Nikki Igbo is freelance writer currently pursuing an MFA in Writing at SCAD. She makes both her husband Emmanuel and her dog Genesis read everything she writes. They acquiesce because she makes a mean pot of gumbo.
You can read Nikki’s work at nikigbo.com or in the opinions section at scadconnector.com.
I spent five months looking at Mrs. Wendal before I saw her. I noticed her flowers before I saw her eyes.
There were alien interpretations of the Egyptian lotus, the Nymphyaea Cerulaea. Pointed silver petals,like elongated triangles, fanned out around the circumference of red and orange centers and crossed over into a third dimension, waving as if the breeze would carry them off like wished-away spokes of a dandelion. The flowers, miniature sunbursts, hung suspended around what I could not perceive to be a body.
I noticed the bright orange polish on her fingernails and toenails though I did not recognize her hands and feet. Thick taupe geometry with fluorescent highlights updated a cold grey wall. Perhaps Atlanta thought to reinterpret the Pee Chee folder there on the corner of 17th and West Peachtree without the leaping tennis player or the flying running back or the determined sprinters. The brick wall of a theatre displayed broad taupe stripes, floating Egyptian lotus flowers and sets of orange accents. I could not see Mrs. Wendal’s appreciation for the brighter OPI colors at the nail salon.
September, October, November, December, January forged ahead in pursuit of higher learning. My speedometer’s dial spun to the left as I exited 75/85 north. I checked my backpack for my student ID as I willed the signal green, turned right and guided the car into the far left turning lane of eastbound 17th Street. I hoped the Spring Street signal would remain green, my front left tire wouldn’t catch the pothole, that my purse wouldn’t fall from the front passenger seat and empty all of its contents onto the floor. Always before the final left on West Peachtree, some cell phone distracted driver ruined the flow.
Another precious moment lost at the mercy of a red light. A pedestrian zigzagged between cars to cross to where Mrs. Wendal stretched above me. I turned and read the word “Tika” painted on the lower right side of the building wall. A recalled errand, pick up Genesis’ dog food, pushed away any curiosity of the word’s meaning. The signal again turned green and there was no time to introduce myself to a woman I didn’t know was there.
Center Stage Theater’s building, remnants of Atlanta’s rush hour traffic, lost time glowing from my dashboard and the persistent aromatic blend of exhaust, rubber and concrete wafting through the car vent. These were my only observations as I ran through a mental checklist. Get gas before sundown. The last thing I need is a fucking knock in the head by some nighttime fiend. Find some place to eat before class. I liked that steak sandwich with the sweet plantains at Papi’s. Don’t forget the carrots in my lunch bag. Hubby says they are brain food. Drive the speed limit. I don’t need a ticket. Use my turn signal so none of these nuts will run into me. These fucking Atlanta drivers. Edit my essay for History of Rhetoric.
My teacher is such a fucking dork. Check my email for messages from Hubby, scholarship notifications, heads up on events to cover for The Connector. Call my husband. Stop using the “f” word so much.
Remind him to take the shrimp out of the freezer for shrimp casserole. Say “I love you.” Get to class and back home in spite of all these idiots with driver’s licenses. Get through this fucking day.
I didn’t see Mrs. Wendal, then, I did.
My car was positioned just so on 17th Street. Just past the pothole, where the bare tree branches did not shroud her face. Her dark eyes caught mine. The expanse of her nose. The full curves of her mouth. The single lotus flower in her hair. Her arms hugged Center Stage Theater. The light changed and instead of speeding through the turn, I drifted. Mrs. Wendal was naked. Her right leg extended as her left leg joined her arms in the wanton embrace. Her breasts mimicking the lotus petals. No wonder she’d painted her nails. She was in love. She’d been seduced by the theater’s music. She held tight to her beau and would for as long as they both sat on that corner.
I discovered that Tika was her creator. A Swiss artist raised in Cairo, Egypt, Tika birthed Mrs. Wendal in early September as a part of the Living Walls Conference to breathe new life into cold, humorless walls looming over the streets of Atlanta. She named Mrs. Wendal in honor of Mr. Wendal of “Arrested Development” and their September 7th performance at Center Stage. The wall, like the homeless of Atlanta, was easy to ignore while on the way to school, work, home, concerts just around the corner.
The light at West Peachtree changed and I passed Center Stage Theater as I’d done since Mrs. Wendal’s installation, but there was a difference. An alarm sounded inside of me. What else had I been missing during my daily rush toward the day’s end? The blessing of a warm home and a well-maintained car.
The overwhelming sense of security felt while picking up my dog, Genesis’ kibble, purchasing regular grade gasoline at Kroger, sitting through Nonfiction I at Ivy Hall and taking lemon drop shots at Friends on Ponce. The freedom to swear unabashedly. The wisdom to edit myself. The wealth to afford precut carrots, steak sandwiches, sweet plantains and higher education. The pleasure of sharing my life with a handsome friend who loves my shrimp casserole. The capacity to cast my cares aside to consider the plight of others less fortunate. The luxury of slowing down to nature’s intended pace to view a deliberately expressed mural of a naked woman with orange fingernail polish and Egyptian lotus flowers