Who’s afraid of a little warfare? Not these young niggas who seem to be more interested in building an arsenal up than a neighborhood, carrying on like ghetto-ass Hatfields and McCoys with neither the genetic bloodline or historical purpose for such foolishness. I’ll tell you this though – the heart and foolhardy these kids show every time they fight, be it with fist or hands, is something I wish I had more of as a teenager.
I’m the young/old fogey of Redding Avenue. Mid 30s, thankfully still with a full hairline, but so the gray is starting to infiltrate my dome and the outer fringes of my goatee – the few young guys with some respect gave me the nickname of Squid. Yes, that is short for Squidward Tentacles from the cartoon Spongebob Squarepants because according to one of them, “You act just like him, yo!”
Whatever. I just know I’ve grown up with some kids just like these young hoods, some of them are fathers, uncles, cousins to these kids and you know the saying about apples and trees. I’m frustrated because I’ve seen it all, from a distance. I’m a geek, nerd-type, always have been. I quit journalism a while back to find something else that wouldn’t get on my nerves like following orders from editors who didn’t know their asses from a hole in the ground. Maybe I am more like Squidward than I thought.
“Aye Squid, you seen Oak Street Dragons comin through here,” Tyrell asked me as he strolled up to my porch. Tyrell was a good enough kid – 16, went to school, got decent grades, but still found time to roll with the Redding Avenue Assassins, which sounds more like a flag football team than a gang.
“No Tyrell, I have not,” I sighed as I closed my newspaper, setting it down on the porch chair beside me. “Should we be on alert or is the Sunday truce going to be respected?”
“What Sunday truce,” he replied, obviously not getting The Wire reference. I should’ve known. Kids.
I chuckled to myself and answered “Never mind. Is there something going on?”
“Nothing yet, but I heard they were going to be at the rec center party and we need to know if they’re going to start some shit or not.”
“Can’t imagine that they would,” I said with more than a hint of sarcasm in my voice. “They seem like nice young men.”
Tyrell shook his head and laughed. “You a funny one, Squid. Just let me know if you’ve seen-“
Before he could get the rest out, his attention was diverted by a pretty brownskinned girl walking down Redding with her books in hand. Naturally afro’d hair had come back in style and her auburn-tinted mushroom cloud was flowing in the late summer breeze. Doe eyed and with parents with dental benefits, her winning smile and innocent face captivated every young boy on the block.
I noticed Tyrell’s face and chuckled again. Nice to see these boys still can be swayed by girls, I thought.
“Hi Tyrell! Hi Mr. Dawkins,” Saleha Brooks sang sweetly as she passed by and stopped. “What are you two talkin’ about?”
Tyrell was struck so badly by her youthful beauty, I could only shake my head. He was gone. Ah, young love.
“Just shootin’ the breeze young lady,” I replied as I took a sip of Simply orange mango from a red Solo cup. “You kids all ready for the Back to School dance?”
“I think so,” Saleha said. “I don’t have a date yet, but I’m still gonna go and have a good time.”
Tyrell was trying to catch his breath and I nodded at him, “You know Saleha, Tyrell’s excited about the dance too. I don’t know if he has a date or not, but maybe you two should go together.”
Saleha looked up with her big brown eyes into Tyrell’s close set ones. He managed a bashful smile and said “Squid – er uh, I mean, Mr. Dawkins is right. We should go to the dance together.”
Time stood still. Air was hard to come by, even for me, a bored old man who had been jaded by love but was trying to play a Black Chuck Woolery to two star-crossed teens. Turned out it was going to work.
Saleha broke the silence with a smile and a “Sure. We can go to the dance, Tyrell.”
The relief on that boy’s face was as though he’d gotten an A on a test he surely expected to fail. I smiled.
“That’s what’s up. So I’ll pick you up Saturday at 7:30?”
“Yeah,” Saleha said. “I’m at 545 Redding with my parents. See you then.”
Tyrell breathed a sigh relief as she walked off and said, “Word. See you then.”
After she disappeared further down the hill, Tyrell ran up on the porch and bear hugged me.
“Good lookin’ out Squid! Gotdamn I been wantin’ to ask her out forever! She so fuckin’ fine, dawg!”
“Alright alright Ty, watcha mouth now,” I said as he finally let me go and stepped off the porch. “Now I can’t help you on the date, I did all the hard work already. You have the opportunity. Don’t go doing anything stupid before Saturday.”
He nodded, dapped me up and said “I won’t man. I’m not messin’ this up!”
As we said our goodbyes and he started down the block, I thought I heard Saleha’s voice in the next block, pleading for someone to stop bothering her.
I stepped off the porch, still with Tyrell within my sight and sure enough, one of those Oak Street whatchamacallits were harassing her.
“Why you act like you too good to talk to me you nappy-head bitch,” the young roughneck grumbled as he gripped her arm so hard I thought he was gonna squeeze it off. Just as I was ready to yell for him to let her go, Tyrell took off running to the scene and I stood atop my steps with bated breath…
“Yo back the fuck up nigga,” Tyrell said as he arrived, shoving the goon away from Saleha and of course a fight broke out. The struggle between two young men who had no idea why they were fighting each other just seemed really sad to me, but getting involved was something I wasn’t sure I should do. They had to work it out.
As Saleha stood by in horror, still trying to recover from being assaulted, Tyrell began to get the upper hand, peppering his rival with rights about the face and head. Oak Street kid is covering up now. It feels like it’s going to be over soon. I hate when I’m right.
Oak Street snuck his right hand into a leg compartment of his pants and quickly plunge a knife into Tyrell’s stomach. The kid fell flat fast. Bleeding. Coughing up blood. Oak Street takes off running as neighbors come out and rush to Tyrell. Saleha is bawling. I’m standing there on my steps. And as Tyrell slips into a state of unconsciousness, possibly forever, the guilt of not being there completely to stop this from happening sets in with me and by the looks of the other Black men in the area, I was not alone. We might not be able to save them all, but we can try harder to save them.
As Tyrell’s still body was loaded into the ambulance, I said a prayer that he would pull through. If he didn’t, I knew that his blood would be on my hands. And let me tell you, that’s a sick feeling to have running through your stomach. Cuts even deeper than a knife.