by Anthony Lindsay
The bus was ragged, and the ride was rugged. Timothy sat in the last row of seats at the rear of the bus. He was wide awake, but he wished he was drowsy. If he fell asleep, the ride wouldn't be so miserable. The smell of urine and spilled wine offended his nose. The hard plastic and rubber seats of the bus, assaulted his butt and back with each pothole.
Last night he rode down the same street in Tweet's Caddy, and none of the potholes were felt. His grandmother told him doing the right thing is always easier than doing the wrong thing. He found that not to be true. It was much harder to get up every morning and go to school, than it was to hang out with Tweet and the family. The hardest part of school was getting there.
Every morning he tossed around the idea of playing sick; to remain in the comfort of the big bed his grandmother brought him. The king sized bed was one of the few places he didn't feel cramp. The idea of playing sick quickly leaves his mind, when he thinks of his grandmothers sick remedy; cod liver oil for everything from a cold to a ear ache.
Once free of the bed's comfort, the smell of breakfast motivates him forward. Neither him or his grandmother is suppose to eat the food she cooks for breakfast. At 315 pounds the school nurse begged him to diet. He ignored her, just as he ignored the countless county doctors. He was from a big family, his mama is big and grandmama is big. True, he's the biggest, but he is a man. He is suppose to be bigger; besides, the football coach wasn't complaining.
His nose told him what to expect for breakfast, the aroma of buttered biscuits was detected from buttered toast, the scent of bread was stronger with the biscuits. The aroma from Mississippi red sausages cut straight through his sinuses, the spices smoked more in the skillet, than the sage in the in sausage patties. With fried eggs, it was the crispy edges of the whites he smelled, compared to the broken yokes of scrambled eggs. A smile snuck across his face, despite the miserable bus ride, his grandmoth er knew how to get him out of the bed.
With football season being over, the only things he looked forward to at school, was selling his product and seeing his boys. He did enough school work to pass, and that was it. If it wasn't for his grandmothers urging, he wouldn't have done the amount of work he did. He never felt comfortable in school. The chairs are too small, and he saw no real purpose in going.
School didn't teach him how to get rank in the family, it didn't teach him how to cut heroin or slice rock cocaine. It didn't teach him how to get a dope selling spot, and keep it running twenty four hours a day. School didn't teach him how to get rich, not the way he'd seen people get rich.
The teachers at school talked about a life that wasn't his. A make believe fairy tale life. It was the same with the school nurse that told him to diet, in her world thin men were cool, in his world, big men were cool. Few people tried to take from a big man. When he walked through his world, the greetings of "Hey Big Man", made him feel at ease. He was a big man.
He knew being big earned him his football status. Not only was he the only freshman on the varsity team, he was the only player that started in two position, nose tackle and center. As a nose tackle, he lead the team in recovered fumbles and touchdown conversions. He was a football star, but he didn't see it leading to any money, plenty of former high-school football stars lived in his world, broke.
The coach told him would have scouts looking at him next year. He didn't believe the coach. The coach was trying to get him to play harder. Tweet told him White people were always trying to play with a Black man's mind; get him thinking they want to help him, when all alone their helping themselves. Nope, he wasn't believing the coach. He played football because he liked it, not to get to the pros.
It was like Tweet said, if he kept his head on straight and remained focused on what was real, he would be rich when he finished high-school. Real life was what he saw everyday; people spending money on drugs. Tweet was twelve when he started getting his own work from the Family. He now ran three twenty-four hour dope spots, and wasn't old enough to buy beer.
The brakes on the bus squealed as it came to a stop in the intersection. The police blocked the intersection. Through the window Timothy was able to see four squad cars surrounding a red pick up truck. It was Micky's truck. Three of the police had Micky and one of his boy's spread across the hood of one of the squad cars, frisking them; while the others searched through the truck.
Micky wasn't dumb enough to ride with work in a tricked out truck. Timothy sat back and waited for the police to finish. Minutes later the bus pulled off, and so did Mickey and his boy. Timothy caught his eye and grin as he and his boy drove off. Yeah, the boys in the Family kept their business tight, they hardly ever got busted.
By the time the bus made it to school, Timothy decided it wasn't a good day for school. When he stepped of the bus he headed for the pay phone to page Tweet. He'd spend the day hanging with Tweet, if he came and got him. Tweet didn't like to help him ditch school, but he hadn't ditched in months. He figured it would be cool with Tweet.
While pushing in Tweet's numbers a heavy hand shook his shoulder. He turned away from the pay phone and saw the coach. He hung up the phone. "What's up coach?"
"Looking for you Tim. I got somebody I want you to meet. Follow me to my office."
"Coach I got first period class." Timothy was trying not to go into the school. He couldn't beep anyone from the pay phones in the school, and once he was inside, it was a little hard to get out.
"Don't worry about it. I'll clear it with the teacher. What you got, Spanish first period?"
"Yeah." Timothy was a little surprised the coach knew his schedule and it was obvious he was going to have to go with him; maybe he could sneak out at lunch.
"When they walked into the coach's office Timothy saw the back of a huge man, the man was facing the coach's T.V., and watching a tape of Timothy's season. Timothy had never seen the tape. The coach told him he was going to put one together from the team's season, but Timothy thought he was only talking.
Watching himself on television made him feel light headed. The coach put Timothy's best plays on the tape. Damn, he looked kinda good. He couldn't stop the smile from stretching across his face as he watched himself tearing through offensive linemen. He crushed them. He yelled out loud as he watched himself score the conversion touchdown that won the homecoming game.
"Told you." The coach said to the huge back. "The kids got focus. It's hard to believe he's only a fourteen."
When the huge back turned around, Timothy knew immediately who he was. He'd lead the city's team to the Super-Bowl victory in the eighties, now he coached a college team. "He can focus on the field, but how about off the field. I've seen hundreds of kids in this city that had the ability to be Heisman trophy winners, but off the field, they didn't care about the game. They didn't know they had a gift.
"What about you young man," the huge man put his eyes on Tim. "Is football simply something you do, or do you want it to make your life better? Don't answer me today, I want you to be sure when you answer. I'm going to be in town for one more day. I'll stop by tomorrow for your answer.
"If you want football to make your life better, I got a high-school outside of this city I'd like to see you go to. Matter of fact it's out of this state. Your coach knew when he showed me the tape what I would offer you, so don't feel like you're turning your back on him. He knows what I know. He's seen what I've seen. Too few of you young Black athlete make it, when you stay in the city. You got a little thinking to do. I want to know how you feel, before I talk to your parents.
"You got skill Timothy, with the proper training and guidance, you could make to the pros. I've never seen a fourteen year old play with your intensity."
Tim sat eating a dry hamburger in the cafeteria at lunch. He couldn't get his mind off of what the huge man asked him, did he want football to make his life better. He did look good on the T.V.. The huge man said he would have to go to school outside of the city. He couldn't run his business from that far away. He was just getting started, damn. This is what Tweet was talking about, staying focused. He couldn't let outside shit get into his head.
A couple of his boys sat at the lunch table with him, but their conversation didn't penetrate his thoughts. Did he want football to make his life better? Did he? He didn't think of football in that way. The Family was to make his life. Football was fun, nothing serious. The only brothers that made money in that game played on television, the pros.
Tweet and the other Family members made money in his world, the real world. He had to stay focused, if he wanted to get rich; if he wanted to get a tricked out truck, if he wanted to wear the best clothes and if he wanted real rank in the Family. By the end of the dry hamburger his mind was made up. Football was fun. Getting rank in the Family was real, but damn, he did look good on T.V..
He was boarding the bus, heading home, when he felt his pager vibrating. He checked it and saw Tweets number. He backed off the bus and jogged to the phone.
"Hey Big Man."
"What's up Tweet?"
"Got some work for you. You out right?"
"Yeap, finished up at lunch."
"Good, you got what, about three fifty?"
"You better check your math brother, I got four twenty five for you."
"Cool, you still at school?"
"Awright, stay put, I'll scoop you in about five."
When Timothy hung up the phone, he turned away from the half booth and found himself face to face with the coach. He wondered how much of the conversation the coach heard. He didn't have to wonder long.
"If you was talking to the Tweet I know, you best be careful. He's a young man heading for old trouble. And the sad part is his life didn't have to be the way it is. Did you know he was all city wide receiver his junior year?"
"I don't know no Tweet coach, you must have heard me wrong."
"Yeah, I'm sure I did. Why don't I stand here with you and see if a white Caddy picks you up. The same one that picked you up twice last week."
"Coach it's a lot of white Caddies in this city."
"You right about that, thousands; but it's only one former NFL coach looking at your tape. You get my meaning? Tim you stand out like a sore thumb on the football field and on he school yard. It's not hard to see what you doing. You're the biggest young man in the crowd, and I ain't the only one got you on tape Timothy. You hear me Tim?
"Campus security brought me a tape last week. You a smart young man, you know what I'm saying. They warn everybody once, consider yourself warned Timothy. When the Tweet you don't know shows up, ask him about his football days, and watch his eyes. Watch his eyes close. I'll talk to you tomorrow, if you make it back, and I hope you do."
Timothy didn't watch the coach walk away, he turned and faced oncoming traffic. If campus security had him on tape, maybe he wouldn't be coming back. He could make more money at the neighborhood high-school anyway. He only went to this school because his grandmother said it would teach him a trade, fuck, he had a trade. He could walk to the neighborhood school, no more damn bus. When Tweets Caddy pulled to the curb, he slide in without looking back at the school.
After greeting Tweet in the Family way, and giving him his money, Timothy sat quite thinking up away to bring up Tweet's football history, and the coach's warning about campus security. He knew what Tweet would say about the coaches warning; fuck him, transfer schools, stay focused. What he didn't know, was what the coach meant about looking into Tweet's eyes.
The coach taught his players to look into the opposing teams eyes on the line. He said a smart player could see fear. He didn't have to teach Timothy to spot fear. Spotting fear in another person's eyes was part of his world, and so was hiding his own.
Eyes revealed a lot to Timothy. He could tell when his grandmother was really happy, her eyes sparkled. When she was really angry they thinned and pierced his heart. When she was sad or disappointed, they were dull and wet.
When Tweet pulled him up in rank in the Family, he saw jealously and envy in some of his boy's eyes. Despite their congratulatory words, their eyes showed the truth. Windows to the soul, his grandmother called them. What did the coach want him to see in Tweets eyes?
"Tweet, the coach was talking about wide receivers today, he said you was one of the best that ever played the, what's up with that?" He'd wait to tell him about the warning, he wanted to see what the coach expected him to see in Tweet's eyes.
"What do mean what's up with that? Shit, he ain't lying. I was one of the best, if not the best. All city in my junior year! The scouts was on my ass. Shit, I played the game like it's supposed to be played, balls to the wall."
Timothy saw the glowing pride in Tweets eyes. Tweet sat erect behind the wheel of the Caddy as he spoke. "Shit, the coach know what he talkin' about. What else did he say about me?"
Timothy goaded him on. "He said you had the hands, the speed and the heart."
"Damn right! I was faster than every motherfucker on the team. Shit, I lettered in track too. Man, old coach talkin' 'bout me huh? Ain't that somethin'."
"Yeah, he said you could have had it all."
"Fuck, I got it all. Without bustin' by gotdamn back. He tried to sell my that college and NFL dream. Man I wasn't tryin' to hear that shit. All the scouts was talkin' about was payin'' fo' college, if I played football. Wasn't none of them talkin' 'bout payin' me while I played. I thought about going to Canada, but fuck that shit. I couldn't stand getting hit anyway. I took hits, but damn it's more to life than gettin' the shit banged out of you by a bunch of big motherfuckers. I played the game, and I played it well. I was smart enough not to get caught up in that dream of makin' the pros. I ain't got time for dreams, I needs to count money, not wishes.
"Coach got pissed because I didn't go out for the team in my senior year. Shit, that was his dream, not mine. I know what I am. I know where I belong. Shit, I chose the game that chose me. Just like you Big Man. I was focused on what was real. What, the coach trying' to sell you that dream already?"
"Yeah, he had a old NFL coach talk to me today."
"Transferring to some high-school out of the state."
"Damn, you only a freshman! What you tell him?"
"What! Why not?"
"I ain't trying to hear that stuff about leaving the city."
"Man, don't be fo,,."
Tweet's sentence was ended by targeted bullets that shattered the drivers window. The Caddy ran up on the side walk into a brick building.
Timothy and four other Family stood around Tweet in the intensive care unit, ignoring the doctors and nurses request for them to leave. Tweet laid in the bed with his whole head bandaged. The doctor cut holes in the bandage to force tubes up Tweets nose and down his throat. Blood soaked through the white bandages were his eyes were should have been.
Timothy felt his knees weakening, he couldn't look at Tweet's bandaged head, nor could he leave. His own head was beginning to hurt. He tried to put his attention on Tweet's heart monitor, but his vision blurred. He blinked his eyes clear.
He watched Tweet's pulse rise over the graph lines on the monitor screen. Some pulses went higher on the graph than others. More yards, Timothy thought. Come on Tweet, keep getting them first downs baby. Timothy silently cheered Tweet on. Each pulse that rose beyond the third line, was a first down, every fourth pulse that reached the third line was a touch down. Timothy's vision blurred again.
When he pulled his hands from his eyes, some of the coach's plays were on the monitor screen; Timothy saw tweet ran a fly pattern for a first down. He saw himself run a draw play for a first down. He wiped at his eyes, but the images remained on the monitor. Every fourth pulse, he or Tweet scored a touch down. Timothy began sweating as he watched he and Tweet earn first downs and score touchdowns.
On the monitor he saw himself, Tweet, Warren Moon, Walter Payton, Lynn Swan and the Fridge. They were all in a huddle waiting for a play.It was Monday Night Football and the coach was on the side line signaling in plays. The play was to Tweet, the long ball. Timothy was on the line next to Fridge, the defensive line was white bandage heads, with blood soaked eyes.
Timothy hiked the ball to Moon on the second count. He and Fridge held four bloody bandaged head linesman at bay, and Moon put into flight a perfect spiral. Tweet was stretched to the sky, inches away from the ball, when the screen flat lined.
Timothy woke to the sound of a television. He was alone in a hospital room. The bed across from him was empty. He was hooked to an I.V., and his arms were strapped down. He felt unusually relaxed. He knew Tweet was dead. He was sad, but he couldn't raise any anger.
A sports show played on the television. They were recapping the NFL's season. Timothy noticed none of the players got shot in the head.