“Whut up, my niggah!” Came the boisterous greeting from Carl to his best friend from Kindergarten as he approached him. He gave his friend the once over, studying his oversized, worn sneakers, baggy jeans held by a tight belt, that seemed to swallow his thinly framed friend, as the jeans were bigger than the present-day, Hip-hop fashion commanded, and his oversized Cross Colour ® shirt, a Hip Hop clothing design which became popular in 1989, appeared weathered. The once vibrantly multi-colored, stripped shirt was now faded. “Guess you wearin’ yo’ big bro’s old clothes again!” He laughed, still holding his friend’s hand, from “slappin’ fives”, and sliding into held fists, which remained at chest height. Carl’s eyes made it to his friend’s hair, and then Carl made a quick jerk from the hand embrace. He brought his released fist to cup his lips and he yelled, “Yooooooo! What da fuck dey did to yo’ tape, man?!” He cackled out, stomped his feet as if he meant to march away, but was suspended by a turnstile as he made a full 360° turn while dancing and chanting in synchronized march step. He looked at his friend and repeated, “Whut dey did to yo’ tape, niggah?! Dey fucked you up!” He seemed to press hard upon the word, ‘fuck’, as he held that word longer than the any other word in his query. He reached up to his friend’s forehead, where his hairline was crooked, and half of it was ¼ of an inch further back from his natural hairline, proving that his barber was either blind or inept. Carl bent over in a belly laugh, not realizing the hurt he had imposed upon his too-shocked-to-speak friend.
“Mannn, shuddup!” Bernard muttered, grossly embarrassed and looking around as if he’d find the perfect hole to crawl into. He touched his hairline with his right hand, and palm brushed his curly hair down, as if that would correct the injustice done to it. He pushed past his friend, more angrily now, than hurt, to continue his walk to the school house. His old backpack slouched on his right shoulder, forcing his body to lean towards the left as he stalked away. His step hipped-hopped on his left leg, as was the “cool walk” of the day, taking full steps with his left, and shorter ones of his right leg. Looking at him, one couldn’t tell if that was due to the weight of his book bag, or his natural walk. Either way, his pride was tethered to that walk, which gave the perception that it did not bother him that he was lacking what he thought was essential to a successful life at school. If his mom didn’t stop trying to cut his hair, and he didn’t get some new clothes soon, his life at Miramar Elementary School would be hell. He’d have no respect, and worse, no friends. He slapped his fist into his open left palm as he thought about what he could do to make money.
“Yo, B! Wait up, niggah. Don’t be mad at me!” Carl yelled as he ran after his best friend. It wasn’t his fault dude was coming to school all jacked up. At least he still hung out with him. And if he didn’t tell him the truth, he wouldn’t be a friend. Bernard should be lucky that he still hangs out with him even though he comes to school looking like his people must be poor as fuck. He put his arm around his friend’s neck aggressively, although to show affection. “Chill out, niggah.” He beckoned, but more to show his familiarity, “We fam, niggah. Don’t get all all soft on me, nah.” He shook his pal’s neck as if that would shake off the hurt he realized Bernard was feeling.
The boys traveled two more blocks south in silence. They continued their way down to NW 2nd Avenue; their destination, 30th Street, to wait on the school bus scheduled to pick them up from behind Buena Vista Elementary School. As they passed by LaFama Supermarket on 31st Street, Carl turned to Bernard who by now was in better spirits and said, “Man, I’m hungry.”
The smell of Cuban coffee and fresh pastries filled the air. One could also get a whiff of buttered Cuban toasts and bacon. The bakery café right next door to La Fama served breakfast and dinner at the same time. Cubans ate anything at any time. They even had chicharrones, pork cracklings, right next to the pastelitos de guayaba, pastelitos de guayaba y queso, and pastelitos de carne-the three main staples of Cuban pastries, in the pastry warmer which also contained empanadas de carne, and croquetas de jamón.
Carl fell from formation and faced the bakery. The sunrise cast a brilliant yellow light upon the otherwise pre-dawn dim of light. Workers and moms packed the outside window, and inside, a row of hungry worker men sat in the narrow café, which only had a foot of standing room between the wall, and from behind the men who sat on stools. “Niggah, you deaf?! Let’s go, man. I’m hungry!” He started towards the café.
“But I don’t-“ Bernard started.
“Niggah, shut up. I already know yo’ ass ain’t got no money! Let’s go. You know you hongry!” And with that, he grabbed his best friend by the collar and dragged him towards the café until Bernard resolved that, that’s what they were doing at this moment-getting something to eat.
And Bernard conceded that, his friend was a jerk, but at least he looked out for him.
Image by Richard Menzies, at http://rdmenzies.com/Photography/