Walking to school was the funniest thing.
Ashley and I often laughed our way to school. The walk alone was never boring; we generally made fun of the characters on the street. Something funny awaited our way to meet our school bus to Miramar Elementary School. We were the most popular girls in 5th grade.
We looked forward to our walks. There was a certain independence reserved only for these times. Any other time, we were confined to the sidewalk directly in front of my house. And once the streetlights came on, my front door was the proverbial limit.
There was much to be seen on any given morning. We looked forward to the funny men and women who graced the front of Jibarito Supermarket. Ashley and I would ‘round the corner to our right, and head south.
Down 2nd Avenue, we expected to see various happenings: Dogs chasing men riding bikes; Hector’s daily prostitute dramas!
Maria always went back, even though each morning, she would be thrown out while she yelled and screamed in protest.
Hector’s wife was due home from working all night. And although we understood every Spanish word he yelled, it came in rambling, quick-tongue form.
Hector always promised to see her later, once Maria conceded the fight. She would gently gather her things, thrown out by Hector, from the sidewalk, and carefully fold each item. She’d hand brush her hair. Look around. Pout her lips. And proudly walk away.
Then there were the early-morning meetings with drug dealers, and their diligent day-workers. Their meetings were held from their low-rider Cadillacs, gleaming in the sun. Workers hunched in the passenger windows for their debriefing sessions and assignments.
The Jibarito Supermarket, being on our right-hand side, was where we expected the most action. There, an ever-changing, animated group of homeless people who looked like they represented the dingy version of United Colors of Benetton, congregated at its doors, to supplicate potential patrons to make their daily donations to their cause. In turn, they’d dance and entertain. They’d even open the door to help generous ones enter the store.
We’ve witnessed them push the store door close to non-generous ones.
That was funny to us.
Jose, the manager of this motley crew, was Cuban. Jose didn’t appear homeless, though. He was always clean, smelled of cologne and rum, and wore all white. White panama hat. White, crisp shirt. White trousers. White shoes. Jose was heavy set with a huge, square face and a bushy unkempt beard. His wild, salt-and-pepper hair tamed only by his hat. In fact, the only colors which adorned Jose were his generous set of reds, yellow-and-greens, blue-and whites, and other color beads which hung low to his belly.
As we approached, he balanced on each foot like a jester holding invisible juggling balls. He motioned towards the supermarket doors to usher givers in. He bowed as people entered, as if it was an invitation to a show. His show. He held the door with his right hand, the same hand which held his dented flask. It spilled his deliverance with each boisterous arm exertion. His theatrical left hand remained palm up, showing thick golden rings on his pointer and middle fingers. The jester’s smile, gleamed a couple golden teeth and golden crowns, as it tightly clutched a thick Cuban cigar.
We were finally directly in his path.
“¿Oye, muchachas?! ¿Donde vayas?” He sang through gritted teeth; he twirled and swooped his waist to the right. He hopped to the left.
We veered to the opening right.
He immediately hopped to the right-leaving his scent where he had just stood. His golden teeth blinded us, but gleaming blood-shot eyes connected with us. His movements made him appear almost as a phantom, leaving a trail of white. I wondered if I had imagined it. He was both scary and amusing.
We stopped quickly-and dodged left-and ran. We ran away from the store, leaving his companions in the same uproar. They were laughing.
We were laughing. Holding hands and screaming, we ran down two blocks. Then, we stopped. We hunched over, gasping for breath, laughing uncontrollably.
We blindly walked and laughed as we continued south, down 2ndAvenue.
We passed 32nd Street.
Two days later, we heard that he had raped Carmen, a Puerto Rican girl in our grade.
We didn’t know if it was true or not, and our parents always said not to comment on things we didn’t see with our own eyes. And even then, if it wasn’t our business, to keep our mouths shut. You see. You don’t see. Well, we didn’t see-for real. So, we didn’t know.
That was the last time we saw him.
Oblivious to any real danger, we walked one more block and enjoyed more minor thrills along the way. We saw Madame Union’s pit bulls mating. They seem to be having a group sex party.
I was just astonished to see Madam Union’s all white pack in full swing-humping.
“Ouuu!” Ashley beamed. “Let’s tie them.”
“How do you tie them?”
“Girl, don’t you know anything?!” Ashley asked. “It’s a Haitian thing. Anytime you see dogs fucking,” she grabbed my pinky finger with her pinky finger, “You tie ‘em up by doin’ this. You say my name,” She said as she pushed our joined pinkies towards me, “I say your name,” she said, as she pulled our joined pinkies back towards her. “Ready?”
“Okay,” I said. “Ashley,” I said cautiously, as I yanked her pinky towards me.
“Adrienne,” She pulled back.
“Ashley!” I got excited.
“Adrienne!” She matched my excitement.
We continued this way for a few minutes.
We were so engulfed in our spell, that we didn’t notice the moans of three coupled pits.
We finally looked to our right, where the orgy was, in Madam Union’s dirt yard. We witnessed the coupled dogs attempting to pull away from one another. They fought for freedom and all three pairs were stuck!
We erupted in laughter.
But the dogs were in visible pain. All three dogs pulled and pulled. But they were stuck.
“Ki es sa k’ap fout anmerde chyienm yo la?!” (Who’s bothering my dogs?) Came Madam Union’s boisterously shrieky voice, as she swung her door open hard with annoyance.
Madam Union was the vodou queen. You didn’t mess with her!
We startled and broke out in lightning speed. We ran away laughing, to the sound of her precious dogs moaning in pain. We prayed she didn’t see our faces.
Javier and Hector. They dropped out of Robert E. Lee to sell drugs for Papo. Their shift began early morning, I guess. Because they were soon approaching.
Instinctively nervous, I walked closer to Ashley as the gap between Javier and Hector and us closed.
“Y’all want some weed?” Hector, the one with slicked back, shiny-with-gel-black hair asked. His wife beater t-shirt was tucked firmly into his tight, light-stone-washed jeans. His belt seemed too big for the ‘fit. But he seemed to appreciate his own style. He switched from leg-to-leg, confidently, and leaned back, peering at us from his angled head.
“What’s weed?” Confused, I looked to Ashley. She knew everything.
“Some bullshit these assholes smoke,” Ashley replied right in front of him with disdain, “It’s like grass and they get all high-acting stupid,” she said as she twisted her neck. She then turned back at him slowly, fearlessly. She glared at Hector. Then at Javier.
I was still thinking about how much emphasis she put on the word stupid. The word dropped slow and heavy, and the last syllable lingered on her tongue. That sound only comes through clenched teeth, with the tongue pushing up against the ceiling of the mouth. I thought it was kind of harsh. I wondered if she could have simply said, no thank you. But I assumed the stance. Whether she was mean or not, I’m sure she had a good reason for it. They didn’t deserve our kindness, anyways-being high all the time. They were stupid; dropping out of school and stuff. I had to be ready to fight if Hector got offended. I looked at her distorted face, head cocked-to-the-left, and matched the look. I shared her glare to the boys.
Everyone knew who Ashley’s brother was. He was the king of that block. And you don’t wanna mess with Big E’s sister.
“Dayum, dawg, my bad. We didn’t see you,” Hector laughed, “Javi, let’s go, man.” They backed up, and walked around us without saying another word.
The feeling of power crawled up my back. I felt protected and proud.
Astride slammed her fist into her palm.
I thought that was a bit extra at this point.
“Maa-riiii-cooooone!” Wailed a drunkard walking towards us from a distance.
We looked at each other with mouths agape.
I blinked to see if I was hallucinating.
“Maa-riiii-cooooone!” Floated from his wet, dribbling lips again. Our crooner was lazily gliding towards us. His guayabera shirt was dingy and un-buttoned. It was a couple sizes too big, so it only framed his boney, peach-colored chest which looked like a canvas for sparing hairs budding. His oversized trousers were equally dirty, and his bare feet were so darkened with dirt, it didn’t match his body’s complexion. “Maa-riiii-cooooone!” He yelled again.
And that’s when I saw it.
A long oblong shaped penis protruded from his unzipped trousers, and dangled left to right with each arduous step the man took. He was getting closer to us.
Too shocked to laugh. Too shocked to scream. Ashley and I looked at each other with inquisition marking our faces.
Thwack! Came a loud blow to his head by a nearby savior. He had hit the Maricone guy on the head with a green Heineken bottle.
Maricone laid motionless on the floor, with blood pumping out of his head.
Ashley and I grabbed each other at the impact of the blow. Too shaken to speak, we hugged each other tightly.
The savior seemed to have come out of nowhere.
Everything went silent. And we froze. Heart stopped beating. Tears spilled from our eyes. We couldn’t move.
It was not funny.
We have to go. The bus is set to arrive at 8:00am.
I don’t remember catching the bus.
I don’t even remember the ride to school.
I heard or learned nothing that day. We floated through the day.
Every time we attempted to begin the conversation, we found no words.
We shook our heads on it. I shook my head to shake the images out of my head. I didn’t want to think about it.
5th grade felt like a container to suppress our womanhood.
Later, we learned that Maricone died.
That same day, Hector and Javier died. Got shot for stealing Papo’s weed.
Fat Cuban jester died. Carmen’s dad had a gun.
Our walks to school were no longer funny.