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Authors: Coe Booth

Bronxwood

BOOK: Bronxwood
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BRONXWOOD

COE BOOTH

For Lisa and Rashid

FRIDAY, AUGUST 1
ONE

I been driving for hours, got the radio blastin’, and I’m
flying up the New Jersey Turnpike like I be doing this shit all the time. Like it ain’t no thing. Regg is ’sleep with the passenger seat pushed all the way back, and I know it’s just ’cause he tired from being up all night doing whatever he do, but still, it feel good that he trust me with his brand-new Escalade when I don’t even got no kinda license and don’t really know how to drive for shit.

It’s, like, four in the afternoon when I get back to Bronxwood. I pull the truck up in front of Building A, and the only reason Regg wake up is ’cause I hit the brake too hard to keep from slamming into the car parked in front of me. When the truck stop, he look ’round, not knowing where the fuck he at, and I just crack up ’cause he missed the whole drive back from DC. “You get enough sleep?” I ask him. “’Cause I could drive ’round some more if you need more time.”

“Nobody could sleep, the way you was driving.”

“Nigga, you was snoring and drooling and shit.”

“You dreaming, man,” Regg say. “My eyes was closed ’cause I was praying for my life.” He open the door and say under his breath, “Musta been crazy giving you the keys to my truck.”

Regg is my pops friend, the only one that’s alright, you ask me. He mad cool, the kinda guy you know got your back no matter what. And he the size of a linebacker, so that help too, ’specially in the kinda places we was hanging out at for the last twelve days. First we drove down to Atlanta and stood there for more than a week, then, on the way back, we went to Baltimore and DC for a couple days. The whole time was mad fun even though we was working. I played two parties in Atlanta, and one in Baltimore. Made some good money, for me. Regg was doing his business too, but he don’t want me knowing what he do. He don’t want me going down for whatever shit he doing.

I cut the engine and get out the truck. Regg come ’round to the driver side and, before I see it coming, he grab me up in one of them guy hugs and say, “Remember what we talked about, man.”

“Yeah, I remember,” I say, and he let me go.

“Call me if you need me, Ty.”

I reach in and grab my heavy-ass duffel bag and backpack from the backseat. Then I watch Regg try to squeeze his ass in the driver seat, get out and push the seat back, like, a foot and a half, then get in and drive away. I just
stand there for a second, watching him go. Hanging with him was cool, but ain’t nothing like being back in the Bronx.

It’s the first day of August and it’s real nice outside, sunny and hot, but not Atlanta hot. It feel good walking into my building, like I’m home or something.

But that feeling don’t last too long. Just ’til I get to the fifth floor, open the door to the apartment I’m staying at, and see the way the place look, like fucking animals was living here while I was away.

I go inside and Greg is ’sleep on the couch. The whole living room is jacked. They got them white boxes half full of Chinese food all over the table and on the floor, cans of beer and bags of chips and shit on the floor and chairs. I knock a empty thing of Pringles off one of the chairs and put my duffel bag down on it, but there ain’t even no other place to put my backpack on, that’s how fucked up they got the apartment. I go in the kitchen and it ain’t no better. I mean, I been living with these dudes for, like, seven months, and I know they some nasty niggas when they wanna be, but this shit don’t make no kinda sense.

My friend Cal come from down the hall in sweatpants and no shirt. “You back,” he say, like I don’t know I’m back. “You make money?”

“Course.” I don’t tell him, yeah, I made money, but I’m coming home with a duffel bag full of new clothes, shit they be selling down south that I ain’t seen in the Bronx yet. “Made a lot,” I tell him.

Made it. Spent it. Still damn-near broke.

Cal wipe some Oreo cookie crumbs off the chair before he sit down at the kitchen table and start rubbing the crust outta his eyes. “Last night was crazy,” he say, laughing. “We had a party that was wild. I got with this girl and she—”

“What ’bout Tina?” I can tell when Cal ’bout to go into one of his stories ’bout all the females he getting, and the best thing to do is shut that noise down fast.

“Me and her had a fight.”

Nothing new ’bout that.

“She coming by on Sunday so I could babysit CJ.”

“It ain’t babysitting when it’s your kid,” I say.

“Whatever.” That’s when he finally look ’round the kitchen. “Shit.” He turn and look ’round at the living room. “Fuck.”

“Just so you know, I ain’t cleaning none of this up,” I tell him. “And I ain’t chipping in for Keisha to clean this shit up neither.”

Cal look back over at me. “What your problem?”

“I ain’t got no problems.”

“Good, then,” he say, standing up and getting the milk out the refrigerator. Then he go up in the cabinet and get down the Cocoa Puffs, and when he try to find a clean bowl, there ain’t one ’cause all the dishes is in the sink, dirty. But he do find a measuring cup and one of them big spoons and he sit down and start eating, like that’s a normal way to eat cereal.

“I ain’t playin’,” I tell him. “Y’all gonna need to do something ’bout this shit ’cause—”

“Your pops getting out today, right?” Cal ask, even though he already know the answer.

I swear, I ain’t in the mood for Cal today. It’s like the whole time I was with Regg is through and now I’m back to this shit, only today it’s pissing me off more than it normally do.

“I’ma be back,” I say and, just like that, I up and leave the apartment before Cal can say something else to me.

Outside, I walk ’cross the street, over to Kenny candy truck that’s out in front of Building G. Kenny sister Adonna is leaning up against the truck with her arms folded in front of her like she got a attitude ’bout something. But that’s the way she always act. She fine as hell though, so even when she mad she still look good. And she wearing shorts and a tank top, showing off all that skin. Damn.

I been knowing Adonna from back in the day when me and my family used to live here at Bronxwood. Before we got stupid and moved outta the projects like we had it like that. Then, when my pops got locked up, they threw us outta that new apartment and we ain’t had no place to go. The city put my family through a lot of shit. ’Til I decided to come back here and live with my boy Cal. And be on my own.

Now that I’m back, me and Adonna be seeing each other all the time. She real nice, but something ’bout her, ’bout
all them girls like her, that just stop me from trying to get with her. I can tell by looking at her that she one of them females that’s more trouble than I need in my life. She know she hot, and she know niggas would break they neck to get with her, but I don’t know. I hook up with her and I can tell it’s gonna be all ’bout me buying her stuff. I don’t need that.

Only thing, the last couple times she seen me, I know she been checking me out. Now that I be spending money on clothes and shit and lookin’ good, she definitely on it now. When she see me, she smile but not all sexy like she usually do ’cause she probably don’t wanna act like that in front of Kenny.

“Hey, Adonna,” I say.

She look me up and down real fast, trying to be slick ’bout it, and go, “Hi, Tyrell.”

Kenny hand her a Sprite and say, “I’m gonna put that on your bill.”

“Yeah, yeah,” she say, and roll her eyes.

“What up, Ty?” Kenny ask me.

“Chillin’,” I say. “Let me get a loose.”

Next to me, Adonna is still standing there opening her can of soda and taking a sip. After Kenny hand me the cigarette, I’m like, “What you doing today, Adonna?”

She shrug. “Nothing. It’s so boring around here. I saw you driving that Escalade and I thought it was yours at first."

I shake my head and go, “Yeah, right. Wish I could roll like that.”

Adonna look me up and down again and stop at my sneakers. “You must be making good money DJing, right?” She try to hide her smile.

“I’m doin’ a’ight.”

Even though I don’t mind talking to her, I could probably get to Southern Boulevard in time if I go fast. So I tell Adonna I gotta go, light up my cigarette, and smoke while I walk away from her. This my first cigarette in, like, four, five days. I thought I was through with them, but it don’t look that way. Least not today.

I’m walking fast down the block, on my way to the train station, not really thinking ’bout nothing. The second I turn the corner near the bodega, that’s when I see them. My ex, Novisha, and some dude. Some pretty boy. They walking right in my direction too. And they holding hands.

TWO

Novisha don’t see me at first. She too busy smiling and
talking to that guy, and anyway, it ain’t like I don’t see her all the time ’round here. See her, yeah, but I don’t never say nothing to her. But this the first time I’m seeing her with another dude and, straight up, my mind go right there, thinking ’bout the two of them together, her doing to him what she used to do to me, and him getting to see all of her, and I can feel my jaw get tight and my blood start pounding ’cause, yeah, I’m mad. And not that she with no other guy, ’cause me and her ain’t even together no more. But ’cause it bring back all that shit that happened in January when me and her broke up.

’Cause, the truth is, the way she treated me was fucked up. She told me she loved me and all that, and put me on hold, saying she wanted to wait to have sex ’til she got married. And I believed that shit too. ’Til it came out that she wasn’t even no virgin, that she was lying to me the whole fuckin’ time we was together.

Yeah, she called me a lot of times after all her lies came out and tried to tell me she was sorry and crying to me on the phone, but I wasn’t hearing it. I was through. She musta finally got the hint ’cause after a while she stopped calling and I stopped caring.

So now I just walk past them on the street, ’cause whoever he is can have her for all I care. Her and her lies is his problem now.

I smoke the rest of my cigarette for the next block, then stop at the pizza shop to get a slice, and ’cause I got a little money now I get extra cheese and pepperoni on it and start eating it on my way to the train station. It’s already almost 4:30 and I need to get to Troy camp by 5:00 or I’m not gonna get no time to see him. His foster mother be coming for him between 5:30 and 6:00 and I don’t want her seeing me there with him.

When I get a block from the train station, I try to finish my slice fast. Just eat and not think ’bout nothing. Not that nasty-ass apartment. Not Novisha and whatever guy she wanna get with. Not even Troy, but that’s hard. I can’t help thinking ’bout him ’cause everything ’bout his situation still piss me off.

When ACS took him away from my moms and put him in foster care, he got lucky in the beginning ’cause the lady he was living with was real nice to him and treated him good, like he was one of her own two kids. She even let Troy call me every night after dinner if he was good that
day, and after a while, after she knew she could trust me, she let me bring him to school and pick him up a couple days a week.

Me and Troy used to go to McDonald’s when it was cold outside and he would play on them slides and shit. And when it got hot out, me and him would go to this park over by Crotona and I would let him run ’round for a while before he had to go back to that foster home. I just wanted to spend time with him. Not that a couple hours a couple times a week was gonna make up for the fact that me and him was split up, but least it was something.

Him being in foster care is the thing I never wanted to happen in the first place. But I fucked up and it happened anyway. The real messed-up thing is, I can’t do nothing to change none of it. My moms coulda did something all this time, but she never did nothing. And now, the only one that can get Troy back is my pops.

I finish my pizza and throw away the bag and napkins on the ground in front of a garbage can that’s so full, more stuff is ’round it than in it. I hear the train coming, so I gotta run in, swipe my MetroCard, and fly up the stairs like I don’t care. I’m not tryin’ to waste no more time today. Good thing I do run too, ’cause I make it into the train right before the doors close. But, damn, running up the stairs like that kinda mess with my stomach. It feel like the pizza is trying to come back up, which would be mad embarrassing in front of all these people on this train.

So I sit down and try and get my stomach to settle back down. But my mind is still running wild. I gotta find a way to fix Troy situation. Yeah, my pops is getting out, or already out for all I know, and I know he gonna find a way to get Troy out the system, but it ain’t gonna happen tomorrow. The city never do nothing fast. For now, he stuck where he at.

If Troy was still at that first foster home, it wouldn’t be all that bad, but he ain’t there no more. I shoulda knew it wasn’t gonna last. At the end of June everything changed. Troy foster mother sent her kids down south to they family, and she probably ain’t wanna be stuck with Troy, not after getting rid of her own kids for the summer, so she told the agency she wanted to give Troy back. Just like that. Like that wasn’t gonna fuck him up. So the agency had to move him to this other home over on Simpson Street where they got two other foster kids that both is babies, and now Troy don’t got nobody to play with or nothing.

The only good thing is the agency paid for him to go to camp all summer, and he be out the house from 8:00 in the morning ’til something like 6:00 at night, so least he got to be ’round kids his own age all summer ’cept on the weekends.

While the train go from stop to stop, what I’m thinking ’bout is trying to find a way for Troy to get back with that first foster mother again, and if she even wanna take him back when her own kids come back home. ’Cause she was
always cool with me, and school starting next month and no way is his new foster mother gonna let me pick him up from school like the first one used to.

A couple minutes later, just when the train pull outta the Gun Hill Road stop, my cell ring and it take me a second to make myself even reach in my backpack to look and see who it is. ’Cause if it’s my pops, I don’t know. I mean, like, what he gonna say? And what I’m s’posed to say back to him? And why I ain’t think ’bout none of this the whole time he was locked up?

After three rings I pull my cell out and it ain’t my pops calling me. Jasmine name on the screen. I click the talk button and hardly get the word hi out my mouth before she start talking my ear off.

“You back?” she ask, and don’t wait for no kinda answer. “I know you are because I can hear you on the train. Where you going?”

I can’t help but smile ’cause it’s like she don’t care that she all up in my business. “I’m going to see Troy at that ghetto camp they got him at.”

“Hey, I used to go to camps like that and look how good I turned out.”

“Damn,” I say, kinda under my breath, and me and her both laugh. Then we talk for a while ’bout what she been up to the whole time I was gone, which she say was just working and going home and being bored. Jasmine work at this Spanish restaurant over by Hunts Point, not all that
far from Bennett, this real nasty motel the city made us stay at back in January when we was homeless. That’s where me and her first met and got close, which is what happen when they got you living in a fucked-up place like that with all kinda roaches and shit.

And Jasmine fine too, which don’t hurt none.

Jasmine start telling me ’bout how the air conditioner at the restaurant broke down a couple days ago and how hot it was in there, but that still ain’t stop people from coming there to eat. “All these construction worker guys came there for lunch and I was sweating on their plates,” she say, laughing. “And they still came back the next day!”

“That’s ’cause you hot when you hot.”

She laugh again. “Yeah, right. I probably looked as bad as I smelled!”

Jasmine don’t know. She could never look nothing but sexy as hell. The lady she work for don’t hardly pay her nothing, and she don’t need to. Jasmine make decent enough money just from tips.

The train pull up at the Allerton station, and this bum get on that smell like he been pissing on hisself for a month. Dude got the whole car hummin’ in, like, three seconds. “Hold on, Jasmine.” I get up and walk through the train to the next car ’cause I don’t need none of that funk on me, smelling like that the rest of the day. I sit down and say, “A’ight. I’m back.”

“So, talk to me. Is your father out yet? You seen him?”

Damn.

“Ty?”

“I don’t really know nothing right now.” I don’t know what else to tell her. Jasmine know how I feel ’bout my pops.

Matter of fact, her and Cal the only ones that know that I actually thought ’bout going to see the man when he was at some halfway house back in March. And ’bout how I changed my mind at the last minute. After that, I never went to see him even though he was right there in Queens.

Then in April, Regg told me my pops got sent back to Rikers ’cause he did something he wasn’t s’posed to. I never found out what it was, just that it was enough for his ass to be sent back up to finish out the rest of his time. Which was alright with me ’cause then I ain’t hafta think ’bout if I was gonna go see him or not. ’Cause one thing I don’t do is go to no jail to see nobody.

Jasmine know all that. Me and her is tight like that.

“Well, let me know the second you hear from him, okay?”

“Yeah, a’ight,” I say, then go, “I can’t hardly hear you no more. This signal getting weak or something. I’ma call you back after I get off the train.”

“Okay. But don’t forget because I have to talk to you about the party.”

“I ain’t gonna forget. Bye.” I end the call, kinda mad. I don’t get it. Why everybody keep talkin’ ’bout my pops today?

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