Tora Estep and Kamika Cooper

Tora Estep, “Blinded by the Goddess” (charcoal on canvas, 30 in. x 24 in., painting cartoon)



Priceless by Kamika Cooper

Patsy locked her bike to the fencing around a tall shaded tree and headed into the building for her weekly support group. The first to arrive, alone in a room of empty chairs, she pulled a book from her bag but found herself unable to focus. Her thoughts wandered back a few years to the beginning of her love affair with her bike.

Obese. That was the word used to define her since childhood. Anytime she encountered the word, spoken or written, it phonetically translated to her as “beast”. Obese (beast), something other than human and less than worthy. Scales and full-length mirrors became forbidden in her household, though such denials of reality did not help her to escape the consequences of her condition. In her early 30’s, well above 300lbs, she was diagnosed with Type-2 Diabetes and high blood pressure. Late that fall and into the winter, she became obsessed with walking, jogging, and calorie counting, resulting in a 40lb weight loss by the following summer.

Seeing and supporting her efforts, her brother gave her a blue Mongoose: a mountain bike. She had not ridden a bike since she was a pre-teen, so it was overwhelming and she almost gave up. In those early days with Melodie Mongoosey, as she had named and gendered her, Patsy would be roughly three miles into her daily, five-mile work commute along the Potomac River, mumbling a myriad of obscenities to herself, dripping with sweat. She would arrive at her destination, lock Melodie to a pole, and then light up a cigarette like it was a reward for making it to her destination, once again. It wasn’t long before she and Melodie went absolutely everywhere together. Melodie became her hope, joy, sanity, and savior. She especially enjoyed riding down hills – she felt like she was flying.

“I’ve got something for you.”

Pasty was jarred out of her reverie to see Brian, a fellow support group member, standing to her right. “What is it?”

“I saw this and thought of you. I thought you might like to have it.”

He held out a gold bracelet. It had two, intertwining gold bands with a clasp serving as the beginning and the end of the union. Just before each crossing, lay a sparkling diamond and a purple stone. She didn’t care for jewelry, and abhorred diamonds. She had an appreciation for the healing powers of precious stones and minerals, but found the conditions around diamond mining to be disturbing. If there was an adornment to be worn, she preferred wood or silver. She smiled in appreciation, not wanting to seem ungrateful for his generosity, but had no interest in the bracelet.

“It’s not really me. I doubt it would fit anyway.”

“Why don’t you just try it on?”

Reluctantly, she took it and, once fastened, it slid coldly and heavily down her wrist. She noticed that the clasp affixed to the bands was the most unique she had ever seen, with one side sliding perfectly into the other like a puzzle piece. The gold intertwining bands were locked to one another with a thinner, oval-shaped gold band which moved from side to side and connected to small ridge rising out of the puzzle-like clasp. After peering closely at the purple stone, she noted that it was her birth stone: Amethyst.

“Why are you giving this to me?”

“Well, actually I was hoping you would buy it.”

She paused. “Oh. How much were you expecting?”

She had been afraid that accepting the bracelet would encourage this man, who was twice her age, to hit on her. Now, it was clear that his only intention was to make some money. She considered the things he had shared with the group. He spoke of how difficult it had been for him to get decent meals over the past months and how he had recently been fired by a belligerent boss who never paid him what he was worth, despite all of his physical labor and a recent back injury. She knew that his relationship with his family was rocky at best. Though financially strapped herself and definitely not in need of any jewelry, her predicament was temporary. She concluded that she should help him.

“Why don’t you give me two quarters for it?”

“Two quarters?” Pasty asked. If he only wanted 50 cents for a bracelet, surely he was hitting on her. Still, she dug into her handmade, cloth wallet to produce a five dollar bill.

“Here’s five dollars.”

His demeanor shifted as he stared at the five dollar bill. He smiled and asked, “You’re gonna give me five dollars for this?”

“Yes. You said you wanted two quarters, but I thought you could use a little extra.”

“When I said two quarters, I meant fifty dollars.”

“Oh, I misunderstood.”

She reluctantly reached back into her wallet, and handed him all of the remaining cash, forty-five dollars. She had intended that money to last through the next few days. She was disappointed that he had wanted to sell her anything at all, and that he would use the setting of the support group to do so. Though it was quite unique with her birthstone embedded, she had no interest in wearing the thing. Now, she had completely emptied her wallet without consideration of the financial bind it would put her in for the next few days. She rested on the principal that he needed the money more than she did. He thanked her and took his seat across the room.

Wearing the bracelet throughout the support group that day, she felt uneasy. She looked at it against her brown skin, studying the stones and bands. When the group ended, she approached him.

“This is on the up and up, right? Where did you get this bracelet?”

“Oh yeah, that’s gold-plated silver and the stones are real. You can have it appraised.”

“I meant, where did you get it? Where did it come from?

“I know a guy at this pawn shop I go to and I got it from there.”

Patsy had to rush back to work and had no time for further discussion. Outside, she quickly unlocked Melodie from the fencing and pedaled off toward the office, deeply disturbed. During her 15-minute ride from the group, through Rose Park and into Georgetown, she reflected on Brian’s words and the entire situation. Her mind kept returning to the possibility that the bracelet might be stolen or acquired in a less than honest fashion. She began to wonder about its original owner. She imagined them beside themselves over this loss. Perhaps it had been a gift from a loved one, passed down for generations, or something coveted and acquired through a great deal of sacrifice. She began to pray.
Oh Goddess, if someone is missing this bracelet – if it was acquired and sold to me through dishonest means or anything of the sort, please send me a sign. Please help me to make it right and do the next right thing. Please help me to balance the scales in whatever manner you feel is appropriate.

Arriving back at her office and locking Melodie to a pole, she abruptly removed the bracelet and dropped it into her bag. Gradually, her inner soundtrack about the incident and her prayer for balance in the matter faded into background noise, and she was able to focus on her work tasks.

Several hours later, she shut down her work computer and made her way out of the office. The bracelet seemed to make her bag heavier than usual, but she reasoned that it was a figment of her imagination. She reached into the bag to retrieve her keys and biking gloves. As she fastened the first glove closed, she looked up toward the pole: Melodie was gone.

She blinked her eyes a few times, not believing what she couldn’t see. Tears flooded her eyes as she began to panic. She circled the block, hoping that she had simply forgotten where she had placed Melodie, but such a thing had never occurred in the years that she had owned her. Recalling her succinct prayer just hours earlier, she came to a place of acceptance: Her hope, joy, sanity, and savior was really gone. Not even the lock, helmet, lights, or bell had been left behind. She sat there in the space where Melodie had been, crying until the sun set.

The following week at support group Patsy returned the bracelet to Brian. When asked why, she simply told him that it didn’t belong to her.

“Well, I hope you don’t expect to get the money back because I don’t have it.”

“Brian, I do not want the money back. It was payment for a priceless lesson learned.”


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