"PULL" Short Story by Kandice Fowlkes

October 23, 2015 2:36 a.m. It started with the pull of a trigger. Pull, aim, shoot. I took my first life. Pull, aim, shoot. I didn’t flinch. I couldn’t flinch. Pull, aim, shoot. I ran until I couldn’t hear the sirens trailing where the firearm shots could have come from. The residents of the apartment complex prodded lividly as they inquired who was popped this time? It could have been someone’s little brother. Or cousin. Or even mines! No! I can’t turn back now. What’s done is done. I can’t regret popping him. All I know is, he deserved it. Pull, aim, shoot. The wails of the sirens were still close on the streets, and I knew I needed to get outta sight. I ran towards the back entrance of the apartment, so I could stay as low as possible until the commotion died down. I slid down behind a dumpster, and tried to justify the retribution I sought for my brother, Jay. I tried to calm my shaking hand that held the heavy iron draped in the bandana, but the trembling prevailed over my body. I wanted to believe my brother was smiling down on me, and thanking me for capping the fool who killed him. But, I felt like he was just solely looking down. Pull, aim, shoot. The scene kept replaying over and over in my head. Me walking up on the fool that shot my brother. Me shooting him in the parking lot. Him crawling through a pool of blood to escape his fate. Me kicking his body over to unmask myself. Me standing over him with the barrel pointed to his face. His final words replaying in my head. “You mean to tell me,” He coughed blood in between his words,–some bitch gone cap me.” “Nawl, this bitch is just getting justice for Jay.” Pull, aim, shoot. My head was throbbing from the ringing, or the replaying, or the sirens, or just a combination of it all. The noise of the sirens grew closer, as I rocked back and forth questioning him, “Was this right, Jay?” October 21, 2015 7:20 a.m. “I wish that all mornings felt like this.” I said. “Amaya, whatchu’ talking ‘bout?” Jay said unraveling the Black and Mild from the package. “Like this dummy,” I said and held my hands out to the street, “just listen, don’t you hear that?” The streets were quiet. For the first time in so long I hadn’t heard Mechanicsville this quiet. There were no children on Huffy scooters, no mailman dropping off junk, no dogs barking because they see cars —just us and the sun. “It’s a little too quiet if you ask me, shit makes me paranoid.” He sparked his Black and Mild, and his once shaking leg ceased at the smoke inhalation. “Whatever.” I said, still embracing this peace. It’s rare for Jay to sit out on the porch with me while I read as the sun came up. It was rare for Jay to not be moving. His constant movements would scare me because I never knew when the day would come when he would cease to move. “So when you gone give this up, Jay?” Jay cocked his head at me with a “this again” look in between the puff of his Black & Mild, and I cocked my head back at him with raised eyebrows, pressing the question again. “Girl, what you talkin’ bout’?” He returned his gaze to our neighboring houses becoming silhouettes from the Atlanta sun, rising just above our city. He deeply inhaled the smoke again. “You know what I’m talking about, Jay, and don’t call me girl. I’m not one of your little hussies.” I nudged his shoulder and he slightly tilted in Mama’s rocking chair. “Aight, Amaya, what are you talking about, again?” He asked, now brushing the ash from the tip of the cigarillo on mama’s ashtray. “This,” I said, holding my hand out past the porch balcony, and pointing to Mechanicsville, our block --his streets. “When are you going to give this up? Mama needs you Jay, and it’s only a matter of time before you piss off the right person and they put a bullet in your ass.” “On that note,” he began to ash his Black & Mild, “this conversation is through.” He began to rise from Mama’s rocking chair and walk back to the front door, but I followed him and pushed the door shut —staring him in his eyes four feet below his six feet stature. “I’m serious, Jay. It’s only a matter of time before you piss off the right person and they bust a cap in your ass.” “Listen, Maya. I just wanted to enjoy my morning with you. You woke me up this early to tell me about this. It’s never gonna happen. I’ve told you and Mama many times before, now let me through.” I pushed my hand harder to close the front door then blocked it with my rounded hips entirely. “Maya, why are you really doing this? Can’t a man just wake and bake with his sister and enjoy that?” I couldn’t believe he was serious. He raised his shoulders and squinted his eyes as though this conversation was really paining him. “You know I don’t smoke that stuff, Jay, and you know why I’m telling you this again and again. You know and I know that you’ve got way more talent than those fools that follow you to make it off the streets. You got recruited not just because you were good at ball, but because you’re smart.” He rolled his eyes and turned his face towards the roof of the porch. “Uggghhh, here we go with this again.” “Why not take what you were blessed with and make something outta yourself for Mama and me?” “Listen, Maya, books weren’t my thing, and you also know that. That’s your thing.” He said gesturing a finger towards my chest. “And you keep your head in them books instead of worrying about me and my business, because I’ll always be here to take care of you and Mama.” I turned my face away from his because I felt where this conversation was going. “You know what I mean Jay. Don’t either of us wanna see you get hurt --God doesn’t work on our time, Jay.” I said, still staring away from him. “Ain’t nobody gonna touch me, Maya, and that’s it. If somebody wanted to touch me, I would’ve been dead at sixteen after what they did to Marco.” I got quiet because this conversation just turned into that conversation, and I knew he was bound to win at any moment. “I know you and Mama worry about me, but I’ll always be good and I’ll always be there to take care of you.” My head was turned towards the streets now, imagining kids on their rusted Huffy scooters speeding down hills. Mothers fanning themselves as they walked their kids to the bus stops. Men mowing their yards in the afternoon heat as police cruised by. “Maya, don’t I always take care of you?” I didn’t respond. “—and don’t I always come home every night to check on the two most beautiful women in the world to always make sure y’all are straight?” “Yes, Jay. You put food on the table, clothes on our backs, but that still doesn’t make me feel any better. I’ve been having this really bad dream recently where —“ “Maya, I don’t have time for any of this. I’m twenty-three years old and I promise I got myself just like I got y’all. I would never leave my two favorite people in a world without me.” He kissed my forehead and held my chin in his hand. His smile was so reassuring, his pearly white teeth contrasting his purple skin. “Now you need to get back to those books. Your teacher said that a lot of those outta state universities are looking to scout you and give you some money. You know you can’t live off me for the rest of your life. Gone ahead and get that work in, so they can pay for your tuition.” He smiled again at me still holding my chin, and I didn’t even realize how hard I was smiling as well. Just almost forgetting the severity of our conversation seconds ago. “I just really love you, Jay. I feel sometimes useless without you— like I don’t know what I’d do if anything ever happened to you.” “Ain’t nothing gonna happen. And I’ll tell you what you will do if anything ever did happen, you’re gonna keep getting that medicine for Mama.” “Oh shit! It is today!” “Yup it is. I’ll give you the co-pay and just go pick it up. I’ve already called in to make sure it’s there and they said that it’ll be ready for pick up by 11 a.m. She also made a grocery list and stuck it to the fridge so pick that up too.” “Okay. I’ll go get it.” He released me, and I started towards the screen door to get ready for my assigned chores. “And Maya,” I turned around after opening the door, he pulled his car keys out of his pocket and handed them to me alongside a roll of cash. “you can take my car. I gotta dust off Rosie today.” My pissy attitude instantly resolved, because he knew he had me. He knew that he would reel me in by letting me drive Daisy, and as always — I took the bait. Daisy was his mark of approval throughout the hood, and everybody knew him when they saw the purple El Dorado cruising on its gold 40-inches. “Thanks, Jay.” “You’re welcome, my love. Now go ahead before Mama gets mad at both of us.” I tore the canvas sheet off the cadillac, and stared at my reflection in the freshly waxed coat. Jay’s roll of cash was still in my left-hand, and the car keys to Daisy in my right. I always tried to guess how much was in the weekly roll each time he would give them to me. I would guess $150, or $200, but I would always be wrong. Jay never gave me less than $300 since I was eight. I revved the engine with the destination of Leno’s spot in my head. I’ve memorized every street, every block, and every corner from the time Jay started teaching me how to drive. Take a left turn down Ralph David. Intersect on Fulton street. Cross onto Whitehall, and there was Leno’s one-level house sandwiched in between two duplexes. Miss Sophia, his mother, kept the flowers in their front yard watered, and their lawn trimmed. Since the death of her son Ray, she never missed a Sunday at church, and Leno made sure that he didn’t either. When I pulled up, Leno was already sitting on the front porch, with his mother’s windchimes coupling with the breezes. I parked behind his black Honda Accord as he stayed in the chair and rocked back and forth with a still face. It remained unmoved, until I stepped out the car and his cheeks rose into a smile. I always expected the welcome from his cologne and lips before he ever spoke a word. He wrapped his arms around my waist, then trailed one hand up to my cheek --held it, and pressed his lips against mines. “Sit down,” he finally said, letting the space return between us. I sat in his mother’s rocking chair, and tried to catch a glimpse of the bookmarked novel he was reading on the table. “I wasn’t expecting to see you this morning.” “Are you not happy to see me?” I replied, raising my eyebrows. “You know I am.” “Well good. So why are you up this early? I wasn’t expecting you to be waiting on me outside when I pulled up.” “I told you I wasn’t expecting you to be in the car, but for some reason I felt as though I was expecting something. My ma’ had caught a ride with her coworker this morning, so I was just up alone. I decided to come outside and enjoy the sunrise to get some clarity.” He sighed at his last words and turned to look back at the streets. His face returned to stillness as though he retreated to his thoughts again. “Why are you drivin’ Jay’s car?” “It was his cop out to get me to shut up talking about something he didn’t want to hear.” “And you took it?” “Yeah. . .I took it.” There was another silence between us. The coolness of the Saturday morning began to break as the sun rose to its highest. Leno’s honey skin glowed yellow in our summer heat. “Jay’s got me running an errand for him.” Leno quickly turned his head to me with a look of concern, or anger? “Not those kind of errands. Just one for my mom. You know he wouldn’t do that.” He sighed and returned to his thoughts. “I came by to swoop you up to come with me though.” “That’s cool. I’ll go get ready.” I trailed him into the house towards his room, mentally re-photographing the walls of memories with Leno, his family, and his older brother Ray. One picture showed the two little tan boys standing in front of their kiddie pool. Leno’s crying uncontrollably with his fists balled tightly across his face and an ice-cream pop sunk into the grass beneath his feet, and Ray—slightly taller— holding his shoulder and extending his arm with his own popsicle in hand. Once in his room, I plopped onto his bed, as he walked to his closet. His trophies and medals for different things like “Honor Roll,” “Perfect Attendance,” “High Achievement,” etc. were perched above his desk on a mantelpiece, scaling our years from elementary school to now. What was always so funny about Leno is that even as a kid, he never let them catch a grain of dust. His bookshelf displayed alphabetized tabs, grouping each book by genre. After a read, he returned each book to its original position, but I always wondered why he never pressured others to do the same. His walls were once decorated with posters of DC characters, and Linkin Park album covers, but he peeled them off after Ray’s death, and his rise to Jay’s second in command. Ray’s posters still dressed his side of the room with images of his favorite rappers like T.I. and OutKast. His bed was adjacent from Leno’s, and I never sat on it because I felt I would be disturbing the spirit that lingered across the room. Ironically, Ray’s bed stayed made, as if Leno were waiting for him to return, so maybe he felt the same. Leno sat down at his desk with his treasure box. He pulled out bags of pills and weed, to lift the bottom cover of the box and unveil a stack of cash. He peeled the rubberband off and began to count. I knew there was more than one stack in there, but I tried not to pry too much when he did this. “Did you eat?” he said breaking the silence. “Ummm, I actually didn’t eat today. I forgot.” “I told you about that, Mama. You don’t need to be skipping meals.” “You’re asking me like you’re gonna feed me?” I said serving some attitude. He smiled again. “Let’s go.” On the rare occasions I had Jay’s car, Leno never urged me to let him drive like some of the fools I chauffeured around in his car. He quietly assumed the role of passenger while we rode through our block, never closing his eyes to capture a moment missed one blink at a time. We were just riding when he said, “Don’t chu’ got to pick up something for your ma’?” he asked. “Oh, crap, you’re right. I almost forgot.” I whipped towards Glenn Street to head onto I-20. After a little while, I caught Leno tapping his fingers on his legs out the corner of my eye. I began to steal glances at him to see what his vulture eyes nabbed this time. “Keep your eyes on the road, mama,” he said, still keeping his eyes on whatever grabbed his attention. “What’re you staring so hard at? You’re doing that thing again with your fingers when you get antsy—” I said before I looked into the rear view and saw a black Hyundai tailing us at a safe enough distance to prolong alerting our attention. “They've been trailing us for about two blocks since we turned around,” he said in response to my sudden realization. “Take a turn here.” I turned in the direction he told me, then the next turn and the next. I tried to remain calm as I kept my eyes on the road while the black car pinned to our tail. He slid the pistol out of his pants and cocked it back. I looked at the clock, which just struck 12:30 p.m.. These fools couldn’t be up to no good this early in the day. I haven’t even picked up Mama’s medicine yet. “Leno, will everything be alright?” I asked now feeling my hands perspire on the steering wheel. “Keep your eyes on the road, mama. You’ll be okay.” He returned his gaze back to the mirror. The Hyundai now shifted lanes to my left. “I’m just sa-saying, Jay would kill me if anything happened to his car.” I kept my eyes pierced to the road, gripping onto the steering wheel more tightly. “I’d rather Jay kill me than these bustas. Now take this left.”I turned as he said, and after a few more directions the Hyundai disappeared. We remained quiet in the car. I didn’t want to ask him if he thought the car would return, because his pistol remaining on his lap and his vulture eyes staying glued to the mirror gave me my answer. By the time I finished getting Mama’s refill from Grady’s pharmacy, the clock was on 2:00 p.m., and Daisy was getting close to “E.” I pulled into the nearest gas station, and remained in the car as Leno went inside to pay. As I waited, I began to fix myself in the mirror. I glanced over at Leno through the transparent windows to see how far in line he made it before his return. I focused my attention back to myself, putting on lip gloss in my rearview mirror when I saw the black Hyundai pull up at a rapid pace with a long muzzle pointed at Jay’s car. I didn’t have time to react before the first bullet shot through the air, splitting Jay’s back windshield to the front --just missing me. I crouched down as far as I could towards the gas pedals, covering my ears and face as the glass fell. I knew that I let out a series of screeches, but the sounds of the bullets ricocheting off Daisy muffled my screams. I didn’t know how long I was down there, but I heard tires screech off down the street, and soon Daisy’s passenger door ripped open. I remained crouched, afraid to move, afraid to look up, until I heard a distant-sounding voice calling, “Maya!” It sounded like my head had been submerged in water when the voice called again, “Maya!” I couldn’t tell how far I was, or the voice was. “MAYA!” The voice said again, this time pulling me from the sunken place. My head swayed a little as I gazed onto Leno. My eyes looked through him, until they drifted down to the crimson streaks running from his shoulder to his forearm. “Maya! I need to know if you’re hurt?” He asked, still on the outside of the car looking in at me. I began to regain feeling in my legs, which went numb during my crouching in the shoot-out. I used my hands to pull my body back up to the driver’s seat, and stared straight out the windshield, only it wasn’t a windshield anymore. The shield was shattered onto the dashboard, and I lifted my hand to see crimson streaks, matching Leno’s, pour from my palm. My tears dropped into my palms, causing the little deltas to flow more quickly until I completely pulled my face down into my hands. Leno drove me back home after dusting off the dashboard and the seats where the shattered glass rested. I urged him to go to the hospital seeing that he was shot in his left shoulder, but he insisted I needed more assistance than he did. We rode in silence for the most part all the way back home. He would make small gestures to rub my leg, or ask if I was hungry, but I couldn’t shake what just happened, and I knew he couldn’t either. He kept both arms on the steering wheel, gripping it tighter and tighter to where I could hear the rubber making subtle squeaking sounds underneath his palms. When we pulled up to my house the sun was still high at 3:30 p.m., Jay was sitting on the porch smoking another Black & Mild waiting for us. He stood up on the stairs while me and Leno got out the car. I ran into Jay’s arms, and Leno walked past Jay into the house. Jay held my face in his hands and looked at me, then over my shoulder at Daisy, and kissed my forehead, “I’m glad that you’re okay.” Then followed behind Leno into the house, shutting the door, and leaving me outside. I twiddled my thumbs together not knowing what I should do. I didn’t know if I should go into the house to calm Jay since I knew he was probably upset, or if I should just stay outside while they handled their business. I stayed outside and sat in Daisy. At least twenty minutes had passed and Jay comes storming out of the house. “Jay, what’s going on?” I ask, jumping out the car into his path. “Don’t follow me, Maya.” He responds. I look back towards the house and see Leno coming down the stairs towards us. “Don’t come close to me man. You had your chance to prove your loyalty --to prove how much you really care about her.” Jay said pointing towards me. “Jay, what are you talking about?” I said confusedly. I didn’t know how the conversation they had in the house went left. “Listen Jay, I need you to calm down before you go off and do something stupid.” Leno said, speaking at Jay. “Something stupid mufucker?” Jay pulled out his gun and pointed it towards Leno, and Leno put his hands in the air. “I’ll tell you what’s stupid, how I trusted you all these years and yet you’re probably the one who set this whole hit out on me. Am I right?” “JAY! Put the gun down! Leno would not do that!” I screamed now in tears. “Jay, I can only tell you so many times, but I can show you my loyalty. I did not set you, or Maya, up.” Leno said calmly, keeping his hands in the air. “Don’t speak to me about loyalty. If you were loyal, you’d be on the other side of this nine. Only Ray knew about loyalty. Only Marco knew about loyalty. My brother died protecting your brother. They were people to be trusted. But you? I hate they left me with you. I trusted you, because they trusted your decisions, but in reality--you’re just a coward.” With those words I looked over at Leno who now gritted his teeth and lowered his arms. My eyes boggled back and forth between the two, because I was unsure if Jay would really kill Leno right now. “Kill me then fool. If that’s what you think is right. I’ve watched you, Marco, and Ray since we were all kids, but if Ray was here right now --I’d tell him the same thing again and again just before he died.” Jay cocked back the gun and moved closer to Leno. “I would tell him, just like I’m telling you, not to go looking for a war that you are not prepared for.” Jay’s arm stayed outstretched towards Leno, with the gun still pointed in his face. It was almost as if I was frozen in time, watching the two men I loved at odds because of this life we lived in. A black car pulled up to our house and I realized it was Rocko’s car, with some of the other gang in the back seat. “Aye, Jay, what the hell y’all got going on? We gone get these bustas or what? I just got the location of their spot,” Rocko said in the driver’s seat. Jay didn’t flinch or turn around at Rocko’s words. He kept the gun pointed at Leno, clenching his jaw. Then finally lowering the gun. “You lucky you’re Ray’s brother.” He said before turning away to head to the car with the rest of the gang. My body moved towards Jay before I could think, and before I knew it I was grabbing his arm. “Jay, don’t do this. Please don’t leave because I do not know if you’ll come back.” I said still holding his arm. Rocko honked the horn again behind Jay and I. “Maya the only thing you can do for me right now, is learn how to pull a trigger. Otherwise, stay here with that nigga.” With the snatch of his arm, he walked away and jumped in the passenger seat of Rocko’s car and drove off. I watched them as they sped off, and I dropped to my knees, almost as if to pray. I thought the worst, but wasn’t prepared for it if it did happen. I didn’t realize Leno had walked over towards me. “Get up off this ground mama, you don’t deserve to be down there.” He began to bend down and help me up, and I folded into his chest. He took in my wails while I took in the smell of his cologne. We walked back into the house and I sat at the kitchen table. Leno fixed me a glass of lemonade then sat beside me and took one of my hands in both of his. “I think it’s time for me to leave mama.” He said. “Okay, I’ll take you home in my car.” I responded. “No mama, I mean leave, maybe to another city. The only reason I stayed in this life was for Ray and Jay. Now both are gone —.” “Don’t say that!” I quickly responded. “I’m just saying, Jay doesn’t want me here. He won’t listen. Just like Ray wouldn’t. And if he comes back, I don’t know if I can trust that he won’t eventually lead me to my death.” I paused and sighed before arguing because I knew he was right.“Marco wasn’t like Jay. Marco was similar to you. He made —good decisions, they were always thought out. He didn’t want Jay to get into this shit. But all Jay saw was how he was making money in place of our Dad not being here. Jay is just. . . so much like our dad.” My voice trailed off. “Our dad was so stubborn. He and my mom were young when they had Marco, but it didn’t stop him from being reckless. My mom would tell me how he called it reckless with purpose —but I loved him. Sooo much.” Leno went quiet. “My fifth grade graduation was supposed to be so special. He was so excited to come to mines because he had missed all of Jay’s and Marco’s graduations because he was locked up, but he said that this time —he got a chance to start over with me. He said it was his God given chance. He asked what I wanted, and I told him a pony. He said to me, ‘what lil’ Black girl you know in the hood gotta’ pony, and I told him, ‘I’m a trendsetter.’ The day of my graduation, we were all getting ready to go to my graduation and I was asking my mom where Daddy was. She said he stepped out early to get me a big surprise, and I just knew he had got me a pony.” “We get to my school and I’m watching the door, waiting for him to walk through the gymnasium with my pony in front of everyone. We’re lining up to go on the stage and I’m still watching the door, waiting for him to come through. Now it’s the end of the ceremony, and all the students are saying goodbyes and leaving, and I’m still waiting like ‘where could he be?’” “The reception was at my Dad’s sister's house in College Park since she had a backyard and our cookouts were always loud, everyone would come out—.” I paused and held my arms. “Then the police came pulling up. I assumed it was the neighbors trying to call the police to shut down the party since that’s what they always did at my auntie parties. I came towards the door, but my mom pushed me back and told me to go downstairs, but I stayed anyway since they were trying to crash my party. My aunt answered the door with my mom behind her, and the black police officer asked if it was the residency of Marquis Jean. I looked wide eyed like what could they want with Daddy? And I think my mom and aunt had the same reaction although I couldn’t see their face. My aunt answered and said that’s her brother, but he doesn’t reside there—.” My voice began to crack. “My mother jumped in and said she’s his wife, and the officer said the address listed on his ID is my aunts. He asked if they could step outside to talk more privately after seeing me standing in the doorway of the kitchen listening. My mind immediately starts running rampant with thoughts about what did my father do? How is he about to hurt Mommy this time? He promised to be here to share this moment.” I paused again. “I heard my mother scream on the other side of the door. And I immediately ran outside to her. She was hysterical. I just remember her bent down on the grass praying and shouting to God. My aunt was holding her crying too, and looking up at the sky. I knew Daddy had done something again that made Mommy cry, but this was the hardest I ever saw her cry. My brothers came running outside soon afterwards and so was the rest of the people in the house. My aunt saw all of us and rushed us into the house. I didn’t realize until I got inside that I was crying. I didn’t know why I was crying, but I knew something felt different.” I paused again and took a breath. “I knew the party was over, but I was just hoping that my mom and dad were okay. So we waited. My mom stayed outside for a little minute, and then came back inside. Her eyes red and puffy. We were all sitting in the kitchen when they came back in. Jay stood up and asked ‘where’s Daddy?’ He looked straight at my mom, and I looked back and forth between them and then she just said it. ‘Your Daddy —died today.’ There was silence and then he told my mom, straight to her face ‘you’re lying.’ Jay told my mother that she was lying. Any other time she would have split his lip, but she tried to grab him and hold him but he pushed back. And repeated to her she’s lying and Daddy wouldn’t do this. I remember sitting in the chair trembling, and trying to comprehend death. It was so confusing, being nine years old and realizing that your dad would never come back home. It wasn’t like when he told me he was going away for a long time to jail. This was permanent.” “Jay began to break things. He threw the first glass he saw at the wall and screamed ‘you’re lying, you’re lying!’ I was just sitting in the chair processing this all: my mother screamed at Jay to stop, Jay kept breaking things and yelling, my aunt was in the corner praying, and then there was a knock at the door and everyone got quiet. The knock came again, and my aunt yelled, ‘now what the hell could it be?!’ She went to the door and a black woman and white man were at the door.” I chuckled and smiled at Leno, “and guess what they said. The white man sounded very flamboyant and said, ‘We’re looking for Amaya Jean, we’ve got a couple of horses waiting outside for her.’ And I dashed for the door to see if I another prank was being pulled on me, but there it was—the portable stable and “Annie’s Horseback Riding” sign stamped on the side. It was then I broke down. My Daddy was coming, he really made the plans to come and yet he was taken from me, on my special day.” “I don’t have a dad Leno. I don’t. I had one, and he was taken away from me. I’ve asked God a million times afterwards why did He take my Daddy? Why did He take Marco? And now the little pieces of my family puzzle I have left He’s trying to take them too. I’m getting so fed up I just want to ask haven’t you taken enough?” “I don’t have anybody, Leno. Jay is all I have. I cry sometimes because I worry about what I’d do without him.” Leno looked taken back by what I said, but exhaled and stood up. “You’ve always got me Maya. I need to go now though.” I grabbed his arm, “Leno, no wait I didn’t mean it that way —.” “Well how else did you mean it Maya? I know that’s your brother, but when will you understand that Jay walks his own path, and you should learn to do so too.” He pulled his arm from me. “Let’s leave together!” He looked at me with confusion. I surprised myself with my abrupt decision. “Maya, look—.” “I don’t want you to drop out of school, and risk all of your opportunities.” “Maya, they’d kill me long before it’s time for graduation.” “Take online classes! Transfer schools! Or something! Just don’t walk away with nothing, Leno!” I breathed deeply because I felt myself growing hysterical. “I saw your acceptance letter to Mercer. . . I got accepted too. We can go together.” “Maya—.” “I’m serious, Leno. Please think about it, tonight. Let me drop you off at your house, but just don’t tell me no without thinking about it.” He looked at me and nodded his head, and with that we departed. The drive to his house was silent, although it wasn’t actually silent. There was just so much to say, we couldn’t start with how to say it. The clock read 6:00 p.m. I didn’t want to go back home just yet. The air was too thick, and I felt the looming idea of what could come hold me back from driving home. I texted Leno and said, “think about it.” And he responded, “I will mama, I love you.” I then put my phone on silent. I drove to the nearest gas station and laid on the roof of my car for what seemed hours, watching the sky turn bright orange, then yellow, then a little pink, until something pulled me to drive home. It was dusk as I pulled up to my house. Atlanta police were scattered throughout our driveway and Mama was standing on the front porch with our neighbor holding her, while a policeman talked to her. I slowly peeled myself out of the car. Not wanting to face whether what they were here for was what I was thinking. I slowly began to cross the grass, almost like my legs couldn’t move because they knew the reality. “Maya!” My Mama screamed seeing me cross towards her. “Maya!” She screamed again this time hysterically running towards me. “My baby Maya! My baby! They took another one of my babies!” She hysterically said through her tears. “Mama no. Please God no.” I said holding my Mama as her weight crashed down on me. The policeman who was originally talking to my mother approached her again. “I know this is hard ma’am, but we must ask that you come down to identify the bodies.” The policeman said. Bodies? That can’t mean just Jay? Rocko too? All of them?! Mama turned her face to me, “Maya, I can’t do this again. I can’t go down there and see another one of my babies like that.” Her hands trembled in mines; my hands firmly held hers. We saddled into my car and went down to identify Jay’s body. There were at least three corpses: Rocko, Jay, and Demario, another crew member. The gun wound on Jay was centered right between his eyebrows. My mother wailed hysterically, but her tears sounded muffled in the background. I didn’t cry, I just drove us home. After Mama took her pills and fell asleep at the t.v., I stowed away to Jay’s room. His bed was still made, and everything was in order. His pictures from high school playing basketball were still on his wall, alongside all of his trophies. One picture, my favorite picture, of me, Marco, and Jay all in the tub together still remained on his nightstand close to his bed. Jay had told me once that when he went with Mama to identify Marco’s body, something in him just snapped. I think I now understand what he meant. Rosie was still on Jay’s bed, alongside the polisher and towel he used to keep her looking good. I picked her up and pointed her at the mirror, to see how we look. “It can’t be that hard to work a gun. Just cock this back, aim, then shoot. Pull this, aim, then shoot.” I held Rosie in my hands and aimed her at the mirror, like I saw my target lunging towards me. I pulled out my phone, it read 10:48 p.m. My lock screen displayed eight missed calls from my mom, and even a missed call and voicemail from Leno. I played the voicemail as I picked up Rosie and the towel and finished where Jay left off. “Maya, I thought about what you said and you’re right. So many people I know and loved have died because of this life, and I can’t stay confined to what people want me to do or expect me to do. I picked up the pieces for Ray, Jay, my Ma’, but I can’t keep living my life for them. I need to learn a different world —on my own. I want us to go to Mercer, and I want to leave this life for good, with you by my side. Call me back when you get this message”

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