My mom taught me how to steal out the store without getting caught when I was six. She said take only what you need, and never steal over more than twenty dollars. So I wasn’t surprised when, I was eleven ,I got caught stealing a fifty dollar watch. I had broken one of the rules.
I sat in the security office with my head down. The security officer walked up to me and tapped my shoulder. “Hey kid, where do you live?” he asked me. I looked up at him with a pleading look. A couple minutes before he had tried to call my mom but little did he know that she sent me to the store to take some tissue. I failed to get the tissue. I don’t really know why I took the watch, it was something about it that was just begging me to take it off the rack.
“Hey kid do you hear me talking to you?” The thing is I didn’t hear him talking to me. All I know is I wish I was at home reading. I didn’t have many books, but the lady across the way that lived in our apartments had many books. The other tenants in our apartment building said she was a hoarder, but I thought otherwise.
I sat in the security office for 40 minutes before the security officer finally gave me a lecture about jail and then let me go as long as I promised not to steal from the store again. I didn’t have to cross my fingers when I lied and said I wouldn’t because it didn’t take a fortune teller to see this would not be the last time I would steal . I only stole what my mom and I needed. We needed a lot.
My mom got a once a month welfare check that paid our rent and she was on energy assistance, but that would soon be gone. It was only a matter of time before we would be taking cold showers, using candles for light, and borrowing electricity from the neighbors.
I walked in the apartment building and was headed up the stairs to the the third floor when I stopped in the doorway to see a couple arguing with one another. The woman was pointing her finger at the mans chest and waving her arms in the air. The man was just standing there with his arms crossed. The woman then started clapping her hands and pushing the man on the chest. This got a rise out of the man and he began waving his arms in the air too and doing other hand gestures as he began yelling at her; I stared with anticipation, waiting to see what would happen next. The man’s hand lifted up above his head, then it came down hard like a thunder strike and, then the woman fell back. My heart jumped as the man’s hand hit the womans face. I couldn’t stand to see anymore.
I turned away from the arguing couple and continued to walk up the three flights of stairs. when I reached the top landing, I walked past my apartment and went straight for Ms. Dubois apartment. I knocked on the door and waited for her to answer. When the door opened Ms. Dubois small frame appeared in the doorway. Ms. Dubois was a southern lady with creamy skin and wavy light brown almost red hair.She stood there with a broom in her hand. “Hey Ms. Dubois,” I said “Do you have any new books for me?” A smile crept across her face as she motioned me to come in the house. “We will just have to see won’t we Riley.”
I entered the house and looked around. I convinced myself that Ms. Dubois was not a hoarder. Her apartment may have been cluttered but it was cluttered in an organized way. But most hoarders just kept junk, Ms. Dubois had a house full of antiques and authentic items. The stuff in that apartment meant something to her. I looked around the living room of the apartment. I walked over to a stack of books that were sitting on the floor and began rummaging through them.
Ms. Dubois walked over to a table and picked up a carton of cigarettes, took one out, and put it to her lips, then returned the carton to the table. She walked over to another end table and grabbed a box of matches, swiped the match across the side of the box, and took the lit match and lit the cigarette with it. She sat the broom down and leaned up against the table, as she puffed on the cigarette. She inhaled deeply and exhaled letting the smoke blow in the air.
I continued to shuffle through the books but stopped at a book that read “The Sun Also Rises,” by Ernest Hemingway. I opened up to the beginning and began to read. “Who is this?” I asked Ms. Dubois looking up from the book. A grin crept across her face and she walked over to sit beside me on the ground. She took the book out of my hand and examined the book herself. Then she finally said “Ahh, Mr. Hemingway has caught your eye. A legend that man is. Wrote about things others wouldn’t understand but could relate too.” She handed the book back to me and I began to read it again. Then stopped shortly and asked “What is it about?” Ms. Dubois rubbed the top of my head and replied “Life.”
Early Morning Grind
I hate mondays. It might be because I have to go to school or it might be because i’ve only had three hours of sleep. But still I find myself getting out of bed and walking to the bathroom to take a shower to go to this dreaded place I call school.
I love the way the hot water hits my face while i’m taking a shower. Its the only thing that can wake me up in the morning. I quickly wash up and hop out because I’m not trying to be late going even if I don’t want to go.
I even hated walking to school. I lived almost two miles away from the school and I had to cross either the 27th street bridge or the 16th street bridge to get to school, which would be fine in the summer time, but it was December, and in Milwaukee it was already snowing. As a matter of a fact there was already 4 inches of snow on the ground.
As I walked out the door of the apartment building flurries fell from the sky and landed on the top of my grey and yellow beenie. I had on my grey and yellow Jordan’s to match.
I go to South Division High school. It even sounds like a prison, it feels like one also. Not only that but it’s on the South side with all the mexicans. As soon as I get in the front of the school I immediately see Donnie leaning against the railing outside the building. I walked up to him and said “What up nigga, what you doing here so early?” he looked up at me and started smiling and extended his hand out for me to shake. “Shit nothing, waiting on yo early bird gets the worm ass.” I leaned against the railing next to him.
“Hey did you hear about that nigga Noel?”
“Naww, what happened?”
“Niggggaaaa. Why he got bust done the other day.”
“Yup… feds bust him down in the middle of the night.”
“What he get bust down with?”
“my nigga got bust down with twenty kilos.”
“Yup… I heard he rattin’ too.”
“Yup… that nigga a fed. So me and Jimmie gone handle him later.”
“C’mon now Donnie, don’t do the nigga like that.”
“Ri the last time we had a fed we starved and I ain’t goin’ hungry but that nigga is. You still puttin’ in work right?”
“Not today… exams in a week. I gotta get that studying in.”
“ ‘ I gotta get that studying in’ “ Donnie mocked me and started laughing.
“Nigga you laughing. I’m serious.” I replied.
“Mhmm,” he said then looked up and nudged me. “aye look what’s crossing.” I looked up to see a girl with curly auburn hair that rolled off her shoulders. She had on a white peacoat and a grey and white scarf draped from her neck. Her hands were in her pockets and she had a black back hanging from her shoulder. She walked up closer to the door and leaned up against a pillar.
“That’s a dime piece right there, ain’t nothing like these ducks out here. That’s wifey material right there.” Donnie said.
“Nigga you can’t cop that… that’s too much class for you… you only mess with the dirty jays out here.” I started laughing and so did Donnie.
“Aw Mr. Finissen got jokes, I bet you can’t pull her.” he said. I turned my head up at him.
“Nigga you must not know how I run this game to these broads, be having them begging on they knees for me to super save these hoes.” I told him. He started laughing.
“Yes really, nigga. Ain’t nam out her I can’t have. You better ask yo B M!” I responded. We both started laughing.
“Oh you got game like that, well then why don’t you take yo finissen ass over there and pull her… let’s see how you super save these hoes.” He said.
“You really want me to put you to shame like that.” I joked.
“Yeah nigga put me to shame… I must see this.”
“Alright then.” I said getting up from leaning on the railing and walking towards the girl. I walked slowly up to her with my hands in my black jean pockets. I moved my head around to make my grey hood fall of my head to show off my fresh cornrows. I’m glad I had Ms. Dubois braid my hair.
I stopped in front of the girl. I was 5’11 and the girl came up to maybe my stomach so she was probably about 5’3. She looked up at me and smiled. Little dark brown ringlets fell over her creamy honey face. Her dark brown eyes glistened as she looked up at me.
“Hey.” I said to her. She grinned a little showing of her white teeth. Her two front teeth had a slit in between them that was too small to call a gap but her smile was still perfect. She squinted her eyes at me, and said “Hey?” I squinted my eyes back at her. Then her eyes got large. “You don’t remember me do you?” I eyed her suspiciously and try to think about all my old girlfriends and which one could she be.
“I’m not one of your ex girlfriends if that’s what you’re thinking” she said making me rethink who could she be. Then she cut into my thought and said “5th grade you vomited on me on our class trip after we got on the roller coaster together.” Then I remembered who she was.
“Carliesa Watson,” I said with excitement. She nodded her head and replied “Yeah, I’m surprised you didn’t remember that. Everybody calls me Carlie now.”
“Well I usually try to forget embarrassing stuff like that.” I replied. She started laughing showing her perfect smile again.
“Yeah don’t we all Riley.” When she said my name It felt like angels was singing to me from up above.
“yeah…” I said softly. “You just transferred here?” I asked.
“Riley I’ve been going here since freshman year.”
“How come I’ve never seen you?” I questioned her.
“You have, you just didn’t recognize me, like you didn’t a couple of minutes ago.” she answered. I nodded my head in agreement.
“We even have the same first period class, Trig with Ms. Berry.”
“Yeah that lady, woooh…. I heard her final is going to be hard.”
“Yeah… that’s why i’m studying for it. But you shouldn’t worry about it you’re like a genius up in there.”
“Ha, not even… I be confused sometimes.”
“Quit trying to be modest, you be knowing what you doing.” We both started laughing.
“Naw, I just catch on quick.” I told her. We continued to talk like that until school started at eight forty and we both walked to class together. I even sat by her in the classroom. We kept stealing glances at each other and could feel my face heat up every time she looked up at me. I was afraid, especially since I was light skinned that I would be blushing and she could see it.
After class we talked for a little but went our separate ways. I ran into Jimmie in the hallways who was leaning up against a locker with some girl who was smiling in his face. He looked like he was enjoying what she was whispering in his ear. I walked down the hall and he got up from the locker and caught up to me. He looked back at the girl and told her he would call her later.
“What up Riley,” Jimmie said as he extended his hand to me for me to shake up with him.
“Nun much, heard about that nigga Noel,” I told him.
“Aww yeah, he gone be watching the sun set a little later on today. You puttin’ in work?” he asked me.
“Naw I got some shit to do,” I told him.
“You too busy to put in work? Naww we coming to get you.”
“Naww man I’m serious. I can’t.” I told him giving him a stern look.
“Alright, Fat Rat ain’t gone be too happy to hear about that.” he said.
“I don’t care what Fat Rat thinks, If he got a problem HE know where to find me.” I said.
“Alright then.” Jimmie said and then walked over to some girl walking down the hall and wrapped his arm around her neck. I continued to walk down the hall to my next class which was History.
I didn’t see Carlie again until later on at lunch. I found her sitting at a lunch table by herself reading a book. Donnie was standing next to me and nudged me to point her out.
“Aye there go yo girl Ri.” He said with a smirk on his face.
“ Shut up Don, made cause i’m getting it in and you ain’t.” I said as I walked away from him and headed to her table. I sat down in front of her and waited for her to lift her head up from her book. As she did she smiled at me.
“ Hey Riley.” she said and closed the book and diverted her full attention to me.
“ What’s up, what you reading?” I said. She moved her hand to reveal the title of the book and revealed the title of the book.
“It’s the scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I’m reading it for my AP English class and our final exam is going to talk some about this book.”
“AP English, somebody trying to go to college before it’s time.” I asked her. She smiled.
“Yeah, I wanted a challenge.” She said.
“I’d be scared of taking that class,” I told her.
“Yeah well I walk on the side of danger. Fear ain’t got shit on me.” She said and we both started laughing. We talked all lunch and I forgot we was even in school until the bell rang and reminded me to go to my eighth period class.
I was glad the day was over when the bell rang at three ten and I could go home. I walked to my locker to grab my chemistry book and when I closed the locker door, Carlie was standing in front of me.
“Hey,” she said to me.
“We really need to find another greeting for each other because ‘hey’ is getting played out.” I told her with a grin on my face. We began walking down the stairs to the school front entrance together.
“So you don’t like me saying ‘hey’ to you” She said with a smile on her face. I nodded my head in disagreement.
“It’s not that I don’t like you saying ‘hey’ to me, because I love everything you say to me.” I told her. I could see her smile widen when I said that.
“Really.” she squeaked and walked a little closer to me.
“Yeah, it’s better than this ignorant bull shit I hear all day, it actually means something.”
“Even my ‘hey’?” she questioned me.
“Even your hey.” I told her. We walked a little closer and I had both my hands in my pockets. I could feel her staring at me as we walked down the block together.
“What,” I finally said.
“Why do all boys walk with their hands in their pockets,” she asked me.
“What you mean?” I asked her still looking forward not making eye contact.
“I mean y’all al walk with yall hand in your pockets, why?”
“I can’t speak for everybody else, but I walk with my hands in my pockets because…” I stopped amid in my explanations and said “I don’t really know why. I just know that I do. I guess it gives my hands something to do while I’m walking, like to hold on to something.” I really didn’t have a reason why I walked with my hands in my pocket and no one had ever asked me that question, so I was taken completely off guard. I looked down at her and waited for her response. She was just looking down at the ground as she walked. She was quiet which scared me. I remember my Uncle Reggie telling me “When a woman is quiet, it means she’s thinking and you don’t want to get a woman into thinking mode because that’s when the smartest man in the world starts to look like a dumb ass.”
I was about to say something when she looked back up at me.
“Take your hands out your pocket,” she said with a serious look on her face. I eyed her suspiciously.
“Why?” I asked her.
“Just do it like your hoodie.” She said. I looked down at my grey hoodie that said “Just do it!” with the nike sign up under it. I only wore it because it matched my grey jordan headband across my forehead.
I took my hands out my pockets.
“Okay.” I said looking at her. She smiled then slid her soft hand in between mine and leaned into me and put her other hand on my shoulder. We walked like that all they way to her house which was down the street from the school. She stayed on thirteenth and becher down the street from this corner store my homies and I had hit a lick on a couple months back. We stopped in front of the steps of her house. I looked down at her and wrapped my arms around her back and pushed her into me. My nose touched the top of her forehead. She smiled at me again revealing her perfect teeth and we stood there standing like that for a good couple of minutes until I could feel the snowflakes falling from the sky hitting the back of my neck. So I let go of her and watched her as she walked up the steps and into the house.
I got home at around four. I had stopped at the library for a couple of minutes check out a couple of books and return the ones I had got done reading. I walked up the three flights of stairs and on the last landing I walked past my apartment and went down the hall to Ms. Dubois apartments. I took the key out of my pocket and unlocked the door.
I had somewhat became like a son to Ms. Dubois. She said I was the only man she trusted, and gave me a house key so I wouldn’t have to knock on the door anymore when I came over. She even let me have the other room in her apartment I meant, what parts was still a room since it was as cluttered as the living room. I walked into the living room and closed the front door behind me. Ms. Dubois was the only woman I wasn’t ashamed to call my mother as my biological mother no longer fit the description. Then again there was never a time when she did fit the description.
I took my Jordan backpack off and set it on the floor beside one of the end tables and walked into the kitchen to find Ms. Dubois sitting at a table with a cigarette in her hands and a coffee mug in the other hand.
“There’s my favorite son.” she said and a smile spread across her face. I walked over to the table and set in the chair adjacent to her.
“I’m your only son.” I told her as I picked up one of the peanut butter cookies off the plate in the center of the table.
“You just eating up all the cookies.” She said as she took a puff off the cigarette.
“You act like you ain’t make em for me.” I said as I grabbed another cookies off the plate. She smiled and I could see the creases in her cheeks grow deeper as she took a puff off her cigarette.
“I could be having company that I made em for. You don’t know. Just come in here eating stuff.” She replied through puffs of smoke.
“We’ll I am the company.” I said and grabbed another cookie then stood up from the table and walked over to the refrigerator. I opened the refrigerator door and grabbed the gallon of milk and a glass. I walked back over to the table with the glass and gallon of milk and sat down at the table. I pushed the plate of cookies in front of me and poured some milk into the glass. I could feel Ms. Dubois staring at me.
“So what’s new with you,” she asked when she took another puff off the cigarette. I looked up at her.
“What you mean?” I said innocently. She grinned and took another puff of the cigarette.
“Boy, I done had you since before you knew you was able to sit up. And I know when there’s a shift in your attitude and your body structure. You got this sweet bliss in your voice and the corners of your mouth looked like they been smiling for far too long.” she paused and took another puff off the cigarette. “So tell me, who is she?” she blew smoke out her mouth and I couldn’t help but to smile and she smiled back at me.
“She ain’t nobody… yet.”
“So what’s her name?” she asked as she puffed off the cigarette again.
“Carliesa,” I said smiling. But when I looked up at Ms. Dubois, her eyes had grown large and she wasn’t puffing off the cigarette anymore. Suddenly my face went real serious. “Ms. Dubois what’s wrong?” I asked her. She looked over at me but it was as if she wasn’t looking at me. It was if she was looking in some other place.
“Carliesa what?” she asked me still staring into space.
“Watson,” I replied. The cigarette fell out of Ms. Dubois’ hand and she got up from the table clutching her chest. She walked off breathing heavy. I grabbed the fallen cigarette off the table and put it out in a nearby ashtrash. I followed her into the living room where she sat down softly on the couch. I came over and sat by her. “Momma what’s wrong with you,” I said as I grabbed her hand and held it in mine. She was still breathing heavy but it had slowed up. She let go of her chest and looked up at me.
“Riley have I not been nothing but a leading mother figure in your life?” she questioned me.
“Yes ma’am.” I told her.
“Have I not taken care of you when you own momma couldn’t?” She questioned me.
“Yes you have momma.” I answered her. I didn’t know where she was going with this but I just answered every question she asked me as best as I knew how.
“I made a promise with God, that I would always take care of you, that I would do the best I could for you if your momma couldn’t. I was the only person who cared enough in this world to look after you when she couldn’t.” She said looking up at me her breathing back to normal.
“Riley you are my second chance to make everything right. I couldn’t do it right the first time, but I promised I would do it right the second time. I can’t bear children, heaven know’s I couldn’t keep a man to keep trying anyways. But I know I would always have you.” she ran her hand across the top of my head.
“Your that son I would never be able to have.” She told me and leaned in to kiss me on my forehead and then ran her index finger across my cheek.