From the living room window of a two-story rental, Abbas Abdullah stood looking beyond his gated front yard to the end of the block. He lived on a dead-end street, so he had a clear sight line from his house. Being a warm, sunny day, a lot of children were out. The sidewalk and street was congested with their exuberant play. He watched a ponytailed black girl tag a portly brown boy real good with a blue water balloon. Unfortunately, the boy had difficulty returning the favour. Blame it on his bad aim and slow feet.
Watching them, it brought up his own days of summer. Basketball games on a bicycle rim goal, foot racing up and down the street, stick ball, pitching pennies, and flying paper airplanes. But his daydream suddenly burst when this tall ebony-skinned figure entered it. A youthful looking Rastafarian wearing what looked like Air-Jordans, blue jeans, and matching crew neck T-shirt that sparkled. Soon the young man tied his hair and began jumping into and out of a game of double Dutch.
He did it so easily. No one looking like him had done that in a while. Most boys don’t play girlish street games. Except for one, but he didn’t stay around here. That was for sure. But the more Abbas saw of him, the more recognisable he became. It dawned on him: “damn, that’s my son!” He hadn’t seen him in years, but knew it was him by his swagger, and the occasional stoppage of children and neighbours, all clamouring to talk to him. His son would arrive shortly. Now Abbas wished he had left earlier, but it was too late now.
Now he must face him. So he shut the blinds, hurried into the kitchen to do a bit of straightening up, which only took seconds. It required unfolding two ugly patterned lawn chairs. The rest of the house was in order. The main floor was decorated with east facing prayer rugs. Once Jaybird reached the address, he stood there and looked at it, realising that this was it, there was no turning back. So through the gate and up the porch he went, pressing the doorbell, followed by a series of hard knocks, before peeping through the door, and catching a shadowy movement. “Hugo! Hugo! I know you’re in there! Mrs. Hattie’s car is in the driveway! So open up!”
The figure appeared, striding toward the door, looking pissed. He resented being called by his slave-name, a name he legally disowned. The door swung open, and he greeted his son: “Assalamualaikum.”
“What’s up, pops?” Jaybird replied, but before he could offer anything else his father gave him the riot act, setting the mood. No love was shared. Neither a hug, nor dap; not even a head nod. “Say boy, I’m only going to say this once, so listen up. Hugo is dead, alright, including his past. He doesn’t exist, so keep his name out of your mouth. Think of him as being written out of history. Hugo D’Goirme died back in jail, you got that?”
“Yeah pops, I got it. No problem.”
“So, for now on, my name is Abbas Abdullah. Now if you can’t handle that, if it’s a problem for you, you can get out right now. You dig?” Then he shut the door, turned, and walked off. Jaybird sighed, then followed him down the hallway into a redone kitchen. It had undergone long overdue home improvements. All the retro stuff and colours were gone. Now it looked more modern, futuristic almost, with its open concept, large island, and marble countertops.
Too bad it was cluttered. Bound stacks of newspapers, brochures, and pamphlets were strewn everywhere. Abbas watched his son thumb through them meticulously. “Say,” said Jaybird, “aren’t these sold by those paperboy pimps? You know, those dudes dressed in dark suits and bowties hassling people on street corners. So that’s you now?” His father resented the characterisation, but defended the perception that black folk need Allah, his message, and messenger more than ever. Black men should forego western civilisation and accept what they had to offer. A black theology and becoming a sector of society dedicated to returning Earth to paradise again.
So this is what he is now, one of them, Jaybird thought. However, his father had given up his old ways. He gave him that. Cigarette and roach filled ashtrays were noticeably absent, burnt spoons, as were empty baggies and zip locks. Gone were all the leftover bottles and cans of liquor and beer. Jaybird’s curiosity extended into the refrigerator. It was full of food – kind of. Containers of varying shapes, sizes, and colours shared shelf space with foil-covered paper plates, a stick of butter, half a dozen eggs, a loaf of bread, a pitcher of water, and a pint of milk. Clearly, he was being fed and the handwritten labels told him who did.
“Take a seat,” Abbas said, then stared at his son’s necklace. “That’s a nice chain you got there.”
“I know, huh?” Jaybird replied. “The medallion is a combination of family heirlooms. I designed it using all the old broken jewellery. I bought the chain to display it.”
“I’d be careful wearing that thing around here,” Abbas replied. “You’re far from home, you know. This side of town isn’t like where you live.”
“And where’s that?” Jaybird said. “It looks just like this neighbourhood, a very nice cul-de-sac, and not some ghetto.”
“So what brought you?”
“Family, who else?” Jaybird said, adjusting himself. “Mrs. Hattie talked me into it. Saying, I should come see. So here I am.”
“I see, so my mama sent you. Now that’s funny,” Abbas said. “I saw you coming. That chain there did it. So where’s your car? Have you outgrown it now?”
“It’s back at her house. Besides, it’s a beautiful day. I don’t mind catching the city bus and walking to get over here. It’s good for the soul. You get grounded looking at the lives of other people. Some don’t have it so good, but work hard to get it. I respect that.”
“Like you’d know.”
Jaybird ignored his slur. He didn’t come over here to get into it with him. Even though he should’ve. He came to find out just how far his father had jumped down the rabbit hole.
“So how was jail?”
“Jail was jail!”
“Meaning, I wouldn’t’ve been in there if it wasn’t for her. Now what mother in her right mind turns in her only son? I told her I wasn’t going anywhere.”
Jaybird cocked his head, looked at Abbas all funny, both reactions saying his father sure could lie. Abbas must have selectively forgotten that he had threatened to jump bail, fearing his upcoming trial date, and charge of involuntary manslaughter and assault of a police officer. To him, it didn’t matter that he had accidentally put a man in the morgue. And over some cute redbone woman, too. He even sent a white cop to the hospital just for trying to break up a tavern fight. Like, how dare he use a choke hold to restrain him from behind. Up until then, he had dodged the white man’s justice system, of being criminalised, knowing once there the odds didn’t favour him.
Somehow, it didn’t matter that he had one of the best law firms representing him. Secured for him by the preacher and his mother’s clout. So when word got back to Hattie one Sunday service that her son was thinking about jumping bail, by not attending court, but absconding altogether, and with that redbone from the tavern; he didn’t care if the state confiscated his mother’s home and rental properties – he wanted his freedom. That was what was important. So that Monday morning when she woke up, fixed him a big breakfast, and ironed his clothes, she phoned downtown once it opened to have his bond revoked and him arrested.
Perhaps all that babying ruined him, turning him into one selfish, sour brat, and a dick no less, without any ambition and shame. Still, she stood behind him; no! held his hand throughout it all, no matter what. Mrs. Hattie worked hard for thirty years cleaning up behind white people at the hospital and flipped what money she saved up and her husband left to make their lives better. Her son had absolutely no reason to do what he did. She had taken pride in the fact that he never had to beg, borrow, or steal from white folk or anyone to survive. So, he had it good, real good for a black man. But he didn’t see it that way. Oh no, not him, he got sassier as he got older, taking liberties with her love and purse, knowing full well she wouldn’t discipline him. So, instead of being himself, a black boy with rare privileges and a unique history, he chose to go out and act like a common nigger, and that hurt her deeply, right down to the marrow.
“So, was it worth it?”
“You’re asking the wrong person. Go ask her.”
“I did. Now, I’m asking you.”
Abbas gave him a venomous look. “You better watch that mouth, boy. I told you once already that I’ll put you out. Matter of fact, I don’t have a son. Mother neither. So why are you in my house?”
“Now that’s good to know,” remarked Jaybird. “Like I said, I felt obligated. Also, I didn’t think you’d give up the family name. Not until I heard it at the front door. So, what’s up with that? You do know, few black folks have that last name. It’s three centuries old. It’s also a place name for where our ancestors are buried. From Mrs. Hattie’s father to his mother’s father’s descendants. That makes us special even if others don’t know it. We have a history.”
“You can have it,” Abbas replied, “I can do without it. Name too. Since I’m not entitled to the same privileges tied to it.”
“Say what?” Jaybird stood up. “Grandma treated you like a prince. Nigger, you got a lot of nerve.”
“Whatever?” His father rose, agitated. “Listen boy, I don’t have time to shoot the breeze with you. I told you I had to be somewhere and I can’t do that with you here. So let’s go, rise like yeast.”
“My bad paperboy pimp,” Jaybird mocked. “The money must be good, huh, pops; standing on street corners all day pushing such objectionable literature. This stuff right here is supposed to cure black despair and pay the bills? Get real.”
“What do you know?”
“I know that I don’t know,” Jaybird replied.
“So you say.”
“I do say,” Jaybird fired back. “Say, put this in your next edition: ‘As third-world citizens, black folk should give serious consideration to finding the proper tool to dismantle the systems that harms them. History catalogues and categorises those who won and with what, including how long they reigned, and its effectiveness. But know that whatever path is chosen it is seldom done quietly. It’s been fought for. Blood is the price even when it’s a philosophy that transcends geography. Recognise that truth and embrace it.’ Print that!” Jaybird left him there.
Abbas didn’t expect that, not from him. “Fuck you,” he hollered. “Keep your damn Irish name, one born out of slavery. Now go and get out. Go back to where you came from motherfucker.” Jaybird stormed out, through the front door, down the porch, outside the gate, and began pacing. Soon thereafter, Abbas came out and began putting his propaganda into his mother’s car. Jaybird just stood afar, looking at him, shaking his head. He then walked up, lifted his t-shirt, and withdrew a thick certified brown envelope from his back pocket and put it into his face.
“This is for you,” Jaybird said, handing it to him. “Here’s why I came.” Then he left how he came, back up the block, beyond the children still playing, waving goodbye until he disappeared. Abbas stared at it, recognising the law firm’s name and return address, so he opened it, removed its contents, and unfolded a cotton letter and other documents. Reading them intently, he then sat on the hood of the car. To his surprise, he learned right then and there that he’d been disinherited. Enclosed was the deed to the house he was living in, the car title, and a gracious cashier’s check, likely for the amount it would’ve cost to have him buried with his ancestors. There was also a personal letter enclosed, signed by all the elders, wishing him good luck in all future endeavours, and that he should never contact any of them or their extended family for any reason whatsoever. They all had been notified by certified letter.
About The Author
Wayne McCray was born in East St. Louis, Illinois, in 1965, and grew up in Chicago until 1984. He attended Southern University A and M College in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He currently lives in Itta Bena, Mississippi, enjoying country life. His writings have appeared in Afro Literary Magazine, The Bookends Review, Chitro Magazine, Drunk Monkey, The Ocotillo Review, Ogma Magazine, Pigeon Review, The Rush Magazine, and Wingless Dreamer.
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