The JRB presents an excerpt from In Every Mirror She’s Black, the debut novel by Lọlá Ákínmádé Åkerström.
In Every Mirror She’s Black
Lọlá Ákínmádé Åkerström
Head of Zeus, 2021
Read the excerpt:
Brittany-Rae Johnson was born to first-generation immigrants who fled Jamaica and settled in the muggy warmth of Atlanta, Georgia, for no clear reasons explained to her. While she was growing up as their sole child, reminders of her Jamaican roots were found at Uncle Dajuan’s house three streets away whenever they visited him on weekends for curried goat and her parents switched into patois.
‘Jamaica boring!’ she’d often hear him joke as they dug into reminders of home off their Sunday plates.
‘Boring?’ she’d start her futile argument. ‘People go there for their honeymoon.’
‘Mi point exactly,’ he’d reply while cracking into bones. ‘Dem go for lovey-dovey, make babies, smoke ganja, and come back to dem real life. Boring!’ He’d finish off by licking his fingers one by one. One man’s paradise …
Her parents had struggled financially up until both their retirements. That wasn’t going to be her own destiny, if she could help it.
So, when Samuel Beaufount had floated into her life riding on his wings of fame and wealth, Brittany clung to him like a backhoe digging her out of Patois, goat, and ganja.
She had dreamed of going to fashion school to become a designer, envisioning sketching outlines, poring over fabrics, and launching her own line on catwalks in Paris and London. But Beaufount had derailed her and thrust her down the path of modeling.
Fifteen years ago, his air of self-importance had walked into Brittany’s textile design class way before the man himself did. As the legendary designer behind Beaufount—upscale men’s brand and go-to choice for metrosexuals who enjoyed pink shirts and turquoise trousers—he was going to be their guest lecturer for the term. This was his way of giving back to the next generation of designers, per the press release put out by his company.
His presence therefore demanded their rapt attention. He stood much taller and broader than they’d all seen on TV. Mindless bantering among the students died down the second Beaufount strolled into their class. He glided in wearing a pink pin-striped shirt encased in a green tartan suit, topped off with a green polka-dotted bow tie, his platinum hairdo slicked off his face.
His brown gaze swept over each student, wordlessly accepting or rejecting them. It landed on Brittany, and he followed its pull, planting himself in front of her desk, the class waiting with bated breath. He peered down at her for seconds, which stretched on for an eternity in Brittany’s mind, as he singled her out. Once she’d peeled off her initial feeling of dread, another emotion had bubbled up within Brittany. Beaufount had made her feel like the most exquisite creature he’d ever seen.
‘You shouldn’t be in here,’ he finally said with a deep baritone that belied his flamboyant exterior. ‘You should be modeling.’
Barely a week later, Beaufount became her manager. The first time he backed her into a corner had only been two weeks after that initial standoff in her textile class.
Beaufount remained the unrelenting weight bearing down on her slender, five-foot-eleven-inch frame. She still hadn’t talked to anyone about it besides a therapist she saw maybe once a month whenever she slunk into self-shaming.
Even her best friend, Tanesha, hadn’t been privy to any of it, and Tanesha had been sitting right next to her when she had become Beaufount’s pet project.
‘Do you want to see something special?’ Beaufount had asked Brittany when he’d invited her to his sprawling estate on the outskirts of downtown Atlanta. She had responded with a smile then a nod before setting down her porcelain teacup lined with golden vines on an equally delicate center table.
He led her through an intricate maze of grandiose rooms until he settled in front of gilded double doors. He glanced over his shoulder at Brittany, a coy smile on his lips, before opening both doors at once in a dramatic fashion.
His works in progress. A shrine to designs that were slowly materializing from creative ghosts in his mind to full-bodied apparitions worth thousands of dollars.
The walk-in closet swallowed up an awe-stricken Brittany, and Beaufount quietly shut the doors behind them.
Six months after he became her manager, Brittany dropped out of fashion school. Fifteen years later, thirty-eight-year-old Brittany stood in the galley as a flight attendant, serving water and champagne in small glasses to rich people.
Brittany had witnessed how the affluent floated into her cabins. They had an untouchable aura. She could sniff them out like a bloodhound. They often came dressed in understated ways, wearing very little bling, maybe one piece of jewelry—but worth a year’s salary. It was the difference between affording one Michelin-starred course versus buying the whole damn restaurant on a whim.
She’d often wondered how that cloak of impenetrable privilege would feel around her shoulders.
For a few months in her early twenties, she had tasted privilege with Samuel Beaufount, but as seasons changed into decades, Brittany had seen levels well beyond his stature.
The first few passengers in British Airways business class were settling in, shoving hand luggage into overhead bins, and handing suit jackets to her colleagues who were roaming through the cabin ensuring comfort.
Brittany took a quick look in the sliver of a mirror above the parked food carts to check her makeup and push loose strands of her bone-straight weave back before picking up the tray and heading down the aisle. Her cherry-red lips widened into a smile as she started her routine, handing out glasses and asking the passengers if they wanted champagne or water. She never broke stride, moving from one uninterested passenger to the next, occasionally pausing as a hand reached onto her tray.
The cabin was rather empty today. She was manning the last flight to Washington out of London that Thursday evening. Most of the business travelers had caught earlier flights to make it in time for corporate meetings or to close deals over lavish dinners.
‘Welcome on board,’ she said, stopping by seat 6A where a man with blond hair brushed back from his face sat gazing out the window. He was wearing a sky-blue shirt, and his left hand, which tapped restlessly on his knee, bore a titanium watch. ‘Would you like something to drink? Some wine maybe?’ He turned, pinning her with an intense gray-blue glare. She shifted her weight uncomfortably as he kept staring at her.
‘Would you like something to drink, sir?’ she repeated.
‘Yes, yes, of course,’ he answered, in an accent tinged with something Nordic. He reached for a glass of water, making eye contact over the rim as he downed its contents in one go. She smiled and was about to turn when he reached out again.
‘One more … please.’ He grabbed another glass and repeated the same over-the-rim scrutiny of her, making her uneasy. If that was his way of flirting, she wasn’t into it.
- Nigerian–American and based in Sweden, Lọlá Ákínmádé Åkerström is an award-winning author, speaker and photographer. In Every Mirror She’s Black is her debut work of fiction.
A timely and arresting debut novel about what it means to be a Black woman in the world. Perfect for fans of Queenie and Americanah.
Kemi is ready to change her life. She’s sick of being second-guessed in the boardroom; tired of smiling politely while men gaze at her body; bored of dating surveys that tell her Black African women are the least desired in America. Moving across the world, for a new job, certainly things will be different?
Brittany-Rae is tired of serving others. She’s determined not to struggle like her parents did. As a flight attendant, she’s seen the way the super-wealthy float, untouchable and easy, and she envies it. As a model in her twenties, she had a taste of that privilege. Now pushing forty, she knows that to have one kind of freedom, she must sacrifice another.
Muna began her treacherous journey two years ago. Then, she was a family of three. Now her mother and younger brother are buried somewhere at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. She’s been granted asylum, but she can’t shake the feeling that she will never belong. When your only family is a stack of passport photos, it’s hard to grow new roots.
In search of escape, these three women find themselves in Stockholm, a city that prides itself on being egalitarian and open. Instead of a fresh new start, they find the same problems just wear a different name.