Sometimes, the clarity with which kids see things is heartbreaking.
It’s already late when the kid decides he’s had enough of the slide and the climbing net. He runs and hides behind a tree, waiting for me to get close to burst out, hands pointed in a gun shape, making gun sounds and running to cover as I fall on the ground, pretending to be hit.
He laughs and walks to the bench.
“Where’s the juice, yo?”
“In the front pocket. There you go,” I say, getting back on my feet.
“I got you good over there. I saw you was coming and I waited for the right time to shoot so you ain’t got time to move.”
“You were coming.”
“You were coming. Not you was coming.”
He laughs again, sipping his orange juice. We look at a group of men walking on Concord Avenue and entering into a vacant house.
“Do you got something to eat? I don’t feel like waiting until my mom comes back to pick us up.”
“I have crackers. You want some?”
“Fuck crackers, man. I mean real food.”
“You’re not supposed to talk like that.”
“Do you got real food?”
“Your mom said you’re not allowed to say this word.”
“Fuck. Fuck. Fuck!”
“Don’t you want to go play instead?”
I try to keep quiet until he’s finished but I can’t help chuckling.
“She always wants me to speak good but I don’t,” he says.
“Why is that?”
“I ain’t no nerd.”
“It’s got nothing to do with being a nerd.”
“It’s how we speak in Detroit.”
“Do you like living here?”
“It’s okay. I get to ride with the Mower Gang sometimes.”
“The guys with the lawnmowers.”
“Yeah. I get to ride with them on the tractors. Last time I even drove one, it was crazy fast. We mowed a whole park, the weeds and all. The tractor was going vrrrrr like a race car.”
“Was that in the neighborhood?”
“Yeah. Up Jefferson. I don’t know. Where my grandma used to live before she died. Now her house needs a new roof.”
“Is her house empty?”
“I think so. My dad has a gun you know.”
“Why are you telling me that?”
“He needs it to protect us. In case someone breaks in our home, so he can shoot him.”
“Has it happened before?”
“This winter. We had snow in the bathroom and water in the walls and the electricity was shut down, so we had to live with my uncle for a month, and when we came back there was a bum sleeping inside.”
“My dad kicked him in the face and threw him out. We had to clean everything up good after that.”
“I can imagine.”
“My homie Antwon, her mother got carjacked once. She was driving on a street and a gang stopped her to steal her car.”
“What about the police?” I ask.
He searches for crackers in the backpack, wiggling on the bench and sitting on top of its backrest.
“They don’t care about us.”
“What do you mean?”
“Because we’re poor. They never come around. They never send anyone when there’s a call.”
“Because you’re poor.”
“Antwon says we should never answer questions from the police because that’s how they get black people in prison. He says you should just tell them ‘am I free to go?’ or ‘am I under arrest?’ when they ask questions, otherwise they can make shit up and charge you for things you ain’t done.”
“You’re only ten.”
“Antwon is ten and they already took him to the station once.”
“What did he do?”
“He burned a house down. But it was a vacant, it’s no big deal. He just wanted the crackheads gone.”
A lowered car passes by on the street behind the fence, the passengers staring at us as they roll by.
“The police ain’t here to help us,” the boy says. “My mama says I got to be polite with them and show respect and all.”
“She wants to keep you out of trouble.”
“We still get harassed.”
“This one time, we were chilling on the street with my man Devon and a patrol came asking us to move. Devon goes ‘isn’t it a free country, officer?’ because he’s a dumbass and they put him in cuffs, saying he’s banging and shit. Devon ain’t in no gang, he just got a big mouth.”
“How old was he?”
“I don’t know, twelve, thirteen.”
“And they cuffed him?”
“They shoot at people for nothing, you know what I’m saying?”
“Do you know people who have been shot by the police?”
“Yeah. I mean, older boys in school told me about a brother who got killed by a cop downtown. He had been racking up electronics but didn’t even had a real gun on him. Just like, you know, a pellet gun. Fuck that.”
Loud music comes out of a nearby window. The kid makes a beat with his mouth and bobs his head, smiling at me.
“My mom says I can’t hang with them older boys at school. But they’re cool with me. They give me stuff. We trade Xbox games. Sometimes I help them getting cans of spray paint from the janitor’s office. They use them to tag houses, you know. I don’t care, they’re cool.”
I don’t say anything.
“You won’t tell my mom, right?” He asks.
“She don’t even let me pretend I’m a banger.”
“You can’t blame her. It’s not such a good way to live a life.”
“Bangers got money, though.”
There is nothing but weeds around us. Fields of tall grass going to seed, partly burnt out by the sun at some places, with wild flowers popping here and there in yellow and red splashes of color.
“Do you have an Xbox?” The kid asks.
“You should get one. I can’t have GTA at home so I play Bioshock instead, but GTA’s the shit, man. You can be a pimp or a dealer if you want, and you can even drive a plane. Do you have a Playstation? It’s on Playstation too.”
“I don’t have any console.”
“You should totally get one.”
He gestures towards the old factories and the bus depot on the other side of the park. The sky is gray and a crow is croaking in a tree.
“I like it. The buildings.”
“I like it too.”
“So do you want to buy a house here?”
“No, I’m just spending a couple of days.”
“White people, they buy lots of houses in the city. They make gardens and everything. A family from Philadelphia bought one in my street and they give us watermelons and tomatoes.”
“That’s nice of them.”
“They ain’t poor like us. But their tomatoes are good.”
“Do you talk to them sometimes?”
“No. They’re a little weird. My dad says they won’t stay anyway. They’re just restoring the house to sell it for profit and they’ll be out. But they’re okay — it’s just they ain’t from here, so they don’t get it.”
“They don’t get it.”
“They don’t fit.”
“Yeah. In class, they say it don’t matter what color you are as long as you keep going to school. But white people are different. They don’t have snow coming in their bathrooms. They ain’t bothered by the police. They read books. I speak the truth, man.”
“There are poor white people too.”
“I don’t know.”
“Don’t you also read books for school?”
“Reading is boring. I like magazines, though. The National Geographic, with the travel stories and all. And I watch TV shows, yo.”
“It’s not the same.”
He shrugs and throws a small rock across the field.
“I prefer to help my dad fixing the house. He don’t let me play with my Xbox when I have bad grades anyway.”
“He doesn’t. You talk like my teacher.”
He looks down at his beat up cell phone with a serious look on his face. He types a message and puts the phone back in his jacket.
“My mom texted me. She’s on her way back.”
“You won’t tell her I said ‘fuck,’ right?”
He punches my arm and climbs to the playground structure where he hides until I come looking for him. He jumps down the slide with a shout and runs in the grey sand as drops start falling over our heads.
We watch the rain from under a tree, waiting for the mother to pull up in front of the park’s gate, honking twice, the boy and I rushing towards her car and getting inside with water dripping from our heads and shirts.
This post originally appeared on Medium/Human Parts. Reprinted with permission.
Writer, reader and traveler. Reality machine.
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