Wrote this three years ago when I was in college. I had just read about the fatal beating of an A-student in an inner city school in Chicago, and was deeply saddened by the event. It inspired me to write this. Hope you enjoy.
Jamal was coming home late.
His English teacher, Mr. Johnson, had delayed him after class to discuss his future. Specifically, the possibility of a college education. Even as Jamal approached the squalor of the projects, he allowed a small grin to creep up from the side of his mouth. It was Mr. Johnson who had convinced Jamal to expect more from himself, who told him that he could be somebody, and so, in the midst of struggle, he began to rely heavily on his teacher for support. He might even admit that he liked Mr. Johnson, and that was a rare thing.
Rarity defined Jamal – shambling under the weight of a stuffed backpack – his bookishness, his curiosity, all presented an unfamiliar image around these parts. In a place where dreams were buried prematurely, his had survived for an unusually long time, enough to earn him the jealous scorn of peers who had relegated themselves to a life of small victories and even smaller expectations.
“Ay yo, check it – here comes that Steve Urkle lookin’ mothafucka.”
Jamal immediately recognized the slouching figures crowded ahead on the street corner. Long ago, when they were kids, they used to play together. Now they were entry-level thugs slinging drugs, thinking they were kings that had finally been given the crowns they rightfully deserved. As Jamal walked past, he felt the violent burn of their judgments, a cigarette butt on the skin of his being, forcing him into a forward march, step-by-shameful-step. He took care to remain submissive. They would appreciate that. Build up their ego a bit, he figured, and then they might ignore him. In a way, Jamal understood their swagger. To prosper on these streets demanded a different set of skills, and he didn’t blame them for what they did. What use was an education when problems here were better solved at the smoking end of a pistol barrel or opiate pipe? Intellectual sympathies notwithstanding, he pressed on past his would-be aggressors.
“Damn son, Mr. Johnson’s dick must taste like a mothafuckin’ haagen-daaz, huh? Punk ass over there with him talkin’ bout all kinds of freaky shit, I bet.” They began to orgasmically moan Mr. Johnson’s name: Damon.
Jamal kept his eyes glued to the pavement. Continue reading