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Black Girl Magic

by na’im 10 months ago in Fable · updated 10 months ago
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nature's secret

**photo by Julie Patton**

Everyone thought it, but nobody wanted to say it. After Mother Wata was fired from the cafeteria, one black girl after the next became visibly withdrawn and less radiant. This unspoken coincidence was overshadowed by the silence that enveloped the town.

Before, there was no silence. Townsfolk could barely hear their own thoughts from the sounds of people talking, laughing, singing, and dancing during weddings, post-divorce celebrations, birthing ceremonies, day-long funerals, baseball games, drunken fights at baseball games, chess tournaments, drunken fights at chess tournaments, harvest festivals, fishing competitions, sacred Sunday prayer time and drunken fights after sacred Sunday prayer time.

Those town sounds were replaced by the sound of soil being displaced by the depressed feet of citizens. One could literally hear every bird’s fluttering and every squirrel’s scurrying.

“She wouldn’t tell us what was in the oil,” Sheriff Robinson reminded the gathering at the town hall meeting. “Listen, if she dies, her secret dies with her. We have to think about our future!”

As usual, nobody spoke. Why they continued to gather every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at noon was just as confounding as the firing of Mother Wata.

Sheriff Robinson was tired of the stares. He was tired of the silence.

He left the meeting and drove out to the farm of Mother Wata. He saw her from a distance wrapped in a deep brown shawl and blue and yellow pants. Her hands appeared to be sprinkling something over a colony of worms.

The sheriff quietly got out of his vehicle but could feel her tracking his movements. He spotted what he thought was Mama Wata’s abandoned greenhouse. Its usual brownish tint seemed gone, almost appearing as though it was newly built. Before he realized it, Sheriff Robinson was walking towards the greenhouse. It didn’t take long for the determined strides of his lanky body to bring him to the front door. He peaked in and saw the entire west wall lined with sets of mortars and pestles. They were in immaculate condition. Down the center of the greenhouse were close to one hundred marigolds. All of them were well over 18 inches tall. Lining the east wall of the greenhouse was a massive heap of mealworms. For some reason, the worms remained segregated from the marigolds without any visible boundaries in place.

After a few minutes, the sheriff walked back to his car. He yelled to Mother Wata, “I’m sorry about this. Truly, I am.” He drove back into the town to the local pharmacy.


Tai was watching when the sheriff stumbled through Mama Wata’s yard. She hid silently behind the back of a towering oak. Sheriff Robinson being her uncle would mean twice the trouble if he told her dad that she disobeyed him again by visiting Mama Wata. After Sheriff Robinson drove off, Mama Wata beckoned Tai to show herself.

“Girl,” she said. “How many times have I told you to stay away? I gave you what you came for last week. Now get on, so the magic can do its work. No looking back. You cast the spell and let it go.”

“But Mama Wata,” Tai insisted, “This is the night you said that the moonlight will turn the golden petals of the marigolds blood red. The night of the harvest moon is when we must prepare our last batch of oil. You said the magic is not complete ‘til the marigolds show their truest color.”

Mama Wata cursed under her breath. Tai was a fast learner with an impeccable memory. A wave of sadness washed over Mama Wata, which she quickly swallowed.

“Now listen here,” gathering her brows and baring her teeth. “Things gonna start to happen around here that won’t make sense.”

Mama Wata pulled a small sandstone amulet from the pocket of her blue and yellow African print pants.

Tai took a few steps closer to Mama Wata, close enough to smell the calendula oil used to soothe her callused hands, the oil she rubbed into her scalp to ease the sores beneath her long silver plaits.

Tai was just close enough to see the gray rings that circled the woman’s irises. Close enough to see the large pores on her sagging brown cheeks. Close enough to get a better sense of just how old Mama Wata really was.

As Mama Wata’s fingers brushed against her hand, Tai felt a ripple of electricity pass between them. Startled, Tai pulled back.

“Stay still, girl,” Mama Wata said. “Look close.”

Tai gazed down at the amulet and saw a rough outline of a scarab beetle glistening through the tiny specks of quartz in the sandstone. Mama Wata kept an extensive collection of beetles of various shapes, colors, and sizes displayed on the wall of her dining room.

“You take this and keep it close to your body. When you get scared, and you will be afraid sooner than you think, hold this in your hand face side down with your thumb placed against the back of the stone. When the fear is gone, take the stone and notice the new shape of the scarab. Once the scarab turns back to its original form, pick seven stems of marigold in full bloom, put them in a pot of water, and bring them to a boil. Once the water is boiling drop the scarab into the water and let it stay there until it dissolves into a sand. Understand?”

Tai nodded.

“Let the water boil ‘til nothing is left but the stem, the crumbled sand, and the petals. Grind them all together in a paste, and press it to the form of a new scarab, hear?”

“Yes, Mama Wata.”

“When that day comes, take it back to the cafeteria and call me from the kitchen. When you call, I will give you the words to complete the spell.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Don’t use the amulet ‘til the fear strikes deep into your heart. It is only then that the power of the scarab will come to life.”

Tai held the amulet in her hands, closed her eyes, and tucked the sandstone into the top tank bra she wore under her uniform.

“I will do exactly as you say, Mama Wata. I promise.”

“Good,” Mama Wata said, before gathering Tai up close in her arms and kissing the top of her head as she did to the girl’s mother so long ago. After another second, Mama Wata pushed Tai away and grumbled, “Now, don’t come back around no time soon, and definitely not before the spell is complete. Understand?”

Tai nodded her assent. “I love you, Mama Wata.”

“I know, child. As I love you.”

That was the last time Tai saw Mama Wata alive.


Sheriff Robinson walked into the pharmacy to find his brother. He’d nearly forgotten what it was like to feel hope. He couldn’t resist the off-beat nods of his head to the jazz music that filled his mind. “We de de bee bop, be doo. Tat, da tat tat. Tat, da tat tat”

“What in the hell has gotten into you, Tim?” Sheriff Robinson’s brother was more spooked than curious. He wasn’t sure if his brother finally cracked from months of town silence or the guilt of his decision.

“I…….We bedee, bedee, bedee, bedee, bedee, badum, bop….I know the secret. Worms! It’s worms! Those brown, little mealworms!”

“What secret?”

“The oils, man. Can you dig it? The oils. Ha. Dig it. Worms. You get it? Can you dig it? I’m digging that. It’s the worms, can you dig the worms? Dig it? Ha! ”

“Tim. Listen. I’m saying this because I love you. I care about you and you’re the only brother I got.”

“Mealworms! Anyway, I need your help to make a batch. I was at Mama Wata’s”

“She told you the secret?”

“She didn’t have to tell me. I was there. I saw it. And she knew I saw it, too”


“Are you going to help me or not?”

“Listen, I mean. So, you’re telling me.”

“Charles! What I am telling you is what I already told you. How many times can I say what I already said? I know how to make the oils!”

Sheriff Robinson started to come down from his jazz high and looked at his brother with concern. He could tell his brother didn’t believe him. That was nothing surprising, but given all he’d been through he felt hurt. Charles could sense the pain developing in his brother.

“Okay, let me close up and we can make these oils. We can make as much as you like, Tim. We need to do it quickly. I know you heard about that flash flood coming at midnight.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard. I think it’s connected to Mama Wata.”

The two men spent the rest of the evening hunting for mealworms. Instead of marigolds they mistakenly picked calendulas. The bed of Charles’ pickup truck was full of calendulas, live worms, and dirt. The weight of their cargo was noticeable. The truck was barely an inch from the ground.

They didn’t know how much to gather, yet neither brother wanted to raise the point to the other. Both men were exhausted. Luckily for them both, they spotted Tai walking outside of the cafeteria.

“Tai!” Both men shouted in excitement and relief.

Tai was shocked to see the two men. She shoved the crushed marigolds and the scarab amulet Mama Wata gave her deep into her pockets. “I’m sorry dad. You must have heard somehow. I was at Mama Wata’s because…”

“You were where?” the men spoke in unison.

“You were there today?” Sheriff Robinson smiled.

“Yessir. And she told me …”

“So, you know about the oil too? I told you I wasn’t crazy, Charles. And you know why we got all the worms, too, right?” said the Sheriff, rambling on like a fool.

“Do mealworms turn into beetles?” asked Tim.

“Yes, but that’s not my point. You know why we got the worms…….right?” Sheriff Robinson slowly nodded his head up and down hoping Tai was following him.

Realizing what the two men were up to, Tai played along. “I guess so. Mama Wata said that it takes time.”

“Well, we don’t have time. Charles, let's make all the batches tonight and call everyone to the cafeteria tomorrow. I’ll make our great announcement there. We will be the town heroes.”

“Dad, the flowers are...nice.” The lessons Mama Wata taught her revealed themselves.

The brothers spent the night grinding the calendulas into the guts of the worms making a slimy paste with sediment on the bottom and a thin layer of oil on top. They collected as much of the oil as possible and readied themselves for tomorrow.


The townsfolk gathered the next day in the cafeteria.

“As you know, I felt that Mama Wata should be teaching more than just our black girls how to use her magic oil. We are sitting on a gold mine.”

Tai hurried to the cafeteria to complete the spell. A blast of thunder and a violent spray of lightning zigzagged in front of her. Desperate, Tai broke into a hard sprint, her hand wrapped tightly around the amulet in her pocket.

“Yesterday, I visited Mama Wata. I learned her secret and we made our own magic oils!” The Sheriff spoke proudly.

The townsfolk cheered.

“We have enough vials for everyone to drink today.”

The townsfolk took the vials.

“Uncle Tim! Dad! The flood!”

“Not now!,” the Sheriff snapped at Tai.

The townsfolk drank the vials of calendula oil. Nothing happened.

Tai looked down at the reformed scarab amulet and her eyes began to fill with a golden light.

Mama Wata’s voice filled Tai’s head. “Signal the moon to reverse the waters. My time here is now done. Tai, you alone possess the secret.”

“I think I understand now. Goodbye, Mama Wata.”


About the author


K-12 educator originally from the South now freezing in the Upper Midwest.

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