The following story is a guest post by Nia Ngina Meeks. Check out more of Nia’s work on her website. Nia Ngina Meeks is an award-winning media and communications professional, educator, strategist and world traveler. Her insights can also be found on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and NiaNginaMeeks.com. As a news analyst, her commentary is broadcast on various outlets, including 6ABC-TV’s Inside Story.
“You a dumb ass!” Big Mark exploded.
I glared at him, trying to put every mean thought I ever had into that glare.
He glared back. Tired of our usual standoff, I, too, cast my eyes to the roof, like everyone else that had been watching our game of wall ball. Big Mark finally got ahead, but I was closing in.
“I can’t believe your dumb ass roofed the damn ball!” Big Mark repeated, and then threw his hands in the air, as if praying to the roof gods to release the tattered and blackened tennis ball. We had found it last week, and nearly danced in the streets with our treasure. Now it teetered on the edge of the battered tin trim of a sagging brick building, like a man deciding whether to end it all.
“You act like I did the shit on purpose!” I huffed. I stood on every one of my five feet and six inches, trying to assume a posture of fearlessness. I was tired of him.
“Oh, so it’s my fault?” Big Mark spat. “Next thing you gonna say is it’s my fault you ugly!”
“Nah, that’d be his daddy’s fault,” some kid in an Eagles jersey said.
Everyone started laughing and Big Mark looked like he cooled down for a minute.
I was still hot, though. We never could get into it too deeply. His grandmom had told him at the end of summer that if he got into one more fight he wouldn’t see outside again unless she was standing on him, whipping his tail. Said it loudly, too. Even if she was old, Mrs. Foster was nobody to fool around with. She flattened a burglar by herself one night before the cops even arrived.
“Muthafuckas always quick to complain but ain’t got no resolution,” I muttered. I liked that word. Resolution. Father Taylor always used it in English class. He made me look it up my first year at St. Iggie’s because I kept asking him what it meant. It rolled so well off the tongue, like the benediction I learned. Resolution.
We stared up again, looking at the ball. I hoped the rumble of one of the trucks lumbering down the avenue would jostle it. No such luck. Only the hot October sun came down.
Indian summer, Father Patterson called it, meaning winter’s chill had to wait a little longer before it could settle in. All I knew was that Mom didn’t beef about wearing any dumb jacket like she normally would when leaves start falling. Without all that bulk I could keep up my speed, because I can outrun anybody. I loved it.
Could have loved it more if it wasn’t for Big Mark. He was cool last year, when he used to just come around and visit. We were cool. But he’d been pissy since he and his sister moved in with Mrs. Foster last spring. Fighting all the time. Not me. Not yet. But now school started. My game was tighter than his now – me, the second oldest boy on the block. And he always seemed like he was waiting for a chance to try and pound me. Always talking shit. Trying to prove something. That he was the best.
Especially when we played wall ball.
I couldn’t help it that the bricks wanted to bounce the ball into my palm, and over his head. It was like . . . divine order. He couldn’t handle it. I didn’t care if he was nearly a foot taller. I was tired of him and his shit.
“How the hell did you roof that damn ball anyway?” Big Mark said, wringing my droopy triceps with one hand. “Ain’t like you no Vin Diesel or nothing.”
I tried to shove his hand from my arm, but his grip was like a clamp, on account of all those muscles. The Fosters were thick like that. It looked good on his sister, Tosha, with her fine legs.
I grinned for a minute thinking about her, but his tug on my arm jerked me back.
“Why you feelin’ on me, man? You gay or somethin’?” I snapped, finally whirling away from him. “I ain’t your boyfriend! Keep your goddam hands off me!”
My stomach started feeling queasy. I could hear Father Taylor clucking in my ear about “taking the Lord’s name in vain.” I could almost feel the swing of a ruler headed for my knuckles.
Big Mark stepped back. His eyes narrowed.
“Ooh, he told you!”
“Did he just say that to Big Mark?”
“Damn! You gonna take that, son?”
The taunts continued. With no ball, a fight would substitute for entertainment, and we were restless. I could see Big Mark’s ears twitch. I ran my tongue across my braced teeth, sealing their feel into memory, in case he knocked them out.
“What the fuck you sayin’?” Big Mark said, in a voice lower than any I’d ever heard. He stepped closer.
“What I’m sayin,’ ”I chirped, trying to get louder to work up my nerve, “is that you all up on me, feelin’ me up an’ shit. What? You wanna suck my . . ..”
The numbness set in before I even heard his fist smack my jaw. I lost my vision.
“Shut the fuck up, man!” Big Mark screamed.
But I wouldn’t. I felt the nerve I touched, even though my head was still rattling.
Trying not to stagger, I went at him again.
“You wanna suck me hard, like your daddy does. You ol’ cocksuckin’ mutha . . ..”
This time I saw the fist coming, and dodged it. I looked Big Mark in the eyes. I saw water there. My chest swelled. He was shaking, even more than my knees were in my jeans. I grinned. I had him.
“That wasn’t my daddy in that car, with that man! That ain’t why I live with my grandmom now!” Big Mark screamed. His arms flailed without focus. “That ain’t why he’s sick! It ain’t . . ..”
His voice trailed to a whimper, then rose to a wail.
It was quiet except for his sobs. The crowd quickly dissolved, as if embarrassed by the fallen giant. I heard sneakers shuffling and bike chains spinning. Suddenly, we were alone, me and Big Mark.
He crumpled to the pavement. This big heap smack in the middle of the broken glass, weeds, and piss stains. That’s when my smirk fled.
Father Patterson always said sin was filthy, but God’s grace cleansed all. I just thought about how dirty I felt as Big Mark heaved below me.
For some reason, I knelt next to him and started praying – to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. I just wanted Big Mark to feel better. His pain looked a lot worse than how my jaw felt.
As I crossed myself, I caught a glimpse of the ball. The slipping sun had formed a halo around it. And I almost felt clean again. Almost.