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Marcus sat on the top step of the stoop of his grandfather’s brownstone house, hidden by the shadow of evening, the ornate doorway and the concrete gargoyles that guarded the entrance. From this spot he could see and not
been seen. He could watch the pedestrians and make assumptions, dream up stories about their lives to fill in the sudden gap in his own. He didn’t want to like it here,
and he wasn’t gonna with the stupid tree-lined streets, big, bold houses, quiet cars and nameless neighbors. So far away from the familiar brown and gray projects, screaming sirens, and people who tumbled onto the streets with loud conversation and louder laughter. That was home, where his
friends were and corner storeowners knew him by name. Here, he was a nobody. A nobody to be messed with by all the somebody’s who knew their place on these new streets that he didn’t understand. Didn’t want to. He didn’t have any pull here. He didn’t have his boys by his side and him by theirs. Strength in numbers. Invincible together. Divided we fall. He didn’t have nothing. He rubbed the bright white tip of his sneaker back and forth across the stone step that glistened as if tiny diamonds had been mixed with the cement. Back and forth.
Back and forth. Until the invisible line became visible and then it didn’t seem so far; the space between here and there and he could imagine being back home if he could just get to the other side, the end of the line. He looked out across the street, to the other side drawn by the familiar language of teenaged boys, the words having no meaning to anyone’s ears outside of that friendship ring. The rhythm, the lyrics, the hi’s and lo’s danced in his ears and lifted the beat of his heart, at once, embracing him with the comfort of knowing, yet opening a bottomless whole in his stomach as they drifted away, taking the familiar with them and he wanted to go. But he was stuck here with Grandpa Willie who made breakfast when the sun rose and fell asleep in one of those lean-back chairs when the sun went down. Stuck here cause his mother left him. Walked away and left him. Never said when she would be back. If she would. Would she? Hadn’t even called him since she’d been gone. He didn’t call her either. No matter what Grandpa Willie said. And he wasn’t gonna, either. Thinking about it, about her, about home made that knot come in his throat and his eyes burned like when you stand too close to the hot, smoky barbecue grill up on the roof in the middle of summer.
Sometimes that knot grew so big and hurt so bad all he wanted to do was dig it out. Dig all the words out that were stuck there in his throat that nobody wanted to hear. All they wanted to hear was that he was doing okay. They wanted to hear peace and quiet and Eyewitness News, baseball scores and stories about how it used to be in the neighborhood that he didn’t like anyways. The Old G’s that were his Grandpa Willie’s friends only wanted to talk about the white folks moving into the neighborhood, better brands of beer, who lied about some ancient high school basketball shot at the buzzer, and sometimes they would remember he was there and wanna know what he thought about the first black president. He didn’t think anything. He didn’t give a shit. Far as he was concerned he was a brother from the hood of Chi-town that made good. No one gave him a chance to tell his side of what happened that day with him and Zeke. It didn’t matter how
he felt or why he was there or that Zeke was shot and dead and he was now without his friend. He was here and Zeke wasn’t and no one asked him how he felt about that. Not even his mother. Not once. All she wanted to do was get
him away from there, kept telling him how lucky he was, that she’d had enough and wasn’t going to give her son up
to the street. That’s it, she’d said, we’re going to New York. She never told him that she wasn’t staying, not until the morning she was leaving to go back home to Chicago. Only her suitcase was packed. Just left him here, “for your own good;” with Grandpa Willie, a man he only knew from a tattered picture in a kitchen drawer that held the old mail and stuff they didn’t know what to do with. He still had nightmares about what happened that day. He’d wake up sweaty, with his heart racing and his stomach in a ball. Some nights it was him that the paramedic
pulled the white sheet over. Other nights him and Zeke got away. They ran and ran and out ran the shots that filled the air and he’d wake up in the morning and want to laugh with Zeke about how they flew down those dark ass streets in their brand new bright-white tipped Nikes and got the fuck away. But Zeke wasn’t there and that sick feeling would settle in his stomach. Some days he threw up and
he’d hear Grandpa Willie knocking on the bathroom door asking him “is everything all right in there?” and he’d turn the sink water on full blast and act like he didn’t hear him until he knocked and asked again. Naw, it wasn’t all right and he didn’t know what to do about it. Back and forth. But he said he was fine. It’s what they wanted to hear, that he was just fine. Back and
forth. His butt cheeks grew numb. He pushed up from his hunched position on the cool stone steps and turned to go in the house. Maybe this was the end of the line. The sound of his sneakers squeaked against the hardwood floors, almost like the squeak of his front door when he tried sneak in long after he should have been home. Never could sneak in though. Wasn’t just the squeak, it was his mother. She’d always be up waiting, sitting in the window or sitting on the couch or sitting on the edge of the kitchen counter waiting to ask him where he been and how many times did she have to tell him to be home by nine on a school night and that she wasn’t gonna tell him again. But she always did. He hated it when she did that—busted him coming in late, running her mouth about what she was gonna do to him if he didn’t start listening. Get on in the shower and get yourself ready for school tomorrow. Then come on out here and get something to eat. Gotta keep telling you the same mess every day like you ain’t got good sense. I know you
got sense! she’d say around and around the twirl of her cigarette smoke, her voice and the smoke following him down the skinny dark hallway that led to his room. And don’t you dare slam that door! beat him to it an instant before he
did. He’d almost laugh at how his mother always knew what he was gonna do and had a verbal remedy ready. Like that time he thought he was slick and went to school without an umbrella cause he didn’t want to look like a punk. His mother told him it was gonna pour. I’ll be home before it
does, ma. Dang. Don’t dang me, boy. Get your umbrella. You gonna get soaked and I’m not staying home to take care of your hard-headed self when you get sick. So he took the umbrella. Big, red and dumb looking. Got to the corner and dumped it in the overstuffed garbage can. It poured that day. Rained so hard you couldn’t see your hand in front of you. He shook like he had that old people disease all the way home on the air-conditioned bus. She stayed home with him when he woke up with his throat on fire even though she didn’t let a minute go by without reminding him how many times she had to tell him to do what she told him to do and he wouldn’t be sick, and he didn’t know what was worst listening to his mother or the pain in his throat. He wanted to listen to his mother now. Wanted to hear her tell him a million times to get his sneakers out of the living room. Turn the lights off if you’re not using them. I’m not married to the light man! Don’t walk by that bag of garbage and not take it on your way out. What do you mean
you don’t have homework? What kinda school I got you going to? He crept toward the stairs. His sneakered foot made contact with the step that sounded just like his front door back . . . home. “That you, Marcus?” He wanted to keep going. Wasn’t up for twenty questions. “Yes, Grandpa Willie.” He heard the squeak of the lean-back chair and the shuffle of soft slippers on the shiny wood floor. Too late to run. Willie stood in the
doorway of the living room, one hand on the frame. “Dinner is on the stove in a plate covered in foil to keep it warm.” Didn’t he ever hear of microwave? But he didn’t say it. Marcus nodded and mumbled his thanks. “Go on up and take a shower, son, then come down and eat.” For an instant that knot bloomed in his throat and his eyes stung and here was home and the words sounded the same but it all wasn’t and he ran upstairs just before Willie shouted, don’t slam that door!
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