There was once in Little Senegal, on 116th street and Malcolm X Boulevard, between a Bengali dollar slice joint and a dusty bodega a shopkeeper named Ousmane Diambang. Ousmane was gifted with a daughter of great beauty. She had never worn a weave nor applied lotion to her skin, and her skin always glowed brown and moist whether the weather was dry or humid. She had the sunny disposition and wit of the Sahel and never complained, tending to her father’s store from dusk till dawn without ever breaking a sweat.
Her name was Mariétou. When she walked down 125th street the sweet smell of the churaï she wore drew in its wake all manner of stray dogs from every corner of Harlem barking after her in their local dialects. Hola negrita! and Wa gwarn sista? Qua pasé pétite? and Yo shorty! The more gifted would improvise rhymes and impromptu breakdancing contests for her. She would always eat for free, secretly favoring pork chops with a hint of garlic over chicken, though her breath never showed and her father didn’t know.
Her looks and disposition kept her father’s business blooming. This was a simple fact he never quite put together, wrongly assuming that Harlemite male fashion had taken a turn towards West African women’s products. He made good money, remittances made him a legend from Mbour to Touba, and while it shocked his Islamic sensitivities, he reveled in the misconception that the strays were too effeminate to hook his daughter. It wouldn’t have matter what he sold: shirts, stereos, or e-cigarettes, they would have bought it, and just as they did with the makeup they purchased from him, walked around the corner and thrown it away.
But Ousmane Diambang had a plan for any would-be suitors. A very loud and odorous plan.
Among the strays, breakers, rappers and ballers, there were four who, no less victims of Mariétou’s magic, maintained enough clear-headedness to try to hit her up.
Domingo was the first. Domingo was Dominican and therefore had swag. He moved like a merengue tune was popping from a car radio that only he could hear, and his carefully cultivated Caribbean lilt of Hola suavecita had women age nine to ninety-five swooning as if it were 115 degrees and the air conditioning had broken. He was crazy for Mariétou despite his family complaining of pelo malo and his uncle commenting, on one of her few visits, that the room was getting dark. He would take her dancing and collect her sweat in small vials that he used to embalm his room with her perfume.
Lamar was the second. He was 6’9 and 270lbs, could sink a three pointer from across the court, run hurdles over linebackers, sing like Ginuwine and play Cee-lo like an old timer. His teeth were pearly white and reflected the evening sun, blinding every sister in the PJs who didn’t wear sunglasses. Lamar had game on and off the court, and was something of a Luke Cage in the way he held the block. He would spend all the money he made at the barbershop on getting courtside seats for Mariétou, saving every hair she lost, braiding it into his dreadlocks for good luck and love.
Fong was the third. Fong was a gifted fighter, and took shit from no one. Growing up hadn’t always been easy, but the kids who’d called him crouching tiger hidden dragon knew better by now, he’d made sure of it. His cheekbones were solid, his smile a mile wide, his chin dimpled, and his arms were thicker than an average man’s thighs. Fong was really into Mariétou. Literally. Fong was hung like a horse and never took her anywhere except the hotel. Of all her pretenders he was the only one to have reached home base, and kept of her only the bra she’d worn his first time with her.
The last was Faransoye Biram Ngor. Faransoye, whose parents didn’t know how to spell Francois, had recently arrived from the motherland; Casamance to be exact, and even by local standards was considered something of a hayseed. His shoulders slumped, his gut stuck out from under his shirt, his hairy feet were too large for his only pair of flip-flops, and his cracked yellow teeth and moonless midnight dark skin gave, when he smiled, the impression of a torchlight shining in a cavern. He was lazy, drunk and illiterate, spending most of his visa-less days looking over his shoulders for any signs of ICE while delivering thieboudien and mafé around Little Senegal, the spicy smell of which had become his signature. He’d been friendzoned by Mariétou almost on sight, Mariétou having taken a liking to him almost like he was a cousin. But Faransoye had something only the true migrant had and the others lacked: determination, and a very gassy stomach.
In a world in crisis/How the hell aren’t there/More dollar slices?
Mariétou leaned out of her tiny room’s window to survey the block. Her room was small but organized, and held more authentic artifacts than the Museum of Natural History: Rare masks that had survived French colonization, that upon a touch sent visions of large huts and dancing around fires for warriors readying for battle, of secrets spoken in old tongues that imprinted one briefly with the gift of understanding every language in the world. Pictures of her dead grandma Mame Coumba Lambaye who could, legend had it, kill with a touch. Cloths of all shades and colors that could cloak you in invisibility or give you the appearance of the person or animal of your choosing.
Her pretenders were all there, battle rhyming, trying to draw her out. Even Faransoye was there, rhyming the little he could in wolofenglish.
Katsendaye!/Dafa nekh, Dafa nice/High!
Mariétou snorted at the profanity, her chiming laugh interrupting the contest and drawing their eyes upwards.
Who would she pick if they ever built up the nerve to approach her father? Domingo with his sexy moves and sweet talk? Lamar with his dazzling smile and superhero frame? Fong with his mammoth schlong? She even considered Faransoye a brief instant before shaking her head.
“Yo mamí come down!” Domingo hollered. “Summer is muy frio without you!”
“And have to listen to your weak flows?” she snapped back, shaking her hair out of her face with Pantene commercial precision. “Besides, my dad’ll have your hides!”
“That’s exactly why we’re here!” Lamar started.
“Yup!” Fong finished. “We’re here to ask for your hand. What you make of that?”
Mariétou looked at Faransoye. He nodded and grinned, rubbing his belly.
“Word on top, rek!” he yelled. The other three glared at him, shaking their heads.
Mariétou yelped at the thought, and disappeared into her room, slamming the window shut. Ousmane appeared in her stead, and studied each of the suitors in turn.
“Of course you can marry my daughter.” Ousmane told them with a grin. They beamed. “Whichever one of you wins the farting contest, that is.”
“Di qué, tio???”
“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot????”
“What’s wrong? Suddenly lost your appetite for my daughter?” Ousmane said, his face cold.
“No señor, but…”
“…seriously you can’t really mean…”
“…a farting contest???”
“Yes I do. It’s a Diambang tradition: my father farted for my mother, and his father before him! You all come down here tomorrow, noon sharp, and let them rip. The loudest farter wins my daughter.”
It’s believed that Domingo and Lamar both feasted on rice and beans to prepare for the contest before collapsing, and Fong ingested industrial quantities of pork-fried rice and passed out. Faransoye? Who knows? But in his true fashion he must’ve drank himself into oblivion in the back of a restaurant.
One thing was certain, Ousmane Diambang went to bed laughing, for there never was, nor ever had been such a tradition in his family, or anywhere in the world. The wily old man hoped that the suitors would humiliate themselves and disgust Mariétou so that she would never want to hear from them again.
They gathered the following day at noon as agreed. A block party reminiscent of Marché Yoff on the beaches of Dakar was going down on the corner of Malcolm X and 116th: brightly colored tents were set up, blocking traffic. Neighbors sat on plastic chairs congratulating Ousmane and Mariétou to pounding djembés and the spicy smell of dibi hausa skewers.
A griot chanted the Diambang family history over a microphone before praising Mariétou for her beauty…and beautiful she was. She had wrapped herself in a tight red dress that slid around her curves like sand blowing over perfect dunes in the desert, hinting of the eternity that invisibly shifts before the eye, forever changing but immortal. Her hair flowed in braids over her shoulders and back, like tiny ropes inviting one to climb and get lost in the valleys and canyons of her neck and cheeks.
They were only three. Faransoye was late, as was his wont, and they approached Ousmane timidly.
“Ah! Our contenders are here!” Ousmane said standing. The drums and the griot halted. “Are you ready to…rumble?” The crowd laughed. For the first time in their lives the cocky street kids were shy. They threw furtive glances at Mariétou, who stifled a giggle with her hand.
“Good. Very good.” Ousmane continued. “Have you chosen which NFL teams you represent?”
That last bit was Ousmane’s own greedy touch, having a secret raffle going for those who’d bet on the winner.
“Yes,” Domingo said “I’ll be the Broncos.”
“I’ll be the Panthers.” Lamar said.
“And I’ll be the Falcons.” Fong finished.
Faransoye was still absent.
“Someone go look for that lazy bum and drag him here.” Ousmane ordered. A few people rose and left the tent.
“Alright boys. Who goes first?”
The crowd had gone silent.
Domingo raised his hand. “The Broncos first.”
“Alright everybody, let’s hear it for the Broncos!” Ousmane said.
Domingo walked into the middle of the circle of chairs, grabbed the microphone and applied it to his backside. The crowd went silent. Domingo pushed.
Tuc-Taca-Tac-Tuc-Tuc, Tuc-Taca-Tac-Tuc-Tuc, Tuc-Taca-Tac-Tuc-Tuc-Tac, Tuc-Taca-Tac-Tuc-Tuc / Tuc-Taca-Tac-Tuc-Tuc…
The smell was overpowering, but the 2/4 beat whipped members of the audience to their feet in a frenzied dance of shaking hips and spin moves. Even those who remained seated bobbed their shoulders rhythmically along with Domingo’s emissions, turning the contest into a bonché.
“Mueve la cintura, mueve la cintura…” Ousmane caught himself singing along to the farts, catching hold of himself just as Domingo’s eyes threatened to pop out of his skull. “Enough!” he exclaimed.
Mariétou laughed and clapped as the disappointed dancers regained their seats, and a disheveled Domingo ran away bawling.
“Well.” Ousmane said, smiling, “Looks like the Broncos couldn’t handle…the pressure! Haha! Who’s next?”
Lamar gulped and stepped into the circle. He hesitated to touch the microphone for a brief second, then snatched it off the ground and bent over.
“Everybody give it up for the Panthers!” Ousmane exclaimed.
Lamar clenched and unclenched his butt cheeks in preparation, and let it rip.
Pts-Pts-Boom-Boom-Pts-Boom-Ts-Boom-Ts / Boom-Boom-Ts-Ts-Boom-Ts-Boom / Pts-Pts-Boom-Boom-Pts-Boom-Ts-Boom-Ts…
The odor matched Domingo’s, confirming the rice and beans theory, a percussive breakbeat that took over the crowd. They bobbed their heads in unison, shoulders swinging synchronously with Lamar’s exploding blasts, turning the festivities into a club.
“…I used to read Word Up magazine! / Salt-N-Pepa and Heavy D up in the…” Ousmane leapt out of his chair. Mariétou’s amused grin looked like a thousand moonlights. What is happening to me? Ousmane thought, raising his arms to stop the deluge of flatulence just as Lamar’s nose spurted blood. Exhausted, he collapsed on the concrete and a group of people dragged his massive frame away.
“Once again!” Ousmane shouted triumphantly. “The Panthers started strong but fell flat! Are the Falcons up to the challenge?”
Fong was green in the face, throwing desperate glances at Mariétou. She sent him back a cold stare, her eyes telling him to man up. He approached the microphone trembling from head to toe, his stomach lurching into his throat. He couldn’t lose face in front of her. He picked up the microphone, lifted one leg and placed it beneath his bottom.
“Mesdames et Messieurs! The Falcons!” Ousmane bellowed.
Fong started the engine.
Boom-Boom-Boom-Clap / Boom-Boom-Boom-Clap / Boom-Bam-Boom-Bam-Boom-Clap / Boom-Bam-Boom-Bam-Boom-Clap / Boom-Boom-Boom-Clap…
Half the audience fainted. The beat was slow at first, but with each repeating pattern it gained in speed, adding to the dizziness induced by the stench. Yet, some in the crowd rose and spun, faster and faster, blue, black and brown boubous and dresses like so many helix spirals.
Ousmane was one of them. Caught in the uncontrollable spin he lost track of time and space, his mind turning back to a childhood memory when he’d seen a poster of New York City on a barbershop wall in his tiny village of Popenguine along the Petite Côte between Dakar and Saly. He’d sworn he’d go from fishing nets to the Big Apple and make something of himself. Never would he have believed that dream would come true and that Allah would bless him with such a beautiful daughter. His wife had died delivering her. His heart had snapped, and he would have let himself wither away if not for the treasure that she had left him with. He’d worked hard to raise Mariétou alone, and how proud he was of how sweet and strong she’d grown, just as her mother had been.
Weeping, he lost balance and Mariétou caught him in her slender but strong arms just as Fong’s pants caught fire and he ran off, flames bursting from his colon. He trailed smoke past two burly former wrestlers dragging a unconscious Faransoye into the makeshift arena.
Ousmane rose from Mariétou’s arms, bowing mockingly at Faransoye. Faransoye opened his eyes, stunned at finding himself in a place that looked like home but smelled as if every toilet in Harlem had been sampled and blended into a potpourri.
“As the Falcons fly away our final contestant appears. Not a moment too soon, Faransoye. Naka liguey bi tey? Too busy working to attend the festivities?”
“Tonton Ousmane… Mariétou…salam alaikum.” Faransoye mumbled, “Any beer left?”
Usually Ousmane would’ve hit him upside the head and shooed him away, but he was in good spirits. The three main contenders had shown their limits, and there was no way this misshapen little roach would ever win his beautiful daughter over.
“Of course! Anything for our champion? Flag or Gazelle? Wait, let me guess, Gazelle? It’s the bigger bottle.”
Faransoye nodded, grabbed the bottle and drained it all at once. The effect was immediate. Almost instantly he stood straighter–which wasn’t much–and grinned. The gurgle of an ocean being swallowed into a drain erupted from his distended stomach. Ousmane raised an eyebrow. Mariétou waved at him, smiling affectionately. This promised to be a great day for him.
“So? And which team are you?”
He’d forgotten all about that and blurted out “Diambar!” thinking he was asked for a soccer team, and going for Senegal’s national squad.
“You’ll be the Lions then? Excellent choice. Please proceed, we don’t have all day.”
Faransoye couldn’t believe his luck. He sidled into the center of the circle, winked at Mariétou, lowered the object to his tail, pressed his stomach with one hand, and without further ceremony, farted.
BADABOOM-BADOOM-BOOM-BAM-BAM / BADABOOM-BADOOM-BOOM-BAM-BAM/ BADABOOM-BADOOM-BOOM-BAM-BAM / BADABOOM-BADOOM-BOOM-BAM-BAM / BADABOOM- BADABOOM-BADABOOM- BADABOOM- BADABOOM- BADABOOM-BADABOOM- BADABOOM / BADABOOM-BADOOM-BOOM-BAM-BAM…
It wasn’t a fart; it was an earth-shattering, machine gun rumble of bass. The combination of semi-digested cheap pizza, Doritos and beer should have plunged Harlem into a coma, but instead it inebriated the crowd, sent them leaping up and down, kicking their legs and crying with deep ululations that added to the vibrancy. Ousmane danced with the audience, his very soul caught in the frenzy. Only Mariétou remained seated, her auburn eyes glazed, strawberry lips agape, staring at Faransoye in awe.
At that moment two white vans labelled Immigration and Customs Enforcement in large blue letters barreled in on the contest, tires screeching, and unloaded a dozen immigration enforcement officers clad in bulletproof vests and armed with loud speakers.
“Nobody move! Immigration and Customs Enforcement! Proofs of legal residence out now!”
The crowd was too whipped to hear them, but Faransoye did. His eyes grew wide with panic as a flashback to his journey hidden inside a steaming hot container on a freight ship for days, dehydrated and starving, burned across his vision. He hadn’t suffered that for nothing. He wasn’t going back. This was where he would make it, and nowhere else. He closed his eyes, and pushed harder on his stomach.
BADABOOM- BADABOOM-BADABOOM- BADABOOM- BADABOOM- BADABOOM-BADABOOM- BADABOOM…
The ground rumbled beneath him and the concrete shattered, spreading a fissure all the way down 116th and through the crowd, swallowing the dancers, Ousmane, and the ICE officers at once. They plummeted into New York’s stinking bowels with a deafening crack.
Faransoye opened his eyes. Only Mariétou remained, sitting on her chair, a look of adoration on her perfect face. She stood up, leaped over the fissure between her and Faransoye, and threw her arms around his pudgy neck.
What a great day indeed.
Faransoye looked up from the counter of his small but prosperous convenience store on 125th street as the chimes rang and his gorgeous wife Mariétou walked in with their three daughters, Fatou, Sokhna and Ngone. Each one was prettier than the other, and more beautiful than their mother had been at their age.
Those three would be trouble growing up. They would have too many suitors for him to scare away, but just in case some of them were harder to shake off and got any ideas…well, he had just the plan…
Mame Bougouma Diene is a Franco-Senegalese American humanitarian based in Brooklyn, NY with a fondness for progressive metal, tattoos and policy analysis. He is the USA/Francophone Spokesperson for the African Speculative Fiction Society (ASFS), and is published in various anthologies (AfroSFv2, Myriad Lands, You Left Your Biscuit Behind, This Book Ain’t Nuttin to Fuck Wit – A Wu Tang Tribute Anthology) and magazines in both English (Omenana) and French (Galaxies SF) with more to come.