Zhaabdiis Minwaa Jibwens
by Geraldine King
Zhaabdiis loves Jibwens. He’s vied for her attention ever since she won that Indian Taco eating contest at Nish Days. He wanted to wipe the sour cream from her mouth…and her nose…and her forehead, but did not know if that would be too forward. Besides, that nimshish Rusty was standing right by her just all licking his chops, just ready to pounce. Zhaabdiis hates him and his stupid Dodge Ram that he drives around the rez with his phony country music blaring and girls’ squealing from the truck bed as he purposely hits bumps and takes wild turns. Zhaabdiis also hates when he sees young girls enter into Rusty’s trailer late at night, the lamp in bedroom turns on and then the girl leaves about three minutes later, usually giggling with her fist tightly curled around a little bound-up nub of Saran Wrap.
Jibwens was not like those girls. She reminded Zhaabdiis of his gokmis. Sometimes, he watched her down by the pump house where the best wiingashk grew, braiding the strands with her delicate fingers. He loved the way her nails were always clean, but her forearms consistently stained with bingo dabber ink like a Technicolor Mishibizhew tattooed on her. One time for the Halloween dance, she sewed him a Green Giant costume made of hundreds of leaves of felt that she cut out herself. When it came time to paint him green, her Gokmis suggested they use bingo dabbers, so for over an hour the women covered his body with such precision and attention as if they were playing the super jackpot at the Mohawk Monster Bingo they went to one time. He won the first place $25 SAAN gift certificate for his costume, but couldn’t get the ink off of him for over a week. He endured the unrelenting teasing from his road crew colleagues because he loved her, and it reminded him of how she had touched his body, rubbing in the ink deeper and deeper until it almost stained his soul.
Zhaabdiis would do anything for Jibwens, even if that meant watching her from afar while she married John John. Zhaabdiis often got mad wondering if John John touched her in a gentle way, or if he beat her like his dad Sampson used to beat his mother Queen Elizabeth. That is what everyone on the rez called John John’s mom anyways, which was so funny to Zhaabdiis because he was sure he had never seen a royal person walk around with two black eyes. Occasionally, he would see Jibwens up in A-Town doing her groceries and would offer to help her carry them to her truck. One time his hand grazed hers as he grabbed a bag from her and it sent so much electricity through his body that he was sure that was how it felt when those guys on death row took their last breathe while strapped to Old Sparky. He was happy that her eyes were not black, but continued to sparkle like he always remembered them.
Zhaabdiis endured his love for Jibwens even when she bore that arsehole John John’s child. Zhaabdiis wished that that biinoojihns were his, and that he and Jibwens could lie down beside one another and smell the sweet breathe of their child, who had just suckled from the warm, sweet dodoshaboo of his mother. Zhaabdiis had to block out his own imagination when it came to picturing how that cute little baby came to be. Did John John force himself upon Jibwens, driving his gross sperm into her? Those thoughts made Zhaabdiis sick. He couldn’t imagine why Jibwens would ever want that kokosh on top of her, when it should have been him. Most days, Zhaabdiis drove himself mad with the endless possibilities that he conjured in his mind, mostly the possibility that Jibwens might one day love him back.
Jibwens does love Zhaabdiis – in a way. She has loved him since the time she saw him tear up when Rusty offered to lick the grease from her face when she won the Indian Taco eating contest at Nish Days. She wanted to tell him to “wait!” when he stormed off without a word, but something held her back. Her Gokmis had witnessed all of this from her powwow chair under the shade, and after everyone had left she pulled Jibwens aside and told her…
“Zhaabdiis is your uncle, my girl.”
Jibwens’ grandfather had an affair with Zhaabdiis’ mother Old Bag when he first got back from the war. Gokmis spent years crying herself to sleep thinking about her husband sticking his mushmoot into someone else, but she had ten kids with him and no money to leave so she forgave him. She also loved her husband. So much so much that even when Old Bag almost lost Zhaabdiis to Children’s Aid because she couldn’t feed him, Gokmis made a bundle of tea, bannock and jam and left it on Old Bag’s doorstep every week until she made enough money from beading to feed her kids. Old Bag never knew it was Gokmis, and Gokmis loved her husband so much that she protected his secret, and his mistress.
Even though Zhaabdiis is Jibwens’ uncle, they are almost the same age so Jibwens knows that Zhaabdiis would never suspect that they were related in that way. She knows the way he loves her. She sees the way he pines for her. She’s witnessed his fits of rage when she walks hand in hand with John John to Curly’s corner store. One time she went to get groceries in A-Town and he offered to help her. She accidentally grazed his hand while passing him a bag, she saw the entire colour drain from his face, and he immediately stammered something about the beautiful weather even though it was pouring rain. Jibwens loves her Gokmis so much that she could never tell Zhaabdiis the secret about her grandfather and his mother. Old Bag died ten years earlier when her drunken boyfriend came home and strangled her while Zhaabdiis cowered behind a curtain that doubled as his bedroom door. Jibwens didn’t have the heart to tarnish the image of his mother any more than he already had to endure.
Zhaabdiis loves Jibwens. But Jibwens cannot love him back.
 Rotten old dog
 Sweet grass
 Nishnaabe Under Water Panther
 Breast milk
Geraldine King is Anishinaabekwe from Kiashke Zaaging Anishinaabek (Gull Bay First Nation). Geraldine is a Master’s student in the Indigenous Governance Program at the University of Victoria where her primary research interests are centred on Indigenous erotica as viable resurgent governance praxis. Geraldine is the Managing Editor of Intercontinental Cry Magazine, a publication of the Centre for World Indigenous Studies.