“I don’t need to go to that shit, because I’m just fine without it.”
Donna watched him intently as hung one long, sinewy arm from the metal rail and thoughtlessly chewed at the skin around his fingernails.
“It can’t hurt. Besides what else you got going on”
“I have things…” he said unconvincingly.
Chris sat down again, legs agape, and began to chew on the nail beds of his other hand. He nibbled and gnawed until the dark brown skin around his fingers was baby pink. Even as a child his hands gave away when he was anxious or distracted. Their mother had threatened to chop off his fingers with a butcher’s knife when he was five for his absentminded habit. “You won’t have nothing else to bite off of,” she told him. But his hard-headedness was evident even then. He replied “I’ll just chew on what’s left.”
Donna swayed as the bus rocked over the rough patches of H st. The city was re-paving the stretch of road that separated the money in Northwest from the struggle in Northeast. Little cafes had already started to crop up near where people who worked downtown were no longer afraid to jog in the neighborhood at night.
“Look Chris, I’ll make you a deal. I will pay you to keep going to your sessions, like every week like you have been,” Donna said. It was her last resort. “And if you can’t do that, then I’ll pay you just to take your medicine again.”
His eyes glimmered. “For real?”
He pondered, for a moment, the thought of free money, all for doing what he was supposed to do anyway. But the warmth of his sister’s offer held unspoken attachments. And he knew that money could be better used for other things.
“But,” she added, “it means you have to go, today, to your class. And show me all the work you did when you get home. And be home by…”
Chris got up again. His 6’’0 frame took up their section of the bus. His voice was cool as water.
“Nah, I’m good”
“Fine.” Donna rolled her eyes and looked away. “Just know you can’t keep operating like this.”
Her soft jaw hardened into an angular bit of stone.
“I’ll go. Next time.”
Chris pulled the dingy yellow chord and the bus came to a halt at Benning Road. He pushed his way to the front to meet G waiting at the stop.
Donna watched her brother and his best friend head towards the carryout. Such a large gulf had never existed between her and her younger brother. She turned in the opposite direction and walked home. I wish he would just focus, she thought. Maybe he needs an intervention. Since their mother’s cancer diagnosis he had been erratic, stopped going to class, stopped taking his medicine, stopped caring. Medical bills became the silent noose that slipped itself snugly over the family, threatening to choke out their lives. She struggled to go to school and take care of their mother and earn extra money. Now “keeping Chris out of trouble” was added to the list.
She sensed a creeping darkness out of the corner of her eye before she realized it was a black SUV, crawling beside her on the street. Her heart quickened.
“Can I get some fries wit that shake, mmm!” he yelled from the driver’s seat. He laughed.
Donna kept walking and tried to ignore the catcall.
“Dee, girl stop playin’!”
She exhaled loudly and turned around. Her annoyance dissolved into mild amusement when she realized it was her high school boyfriend Bernard and his right hand man, Miguel.
“Really, though, Bernard?” She face fought back a smirk.
Bernard pulled over. He got out of the car and embraced her in a hug. Almost out of habit she rested her head in the crook of his neck. He smelled clean, like soap and fresh laundry. Despite his dubious career path and the years that separated the end of their relationship warmth of their bond lay just beneath the surface.
“How you doing? I heard about your moms.”
Donna pulled away. “I’m – we’re, we’re good. Just holding on the best we can.”
“Oh, ok cool,” he replied.
“What about you? What are you doing around here?”
“Well, I was looking for you,” he grinned sheepishly. “Actually I need to talk to you about your brother.”
“Yeah. He came through the other day. He was talking about getting down with my crew.”
Donna felt herself tighten. She spoke in a dangerously low tone.
“Look, I told him no. I just wanted to let you know. I don’t even think he remembered who I was, to be honest. I haven’t seen him since he was bout yay high,” he recollected.
“Thanks.” She turned to continue her walk home. Confronting the possibility that her only brother could follow in the footsteps of her first love turned her stomach.
“You need a ride or something?”
“No,” she answered curtly. Continue reading