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My father’s eyes
“This is so unfair!” I fumed, storming into my bedroom. I slammed the door so hard that the picture of me and Louis on prom night fell off the wall and cracked. I hadn’t meant to slam it so hard, but I was tight.
“Watch that temper, Ken,” I said to myself, scooping the picture off the ground. There was a hairline crack down the center, separating me from Louis. “How freaking ironic.” I tossed the picture on my bed, reminding myself to get another frame from the ninety-nine cent store.
I plopped down on the little stool in front of my vanity mirror and examined the face staring back at me. Ever since I was a kid people always told me how pretty I was, but I really didn’t start to notice until junior year in high school. I’m five-five, five-six when I stand up straight, with thick black hair and lips that always make me look like I’m pouting, but what stood out about me most was my eyes… my father’s eyes. My eyes are a pale green. Not like a contact lenses green, but the color of new money. Mom says that’s why she and my aunt nicknamed me Dollar.
Normally my eyes are clear and crisp, but not today. Today they were red and swollen because I had been crying for the last two hours. I had a golden opportunity waiting for me and my mother was throwing some serious blocks. The way she was acting you’d think I had just told my family’s darkest secret, which in a sense I had.
I couldn’t wait for the summer to end so I could start my first year of college. Mom wanted me to go away, but I opted to stay home and attend the University of Miami, on a partial scholarship. I could’ve gone to UNC or Howard for free, but Miami had a better journalism program, and I didn’t have to wait until sophomore year to participate in the work study problem. Besides that it allowed me to be close to my mom and my best friend, Baby. Mom tries to front like it wouldn’t bother her if I went away, but I know it would. For the first twelve years of my life, we were all each other had.
See, mommy and me got the bomb relationship. Not only is she my mother, but she’s like my best friend, next to Baby. I have the utmost respect for my mother and know that she’s the law around here, but at the same time I know I could tell her anything and she’s not gonna judge me. Lord, I thought she was going to trip when I told her about losing my virginity to Cedric last year. She went off about me not consulting with her before I did it to make sure I was safe, but she didn’t condemn me as the whore of Babylon. When she finally calmed down, she took me to the clinic for a full physical and blood work and she buys me a box of condoms once a month. It’s not like I need them. Cedric split my little ass open so bad that my first time was my last time. That might explain why we broke up a few weeks later.
I wanted to kill that fool for trying to play me out of pocket, but my mom helped me get through it. She knew all about heartache and how to get past it. Baby didn’t take it so well though. They say that if Gunn hadn’t been there he’d have shot that boy in front of all those people. Baby is a nut, but I know he’d do anything for me. That’s my dawg for life!
With all the time we spend together, it’s no wonder that people always thought that we were fooling around. Our mothers had even joked about us hooking up, but I think we all knew that wasn’t nothing popping. Baby was a dime, and we had had some close calls, but we never crossed the finish line. Baby and I have a brother and sister relationship. Our mothers are best friends and we’ve lived next door to each other all our lives. We get along famously, but we’re nothing alike. Me, I’m hood, but Baby is ghetto. We’re both from a nice gated community in Florida and have both gone to private school for most our lives, but for as much money as that boy’s mother spent to give him a better opportunity, the heart of a gangster does, and has always will beat in his chest. I used to think he was a knucklehead, but after my little vacation during Spring break I understand him a little better. Before he had even taken his first breaths his destiny was already written.
Mommy was from Harlem, and you could tell by her walk and her talk. She carried herself like a queen at all times and commanded the same respect she gave when dealing with people, anything less wasn’t even an option. My mother was my ace, my superwoman. Whether it was me skinning my knee when I fell off my bike, or when those girls from the projects tried to jump me, mama love is always in my corner. My pillar of strength, giving of herself even when there’s nothing left.
I used to look at my mother and wonder how she did it? How she mustered up the strength to smile at her enemies, and keep her faith in God when it was society giving us a hard time. I wondered for a long time where that strength came from and about three months ago I found out.
“Break yo self, bitch!”
I spun around so quick that I knocked over my half empty bottle of Glo, spraying my freshly polished, hard wood floor, with glass and perfume. I was about to scream for my mama when I looked up and recognized the peanut head that was poking in my bedroom window.
“You dick!” I yelled, throwing a box of sanitary napkins at him.
“Watch yo mouth, fool.” Baby swung his long legs in the window. His Chuck Taylor’s left a dirty print on my window sill, which I would surely make him clean before he left. As usual, Baby was decked out in a pair of tan Dickey pants and a white t-shirt. His long hair was braided in quarters, tied off by black rubber bands, meaning his mother had done it. When the hood rats did his hair they banded it in blue and white, but his mother wouldn’t allow it. She didn’t even allow him to dress in too much blue. Baby thought she was a nut about it, but I understood her phobia.
Damn, I hadn’t even told him. Since we were old enough to talk we had told each other everything and here I was holding out on something that he had every right to know. Baby trusted me more than anybody and I repaid him by living the lie with our parents. I had to tell him, but how?
“Sup wit you, Dollar Bill?” Baby plopped on my bed, tossing the stuffed animals side so he could get comfortable.
“You gonna stop climbing in my window like you pay rent here, Louis.” I turned around on the stool so he could see the seriousness in my eyes.
“What’d I tell you about shouting my government like that, woman? Call me Baby Loc or call me daddy.” Baby smiled at me, flexing that dimple in his left cheek.
“Daddy? Nigga, please, you must think I’m one of them Carol City broads you be chasing.” I gave him my nonsense stare. Baby knew my moods better than most, so he backed off a bit.
“Damn, everybody ass is snippy today. I spoke to ya mama when she came by the crib a while ago and she looked at me like I kicked her dog,” he told me.
“Yeah, she’s going through a thing right now,” I said, rolling my eyes.
“Sounded like more than a thing to me, Kenyatta. She looked really upset. I knew it was serious when mom threw me the car keys and told me to get lost for an hour or two. What did your ass do now?” he asked me, as if he already knew the story.
“What makes you think I did something?” I folded my arms over my breasts so he wouldn’t see that my nipples had started to stir beneath my t-shirt. It wasn’t that I was cold, but I could feel Baby’s eyes on my breasts and I wasn’t sure how I felt about it just yet.
“Because I heard your name more than once, and school. I thought you was doing ya thing in the white man’s world?” Baby asked me. He always poked fun at me going to college, saying college trained us properly in the etiquette of white folks. He didn’t actually believe it, but it made his dumb ass friends laugh when he said it. His mother had wanted him to go to college, but Baby’s head wasn’t really in it. He was always thinking about his next dollar, so it didn’t really surprise me when he had caked off from a dot-com company he started. His mother let him take a year off to see how the business would pan out for him, but she made it clear that he would either be in somebody’s class room or on the streets for the new school year.
“Hell, I am. I’m in the top twenty percent at the university,” I said, snaking my neck. I had a lot of bullshit with me, but I took school very serious. “I didn’t mess up in school, I actually got an A+ on my theses.” I reached into my shoulder bag and took out the ring bounded copy I had. Mom still had the original. I ran my thumb across the title line, as if blessing it, before tossing it over to Baby.
“It’s the piece I wrote for my journalism class. Right before we broke for the spring, Professor Faulk gave us an assignment that we could take on for extra credit, so when I was on vacation in Cali, I started writing that.” I pointed at the folder.
I watched him as he mouthed the title. “Gutter?” he looked up at me with questioning eyes. He knew what the word meant, as did I. Our mothers had never hid the fact that our fathers were gang bangers, but I don’t think either of us understood the power they held, or the lives they’d altered.
“My thesis is about our fathers … my father really. They’ve even talked about publishing it,” I confessed.
“Damn, congratulations Dollar.” He slid off the bed and leaned down to hug me. I could smell the chronic in his clothes, and for a minute I felt like getting high, until I had remembered that I gave it up when school started. “So if the joint was this good, what they tripping off?”
“The truth,” I said. “All my life I’ve thought of my father as just another thug who died too young, but I know better now, Baby,” I leaned in to whisper. My heart was fluttering uncontrollably as I searched for the words. “For a long time I’ve wondered who my father really was and how he died, so when me and Gunn flew out to LA, I started asking questions. Most of the stuff I knew or had an idea of, but on the west coast they filled in the blanks.” I had to pause as the stories came rushing back to me. “Some of the stuff I learned I wouldn’t dare tell my mother, but since she’s read the story all cards are on the table now.”
“Talk to me, Kenyatta.” He touched my forearm. I could see the anticipation in his inviting brown eyes.
“Baby, if I tell you what I found out you’ve got to promise not to tell your mother, because it really ain’t my place to be sharing this with you. They didn’t want us to know the truth, so they kept it from us all these years. My mom found out about my little investigation and the paper, which is why she’s pissed.”
“Kenyatta, I know my father was killed, but I don’t know the circumstances. I’ve asked mom about it, but she gets all tight lipped and shit. I want….no; I need to know, please?”
How could I say no to those eyes?
PART I: BLOOD OATH
Lenox Avenue was especially crowded that night. Summer time was in full swing, so the streets were alive with activity. A dozen or so young men crowded the park, either playing ball or waiting for next on the double courts. It was dark out, but children still ran in and out of the park playing tag, or climbing the monkey bars. Even in light of the past few months, Harlem had gained back its luster.
Lloyd sat on the stoop, kicking it with several of the homeys and drinking a 40oz. The Cincinnati Reds fitted that crowned his dome, was tilted slightly to the right. The lesser soldiers sat around listening to him telling war stories. Some were factual, but most were fabrications of the truth.
“Word to mine, son, these niggaz is mad fake,” Lloyd declared, swigging from the 40 bottle. “Mutha fuckas be acting like our click ain’t the tightest out here, fuck Harlem!”
Lloyd fashioned himself as somewhat of a big man on the streets. Early on in his youth he made a name for himself by being a general knucklehead. He had been arrested several times, but had never done more than a few months in jail. He made his climb from a low level nobody, to a blip on the radar. Lloyd was eighteen and down with one of the largest gangs in the country, the Bloods.
“Yeah, fuck them niggaz,” A young man wearing a Cleveland Cavalier’s jersey added, trying to sound surer of himself than he really was. “But yo…” he hesitated for a minute. “Man, I heard they had this shit sewed up not so long ago.”
“That’s bull shit. They tried to get it popping, but we stomped them mutha fuckas!” Lloyd declared. The young men stood around debating history of the B&C rivalry in New York and watching the world go by. Hearing their own voices, coupled with the sights and sounds of Harlem made them totally oblivious to what was about to go down.
Two mountain bikes were coasting along the shadows of the street in front of the building. The riders were dressed in oversized white t-shirts that laid flat across their laps, but if you looked closely you could see the slight awkward lumps. Hook and Noodles were the latest lost souls who had found something of worth in the movement as they liked to call it. They had murder on their minds and big things on their persons.
A kid by the name of Benny, who happened to have the misfortune of being with Lloyd, was the first to notice them duo. “Who them niggaz?”
When Lloyd turned around his the beer in his mouth quickly dried into a paste as the cyclists drew matching .40 cals. Noodles’ face twisted into a mask of pure hatred as he skidded to a stop and jerked the trigger.
“HARLEM MUTHA FUCKA!”
The whole avenue seemed to stop moving as the sound of the .40 cut through the night air. Benny clutched at his neck as a large chunk of it and his collar bone came loose. Blood sprayed over his comrades, and a girl who was coming out of the building. The girl opened her mouth to scream, but another blast from the .40 sent her flying back through the door she had just exited.
The kid in the basketball jersey flipped backward as Hook gave him two to the chest. Lloyd thought about fleeing until he found himself staring down the barrel of two high powered handguns.
“Chill!” Lloyd pleaded, crouching in the corner.
“Fuck that chill shit, nigga, you know what it is!” Hook hissed.
There was coldness in his eyes that told Lloyd that he was going to die no matter what he did or said. He tried to bolt, but Noodles tripped him into a pile of garbage. Hook yanked Lloyd roughly to his feet and shoved the barrel of the .40 under Lloyd’s chin.
“The big homey wanted you to have this,” Hook said before pulling the trigger. Lloyd’s body jerked once and his brains shot up through the top of his head. Hook cursed and wiped the blood and chunks from his face with the bandanna he had wrapped around his wrist.
“Damn, nigga, you almost got that shit on my whites!” Noodles scolded his partner for the mess he had made with Lloyd.
“Nigga, stop crying. The O.G says the bodies keep dropping until he says otherwise,” Hook shot back.
Noodles looked at the several dead bodies and shook his head. “All this over one dead nigga?”
“He wasn’t just some nigga, he was a legend and you better not let the big homey hear you talking that crazy shit,” Hook scolded. “Speaking of crazy shit though, why’d you pop the bitch?” He nodded towards the young lady sprawled in the lobby.
Noodles just shrugged. “Casualty of war, my nigga. Let’s get the fuck outta here.”
Kenyatta knelt on his balcony looking out at the sunrise. He touched his head to the ground, while he went into his third repetition of the prayer. His long braids swept gently across his naked back. “Fallen Soldier” was tattooed across his shoulders, while a portrait of his best friend stretched down his spine. After completing the prayer ritual, Gutter rose to his feet.
Gutter walked to the edge of the balcony and gripped the railing. Beads of dew, left behind from the coming dawn clung to his body causing him to sparkle in the orange glow. Below people jogged and walked their dogs through the quiet Brooklyn Heights neighborhood. For the umpteenth time, he wished his comrade had lived to see what he had made of his life.
Kenyatta Soladine, AKA Gutter, was the most troublesome son of Algerian immigrants. Born and raised in South Central Los Angles, Gutter knew just what a hard knock life it was. After the death of his father and grandfather, it had been up to the streets to raise him. Gutter’s mother did what she could to keep her son on the straight and narrow, but the hood had always been his first love.
Gutter ate, slept, breathed and fantasized about the hustle. He was a man who had been through so much that the life of a square held no place in his world. Gutter believed in and respected Allah, but unlike most people, he wouldn’t waste time on his knees waiting for the Most High to shape his destiny. He would do it himself.
He stepped from the balcony into his bedroom, feeling the warm rush of air on his neck and chest. There was a time when Gutter would sleep through the sacred hour of prayer, but since the nightmares began he and sleep didn’t always see eye to eye. The master bedroom of the duplex was dark, but the sun coming over the horizon was beginning to illuminate it. The first few rays had already crept up to the floor and gently brush the sleeping girl’s face.
He leaned down and brushed a loose strand of hair from her forehead, and found that his fingers came away damp. Gutter couldn’t help but to wonder if Sharell’s sleep was as fitful as his had been. He had literally taken her through hell and back and she was still with him. The murders, the drugs, him dying and rising again like the fabled Lazarus. She had been through it all. If he had it his way, she would never see another moment of hurt. Life would be good for his boo, but that didn’t change the fact that he had business to handle. Blood would answer for blood.
Tucking his .38 snub into the waistline of his sweats, Gutter made his way down the stairs. The sun hadn’t made it to the hall yet, so that remained dark. He didn’t need any light though. Gutter performed this routine so much that he could do it with his eyes closed. He crossed through the spacious living room and retracted the metallic blinds. The orange rays of the sun stepped through the window and coated the living room in a soothing light.
The floors were made of mahogany and polished to an almost mirrored finish. The cream colored sofa and love seat were made from butter soft leather, causing a sunken effect for the few privileged to sit in them. The apartment was decorated more for comfort than floss.
After securing the place, Gutter began his calisthenics. He started with push ups, then went to sit ups and back again. This went on for about half hour or so. Often if he tried to work out too hard the old wounds began to ache. Cross had restored his body as best he could, but some of the wounds would still take time to completely heal. He hated the assassin for what he was, but was grateful that he had allowed him to breath on his own again.
After the work out, he proceeded to the kitchen to make breakfast for himself and his lady. The meal consisted of eggs, waffles, and turkey bacon. No swine would be tolerated in the Soladine household. After completing the meal, Gutter proceeded to set the table.
Sharell sat bolt upright in the king sized bed. Her gown was drenched with sweat, while her heart threatened to leap from her chest. She clutched the cross around her neck and tried to banish the fading images in her mind. It had been a while since she had enjoyed a peaceful night’s sleep. Every time she closed her eyes, she saw the faces of the dead. She always put God first in her life, but she knew she would have to atone for the part she played in the story that had unfolded.
Donning her robe and slippers, Sharell made her way into the hall. The first thing she noticed was the smell of breakfast being cooked. The scent greeted her nostrils and sent a signal to her stomach. Turkey bacon, she figured. She would know the smell anywhere. She enjoyed the tender strips of meat, but longed for her lost pork. There was really no comparison between the two.
When she got downstairs, Gutter had already set the table. The plates were decorated with fruits and dressing for appearance, and orange juice filled the crystal goblets. Smiling at her from the far side of the table was Gutter.
“Hey, baby,” he said, getting up and pulling her chair out for her, “did you sleep well?”
“Like a rock,” she lied. She didn’t want to upset Gutter with tales of her nightmares. She had mentioned the dreams to him before, but had never told him the extent of them.
Gutter gave thanks to Allah, while she said a prayer to her God, before tearing into the food. They made small conversation at the table, but nothing significant. It had been this way for a while now. Gutter was still as attentive and caring as ever, but his mind always seemed to be elsewhere. It was no secret where that was.
“So, what you getting in to today, baby,” Sharell asked, popping a piece of bacon into her mouth.
Gutter shrugged. “Probably bend a few corners. I got some things I gotta take care of on the set.”
“The set,” she repeated, shaking her head. “Kenyatta, you spend more time in the streets than a little bit. When you gonna give them corners up?”
“When the Black man can get a fair shake in America,” he winked.
She gave him a mock laugh. “I see you got jokes this morning.”
“Ain’t nothing funny about chasing a dollar, baby.”
“Then why continue to do it?” she asked. Gutter gave her a look like he didn’t understand the question so she elaborated. “Kenyatta, we’ve got money saved up and I’m no stranger to hard work. Why don’t you get up out them streets?”
Gutter laughed, but Sharell’s face remained serious. “Baby, you know I can’t do that right now. I’ve got unfinished business to take care of.”
She knew what he meant without him having to say it directly. She had been thrilled beyond words when he woke up from the coma. Through the grace of God her lover had been returned to her, but the man who got up out of that hospital bed wasn’t the man she knew. On the surface he was still her Kenyatta, but there was a change in his soul. Though no one blamed him for what happened to Lou-Loc, Gutter felt otherwise. He believed that if he had been there his friend would still be alive. Instead of focusing on healing his thoughts were consumed with revenge. No matter how much Sharell fought him on it he wouldn’t let the vendetta go, blood would answer for blood. Sharell was forced to watch helplessly as her lover slipped further and further into the darkness. She could only pray that the lord would deliver him from the insane quest before it consumed him.
“Kenyatta,” she placed her hand over his. “No matter how much work you put in, you can’t bring him back.”
“Come on, Sharell, don’t start tripping this morning,” he pulled his hand away.
“Kenyatta, I’m not the one tripping, you are. Baby, I know how you feel, believe me…”
“Sharell, ain’t no way in the hell you could know how I feel,” his words were sharp, but the anger wasn’t directed towards her. “My brother is dead… gone… fucking outta here. Them niggaz killed him like a dog in the street when all he wanted to do was get out of the game, and I’m supposed to let that ride? Fuck that, it’s over when all them busters is dead,” he slammed his fist against the table, nearly knocking over Sharell’s orange juice.
“I’m sorry,” he said softly. It took all of his concentration to stop the mounting rage from spilling over. “I see him every night, Sharell. Whenever I close my eyes I see my friend,” Gutter placed his face in his hands and she almost though she heard him sobbing. “He shouldn’t have gone out like that, I should’ve been there.”
Sharell got up from her chair and went to kneel beside Gutter. She moved his hands from his face and looked into his glassy eyes. “Kenyatta, the lord decides who he calls home and when. Even if you had been there you can’t say for sure that Lou-Loc would still be alive. It could’ve been two dead black boys instead of one. Baby,” she ran he ran her fingers through his nappy beard. “It’s a sad thing that happened to Lou-Loc, but you can’t change what has already come to pass. You weren’t there with Lou-Loc so you couldn’t be here with me,” she placed his hand over her stomach, “with us.”
This brought a faint smile to his lips. “Yeah, I gotta make sure my little man comes up right,” he kissed her on the forehead.
“Or little girl,” she corrected him. With Gutter’s help, she got off the floor and moved back to her seat.
“Whatever, you know damn well my first child gotta be a son.”
“All your first child has to be is healthy, Ken. Boy or girl its still gonna be ours.”
After breakfast Sharell cleared the table while Gutter went upstairs to prepare for the day. From their walk in closet, he chose a pair of blue jeans and white Air Force. After pulling on his white t-shit, he retrieved his chain from the dresser. It was thirty inch platinum cable that twirled in on itself and around the diamonds. The piece was a script G, that had sapphires embedded in the grooves. The last accessory was a black .40 cal, which he slipped into his pocket. He was ready to hit the streets.