This week’s writing activity for my MFA seminar in fiction course has us write a creative response to one of the assigned novels. I chose White Teeth by Zadie Smith, which is a story about two families in England experiencing issues with cultural assimilation and prejudice. I loved the book, and I didn’t want it to end. The characters are all so intricately imperfect, yet lovable. Their complex relationships mirrored those of the larger Irie was one of my favorite characters. She brought renewed energy to all three of the families who were exhausted from adapting to each other’s dysfunctions. Irie moves beyond coping with the issues to find a way to thrive. Thus, I decided to write about Irie’s experiences, as she breaks free from her disruptive past just to create her own trouble.
Irie put her backpack on the floor of her dorm room. It was evident that someone else had just been in the room. A similar backpack sat half open on one of the tiny beds. Irie peered into its contents, but could only see a few multi-colored pairs of silk panties and a hairbrush filled with clumps of blonde hair. She leaned forward, extended her hand toward the pack, fingers brushing the leather tag on the zipper. Only to pull in back in a start as she heard a shrill voice enter the room.
“Hi”, I’m April”, the hair owner chirped.
April was much too boisterous and much too loud, thought, Irie. “I just threw my stuff on that bed, but you are more than welcome to it, if you prefer it”, said April again.
“Uh, no, that’s fine, uhhmmmm, this bed is fine” Irie stammered as she dropped her things on the unmade bed. “I’m Irie”, she said facing the wall and looking down at the bed wondering where the bedding was.
“I know” said April. “I know your name. They told me you were coming. I volunteered, um, I mean, I wanted to be your roommate.”
Irie crinkled her nose and cocked her head, still facing the bed, afraid to show her new friend her confusion.
“I mean, we just knew you were coming to Brown. I am a cultural anthropology major, and well… You are famous. I mean with all you have been through, you know, being jailed, giving birth in prison and all. I mean, you are incredibly brave.”
Irie turned to look at April. “I’m not famous or brave”. She said. “I’m not”.
“No, of course, not” said April, realizing that she had said too much, she walked over to the closet and pulled out a set of striped sheets and a green cotton blanket.
“Here”, she gestured toward the bed, “let’s get you settled”. Irie nodded. She was exhausted. Irie sank into the slipcovered armchair shoved into the corner. April busily tucked the top sheet under the mattress and shook the blanket over the bed. Irie looked around the tiny room. Brightly colored Indian fabrics and pillows covered April’s bed. Candles sat half-burned on tables along with stacks of poetry books, old copies of The New York Times, and brass incense burners.
A life sized poster of Che Guevara hung over April’s bed and one of Gloria Steinem on the adjacent wall with yellowed tape on it’s corners. Irie didn’t quite know what to make of this April.
April noticed Irie’s eyes lingering on her posters.
“I take those down on parents’ weekend”, said April. “My parents are from Connecticut. They are so bourgeois” she said mockingly. “I mean nothing like your family. They were so supportive when you were arrested at the rally”.
Irie cocked her head and turned toward April again taking her eyes off the wall hangings. “My family is nuts” said Irie. “Fucking bonkers!”
April just kept talking like Irie was completely invisible. “Just for the record, I believe you. I don’t think you did it. I mean, we all believe you are innocent. That’s why you are here. We want to help you get your twins back”.
“What?” Irie’s caramel complexion went completely gray. “How did you know about my babies?”
“Irie” said April, seriously as she sat on the end of the bed that Irie would sleep in for the next year. “Irie, we want to help you. That’s why you are here. But don’t worry about that now. Professor White will tell you all about it tomorrow. You need some rest”
Irie nodded. She pushed herself from the swallowing chair, picked up her pack and stepped into the tiny bathroom to change into her nightgown. Irie gazed at her face in the mirror and fingered the scar on her right cheekbone. She hadn’t had her hair straightened since before her time in jail. She pressed her untended hair against her head and tied it with a red bandana. She pulled off the white cotton T-shirt and slipped into a cotton nightshirt.
April was sitting cross-legged on her bedspread when Irie emerged from the bathroom. She had changed into a Brown University T shirt and a pair of loose fitting cotton pants. They looked like she could have bought them from a street vendor in India or at a Pakistani market place.
“I didn’t mean to confuse you” said April as she exhaled smoke from her long, brown cigarette. “I mean, my professor brought you here. She wants to help you, but you have to help us”
Irie looked puzzled, but she was too tired to listen to April anymore. Her flight had been long and customs took forever. After all Irie had been through since her arrest at the rally, the pregnancy, her parent’s rage and her ultimate release, she just wanted a fresh start in America. She was finally going to begin her dentistry program.
“I mean, you really are a hero, Irie.
My department wants to study you. We want to hear all about your time in prison. I mean, this is news. You are a gold mine. But, don’t worry. Get some sleep. We can talk all about it in the morning. Professor White will start the interviews. Should only take a few months, and when we get enough for the book, we can start the process to find your children. I promise. We will find them. Irie, Irie? Oh, ok. Get some sleep. Goodnight”
Irie laid her head back on her crisp white pillow. She could hear April talking, but the words just kept spinning around her. The posters on the walls began to blur and all the color drained from faces of April’s heroes. The cotton sheets were gone, replace by a scratchy brown blanket. She frantically moved her hands over her body. Her nightshirt was gone. She looked down and saw a grey jumpsuit. Just like the one she wore in jail. The walls melted, she rubbed her eyes to refocus on the posters and April, but she could only see gray cement and iron bars surrounding the bed, which sat right in the center of her jail cell.
For a moment, Irie thought she had been freed.
She thought that she would start a new life and that her pain and suffering were all behind her.
“Irie, Irie? Are you asleep?” It was April’s voice, again. “By the way, I love your hair. It is so natural. And your smile is beautiful. Your teeth are so…so.. White. I am so jealous of your beautiful brown complexion.
Irie? Are you asleep?”
Ok, now you. What books have you read recently? Can you expand on the plot? Themes? Can you write a dialogue between two of the characters?
Have fun and post here!