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What you Owe

White folks give us money on the subway. It was a mid-July Friday afternoon today at two and me and my homeboy Terrell have been on the uptown platform for the 1 train at Columbus Circle since eight holding up signs saying, “A dollar from y’all can help send our black asses back to Africa,” and they’ve been dropping fives and tens into our plastic jars ever since then. Some of them even gave us twenties. We always had to empty the jars every half-hour and never once did they just give a lousy dollar or some bullshit spare change. At noon, this white dude in a navy suit handed me a crisp twenty-dollar bill with an excited smile growing on his fat freckled face. Our sixteenth birthdays passed this May and our mothers forced us to find summer jobs so that meant no hanging at each other’s cribs all day eating, watching TV, texting, and playing our PS3s until you could fry burgers on them. This gig beat slaving at the shitty McDonalds on Rockaway and Conklin, and Terrell actually flung his head rag at the manager like Tony Montana did to his diner Massa when we quit working there after three days.

These three cops approaching us made my heart pound ’cause the tall one kept twirling his nightstick, but instead of messin’ with us, he slapped thirty bucks into Terrell’s bony brown hand and they continued walking. One answered his radio call about an old black man standing behind a white woman on the downtown platform for the A and C trains and spoke about how that might be the subway groper even though he wasn’t Hispanic, balding, or fat like the news said. Another call came in about an abandoned suitcase, and we watched them argue over which call to take until they agreed to protect the white bitch first. The calls for backup came as they ran toward the stairs.

Our crazy nonsense all started a month ago when we were in the Union Square station and this dude snatched a white woman’s purse and then duffed her in the jaw for holding onto that fancy leather thang too long. The cops came from nowhere to kick and punch him until everyone smelled the shit in his pants. After this white dude said to a cop that the new (but never ever ever ever ever his) president needed to send us all back to Africa to keep the subways safe, Terrell then shouted, “Well, give us some money and we’ll go then motherfucka.” The fool actually threw a crumbled twenty at him, and later we ate so much Chinese food to celebrate the birth of our new hustle that we had to spend a half hour cleaning Terrell’s carpet after puking on it. We figured if one dumb ass cracker would give us money than all the others would surely follow his suit. Terrell even calculated the money he’d need to save to help his girl Stephanie see this surgeon in Manhattan who perfected transforming faces. Stephanie already belonged in a museum but homegirl has spent years saving to get Rihanna’s face for a graduation gift. My stepdaddy Chancy Henry, who sold his bakery (luckily way before the good ol U.S.A started having all their money drama) to a big company that turned the joint into an authentic Zimbabwean restaurant, always preached about how you had to sell things folks couldn’t resist even if they life depended on it. Homeboy knew everything about buying shit he couldn’t resist even if his life depended on it from personal experience though. He’s lucky I have this gig and planned to pay the debt he owes, so he won’t end up being a few words on page twenty of the Daily News after picking up that goddamn pipe again. I hated thinking about that part of him and tried not to do so.

These people giving money thought we’d actually give them what they wanted, and that is why we did better than kids hustling candy, bums reeking of piss shaking coffee cups, dudes who begged ’cause they didn’t want to rob people, lame ass poets, people drumming on plastic buckets, fools who break danced, and those wannabe Drake singing niggas.

This cute ass woman with blond hair and big ol titties came over to drop two actual fifties into Terrell’s jar. Homegirl was short, wore a tight black jogging suit, and looked like she should be on one of those dumb TV shows about vampires.

Terrell smiled like he ain’t never touch money before. “Thank you so much, Ma’ma.”

“What part of Africa will you two boys be going back to?” She pulled out her phone and started texting. “And when?”

Terrell shrugged. “Morocco or maybe the Congo. We don’t know yet.”

She said, “Well, Rome wasn’t built in one day I guess.”

A brother at the edge of the platform shook his head watching this. I did feel a little bad but those feelings went away after touching the money.

I woke up the next day at eleven after Terrell shouted for me from my bedroom window. I went there and saw our homeboy Randall Cox was with him, and the fool looked up at me (wearing his new authentic Doug Williams Redskins jersey that cost almost three bucks) for a second before going back to texting. I shouted that I’d be at the park at two and played Malik Da God of Gods’ “I own the pussy” on my CD player low while I cleaned my room. After I finished, I checked Facebook and then showered. It took a good hour to get dressed since I ain’t know what pair of Jordans or Nike I should wear with these denim shorts and a cotton button shirt I brought at the Fulton Mall yesterday. Finally, I chose the 13s since they still sat in its box unbothered and matched my shirt. I then brushed waves you could mistake for the Atlantic Ocean and put on a gold chain and watch looking fresh to death.

When I got the sneaker box from under my bed, the stash to pay off Chancy’s debt inside the old Jordan was gone. I threw the sneaker across the room and ran right into my eleven-year-old sister’s bedroom. Ieasha was in the corner at her Beyonce shrine praying and turned around startled. I know she stole my loot as I slept last night ’cause for almost a year, she’s been saving to run away and join this Beyonce commune in Houston, Texas, and always needed money.

“Damn, don’t you knock, boy.”

I grabbed Ieasha’s bony arm and started shaking her. I didn’t do it hard ’cause she is little, but I did hold my fist in her face to scare her.

“Give me my money.”

“I didn’t take anything I swear.”

I let go of Ieasha’s arm ’cause she looked like she was about to cry.

“Just give me my stash.”

“I said I didn’t take it, dummy.” She rubbed her arm. “You really must be begging white folks for money to live in France if you have a stash and fresh gear.”

“That’s pure nonsense, Ieasha. I just want my money.”

She stayed silent so I went over to the shrine and grabbed the framed autographed picture of Beyonce. I then opened the window and hung that shit out of it. Ieasha started screaming and Mama ran in there.

“Boy, what in the hell do you think you’re doing?” she asked.

I tossed the picture on the bed and Ieasha ran to hug it.

“I’m just goofing with her is all.” I knew this little thief won for now ’cause there was no way in hell could I tell Mama how much she done stole without having to explain why I had so much. Ieasha stuck her tongue at me as I left the bedroom for the kitchen. At least I had until Monday to pay Ray, and I’m sure I could find it in her bedroom by then. Before a nigga could even grab milk from the fridge, Mama kicked the door closed and asked if I saluted our president yet? I told her that I honestly forgot, so she slapped the back of my head and pulled me by my arm into the living room. We saluted the president’s giant framed picture on the wall over the liquor cabinet and the other one of him with his entire family between Jesus (who looked like Mickey Rourke during his Diner days) and Martin Luther the King. Mama then forced me to stare at him as she babbled bullshit about how nothing can stop me now. You will be the Third in 2048 she told me for the millionth time. Thank black baby Jesus the regular phone rang and she ran to her bedroom to answer so I could fix myself a bowl of cereal in peace. She then shouted for someone to quit calling here, and I knew she just finished talking to my stepdaddy ’cause only he could bring that kinda anger out of her. I then smelled her Newport smoke. Mama came back and sat on the leather couch to stare at the first family smoking her cigarette.

 “That fool Chancy better not come anywhere near this house.” She pulled twice. “I will call my brother.” Mama shook her head full of her newly styled curls. “He’s not bringing that hood shit in here.”           

I nodded and continued chewing on my sugary bowl of junk. “Yeah, I know.”

“We actually have one of us in the white house and that asshole Chancy is back to using that shit again after all these years. You know how that looks to everyone around here?”

Mama breathed in and calmed herself staring at the first family hard. A big smile then appeared. My brother Isaac came inside from the front yard wearing sweatpants and a T-shirt with Yes I Will in 2040 across on it, brushing his waves (not deep like mines), and turned on the TV after kissing Mama on the cheek. The news spoke about the protests going on now for the brother who hanged himself in the bathroom of a Bronx precinct with the handcuffs still on him. When Mama went back to the kitchen, he started burning those dumb eyes of his into me for some reason.

“Damn. What, fool?” I said.

“Where’re you getting all these clothes from?” He asked. “I’ve noticed you’ve been looking real stylish lately. You’re not stealing with Terrell again so you can impress Ella Ramirez, are you? That girl is trouble and I can’t be on any government radar because of her.”

I sighed. Isaac won’t never ever let a nigga forget that we used to boost years ago until a security guard busted us at a T.J. Maxx. He also had to talk shit about my Ella. Ella was this fine dark-haired Puerto Rican beauty who lived three houses down from us, and he stayed worrying about me liking her ’cause an aunt of hers is doing life without parole for multiple bank robberies and the murder of a state trooper. I done told his retarded ass a billion times that her aunt and the crew she rolled with back in the day only robbed banks to make an indie film about some Spanish country’s revolution and had no plans to overthrow our government, but Isaac can only hear dogshit. Anyways, Ella and her man broke up last month forever, so maybe soon my clothes could be in a pile with hers beside her bed when her mother went to work. We always flirt and last week she kept mentioning how dope I looked lately. Shit, last Wednesday before we parted ways at the junction, I kissed those full sweet pink lips of hers and she kissed me back. I ignored Isaac and he asked about my clothes again. I acted the same way crime witnesses did when the police asked them in front of thirty people if they saw who shot whom, and he rolled his eyes annoyed. I stared straight at him harder until I got a text message. I smiled after reading that Ella spoke to Terrell and might be at the park around two.

“I know it’s that goddamn Ella.” Isaac sucked his teeth. “Is ass the only thing you think about?”

I gave him the finger. “I’m sixteen. The hell else am I suppose to think about.”

“He wouldn’t have done bullnonsense like that at your age,” Isaac said, nodding at the picture of the president. “Always let him guide you and you’ll be alright, little brother.” He took his coverless and dog-eared, marked-up copy of Dreams from My Father off the coffee table and slapped it onto my lap. I left it there.

“Whatever,” I replied. “I have me a job at Mickey D’s now anyway.”

“Selling burgers never have folks looking this good,” he said. “At your age I sold candy, delivered newspapers, bused tables, washed dishes, and delivered food, and I’ve never looked that good.” He stood up and leaned over me. “What’d you little niggas up to?” he asked as his voice switched from Carlton Banks to Debo from Friday.

“Mind yo own business, nigga.”

Isaac removed himself from inside my ass after he received a text. He smiled so it was probably from his fiancée Nancy. He then hugged me, and his breath smelled like he drank too much Hennessey at whatever party they went to last night and forgot to brush this morning.

“Don’t be doing anything out there because absolutely nothing can be ruined for 2040. It’s a different day, boy.” He wagged his finger at me. “This is me telling you.”

I sucked my teeth. “Whatever.”

Instead of anger, Isaac’s face morphed into the look of disappointment usually reserved for fathers when their sons miss the game-winning shot or they learn they still haven’t gotten ass yet by fourteen. He walked away and came back waving the paper of the retarded shit he wrote in some dumb journal.

“Read it, boy.”

I sighed and read:

Rules for the black man in a brand new America by Isaac Michael Lawrence

Always make the First proud

No more excuses. It’s a new sunny morning in America so wake the hell up

No drugs of any kind, not even marijuana

No alcohol

Condoms do suck but still always wear one so you won’t be another statistic

Pull up those Timberland bootstraps and work, work, work

Don’t want to go to prison; don’t do anything to have them send you there

In college if a white boy gets an A+, you get an A+ with a second + for extra credit

Pull those pants up

We all represent each other so always be a shining example

Speak the Queen’s English better than the Queen herself would

No sexual relationships with white women

If one must satisfy his lust for a white woman make her sign a consent form and film her giving oral consent. Leave said form and video with a lawyer.

Isaac clapped, smiling. “Very good.” He started rubbing my shoulder. “You’re a smart kid.” He pointed at the president. “But you must raise those seventies to eighties and eventually up to nineties because of that man. If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, you’ll make progress.”

“If you’re a wino with no money but you’re willing to do whatever it takes for some yack, eventually you’ll get yourself five bucks,” I said.

Isaac sucked his teeth again, and I flung the paper across the living room along with Dreams from My Father. He picked them up shaking his head and called me pathetic. I smirked at him. Isaac got a new text and went back to his bedroom smiling as he responded. I brushed my waves and noticed Mama in the kitchen about to cry and looked so lost in her own little world that she ain’t even hear any of the nonsense we just finished babbling. Mama ain’t know much about expensive clothes so I did not have to worry. When I put my empty bowl in the sink, she followed behind me and lit a new cigarette.   

“You better go put some house clothes on because you are finally helping me with that attic, boy. You’ve been promising me for almost two weeks you’d help and I want it cleaned today. I’m tired of you breaking your promises.”

I frowned at her. She has a sixteen-year-old black son and ain’t never once got a call from the police, found a gun, weed, or crack under my bed, or had to cry while visiting me in Spofford, or have to worry about me not graduating, so she needed to leave me be and bow down thankful.

“I’m busy, Ma. Can’t you ask Isaac to do it?”

Mama let smoke out her nose. “Your brother definitely has to attend today’s community meeting ’cause people have been complaining about him missing the last seven and not doing anything for the area after being re-elected. I need a man’s help anyway. You’re always running ’round here saying you’re a real man so prove it today, boy.”

Certain things in life like niggas getting reparations, those Christian Beyonce fans in California petitioning to have her officially replace God, or King ’Bron ever winning a ring was never going to happen. Spending the entire day sweating like Toby Kinte and wearing out my skinny bones lifting boxes from the attic to the basement wasn’t happening either. I kissed Mama on the cheek and walked back to my bedroom to let her think I was changing in there. After a good ten minutes, I tippy toed into Ieasha’s bedroom since she was taking a shower. I looked through her dresser drawer, under the bed, her clothes, and still didn’t find my loot. Shit, she probably had it on her. I heard Mama shouting for me as I snuck out through the back door and walked down the street with that quickness.

The late and great Notorious B.I.G spitted about never letting niggas know how much dough you hold ’cause that cheddar breads jealousy, and he couldn’t have been more right. Except for Randall, Terrell and I both agreed from day one never to tell anyone about where the dough comes from, but the second I stepped onto the basketball court at the park, this fool we knew named Timothy quit struggling to dribble the ball to the rim and shouted, “I hear white folks give you money at the bus stop. You and T are begging them to visit Trinidad and shit.”

I waved at him. “Bullshit. Where’d you hear such coonery from?”

He tossed the ball to Terrell standing at the water fountain. “It’s just around, fool.”

When Terrell came over, he slammed it down hard. “You better quit spreading bullshit ’fore you get us in some shit ’round here.”

Timothy laughed. “You Brooklyn niggas get scared like bitches over everything. In Philly, we walk down the street counting hundred dollar bills and dare someone to step to us.”

I gave him the finger and he walked for the ball rolling over to the front gate. Some wino drinking there grabbed it first and tossed it to him. He thanked the dirty drunk and couldn’t dribble between his legs like always. Terrell frowned at him and then gave me this funky look as if I would tell another living soul so the news could fly around the hood. I looked for Randall and Ella and only saw Randall by the swing set on his new phone. He always had a new phone.

“Yo leave that weed alone, T.” I replied.

“I know what I done heard, man.” Timothy said. “Y’all looking doper than normal anyway. I heard they giving y’all money for Jamaica.”

“We got real jobs, nigga.” Terrell said. “Quit talking bullshit.”

“Whatever.” Timothy kept sweating mad hard, so he took off his black shirt that said Hope in the front and Has Finally Come in the back, and I watched his jump shot go straight past the rim. Terrell laughed. Randall walked over staring at his phone and we heard Malik Da God of Gods and L’il Wayne on there. I nodded and texted Ella about her getting her sexy self here soon. Our boy from school, Big Ron, came over to us dribbling a basketball between his legs and we fist bumped him. He wore a classic Allen Iverson Sixers jersey and used a towel to wipe his sweaty face.

“How much you clean up, fool?” Terrell said.

“Thirty bucks and I won by fifteen points. My game is stupid better now. ” Big Ron smirked brushing his waves. “Niggas out here ball worse than you, Tim.”

Timothy stared at Big Ron’s arms, legs, and flat stomach. “Damn, I still can’t believe how you got so slim. That all year fat camp really did work wonders, baby boy.”

“Nah,” Big Ron grabbed his crotch. “Sliding my penis inside yo mama every night did it, nigga. Best exercise ever.”

Timothy playfully punched him in the arm and laughed with us. After it died, Big Ron pulled me by the arm over to the benches. We sat facing the sprinklers where kids stood drinking the water pouring over them.

“Can you loan me thirty bucks? I’ll pay you back.” Big Ron smiled, flexing his muscles. He made me feel them and they felt hard. “I’m finally living in pussy, bro.” He slapped my thigh giggling. “I’ve only been home a week and I already fucked Gina Miguel, Tasha Harris, and Keisha Marshall. These hoes love the new me. Now I’m taking Melissa Hanson to a fancy Manhattan spot tonight ’cause she’s special, and I just need thirty more bucks to make it two hundred. I hear white folks are giving you money at JFK to live in Panama, and I threw down in eighth grade to keep L’il Kenny from knocking yo teeth the hell out, so help a brother out.”

I looked around quickly before digging in my pocket to hand him three tens. At least Ieasha had a little heart and didn’t take my wallet money too. He thanked me and walked to the exit dribbling his basketball. I went back to the fools and they were babbling about tickets for a Malik Da God of Gods concert.

“You fools do know Malik used to be a cop in Milwaukee right?” Randall said. “Vibe said he really got shot six times during a traffic stop and his five kids are all with his wife. He never pumped his city full of coke.”

Timothy shrugged. “So what bro. He’s still fire and his beats are beyond dope.”

Terrell said, “I’m still going. Everybody knows rappers can act better than Pesci anyway. You’re just being cheap.”

Randall laughed. “I’m filthy rich boy. And I don’t beg white folks for money either.”

It was true.  During freshman year our homeroom teacher Mr. Rothstein asked him in front of the entire class how he expected to rise in the crack business one day if he always daydreamed in class during math. We all laughed but Randall being creepy as fuck paid off ’cause he captured the whole thing on his phone while secretly recording Emilina Rodriguez (this fine redbone shorty whose ass is bigger than her brain) and his mother sued the Board of Education. The story made national news and we always saw our blurry faces ’cause they OD’ed showing the recording. Time, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times wrote mad bullshit and Al Sharpton stood outside Canarsie High School boycotting every day for three weeks. We never knew how much his mother got in the settlement, but they have some serious cheddar. Nobody ever tried to take their money either ’cause of Randall’s older brother Courtney. Courtney resided in Elmira doing an eleven-year bid for killing a police dog during a gang raid, but he still has plenty of say on the block.

Terrell gave him the finger. “Please quit spreading that bullshit.”

Ella texted me back saying something came up and sent two sad faces. Someone then shouted my name. Chancy waved at me standing by the entrance as he drank a carton of milk. Now crackheads belonged on the list of people never to be trusted alongside men without kids still hanging in children’s parks and members of any kind of P.D in America, but I hadn’t seen him since winter and I missed his raggedy ass. I jogged over to him and could see his untrimmed beard and wild nappy Afro. His brown cheeks sunk in. Chancy lost enough weight for someone to drive a trailer through the dirty gray sweatpants he kept pulling up. We hugged and he patted me on the back.

“It’s been a real while, son.”

I nodded. “Yep.”

He looked me up and down and I could see his yellowish teeth when he smiled. He also smelled of stale cigarettes.

“Gotdamn you’ve done grown a lot, my boy.” He laughed. “You think you LeBron now out here with your homeboys huh.”

“Forget LeBron. I do it up like D-Rose, baby.”

Chancy waved at Terrell, Randall, and Timothy and they came over to slap him five. He drank some milk fast.

“We be missing those double choclate filled cakes, Mr. C.” Randall said. “They were like bombs of goodness in our mouths. The day before it closed I gave Kara Miles my last piece and we kissed outside.” He rubbed his face. “That was our first kiss.”

Terrell laughed at Randall. “You daydreamed that shit, my nigga. The whole thing.” He faced Chancy. “Those were some good times, Mr. C.”

Timothy nodded. “Yep. I still miss those homemade brownies.”

“I’m gonna make even better good times when I open another place, y’all.” Chancy nodded slowly and lit a cigarette. “I’m really done with this bullshit forever and I’m getting back in that kitchen.” Chancy turned to me. “Can we talk a bit, son?”

I nodded. “No doubt. Let’s go.”

We walked out the park and he threw the carton in the trash to light his second cigarette. His hand began shaking putting it to his chapped black lips.

“How are my lady and baby girl doing, son? How’s Isaac?”

“Mama be cool and Ieasha is annoying like hell. Isaac is Isaac.”

He laughed. “I miss my beautiful ladies. I even miss him.”

“That fool don’t feel the same but the rest of us miss you. Where you been at anyway?”

“I was staying in Bed-Stuy with my cousin Floyd until the cops locked that fool up last week.” Chancy answered. “White folks be like Christopher Columbus up in that bitch I swear. Now I ain’t light the rock in three days but your mama doesn’t wanna hear that. She doesn’t wanna hear how a nigger is out here trying his hardest to find a program. I’m gonna be the old me again real soon, son. I just had me one little slip after all these years.”

I looked at Chancy dig in his hair and remembered how dope his dark Caesar haircut with waves deeper than mines used to be. How he took so much pride in his hair and clothes looking tight that he never even went to the corner store without looking correct. I wanted that man back.

Chancy pulled from his back pocket a gold bracelet and handed it to me. “Give this to that pretty thang Ella and she’ll come around. Only fifteen bucks, son. That along with my fried jumbo coconut shrimps will finally get you some sweet loving, boy.”

I saw Terrence loves Teresa engraved on it and handed it back to him. Chancy sucked his teeth and pulled on his cigarette.

“What’s wrong with it?” he asked. “This is real gold and it’s yours for ten bucks.”

“It belongs to Teresa.”

He smoked, flicked the butt away, and lit a new cigarette. “All those times I used to make Ray those special cakes when he was a kid, and now he wants to light my ass up if I don’t come up with the four hundred I owe him. Lighting a nigger up over four hundred is insane.” He stopped walking to lean against the wall of a bodega. “I have until Monday or y’all are gonna be burying me. The first hundred days have been over.”

I stood beside him laughing ’cause that shit always cracked me up. Ray loved the First so much that he imposed the rule of no beating on or dropping any black bodies for the first hundred days of his presidency. The dudes in his crew and every crackhead tried playing him and the shit ended after two hours. I told Chancy I planned to pay Ray myself the four hundred bucks. Instead of smiling though, he looked at me angry.

“How in the hell is you getting that kinda cash?” He pointed his dirty finger at me. “I swear you better not be out there in those streets or I’ma whoop your ass myself, boy. Remember, I take care of you, you don’t take care of me.”

“I ain’t in no streets doing nothing ’cause I got me a legit job. It’s cool, man.”

He pulled on his cigarette quick. “You swear on Aunt Anna’s grave?”

I put my hand up. “Yeah, I swear on Aunt Anna’s grave. I ain’t in no streets doing wrong.”

He smiled. “I’m happy to hear that. I’ll come by Monday in the afternoon.”

“I’ll meet you at the park instead at four ’cause Mama will flip out if she even smells you near the house.”

Chancy hugged me hard and long. When he let me go, I still had my wallet. This had me thinking that maybe this fool really did want to change.


“Are you willing to be a solid commitment to BTA industries?” Terrell asked me Monday afternoon as we sat together on the front steps of my house. “’Cause this is a lot of money I’m loaning you.”

I nodded. “I’m down, fool.”

He chewed into his seventy-cent menu triple bacon cheeseburger from Heaven ‘n’ Burgers. “I’m just afraid you might develop some pride and quit doing this shit.”

“I said I’m down.”

Terrell handed me the money and it quickly went in my pocket after I counted it. I hated borrowing money from him, but I looked in Ieasha’s room again yesterday when she and Mama went to the park, and I still found nothing in there.

“We have to expand from the subways.” Terrell smiled. “We’ll hit up folks at JFK and Penn Station traveling on business and people who work in Manhattan offices. If we wear our shirts of the First and show ’em my report cards, I know they’ll drop even more dough.”

“You’re a real businessman now huh, T?”

Terrell finished his burger. “My brother, they are gonna help me buy the sweetest ride. Forget helping Stephanie look like Rihanna. In a sweet ride at Howard, a nigga like me can go from being kinda cute after a few drinks to fine as fuck in a second.”

The door suddenly flung open, and Isaac lorded over us rocking a navy suit and smoking a cigarette along with Nancy in a dark green dress. She smelled like baby powder and you could see her baby bump. Nancy smiled at us twisting her blond dreads and her big titties got me hard. Terrell asked them their deal about being so fancy. Isaac explained how an important person who can help his future would be here any second. A Honda pulled up to our driveway and a bald brother in a black suit came out. Homeboy looked like an FBI agent on a cop show. My phone went off, and I sucked my teeth seeing a cancelation text from Ella about us meeting for pizza later. Bitch said she’s busy tonight taking care of her sick kid brother.

“Smile, boy,” Isaac mumbled.

“Whatever,” I replied.

The FBI agent approached Isaac and they shook hands.

“The Second one day,” he said. “It’s great to see you again, Isaac.”

“I couldn’t agree more, David.” Isaac put his arm around Nancy’s waist. “This beauty here is my girlfriend Nancy Dupree. She was born and raised in France and teaches sixth grade math at I.S.2 in Flatbush. She also won teacher of the year.”

They shook hands smiling at each other.

“I ain’t even know France had housing projects like us until she told me,” Terrell replied.

Nancy waved at Terrell. David laughed all nervous while my brother kicked pebbles on the ground. Nancy also rolled her eyes at me and David stared at Terrell.

“I think I’ve seen you somewhere before.” He turned to me next. “The same with you.”

Terrell said, “I made the semi finals on Yo Mama last year so maybe you saw me on there.”

David shook his head. “I quit watching that show when the mean boy from Newark who really should have won lost.” He rubbed his face. “I’ve seen you two on the subway asking whites for money to live in Africa.”

I shook my head. “Not us. Never, man.”

Nancy said, “These two would never do such nonsense, David. They’re both interning at the corporate headquarters for McDonalds this summer.”

“Not me. Never man,” I repeated. “We flip burgers and salt the fries after filing papers.”

David smiled at us. “Y’all must have some twins out there then.”

Isaac pulled me inside to the kitchen.

“Look, boy,” he said. “I need you to stop doing this nonsense. I’m a public figure in the neighborhood and I can’t have you ruin 2040 with your nonsense.” He pulled a picture of the First from his wallet and put it in my face. “Please don’t embarrass him. Hell, if you need money I will find you and Terrell something to do in my office.”

I did understand a little where this fool was coming from, but the idea of slaving for him for chump change died in a second. I loved having big money in my hands, and all I could think about was more Jordans, fresh clothes, games, real pocket change, and taking my Ella wherever she wanted to go.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, bro.”

My phone vibrated and a text came from Ella about how we might be able to meet up if she can convince her downstairs neighbor to watch her brother. I smiled. I then went back outside as Isaac mumbled behind me about embarrassing the First. I lied to David about how cool it was meeting him and bounced with Terrell. Isaac demanded for us to explain ourselves about this begging insanity, but we kept walking like we ain’t hear him.

When Terrell and I went to Ray’s office at the park, we saw him step out the back of a dark blue SUV as he was finishing a sandwich. Terrell went to sit on the benches with my stepdaddy and I ran over to Ray. He wore black Wallabees and a white dress shirt tucked into khakis. First time I done saw his brown arms free of tats after getting that ink removed. Ray tossed the wrapper, smiled, and slapped me five.

“What is going on, baby boy?  Did you get your invite yet to Big Ron’s birthday party next week?”

I shook my head in confusion. “His birthday’s in January?”

He slapped my arm. “No, bro, he’s celebrating the day his parents sent him to the fat camp. He calls that day his rebirth. So how you be, man?”

“I’m good. I just came to see you about something.”

We continued walking and stopped at the fence. He watched the fools in his crew over at the handball courts putting in that work.

“Damn, man,” Ray hissed lighting his last cigarette. “First your brother begging and now you. I’m grateful for the work Isaac gave me in his office, but I told him I can’t dead Chancy’s debt.” He pulled twice and flung the crushed pack over the fence. “I really don’t wanna have to get Veronica out from under the bed for this situation ’cause that could make my name ring out in a bad way when I run for something around here soon, but right is right, bro.” He coughed. “You do know that, right?”

“I got that paper for you.”

I dug into my pocket and gave him his money. Ray counted the tens and twenties and pocketed that shit quick while looking at me the way someone did after seeing dogshit under their kicks.

“This is sad, man.”

“What is?”

“It must be true for you to have all this cheese.” Ray enjoyed a final pull and flicked the butt away. “I heard you and Terrell ask white people to be sent to Kenya. That’s shameful, bro.” He shook his head slowly staring at me. “It is. I could never do something so degrading. Not for any price. The fuck is wrong with you, man?”

“I don’t do that shit, man. That’s money I saved from working at Mickey D’s.”

Ray chuckled. “I slaved at Burger King for three years and I ain’t never had shit to save.”

“It’s true, bro.” I sighed. “Why is you beefing? Your money is all there.”

A fool in a car blasting a Malik song about him needing three dicks to handle all his worldwide groupie loving honked and shouted for him. He told me how we were straight now and jogged over to the man. I walked to Terrell and Chancy, and they were arguing about Tom Brady falling apart. Terrell swore it would happen in the next two years. Chancy faced me looking desperate.

“Is it good, son?”

“It’s straight. You good, man.”

Chancy hugged and thanked me. He then lit a cigarette and asked if we could go to the bodega and talk. I agreed, and he asked me there if I could let him stay in the basement since he ain’t have nowhere else to go. Before I could answer, the door opened, and these two young boys ran out of there laughing with beer bottles. A man screaming in Spanish chased them holding an aluminum baseball bat.

“Mama would kick my black ass from Canarsie to the motherland if I let you in there.”

“I helped buy that house and I’m talking about the basement, son. I need to be off these streets to keep getting better.”

I shook my head and he frowned. That shit had me feeling guilty, so my dumb ass told him to come by the crib later that night and a key for the basement would be under the back door mat. He hugged me and for the second time I still felt my wallet after he let me go.

Dinner the following Friday evening with Ella at a fancy Wall Street spot I reserved was weird ’cause only two other couples looked like us and the food was super small. The waiter didn’t take our orders until I showed him the dough ’cause he wanted to know how I planned to pay for it. I did love counting my cash in front of her even though I had to swear I wasn’t visiting rich white folks at their homes and begging them to send me to Niger like she heard. When we went to my house, Mama, Ieasha, two paramedics, and a cop were all in the living room. They should have been at Coney Island, and now that meant the possibility of Ella’s skirt being on my bedroom floor was dead. I looked around and noticed pictures of the First, our DVD player, and about ten DVDs were gone. Chancy done ganked us and I felt dumb. Another cop stood in the kitchen staring at our now busted basement door. Ieasha sat in the corner spaced out, and Mama told me the paramedics gave her something after she flipped out because her autographed Beyonce picture got took. Mama and I always locked our bedroom doors ’cause of Ieasha so our shit was safe. The first cop asked Mama if she knew anyone who’d want to rob us due to the burglar only busting open the kitchen basement door. Mama lit a cigarette swearing she ain’t know shit. The cop then asked me. I knew we’d never see Chancy again anytime soon, and I hated him hard now, but I still ain’t want the police on his lying crackhead ass. I guess Mama knew and didn’t really want it either. I had enough money from white folks to help replace most of our stolen shit anyway.

“No,” I replied. “I don’t know anybody officer.”


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