I’d stopped at a drugstore on 125th Street after school to buy some bubble gum when I heard a scuffle break out and a woman scream. I ran to where all the commotion was coming from and saw one man holding a Spanish kid and another man looking at his hand and saying he was bitten when he stopped the boy from running out the store with something he’d stolen. The woman was yelling that the man who was bitten had tried to hurt the boy. The kid was saying something. But it was all mixed up with Spanish. I caught his eye and he gave me the crooked mouth frown that every kid picked up a few years before from Edward G. Robinson in the movie “Little Caesar.” But I was almost fifteen and getting too old to be screwing up my face the way that kid did, just so I could look like some gangster in a movie.
I was more interested in being like Cab Calloway, who I’d first heard on the radio, stretching his voice like taffy and yelling ‘hi de, hi de, ho’. And that got my attention a lot more than all the hollering
Johnny Weissmuller did to shake up the jungle in, “Tarzan, the Ape Man.” When I finally got a good look at him in a movie about a Chinaman who invented a little picture box called television, Calloway had slick black hair and tiger teeth. He wore a lemon yellow tuxedo and tails with matching shoes that were lightning fast, as he led his band into battle with a stick that he jabbed and waved like a sword. Cab’s band played just about every night at the Cotton Club but no colored people were allowed in unless they were in the show. My older brother, Roscoe, who was a numbers runner, saw Calloway at a lot of after hour joints in Harlem. He told me Cab was always looking to have a good time but wouldn’t stand for no one giving him a hard time. Somehow, I knew I had to meet this man whose mouth was on the go, full of words I’d never heard of– like Zazz Zu Zazz.
The manager of the store said no one could leave until the police got there. The Spanish kid was lifting his shoulders and letting them drop like Jimmy Cagney. But he wasn’t fooling me none. I knew he was shittin’ bricks. I wasn’t that far off from shittin’ a few myself, cause the last thing I needed was to have my father find out I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He would blame me for being anywhere near trouble.
When the police arrived, it took them a while to figure out what happened. Come to find out, the kid hadn’t stolen anything. But when the man watching for shoplifters asked him what he wanted, the kid tried to run. The police called an ambulance for the guy who got bitten. They told the kid never to run if he didn’t do anything and promised to put a flat foot up his ass the next time he was caught run- ning anywhere. I couldn’t stop myself from laughing.
“You think this is funny,” one of the cops said, grabbing me by the arm.
“No!” I said, feeling his grip tighten.
“What’s your name?”
“War-dell!” I said, trying to show them I wasn’t no punk.
“Well, let me tell you something, War-dell. Another sound out of you and we’ll take you to the station house and see how funny you think it is when your folks have to come and get their smart mouth son!”
I started to say something to show them just how smart my mouth could get but changed my mind.
The cops booted us out of the store together. They were watching us, so all we did was stare at each other before going our separate ways. By the time I got to my block, everybody was already beatin their gums about what happened at the drug store. But the story was all different. The word on the street was that somebody working at the store called the cops on a colored kid who took something without paying. When the cops got there, they beat up on the him real bad and arrested a woman who told them to stop. The kid was taken to the hospital and someone working there said he overheard a doctor say the boy was dead when the ambulance got there.
Men were standing outside a barbershop, like they did every afternoon when I got home from school.
“I got no problem believing that’s what happened,” one said.
“I thought seeing was believing,” another said..
“A colored kid getting beat to death by a cop is something I don’t need to see to believe it.”
“This is just more of the same old same old!”
The voice came from behind me. I turned and saw a man in a long robe that hung from his neck to his feet like a curtain. Some kind of cloth was wrapped tight around his head just above his eyes, which made them look scary.
“Well, if it ain’t Brother Abdul,” said a barbershop regular. “We ain’t seen you since you up and married that numbers policy queen and moved on up with the folks who live on the hill. The grapevine has it that you frontin’ a vegetable stand for the white folks you told us not to buy from unless they gave some jobs to the colored.”
Brother Abdul moved his arms underneath his robe before he said anything.
“I’d hoped you curbside prophets would a figured out how to stay ahead of the game for a change, instead of standing on the sidelines watching the game go by. But you lames are still out here, signify-
ing, with nothing in your pockets but your hands!”
Brother Abdul definitely knew his way around words. The younger guys laughed and slapped palms with him. The older heads chuckled or kept quiet.
“Don’t be too hard on us, Abdul,” one of the older crew said. “We just wanted see if your mouth had become a stumble bum since you been gone. What do you think’s gonna happen?”
“I don’t know.”
“So if we take our hands out of our pockets, where should we put them?”
“Wherever you put them, you need to decide whether you want them open or closed.”
I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“What you doing out here, son?”
As usual, Papa was wearing his chauffeur’s get-up: black suit, white shirt, slim jim black tie and shiny brimmed hat like the cops wear.
“I’m listening to what they saying about what happened on a hundred twenty-fifth street.”
“You’d be better off paying attention to what your teachers are trying to get into your head.”
“But Papa, they’re saying something real bad might happen.”
“How would they know? They never move from this spot all day.”
I jerked my head back to the men who’d stopped talking and were looking in our direction.
“Well, if it ain’t Mr. Cecil Fortune,” an old timer said, “Always glad to see there’s one colored man in the driver’s seat while the rest of us standing still.”
“Ain’t nobody holding you so you can’t move.”
The ones who were not much older than me and the others who were around my father’s age got stiff in the neck and put a lock on both of us with their eyes. I don’t know why he always had to keep rubbing his words in until they burned. Papa might as well have taken a strap to Roscoe when he told him that if he kept breaking the law, running numbers and chiseling colored folks out of what little money they had, this would turn our dead mother’s peaceful rest in heaven into sleepless nights full of weeping. Papa must’ve thought his words would get my brother to think about giving up the street life.
But Roscoe packed his clothes and left the apartment without saying a word. After that, Papa lightened up a bit when he chastised me. But even though it wasn’t me doing the talking in front of the barbershop. I knew the next time I passed any of these guys on the street, I’d get all the heat from what
Papa said that got underneath their skin.
“You got a point, Cecil,” the old timer said. “You better off than the rest of us. Cause at least you get to see where the white folks is headed, which is more than the rest of us can say.”
The laughter came out in sneezing shouts that got a hold of everyone except Papa and Brother Abdul who stared at each other. I thought what the guy said was funny too. But no way was I gonna laugh at what somebody said about my father that he didn’t think was funny.
“Come on, Wardell,” Papa said, pushing me toward the corner. “I think you’ve heard enough of these loudmouths for one day.”
We walked down the block to our building. In all the excitement I’d forgotten I was in that drug- store and saw what happened. And all the talk about a colored kid getting killed by the cops wasn’t true. Papa seeing me laugh would’ve been bad enough. But telling him how I knew what really happened would’ve been worse. I’d learned how talking about things that happened could make things worse when Mama died. I was ten when she came down with something called rheumatic fever. I remember her in bed, talking to us. And then she stopped breathing. Sometimes I wonder why it wasn’t me instead of her. I was sick all the time when I was a baby. I had pneumonia and just when it seemed like I was getting better, I got it again. Mama washed me, fed me and never left me alone until I was well. Roscoe, Papa and me did the same for her but it didn’t do no good. Once Mama was gone, there was no one to pull us tightly together, like she did when she taught me how to lace up my shoes.
Without her, we didn’t fit snug anymore. We walked around, tripping over each other like our shoes were untied.
Later, when we ate dinner, I asked Papa if he knew Brother Abdul.
“I know who he is.”
“You ever talked to him?”
“We’ve had words.”
“About something he did.”
“Like up and leaving after getting colored folks to see if they stuck together, they could better themselves.”
“Maybe he couldn’t help it.”
“The only thing he couldn’t help was helping himself to the hard earned pennies of folks who got their hopes up and were let down.”
My mind kind of left me for a minute. And when it came back, I was angry with Mama for leaving me. I’d felt like this before. But this was the first time I had the feeling that Mama knew, the way she found out just about everything I tried to keep from her. She’d push the flesh above her top lip under her nostrils, breathe in and say: ”When’s the last time you had a bath?” I’d lie and she’d say it was time for another one. It didn’t feel so bad because she never said it around Papa or Roscoe. But she was letting me know there was nothing I did that she couldn’t smell. And even though Mama was dead, I had the feeling she could smell my anger.
“What you thinking about?” Papa asked.
I wasn’t about to tell him the truth.
“You ever listen to the Cab Calloway Band?”
“I can’t believe you fill your head with the nonsense from that clown.”
“I been hearing a lot of his music lately.”
“I know your brother likes that trash. But why would you waste your time listening to some fool sing about hop heads and people who ain’t interested in nothing but having a good time? You better get your mind right, boy!”
After Papa left for work, I looked out of the fourth floor window of our sixth floor walk-up. It was just getting dark and streets were bubbling up with talk, getting hotter all the time. The itch to hear what they had to say got to be too much. So I dashed down the stairs and hit the sidewalk running.
The voice I was hearing from our apartment window turned out to be a guy I’d heard speaking a lot on the corner. He always wore a dark suit; the jacket rode up his wrists every time he raised his arms and his hiked up pants showed white socks coming out of shoes run down on one side. When he talked, his eyes dug into everyone like fish hooks.
The word ‘class’ came out of his mouth more than any other. He put it together with other words like ‘struggle’ and ‘working’ that reminded me of the words Papa used when he said I struggled so much with my school work cause I didn’t pay enough attention in class. Maybe this guy was saying that people struggled with another kind of class work after they stopped going to school.
When I got to the corner, he was standing on a platform. He’d worked himself into a sweat and his jacket sleeves were almost to the elbows. As usual, his white sidekick was moving through the crowd, passing out leaflets.
“The killing of a colored boy after he was accused of stealing from a five and dime store tells us all we need to know about the value of property over a human life. The owners of these stores snatch the nickels and dimes out of your hands and then cry thief when you reach for a share of the money that was taken from you in the first place. But taking from those who took even more from you, is not the answer. The answer is– jobs! Not just for Negroes, as some have demanded, who would replace whites in stores on 125th Street. That plays into the hands of the merchants who would have you believe that jobs cannot be had except by giving them to one class of workers and taking them away from another. The Young Communist League is the party for only one race of people: the working class. We refuse to be tricked by the tight-fisted shopkeepers into fighting each other along racial lines. And we’re calling for the arrest of the police officers involved in the fatal beating and the release of the Negro and white workers who were arrested while protesting the actions of the police.”
Some people started clapping, but they didn’t look too happy doing it.
“Hey, little brother! What you doing out here?”
Roscoe had on his stingy brim hat, broke down in the front and on the right side. He flashed a gold front tooth I hadn’t seen before. And thick black suspenders made tracks up his eggnog colored shirt.
“Listening, same as you.”
“Papa must be at work. Otherwise you wouldn’t be out here.”
“I don’t have to sneak and do stuff I wanna do!”
“If you say so… How’re things at home?”
“All right I guess. Papa’s never at home. He’s always working.”
“Don’t he ever hang out with any of his old friends?”
“He did for a while after Mama died. But when you left…”
“Yeah, well anyway… What did you think of what that guy had to say?”
“I don’t know. I guess he’s right about having a job being better than stealing.”
“Well there’s one thing some of these communists don’t understand. They think a party is only something you belong to. But until they know how- to- party, nobody’s gonna be interested in anything else they can do. They could learn a lot from Cab Calloway.”
I wondered if Roscoe believed that Papa was a lot like the communists. I was about to ask him when someone else got up on the platform to speak. I t was Brother Abdul. He still had on that long robe and his arms jumped around in the sleeves like Cab Calloway’s did in front of his band.
“The human race began in Africa,” he said, pointing down Lenox Avenue, which I figured was the direction Africa was in. “And by rights, the so called Negro should be the most favored of races.
But what happened earlier today is just another example of how the black man receives the least favored treatment in America. That’s why we of the ‘Brotherhood of the Blood’ are determined to thicken our race pride with doing for ourselves and ridding our ranks of all the deadbeats who don’t do but tell you what they can’t do. So I’m gonna tell you what you ‘can’ do. You can let the merchants on a hundred twenty-fifth know that we can do to them what we did to Dutch Schultz a few years back, when he tried to take over the numbers business. We told him he’d get no traction in Harlem unless we got some of the action.”
The crowd liked that and started chanting.
“You’ll get no traction, unless we get some action!”
Brother Abdul smiled, stepped off the platform and joined in. Then someone in the crowd yelled.
“Fuck all this! Let’s show these whiteys some other kind of action!”
Something jerked all of us forward, like being on the subway car and having the motorman slam on the brakes. I was stuck in the crowd and couldn’t get out as it chugged down Lenox Avenue. But a hand grabbed hold of my arm and pulled me out.
“You all right?” Roscoe said.
“I think so.”
“Looks like the crowd’s gotten out of Brother Abdul’s hands.”
“Where’s everybody going?”
“A hundred twenty-fifth, where it all started.”
“But it didn’t happen like everybody’s saying it did.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I was there.”
“So what did you see?”
“The kid was Spanish. The police didn’t kill him He wasn’t even beaten. The ambulance was called for the man the kid bit.”
“You wanna try telling that to those folks hellbent on their way to 1-2-5?”
I looked at the crowd, moving down Lenox Avenue, not paying attention to nothing except what was ahead of them and all bodied up at the shoulders and hips.
“They wouldn’t listen to me. It’d have to be somebody who wasn’t a kid.”
“You got anybody in mind?”
“Cab Calloway,” was out of my mouth before I knew it.
Roscoe looked at me like I’d just grown another head.
“You think that’s dumb?”
“Don’t get all bent out a shape, little brother. If anybody could turn that crowd around, it’d be the
Hi De Ho man. But it’s too late. They only got one thing on their mind now.”
The crowd got lost in the night sky, but I could hear what they had on their mind: balloon popping sounds, smashing glass and screaming a long way off like I heard during baseball games when I stood on Edgecombe Avenue above the Polo Grounds.
“What they doing don’t make sense,” I said.
“Why not? So what if it didn’t happen like they think. Nine out a ten times it would a been.”
“That don’t make it right!” I said.
“Right ain’t got nothing to do with it. But you hung up on what’s right. Just like Papa.”
“What about you?”
“Hey! I’m the same way. When me and Papa had our falling out, we both thought we was right.
That’s why I left and why there’s still no understanding between us.”
The horns from fire engines and the sirens from police cars was making me rubber-legged.
“What’s wrong, little brother? You look a little out of it.”
“I’m all right.”
“Why don’t you hang with me for a while. There’s something I want to show you.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll tell you when we get there.”
We walked up Lenox Avenue and turned into the block around the corner from the Cotton Club.
I followed Roscoe to a door. He knocked and it opened with a man, as wide as the doorway, standing in front of us.
“Hey Kong,” Roscoe said.
“We’re here to see ‘the man’.”
Kong’s eyes stood still in a face the color of cooked liver.
“Wait here,” he said and closed the door.
“Who’re we supposed to be seeing?” I asked.
“Who do you think?”
“You gotta be kidding!”
“Is pig pork?”
The door opened again.
“Follow me,” Kong said.
As soon as we got through the door, I was hit by blasting horns and the click clacking of tapping feet on stage. Kong put up his slab-sized hand for us to stop. He walked a little further down a hallway and stuck his head in an open doorway.
“Is ‘Kong’ supposed to be short for King Kong?” I whispered to Roscoe.
“The last cat asked him that– Kong put a hurting on him so bad, he couldn’t remember his own name.”
Kong waved for us to come on. I followed Roscoe into the room and Kong closed the door behind us.
“How’s it going, Cab?”
“Everything’s on the upside, Roscoe. ”
The room was tight and narrow. And with Roscoe in front of me, he was blocking me from getting a good look at Cab Calloway.
“I want you to meet my little brother, Wardell.”
Roscoe stepped to the side and there he was in the flesh.
“What’s up, young squire? Gimme some splah!”
He held out his hand. I slapped his palm and he did the same to mine. I couldn’t speak right away cause he looked nothing like I thought he would. He moved a toothpick around in his mouth; and his hair was poked straight up like the porcupines I’d seen in picture books. He looked like he hadn’t gotten much sleep cause there were swollen pouches under his eyes. And all he had on was a tee shirt, boxer shorts and knee-high socks held up by garters.
“It’s great to meet you, Mr. Calloway,” I said.
“You can nix that mister stuff with me, Wardell. A straight shot to ‘Cab’ suits me fine.”
“Okay, Cab,” I said, still not feeling all that comfortable, having his first name come out of my mouth.
“Roscoe tells me you’re wigged out on my band’s ‘hi de ho’ groove.”
“I listen to you whenever you’re on the radio.”
“Cab. Did you get the lowdown on what happened today on 1-2-5 ?” Roscoe asked.
“Yeah. Everybody’s been running off at the jibs about it all day.”
“Right before we came here, a crowd was headed for 1-2-5. It looked like they was aiming to put a serious dent in the game the store owners been running. And Wardell got it into his head that you could a stopped ’em.”
“What made you think that?” Cab asked me.
I swallowed and hoped I wouldn’t lose the words before I could say them.
“You know the ins and out of words so good, I figured you could get them to do something where nobody’d get hurt.”
Cab’s head snapped back and a howl shot out of his mouth that sent the tooth pick flying.
“Well now, Wardell, that’s some righteous spiel you just laid on me. As a member of the black and tan, I ain’t above cutting a fool of any persuasion who gets on the wrong side of me. And I’m down with the fraughty issue in Harlem of ofays wearing dark glasses like they don’t see us while picking our pockets. It’s the changing same, whether it’s on 1-2-5 or here at the Cotton Club. But the clam bake them splibs having on 1-2-5 ain’t on my tab. If I frisk my whiskers, it’s to keep this joint jumping no matter what’s shaking anywhere else.”
Listening to him do all those tricks with words seemed like just another way for him to put on a show even without his band. I’d a been lying if I said I understood everything he was saying but I didn’t want him to stop neither.
The door opened.
“It’s about that time,” Kong growled.
“Well, gents, it’d be a gasser to jib jab with you some more, but it’s time for me go on and break my conk for the paying customers.”
“Thanks Cab, for taking the time to beat the gums a taste with my brother,” Roscoe said.
“It was solidly murderous to riff with you a skosh bit.”
Cab stood up.
“Knock me some skin before you raise up,” he said, and slapped palms with Roscoe and me.
When Roscoe and me were back on the street, we walked without talking. And I was glad cause there was a lotta banging in my head. I didn’t know how I felt anymore about what’d happened. If I believed Papa, Brother Abdul talked out of both sides of his mouth and Roscoe was a no account son who broke the laws of God every time he hit the streets to run the numbers or listened to one of the devil’s main disciples, Cab Calloway. But if I believed Roscoe, it didn’t matter if nobody but me and the other people in the drug store had the story right cause what was right didn’t always help you under- stand why things went wrong. And then there was Cab Calloway. Could I believe somebody whose words tap danced so fast when he talked that I couldn’t see what he was saying?
I started hearing a low humming sound coming from down the avenue toward 125th Street. Then out of the dark, the sidewalk and street got swollen up with people. And I could hear the drag and shuffle of their feet getting closer. Whatever they’d done on 1-2-5, it sounded like a lot more was taken from them than anything they was bringing back. The humming turned into words I couldn’t make out at first. But they got clearer in my ears the more I heard them.
“Hi de, hi de, hi de ho, Cab Calloway’s got to show!”
“Hi de. hi de, hi de ho, Cab Calloway’s got to show!”
“You hear that?” I asked.
“What you think’s gonna happen?”
“I don’t know, little brother. But I ain’t going nowhere till I find out.”
The crowd jammed into the street on Lenox Avenue. And police had search lights all over the front of the Cotton Club. Patrol cars blocked off 132nd & 133rd Street, so no more people could get in. Cops on foot talked into bullhorns for the crowd to break it up and go home. But nobody moved. Then a voice started shouting:
“We ain’t gonna go, till Cab Calloway show!”
Some cops that had all kinds of medals on their coats stood away from the others and talked. One
of them went inside the Cotton Club. And the shouting got louder:
“We ain’t gonna go, till Cab Calloway show!”
“You think he’s coming out?” I asked.
“Maybe. The cops don’t wanna have no fracas out here with all them big spenders inside.”
People started coming out of the Cotton Club, dressed in their best threads. Folks in the crowd screamed when they spotted some movie stars. The cops pushed them back, so nobody got too close.
The music from inside the Cotton Club was a blast of hot air that blew the doors open. The band strutted out. Some were playing and others started singing:
It was at the Cotton Club the other night
there was really quite a sight
Tables were filled with gaudy frails
chewing on their fingernails
Drinks were served six bits a throw
things were moving kind of slow
All at once the room would fill
Men forgot all about their bills
Who should enter but the man from Harlem.
A lemon yellow pant leg and shoe swung out the door. The rest of Cab followed in matching tuxedo and tails. His shoes cut loose with quick heel and toe tap chatter that took him to the front of the band.
He jerked his head from side to side and his slick hair snapped like a whip. The crowd whooped and hollered when two of the movie stars got footloose along with Cab. They twisted in and out at the knees and swung their heels out after every step. It they hadn’t held onto each other around the waist, their legs would’ve run out from under them.
Cab flapped his elbows and squawked like a rooster. The horns in the band quieted down and he opened his mouth like he was yawning.
“Listen up folks while I give you a wake-up call and all the lowdown. This is a great night I never thought I’d see. But our friends who pound a beat…”
Boos lit up the night air.
“I know they ain’t exactly been your ace boon coons. But they’ve agreed to let me and my band make a little frolic pad out here, so you can see what you’ve never been allowed to see inside…”
Shouts jabbed back at him.
“Make it plain, Cab!”
“That’s right! Give em the gospel according to US!”
Cab raised his arms for quiet.
“Now I wanna get one thing straight. I’m not out here to rile you up or simmer you down. That
ain’t my calling. You got enough people telling you whether you is or you ain’t, whether you can or you can’t or whether you will or you won’t. I mix up the do’s and the don’ts and come up with something that nobody can quite figure out…called Zazz Zu Zazz!”
The trumpets played first, sounding like they wanted to take their time before Cab told the story of these strange words I’d only heard about from Roscoe. The trombones jumped in and got loud, pushing the trumpets to hurry up so Cab could get started– which he did.
Now here’s a very entrancing phrase.
It will put you in a daze.
To me it don’t mean a thing.
But it’s got a very peculiar swing—
Zazz Zu, Zazz Zu, Zazz Zu, Zay!
The words weren’t even out of his mouth good before the crowd was giving them right back to him.
Zazz Zu, Zazz Zu, Zazz Zu, Zay!
This loosened everybody up with Cab changing the words up to see if we could follow.
Zu Zay, Zu Zu Zay!
I felt myself start to sway back and forth at the neck, shoulders and hips. Roscoe and everybody around us was doing the same. Even the cops were taking it easy, lightening up on the tight grip they had on their faces and billy clubs. I wondered how folks felt who’d gone down to a hundred twenty fifth street. And was it anything like this? The bass player took over from Cab and pulled at the strings. He strummed the sound of Zazz Zu Zazz like Cab did. And we zazzed right along with him until Cab sang his way back in.
It makes no difference where you go.
There’s one thing that they sure do know.
There’s no need for them to be blue.
Cause Zazz Zu Zazz will see them through.
Cab gave us Zazz Zu Zazz one last time, gargled it in his throat and spit it out in stutters and dribbles until it was all gone. Nobody clapped or hollered but there was heat in the air that revved people up a lot more than when they listened to Brother Abdul and the communists.
“That’s the all of it, y’all,” Cab said. “You just got the last show. They’ll be no more shows at the
Cotton Club tonight!”
The crowds packed into the block started breaking up. There were folks trying to get autographs from the movies stars but most people were moving away from the front of the Cotton Club. Cab and the band were nowhere in sight.
“So! What do you think?” Roscoe asked.
His voice surprised me. I’d forgotten he’d been standing next to me all that time.
“I can’t think of nothing to say.”
“That’s saying a lot right there.”
“I should go on home before Papa gets off work,” I said
“Yeah, I guess you better.”
“You ever wish things was the way they used to be before Mama died?”
“What for? It’s never gonna be that way again.”
“Cause it ain’t.”
“What about Zazz Zu Zazz?”
“What about it?”
“Didn’t you feel it? What happened to everybody when Cab did that song. Nothing nobody did today made people feel like that.”
“It probably won’t happen again.”
“Then why’d you want me to meet him?”
“Cause I wanted you to see that there’s men that ain’t like Papa .”
“But you talk like you don’t really believe in him.”
“Cab don’t need me or you to believe in him. He’s doing that pretty well by himself. That’s the difference between him and a lot of these shysters up here in Harlem. They want you to believe in them but not in yourself. The sooner you stop looking for yourself in other people, the better off you gonna be.”
“That’s not what I’m doing! I want us to be a family again.”
“I can’t help you there. You gonna have to work that out for yourself.”
“But what about you and Papa?”
“That’s between us. Not you.”
“You don’t understand me no better than Papa.”
“Well, the branch don’t fall that far from the tree.”
“Mama was also part a that tree.”
“She’s gone, Wardell. It’s time you accepted it. I know you think she was a saint cause she nursed you back from death’s door. But that’s what she was good at. Running other people’s lives. When she got sick, she didn’t know how to let us help her get well. She needed to be in charge of that too.”
“You jealous cause I was her favorite!” I yelled.
Roscoe smiled at me. It surprised me cause it was soft like a feather.
“That’s right, little brother. But I got over it. You haven’t.”
I turned and walked away.
“That’s part of Zazz Zu Zazz too, Wardell. It ain’t just about having things the way you want ’em.”
When I got home, I was even more turned around than I was when I found out people believed something that never happened at the drug store. And just when I met Cab and found out about Zazz Zu Zazz, here was Roscoe telling me I couldn’t even count on that to make anything better. The only thing I wanted to do was sleep. I got in bed and tried to talk myself to sleep by saying the words to Zazz Zu Zazz in my head. I heard the door to the apartment open. I hoped Papa wouldn’t come into my room to look in on me like he always did after driving all night. I heard him walk past my room and into the kitchen as the words to Zazz Zu Zazz got louder.
Now here’s a very entrancing phrase.
It will put you in a daze.
To me it don’t mean a thing.
But it’s got a very peculiar swing—
Zazz Zu, Zazz Zu, Zazz Zu, Zay!
I couldn’t believe it when the voice I was hearing wasn’t in my head. I got out of bed and went into the kitchen. Papa was sitting at the table, staring at the wall.
“What you doing up, Wardell?”
“I couldn’t sleep.”
“Well, go on back to bed, son.”
“Papa. What was you saying when you came in?”
I saw something in his face. But he dropped his head like he didn’t want me to see.
“You must a been dreaming.”
“But I heard you!”
“Go to bed. It’s late.”
I went back to my room, wondering if I’d been dreaming. If I was, I wanted to keep doing it.