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I Asked My Mother to Tie My Headdress by Tochukwu Awachie

Updated: Feb 13, 2022

As a child, I dreamed of carrying a mountain above my shoulders.

Not like the Greek Sisyphus hauling a boulder uphill for eternity

or Atlas, the ankle of the universe -

that is not true strength.

They, perpetually bowed and strained, were aching and ashamed.

My mountain would sit higher, prideful angles and edges,

a crown atop my head.

I asked my mother to tie my headdress before we left for church.

I didn’t want to bother her and had considered trying it myself,

but this would be my first

and it needed to be perfect.

I picked the cloth, obsidian black and smooth on one side.

The other was lightly etched with flowers and Baroque motifs

glinting reddish gold like lava.

She took the cloth from me as I sat on the floor

with my shoulders tucked into the vise of her thighs.

I crossed my legs, she raised her arms, whipping wind through the fabric.

The rumbling as it unraveled marked the beginning of my initiation,

and once she lowered the length to my forehead,

thunder clapped

and the gale began.

I squeezed my eyes shut, disappearing into the noise.

Lightning pinned my ears back, and my skull swelled with the sound of

a bud breaking into bloom.

My neck turned sharply to meet each tuck and tie;

my head like a ship flung wildly at the whim of waves -

violent with the promise of an imminent shore -

anxious to claim the privileges of survival.

My anchor was the land I longed for:

the poise, the grace,

to be beautiful,


like my mother, and her mother,

and my aunts, and great-grands and all others before me.

I wanted to feel close to them,

to the wealth of color and culture in which they had flourished,

though I was more than an ocean away.

And this was a bridge –

a legacy, an inheritance.

All that I had dreamed, I was becoming.

I could not wait to be seen.

The world was now still and silent,

tender with newness.

Resting her hands on her knees, my mother released me

and I swayed under the weight of my mountain.

I slowly unclenched every inch of my body,

uncurling my toes,

extending my legs,

unravelling my cocoon and rising unsteadily.

Knowing, now, that I had transformed, I breathed deeply,


terrified of shattering the gift my mother had given me.

I walked carefully to the bathroom, eyes glued to the carpet, grounding myself with each step.

As my toes met the bathroom tile, I pivoted before the sink

and lifted my eyes slowly

to meet my reflection in the mirror.

Tochukwu Awachie is an artist and scholar who is intent on cultivating abundance in all aspects of life. Their work prioritizes wellness, which they pursue through creativity, psychology, and spirituality. Tochukwu’s art carries Black bodies, culture, and philosophy into realms of imagination and sensitivity. Believing that Blackness is dynamic and indomitable, they strive to create representations that remind those who have forgotten and teach those who are unaware. Tochukwu insists that the mind and spirit eat the same food and need the same medicine, and they hope that their work nourishes you in some way.

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