestrians combating the wind. Indira could only wish that her husband would be at home waiting for her. He was probably at the bar or just at home drunk.
Indira didn't feel like getting herself down, so she got back to her notes for Saturday's showing. "Eldridge Moss." Indira was glad to have found him. His paintings were going to be a hit this weekend. She couldn't wait to meet him, she is so impressed with his paintings. Especially, the ones he sent for her office. The painting that lay against her desk was her favorite. It reminded her of Maxine, Sydney and herself when they were little girls. When she looked over at it on the floor, she sort of got lost and began to think about how much fun they used to have together at Ms. Mable's. From as far back as Indira could remember her mother would leave her and her baby sister at Ms. Mable's before she went to work. She and her firends grew up together there, and vowed to stay that way.

Indira leaned back in her chair and noticed the time on the clock. She jumped up nearly falling out of the chair. "Boy, I can hear Max's mouth already." Indira locked up the gallery and headed for the parking lot. Being near the water is beautiful in the summer, but it'll freeze your ass in the winter. The busy sounds of the city filled Indira's head as she got into her car. After turning the ignition on, Indira flipped through the radio stations as the car warmed up. She stopped when she heard the voice of Barbara Jones, Detroit's hottest talk radio host. She didn't care much for the show, but she found her way to it damn near every night.
"Hello caller, you're on the air."
"...Hello, Dr. Jones." the woman sounded frightened.
"Don't be afraid honey, I only want to help you." Doctor Jones was lying through her teeth, she thrived on cutting' up her callers.
"My husband and I are starting to have a lot of problems."
"What kind of problems are you having?" Dr. Jones wasn't holding back. ".... He's started beating me whenever he gets angry."
"Yes, you do have a problem. But the solution is easy." Dr. Jones sounded confident, as if the solution could be that easy.
"What should I do Dr. Jones?" Indira reached the interstate.
"The only answer for you is to leave him. He'll never stop abusing you if you continue to give him the opportunity."
Indira knew how hard it would be for her to leave Robert, and knew the Doctor didn't know what she was talking about.
"Oh no, I couldn't leave him we have two small children. Plus he'd go nuts." The caller wasn't buying the solution the doctor had given her.
"No one deserves to be beat like an animal, and do you want your children to see this happening to you?" Dr. Jones made her point of view clear and the woman fell silent.
"I.....I know your right, but I just can't." CLICK!
The woman was gone.
"Listen ladies, you have to think about yourselves sometimes or there won't be any you to think about. We'll be back right after this."

Indira pushed in her Erykah Badu CD and thought about what the doctor had said. Robert had changed so much over the years, but one thing's for sure, he isn't the same man she married. She couldn't believe she was letting this happen to her. As a child, she watched her father paint her mother's face black and blue until the day he died. She didn't learn anything from that. Indira drove through the slick salted streets of her old neighborhood.
There weren't many stores left on Dexter Ave., unless you counted the liquor stores on every corner. Once known for the shops and boutiques that lined the street, now to only be known for the crime and abandoned houses. All of Indira's memories weren't good, but she kept a place in her heart for Ms. Mable's house on the corner. When she died two years ago, she left the house to Maxine, but it seemed like it was a gift to all of them.
"What would you think of me today Ms. Mable?" Indira knew that she would love her no matter what, unlike her own mother. Indira loved her mother, but she never had much time for her. She only had time for the men in her life, only to repeat the same pattern of treatment with each one. Ms. Mable was the mother that Maxine, Sydney and Indira needed. She slowed her Mercedes Sedan and turned onto Burlington. She pulled in front of the house she grew up in with her mother and sister. Her stomach began to turn the longer she stared at the run down house. Indira took her eyes off it and got back onto the street another block to Maxine's.

Indira eased out of the car and carefully walked across the snow. After all these years, Mrs. Jones still sits in her Bay window and watches the world go by. She waved the minute she caught eye contact. Indira smiled and waved back. She began up the steps of the porch. The crunching under her feet was a sign that Mr. Brown across the street had salted Maxine's steps.
Maxine saw Indira through the window and hurriedly opened the door. Indira's light skin was nearly blue from the cold. Maxine hugged her before she could get in the door good. Indira was overwhelmed by Maxine's actions. Though like sisters, they were always off and on with each other.
"It's about time you got here girl. We were starting to think you wasn't gonna come this week." Maxine took Indira's coat to the closet. She looked the leather coat up and down and saw that it was new. Well at least it smelled new. "Must be nice." After hanging up the coat Maxine strolled back into the living room. Sydney was bringing Jasmine back downstairs when Indira dropped on the couch. "Hey Indi, I'm glad you finally got here." Sydney leaned over and kissed her cheek.

"Oh, let me hold this big girl." Jasmine yawned then looked at Indira and smiled. "Say hey, Aunt Indira." Sydney spoke in her baby voice.
Maxine walked in with a tray of flutes filled with white wine. "Will you please stop talking like that!" Maxine put the tray on the table and slid into the recliner. "She's a baby Maxine, how else am I supposed to talk?" Sydney picked up her glass and sat next to Indira on the couch. "Lord help this girl please, if she ever has any kids. " Sydney laughed with Indira. "Where's the hot wings?" Sydney stopped laughing and got up. "I forgot to bring them out of the kitchen." Maxine watched as Sydney rushed out of the room. "And she don't need to eat not a one of them." Maxine whispered to Indira then laughed. Indira ran her fingers through Jasmine's thick black curly hair and thought about how much she wanted a family. She knows that could never be with Robert, not only is he a stone drunk, but he had a vasectomy six years before she met him. She began to feel like she was going no where.

Maxine and Sydney ate chicken wings and watched Indira daydream. The two looked at each other. Indira could never hide anything from them. Jasmine was fast asleep on Indira's chest. "Why don't you take the baby upstairs and lay her on my bed?" Maxine knew something was wrong and she had an idea what it was. Indira walked up the stairs with the baby. "I think something is wrong with Indi?" Sydney gave her opinion in between hot wings. "I can see that Sydney." Maxine licked her fingers and got up from her chair.
"Do you think it has something to do with Robert?" Sydney didn't care for Indira's husband very much. "She does have a new coat." Maxine said sarcastically, under her breath. "Shut up Max." Sydney snickered. "What else could it be but him?" Maxine asked, she didn't like him the day she met him. "For one thing he treats her like shit, then buys her shit to make up for it." Maxine got quiet when she saw Indira coming back down the stairs. "You must have been talkin' about me, because you both sitting here lookin' all crazy."

Indira sat down on the couch. "We're just worried about you, that's all." Sydney looked at Maxine then she picked up her glass again. Indira looked at Maxine queerly. "Come on Indira drink up and relax." Maxine gestured for Indira to pick up her wineglass. Indira reached for her glass. "I am relaxed and nothing is wrong with me, thank you." The room fell quiet for a few moments. "All right, I can't sit here all quiet and shit." Maxine got up and went over to the stereo. "What yall wanna hear?" Maxine turned around to the girls for answers. "I don't know girl." Sydney shrugged her shoulders. Indira did the same. "Forget yall I'll find something myself." Maxine looked through her collection of CD's, then picked one. "Luther is always good." Maxine put in one of her favorites. "Is this old Luther or new ?" Sydney didn't care too much for his stuff since he lost weight. "Old of course." Maxine sang with Luther while Sydney and Indira watched. Sydney turned to Indira. "I got your invitation to the Gallery." "Good, are you going to come is the question?" Indira smiled at Sydney. "I promise you I will be there, but I need a date." Maxine stopped singing when she overheard Sydney. "Don't forget I already got somebody lined up for you." Maxine never stopped dancing. "Oh yeah." Sydney sat up quick. "I am sick and tired of you dating me all the time, call her sometime." Maxine pointed to Indira. "Well who is he?" Sydney was getting excited. "Don't worry he's a friend of Derrick's." Maxine stopped dancing and sat back down. "Derrick is the married guy right?" Indira stepped in. She didn't approve of any of Maxine's many acquaintances. "Yeah, so what! Sydney ain't had a date in a year, so it shouldn't matter much." Maxine threw up her hands. "Well this man ain't married is he?" Sydney asked. "No, but you just need to get some." Maxine laughed then drank her wine. "What?" Indira looked at Maxine. "Maybe I don't want none." Sydney and Indira began to laugh and touched hands. "Well I don't know about you two, but I need some." Maxine jumped in on Luther's singing. Indira sat back and thought about the last time she and Robert made love. She could barely remember that far back. Sydney sipped on her wine and thought about the way she and Anthony used to make love. She missed him more than anything. Maxine needed to be with somebody, but who could she call. All her men were at home with their wives. "This is a dam shame." Reality began to set in on Maxine again. "I am alone again for the holidays, Thanksgiving is next week." Sydney and Indira looked at each other. "Oh hell, here she goes again." Sydney sat back and got ready for the show. Maxine turned up her glass to her lips for a final gulp and slammed down her glass. "Maxine we sit here and listen to this same speech every week, don't we Sydney?" Indira looked to Sydney for help. "Maxine I'm alone too." Sydney tried to make Maxine feel better. "Yeah, but you got Jasmine and Papa Joe, I ain't got nobody." Maxine got quiet and sat back down. "Well, if it'll make you feel better you got me and Sydney."

Indira looked at Maxine and smirked. "And Jasmine too." Maxine looked at Indira awkwardly. "I know that, but I need a man's love. I need to feel loved and wanted by a man." Maxine picked up her empty glass. "Anybody need a refill besides me?" Maxine picked up the tray and got Sydney's empty glass. "You want a refill Indi?" Maxine looked impatient. "No I better not, I need to be sober when I get home." Indira didn't want to drink too much, she didn't know what kind of mood Robert was in. Maxine headed toward the kitchen. Sydney broke the silence that rested between she and Indira. "Jasmine will be a year old next Sunday, can you believe that?" Sydney opened her eyes wide with excitement. Maxine walked back into the room with the glasses. "I want to have a little party for her, but I don't want to have it in my apartment." Sydney turned to Maxine. "Oh, so you wanna have it here?" Maxine began to frown. "Please girl, it'll only be for a couple of hours." Sydney looked like a pleading puppy. "Okay, but both of you got to do all the work." Indira looked to Sydney. "I need you here to help too." Sydney explained to Indira. "I'll be here." Indira touched Sydney's hand.

Maxine put on some more music, but faster this time. "Come on now, I know you can dance?" Maxine was a regular at the clubs, so she could do enough. "I never could dance all that great no way." Indira tried to do whatever it was that Maxine was doing. "This is about all I can do and I learned it from Jazzy." Sydney clapped her hands and moved from side to side. "Girl you doing much better than me." Indira was starting to relax and enjoy her time with her friends. "Indira, married life done faded you out." Maxine got in front of her and started dancing. "I'm not faded, whatever that means." Indira began to try a little harder. "Uh oh, get it Indi." Sydney and Maxine started doing the bump. Maxine stopped dancing, folded her arms and stared at Sydney and Indira who were still dancing. "You two don't here that baby crying upstairs?" Maxine fanned her face and sat down, Indira did the same. Sydney ran up the stairs to get her baby. Maxine watched as Indira patted her face dry with a napkin. "So what's been up with you Indi, I hadn't heard from you since last Thursday?" Maxine continued to fan. "Nothing much, except working day and night to get this showing together for Saturday." "Oh yeah, I got your invitation. I don't think I'm gonna come though." "Well I know you can't come to all my showings." Indira tried to sound understanding. "I still might come if I'm not dead tired. The shop is a madhouse on Saturday."

"Come on Max, you can't be that tired?" Maxine shook her head. Indira spoke without thinking again, and she knew it. "Why shouldn't I be tired?" Max was becoming upset. "I mean you've been doing hair almost all your life." Indira knew that was stupid. "You trippin', and I ain't in the mood for it. Indira knew she had offended Maxine, by downing her job. Maxine put up a hand for Indira to stop talking to her. "Girl, I'm sorry I am trippin' tonight. I don't know what I'm about to go home to and I am not prepared for whatever it is." Indira took a sip of Sydney's wine. Sydney came back down the stairs with Jasmine sitting up wide awoke in her arms. "Bring her here to me." Maxine reached for the baby. "Hey Pudgy, what'cha been doin? " Maxine played with Jasmine. After another hour of talking and laughing it was time for Indira to get home.

 Learning to love yourself before trying to love anyone else is the hard lesson taught to three childhood friends.


Maxine is business savvy but man stupid; she sleeps with men without knowing more than their names. Her physical needs take precedent over her emotional needs.


Indira is in an abusive marriage with a man she loves dearly. She wanted to one day have children but can't, at least not with her husband since he had a vasectomy before they married.


Sydney, on the other hand, is a single-mother still pining for the father of her child. She lives with the hope that one day he'll return to her and their daughter.

       Web Site: She'll Learn

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