Authors: Andrew Clements
And that's why at eleven fifty-five on a cold, gray Saturday morning, Phil was enjoying himself. He was running. He was ten minutes into a
two-mile run and not even breathing hard. The gym bag slung across his back was a little annoying, but after Phil pulled the shoulder strap tighter, he hardly noticed it.
As Phil headed west along Coughlin Avenue, the city started to look unfamiliar. He knew the ten square blocks around his own home pretty well, but this was new territory. He'd probably been this way in a car plenty of times, but that's never the same as being on the sidewalk. Jogging along this way, Phil had time to look at things, time to think.
Phil kept noticing people, kept noticing whether they were white or black or Asian or Hispanic. He couldn't help it. It was as if the city had divided up into colors and races.
And I'm white,
I'm a white kid.
About ten blocks from home Phil began to see more African Americans.
About fifteen blocks from home there were a lot more black people than white. And when he was about four blocks from Daniel's street, the change was complete. Phil was the only white person on the street.
Phil slowed to a walk and looked around. He thought,
Now I'm in Daniel's neighborhood.
He stopped and peered in the front window of a small grocery store. The place was crowded with Saturday shoppers. And Phil counted.
One, two . . . only two white people.
Walking along, he tried to get the feel of the neighborhood. There had been a few places along his run that had not felt good. In one three-block stretch a lot of the buildings had been empty, with broken windows and spray-painted plywood nailed over the doors. And even on this cold day there had been some groups of kids and
older teenagers just standing around. Now and then there would be a wrecked car at the curb, no tires, hood open, windshield shattered. The guys on the corners had looked at him, but no one had said anything, and Phil had just kept on running.
But this neighborhood felt fine. He didn't see any large houses like the ones he passed walking home from school, but the row houses and the two-flats looked friendly and cared for. Then Phil saw a house that looked exactly like hisâexcept his house had a red door instead of a white one. And he thought,
Same house, only different people. And practically the same neighborhood, too!
Phil was surprised. And when he noticed he was surprised, he thought,
That's because I'm prejudiced, right?
Because Phil hadn't known what to expect. Running along, he had thought
back over some books he'd read. Books like
Journey to Jo'burg,
Bud, Not Buddy.
These were stories about black people in other countries, or stories about other times and other parts of America, or stories about poor families living in the country. And Phil had seen TV shows like
The Cosby Show
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,
where black people lived in houses a lot fancier than hisâeven fancier than Grandma Morcone's condo. And Phil could also remember seeing terrible-looking parts of Los Angeles on the TV news.
And Phil thought,
I've known tons of black kids all my life, and I never knew they could live in houses and neighborhoods just like mine!
And Phil didn't know whether to feel good about that or not, because all these thoughts about black and white were too new.
Also, Phil was less than a block away from Daniel's house now. What had seemed like a terrific idea at school on Friday afternoon suddenly didn't seem so great. He kept seeing the look on Daniel's face as he threw the jacket onto the floor. Phil thought,
What if he slams the door in my face?
Then he was standing in front of a small brick bungalow, 2518 Randall Street. And walking up the front steps, Phil stopped. He remembered the smile Daniel had given him in the lunch line, taunting him with that quarter, and he thought,
What if he just laughs at me? What then? What if I get mad and punch him or something? Besides, I already said I was sorry once, didn't I? How many times do you have to say sorry to this kid, anyway?
Phil almost turned around, but then he made himself go up the last two steps and push the button of the
doorbell. And when the door opened, his mouth dropped open too. Because it was Lucy who stood there, a puzzled look on her face.
“Philip? What in the world? Does your mama know where you are?”
Phil shook his head and then managed to ask, “What are you doing here?”
“Me?” asked Lucy, pulling her chin back and looking down her nose at him. “I live here, that's what I'm doing here. I just drove back from your house, and you are the last person I expected to have ringing my doorbell today. Come in here out of the cold.”
Standing in the small entryway, Phil stammered, “I . . . I thought this was where Daniel lived.”
Lucy nodded. “It is. Got the whole family under one roof for a while. His daddy's back in college full-time, and they're saving some rent money, living
here until June. So you came to see Daniel, that it?”
“Then follow me,” and Lucy turned and headed up the staircase that ran up the right-hand wall of the living room. Looking around as he followed, Phil thought,
The furniture and that TV, it's as nice as the stuff in our houseâI think their TV is bigger.
Lucy stopped at a door. There was a sign on it, neatly written with red crayon in large block letters:
GIRLS WHO ENTER WILL SUFFER.
Lucy pointed at it with her thumb and whispered, “Daniel's not real fond of his baby sister right now.” Then she knocked and said, “Daniel? You've got company.”
Turning to walk away, she whispered, “Remember what I said to you this morningâhe's a nice young man. Don't forget that.”
Phil took a deep breath and pushed the door open. Daniel was sitting at a computer screen, his back to the door, earphones on. Phil recognized the game on the screenâ
âand Daniel was in the middle of a battle. He hadn't heard Lucy knock on his door.
Phil didn't know what to do. He glanced around, taking in the room. There were CD cases on the floor, and some books and papers were spread out across the table next to the computer. The bed wasn't made, and a pair of jeans and a red T-shirt were sticking out of a half-open dresser drawer. There was a big poster on the wall, probably a band. Five guys with crazy hats and lots of gold chainsâfive black guys. A small bookcase next to the bed was too full, and someone had started stacking paperbacks on top of it.
Can't back down
and he took three steps forward and tapped Daniel on the shoulder.
Daniel shook his head, eyes still on the screen. “Can't stop. Got to get to a village so I can save the game. I'll eat later.”
Phil tapped again. “Heyâit's me.”
Daniel swung his chair around. He saw Phil, and his eyes jerked wide. He yanked off the headphones. “What?! What . . . how . . . how did you get here?” He jumped up and faced Phil squarely.
Phil tried to smile. “I walked . . . I mean, I ran. From my house. It's not that far. I . . . I brought you this.” Phil unzipped his bag and pulled out the jacket.
Small soldiers on the computer screen began dying in large numbers, but Daniel wasn't watching. He cocked his head to one side and said, “How come?”
“Because it's yours. And it's cold outside.”
Daniel narrowed his eyes and looked up into Phil's face. “What, you think I don't have other stuff to wear? That it? You gonna help me 'cause you think I'm so poor?”
Phil felt his face turn red. That very thought had run through his head earlier this morning. But it wasn't true. He knew that now. Daniel wasn't anywhere near poor. So he said, “I brought it because it's a good jacket and . . . and it's stupid to let something go to waste, that's all.”
“You callin' me stupid?”
Phil felt the anger rising in his chest, but he choked it back. “No. Look, I'm sorry I grabbed you, okay? So just take the jacket.”
“So I just take the jacket, and then you're done with your good deed for the day, right?”
With his nostrils flared and his lips trembling with anger, Phil almost spit the words: “Take it, don't take it, wear it, don't wear itâI don't care! There!” He threw the jacket at Daniel's feet. “I'm outta here.”
Phil was down the stairs and at the front door before Daniel caught up to him.
Phil swung around, his head low, shoulders hunched, fists ready.
Daniel had the jacket under one arm, and he held up his other hand, palm out. “Hey . . . it's okay. I shouldn't have messed with you.”
Phil put his hands down, still breathing hard.
Daniel said, “You coming here took some guts.” He smiled. “And how'd you get through Carter Terrace? All those boarded-up buildings? Not a nice place to walk.”
Phil smiled. “Like I said, I didn't walk. I ran.”
Nodding, Daniel said, “I would too.”
A swinging door opened behind Daniel, and Lucy stuck her head out and said, “Lunchtime, boys. Daniel, you show Philip where to wash his hands.”
Phil said, “I . . . I've got to get going.”
Lucy shook her head. “No you don't, because I just talked to your mother, and I told her I'll be driving you home after you eat, and that's that. Daniel, you show Philip where to wash his hands.”
Lucy did most of the talking during lunch, which was fine with Phil. His long run had made him hungry. The bread was fresh, the peanut butter was smooth, the sliced apples were crunchy, and once Daniel started dipping his Oreo cookies in his milk, Phil
did too. Everything tasted great, and Phil thought,
Just like lunch at home. Same stuff.
And Phil didn't want to feel surprised about that, but he was. He had thought everything would be so different here. And it wasn't. It just wasn't.
Daniel rode along in the car when Lucy drove Phil home after lunch, the two boys buckled into the backseat of the little Honda. When they drove by the derelict buildings, Daniel said, “Better to ride right past this place.”
And Phil nodded. “Yeah.”
Other than that, they didn't talk. But there was no strain in the silence because neither boy was waiting for anything.
Daniel wasn't looking for more words. Phil had already said he was sorry. Twice. Because sometimes sorry has to be said twice. Sometimes even more.
And Phil wasn't waiting for Daniel to say thanks. Because it wasn't needed. It was understood.