Saturday, November 20, 2010

SAVED (Chapter 3) Is Blood Thicker Than Water?

Copyright © 2010
All rights reserved to Miamac

Ray-Ray brazenly invaded Steven's space with an aggressive hand grip that pulled him into a shoulder bump.  “Lil nigga, what choo been up to?" came the deep, raspy voice.

The contact slightly lifted his jacket, revealing a pager and revolver tucked away inside the waistband of his jeans.  While it made Steven uneasy, he knew he’d nothing to fear.  “Nothing, man,” he replied.

Our cousin Ray-Ray was Aunt Shirley’s second oldest boy and although only a year older than Steven, he’d fast become one of the most feared tenants in the Parkside projects.  His fame could be traced back to the killing of Darnell’s robber since it was what helped elevate his street game.  The act itself was common warfare but the cold blooded manner in which it was carried out was said to be something out of a gangster movie.  One story had them hunting down their victim, stripping him naked and giving him a false hope of escape.  But once he took off running, the way his victim, Darnell, had done when he’d been robbed, they went in for the kill.  Supposedly it was Ray-Ray who pulled the trigger.  Each version grew more grotesque, some even painting Ray-Ray a stone-cold killer who emptied his magazine at close range.  In the projects, gossip laced in truth could easily turn rumors into legend, which is how Ray-Ray’s rep was fortified time and time again every time somebody new spun their version.

Like a mob hit, many say the gruesome murder was intentinally done in public to inflict fear in those considering retaliation.  It was important to let everyone know that the Lewis clan was off limits and if anybody dare challenge it, lead soldier Ray-Ray was ready to prove the threat real.  Nobody cared about the police or the victim's family.  Tenants had little trust of the suits for hire and the victim's family knew the game; you either came harder than your enemy or you cut your losses and walked away quietly.  The Lewis family numbers ran deep, too deep to count.

Ray-Ray reveled in the power the fear surrendered and used it to form his own little army.  It didn't take long for him to secure top dog position in the broken community and deeply carve his own rock from the flourishing drug business permeating inside the Parkside’s walls.

“How Aunt Angie doing?” choked Ray-Ray.  The coarse texture of his young voice aged him to that of someone who’d spent most of their adult life abusing booze and cigarettes.

Steven lowered his head and whispered, “She good.” 

Ray-Ray flicked a nod. “Good, good.” No matter how dirty some of our cousins got their hands, they remained respectful to the matriarchs in the family, even after the rift mama caused.

He swung his arm around Steven’s neck. “Cuz, why don’t choo hang with me for a bit?  I got’s some biz I might need choo to handle.”

Steven wrung his hands in anticipation of finally getting it wet with some real cash.  He’d long wanted to be a part of Ray-Ray’s crew and he hoped that maybe today would be the big day.

Ray-Ray usually let his soldiers do his bidding but he’d gotten word there was a snacker amongst them. A snacker was a drug dealer who dipped into and smoked up the product rather than selling it for profit.  No solider of Ray-Ray's was allowed such a sweet bite. 

“Choo know dat nigga Boogie?” he asked Steven, who immediately nodded, yes, since everybody in or near the Parkside projects knew Ray-Ray and his crew very well. Boogie and Ray-Ray had been friends since third grade and had entered the game about the same time.

“Mane, dat punk azz nigga been fuckin’ up. Goat ‘nem say he dippin’ in my shit, costin’ me money.” He squinted his eyes and tightened his jaw. “Cuz, choo knows I don’t play dat shit!”

They’d reached his door but stayed off to the side so that Boogie wouldn’t see them if he looked out the peephole.  Each apartment’s main entry door was made of heavy reinforced steel, the same material used in prisons, which all but guaranteed no force entries, making invitations a must.

“Knock on dat nigga doe, cuz,” he whispered. “If he see just choo, dat nigga won’t thank anythangs up.   

Steven took very short breaths as he knocked on the door. Boogie immediately swung it open.

“Whaddup nigga?” Ray-Ray chimed in before he could react. “What…choo ain’t gon’ invite us in mutha fucker?”

Boogie tried to play it off, but he’d just smoked two blunts and was somewhere between heaven and hell. He could barely open his eyes and slurred all his words. “Aw, mane, you knows I ain’t trippin’ like dat. Shit, ya’ll mutha fuckers know ya’ll welcome up in dis joint.”

Ray-Ray, who was practically breathing down on him, sniffed and then walked past him inside the apartment. Boogie knew something was wrong and wanted to run right out the door but was too wasted to make his legs behave they way they should, so he just closed himself inside with the other cubs and one very angry lion, Ray-Ray.

The apartment reeked of freshly smoked marijuana. Ray-Ray spotted two roaches inside an ashtray on the kitchen table. “Nigga, I know yo’ azz ain’t gettin’ fucked up on my time…..and with my shit!”

“Shit nawl, mane,” Boogie laughed.

Ray-Ray got up in his face. “So choo thank dat shit funny, hunh?” he said, the words barely escaping his clenched teeth.

Boogie was visibly shaken and struggled for words. “Ugh…nawl, mane,” he said, eyes darting. “I…ugh…used my own shit.”

“So why yo’ azz hidin’ in dis bitch instead of out dere makin’ cheddar?”

Steven could tell where the conversation was going. He felt bad for poor Boogie.

“Ugh….I, ugh….mane, I sold dat shit. Yup, got rid of all of it. Shoo, I was just gettin’ ready to call yo’ azz to see if I could get another brick. Dat dere shit was so good, mane, ‘dem niggazz been blowin’ up my goddamn pager all fuckin’ day!”

Ray-Ray grinned. “Now dat shit’s funny. ‘Cause nigga yo’ azz sho' did’nt’ hit me back.”

Boogie snatched his pager off his waist and looked at it. “Mane, da damn battery must be low or somethin’.”

“Whatever nigga, just go get me my shit.”

Boggie looked dazed, like maybe he was trying to think of an excuse but just couldn't
sort out the words disintegrating in the juices of his numbed brain cells. “Ah’ight,” he finally said before willing himself towards the bedroom located in the back of the apartment.

“Go with dat nigga,” Ray-Ray ordered Goat. Boogie lived on the third floor so he’d assumed he might try and escape by jumping out the window, something that wasn’t unheard of in the projects.

Clothes and trash were strewn about the small, cramped bedroom’s floor. Realizing he was being watched Boogie went through the motions, searching inside the closet, dresser drawers and even under the bed.

“Fuck!” he finally gasped. “Dat bitch don’ took all my shit!” Boogie got up off the floor and stumbled back into the living room. He was talking about his babies’ Mama, Felicia, the woman in whose apartment he lived with their three kids.

“Mane, dat bitch Felicia stole my shit again,” Boogie complained to Ray-Ray. “She probably downtown somewhere shoppin’ like she some damn fool. Mane, I told dat bitch dat shit whatz’nt mine, but you know bitches, dey be spendin’ it faster den we can we make it,” he chuckled. “Ugh…dog, why don’t you let me get at another brick and I’ll have dat for you by tomorrow, for sho’? Dese fuckers want it so bad, dey’ll pay damn near anythang.”

Ray-Ray got up off the couch. “Is dat right,” he slowly nodded. For a split second Boogie thought he was off the hook until he saw that nobody else was moving.

“Mutha fucker, choo thank I’m stupid?!  Thank I don’t know what da fuck is really going on!?”

Boogie could see the bulging veins in Ray-Ray’s neck that too matched the anger bulging out his eyes.  In a bad attempt to escape down the hall, he lost balance, bumping alongside the wall.

“Look at yo’ azz, all fucked up and shit! Nigga, sit yo’ silly azz down fo’ you break yo’ mutha fuckin’ neck!” Relieved, Boggie stumbled over to the couch and gladly plopped down next to the others.

“Choo know what?” Ray-Ray chuckled into the back of his hand, “Niggah, I’ma give yo’ azz a break, since choo my boy ‘n all.”

Boogie heavily exhaled. “Ah’ight, dog. Dat’s cool. Mane, I promise I’ma fix dis shit. And I’m gon’ have yo’ money tomorrow like I said, ah’ight?”

“Choo sho’ in da fuck will,” Ray-Ray told him before pulling out his gun and shooting him in the leg.

The others were caught off guard and had to move quickly to get away from the target.

“Damn, mane,” Boogie cried grabbing his bloodied leg, “I thought you said we was cool?”

“We is now,” Ray-Ray half-laughed before cocking his head and again tightening his jaw. “Nigga, da next time yo’ azz dip in my shit, dere ain’t gon’ be no mo’ breaks. You heard?” Boogie almost choked on Ray-Ray's hot breath. Whimpering, he gave him a shaky nod.

“And quit actin' like some lil bitch!” Ray-Ray bellowed. “Carry his azz next doe ovah to Sherita’s house fo’ she can get his azz to da hospital.”  Waiting on 911 was suicidal for Parkside tenants unless your goal was to let the victim die, which sometimes was the case.

Steven was shell shocked and tried to conceal his growing fear. I mean, this was Boogie. He was as close as being family so he'd never expected Ray-Ray to shoot him….and right in front of them? Damn, this nigga is tougher than nails, is all he could think.

“Cuz, do me a solid.  When dat nigga get outta the hospital, I won’t choo to run with his punk azz to make sho’ dat nigga ain’t fuckin’ me,” Ray-Ray ordered.  “Ah’ight?”

Steven wouldn't dare refuse his request and just gave him a stiff nod, yes. And just like that, he was in much deeper than he cared to be.

Mama had set our curfew to when the street lights came on, which was around sunset. They’d been on for almost fifteen minutes before Steven strutted in.

Her arms were locked in place across her heaving chest.  “Boy, you better have a good reason for why your black behind is just getting home.”

Steven’s pupils grew larger as he nervously wrung his hands, something he did whenever he was nervous.  “Ugh, yes, ma’am.  I was over at the lot where they found that dead girl’s body trying to get one of those jobs.”  On his way home, he’d overheard people talking about the dead girl and how the city was hiring people to clean up the trashy lot.

“Right!” Mama-Jeckle smirked. “Boy, now who’s gonna hire your little behind "

"And what’s this about some dead girl?” Mama-Hyde questioned."

“They say she was laying dead over in the lot.”

“You mean the lot by the kids’ school?”  Mama couldn’t believe what she was hearing.  Worse was that she couldn’t believe not one of her kids, especially her little chatter box, had said one word about it.

“Yes ma’am.”  Steven was happy he was no longer the target although he did worry where the conversation could end up.

“Lord, Jesus!  And when did you say this happened?!”

“This morning.” The same unsettling fear that overtook him when Ray-Ray shot Boogie reappeared. His eyes darted to the others, who were sprawled out in front of the television.  Lynette was trying to act like she’d not been listening but he could tell she too was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Mama grew quiet, the kind of quiet that silences grown men.  Her chin was resting on her chest, her eyelids shut tight and her lips pursed, as she strained to keep the curse words from erupting.

“Boy, so did they say who she was, how old she was or if she was from around here?”  The steam coming off her tongue could singe eyebrows.

Steven’s wall of excuses collapsed as her questions came too fast and too hard, making it impossible for him to formulate a good lie.  “Mama, I don’t know,” he shrugged and then pointed. “Why don’t you ask Lynette and ‘nem.”

Lynette gave him the evil eye just as mama called my name.

“Ma’am,” I quickly answered knowing that even a second of delay could force a guilty verdict and immediate punishment.

“Did you know about them finding a girl’s body near your school?”  The intensity in her eyes said, “Don’t you dare lie!”

I gulped a few times before answering.  “Ugh, yes ma’am.”  I knew better than to tell too much but every fiber in my body was begging me to spill my guts, not because I was scared but because I knew it could win her affection. 

“Come here, girl,” she demanded.  Lynette eyes felt like hot coals line up and down my back.  You would think I’d have learned my lesson about snitching after getting beat up time after time whenever mama wasn’t home. 

Mama’s probing eyes made me feel like a lamb going to slaughter.  The control she yielded over me was unfair and merciless.  She preyed on my innocence and desperate need to feel loved, even secretly ordering me to watch my siblings whenever she was away just so I could later report to her.  It was no secret she’d made me her spy.  Shamefully it had made me feel special. 

“So what happened at school today?” 

“Oh, ugh,” I first looked at Lynette and then at mama.  “We was at school and ….ugh,” I swallowed, heart beating faster and faster.  A few of my fingers somehow found their way into my mouth.  “Den the teacher told us, ugh, a girl … ugh…” 

Whenever I got nervous my fingers always found their way into my mouth.  Mama saw right through me and without saying another word, dragged my little behind down the hall into her room and closed the door.

She centered my chin and leveled her face with mine.  “Okay, quit heein’ and hawin’ and tell mama what really happened.”  She’d made it seem as though she was depending on me, me, her secret spy. The pressure was too much for a little kid like me to take and like diarrhea the words oozed out along with my pressure-bent tears. 

“We was, ugh, walking to school and den Lynette, she fell on dat girl, and den ‘cause she was naked Lynette made all of us turn our heads.”

 “Oh, she did, did she?”  Mama coaxed.  “So what else did Miss Lynette do?”  I was too young and naïve to realize that she was setting the trap and like bait, I walked right in.

“Ugh, she told us we better not tell anybody and den she, ugh, made us go to class.  Mama”, I let out a snot blown whimper, “she didn’t even let us eat our breakfast either.” 

Mama’s face quickly twisted into something grim and my stomach did a belly flop when she screamed Lynette’s full name.  We all knew what it meant … especially me.  I’d felt betrayed and that was the first night I began plotting to beat mama at her own game.
After our whipping Darcy cried herself to sleep.  I’d finished crying and still awake, felt forced to play sleep.  Lynette eye’s had looked scarier than mama’s so I hoped by burying my face in the pillow she’d think I was asleep.  I knew she'd been sitting stewing and planning her revenge, but I prayed nonetheless that it would wait another day.

Junior had crept down to our room and I could hear him and Lynette whispering.  I couldn’t make out all the words but I did hear him referring to me.  “Yeah, I see that black-eyed snitch asleep!”

I held my breath and wished I was a mannequin, something inhuman with no feelings or emotion.  Would they do something stupid like smother me and silence me forever?  Let’s just hope they think I’m either asleep or dead already. 

Mama was holed up in her room on the phone with none other than the instigator herself.

“Emma, girl, did you hear about them finding some little girl’s body near the school?”

“What school?”  She knew very well mama was speaking about Pruitt, the only neighborhood grade school closest the Parkside projects.  It was a one-sided game that Miss Johnson loved to play.  Why mama always played along we would never know?

“Pruitt,” she blurted.  “You know the one most of the kids in the neighborhood all go to?”

“Oh, that’s right.  They did say there was a school around here somewhere.  Well, Angie, I’m so sorry to hear such tragedy.  Did they say who the little girl was?”

“Nawl, but Darcy told me the girl’s sister was in her class.  Ain’t it a shame?  Lord, that poor, poor baby had to learn such heartbreaking news at school.  And I hear she was stripped naked.”

“Girl, what you say?!  Ain’t no telling who touched that baby.”

“I know. Sometimes it makes me wonder if I made a mistake coming here.” 

“Girl, what do you mean?  Angie, that sounds like the devil is trying to play the guilt trick on you.  You and I both know if you would have stayed in Atlanta you’d still be living in a world of sin and on your way to hell.”

“You do have a point.”  Mama still wasn’t convinced and let her mind wander back to better times, when we lived in modest but stable conditions in Atlanta. Daddy didn’t have much but he’d always kept a good paying job and since most of his family lived there, we’d had a great support system that landed us in a single-family home versus some drug and crime infested projects.

“Did the kids say anything else?”  Not only was Miss Johnson nosey but she was just like all the other Parkside tenants – church going or not – gossipy. 

It made mama remember why she’d called in the first place.  “Girl, let me tell you what my hellions did.  Emma, can you believe those stupid kids were the ones that stumbled onto that girl’s dead body?”

“No, Angie girl!” She didn’t say ‘tell me more’ but her silence said it for her.  Gossip always got her undivided attention especially when it was as honest and sweet as mama’s blues.

“Unh, hunh.  Emma, girl, I actually had to beat the truth out of ’em, too.  Up in here sneakin’ and then lyin’ right to my face!” 

“Jesus!” cried the polished instigator. 

“After I know I told those rascals not to be in that lot, those disobedient seeds of hell did it anyways.  They are lucky the devil didn’t snatch up their behinds, too!”  Miss Johnson fueled mama’s fire by throwing a few ‘hmmph, hmmph, hmmph” and a few “my Lawd” on her  burning coals.

“Yes, suh.  Emma, girl, you better believe I tried to beat the evil right out of them, especially that beast Junior.  Girl that boy is getting more and more rebellious as the days go by and here I thought he was going to be different than his older brothers. And that Lynette!  Child, I just don’t know what I’m going to do with these ungrateful children.”

“The devil is tricky.  See, he’ll use whatever he can to turn you away from God and back into a world of sin!  Angie girl, what you need to do is fill those babies up with the word of God so them demons can flee, praise God!”

“Yes, Lord!” Mama screamed into the receiver as if Jesus himself was on the other end.  “Emma, I know God told you to tell me that.  And girl, that’s exactly what I’m going to do!  Hmmph, that ole serpent, the devil, sho’ thought he won, but he’s a lie!”

For once Lynette didn’t have to wake me up to get dressed for school.  Trying hard not to wake her up I jumped into the pants she’d laid out for me and snatched my shirt over my head. I could see some movement out of the corner of my eye so I quickly grabbed my shoes and softly tip-toed down the hall into the living room, far away from her growing morning tension. 

Surprisingly, mama was already up and sitting at the kitchen table … smiling.  Since gaining weight she’d been sleeping in more and more.  Lynette always made sure we kids didn’t wake her for fear of an early morning storm.

“Good morning, baby.  Are the others awake, too?” 

“Yes, ma’am,” I dutifully responded before slipping into my shoes.

She waited a few more minutes before yelling and speeding everybody up.  “Now ya’ll hurry up and get dressed.  I want to talk to all of ya’ll before ya’ll leave for school.”

Those words shook everything in us that wasn’t grafted to our insides.  Ever since mama had gotten ‘saved’, each day had been like walking on eggshells. 

One by one the others filed into the living room, anxious to learn their new fate. 

Mama grabbed her Bible off the table.  “Demons, since ya’ll want to be so disobedient, then I got something else for ya’ll behinds.  From now on before ya’ll leave for school, I want each one of you to read a Bible verse out of this book.”  She held the book out for us to see. 

Junior exhaled, and when mama wasn’t looking both Steven and Lynette rolled their eyes.  Gary and Darcy were still half asleep and me, I just smiled.  Everything had become one big contest to see if I could gain her trust again and win her undivided attention.

One by one mama made us read a verse aloud from the tattered looking book.  She warned us that after today we’d have to memorize a verse to say aloud each morning before we left for school … or else.  She made sure to let us know that the devil was scared of scripture and that by having God’s word in us that the devil would have to flee.  We thought she sounded crazy but of course we wouldn’t dare challenge her or say this aloud.  We suspected Miss Johnson had told her to do it and it made us hate the voodoo-church-lady even more.

1 comment:

  1. wow. such encouraging words. thank you guys both for taking the time to review my work. it means a lot since SAVED will be my first published novel. i plan to post chapter 3 next week. I'm new at this so I still haven't figured it all out, but because writing is a passion, i continue on.