Home > When You Look Like Us

When You Look Like Us
Author: Pamela N. Harris

 


One


IT BEGINS WITH A THUMP, THUMP, THUMP.

A steady bass line, throbbing against the normal rhythms of Canal Street. The rat-a-tat-tat of car backfire, the staccato grumblings from the neighborhood pit bulls. The chirping of Mrs. Jackson’s laughter drives the tempo for the evening’s lullaby. But it’s the thump, thump, thump at my window that unnerves me. It’s not like the usual gunshots that punctuate the night, but a gentle knock. An invitation for me to crack open the window and let the night swallow me whole.

“You’re not listening, Jay.”

I pull my eyes away from my bedroom window. I’m tripping. Who the hell would be knocking at my window this time of the night? The guys in my neighborhood joke that I don’t need a pit bull when I have a MiMi. Her smirk alone could leave the most thuggish of thugs shook. I lean on my headboard, press my cell real cozy against my ear so Camila feels me feeling her.

“Actually,” I say to the phone. To Camila. “I’m listening too much.” My eyes shift back to the window, expecting another thump. Stillness greets me. My nerves are on autopilot tonight, doing their own thing. Must be from all the Red Bull I downed to finish up Meek’s paper.

Camila lets out a heavy sigh. I try to imagine her. Maybe she’s sitting on her bedroom floor, waving an issue of Cosmo over her toenails so the polish dries. She probably spots a smudge. Probably wants to redo them all but won’t. Redoing them requires using both hands, but one of those hands belongs to me right now. Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking. Camila and I’ve been shooting the shiz every night since she kissed me two weeks ago at some party Bowie and I stumbled into. Yeah, it was a dare—and yeah, I could taste the wine cooler on her lips that made the kiss sloppier than it needed to be. But she liked how I didn’t try to do more with her that night. And I liked that she liked me after years of insisting my name was Ray. So yeah, the idea of Camila Vargas creating a crime scene with her nail polish just to speak to me was pretty dope.

“It’s like you’re here but you’re not,” Camila keeps on. “Tell me—where’s Jay?”

“I’m still here.” I close my eyes and wish I were somewhere else. Somewhere outside of the Ducts, where I don’t have to check my locks three times before running out to grab MiMi’s blood pressure meds every month. Somewhere with Camila. Sitting on soft carpet, watching her paint her nails. Eyes trailing up her lotiony legs but stopping at the hem of her shorts. I try to respect her even in my daydreams.

“When Bowie told me what you were up to—”

I jolt away from my headboard. “Bowie’s a clown. A corn nut. About as trite as a dad joke.”

“Lo que sea,” Camila says under her breath but heavy enough for me to hear it. “Jay, you could get suspended. Hell, you could even get expelled.”

I laugh. Can’t help it. Camila goes from zero to one hundred at lightning speed. That’s one of the things I dig about her. One minute she’s rolling her eyes at me in class because I’m staring at her too much, and the next she’s scribbling her name on the back of my hand to mark her territory. “I tutor, Mila,” I explain. “Can’t get in trouble for helping out classmates. Isn’t Youngs Mill teaching us to be helpful and productive citizens?”

“Tutoring doesn’t mean you write the whole damn paper, Jay, and then charge people for it.” Even with Camila not in my bedroom I feel her eyes on me. Sandy brown, poking tiny holes through anything that’ll come out of my mouth next. But I don’t get a chance to bullshit her. The thump, thump, thump returns. This time, I spot a hand at my window.

“Shit.” I jump out of my bed. I really wasn’t tripping—someone’s out there.

“What? What’s wrong?”

My feet are glued to my carpet as the hand raps against my window again. I always wondered what I would do if something went down. If it was my bedroom that was the scene of one of the random break-ins our neighbor was always warning us about. I finally have my answer. I would freeze.

“Jay? You okay?”

Camila’s voice snaps me out of it. I can’t be a bitch right now. She’d break up with me before we even put a label on whatever the hell it is we’re doing. She has to hear me man up. “Someone’s at my window,” I croak, in my least manly voice ever.

Camila sucks in a breath. “Why is someone at your window?”

Excellent question. My brain races for an answer. Something logical that’ll put Camila at ease. That would put me at ease. “Maybe they’re lost?” The hell, Jay?

“What the hell, Jay?” Camila asks. “Why would someone be knocking on your window in the middle of the night because they’re lost? That’s what Google Maps is for.”

Great point. Someone’s more likely to pull up to a gas station than a random-ass window in the hood to ask where to find Main Street or Whatever the Fick Boulevard. Even better point? If someone were trying to pop me, I’d doubt they’d politely rap on my windowpane first. Psychos don’t really give a damn about manners. So, there was one somewhat logical answer.

“Probably a blisshead,” I say. Javon Hockaday lives in my neighborhood. The guy’s notorious for selling bliss or crinkle or anything else you might want to get high on a Saturday night. He’s also notorious for being my sister’s boyfriend and, thus, a pain in my family’s ass, but I’ll save that for another time. Anyways, sometimes lowlifes make their way to my building, looking to score, too high to realize that Javon lives a block away from me.

“Really? A blisshead, Jay?” Camila utters something in Spanish that I can’t quite catch. She said she’d teach me more. Said bilingual dudes were sexy as hell, but we can never quite find the time between school and my odd jobs and general high school bullshit—plus all the time I spend thinking about her during school and my odd jobs and high school bullshit. “You got some thot over there, don’t you?”

I frown at her even though she can’t see me through the phone. “Mila, ain’t no thot creeping into my bedroom. And I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t like you calling them outside their name.”

“Why you care what I call that ho if there ain’t no ho crawling through your window?”

I push air out through my nose. I learned pretty quickly that there’s no talking to Camila when she’s like this. The girl gets salty if I use too many words to answer a female teacher’s question. Like you give that much of a damn about the Constitution, she told me after we had a sub with too much estrogen in history class two days ago. I mean, damn, shouldn’t I, though?

I grab the baseball bat under my bed. The most bliss does is give you the munchies or a serious case of the chuckles, or so I’ve heard (and seen). But every now and then, some of these blissheads need an extra push to back off. “Look, I gotta go, Mila, before they wake up MiMi.”

“Jay, you best not let whoever’s at your window in,” Camila says as I cross my bedroom floor. I pull back my curtain some more and raise my bat high, ready to wreck shop. Or make someone think I’m ready to wreck shop in case they try anything funny.

Pooch peers back at me from the other side of my window.

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