The Day Of
I don’t hit girls.
I don’t even hit girls . . . is what I’m thinking
but I musta said it out loud because Mr. Warren,
our bald-headed principal, raises his eyebrows and says,
“You sure about that? Our cameras
show us something very different, De’Kari.”
“It’s Flow,” I say. I always say it.
“Your name is De’Kari Flood, and that’s
what I’m calling you,” says Mr. Warren.
Just like everyone else.
I roll my eyes, turn them to my shoes.
Shoes I’ma wear every day till they fall off my feet.
“He called me the b-word.
And it was all just an accident!
Nobody was trying to mess up
his Stupid Ugly Shoes.”
My arms are crossed, and I’m giving Mr. Warren
the same look I seen Ma give my sister, Poke,
when Poke comes at her wrong.
Ma learned The Look from my granny,
who be givin’ it to all of us when we’re wrong.
I’m not tryna be no poet, but
Poke ain’t no Joke.
So she gets The Look a lot.
Guess I do, too.
Few more minutes of this with Mr. Warren,
and then my granny will be on the phone
listening to him tell her
got to fighting
“So you stepped on his shoes by accident?”
Sometimes I be thinkin’ Mr. Warren
can’t hear that good.
He asks the same questions
“And then he called you a name?”
Get it right, Mr. Warren.
“I slapped him in his ugly face.”
Yeah. I slapped him good, too!
Everybody in the lunchroom went,
“Then he pushed you?” Mr. Warren asks,
lookin’ all concerned.
“And I pushed him back!” I say.
“You seen the video—why you wastin’ time asking?”
Mr. Warren ignores my question.
He good at that.
“What happened after you pushed him?”
I let the question
I glue my hand to my leg to keep from touching
my left cheek, which throbs.
If I wasn’t dark like Milky Way Midnights,
I’d be red right there.
Like that cinnamon gum Poke’s boyfriend loves.
Because that can’t-rap fool, who calls himself Flow,
Mr. Warren’s the mean principal.
The one giving suspensions out like M&M’s
and making kids go to detention and stuff.
Mr. Porter’s the nice principal who talks
at assemblies and can actually dance.
If you’re student of the week, he buys you lunch, whatever you want.
And if you get on
“Principal Porter’s list,”
there’s a fancy banquet.
I ain’t on
and I don’t care.
Except . . . Mr. Warren pulls up my grades,
tells me I’m close.
Close to having them add my name to a list
but which one
Third suspension of seventh grade.
Eighth since I been at Brookside Junior High.
Mr. Warren tells me this like I don’t know.
It’s a lot.
Maybe if people stop messin’ with me . . .
“Did you apologize?”
“You said it was an accident,” Mr. Warren says.
He leans forward. “Did you apologize to De’Kari
for stepping on his shoes?”
“Yeah,” I say,
rolling my eyes . . . and the lie.
“How come you didn’t get an adult?”
They always ask this.
C’mon, man. You got “war” in your name.
Don’t act like
That’s what my shrug says.
“Look at me,” Mr. Warren says.
“Real men look eye to eye.”
I glare at him. Silent.
A real man also don’t get punked by no stupid girl.
I got scratches on the side of my face from that girl!
“Y’all gotta learn how to let stuff go.”
My brain screams,
That’s the problem, Mr. Warren!
Everything I have,
everything I love
I shift in the seat, and my back shouts.
My face must show it.
“Are you okay?” asks Mr. Warren.
I only nod.
But I already know this really gonna hurt tomorrow,
just like when I fought Shaya.
I barely remember what happened after I pushed De’Kari . . .
after he socked me.
I heard kids sayin’,
“OOOOH, he slammed her!” after they broke us up and
dragged us to the guidance office.
I bet Jonetta and Bri and them were recording on their phones.
They do that with all the fights.
I suck my teeth, sigh.
Mr. Warren sighs, too.
“Are we calling your grandmother?”
“Who else we gon’ call?” I snap before I can stop myself.
Mr. Warren dials. “I hope these ten days give you plenty of time to think about the path you’re on, Ebony.”
Granny picks up and Mr. Warren puts on his principal voice.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Lewis. This is Principal Warren at Brookside—”
“Ah naw! Do NOT tell me Ebony in trouble again?”
I wince when I hear her voice.
Mr. Warren explains the fight, what he think happened.
Tells Granny I got ten days.
“Put her on the phone,” Granny demands.
I groan when Mr. Warren puts it on speaker.
“Granny, I ain’t even do nothing!” I start.
“Betta shut that mouth! I’m ’bout sick of getting calls
from that school!”
Doesn’t matter what I say. Granny barrels over my words.
“Poke got the car; can’t get you till she’s off work.”
“That’s alright,” Mr. Warren says. “She’ll finish the day in the Focus Center.”
No one listens when I say that’s the last place
on earth I wanna be.
I didn’t call her the b-word.
Even if he don’t believe me, I still need to say it.
It was probably Greg. He calls all the girls that word.
I’m not about to snitch, cuz it don’t even matter now
and that’s not what we do.
But Mr. Warren needs to know.
Poke works at Rainbow, the one in the same plaza
as Target and PetSmart.
She lucky to have that job, ’specially after our cousin
Ty’ree stole some stuff from there.
Tried to, anyway.
Ladies’ boots with fur inside, an off-brand jersey,
And a wallet.
He got caught quick.
Poke says the smartest thing he did was
act like he didn’t know her.
That was a few years ago, but Granny still don’t like
when I tease him and say,
“Ty’ree rhymes with free!”
Ty’ree the kind of cousin you glad is your cousin,
I already know what’s gonna happen before
Mr. Warren picks up the phone:
Call Ma first.
She’s at work, cell phone off.
Next up, my dad.
But ten digits won’t get Dad’s voice.
Not no more.
“Who’s Reggie Springer?”
My heart starts pounding.
Ma put him down as a contact?
“Just call my brother, Cas,” I say.
But nah, Mr. Warren gotta be difficult
and call my uncle Reggie anyway.
I’m prayin’ prayin’ prayin’ . . . that Uncle Reggie’s busy
changing oil, rotating tires, fixin’ engines,
so he can’t get the phone.
Prayer must work, at least for now.
Mr. Warren gotta dial the numbers I give him.
My big bro picks up right away,
and he says those magic words:
He coming to get me.
The Focus Center is a joke when Mr. Ford is in there
and like a prison when it’s Ms. Humphries.
“Eyes ahead, no talking!” Ms. Humphries says
as soon as I slump onto a desk.
I’m sitting behind Big Mike, so hopefully she won’t see me when I slide my phone from my pocket and text Poke,
BEG her to come get me.
Seven other kids in here, all doing boring worksheets.
I’m sure Ms. Humphries balls them up
and trashes them when we leave.
It’s quiet, but the stares are loud.
They all talking with their eyes.
That’s the one . . .
the one that smacked that boy.
In the lunchroom?
I heard he bodied her!
He prolly did!
That’s what she get!
I narrow my eyes, but soon it makes my cheek hurt.
My nose hurts, too.
I check my phone again.
Angie, askin’ if I’m aight.
Kianna, sayin’ De’Kari was wrong for what he did.
Precious, tellin’ me it’s on Snapchat and IG.
I’m gonna send Poke ten million texts
till she leaves Rainbow and comes here.
I keep looking out the window for her car.
But all I see is De’Kari and some older guy.
They prolly laughing.
De’Kari’s brother or cousin or whatever
prolly proud, sayin’, “Good job, bro!
You put that b in her place!”
I hate the prickly way tears feel
when your eyes don’t want them to come.
It burns until you blink and blink.
Poke. Doesn’t. Text. Me. Back.
“What was yo’ dumb self thinkin’?” goes Cas.
His words hit me, same as the cold air,
when we get outside.
“You hittin’ girls now?”
Cas punches my shoulder.
“Nah, it wasn’t like that,” I try to explain. “She—”
“You can chill with all that,” Cas cuts me off. “Ma gonna
lose it. Ten days, bro?”
I slam the car door when I climb inside.
Cas gives me a warning look, so I stare out the window.
Brookside speeds by as Cas drives.
Familiar, like a favorite hoodie . . .
Nothing brand new.
People say it’s a town you don’t wanna leave,
and even if you do, you always come back.
They also say it’s a town you wanna leave but don’t.
People say Brookside is a bad place.
But we got Mr. Crenshaw, who barbecues in super-short shorts and boots, no matter how hot or cold,
and if we walk by his house while he’s out there,
he always slides us a wing or drumstick.
Miz Turner hands out Band-Aids if somebody gets hurt.
If you into ball, Money Mack helps us kids get our game right.
And we got Larry’s, the BEST burger place in the world.
So people need to know.
Where I live is more than just one thing.
Granny’s lips are pressed tight, and she’s gripping her purse
like a football she can’t fumble.
It was mad awkward when they called my name
on the intercom.
“Excuse the interruption, staff and students. Ebony Wilson to the main office with her belongings to go.”
Everybody looked at me. . . .
Probably all thinking . . .
Yup, she’s suspended.
Granny has Jaren with her.
He my nephew, Poke’s baby.
He’s two, but nowhere near terrible.
He smiles when he sees me and runs over.
I can’t help smilin’, too, cuz of how cute he is.
Plus, his is probably the only smile
I’ma get today.
My brother’s name is David, but everybody calls him Cas,
short for Casper, as in Casper the Friendly Ghost.
Cas’s dad says when Cas was born, he was so bright
EVERYBODY was side-eyein’ my mama.
His dad called him Casper and then just Cas,
and then it stuck.
My dad did the same thing with me.
He took videos on his phone of when I was a baby
doing that cute baby-talk stuff.
He said, “Listen to him go! This kid got flow!”
And he started calling me that.
But I don’t got flow like him. (He was pretty well-known for his rhymes.)
I got flow like me. (I’m not well-known, but I’m a beast in the water.)
And unlike Cas, my nickname didn’t stick with Ma.
Just with my dad.
Copyright © 2023 by Kelly J. Baptist. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.