Skin by Shaima Saleh

Posted on February 10, 2013 by


“Skin by skin, my next of kin, out of the ground we sprout and begin.”

Not a day had passed without little Jerry hearing those words. To him they were the call for supper, albeit wiser and more conscious. With every handful of beans his older brother, Dylan, gave him, he heard those words, and with everyday those words grew stronger, more determined, more bitter and resilient. Yet every time did Dylan grit his teeth and stare into his little brother’s eyes while handing him the beans, every time he nearly choked to deliver those words, the words lost their meaning on their way to little Jerry. “But what does that mean, Dylan?” he’d wonder, and every time, Dylan would squeeze his hands in answer. All little Jerry knew is that Dylan’s words were more important than the handful of beans he received every evening.


“Skin by skin, my next of kin, out of the ground we sprout and begin,” chants little Jerry. It’s true that he doesn’t fully, or even partially, grasp the idea or the origin of this line, but what his older brother says goes, and in the end, it’s a good rhyme.

And so does the chant repeat itself day after day, bringing the answer to the hymn closer, even closer than Jerry’s estimations. “Skin by skin, my next of kin, out of the ground we sprout and begin,” and he receives the beans, but his brother’s hand lingers on.




Dylan doesn’t answer. Holding Jerry’s hand, he stretches his fingers so he can take one bean. Slowly, Dylan peels the skin of the bean, halving it to reveal the two adjoining cloves; “skin by skin,” he holds the identical cloves up for his brother to see; “my next of kin,” then he puts the bean back together and buries it in the dirt; “out of the ground we sprout and begin.” And without an another word, he leaves for another shift in the fields.


Jerry couldn’t sit still; everything changed. It was like the dust was washed out of his almond-shaped, brown eyes. He felt like he received the answer to the world, if not to himself.  His brother finally made sense, his bitterness was now strength, and the resilience became godliness.  Yet it was all so confusing to little Jerry; like 3 trains chasing each other in his head and he was on a fourth train trying to get in the game. Night couldn’t come sooner. Dylan couldn’t come sooner. Answers couldn’t come sooner.


Alas, they did. Right from the moment Dylan’s semi-bloody feet touched their rug, Jerry attacked his brother with inquiries. Question after question, remark after remark, and a full faulty analysis of Dylan’s words did Jerry rain down upon his brother.


“My brother,” Dylan cut him short, and Jerry fell to immediate silence, “I hoped I wouldn’t have to be so clear about this, but you got me in a position where I have to be. My brother, do you remember the bean I showed you earlier? You are that bean. I am that been. All of us are; you, me, our landlord, all the white, rich people with their money, and all of us black folks with our… beans. We’re like them –no, no, we are them, but they don’t like that. They tell themselves it’s not true, but you know, they are beans, just like us. Everyone will tell you something else or other, don’t listen. It is not a life to be lived when you’re something other than a bean. My brother, I have chanted that line to you everyday, and today, I want you to chant it to yourself. I want you to sprout. To begin.”


Little Jerry took this to heart. He became a believer in beans, but not for long. Not even for a whole day. Doubt crept into him and marred his belief by the time the sun shone. How can everyone be a bean when his most favorite bean gets sold against his will?

Posted in: Skin