A short story by D.F. Wharton
People don’t realize how big I am. They see me, and just because I’m young and small, they think I’m pussy. Well fuck that. I’m seventeen and I get money like any other man on the block. Anybody who think otherwise is just gonna have t’learn.
And I’m always havin’ t’teach’em. I’m always out here hustlin’ and gettin’ this money, but really I’m just out here provin’ myself, over and over, to the motherfuckers who think I ain’t ’bout this life. That means I always got t’be ready to throw down: fight with my fists or kill with my gun. I got a Ruger LC9, one in the chamber and 7 in the clip. It’s a real small gun but it fits perfect in my pocket, not noticeable. My mans gave it to me street ready, taped handgrip and the serial numbers filed down. When you’re a shooter you don’t have to go lookin’ for a gun, somebody’ll give one to you.
I started havin’ second thoughts about all this gangbangin’ shit last time I was locked up at Horizon but I didn’t let that shit be known. I held down the crib most of the time and popped as many bottles as I had to pop. If I go back now and stop jackin’ what I do, that shit’s gonna be perceived as weakness, and I’m no weak motherfucker. I’m strong. So that means I gotta keep going. Fuck it. This is me.
My case got thrown out of the courts because the law lost the witness. That’s all I’m gonna say about that. I had been locked up at Horizon eleven months. Now I’m out and I gotta prove myself again. So I’m out in the town, fightin’ who I got t’fight and sellin’ what I got t’sell, believin’ the lies I been tellin’ myself for my whole life for as long as I can remember. People don’t understand that I’m trapped.
Now I’m out on the corner, hustlin’ gettin’ this money. My man Ace rolled up on his feet and with the weed rolled up in the blunt. He gave me a nod and commenced to spark the Philly. He lit the blunt. Gangsta. He tried to pass the blunt to me but I declined.
I said, “No thanks, bro.”
“The fuck?” said Ace. “Since when you turn down a good thing?”
“That motherfucker Jackson around and I gotta feelin’ he gonna roll up. I aint tryin’ t’be smacked when he do.” I put my hand to my coat where my pistol was. I didn’t think about it. It was just an automatic response to what I knew was coming. “We at war right now and I gotta have my mind quick for a gunfight.”
“This shit right here,” said Ace, alluding to the burning weed between his fingertips, “this shit right here keeps me ready.”
I used to say shit like that. And I had partway believed it. But not anymore. It just feels good to get high. That’s the truth of it.
“Do your thing,” I said.
Last week I decided I wasn’t gonna smoke or drink before 6 or 7 p.m. anymore. And when I did, I was gonna be more careful about it, be more moderate. Now I only smoked or drank at the crib and only around certain people that I trusted. If I went to a party, or some shit where there was gonna be a lotta people, I went as a soldier, on duty, mind in the game. I had learned that nobody can really be trusted. More importantly, I had learned that I wanted to live. I might say I didn’t give a fuck, but that was a lie. Sometimes you gotta tell some motherfuckin’ lies.
“So be it,” said Ace.
I could tell he was disappointed but I pretended not to notice. At one time in my life he would have been able to call me a pussy and pressure me into smoking. But those days were over. If I was gonna smoke it would be on my own terms. I was becoming more of my own man, not giving into the pressure of my so-called friends, but I had a long way to go. I still felt trapped in the game.
Ace was cool but he didn’t realize that death was just around the corner. I could tell him and he would agree, but it was more like a song to him. A reason to get smacked. It was like he didn’t really believe it would happen to him or he had already surrendered to it. I knew that I would have to eventually turn my back on Ace if I was going to make the changes I wanted to make. He was going to die on these streets. To him, and the others like him, whoever stopped gangbangin’ was always gonna be a bitch who forgot where he was from. It’s funny how people like that had me trapped. It was like I couldn’t bear the thought of them sitting around without me, talkin’ ’bout how I turned pussy and ran from the life. Their opinions were controlling my life and I was starting to realize it. I never would have thought that the opinions of other people could be a kind of prison I was locked up in.
Ace said, “Yo, the fuck wrong wit you?”
“Not a damn thing,” I said.
Somebody turned the corner that didn’t look right. I eyed him and he was walking toward us. I couldn’t see his face for the hoody he was wearing. I put my hand to the pistol grip. Ace was still talking some bullshit but I wasn’t hearing him any longer. Ace noticed the change in my bearing but it was too late.
It’s always too late when it happens.
I had the Ruger out when Jackson fired the first shot into Ace’s back. Ace was trying to reach his gun as he lay on the sidewalk, bleeding. The smoke from the blunt lazily lingered into the air at his side. I was in a low crouch, weaving through the 3rd Avenue traffic, gun in hand. I still had yet to fire. More shots were fired but I don’t know how many. When I got to the other side of the street I took cover behind a post office mail box, one of the big blue joints. There were no more shots, and Jackson was gone.
I got low. I had the gun and the drugs and there was no way I was going back to Ace. I didn’t dwell on that. I found a spot where I could stay low. Fuckin’ Jackson. I knew that motherfucker was gonna come around. Fuck, I thought to myself. I didn’t even fuckin’ care anymore. I knew Jackson was gonna come. I wanted out. This game was bullshit.
I could get low from the law, but how was I gonna get low from my friends? I had been runnin’ from the law my whole life. And I was pretty good at it. But runnin’ from your people is a whole different kinda thing. I didn’t know if I could do it. Should I try?