The basketball hoop had rusted from years of moisture and air. The asphalt was dry and cracked from years of disuse. The fence had a few places missing and some of it slumped over with nothing to keep it up. Graffiti covered the red brick wall on the east side. Despite the years, this place still felt like home to the kids of the city.
In the bright lights of this bigger city, one could make out a group of people. They were like planets in a disorganized orbit. There was one in the northwest corner, two around the basketball hoop, two against the graffiti-covered wall, and one leaning against the door-like gate on the southwest side.
Among the group and one of the two around the hoop was Amaru Curtis, unofficial captain of the Wallins High School Purple Devils. He had on a faded, sapphire graphic tee of Scooby Doo; some wrangler jeans; and dirty, off-color white sneakers. His once long and curly hair had become a buzz cut fade and he was starting to grow a beard.
Curled up next to Amaru, holding him tight for warmth, was his long-time girlfriend, Teyana Saylor. She had on a gray hoodie that was too big for her, a "gift" from Amaru, and some faded pink jeans that hugged her curvy figure. She had her chocolate brown hair tied up into a bun and wore little makeup.
Bronson Major sat with his back against the graffiti-covered wall. He had on an orange long sleeve with a bunch of crimson and green and white and pink skulls added on later and some red striped black shorts. He shaved his hair recently and had a thick beard. Sitting near him with her back against the wall, Elizabeth Powell sipped her hot chocolate in a giant, metallic thermos. She wore a pink, fuzzy sweater and black sweatpants. Her blonde hair, inherited from her mother, fell to her lower back, grazing the concrete of the court.
In the northwest corner, America Smith balanced herself on the fence. She had her hair in a bun and wore a pink tee with a red heart on it and black leggings. In front of her, some distance away, was James Brown, leaning against the fence gate. He had on a white tee and sweatpants. He had short, shoulder length dreads tucked underneath a baseball cap.
All the subjects mentioned were black. Some were as dark as Bronson and America. Some were as light as Elizabeth, whose mother was white, but most were in the middle. Amaru was about as dark as his namesake, Tupac. Teyana was lighter than he but nowhere near as light as Elizabeth (who could pass for white). James was a bit darker but nowhere close to Bronson's night black color or America's jet black skin.
The subject of our subjects was their race, their skin, and their place in society. In the news, there were reports of a police shooting that happened in Chicago. White cop, black man. That may be five hundred miles away but it felt like someone they knew, someone they loved.
Amaru started the conversation with a single word. "Damn."
"Fuck the police," James spat out, anger in his voice.
"Hey," America exclaimed. "My dad's a cop. They're not all killers."
"One bad apple don't spoil the whole bunch, but there's too many bad apples. It's time to cut the whole tree down, " James retorted. "And a good cop is a dead cop."
"Nigga, you want to say that to my face?" shouted America, hopping off the fence.
"Bitch, I am."
She started walking, anger in her eyes and wrath in her heart. He started walking to meet her before Amaru shouted at them. "We're not here for Fight Club. We're here to talk. Some bad things are going to get said. We can't meet them with fists."
The two hormone-addled teenagers listened and went back to their corners. This time James sat and stretched himself out in front of the door like a cat. America sat with her legs crossed. Both fumed, silent.
"Luckily, you're the dad of the group," Bronson joked. No one laughed.
"What even happened? All this news has been confusing, " Elizabeth wondered.
"A pig shot a nigga. Enough said," James snarled, his words directed America's way.
She scowled. Amaru shot James an icy stare.
"Uh," Teyana trailed off for a second to think. "This black guy named Chris Richards, I think, was walking out of some convenience store. This cop saw him and thought he was the same guy who robbed it a week before. Something happened and the cop, some guy named Bobby Ellison shot Chris and killed him."
"What happened is Bobby saw a black man and decided it was hunting season. That was no accident," James snapped.
"Maybe it was an accident. A lot can happ-"
"America, you're nothing but a cop defender. You're a lot like the country. You always want to keep black people down. You're a fucking Uncle Tom." A punch to the eye was America's response.
"Calm down, y'all." Amaru broke up the fight and decided that America will sit next to him and Teyana. James would sit next to Bronson who was much bigger and stronger than him.
"I ain't telling y'all again. We're here to talk, not fight. Now, I don't believe it was an accident but I don't believe it was 'hunting season.' Alright?" Amaru looked to the two he was addressing for confirmation who nodded their heads for a "yes."
"What did the guy look like? The victim?" asked America.
"Dark like me. Salt-and-pepper beard. Bald. Basically, an older looking me, " Bronson responded.
"Would they have shot him if he was light-skinned?" asked Elizabeth.
Bronson shrugged. "Who knows?"
"Do the police -- I mean, the bad police -- know the difference? If you're black, you're black, " James remarked.
"Who knows?" Bronson repeated.
"It doesn't matter if he's dark or light. It doesn't matter if his skin color caused it. The question is how to stop it," Teyana pointed out.
"Abolish the police," James stated.
"And who will stop criminals?" asked America.
"I don't need no cop to protect me."
"Oh, so you got a prison in that house of yours? Is your mamaw the warden?"
James prepared to get up but got stopped by Bronson's large hand. Amaru shot America a death glare. "Do I have to gag y'all? Do I need to shove a literal sock in your mouths to keep y'all from arguing."
Bronson joked, "They argue like an old married couple.'' James and America gave him death glares.
"We can have the cops look like the communities they police," Teyana said, putting the conversation back on track.
Elizabeth said, "That'd be a great idea. We could also disarm cops like they do in Britain."
"How the hell do you do any police work without guns?" America asked, flabbergasted.
"They do it in Britain," Elizabeth muttered.
Amaru spoke up and stopped another argument from happening. "It's an idea and a good one."
"What if we lowered poverty? Do police shootings happen in rich, black neighborhoods?" America asked. Everyone looked Bronson's way.
"The hell you niggas looking at?"
"Ain't your dad a doctor?" James asked.
"Yeah? He's a surgeon."
"And ain't your mom a doctor?" asked Amaru.
"Yeah? She's been an OBGYN since before she came here from Nigeria."
"So, ain't you rich, nigga?" James asked.
Amaru asked, "How much crime is in your neighborhood? Don't you live on the mountain over the city where all the doctors and lawyers live?"
"You mean Mount Pleasant? Yeah, I live there. Cops come by sometimes. There's really not much crime. There's really no reason to commit any since most houses make half a million or more. Last one that I remember was some guy trying to steal Dr. Banerjee's TV two months ago."
"There's your answer. You poor? Tough luck. You got money? How can we serve you?" James ranted.
Bronson got a bit angry at this and bellowed in his deep, booming voice, "I got pulled over by a bad cop one time because he thought my car was too nice. You think he took one look at me and thought I might be Wallace Major's boy? He saw a black guy in an expensive ass Mercedes and thought he must've stolen it."
With his voice hinting his question had an ulterior motive, James asked, "Liz, your mom's a lawyer, right?"
"There any crime in your neighborhood?"
"Me and Bron live in the same neighborhood, so no."
"Have you ever been profiled?"
"No. My dad was, once."
"There you go. It seems that if you're white, you're alright."
"I'm not white."
"Blonde hair, green eyes, light skin. Could've fooled me."
"I got these eyes from my dad. Who made you King of the Blacks? What gives you the right to judge who's black and who's not?" Elizabeth shouted in her squeaky, high-pitched voice. "You look in the mirror lately? You're pretty light compared to Bron and Erica."
James rolled his eyes. He didn't want to get punched again, especially not by someone so sweet and innocent. Elizabeth wouldn't hurt a fly, but James might push her to become a venus flytrap.
Teyana checked her watch. "It's getting late, y'all."
"What time is it?" Amaru asked.
"Half past midnight."
"Tell me when it's one. We'll leave then."
"Sorry, man. My mom's going to kill me. I got to get home," Bronson said, worried.
"See you, man. Don't forget we got weekend practice at ten tomorrow morning,"
Amaru reminded Bronson.
"Alright, man. I'll see you guys." Bronson walked out of the basketball court and turned a corner and vanished into the night.
"America, I forgot to ask you if you've ever been profiled," James mentioned with a mischievous look in his eye.
"Why do you say that?"
"Your dad's a cop."
"And you think that stops me from being profiled?"
America yawned. "Nigga, I'm too tired to argue. I will say that my brother got profiled.
He even got put in jail."
James seemed surprised. "Really?"
"Yeah. My dad had to-" She yawned. "He had to get everything cleared up. I think
Bronson had the right idea. I'm going to bed, y'all. Goodnight." She got up, gave
Elizabeth and Teyana a hug, and gave James an icy stare before heading upstreet.
"I got a busy day tomorrow (well, today I guess). I have to go to Mrs. Ambrose's and clean up that junk in her backyard," James mentioned.
"You her butler?" Teyana asked.
"No, my dad and I run a junk shop. You ever watch Sanford and Son? We do that. We agreed to haul all that old ass junk she's got in her backyard and I'm supposed to do that around noon."
"How much money you guys make?" Amaru asked.
"Dad never tells me how much the store makes, but he pays me about $200 to haul junk."
"Damn. I got to get a job soon. Mom's been bugging me."
"Yeah. Well, I should head home. It's like forty minutes to my house. See you guys."
As James was about to leave the court, Teyana's husky yet honeyed voice stopped him dead in his tracks with only five words. "You should apologize to America."
He looked over his shoulder. "Why?"
"You know why. What if someone told you that all junk dealers were bad people? America loves her dad. You need to apologize. She only lives twenty minutes away on foot."
"Sure. If I run, I can catch her." He then ran upstreet like he was an Olympic runner and America was the goal.
"I should call my mom. She'll probably get here by one, " Elizabeth said as she started dialing and calling.
After seeing her hang up, Teyana asked, "Liz, earlier you said you ain't white. Do you not embrace that side of you or what? Sorry if that offends you or something."
"It doesn't offend me, Tey. I'm surprised James didn't ask, honestly. I'm not white and I'm not black. I'm white and black. I'm a little Appalachian mixed girl."
"That's pretty cool. My papaw was a white-passing melungeon. He was what they call an octoroon, an eighth black. He was also a quarter Shawnee."
"My mom's melungeon and I think my dad is."
Teyana looked up to Amaru. "What about you, babe?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. I'm not a weirdo like you two."
"Weird? We're getting you a DNA test."
Teyana had a mischievous smile, knowing she was getting on his nerves. "Because they're cool. I'm ordering one for you tomorrow."
"You two are cute," Elizabeth mentioned.
A red and white sedan came up the road and stopped at the court. The lights clicked on, showing a blonde middle aged white woman in the driver's seat. She had on an oversized white tee and gray jogging pants.
"That's my mom. I guess she really wants me home. Bye, guys."
As Elizabeth got in, the passenger window rolled down. "Do y'all need a lift?" asked Elizabeth's mom.
Amaru responded, "Thanks for the offer but we live right around the camera, Mrs. Powell."
"We're fine, Mrs. Powell. See you at church, " Teyana said.
"Alright. Be safe, guys." Her sedan drove off and vanished into the ocean of streetlights.
"Well, what should we do now, babe?" asked Teyana.
"Probably get up. Not leave, just get up. My legs fell asleep."
Amaru got up, having to balance himself on the graffiti-covered wall, and stood at an awkward angle. Teyana walked around like a tourist observing the sights.
"I remember spending so much time here. I'd hang out on the sidelines and watch y'all. Sometimes, I'd even join in. Other days, me and Ayesha and Octavia would jump rope or get some chalk and draw some game."
"Whatever happened to them?" Amaru asked as the feeling started returning to his legs.
"Ayesha and Octavia? Ayesha got pregnant when she was fourteen. She dropped out soon after. I don't know where she went. Octavia got addicted to crack. I haven't seen her in two years."
"It's sad we can say that so matter-of-fact. It's so common that there's no need for tears."
"Hey, what happened to Marcus and Ray and Johnny and all those guys you used to play ball with?"
"Same thing. Ray's a dad now. Johnny's a heroin dealer. Marcus is in prison. Marcellus is some fucking racist. Last time we talked, he called a dirty monkey. I fucking cried that night.
I've been called racist shit before. It don't bother me, but Marcellus was my best friend." Amaru's voice cracked and Teyana could hear him cry.
Teyana held him in her arms and told him that it's ok. Let it out. Her words made the tears flow like a running faucet. She walked with him around a corner and they started home.
Amaru mumbled through the tears, "Everything's changed. They're all gone."