Don’t Tell the Shark

by Kelechi Ubozoh

Cracked mirror with warped image of Black womanMy anger is patient. Cold. Bored. Frozen. Angry Black woman? Not with this resting nice face. The rage is patient. Foundations of self-suppression built on bones of broken redwoods. Chrissy calls me, newly blonde and weepy—no, blue and weepy. Her pandemic tresses a new phase. Attention received. Since our teenage years, I’ve lived in a state of deep admiration mixed with fear. Admiration of her magnetic force. Fear that her extreme warmth will burn me alive. She grants me passage to her rare displays of tenderness. 

I am special. I am loyal. 

Long ago, we were dancing in the Mission district at a house party. Chris’s muscles gleam, everything tight. She whispers when we are alone how she must get cut/angled/sharp/strong/fit. All things round and soft disgust her. I am round and soft. 

Overdressed with bright pink lipstick on this brown face, I’m invisible. The Black boys surround Chrissy like bees to a queen. Honey thick on her sculpted calves. She takes one home and will keep him for 90 days—her expiration date.

I am invisible. Swelling with sorrow. My anger is patient. Who am I angry with? 

The Black boys she brings home, they always want to be friends with me. Playful and teasing, awarding me nicknames with a short shelf-life. Forgive me, their eyes say. My smile is all teeth to consume scraps of attention. Better than starving. 

Is it? Shake it off. Smile. Scream on the inside. 

She hates her white daddy. I say I hate my Black daddy. Interracial dating pisses both of them off. She laughs and it fills the moon. I itch. I bury. I bleed. I mask.

Screams on the back patio with the 90-day bae. I rush to rescue . . . someone. Unclear who needs saving, since Chrissy coaxes the flames of any dispute. Then the word.  It travels quickly with daggers to the destination. I freeze. The forbidden word spilling from her lips, a weapon to this Black boy who heard it everywhere but with the white woman he’s with. 

Shame and hurt flood my senses, fury crawls up my back. It is all inconvenient. Shake it off. Lie to myself. Easier to forgive her than to punish her. 

She crumples into a heap and cries. I drive her home. I keep her secret. I stuff it all down to vomit it up years later. 

My anger is patient.

“It is too bad he went and offed himself,” says Chris. “I really wanted to use his space.” 

We are in Chris’s backyard and the sun is high. She stretches arms wide and shimmers in the sun. So cold and beautiful. My words are stolen in the face of her cruelty. I know she means it. She is inconvenienced by this man’s suicide.

Like when you are driving home and you accidentally take a wrong turn and you are five minutes late. Five fucking minutes late is the equivalent of her energy for a friend’s death. The worst part is I believe her. Older versions of myself make excuses for her abandonment issues and childhood trauma. But the twinkle in her eye like she’s letting me in on a secret. The hint of a smile on the corner of her mouth.  This is the truth.

It is my turn to speak. “Brian killed himself?” A quiet echo to the narcissus on my right.

“Oh, I didn’t tell you? Yeah . . . he ran out of money, it was like back in March. Oh well, that space was so nice.” 

I, too, have hung in the balance of life and death. She knows this. I was even in a documentary about it, streaming on Amazon. She’s seen it, twice. Shit, she’s even in it. They cut her out on the editing floor. Cut her out. 

I leave her and the friendship that day. Unlike the times I tried before, I know this will stick. Slowly, I untangle the complex web of guilt, love, fear, and loyalty. Black savior complex extinguished. There is no conversation. 

My girl Tia says, “If you are in the water with a shark, you don’t tell the shark you are leaving.” She smells blood. I sage my body and my house. I light a candle for Brian. I will not save this white woman who steps on the necks of others and spits in the face of life. 

So, I leave her. At last. I leave.

Kelechi Ubozoh is a Nigerian-American writer who blends the reality of trauma, race, and mental health into poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction. Originally from Brooklyn, Kelechi was the first undergraduate ever published in the New York Times. Kelechi co-hosts and co-curates the Bay Area reading series MoonDrop Productions with Cassandra Dallett. She has performed at the Berkeley Poetry Festival, Oakland’s Beast Crawl, San Francisco’s Litquake, and at Litcrawl with Cocoa Fly, an all-Black-women troupe. She is the editor, with L.D. Green, of the 2019 anthology We’ve Been Too Patient. Her work has also appeared in Endangered Species, Enduring Values, an anthology of works by San Francisco Bay Area writers and artists of color. She is working on a collection of poetry through memoir. Find her at

Photo by Sadie Culberson