by Nova C. Hooper
I’m walking down Main Street on my way home. Today is the last day of school for the seniors at Grant High School. We get out one week earlier than the rest of the students. I’m just glad I made it through considering I went only half the time. I’m not even going to the graduation. They can mail that shit home. I got too much to think about. I got to plan my next move because living in this hell’s not going to cut it.
I turn right onto Davis towards the two-bedroom apartment I live in with my mother. It’s another hot day and I can feel the moisture starting to accumulate under my armpits and under the pillow of my breasts. I tug at the white t-shirt that’s trying to fuse itself to my damp skin, glad that my hair is in its usual ponytail to the back. The last thing I need is to have that blanket increasing the temperature another 10 degrees.
As I get near my stoop, loud hip-hop music creeps up from behind me. Looking over my right shoulder into the street, I see a black Escalade-windows tinted. I turn to start up my steps, and the back driver’s side window rolls down. My girl, Raven, pops her multi-colored head out.
“Clark, get your ass over here!”
I smile at her and walk over to the SUV as the music turns down. Raven has 3 different colors in her hair. I see gold, burgundy, and her natural dark brown arranged in some kind of abstract design she’s created. She’s tried on numerous occasions to get me to let her style my hair, stating that my one long ponytail was way too boring. She’s my ace and all, but there is no way I’m letting her near my wig.
“What’s up, Girl?” I try leaning into the window to see who is in the car, but all I can make out is the back of two identical baldheads resembling milk duds.
Raven dramatically flicks her wrist flashing her 2-inch multi-color acrylics. It’s amazing how close we are considering how different we look. Raven is short, thick, and chocolate brown, and, as I’ve mentioned, pretty colorful—hair, nails, clothes, make-up. Me on the other hand, I’m average height, slim, caramel brown, long black hair, and my attire consist of basic color combinations—black, blue, white, or brown. Unlike Raven, I try not to draw attention to myself. Makeup? Never. I only keep Chap Stick on hand.
“You left out of there quick, didn’t you?” Raven asks.
“Yeah. I didn’t want to stick around for all of that year book signing, hugging and asking what I’m going to do after high school.” That’s about half of the reasons. All the cheerfulness was nauseating. Everyone talking about college, jobs, and going to the military was depressing. I have no desire to go to college or the army. I’ve never had a job before, and McDonalds doesn’t sound appealing. I have to do something, though. I would rather lie down and die before I stay in the situation I’m in.
“Sticking around, I met some new friends.” She looks towards the front seat. The front driver side window rolls down, and I take two steps back onto the sidewalk so I can see who’s sitting up front. Raven introduces me to two men I’ve never seen before. They look a lot older than us. Kelvin, the driver, acknowledges me with a nod, and Damon, the one sitting on the passenger side, smiles wide showing his platinum fronts.
“What’s up, Shorty?” Damon looks like he just stepped out of a rap video.
“Do you want to roll? We’re going to the mall,” Raven asks me with a mischievous grin. I know what that means. It means we’ll be playing one of our favorite games. Who can steal the most expensive item? As much as I love any excuse not to go home, I’m not up for it. I just want to go in and lie down on my bed under the fan. I tell her no and that I’ll catch up with her later and maybe we’ll hang out.
“Too bad. We were going kick it well into the night.” Kelvin motions me to come closer. “Here’s a little graduation present.” He gently pulls my arm into the car and puts a blunt in the palm of my hand, closes my hand and kisses the back of it. Early Merry Christmas to me. I slip it into the front pocket of my purse and thank him. Just as I’m sliding to the back window to say my goodbye to Raven, a bike flies past me on the sidewalk.
“There goes egg head, Bilal,” Raven grimaces. “I can’t see how you live across the hall from him. He’s so weird.”
I shrug. “I’ll call you later on tonight.” Raven rolls up her window and the car speeds down the street, music blasting. I sigh and head up my stoop.
Bilal is fishing his keys out of his pocket with one hand and holding his bike upright with the other. He moved in three years ago with his grandmother. Big nappy afro, a dashiki, and big thick round glasses; I thought he was retarded. He didn’t dress like all the other boys in school and he didn’t hang out with them. Always sitting out on the front steps, reading, or listening to something in his headphones.
I still find him occasionally doing the same thing, but his appearance has changed. His afro became shoulder length dreads. The glasses smaller and more stylish, and the red, black, and green dashiki has transformed into off white tunics and loose fitting jeans or slacks. An improvement but still different. I’m waiting for the day he comes home in a black suit and a red bow tie. It’s strange that I haven’t seen him in school for about five months.
He leans his bike against the wall as I attempt to pass him to get to my door. Swinging his brown leather bag over his shoulder, he smacks me with it in the back of my head.
“Damn it, Bilal! Watch the fuck out!”
“Oh! I’m sorry, Clark. You’re so quiet. I didn’t even see you,” he grimaces. “You shouldn’t curse. You’re way too pretty for that, and it’s not lady-like.”
My eyes roll a “whatever” at him and I turn to unlock my front door. There’s a white envelope taped under the peephole. Embarrassed, I quickly turn around to see if he notices it, but he’s walking into his apartment. I have a feeling that he saw it and he knows what it is.
I open the envelope before going inside. It’s a warning from the rental office that eviction may occur if we do not pay the current and previous month’s rent. I’m annoyed beyond comprehension. The total is only $40. How could Pam not pay $20 a month for the rent? Due to government assistance, our rent has been pennies for about 4 years; ever since Pam stop bringing in an income. I’ll have to handle this. I don’t work, but I do have ways of coming up with money, by doing favors for some of the local thugs, like holding on to packages or cutting product. I hate doing the latter. To make sure you’re not stealing, they want you to work in the nude. I’ll have the money and more by Monday. I may even pay the rent up for a year. That’ll keep Pam with a roof over her head for a minute after I leave to my unknown destination. I take a deep breath, open the door, and walk inside.
The living room has a musty stench and I get an instant headache. Pam is laid out on the couch, asleep in her underwear—my underwear. I stand in front of her frowning down in disgust. Her once long beautiful thick hair is pasted to her skull thin and matted. She looks like a pile of bones someone just dumped on the sofa. Where did my mother go? Who is this beast that has infected her body? Is my mother still in there somewhere trapped in a cage? I stand there, shaking my head, looking down at the corpse of a once beautiful woman, the victim of heroin.
My feet force me away. I look for the source of the foul smell, and find a box of leftover chicken next to the old tattered couch Pam is sleeping on. I pick it up and make my way to the kitchen so I can toss it in the garbage can. The kitchen is a mess. Pots and pans are caked and burned with unidentifiable dried substances. I gave up cleaning years ago. If Pam doesn’t care how we live, why should I?
I go to my bedroom and close the door behind me. At least my small room is presentable. The only thing messed up in it is the twin size bed I didn’t bother to make this morning. There really isn’t much else in my room. I can never keep anything nice; Pam finds a way to either take it or destroy it. All the treasures I acquire from my shoplifting adventures with Raven, I end up giving away. I will never have anything decent if I stay here.
I open my window, and turn on the fan. Sitting on my bed, I reach for my purse and take out the cannabis Kelvin gave me. Smelling it to make sure there aren’t any party extras in the mix, I decide it’s ok. I definitely don’t need to get hooked on anything the weed could be laced with. The last thing I want to be is an addict like Pam, but I don’t mind mellowing out every once and a while with some dry high. It helps me think, so I light up. The smoke fills my lungs, goes straight to my head, and I feel better already.
A few minutes later I hear a knock on my door. Oh shit! It’s Pam. I thought she was out cold. That bitch can smell weed a mile away. The fan probably just blew it right to her nose. I reach for the ashtray under my bed and put it out. Then I go and open my door just a crack not letting her in.
“What you doing home, Clark?” She tries to peer into my room. “Ain’t you supposed to be at school?” The side of her face is red showing where she’s been sleeping on it, but it doesn’t hide all the adult pimples that cover it from lack of washing. She smells of sour milk and sweat. Her bare breasts lay on her chest like wrinkled, old, dried up, half deflated balloons. I wonder if she still believes herself to be beautiful. What does she see when she looks into the mirror?
“Today was the last day. I’m finished. Are you coming to my graduation, Pam?” I joke, knowing even if I were going she wouldn’t be there cheering and screaming when my name was called and I took my victory march across the stage.
“Now you know I’m sick, and I can’t be out long.” She scratches the side of her face. “You gon’ get a job? Help pay some of the bills around here?”
“Like you?” I looked at her in disbelief of what she just asked me.
“Look, I am your mother, and you will respect me. I’ve done the best I could by you. No, I’m not rich, but we’ve never lived out on the streets like some people. If you want to stay here, you need to get a job.” She scratches her face and starts balancing back and forth from her right foot to her left. “I smell something. What are you doing in there? You got somebody in my place?”
I roll my eyes, turn, and retrieve my blunt from the ashtray. I turn and see her eyes widen breaking up the crust in the corners. Moisture starts to accumulate on her top lip. Giving her an evil grin, I light it up and take a hit. Her eyes start to plead, and I hand it to her. She smiles like a toddler that just got an ice cream cone and walks back into the living room. I can’t have anything for myself. I flop down on my bed and kick the faded purple comforter to the floor. Closing my eyes I try to escape from my reality. I silently pray to dream—to dream something different from my life, and I finally drift off to sleep.
Loud screams wake me up. Pam is crying, screaming, and hollering like a toddler throwing a fit. I try to smother myself with my pillow. When I realize that I’m still here in my room and not on my way to the afterlife, I begin kicking at the air matching Pam’s childish antics and throw a fit of my own. I jump out of bed and throw the door open with so much force and vigor you’d think I was trying to escape a fire.
“What the hell, Pam? Do you want to the neighbors to call the police again?”
“Oh Baby. Baby, please help me. I’m sick. I feel like I’m going to die.” Pam is lying on the floor in a t-shirt in the fetal position. She is squirming around like a fish out of water. I roll my eyes. I know what’s coming next.
“What do you want me to do, Pam?” I ask unconcern. “Do you want me to call 911?” The hate I have for her is making my chest tighten into a hard rock.
“No! Don’t call 911! I’m not going to the hospital. Those people only make me worse.” She is on her knees in front of me and I want to kick her.
“What then?” I yell at her.
“Go on over to Clyde’s house.” She’s out of breath. “Ask him if I can have a little something until I get my check next week. Tell him I’ll pay him as soon as I get it.” But she knows that she will not pay him and so does Clyde. How can she send me over there?
“Oh hell no! I just gave you some weed, Pam.” I turn to go back to my room, and she screams.
“I’ll kill myself! I’ll kill myself!” I stop in front of my room. Her wailing is driving me crazy.
“Okay. Fine. I’ll go. Just please shut up.” She gets up off the dirty carpet.
“Oh, thank you, Baby. Thank you.” She reaches for me, but I push her arm away, slip on my sneakers, and walk out of the door. This is the last time I make this trip. She can go ahead and kill herself for all I care.
It is almost 10:30 when I walk outside. I see a mop of black-coiled hair. Bilal is sitting on the steps listening to his headphones. I try to walk past him, but he is sitting in the middle taking up most of the area, so I impatiently tap him on the shoulder. He jumps and smiles up at me. His smile suddenly turns into a frown and he pulls the earpieces out of his ear.
“Clark, are you okay?” He is still blocking my path.
“I’m fine. Why?” I suddenly feel the tears in the corner of my eyes. I wipe them away and walk past him.
“Clark, wait. Where are you going? It’s too late to be walking out here by yourself.”
“None of your business, Bilal.” I walk faster.
“Well, I’d feel better if you let me walk you wherever you’re going.” He tries to match my pace.
“What makes you think I care how you feel? Just leave me alone.” I leave him standing and staring after me as I make my way to Clyde’s house three blocks away.
I look up at the sky and notice that there are a million stars out. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the sky so clear. I don’t think I’ve ever stopped to look. It’s beautiful. I want to be somewhere where I can notice beautiful things again like when I was a little girl. Somewhere where beauty is not smothered and drowned out, and you can’t do anything but choke on the ugliness. That’s what’s happening to me. I’m being smothered with iniquity. I want my innocence back. I want a fairy tale world where I’m a princess and my mother is a beautiful queen. I want to hear the beautiful music of happily ever after.
I arrive at Clyde’s door and pray that he is not home. I knock softer than I should, but unfortunately loud enough because he opens the door.
“Who’s there?” He turns on his porch light and peers at me through the screen door. I’m taller than him now, but he still causes me to take a step back. He is completely bald and his black eyes look evil against his pale skin. He opens the door to let me in. “What can I do for you, Ms. Clark?” He smiles at me.
“Pam wants to know if she can score and pay you back next week. She’s not feeling well.” I look at my tennis shoes. I can’t bear to look into his face.
“Sheeit.” He laughs. “She must think I’m the Salvation Army. Go and tell her that I can’t help her this time.” He knows that I can’t leave empty handed.
“Come on Clyde. If she don’t pay you, I will.”
“How you suppose to do that? I know you ain’t got no job.” I don’t say anything. I continue to look down at my shoes.
“Well why don’t you step in here and maybe we can work something out.” I knew it would come to this. I follow him into the living room, insanity threatening to take over. Clyde sits down on his leather sofa, and I stand back facing him. He leans back still grinning at me. “I’ve missed you, Baby Girl.” I wave my hand at him impatiently as if to say, “Let’s get this over with.” He looks at me surprised at my boldness, and unzips his pants. He is use to me being a scared little girl.
He pulls his pants down and lowers them to the floor and then sits back still grinning at me, presenting himself all proud, as if he were a million dollars. Any other time I would have my eyes squeezed shut wishing myself into another world, but insanity is knocking, and I just stand back and stare at him like the pile of shit he is. His small beet red limp penis, barely visible, is staring at me from under his protruding belly, and I don’t know whether to laugh or throw up. I guess a smile escapes my lips because Clyde’s face becomes distorted with anger.
Within seconds, he pulls his pants up and is in my face pointing his plump finger between my eyes. “Tell your momma to take her ass down to Main Street and turn a trick if she wants to get high.” I turn around and walk towards the door. I’ve seen Clyde mad and have no desire to witness it tonight—not because I’m afraid, but because of the mood I’m in, I might try to kill him with my bare hands, but he keeps taunting me all the way to the door.
“You can’t do a thing for me anyway. You can’t even get my dick hard.” It has to be fear that turns him on.
“Maybe I’m too old for you, Clyde.”
He punches me in the back of the head, pushes me out of the door, and slams it. I hold my head and turn around to kick his door.
Humiliation takes over insanity. Humiliated for what I was about to do, and humiliated for what Clyde did to me. I rub the back of my head and start walking home. It’s going to be a long night. Pam is going to have a cow when I return empty handed.
I get close to my building. I want to keep going. I want to walk until I can’t walk any more, but I have to go in and handle this even though Pam’s going to be unbearable. Bilal is still sitting on the steps. I’m really not in the mood for him. I speed up, and try to hurry past him without conversation, but it doesn’t work.
“I’m glad you got home safe.” He’s sitting right in the middle of the steps again, preventing me from passing.
“Yeah,” I roll my eyes impatiently. “What are you doing out here?”
“I was waiting for you. I wanted to make sure you got in.” He’s wearing a wife beater, some khaki shorts, and brown sandals. His dark skin stands out against the white material.
“What for?” I ask and look down at his long toes sticking out of his shoes. “What if I wasn’t coming home tonight?”
“Then I guess I’d be sleeping out here on the steps,” he laughs. He scoots over to the side, letting me pass. I walk up the six cement steps and open the entryway door to the building’s apartments.
“The sky is beautiful tonight. Look at all the stars,” he says. I stop, turn around and look at him. “Do you want to hang out for awhile, look at the stars? Talk?”
“No,” I say quickly and go into the building. I get to my door and my head is throbbing. I need a minute before I walk into this abyss. I rest my forehead on the door and close my eyes. The volume of my breathing is loud, and I hear nothing else. From out of nowhere, a hand touches my shoulder, and for some reason I don’t jump. My forehead still resting on the door, I open my eyes.
“What, Bilal?” I know it’s him. He seems to be popping up every time I want some privacy. I stand straight up and turn to look at him.
“Clark,” he says softly, “why don’t you come over for a little while.” I look at him puzzled and wonder what the hell for. What is he up to? I weigh my options. Looking back at my door and wondering what Pam is doing, I can see her in my mind, pacing back and forth in the living room waiting for me to get back and talking to herself. I decide to take him up on his offer. Just for a few minutes until I can get this little creature inside of my head to stop hammering the back of my skull. I turn, look at him, and nod.
“Ok,” he nods back at me assuredly. I follow him into the apartment.
The floor plan is identical to mine, but it’s almost like I’m walking into a different world. Unlike Pam’s place, this apartment is full…and clean. There is a burgundy sofa and loveseat with cream-colored flowers on it, a solid burgundy recliner, two china cabinets, and big leafy plants everywhere. I sit down on the corner of the couch afraid I will wrinkle it. It looks brand new. The apartment smells like Egyptian musk oil, and I can’t help repeatedly inhaling deeply. It’s way better than rotting chicken. Bilal sits across from me on the loveseat with his hands clasped in his lap.
“Will your Grandmother get mad if she knows I’m here?” I look behind me towards the bedrooms ready to bolt for the door.
“No she wouldn’t mind,” Bilal answers softly. “Besides, she’s not here. She went to Vegas for the weekend with her senior’s social club,” he laughs and looks off into space. I start to feel more uncomfortable knowing that we are alone. He begins staring at me.
“Are you hungry?” I am, but I shake my head, ‘no’. “So, what are you going to do now that’s school’s over with?” He asks the dreaded question I try to avoid.
“I don’t know,” I mumble. “Did you even graduate? I haven’t seen you at school for a while.”
“I finished in the winter,” he leans back, eyes still staring at me so intently.
“Oh, you finished early?”
“No, actually late. I was supposed to graduate a year and a half ago. I missed some time before I moved here with my grandma. I went through a brief depression when my folks died.”
“I’m sorry,” I mumble and look down at my hands. I wonder how upset I’d be if I walked in one day and found Pam dead from an overdose. Would I cry or would I jump up and down with joy?
“That’s life,” he shrugs. “So, you don’t know what you’re going to do? You have to have a plan. What are you good at?”
“I can’t do nothing.”
“Don’t say that. Everyone can do something.” He stands up. “Let me show you something.” I reluctantly get up and follow him to what I’m assuming is his bedroom. I’m getting more uncomfortable, but I still go along.
Bilal flips on the light switch. His room is the same small one I have in my apartment. The walls are covered with drawings. Some are African in nature, some look like comic book characters, and some are a little of both. He picks up a large flip chart from the side of his desk and lays it across his futon. I walk over to it hypnotized by the largeness and bright colors of the comic book characters. I’m overly impressed and I take my time looking at each drawing, most of them people of color.
“This is what I want to do,” he looks over my shoulder. “Maybe later get into animation.”
I flip to the next picture, and my heart skips a beat. It looks exactly like me. The character is leaping in the air, reaching for some unknown destination. Her eyes are wide and animal like. I look at every detail of the picture, from the thigh high superhero black boots to the wild long hair flying behind her. I turn around and look at Bilal. I don’t know whether to be upset or honored.
“I hope you’re not offended. You just seem like a perfect subject.”
“No,” I shake my head. “I think it’s amazing.” I’m having trouble looking into his eyes, so I stare again at his toes. He’s so close to me, I can smell his skin. He smells like shea butter and coconut oil. I feel his hands move around my waist, and he is pulling me closer. He lifts my chin up with his finger and kisses me so softly on the lips. I don’t return the kiss, but I don’t push him away.
His thick lips kiss mine over and over again, and I finally respond, kissing him back. He is so tall; I stand on my toes to meet his mouth quicker and easier. Our tongues finally begin to dance with each other, and I feel like if we stop kissing I might die. His large hand cups the back of my head as he pulls me harder into his kiss. A sharp pain stabs my head, and I push him away. He looks confused.
Bilal reaches for me and gently touches the back of my head, letting his fingers examine the hard knot camouflaged underneath my hair. I say nothing and look into his eyes for the first time. There is concern there.
“I’m so sorry, Clark. What happened to you? Who did this?” His voice cracks.
I just shake my head. “Leave it alone. It doesn’t matter now.”
“Wait here.” He leaves out of the room, and I sit down on his futon resting my throbbing head in the palms of my hands. What am I doing? If Raven could see me, she would flip out. Bilal is different, but he is also attractive. And I’m starting to think different isn’t so bad. He’s so much more mature than any of the other boys around here. He’s been nothing but sweet to me even though I’ve acted so nasty towards him. I hear him rummaging around in the bathroom and wonder how I can apologize for acting like such a bitch. Bilal comes back into the room and hands me some pills and a cup of water.
“It’s just some aspirin.” He sits down next to me.
“Thanks.” I take them and drink the water down. He takes the paper cup and tosses it in the small garbage can next to the futon. We sit in silence for a while before he finally speaks.
“Clark, you can stay here tonight if you want to…I mean if you don’t want to go home. I promise I won’t try anything. You can have my room, and I’ll sleep in my grandmother’s room.” He puts both large hands in the air. “You can even lock the door.” I stare at the artwork on the wall in front of me wondering what he thinks about me and Pam. I’m sure he knows she’s an addict. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if she offered to suck his dick for a little change. I’m feeling embarrassed, but I don’t want to go home.
“Ok,” I turn to him, “but you don’t have to leave.”
“Would you like me to sleep on the floor?”
I shake my head. He stands up and takes both of my hands standing me up with him. I step back as he changes the full size futon from a couch to a bed. Then he goes to the closet and pulls out two pillows, and a blanket. The futon is already covered with a sheet. He spreads the blanket over it and places the pillows along the top. I stand back and watch as he goes to his small dresser and pulls out an extra large white t-shirt. He hands it to me.
“Probably can’t sleep comfortable in jeans.” I take it from him, and he turns around so I can change. The shirt hangs just above my knees and is cool against my skin. I set my clothes on a chair opposite the bed and tap him on the shoulder. He takes off his sandals and then his shorts. I look away. He takes my hand and I look back at him standing there in his boxers and t-shirt. He turns off the light and we crawl into bed. I can see him in the moonlight creeping in from the window.
Bilal lies on his back and I nestle myself into his arms. His body is hard, but his skin is smooth and soft. I can’t help but touch it. He caresses my back while my hand explores his muscular arms and then his chest. He lowers his head to mine and we are kissing again. My hand travels underneath his shirt and explores his washboard stomach. I pull my lips away from his so I can remove his t-shirt. I want to touch every part of him. I toss the shirt aside, and our lips meet again.
I’m getting dizzy, but I like it. His hands are all over me, and we kiss each other hungrily. My right hand touches the waistband of his boxers, and slowly goes lower. He pulls my hand back up to his chest. I begin sucking his bottom lip as my hand lowers again to its destination. I feel his thing harden under my touch. He firmly grabs my wrist and pulls it away. I sit up confused. What am I doing here? Is he trying to make a fool out of me?
“Not yet. It’s not the right time.” He pushes an escaped strand of hair behind my ear. I’m disgusted, and anger is causing my head to hurt again. I decide to leave. I abruptly stand up, but strong arms wrap around my waist and yank me back onto the bed. Bilal pulls me into the curve of his body.
“Let me go!” I yell.
“No. Clark, listen to me. I’m not rejecting you.” His arms are locked around me and I can’t move. I can feel his breath on the back of my neck. “Believe me, I want you more than anything right now, but I can tell you’ve been through a lot. I think we should take this slow.”
“You don’t know a thing about me!” I try to break his hold, but he won’t let go.
“I know you, Clark. I see you. I see the real you. I see the pain.”
“LET ME GO!”
My face grows hot, and I’m ten years old again. Clyde has me pinned down on my bed while Pam is in the living room unconscious. I can smell Clyde’s stale breath as he forces his slimy tongue into my mouth. I return to reality, and I can’t breath. I start beating Bilal’s arms with my fist. My heart is pounding in my chest, threatening to break free. I’ve never been this scared in my life. Not even when Clyde was raping me, but now at this moment, I’m terrified.
“Please! Please! Let me go! Let me go! Please don’t hurt me! Let me go!” I’m screaming and crying, my tears pouring out soaking the top of the t-shirt, but Bilal doesn’t loosen his hold.
“It’s okay,” I can feel his lips on the curve of my ear as he whispers into it. “It’s going to be okay. I promise I won’t hurt you.”
I stop screaming and hitting him, but I’m still crying hard. My hands are trying to pull his arms apart, but I’m no match for his strength. The harder I struggle the tighter he holds me. He keeps whispering in my ear that everything’s going to be all right.
Over and over and over again whispering in my ear, “It’s going to be ok. I promise.”
I can tell he knows what I’ve been through—what I’m going through, but how? How does he know? I’m weakened. I’m defeated There are no more tears. I stop struggling with his hold and now just push out dry sobs. He kisses my ear, the back of my head, and the back of my neck.
I’m so tired. I lay there limp in his arms dozing off when I feel him relax. I want to face him. I turn around as he opens his arms to allow me movement. The tears have blurred my vision, but I can still see his tired concerned face in the moonlight. He reaches over me and picks up the shirt I had tossed aside earlier. He wipes my face so gently and tosses the shirt on the floor. I lay my head on his chest as he wraps his arms around me. This time I don’t fight him, and I fall asleep, twirling one of his locks with my fingers, listening to the beautiful music of his heartbeat.
The sunlight creeping into the window wakes me up. My headache is gone. Bilal is already awake, and stroking the top of my head. I look up at him. He’s staring out of the window. His eyes shift down to my face, and he kisses my forehead.
“How long have you been up?” My voice pushes out, throat sore from all the crying and carrying on. “What time is it?”
“It’s about 6:30.”
“Is something wrong?” I feel embarrassed. I want to apologize for last night, but I can’t find the words.
“No. I’ve been up awhile. Just thinking. Clark, I’m leaving in three months. I’m moving to New York. I’m going to The Art Institute of New York City.”
“Oh. That’s good.” I try to sound happy for him. I try to hide the disappointment from my voice that he’s leaving. “What about your grandma?”
“I’ve thought about that long and hard. She’s getting up there in age, and I don’t want to leave her. She told me that she wants me to go. She says that she’s lived her life, and I have to go and live mine. That’s what you have to do. You can’t stay here living with your mother. You have to go and live your life. That’s why I want you to come with me.” I sit up and look at him. I wasn’t expecting that.
“Bilal, I have nothing. I have no money. I can’t pick up and move to New York. I’ll just hold you back.”
“Don’t even think that way, Clark. You inspire me, and money is not a problem, at least not for a while. My parents left quit a bit of money after they passed, and you know what? My grandmother didn’t touch it. She finished raising and taking care of me with the money out of her own pocket. I told her to keep my inheritance, but she refuses. We’ll have enough to last at least two years, and that’s on a New York cost of living. I have a scholarship for school. We’ll get jobs, and we’ll be okay.” He holds my hand in his. “You can come back home anytime you want. So how about it? You up for shacking up with me? Just try it for a little while.” His deep voice turns serious. “You need to leave this place. Live your life, not your mother’s.”
“I love her.” I surprise myself more than anything by saying this.
“I know you do,” he says softly. “Think about it and let me know. I really want you to come.”
I nod and decide it’s time for me to go home. I get up, slip on my jeans, and pick up my shirt and tennis shoes while Bilal watches. He gets up and walks me to the door where he gives me the longest hug. I close my eyes and focus on everything about this moment, creating a memory I will access later on. We finally separate, and I go across the hall to my apartment while Bilal watches. He doesn’t go back inside until I close my door.
I expect to see Pam in the living room, but it’s empty. She must have gone into her messy room to sleep. I straighten up a little, throwing away empty take out containers and beer bottles. I decide that I will give the apartment a good cleaning later on, and I go into my room. After I pull out some clean clothes, I go into our small bathroom. I take off Bilal’s t-shirt and hold it up to my nose searching for his scent. I hug it to my chest and drop it on the floor with the rest of my garments.
The hot water of the shower feels good and I emerge from it a new person, a little older than I was before I got in, my head clear, and my mind made up. After drying off and dressing, I walk into the living room and find Pam lying on the couch wrapped up in a sheet, watching the television. She doesn’t move, but I know she knows I’m there. I sit on the torn lazy boy waiting for her to acknowledge me.
“Where you been all night?” She finally says. “I thought I sent you to get me something.” She’s calm this morning, and I’m glad for that.
“Momma, I want to talk to you.” Her eyes shift to me like I’m a stranger. The word “momma” is so foreign to us. She’d stop being my mother a long time ago. “I’m leaving at the end of the summer. I’m moving away.” She looks back at the TV, uninterested.
“I don’t want to turn into you. I want to do something with my life. I want to help people. I want to help children who have been molested.” Her eyes shift back to me. “Momma, I love you, but I can’t stay here. It’s not too late for you either. I’ll help you if you want to get clean, but you need to know that I will be gone in three months. I have a life to live.” I see a tear fall from her left eye.
“I only want one thing from you, nothing else. I’ve never asked you for anything, but I need this. You don’t have to do it today or even tomorrow, but I need you to tell me before I leave that you knew what Clyde was doing to me.” I can see fear in her eyes. “I forgive you. I don’t hate you, but I need you to tell me you knew, so I can go on.” She buries her face in her hands and sobs. I walk over to her and put my hand on top of hers.
“Momma, you hungry? You want me to cook us some breakfast?” She looks up at me, sniffs, smiles, and nods. I smile back at her, squeeze her hand and go into the kitchen to cook like when I was little. I hear the birds outside and close my eyes listening to the beautiful music.