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All They Got Was Paid Leave

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          I hear the school bell ring and I look up from the textbook that I try to engross myself in. I can’t stop thinking of how loud the bang was. I look around and see people packing their things and the teacher put the chalk down.
          “Class, before I let you out, let me hand back last weeks quiz,” he says. I let out a sigh and shift in my seat. Last week, I think to myself, forever ago. I get my quiz and I see a 100 written across the top in red and under it I see ‘Well Done!’ The red looks a lot lighter than blood. It seems more false to me. I just sigh and again and put it in my bag. It don’t even matter. I sling my bag over my shoulder and walk out. Tina and Jay are waiting for me. They look at me with ease in their eyes and heaviness in their hearts. I just nod at them. They nod back and I keep walking. I know what they thinking, or talking about.
           “We should make sure he’s okay, that’s not something he can just let go,” I feel my chest concave as I try to breathe in. I get to the bikes that rest at the edge of the building. I see group of kids just chilling. I can’t help but think who they going back to, or what. An empty house? Two parents waiting for them? A nice picket fence neighbourhood? A project apartment? An empty TV stand where pictures used to be? Broken promises? I try and shake it off but I can’t. I just shake my head instead and get on my bike. As I push the pedals, I try and focus on what my feet are doing. Petal left, petal right, petal left, petal right. I can’t stop thinking of the dark pool of crimson coming out my brothers body just 3 nights ago. I shiver. I see the red and blue lights. I hear the yelling of police. I shake my head again, and accidentally swerve the handle bar. S***, I think to myself. I try and focus again. Petal left, petal right, petal left, petal right. It’s hard. I go to a small corner shop and buy a pack of Marlboro cigarettes and a lighter. I take a seat on the stoop and start remembering, but this time I allow myself.

          It was me and Cory and Darnell and JB. Just the four of us. We were walking down the street.
         “Let’s jaywalk it,” Cory said. I looked at my older brother. His eyes were a dark whiskey colour. All of us said sure. We ain’t see the cop car parked far, far down the street. We looked both ways and Cory taped my shoulder to signal the go. We jogged to the other side and kept walking. All of a sudden the cop car started rushing its way to us, as if to deliver news. We stopped walking as it stopped. The sirens were off but the lights were still going. Two cops came out. Both in their uniform with their badges screaming pride. One was pudgy and a little shorter than my 6 ft. 2. The other was about my height and well built. They made their way towards us and asked us what we were doing.
          “We’re just walking” Darnell responded. None of us dare to look either of them in the eye. We’ve heard stories of folks just minding their business and getting 7 wonder shots in their vessels that carried their souls.
          “You weren’t just walking,” the tall one said as he came closer. You could see the arrogance on his chest. “We saw you 4 jaywalking” none of us said anything. The pudgy one walked behind him and was looking at all of us. We were in a straight line.
          “Are you aware that it’s a crime,” he said. His breath smelt of stale coffee and anger. We all nodded but we didn’t say anything. None of us dare to face them.
          “What? Are you boys too stupid to respond?” The tall one asked. I could hear his smirk. None of us said anything. I saw Cory clench his fists. He knew a guy who was killed by an officer a year ago. I wanted to put my hand against his forearm, to tell him to relax, but I didn’t dare move. The fear nailed my shoes to the cement concrete and I felt all my veins shiver. “Get on your knees,” he said. We all looked at them but none of us could look him in the eye. We didn’t move. The pudgy one stopped walking.
          “You heard him, get on your f***ing knees!” he barks. None of us moved. “Did you f***ing hear us? Get on your f***ing knees, now!” JB was the first to follow the rules. We get down one by one. The concrete was hard on my knees and my right knee was on a crack. It hurt.
          “Hands over your head,” the tall one demanded. We all follow. “I should take all of you to jail right now.” I could feel my bones shake in me. I tried my best not to let the fear seep through my skin. We all looked down. All I saw were the red and blue lights that were slowly combining to a soft yet intense purple. “Sit down,” he ordered. We all sat cross-legged. The pudgy one is behind us now.

          “Hands behind our back,” he said. We all look up in panic. None of us had done anything. Darnell spoke up.
          “No!” he yelled. The tall one stands in front of his.
          “Excuse me?” he asks.
          “We ain’t done nothing, you can’t just cuff us and take us in” Darnell responded. I can hear the tang of fear on his tongue. The cop bent down in front of him.
          “I can do whatever the f*** I want, you stupid motherfucker,” the anger in his voices became prevalent.
          “Don’t f***ing talk to him like that, he ain’t do nothing. None of us ain’t do nothing!” Cory said. My heart stopped. S***, s***, s***, I thought to myself. I couldn’t tell him to shut up. The pudgy one kicked him in the back and we all heard the loud thud.
          “Lay on the f***ing ground,” the tall one demanded. We all followed. Darnell starts to say something that I can’t remember.
          “Calm down nigga, it’s cool, they can’t do anything,” Cory cooed.
          “That’s right, calm down you f***ing n*****,” the pudgy one said with a smirk. JB looked up and started to yell at the officer to not say that.
          “Shut the f*** up” the tall one yelled.
          “You shut the f*** up!” Cory yelled back. I stayed silent, fear gripping my throat. The pudgy one started to put his knee on Cory’s back. The tall on is on JB. Darnell and I got up and started trying to fight them off.
          “Get the f*** off him!” I yelled at the pudgy one. He pushed me back down on my stomach and put his knee on my back. The tall one did the same to Darnell. I could hear them call for back up. I tried to breathe in but it was coming in too short. They put cuffs on us.
          “Get the f*** off of us,” I yelled again. They were still calling for back up. Cory managed to get the pudgy one off. Cory was taller than me by a few inches and bigger too. He got off of me and hit Cory in the face, and Cory fell on his knees, unable to break the chain that held his hands behind his back.
          “Don’t f***ing test me n*****,” he said as he put Cory on his stomach. I managed to get up and push him over. I heard a gun c*** behind me. The tall one got closer and Darnell and JB scramble to their feet, trying to get to the cops on us. We heard sirens in the distance. He was holding the gun up, as if to say Come closer and I’ll shoot. We all began to panic and fight them off, but we couldn’t use our hands. I heard more cops come out of their cars. 4 more approached us. They pealed Darnell, JB, and me off of them and put us to the ground. We were all yelling anger at one another. I heard Cory’s breathing get less the more he yelled. The sirens were still going off. The red and blue were a deep violet now. Too many men were on us. We were all still yelling. A shot went off and everyone stopped. The world fell silent. I got up and sit to see what happened. Darnell and JB were still and they turned to see what happened. I saw the tall officer standing and the pudgy one on his knees. I saw the tall one with the gun in his hand. I saw Cory turn to look at all of us. I saw the red slowly come out from his white shirt. It was coming out fast.
          “You shot me,” he told the tall officer. The tall officer looked stunned and dropped the gun. The pudgy one looked at us and back at Cory. “You shot me,” he said again. I heard Darnell and JB yell and the pudgy one rushes to uncuff us. The tall one began to uncuff Cory and lay him on his side. “You shot me,” he said again. “Y-You shot me,” he repeated.
          “Get a f***ing ambulance!” the pudgy one shouted. The other cops scrambled to their cars and started dialling 911.
          “Cory!” I yelled and rushed to him. I pushed the tall one out of the way and put pressure on his back where the red was spilling out of. Cory was still looking at the tall one who looked back at him in disbelief.
          “You shot me,” he said. “I ain’t do nothing and you shot me,” the blood started to come out of his mouth. It was dark. It looked nothing like it does in TV.
          “You f***ing shot him!” I yelled at the tall one. He looks at me in disbelief still.
          “You shot me, you shot me, what am I gone tell momma?” Cory looked at me. “What are you gone tell momma?” he asked again. I begin to cry. I look at the officer.
          “What the f*** am I gone tell our momma when she hear this? The men who are supposed to protect us shot my big brother. Her son.” I say with a shaking voice.
          “He shot me Junior, he shot me, he shot me,” He began to cry and I began to shake and I tried my best to keep my hand still. I start remembering Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie’s words in Half of a Yellow Sun. ‘The world was silent when we died.’ The world was so goddamn quiet. Too much blood was coming out and it was going out too fast. The blood from his mouth started to make a small pool by his lower lip and chin.
          “F***, don’t die Cory, please don’t die,” I said as I held him tight. My whole body began to tremble at the thought of losing him. He was my big brother.
          “Tell me something nice,” Cory requested. I looked at him confused through blurred vision, but I went ahead.
          “Remember that time, when I broke my arm in the 6th grade? And you found out it was because some big dude from the 8th grade shoved me so hard into the lockers that it broke? You was in high school at the time but that nigga was much bigger than you.” I laughed a little. I heard a weak chuckle come from him. “You came down to the school and you pushed him into the locker and threatened to hurt him so bad because you knew people who could,” Cory chuckled again. I’m still crying.
          “Yeah I remember,” he whispered. I could feel him getting weaker with every breath he took. There was a lot more blood and the crimson began to stain my grey sweatpants. “Don’t become a gang banger like dad, and don’t get involved with no drugs or alcohol and s***,” he said. I began to cry even harder.
          “I won’t because you’ll still be around to stop me from doing it,” I tried to mask my sobs with hope.
          “Just promise me you damn fool,” he demanded.
          “I promise,” I responded. He just nodded. I could feel his muscles loosen.
          “I love you,” he said. We never say that in our family unless something is really wrong. I took his hand. His grip was weak.
          “Cory no, no, no, no, no,” I cried out. “No!” and I felt his hand become lose in mine. I saw the last of his breath in the cold air. “NO!” I cried out. I kept saying no. I could hear JB and Darnell crying behind me. They had put their arms around me and we all began to cry even. An ambulance came and began to rip off Cory’s shirt so they could take out the bullet. I sat on the floor sobbing, knowing that he was gone. I could feel my sobs begin an earthquake from under me, but I didn’t care. I saw the tall cop talking to the paramedics. I kept crying and crying and crying. I saw the paramedic shake her head. They didn’t put in any wires in him or anything. They closed the back and drove off. I couldn’t move. The tall one made his way to me and began to mumble his apologies. I looked at him with a calm hate and shove off his hand from my shoulder. I get up–

          “Hey man, you good?” I hear Jay say, breaking my train of memory. I look up at him and Tina. I look down and see 11 cigarette butts and my face is covered in tears. I put the one in my hand out and I shake my head. Tina sits next to me and I just cry into her shoulder.
          “I can still hear him tell the cop he shot him. He shot him. He shot him,” I say through large sobs and tears. Jay comes to the other side of me and puts his arm around me. I keep crying.




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