I & I
Now I’m in this van. . . .
All I want is my money; the cash Shakim owes me. Loaned him a C over the summer cuz we’z boys from back in the day—or else I wouldn’t a loaned him shit. He’s working the slopes for Jus, using too. Be he hooked me up last semester when I was short for books, so I said, “OK, Shak, I’ll put you D.” But now financial aid said the loan I was supposed to get—I ain’t getting. Counselor said shit’s more “stringent.” So now I need all my money.
“Don’t worry ’bout it homeboy. Meet me up on the Boulevard at 4 o’clock. CCNY is on me. . . .”
5 o’clock came and the boy wasn’t nowhere near Adam Clayton Powell! More like Malcom X.
So I cut through a couple of lots, jet into the burnt out building, climb the rickety stairs, and knock on 2B’s sheet metal door.
“Yo, Shakim, it’s me!”
The doors open. Him and his boys scaling serious snow on the triple beam. House beats pumping. One light bulb dangling from the chipped ceiling. Everybody talking ‘bout “getting paid in full, paid in full.” He’s trying to get me to chill, but I’m not wit it: “Yo, Shak, just hook me so I can break.”
DON’T—DON”T NOBODY MOVE!
German Sheppard’s on our ass. Shotguns pumped. .45s aimed. No time to think twice. Cuffs crunch, lock, rip into skin. A tear streams down my face, mixing with the dirt and gravel I’m trying to spit out the side of my mouth. The Beast’s forearm on my neck, flashlight in my eye. My wallet opened, pressed against my face
“You Owen Chandler?”
“You’re going to have a lot of time to study now.”
Caught the Rodney King beat down on the way to the station for no other reason but the obvious.
Now I’m in this van. . . .
No light. No ventilation. Can’t hardly breathe from the smell of sweat and anger. Babylon production in full effect, a Neo-Middle Passage constructed by the Beast. Rough riding to Brooklyn, borough of kings, 20 of us—shackled, arms, legs, chain-gang style. Trying to remember how to breathe, how to jailhouse box, how to roll a winning combo for celo—is it 4, 5, 6? Damn! I need all my education from the University of the Streets.
“I’m sorry, there’s less money this year. Don’t you have family or relatives you can borrow the money from?. . . Guidelines are more stringent this year. . . .”
Chill. I & I seen all a that: False concern manifesting existentially. Unviable options from casa blanca colonizers. Ronnie, the sequel, cold rockin’ the Establishment’s collegiate version of the IRS. Voodoo, Poppy called it. Education of the oppressed, take one, take two, take ad infinitum. For real this time. . . .again. Bet—I and I, speak, seen, to me, all a that—word. Alchemizing foundations of tinsel and bad luck like Drew and transfusions. EZ, my knowledge, myself. . . .I and I. . . .through the eye of the needle I can still see medina, whole. Cuz this is Maasai from the Nile, just in wrong place, wrong time, not destiny. . . .
I and I seen all a that.
Down…for weeks, days hours…
Big C.O. brother shouted outside my cell, “Chandler! You made bail!”
He grinned, like you lucky son-of-a-bitch.
I got in his grill, “What?” Grabbed my nuts, like fuck you.
His grin broadened as he crunched his knuckles in his fist: “You’ll be back.”
I calmed down, got my cool back, looked him up and down like he wasn’t shit: “The first ones Nat Turner killed were the nigga overseers, right?” I laughed. Stepped. “Read about my case baby boy! It’s going to be in all the papers!”
I had told her not to do it, but she put all the money Columbia University had given her on the table. “Not my prince! Not my king!” She hugged me vice tight, whispered three words, which I echoed, and echoed again years later, after we had sued NYPD, and again years later when the dawn broke on our honeymoon villa overlooking Italy’s glorious sun-splashed Amalfi coastline.
Yeah, I and I seen all a that.