Authors: Earl Sewell
“Do you hear yourself, Maya? You were hanging out with this boy and came home with a broken leg!” my mother barked, then threaded her fingers through her hair. She looked at my father and said, “I've got this one. Anna is in her room. Please go talk to her.” Without getting involved in the conversation I was having with my mother, Dad left to go deal with Anna.
“He didn't break my leg. It was an accident. How many times do I have to explain that?” I raised my voice, suddenly feeling incredibly crappy. I didn't want to hurt my dad. Somehow his pain transferred over to me and I felt his heartbreak. I tried to hold on to the emotional swell, but I couldn't. It was too powerful, like a tsunami. My head slumped and I burst into tears.
My mother pulled out the chair next to me and sat down. “You listen to me and you listen good. I don't want you near Misalo. You need to end your relationship with him, Maya.”
“Are you serious?” I stood and walked over to the counter
top and removed a few paper towel sheets to blow my nose. Once I'd cleaned myself up a little I sat back down.
“I'm certainly not playing around.”
“I don't think I can do that,” I said, crying uncontrollably once again.
“Sure you can. You just need a little time away from him. I think spending some time with your grandmother will help you get over him. Plus, now is the perfect time. She'll love the idea of you coming to visit for a little while.”
“Oh, God!” I groaned before burying my face in the palms of my hands. At that moment I would have preferred to run into a burning building than be trapped with my quirky grandmother.
My mother walked over to the countertop where she'd placed her purse when she'd walked in. She opened it and searched for her cell phone. “I'm going to give your grandmother a call. You can go to your room now, and don't come out unless I call for you.”
I excused myself and ran upstairs to my bedroom. I walked past Anna's room and saw her crying a bucket of tears, as well. Whatever our father said to her didn't make her feel good at all. I wanted to slam my door shut, but knew that I'd only extend an invitation for my father to come in, so I didn't.
I thought I'd at least have a few days before my mother shipped me off for an extended stay with my grandmother, but I was wrong. As soon as my mother got off the phone with her, she came into my bedroom and told me to pack because I'd be leaving first thing in the morning.
“What about Anna? Is she being forced to go, as well?” I asked, hoping to drag her along with me.
“No. She is not going with you,” my mother said curtly. It wasn't the answer I'd hoped for.
“Well, I have to do some laundry. Can I come out of my room to do that?” I asked, surrendering to the fact that my mother had won.
“Yes,” my mother answered as she shut my door. I wanted to scream, but knew that would only get me into deeper trouble. The sound of my phone buzzing on my bed caught my attention. I thought it was Misalo calling, and I couldn't wait to share with him the horrible news of my departure. When I picked up the phone I noticed the incoming call was from Keysha.
“Hello,” I answered tearfully.
“What's wrong with you? Why do you sound like you just took a pregnancy test that came back positive?” Keysha immediately picked up on the sorrow in my voice.
“Ha, ha, very funny. I got busted today,” I answered.
“For real?” Keysha asked.
“Yeah, thanks to my sister.”
“Anna? What did she do?”
“She was born. That's what she did.”
“Okay, besides being born, how did she wreck your afternoon with Misalo?” Keysha asked. I laid it all out to her and she couldn't believe how low-down my little sister was.
“I'm sorry, but what Anna did was inexcusable. My brother, Mike, and I barely get along most of the time, but he'd never throw me under a bus the way your sister did you. Why is she like that?”
“I think she was dropped on her head or something as a baby. That girl has mental issues.”
“Why can't your parents just ground you for a few days or something? Why go to the extreme of sending you to live with your grandmother?”
“I don't know. This was my mother's grand idea,” I said, utterly exasperated.
“So, what are you going to do now?” Keysha asked.
“I really don't have a choice in the matter,” I said glumly.
“Well, where does your grandmother live? Maybe I can come visit you or something. Is your grandmother going to keep you under lock and key?”
“She lives in Pilsen on the lower west side of Chicago. Not too far from the University of Chicago.”
“Okay, I know where the University of Chicago is. I'd have to take a bus to the Metra train station and then take a train downtown to Roosevelt Road. Then I'd have to catch a bus over to the Pilsen area.”
“Keysha, that sounds like a lot of traveling. Heck, by the time you reach me half of the day will be gone. Besides, my grandmother isn't going to let me out of her sight. She thinks everyone in the world has gone crazy,” I grumbled.
“There isn't even a slight chance that we'll get a chance to hang out?” Keysha was still hoping.
“I don't know. When I get there I'll have to let you know. It's been a while since I've spent some time with my grandmother, and I have a feeling that she's going to want to spend every waking moment of the day with me.”
“Wow, that sucks. Have you spoken to Misalo? Does he know what's gone down?”
“No, not yet.” I sighed loudly. “Oh, I almost forgot to mention that my mother and my father don't want me to see Misalo anymore. They want me to break up with him.”
“No way! Are you serious? Why?” Keysha seemed more upset about that one than I was.
“They believe Misalo is bad news and blah, blah, blah. But I don't care what they say. I'm still going to see him. There is no way I'm going to let my folks rip us apart.”
“Wow, Maya. I never thought your parents would turn on you like that. I thought they liked Misalo.”
“They did, but now they don't,” I said, getting angry about it all over again.
“So, how are you going to continue to see him?” Keysha asked.
“I don't know. I haven't figured that one out yet, but I do know one thingâmy parents can't be with me all the time, so whenever I do see him again we'll have to make the best use of our time,” I said, thinking about a way to slip away from my grandmother's house to meet up with Misalo somewhere in the city.
“Enough about my drama. Just thinking about what's in store for me is giving me a headache. So, what's up with you and that guy who came to the swimming pool? Did you get his number?” I asked, figuring that was one of the reasons for her phone call.
“You're talking about Cocky Carlo. Nah, there was no love connection there. He just moved into the neighborhood. He seems okay, but as far as the attraction thing goes, I just wasn't feeling him. Besides, there was something about his eyes. He looked at me as if he was trying to hypnotize me or
something. It was really strange. I felt as if I could see what he was thinking.”
“And what was he thinking?” I asked.
“About how to have sex with me,” Keysha answered.
“I think you're just being cautious because of all the stuff you went through with Wesley, Antonio and Jerry,” I said, playing the role of psychoanalyst.
“I don't know. The lack of my attraction to him may be something a little deeper,” Keysha said cautiously.
“Wait a minute. Why did you say it like that? Something is up. Come on, spill it. What's going on?” I asked.
“Okay, I know this is going to sound crazier than a Lady Gaga outfit, but I sort of miss Wesley.”
“Oh, Lord, Keysha that does sound crazy,” I said, over-exaggerating my words.
“I know, but I can't help it. I don't know why my heart has decided to do a 180-degree turn on me.”
“Have you been talking to him again?” I asked.
“No comment,” Keysha said.
“OMG! What have you guys been talking about? How could you keep this from me?” I asked, slightly upset.
“It's nothing, really. I've only spoken to him like three times. We were just talking about general stuff, but I liked having a conversation with him. He's even started writing his poetry again and shared a few of them with me. They were really good poems. I suggested he submit them for prize money, or try to attend a poetry slam, or even get on that show called
Brave New Voices
. Lord knows he's been through enough to write a really good socially conscious spoken-word piece.”
“Wesley sounds like he is the one who really makes you happy,” I said.
“He's just a friend, that's all.” I knew she wasn't ready to admit that she still had a thing for him, but I wasn't about to push the issue.
“Girl, let me call you back. My head is starting to kill me, and I still have to do laundry and pack,” I said, wanting to end the conversation.
“Okay. Call me when you feel better,” Keysha said.
“I will. I'm just a little depressed right now,” I admitted.
“Well, if there is anything I can do, just let me know,” Keysha offered.
“I will. TTYL,” I said before hanging up.
to the sound of my mother and Martin having an argument. I didn't know if they had come home late last night while I was asleep or first thing this morning. What I did know was that he sounded like a grizzly bear howling in the wilderness. From what I could gather, he was angry with her because some other guy in his motorcycle club had started flirting with her and she appeared to enjoy it. My mother was just as angry, speaking to him in rapid Spanglish, which is a mixture of Spanish and English languages. That was a sure sign that she was just as ticked off. As always, I felt a deep need to be my mother's backup in case Martin decided to get physical with her. Reaching underneath my pillow, I grabbed the knife. I placed my bare feet on the cold floor and walked over to the door. Before I opened it, I pulled the drawstring tighter on my turquoise shorts that I'd slept in and knotted it. I stepped out into the hall and noticed their bedroom door was slightly ajar. Taking a deep breath, I approached the door, pushing it open a little farther, and
saw that Martin had ahold of my mother by the wrists. He looked like a giant towering over her.
“You belong to me. You need to remember that. If you even dream about being with another man you'll regret it.” Martin shook my mother violently.
My mother fought back as best as she could and said, “Well then, you need to tell your ex, Novia, to stay away from you. I'm tired of your ex-girlfriend smiling at you like she wants to make secret plans with you. Are you still dealing with her?”
Martin shook her violently once again. “I'm not dealing with anyone but you. But I think you're trying to creep around on me. That's what my boys are saying. They told me that you were going aroundâ”
“Let her go, or else,” I said as I tightened my grip on the knife, which I kept concealed from his view.
“Oh, you want some of this, too, little seÃ±orita!” Martin's eyes were bloodred and filled with rage. He was so angry I wouldn't be surprised to see steam coming out of his nose.
“I'm working on saving up enough money so I can get me and my mother out of here and into our own place. We don't need you!” I bravely stood up to him.
“Did you hear her?” Martin looked at my mother, then let her go. He started walking toward me. I once again tightened the grip on the blade, ready to plunge it deep into his neck if he so much as lifted a hand to me. “What you don't understand, little girl, is that your mother belongs to me. I own her. And since you're part of her, I own you as well, and if Iâ”
“Baby, look at me. I'm sorry. You were so right. I should
have told you the moment that guy started bothering me.” My mother stood in his path and prevented him from reaching me. Martin turned his attention back to my mother.
My mother glanced over her shoulder at me. Black lines of mascara ran like railroad tracks down her cheeks. Her eyes were just as red and glassy as his. “Viviana, it's okay, honey. This is what all couples who love each other do. Fighting is just a natural part of being loved.”
I gazed at my mother, completely perplexed by what she was saying.
“Go on back to your room, or better yet, go visit your new little friend downstairs. And stop all of that nonsense talk of us getting our own place. We don't need one, because Martin is providing us with all we need.”
My jaw dropped when my mother said that to me. I didn't understand how she could possibly want to live in Martin's grubby apartment. At that moment I thought maybe she was considering marrying him.
“Are you going to marry him?” I asked.
“Viviana!” My mother gave me an evil look that said that was the wrong question to ask.
“Maybe I should marry you and turn you into a respectable woman instead of aâ”
I interrupted Martin. “What about my father, Salena? Don't you miss him at all?” I snapped. My mother knew that I was equally ticked off because I called her by her first name.
“Ain't no logic in loving a dead man, little girl.” Martin found the love of my father to be something to laugh at. “As far as I could tell your daddy was a realâ”
“Be careful of what you say!” I snarled.
“Oh, are you threatening me?” Martin tried once again to reach me, but my mother blocked him.
“No, no,” she said, pressing the palm of her hand against his mighty chest. I waited for my mother to say something that would make Martin honor my father, but she didn't. She just continued to plead with her eyes for me to leave, but I refused.
Finally she said, “I'll be okay. Martin and I just had a little too much to drink, isn't that right?” My mother flipped the script and was now lovingly caressing his brown cheek.
“I can hold my liquor. Now, the stuff I was smoking, well, that's a different story.” He glanced down at my mother, fire still in his eyes.
“Run along now, Viviana. I know how to make my big strong hombre feel better.” Now my mother had flipped the script yet again by speaking the mixed language in a loving way instead of an angry one. I stood frozen and confused. I didn't know what to think. My mind was swirling. Anger, fear, revenge and contempt were all competing for control of my next move.
“Go!” my mother said, as Martin's hands began gliding up and down her spine.
I didn't know if they were in love or hated each other's guts. The only things I knew for sure was that he wasn't my father and I didn't trust him any more than I'd trust a drug addict in a room filled with dope. And my mother, well, she still believed that her love was strong enough to save men who had hearts of stone. My mother eased her way over to the door, and I stepped out of the room. I was looking back
at her when she slammed the door shut. Bewildered, I turned around and walked back to my grimy bedroom.
Later that morning I got a text from Toya telling me to meet her outside in front of the building. I was dying to get out of the house. It didn't take me long to get dressed. As I walked out of my room I heard the stereo in Martin's room blaring loudly. It was playing some old song “Always and Forever” by a group called Heat Wave. The only reason I knew the song was because I'd once caught an episode of the George Lopez show, and George was doing his stand-up comedy and he'd mentioned the song and the group.
Utterly disgusted with my mom, I grabbed my duffel bag to place my stolen merchandise in and rushed out the door without so much as leaving a note on the refrigerator door as to where I was going and when I'd be back. My mother couldn't have cared less either way. When I saw Toya, she was standing on the driver's side of a black Camaro lip-locked with some guy. Once their kissing session was over, the dude got in the car and drove off.
“Who was that?” I asked.
“My baby daddy,” Toya proudly said. “He came to pick up his son. Are you ready to hop on the bus and head downtown to do this?”
“Yeah, but couldn't he have like, given us a ride?” I asked, thinking that if he had a car as nice as a Camaro, why wouldn't he have given us a ride?
“He doesn't have time right now. He has to go and handle his business,” Toya explained. I was about to question what business he was going to handle with a baby, but decided that it wasn't worth starting an argument.
“Come on,” I said and started heading toward the bus stop.
“My, aren't you eager today,” she said, noticing my brisk pace.
“I need to make some money so I can get the hell out of that apartment with my mother's boyfriend. He's a realâ”
Toya finished my sentence for me. “Jackass?”
“That and a bunch more,” I said.
“What do you think about you and me getting an apartment together?” Toya asked.
“How are we going to do that? You live with your blind grandmother,” I reminded her.
“She's been talking about going into a senior citizen apartment building lately. It's not like I want to live with her forever. Besides, she has too many rules. Not that I follow them, but sometimes it gets on my nerves.”
“I'd love to get an apartment with you and be your roommate, but how are we going to pull that one off? We're too young to sign a lease and we don't have jobs. The best I can hope for is to convince my mother to leave that idiot.”
“Girl, we live in the 'hood. I know plenty of shady landlords who only care about one thing, and that's getting paid. As long as we can come up with the rent, we're cool.”
“And if we don't?” I asked.
“Then we just negotiate some new terms with the landlord, that's all.” Toya smiled confidently. I glanced at her for a moment, but said nothing.
“I'll think about it,” I said, not wanting to make any type of real commitment to that plan, because in spite of everything wrong in my life, I couldn't stand the thought of being
without my mother. I'd already lost my father, and to lose my mother as well would make me go even crazier.
During the bus ride downtown, Toya and I mapped out the places we'd hit. The Illinois State building in downtown Chicago had a massive food court and there were always tons of people there. We also agreed to hit all of the commuter train stations, as well as the Amtrak train station. It would be really easy to pick someone's pocket there, because people had a tendency to fall asleep while waiting for their train.
“I just had another brilliant idea.” Toya leaned in closer to me.
“What is it?” I asked curiously.
“I don't know why I hadn't thought of this before.” Toya thumped her forehead with the heel of her hand. “Airports,” she whispered.
“Huh?” I asked, confused.
“Viviana, we could hang around the baggage terminals at the airport.” I gave Toya a quizzical look, and I could see her idea was still developing in her mind.
“Think about it. A lot of luggage looks alike. We could walk in, grab some luggage and walk right out the door and no one would even question us,” Toya said.
“Why would I want someone else's funky clothes?” I was totally grossed out by the idea.
“It's not the clothes we're after. Well, not unless someone has some nice designer stuff.” Toya made a funny gesture with her hand. “It's the other stuff that people put in their luggage, like cameras, jewelry, computers and other gifts that they may have picked up while on vacation.”
“I thought people had those little locks they put on lug
gage. We wouldn't be able to even open it up,” I said, thinking that her idea wasn't a very good one. But Toya had an answer for me that I didn't expect.
“No. I heard on the news that people can't lock their luggage up anymore. It's one of those Homeland Security requirements.”
“Okay. Say that we can get the luggage open. We don't have X-ray vision. How are we going to know which piece of baggage to walk off with? And what about all of the video cameras they have in airports?”
“Oh, those are good questions. I hadn't thought about that stuff,” Toya conceded.
“See there. Besides O'Hare Airport is so far away from where we live,” I said.
“Yeah, but Midway Airport isn't. Look, we'd just have to take our chances. We could have on hats or dark sunglasses to hide our eyes and face.” I could see that Toya wasn't giving up, and the dangerousness of her idea was actually exciting to her. That was something I'd noticed about her. Stealing, to her, had no boundaries and the exhilaration of it all was like a drug high. I, on the other hand, was just doing it as a way to get money so that I could move on. I figured that if I could save up about three or four thousand dollars, I'd be able to find a little place for my mom, and still have enough rent money to last for a little while. My mom could work on getting another job, and I could find a little part-time job doing something. I really didn't care what type of job it was, just as long as it was legal and the pay was steady. First, I had to get the money and, according to Toya, on a good day she could easily pull in a thousand dollars. So I figured
if we did six or seven hits, I'd have the money in no time at all.
“I think we should at least give the airport thing a shot. We can hit the places downtown, and once we're done we can catch the El train out to Midway Airport,” Toya said.
“Okay,” I said, but in the back of my mind, I still thought it was a lame idea.
As the bus drove past the McCormick Place convention center, both Toya and I noticed there was some huge conference going on.
“What do you think about hitting a big meeting like that?” I asked, watching wave after wave of people walking into the building.
“I don't know. I've never tried to hit a place like this. Besides, it looks like all of these people are dressed in business clothes and I don't have any outfits like that, that would help me blend in.”
I looked back at Toya and chuckled. “Well, when we take some of the luggage from the airport, let's hope you find one filled with business clothes that are your size.”
Toya laughed. “Yeah, right, I don't want to wear someone else's funky clothes.”
“Now you see what I mean,” I said as I continued to laugh.
Toya and I arrived downtown and went to the Illinois State building first. Once there, we split up and agreed to meet one block away in about an hour. I walked around hoping some woman would leave her purse draped over the back of her chair, but that type of scenario never appeared. After seeing that I wasn't going to get lucky I decided to
leave. However, before I did that I noticed that one level up from the food court there were a bunch of shops. I decided to kill time browsing. I looked at some pretty outfits that I couldn't afford, expensive jewelry, fashion accessories, fabrics and other items that I longed to have.
I finally met up with Toya as planned and was anticipating that, just like me, she'd had no luck.
“How much do you think you pulled in?” Toya asked.