Adeola Adeniyi

Debts

You walk to Ricky’s on Rockaway and Lavonia Avenue and see Quincy Baker through the window sitting at the bar drinking a Coke. You wish you had worn your leather jacket ’cause the switchblade in your pocket would fit better in its secret inside pocket. You’re carrying a serious bankroll and know folks here will kill for chump change. You go in there and Quincy smiles seeing you. The pretty bartender with long blond locks refills Quincy’s glass and asks you for I.D. This surprises you ’cause you have a beard, bulging biceps, and tower over almost everybody. Nobody ever asked you for any I.D. before.

“Chill, Inez,” he says. “This is my man and he’s with me. It’s all good, baby.”

She smiles at you lighting a cigarillo and walks over to refill a beer mug for an old man watching the Dodgers kill the Mets on TV. Inez’s vanilla smoke irritates you, but you love her ass in those tight dark green jeans of hers ’cause it’s big enough to cause a solar eclipse if she were to bend over during the day. Quincy stares with you until he asks for his paper.

You say, “Let’s find a seat, bro.”

“Cool.”

You lead him over to a table in the corner by the bathroom, dig inside your pocket, and give him his money. He counts the twenties under the table and puts the money in his army jacket.

“Damn, Daryl,” he says, taking a long drink after chewing the straw for a bit. “Aida’s bougie’s ass pussy really must be dynamite.”

You give him the finger and he laughs. A little of his spit hits your face. You also have to laugh some.

Quincy brushes his waves. “You’re actually willing to pay everything Tyrod owes? Y’all are finally cool now?”

“Fuck Tyrod. This is for my Aida.”

“My wife told me you’re looking for engagement rings so this must be the money,” Quincy says, shaking his head laughing and holding up his hand to show me his gold wedding band. “They keep locking us down, brother. You’re next.”

“Yeah.”

Quincy finishes his soda. “And you’re also famous after the Robert Lopez did a show last week about your bullshit. He spoke about you not helping the police against your teammates and said those acquittals were a true injustice.” He burps. “What really happened with that girl?”

You stay silent because you will never speak about that night. You left the party after seeing crazy ass Niecy Moore on that bedroom floor out like disco and a teammate asked if you wanted first dibs on her since you’re the team’s captain. But you just got out.

Quincy’s pager goes off and he stands reading it. “I gotta be a ghost.” He rubs your shoulders after hugging you. “You’re a tough dude. Forget all that nonsense at school.”

“I will. Thanks, man.”

Quincy snatches the straw to chew as he walks to a payphone. You get a page and sigh seeing Lauren’s telephone number. It’s her tenth time paging you tonight. You last went to visit the boy (a blood test proved it was yours) in January at her crib in a Bronx housing project that even scares you, so you can’t figure out why the bitch is nagging you. You bust a few nuts at some roach motel near campus and now you’re stuck with a nut baby forever. Anyhow, you ignore the page and play an early Jackson 5 song on the jukebox before asking Inez for a bottle of Johnny Rebel beer. She instead demands for you to leave because your presence here is upsetting the three women playing pool. People always believe everything they see TV. You leave ’cause the fight in you already bailed.

***

The sunlight awakes you on the lumpy pullout couch in your granny’s basement at noon the following week. Aida keeps the curtains open and you pull the sheet back over your face. You later wake up at one after smelling burgers and Tatum jumping over you in her Supergirl costume. You growl, grab her leg, and pretend to chew it. She laughs while you let her beat you down. You fake losing consciousness and she runs out screaming how she won. Grandma starts playing the tape on the stereo upstairs of her pastor preaching about couples who live together in sin ending up in hellfire as she does every day. Since you are a grown man that pays rent, Aida can stay here every goddamn night if she wants. Your queen is eating at the dining table. When you see a man begging his wife to wear a diaper before sex on The Robert Lopez Show, Aida quickly grabs the remote and switches to the news. After she tossed a shoe at the TV in her apartment for speaking about your nonsense, you are surprised she’d still watch him. You feel Ditka kicking in her belly trying to forget her treason. Granny finally kills her bullshit. You want Aida’s lips, but she turns away covering her nose laughing since your breath smells like boiling ham. You stare at Aida smiling. The rat bastard upstairs ain’t give you much junk as his own fucked up joke, but Aida’s belly and Tatum prove you’re still a real man. It still sucks ’cause you’re Daryl Harden and can’t dip into those white girls (for fear that they’ll babble about you to each other after you disappoint them) everywhere on campus. You’ve been showering in locker rooms since junior high wearing boxers ’cause someone could laugh at you and you’d being in jail for choking the person. At least Aida always seems satisfied.

“Be honest, D.” Aida stands in her red dress with her normally curly hair straightened facing you. “I don’t look too pregnant right?”

You suck your teeth ’cause she already asked you this bullshit last night a hundred times. “You look fine, Aida.”

Aida shrugs. “Rene said I already look six months. She’s from Cabrini Green and understands our situation. Sandra and Pierre though are baffled.” She winks at you. “I can’t wait to show off Tyrod at the mixer for our bootstrappers club because Sandra’s brother Jared will be there. Jared is giving up rap and deejaying for good to study law at Fordham.”

You laugh. “Good. That faggot ain’t no Fresh Prince.”

“You’re just jealous,” Aida replies. “But it’s for the best. Rap has no future and I guarantee you that it’ll be played out by 1990.”

You nod ’cause she’s right. Tatum begs for candy and Aida tells her it’s not Friday. She also adds that too many sweets will rot her teeth. You remind Aida that children lose their teeth anyway and let Tatum know the stash is under the sofa upstairs. She thanks you is running up there and you rub Aida’s shoulders and kiss her neck. “At least it’s a bullshit party.” You rub her belly. “Don’t like how you get crazy at real ones!”

She sucks her teeth and elbows you in the chest. That shit wasn’t in no playful way ’cause it hurts.

“Whatever.”

You smile at her. “You should take the brother who won best defensive player his rookie year last year, had fifteen sacks this year, and won the toughest man in New York award twice.” You hate suits and want to punch a wall hearing about Jared for the billionth time. You realized the day you surprised Aida with lunch at the Wall Street brokerage firm she interned at last year that this Jared was Al B. Sure! handsome and not a girly faggot with a committed boyfriend as Aida first claimed when he also showed up with his own surprise lunch plans. That shit pissed you off for weeks. You still hate wondering after all these years why an Ivy League redbone beauty like Aida is on the arm of a monkey like you. Maybe her stupid mother was right.

“I know your soul, baby,” she says. “But some people aren’t opened minded about the situation that happened with your teammates. Some people don’t know you weren’t in on it.”

You wave at her. “Whatever.”

“I must make a great impression!” Aida washes her plate in the sink overflowing with old nasty ones. “New members mean more future connections. I want our daughters out of here before they can remember this neighborhood. Today is for them.”

You ignore her since she babbled this same bullshit last night and drink a glass of orange juice. Aida gets a page and calls her stupid mother. She starts talking about Tyrod and you already know you’re gonna get took by some tears. She tells her mother she’ll take care of everything and hangs up the phone.

“I can’t believe that little shithead would fuck me over like this.”

“What’s up?”

“Mama said Tyrod stole the TV.” Aida kicks the table and the coffee cup breaks hitting the floor. “He swore on daddy’s grave after you paid Quincy that he’d leave that crack shit alone. The event is at five and I need you to bring him to the campus. Make sure he takes a shower first and have him wear his gray suit. A haircut wouldn’t hurt him, either.”

You sweep up the cup pieces and drop napkins on the coffee knowing the last thing you want to do is search the neighborhood for a basehead. Aida is already leaving tears on your T-shirt while she hugs you.

“He just had to smoke that crack shit to celebrate getting into med school.” She shakes her head. “And now I’ll be humiliated in front of our ultimate tens if he doesn’t show.”

“You always tell me that sisters are just as strong as brothers.” You laugh. “Go find him yourself, Angela Davis.”

“Fuck you!” Aida replies. “’Cause I never left your ignorant ass after that project rat shitted out your son. Because of you, I had to be the only black girl at Friends of Sidney pregnant at fifteen.” She points her finger at you. “Remember my busted lip and how I had to tell everyone I got stung by a bee? You owe me.”

It’s all true. Shorty also stayed a soldier during all of your horseshit. You even had to pull her away when she and her former friend Nina fought at the last block party after the bitch said you and your fellow teammates belong under the jail. You did smack Aida hard enough for her to spit blood at you, but it was only ’cause she threw a frying pan at your forehead first after finding out about your child with Lauren. That shit left a scar after needing stitches. You also told two cops at Brookdale Hospital that Puerto Rican gang members robbed you on the subway so they wouldn’t arrest her. Y’all are both even now.

You walk back to the bed and kick away the empty TV tray out the way. Aida follows you and sits on your lap to start her begging again. You let her do this for ten minutes before telling her you’ll go find his worthless ass.

“I love you so much, baby.” Aida squeezes your arms as she kisses you. “You’re my big, strong man. You put my father in check regarding his behavior and he never laid a pinky on us again. He still wanted to beat the shit out my mother, but he knew better. I need you to go put Tyrod in check the same way you did a Vietnam vet.”

***

You later turn from Rockaway and walk on Dumont carrying Veronica this time. Homegirl is thirty-eight and never jams. The sun is torture. You stay thinking about those women on Robert Lopez last year who’ll have sex with anybody. The rockheads are in a line up to Chester Street waiting to enter this big ass vacant house they call the White House. It still messes with your head how something the size of chipped soap pieces can create such madness. You approach the shithole and a crackhead warns you not to skip the line by showing you his switchblade. Quincy leaves the White House with his Hawaiian shirt open smoking a cigarette and instructs this chubby kid wearing a purple Magic Johnson jersey to go serve the woman in the jeep pounding her horn. You walk with Quincy near a parked station.

“Let me guess, brother.” Quincy takes a quick pull. “You’re here for Tyrod ain’t you?”

You nod and see the line continue to grow. “You Psylocke now, nigga?”

Quincy shakes his head laughing. “Now you know siditty ass Dr. Price is too good to smoke with the common rockheads.” He throws away the cigarette to drink some bottled pink stuff. “He brought his goods ten minutes ago and went to his building.”

You walk to Tyrod’s building on Chester and go inside easy since the front door’s lock is broken. The elevator smelling from the puddle of piss in there makes you walk up to Aida’s fourth-floor apartment. You ring the bell. A woman slowly walks up the stairs talking to herself about Reagan’s plan to poison black people’s water in Ohio, and you ask her if she’s seen Tyrod since nobody answers. She lights a cigarette and tells you he’s partying in the laundry room. She also tells you he stole the toaster she swiped from her father two weeks ago. You walk to the basement, open the laundry room door, and see him alone by the window in a white T-shirt and blue jeans rubbing his sweaty face. Tyrod’s red eyes grow seeing you and he jumps up to lean against a washing machine.

“It’s my future brother.” He twists his nappy afro. “You got ten bucks on you?”

“I ain’t giving you shit. Aida wants me to get you cleaned up and ready for that nonsense today.”

Tyrod waves at you. “Fuck that silly shit.” He chuckles. “Look, just because my sister is your first ten doesn’t mean you have to live in her ass. It’s pathetic, man.”

You go grab him and he struggles to take your hands off his shirt. It does him no good.

“I need money.”

When you push him away, he drops to his knees like a fool catching the Holy Ghost and hugs your right leg.

“Those cheap Russians only gave me fifteen bucks for the TV, man.”

You pry his hands off you and he lets go to stand again.

“Again, I ain’t giving you shit, Tyrod.” You laugh and suddenly wish your mother weren’t in California so she could see her golden boy this way. You left twenty messages on her answering machine about him, but she never called you back.

Tyrod says, “Please give me ten bucks.”

You punch him in the gut for trying to take your wallet. He falls and it takes him some time to get back up and shove you. You shove him back.

You say, “I’ll break you face if you don’t come with me.”

“Don’t worry about me, nigga.” He points his finger at you. “You should be with your teammates taking pussy and getting away with it.”

You grab his hair and shove his head into the dryer door hard enough to break the glass. Tyrod doesn’t move on the floor. You then realize Aida’s brother is dead once blood drips on the glass and you can’t feel a pulse. This makes your black ass run out the building like the Klan is behind you. You go up Chester Street seeing these two girls kicking a boy, and the line for the White House is creeping close toward Bristol Street. When you reach Livonia, your head feels like someone drop kicked it. Your chest tightens seeing four cops inside the train station near the token booth. One mentions the dancing dogs Robert Lopez had on his show before and they all start laughing. You buy a token and wait for the train. When you awake later, the A train you’re  riding goes over a long bridge. Only you, a sleeping bum, and two teenage boys are in the car. You see land far away out the window and have no idea where you are and why you’re riding this train. At least your head quit killing you. You remember first sleeping on the 3 train until workers threw you off with everyone else at Columbus Circle ’cause the train broke down there. You then remember hopping on the A train and sleeping until 207th Street. Nobody bothered you there and you’re still on the same train. You feel inside your pockets and realize that Veronica, your keys, pager, and wallet are all gone. So is your watch. You start thinking about Aida and remember Tyrod is dead. Your heart starts racing ’cause someone had to find the body by now. You wonder if the police notified Aida and her mother yet. Tyrod is a body now ’cause of you. Of course, you ain’t mean to kill him. Tyrod pissed you off ’cause he thinks you took some pussy just as everyone else does. You wish every day you had taken Niecy out of that room and to some safe place. Your hand goes and stays inside your pocket as if Veronica is still in there ’cause those boys start staring at you funny. They stare harder when you give them the mean mug. Once the train stops, they bail. You bail at the last stop and sit on a bench. When you open your eyes, the sun is rising. Your back feels stiff. A woman holding a newspaper tosses a quarter at you as you flick crust out your itchy eyes. You ask her for the time and she walks away fast. You then realize that this is your first morning as a murderer. The train for Manhattan is about to leave and you sleep again after boarding it to forget about Tyrod. At Times Square, you are dying for bacon and eggs with some home fries. Your body starts to shake suddenly seeing Tyrod. You swear it’s actually him until he comes closer and you realize it’s just a bum wanting a quarter. You take the 3 train home unable to sleep anymore. From 14th Street to Franklin Avenue, you rehearse in your head the story about looking for Tyrod in the neighborhood but never finding him. You never once went inside Aida’s building.

***

You’re a damn fool for walking on Dumont. You do this ’cause you have to find out what everyone knows. Quincy sits on a beach chair near the White House talking with that chubby kid. They ask if you heard the news as you approach.

You shake your head ready to hear what you already know. “Nah!”

Quincy says, “Len Bias is dead.”

The boy nods and starts crying. “He’s actually gone.”

You say, “How is Len dead?”

Quincy cries hugging the chubby kid. “The news said he had a heart attack.”

You sit on the stoop hurt. This doesn’t make any sense. How can the Len Bias actually be dead? He’s Len Bias. Maybe the TV got shit wrong like always. Quincy lights a cigarette. The kid wants to bum one, but Quincy puts the pack away and tells him kids shouldn’t smoke.

“Len was a dope baller!” Quincy wipes his face and lets smoke out his nose. “He could have been better than Michael Jordan maybe.” He faces you. “I almost forgot. I’m sorry for your own loss, D. Someone killed Tyrod in his building yesterday. It’s fucked up.”

“My brother’s wife heard the husband of the chick Tyrod messes with stabbed him in the laundry room as payback for her two timing him.” The chubby kid coughs twice. “Gina knows everything that goes on around here so that shit is true.”

***

Four days later, you and your mother leave Leo’s funeral home on Flatbush and Church Avenue together. The bitch won’t quit shoving Tyrod’s program in your face. His acceptance letter to Tufts medical school and love of biology, cooking exotic foods, and sponsored trips to the Congo and Nigeria are all in there. Robert Lopez visited a women’s prison on his show yesterday (you decided to forgive him) and your dick stayed harder than calculus when Tyrod and Aida’s sponsor talked about Tyrod’s brilliance during the service ’cause you stayed thinking about that Puerto Rican chick locked up for stock fraud. Quincy and his wife Crystal leave and she makes smiley faces at their baby daughter Gianni while holding her. Aida leaves with her stupid mother, Rene, Sandra, and a huge bodyguard (sporting a shotgun) Pierre hired to protect him from this neighborhood. Jared creeps up behind Aida and massages her shoulders just as he’s been doing the entire service. Mama babbles about your son being big enough now to play linebacker for the Chicago Bears and you ignore her. You fight the urge to go smack Jared in the mouth ’cause the nigga isn’t respecting what’s yours. You look at the heavy traffic very happy Aida believes your bullshit. She’s a soldier who will survive this. You also told a police detective the same story with her there. He could only ask you one question (where were you when Tyrod met his maker?) ’cause his partner wrapped up the interview early so they could go eat. The partner was hungry enough to eat three plates of lasagna. The Daily News also put the story about the FBI finding the stolen sneakers Magic Johnson wore in the ’84 Finals on its front cover the day after Tyrod’s accident. Tyrod got a few words at the bottom of page forty. Cops say it’s a gang beef. The sun and Jared irritate you enough to go snatch his candybar and then yank Aida away. She hugs you all spaced out. Jared looks at you eating his chocolate and rubbing her ass. A kid listening to a tiny radio tells everyone Strawberry hit a homer, and he turns it up when you ask so you can hear the Mets and Pirates play until the ride for the burial arrives.

***

You and Aida order steaks with French wine for dinner at a fancy restaurant in Manhattan,  and she only enjoys two bites and one sip during the whole meal. Since your white waiter swears you’re Harry Carson, the meal is on the house. The owner later wants a photo of you and him together and you smile as he takes it since three hundred bucks is still in your wallet. Aida curses out the owner after he mistakes her for an actress in dirty movies named Paula Sweets. Y’all get back to the basement and for the first time in three weeks, she doesn’t piss on the idea of making love. That’s a surprise. You take the bed out the couch and she plays some Marvin on the stereo. Right when y’all’s clothes hit the floor, some dumbass bangs on the backyard door. She giggles after you pry her legs apart like the red sea and begin licking her pussy like you’re one of those starving Africans that be on TV late at night. Aida finally pushes your face away when the banging becomes too much. She hopes it’s the police with news about Tyrod and begs you to answer. You pray it isn’t any police. Aida calls the detectives working her brother’s accident every day and one finally hung up on her this morning. You put on your bathrobe to open the door and see Tyrod out there. He shows you the back of his bleeding head and demands you follow him to the back yard. You only obey ’cause you’re terrified and can’t scream. He’s still dressed in his black funeral suit and dirt, grass, maggots, and leaves are everywhere on him. You close your eyes for a second to see if your mind is playing with you. It’s not ’cause the dickhead is still there and he leans back against a tree.

“How can you still fuck my sister after murdering me?” Tyrod shakes dirt out of his hair. “That’s some cold blooded shit, man.”

“I love Aida more than anything.”

Tyrod smirks at you. “I can read minds now. You’ve been more hurt over Len Bias dying than killing me.”

You shrug. “Whatever, bro. Bias was going to be a great player in the pros.”

“And I’ve been a goddam ten since the womb,” he says. “Aida and I are tens. Your 3.8 GPA came from Thomas Jefferson. Ours came from Friends of Sidney Academy. I was going to be a credit for our people by helping sick babies and your ghetto ass murdered me.”

You laugh. “Credits smoke that crack rock all day?”

He shoves you and to your surprise, you lose your balance and bust your ass falling on the ground. Tyrod is much stronger than when he was alive and you stand up with back pain.

“I was going to quit that stuff before I started med school.”

When he coughs, maggots fly out his mouth. Seeing this shit makes you puke the steak and wine. Tyrod gets up in your face and jabs his finger into your chest. “You have until Monday to tell Aida that you murdered me or I’m haunting you forever. You will pay for ruining my chance at greatness.”

He kicks the station wagon in the driveway that hasn’t worked since the Nixon administration and leaves. Nobody has ever bullied you before in your life and this makes you run in the street with a baseball bat from the garage to whip his dead ass. Tyrod is already gone though and you stand there wondering what is happening to you. Aida comes outside and demands to know why Lauren came here to see you with that nut baby. You just tell her the bitch wanted money and run back inside.

 ***

         You wake up early Tuesday morning ready to go find Tyrod at the White House. He never did come to see you yesterday, so you’re going to use Natalie to take him back to his grave in Cypress Hills. Natalie is forty-five and the best kinda lady to use when shit gets real. Aida wakes up and tells you she wishes for the baby to get here already ’cause it’s like your daughter is boxing Ali in her womb. You cook an omelet and y’all sit to eat and watch The Robert Lopez Show. He is interviewing people who refuse to give up their pets despite the animals always attacking them. After it ends, someone knocks on the backyard door. Aida is happy ’cause it’s her two detectives. She lets them in and they tell you that you’re under arrest for the murder of Tyrod Maurice Price. They then babble bullshit and handcuff you. Aida cries and they take you away before she can claw your face. You don’t see her again until the first day of your trial. She sits right behind you and you see how beautiful your new daughter Ieasha is. She has your plump cheeks and brown complexion. Aida is skinny again and cut her hair short. That faggot Jared then walks in and sits next to Aida. Your lawyer tells you to relax ’cause you keep eyeing the nigga hard after they hold hands. You obey because that Harvard student back in ’81 who strangled his girlfriend during sex snores in his Park Avenue crib every night because of this man. You pray he can do the same for you. He is working this case free ’cause Coach D’Antoni’s brother in law co-heads the fancy firm he works at. Your man tells the court Tyrod attacked you in a psychotic rage brought on from crack usage and that you defended yourself. He has this egghead doctor tell everyone how violent crackheads become under the influence. Those detectives say you lied about the last time you saw Tyrod and asked his upstairs neighbor for his whereabouts. The only evidence the persecutor has is your fingerprints found in the laundry room. You ain’t say one word after they arrested you. You still regret rocking some dummy’s glass jaw at a gym for giving God status to Mark Gastineau over Lawrence Taylor and the police having your fingerprints ’cause of the arrest. The persecutors claim you killed Tyrod over a drug debt. Your man gets the upstairs neighbor to admit her words are not reliable because she damn near lives in the G Building and smokes crack. Your man later explains that you have never sold a single drug in your entire life and that you only lied to the cops because even law-abiding black men in college like yourself have no reason to trust them. He gives the court so many stats about decent brothers the police fucked over it’s insane. Your man and the persecutor continue babbling for the next two weeks.

In the courtroom on the day to learn your fate, they find you not guilty. Aida and her mother cry in each other’s arms. Grandma cries too. Tyrod is there and he threatens to make the judge’s blond hair fall out with a hex. The judge though doesn’t do shit to calm his outburst. You hug your man hard, ready to leave from this bitch.

***

You feel so goddamn lucky that you want to kiss the ground after leaving the subway. Even you couldn’t survive living with real murderers, gang bangers, armed robbers, drug dealers, hustlers, and rapists for the next twenty years without going batshit. Time on the Island was enough. Fools who knew fools from your block learned you were good people so that meant you never once had your shit snatched or your bread buttered. You never once thought though that you’d have to ask a nigga half your size to use the phone. It did fuck with you seeing niggas get their faces cut and backs stabbed on the regular. You always had to stay cool in the day room ’cause this Trinidadian gang lieutenant from Harlem only let everyone watch horseshit like Family Ties, The Cosby Show, and Welcome BackKotter ’cause he hated violent shows. He even banned Colombo ’cause of the murders in its plots. Gunshots bust three times somewhere and you jet.

At Dumont, you see Quincy outside a Chinese restaurant drinking soda and standing with a walking cane. He rubs a full beard and happily hugs you when you approach him.

“Congrats on that verdict, brother,” Quincy says, crushing the cola can and flinging it by the trash bags. “The situation was messed up, but still.” He smiles and you see two new gold teeth. “How’d you get you a real lawyer?”         

“The last time Tuck won a Gold Bowl both Martin and Malcolm were still alive.”

Quincy laughs. “See, you got those real skills, kid. With the way I ran the ball at Erasmus, my black ass would be locked up for life with no parole.”

Y’all walk to his office and see the baseheads in two long lines. That cubby kid, now in a wheelchair, rolls himself over to a basehead to hit the man’s knee with an aluminum baseball bat for skipping. A kid comes out the White House calling for Quincy. Y’all slap five and he promises to throw you a welcome home party this Saturday at his house since Crystal is visiting her mother in Philadelphia with the baby. Plenty of liquor, weed, and wild hoes he tells you before limping over to the boy. Grandma later hugs you in the basement. She cooks you her famous chili with the steak and chicken in it and you lick the bowl clean. Y’all then watch two people debate if rap music is evil on Robert Lopez. You call Aida every day for three weeks straight and she always hangs up. Grandma begs her to let you see the girls and she eventually agrees to drop them off upstairs on Thursdays and Fridays at noon before work. When Thursday arrives, Tatum hugs you in the living room. She got so tall since you last saw her it’s insane. Ieasha can run now. Aida leaves without even sneezing on you.

“I missed you so much, Daddy,” she says. “Are you finally done working for the president?”

You kiss Tatum and hold Ieasha. “You bet I am.”

Y’all go eat sundaes in the park and Ieasha pulls on your beard. She babbles gibberish and loves to be tickled. The following Thursday during pizza, Tatum tells you Aida cries in bed all the time.

“Why, baby?”

“Because Uncle Tyrod moved to Zamunda after finishing medical school and Mr. Jared doesn’t visit anymore. He and Mommy said bad word to each other and he said she has no real class.” Tatum laughs. “He’s so silly. Mommy still goes to school.”

You kiss her forehead. “Your mother is perfect.”

“Grandma and Mommy fight all the time because Mommy says she still loves you.”

You ask Tatum to show you where Jared lives and she takes you to a small house in East New York on Sutter and Pine Street. You come back alone later and nobody’s home when you kick on the door. You sit on his stoop for an hour and he still doesn’t show. Jared having his jaw rocked isn’t going to help (and you never want to see a jail cell again for any reason) so you leave. You visit Nick’s barbershop for a fresh cut and trim the next day. At home, you shower and dress in a dark green silk shirt. A tad of cologne goes on the neck. You then walk to Aida’s house with a dozen yellow roses ready to beg for her forgiveness. Of course, you don’t expect it today. Today is for the future. You’ll sit Aida down to tell her a jury acquitted you ’cause it really was self-defense. You’ll give a sincere apology for lying to her. Aida will have space to evaluate everything until you’re back from Nebraska during winter break. At least you know she still loves you. Aida will hate being a single mother with two kids at Columbia, so you know she will take your ring. The girls having their father is what’s best for them. A proposal at Rockefeller Center right on the ice the day before Christmas Eve will be perfect. Y’all will get married after graduation and she will finally have your son Ditka. The five of y’all will enjoy a happy life together far away from Brooklyn and eventually forget about Tyrod.

You knock on her door after five minutes. At least her mother is at work. Aida asks who it is and she still opens up after you tell her. That right there is a great sign. You see Aida is holding a sixty-ounce of Bel Air Country Club beer that she’s just took a sip from. You’re lucky again to catch Aida while she is still sober and civil. You hand her the roses and ask if y’all can please talk. Tatum runs out the bedroom and hugs you until Aida makes her go back in there with the roses to watch the baby. You ask again to come in and she tells you outside is fine enough. You remind her about her nosy neighbors, but she doesn’t care any. Aida tells you it is outside or nothing before sitting on the stairs. You sit beside her more nervous than the first time you asked her out, and she’s waiting for you to talk. After a few minutes, you finally begin.

 

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