…….You ever seen a wave of middle school kids just rushing to one place? It wasn’t a normal sight in the kind of middle school I was in. The craggy concrete would punish any victim that fell fast enough. The band-aid on my hand was a reminder of that. Yet when a football was brought around us, my aching hand was suddenly a distant memory. It’s not like we played the actual sport. Most of us couldn’t comprehend all the rules of football. It was more of a game of catch and tag, the person with the football was it, and thus the wave of middle schoolers targeted one person.
…….I was never the fastest kid around the playground. I was relegated to the middle of the pack, pushing and bumping into other kids on occasion. I had no chance of catching the guy in the front. He was easily seen over the crowd of 6th graders. He was so tall I couldn’t imagine he was in the same grade as me. He wore a black snapback with the NYC logo on the front, like most Brooklyn kids did. I left mine inside. I had a knack for losing it. Our thirty-minute recess went by pretty quickly, this one especially, and we were back in the main building stairwell. This crowded stairwell usually forced you to move, but this time I had a reason to stand still.
…….That same kid, tall, dark caramel skin just like mine, his hair kind of long by our standards, but in reality, it was short, dense, curly hair. Most of the kids our age looked the same. We had a dress code. Black pants and white shirt, usually polo styled, and honestly, he didn’t stand out. That is, he was probably one of the tallest kids in the school, and the look on his face—everyone looked a bit hardened, you had to be to survive here, but his expression—wasn’t an act of any kind. His brow had a natural furrow, his eyes open low, and his mouth called out to me. I stood there, looking down from halfway up the staircase, just standing there.
…….It was mostly confusion, but also shock, I hadn’t ever spoken to this kid before. He had his snapback in his hand, except it was torn. The brim was hanging off the corner of the crown by the last of its stitches, almost severed off. He said it calmly.
…….“You ripped my hat.”
…….I was confused. I remembered slipping on some things, but it wasn’t like I hadn’t stumbled before. I didn’t know if I did or didn’t, so I simply apologized.
…….“Nah you gotta pay for it. You ripped my hat.”
…….I didn’t know what to think. He didn’t yell, he didn’t curse, he was still around people, almost cordial, but you could tell by his look, a look that you’ve only seen when the men at the corner store would ask you to buy them a snack, it wasn’t really asking, rather it was a gaze that told me there would be consequences. So the soft sixth-grade kid who was standing halfway up the staircase looked down at the boy and said, “Ok I gotchu how much is it?”
…….“Thirty dollars, I need it soon”
…….But in my head, I knew I couldn’t get thirty dollars. I didn’t have a job, an allowance was something my parents didn’t even take seriously, they always said that an allowance was the house I was living under. I only said what I said because I knew I was scared. He knew it too. I just wanted to leave that situation. And after that, it’s exactly what I did, I turned around, and took my behind right up that staircase to my class.
…….Nobody in my class had heard the conversation. Part of me didn’t even take it seriously, I never saw that kid outside of recess, and even then it was rare at that. So I just let it go. No need to worry right? He was a kid, just like me.
…….A week had passed, and I hadn’t seen him. He was out of my mind. The music room was a commonplace I went to during lunch at times, my teacher was a bit harsh but loved music, and he put me on the saxophone, the tenor one. I had gone here to try out different instruments, play my tenor, or maybe talk to the other kids in there. Funnily enough, though, I was alone today. There was nobody else in the room. A tall kid and his friend walked past the door. Lo and behold, it was that guy again. This time his friend had mentioned his name, same as that one cat in the looney tunes, Sylvester.
…….“You got my money.” He was laughing with his friend while telling me this. At this point, I kinda took it as a joke
…….“Maaan I’m in 6th grade I don’t got thirty dollars.”
…….The laughter started dying out.
…….“Ask your parents or something, but you better have that money for me.”
…….A silence. He smirked a little with his friend.
…….“Man, if you don’t get me my money… Imma shoot you.”
…….His friend was hysterical.
…….Maybe it had been a joke, maybe he wasn’t serious, but I know the look on my face expressed horror so much that his friend put his hand on my shoulder, almost like we were best buddies.
…….“You don’t believe this man actually about to shoot you right?”
…….“No Ima do it, get that money for me.”
…….They were both still there, damn near in tears laughing. Just laughing.
…….Later that night I was almost in tears too, I never thought it could go this far. The fear in me didn’t care about if it was a joke or not, all I could think about was the word ok, and how it started this all. The emotions I tried to hide from my parents caused so much stress, stress that trumped the embarrassment that came from telling my father. I still told my mother first. My face burying deep into her stomach as her hug was comforting me. A conversation I never thought would happen, I was telling my mom I was afraid to die, that I didn’t want to get shot. She was the best comfort I ever had, her warm embrace never failed to calm me down. Yet she called for my dad. To my surprise, he had empathized with me too. He didn’t get mad at the actions I took. He simply informed me on how to make it better. My parents were born and raised in Brooklyn. My dad in particular had a dangerous childhood. His fists were calloused ever since he was small, his attitude even more. He saw life go by before his eyes and when he looked at me, he looked at me in my eyes, into my soul, as if he was well too acquainted with this situation.
…….“Listen very closely,” he said. My tears dried as soon as he spoke. My hopes rose as his next words would surely solve my dilemma. “When you’re walking to school tomorrow, I want you to pick up a rock and keep it with you. Then if he presses you out, I want you to say this.” My eyes were wide in shock as I listened to his next words. “Say: You’re not getting any FUCKING money, then throw the rock at his head, and don’t miss.”
…….My mother said nothing. I couldn’t believe the words I was hearing. Throwing a rock at his head could surely kill, yet here my dad was, telling me to end this boy, and what was I to do?
…….At this point, there was no other solution. My parents wouldn’t dare pay that kid. This was my father’s tried and true method. To him, it was foolproof.
…….“Ok.” And that was all I could say. He made me repeat the phrase, and I’d be lying if it didn’t boost my confidence a little, but mostly, it was building up my resolve. There was no going back.
…….The next day in the cafeteria, Sylvester came up to me again.
…….“So where my money”
…….Suddenly, my mind echoed that phrase, knowing what would happen. I needed to steel myself, I was angry at the fact that I was scared, that this grief was caused by a hat, that I had let it go this long, and that there was no other option than this or being a snitch. My lips quivered, my voice a bit shaky, but I furrowed my brow, looked him in the eye, and mustered the deepest voice a sixth-grader could.
…….“You’re not getting any FUCKING money.”
…….He looked at me, then looked to the side, and chuckled. He moved closer toward me, almost to hide it in front of the cafeteria aids, and delivered a blow to my guts. It wasn’t full force, and I could tell, but my adrenaline flowed. I pushed him away and stood up then pushed him again. He didn’t try to fight back, but now the cafeteria was lively. It was now or never.
…….So I charged at him.
…….And then I got demolished. It happened so fast I couldn’t even tell you how it happened, except at one point I got launched into a lunch table. The cafeteria aids felt bad for me. I barely got questioned and got sent back to class. I couldn’t talk to anyone, the embarrassment overwhelmed me, but to my surprise, my classmates were just awestruck. Sylvester wasn’t just intimidating to me, he was known as someone not to fight. My classmates respected me for doing such a stupid act.
…….After that day, I never saw Sylvester again. Maybe winning that fight had worse consequences.
Isaiah Frederick studies psychology at Towson University. His passion is writing—especially poetry—and his goal is to immerse others in his work.