The Sacrifice

Written by Jonathan Ames on . Posted in Breaking News, Posts.

lovely," I said. "When and what time? Jacket and tie necessary?"

The following
evening I rode my bike to Vivian’s house a few neighborhoods away. I was
to be the assistant to the assistant to the Babalao. The Babalao is what a priest
is called in the Ifa religion–a religion practiced by the Yoruba, a people
indigenous to Nigeria. Certain aspects of Ifa, combined with practices and beliefs
taken from others religions, including and primarily Christianity, help to make
up the Vodun religion, which is more commonly referred to as Voodoo.

who is a world traveler and first-class adventurer (she’s been in the middle
of warring soldiers’ gunfire on the Amazon, survived a two-week episode
of malaria in a hut in Nigeria, nearly died of a mysterious fever in a hospital
in Bangkok, was tackled and French-kissed by a cannibal in the jungles of the
Philippines, and is well-liked in London and Paris and Denmark), is a devotee
and student of several different religions. She’s always appealing to various
gods to look after her soul, provide good lovers and keep an eye on her investments.

So this
past August she had consulted with the Babalao, who was in New York for a few
weeks, staying in Harlem, and he had prescribed for Vivian a sacrifice to help
keep her in good standing with the spirit world. And that’s where I enter
the picture. The sacrifice was to take place on the second Saturday night of
September, and I got to Vivian’s on time, around 8:30, but she wasn’t
there. I knew she had to go to Harlem to pick up the Babalao and his assistant,
which could account for her not being home–perhaps there was traffic. Also,
when you travel as much as Vivian does, you’re in several different time
zones, so punctuality is not one of her strong points, but I wasn’t put
out–when you know a friend’s weakness, it makes you much more tolerant.

Thus, ready
for a long wait, I grabbed a Post from the corner deli and sat on the
stoop of her building. I was prepared to lay siege for as long as two hours,
since it’s not every day that you get invited to a sacrifice, and I knew
it was going to happen no matter how late she got back. Most friends I give
half an hour grace period for tardiness before giving up, but with Vivian one
has to make a much greater allowance. But it’s worth it for the things
she has exposed me to over the years, the adventures she’s taken me on.

While I
memorized the baseball box scores and statistics in the paper, a beautiful girl,
early 20s, came out of the laundromat next door and for some odd reason stared
right at me. I was instantaneously smitten. She was of the thin, waifish, small-hipped
variety of female who nonetheless are gloriously adorned with medium-to-large
succulent breasts. Furthermore, this girl had hair the color of wet sand, her
skin was smooth and pale and her lips were swollen and all too kissable. She
wore those bohemian-style pants that come to the hip bones and end tantalizingly
just above the pubis. And she was in a small t-shirt, so her braless breasts
in all their delectability were stunningly outlined, and, too, since the t-shirt
didn’t reach the pants–on purpose, siren!–I could see her tender,
vulnerable belly. Oh, to kiss that belly! To press my face against it like a

I insanely
wished, as I have millions of times in similar circumstances, that she would
immediately and magically fall in love with me so I could then throw her over
my shoulder and run to the woodsy, stygian park that was conveniently down the
street, and then beneath some tree growing like an erection out of the ground,
I’d peel away those nothing pants and nothing shirt and behold her in the
starlight and the diffuse city light–this perfect beautiful girl–and
kiss her and stroke her, be sweet to her and rough with her, then have her,
which is the basic male-female equation–I am well aware that there are
other possibilities–that I subscribe to: Man gets to take the woman because
the woman wants to be taken.

So she looked
at me for a lingering, languorous moment, then went back in to the laundromat.
I returned to the baseball box scores–a numbing, safe haven away from the
burden of sexual desire, which, by the way, despite all our romantic and erotic
embroidering (see above), is simply a physiological call to arms to make babies.
And this raises a problem for me. Since most sex thwarts procreation, I find
the whole thing maddening and confusing. What’s the point of sex if we’re
not making babies? When I finish making love and I peel off a condom it’s
like I climbed a mountain for no reason at all and my first thought is, Oh,
I guess I better get back down. It is nice, of course, to bring happiness to
another, to be close to them, but the whole thing feels so Herculean–all
that mounting and thrusting–that there should be a greater end than the
old peeling off of the condom.

I sat on that stoop for about half an hour, having moved on from the sports
section to the front of the paper, and then that girl came out again and stood
in front of the laundromat and stared at me for the second time. Why? Why did
she look at me so? Was she lonely on a Saturday night doing laundry? Could this
be an opportunity for a miraculous pick-up? I decided to take action. At that
time, I was one week into my training for my upcoming boxing match and was already
feeling quite virile. Despite my whining, I continually yearn to climb lots
of mountains, to mount lots of girls. I have repetitive amnesia when it comes
to remembering that mildly pointless feeling one has after the act. So I made
my move.

laundry on a Saturday night?" I said to her, which is perhaps one of the
all-time worst pick-up lines. And its stupidity was compounded by the fact that
I immediately, upon uttering those words, discovered why she was staring at
me. She wasn’t. She was looking over my shoulder to see if her 6-foot-3,
handsome dredlocked Jamaican–at least by appearance–boyfriend was
coming to rescue her from the laundromat, which he was, exactly at the precise
moment that I delivered the above line that he heard just as well as she did.
He then slowed down his stride as he passed me and he glared at me. How dare
I even speak to his girl?
said his angry–and justified–gaze. He
then put his arm around the girl and stared me down some more. I was hardly
a threat or a rival–if we were caveman she would have been his by virtue
of his superior size–but he was giving me the prolonged hairy eyeball anyway.

I said, and shrugged my shoulders in a gesture of conciliation, having to do
something to break the tension, and which was my way of saying to him–which
was perhaps insulting to the girl, but maybe not–"Can you blame me?
She’s beautiful. You’ve got a great girl there." He stared at
me a few more milliseconds, and the whole thing, to my politically correct sensitized
mind, seemed to have some kind of weird racial undercurrent: Here I was a white
man in a primarily black neighborhood trying to pick up a white girl who was
in a biracial relationship.

the stare-down ended–I was getting ready to fight or run–and they
went inside. I kept reading my paper and wished that Vivian would show up so
we could get on with the sacrifice and I could avoid another confrontation with
the girl’s boyfriend. But Vivian didn’t show up and a few minutes
later, the couple came out of the laundromat and walked past me and the guy
stared at me the whole time. I felt like some weird creep who sits on a stoop
and tries to pick up girls with terrible lines.

So I sat
there about another half hour, and then to help pass the time I went to the
deli and bought a Haagen-Dazs chocolate-covered vanilla ice cream bar and
a banana. Once I was back in position on the stoop, I began to eat both
things simultaneously to create the effect of a banana split, which was something
I had loved as a child. And then into this happy scene that damn couple returned
to collect their laundry–including, I imagined, her sweet panties and bras;
I should have gone in there and clutched them to my face when I had the chance–and
again the boyfriend stared me down. This was getting ridiculous. And I must
have looked even more creepy now that I had a half-eaten ice cream bar in one
fist and a half-eaten banana in the other. I wished I could explain to them
that I was trying to recapture my youth and that I was crazy with boredom waiting
for a friend who was late for an animal sacrifice that she herself had organized.

Then they
came out of the laundromat with him carrying two large bags and he glared at
me one more time for good measure. At this point, I could have sacrificed Vivian–it
was almost 10 o’clock and I had nearly been involved in a racial incident
with a very attractive couple.

a few minutes later, Vivian did pull up in her old street-ravaged Chevy and
she and the two Yoruban men got out. And all was forgiven as soon as I saw her.
She smiled at me with happiness and affection–she is like a sister to me–and
the way she looked at me made me feel loved; her feelings are not easily hidden
or obscured. She has a naive, almost innocent quality at times, which is why
I guess she likes adventures, she’s still so curious about everything.
So I didn’t care that I had sat on her stoop for almost two hours and had
almost provoked a race riot. Her friendship was more than worth it.

I shook
hands with the Babalao and his assistant–they were both dressed in comfortable,
brightly colored pajama-like outfits, and Vivian was dressed completely in white,
including a white handkerchief around her hair, for reasons of purity–and
we went into Vivian’s place and then out to her backyard where the ceremony
was to occur.

In dim lighting
(she didn’t want the neighbors to be able to see too clearly what was happening–sacrifices
are most likely illegal), I had to chase around her little backyard this thin
white chicken, and I felt like Rocky improving his footwork. Once the chicken
was caught, I held on to it and it was soft and nervous and I stroked its head.
I knelt near the Babalao, who was chanting quite melodically. He was in a chair
and so was Vivian who sat across from him. The assistant hovered nearby, holding
one of Vivian’s sharper kitchen knives. At the Babalao’s feet, on
a plate, was a softball-sized orb made up of cornmeal that Vivian had prepared,
and in a cage, at Vivian’s feet, was a pigeon. Vivian had bought the chicken
and the pigeon at the local live-animal market.

At one point
the Babalao yanked feathers out of the chicken and pigeon and stuck them in
the cornmeal ball and both of them cried out when they were plucked. The Babalao
kept up his chanting for quite some time and it was very soothing, but I wondered
if I was going to scream when the chicken was killed (Vivian told me, though
she hadn’t yet explained why, that the pigeon was to be spared). After
about 20 minutes the Babalao stopped praying and told Vivian to hold the chicken
to her forehead, which she did. The assistant took the chicken from her and
quickly cut its neck, severing the head, and the Babalao attached the head to
the cornmeal orb, and the assistant squeezed the blood from the chicken’s
neck onto the orb. I didn’t scream. More prayers were said for a minute
or two and then we were done. We cleaned up. Everything was to be thrown away–the
chicken was not to be eaten.

Then we
all piled into the car and drove up to Harlem, and as we careened up the FDR,
I felt sort of wonderful, as if I had been meditating or had sat for a little
while in a cathedral. Watching that chicken be killed had not been a terrible
thing at all, even though for years in a liberal, yoga-influenced way I’ve
been hypocritically quasi-vegetarian. Vivian had told me that animal sacrifice
was meant to show the highest respect for life and was not an uncaring dismissal
of the animal’s existence. And so while watching that chicken quickly cease
to be with a few strokes of the knife, I had a sense of the utter fragility
that every living thing shares, that my same-colored blood could flow as easily.
Yet this made me feel keenly alive–I felt more aware of the blood in me,
the life in me. I felt more grateful for it.

We dropped
the men off in Harlem, there were handshakes and hugs all around, and then Vivian
and I drove back to Brooklyn. Following the Babalao’s instructions, we
took the pigeon to an intersection of four corners where Vivian–after making
sure no cars or passersby were coming–took the bird and held it to her
forehead and spun in a circle in the middle of the road. After several spins,
she let the bird go. It was supposed to fly away, taking Vivian’s prayers
upward, but sadly, tragically, the poor thing, tired from being caged all day,
didn’t fly and it came speedily down to earth with a frightening thud.
Vivian and I both screamed, thinking that she had killed it. But the clean,
elegant, gray bird (it wasn’t a dirty pigeon at all), righted itself and
waddled off, like a man in a good suit with his hands (its wings) crossed behind
his back. It then went onto the sidewalk and just stood there.

your prayers work if it didn’t fly off?" I asked.

don’t know. Let’s get out of here," she said, afraid that we’d
get arrested for abusing the pigeon.

We then
quickly walked back to her place and since we were both tired, I didn’t
come in. We kissed goodnight and I got on my bike, feeling very guilty about
the bird. I thought I should check on it. If it was still on the sidewalk–where
some cat could get it–I would try to help it fly. So I cycled over there
and as I approached I saw that it was still just standing there, looking rather

But then
when I got nearer, two people walking hand in hand, coming from the other direction,
approached the bird. It was the biracial couple! And they spotted me immediately!
What were they doing out? Why weren’t they in bed making love? The boyfriend
was taken aback seeing me on my bike, but he also looked angry. A few hours
had passed since our last encounter. He probably thought I was stalking them.
The girl looked at me like I was a sex fiend–I had my ridiculous, pointy
bike helmet on, which tends to give me a depraved look. And now how could I
dismount and attend to the bird with them right there? Some kind of strange
confrontation would occur. The boyfriend would misinterpret my getting off the
bike. Who would believe I was stopping for a pigeon? I had to make a quick decision:
I abandoned the bird and sped, like a maniac, past that good-looking couple.

What must
they have thought of me? And what an odd moment it was. The two parts of my
evening meeting up at that intersection. I could only hope that maybe the couple
would help the bird; I didn’t want it to die. It didn’t seem fair.
It wasn’t the one supposed to die. It wasn’t chosen for that, though,
of course, maybe it was.