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©Carolyn Dukes Alexander, 2019


Sometimes the light doesn’t shine too bright and winning doesn’t seem like a victory. But it is light and it is a victory never the less.

 

Red Velvet attended the last “Black” high school in Oakland. Even though McClymonds was somewhat diverse, the school was ensconced in a black community, with traditions and legacy and therefore was always under attack via the gentrification movement. Red Velvet was a strapping chocolate boy among other strapping chocolate boys. A school with so many dark children, the color of the rich black earth or Georgia clay, in large numbers was a rarity. They were all beautiful in their own distinctive ways and just bursting with budding manhood. 

Red Velvet was chocolate with the red undertones that people swore came from Native American ancestry but who knows. Red Velvet looked like embers glowed deep down inside him. He was full of life. He was that mystical, magical, young/old soul who could understand things that needed to be understood for survival.

The school, but more specifically the football team was his family. It was where he felt he belonged. It was where he came alive. Where he was part of a larger organism composed of many parts, working for one single goal. It was like a choir singing in perfect harmony. He sang, he danced, he prayed, he cried, he celebrated with complete abandon when he was with the team. His emotions were free when he was playing the game. It was the only place he felt he truly belonged.

His “connected by blood” family was responsible for the sadness and the heaviness in Red Velvet’s heart. His mother died when he was eight, from heart failure. Everyone knew it was really from a broken heart. His father had another baby a month before Red Velvet was born and they both shared the exact same name. His father was often in jail and off and on drugs. He dissipated into mist as soon as you reached out your hand for him. His father’s sister took Red Velvet and raised him, him and his government check that is. His father never really came back to claim him and when he did, the results were disastrous. Luckily he could call his grandmother when he was left alone for two weeks or was stranded in a crack house for two days. 

So, he went to live with his aunt, her son and her second husband.  They were a family unit and he was the burden attached to the government check. He was never treated badly but the treatment he received was not close to being equal to that of his cousin. After the loss of his mother, he never knew that special love that feeling of being cherished. The loss left a wound in Red Velvet’s heart. That pain pulsed beneath his smirky smile and his “life of the party” act.  

He girl’s name was Diamond. She was a cinnamon girl, stylish and wore her own thick geechee hair. She was athletic and her body was banging. She appeared shy and quiet. She was sweet, she drew Red Velvet in, she was his true family too. She seemed to be a throwback to a more innocent time. Red was able to completely relax when he was alone with her. His spirit sighed, took down all its defenses and breathed. She was one of the few girls from McClymonds who was asked to the prom as a junior. The boys complained that the girls at McClymonds were too rough and bossy so they shopped for dates elsewhere.

Diamond had Daddy issues though. Her Dad was in and out of her life, more out than in and her presence was not the determining factor in whether he stayed or he went.

The coach dropped Red Velvet off at 8th and Market so he could walk the short block to the Eighth Street tower apartments. A quarter pounder at McDonald’s sounded good and he wanted to take a dump before he went home. His aunt always complained when he stank up the bathroom. Red Velvet went into McDonald’s and rounded the corner to the bathroom before he placed his order. Just as Red Velvet got to the door, stepping out of the bathroom was Mr. Perkins, the behavior specialist from McClymonds and crouched on the floor of the men’s room was Diamond with her hand up wiping her mouth.

Their eyes met and she pushed the bathroom door shut. Red Velvet fell back up against the wall and breathed deeply. He closed his eyes. Slowly he became aware of the sound of Diamond crying. He got close to the door and spoke to her “Come on out. You can’t stay in there forever.” She came out of the door slowly, head and shoulders down. Red Velvet pulled her into his arms and held her tight. Things in West Oakland were always complicated. Teenagers in West Oakland were seldom surprised by flaws and brokenness. They were all struggling to grow up.  Sobbing, she explained “I needed money for my prom dress.” He kissed her on the side of her head and whispered in her ear. “I’d rather you wear what you have on than do that. Never that.” Diamond let fresh tears fall. So Red Velvet held her away from him so he could look at her and said “I got you.”

Prom night Diamond’s dress fit her like the proverbial glove. The soft mango color complemented her skin. She wore her hair up and the rhinestones in her earrings matched the rhinestones that crested and curved over her breast. Red Velvet was the classic man in a black tuxedo and white shirt. They were crushing on each other like they were meeting each other for the first time. They rode home in his 1980 Chevy Nova He was proud of his car. He bought it himself from money he made at the car wash. They ended their night, making love in the back seat of his Nova. It was their first time together and magic happened.

Two days after graduation Red Velvet was waiting for Mr. Perkins in the driveway to his house couched behind the trash cans. He wore a bandana covering his face and a beanie pulled down deep on his head and weight lifting gloves on his hands. He beat Mr. Perkins to a pulp and kicked his unconscious body off the curb. He then jogged down the street, taking off the bandana and the gloves as he ran.

The cops were at his house when he arrived. His aunt’s husband snatched him through the door and shouted “Boy! Where you been?” He looked from his aunt’s husband to his aunt’s face. They both looked as if they believed he was guilty. 

“I was with my girlfriend, Diamond.” 

“Will she corroborate that story, son?” one of the policeman asked. The other one grabbed his hands to inspect Red Velvet’s knuckles. No sign of just delivering a vicious beating. The weight lifting gloves had long since been discarded. The other policeman placed his cell phone back in its place. “She confirmed his story.” He tells the other cop. They look disappointed.

“What’s this all about?” Red Velvet asked.

The cop answered him without turning to face him. “Mr. Perkins got beat up pretty bad today.”

“Mr. Perkins from McClymonds?”

“Yes”

“Is he okay?”

“He’ll be okay after a while.”

The police exited and the door was not quite shut before his aunt’s husband whirled around. “Bringing the police to my house? Are you crazy? YOU getting out of here right now!” His aunt looked concerned, like her heart went out to him but she turned around and walked away as if she were powerless to stop what was going on. She wasn’t powerless. She got her husband to do what she wanted him to do, when she wanted something but Red Velvet turned 18 in April and the last check for him had long since been spent. 

Red Velvet drug an overstuffed suitcase and a garbage bag full of pictures and trophies out to the sidewalk. He retrieved a threadbare blanket from a bag meant for Goodwill out to his Nova. He had to go to sleep so he could get up and go to his car washing job the next day. He stretched out in the back seat. Memories of Diamond’s arms wrapped around him made him smile despite his present circumstances.

Red Velvet was slow to come to consciousness when he heard the banging on the window. He thought he recognized the person hitting the window; it was his mother coming for him after all these years.

“Let me have the front seat, man. I need a place to sleep too.” It was some random homeless dude trying to find shelter. He was small and wiry with two bags in his hands. Red Velvet thought maybe he just wanted a place to sleep and maybe he wanted to kill him and take his car while he was sleeping.

Red Velvet scrambled over to the front seat and started the car. He drove until he found a quiet cul-de-sac in the Oakland hills and went to sleep. He woke up at 9:00. His aunt’s husband would be gone by ten. So, he headed back to West Oakland. His aunt let him in to take a shower and she fed him breakfast.

 “This can’t last too long. You better find yourself a place.”

“I have to go to football training at Santa Barbara soon.” Red told her. His aunt said nothing; his cousin wasn’t going anywhere even though he was the better athlete but he hadn’t officially graduated and he had to go to summer school. So his having to go to training meant nothing to her.

Red Velvet went to work. After work he hung out with his boys. He always had “the smoke” and he smoked them out for free. The smoke made sure he always had company. His boys took turns having him over for dinner and letting him spend the night, if they could. 

The date was fast approaching for him to go to training camp at Santa Barbara. He would have room and board for the summer and in the fall he would be enrolled into school and play football, if he could just get down there. His Nova was faltering and he doubted if it could make it down there, besides freshmen were not allowed to have cars on campus. Mega Bus was the cheapest way to get down there, but his phone had been turned off and you could only purchase a ticket using a debit/credit card and he did not have one.

It was the day before training camp and his coach would have helped him but he had accompanied a player to a school in Iowa. His aunt wouldn’t do it because she said her husband would go crazy if he saw that charge on the bill. “But,” Red Velvet said, “I have the money to pay for it.”  But she replied, “He just don’t want any strange charges on his card.” And she threw up her hands indicating she was done with it. 

He spent his last night with Diamond. Diamond’s mother was strict. Red Velvet came over before her mother got home from work. Red Velvet stayed in Diamond’s room waiting nervously. He leapt into Diamond’s closet at the smallest sound. Finally her mother went to bed and he relaxed with Diamond in his arms. She made the weeks of homelessness and uncertainty melt away. She kissed him softly on his ear and rubbed his back.

In the morning she waited until her mother went to work and she cooked Red Velvet a big breakfast, just like they were a married couple enjoying breakfast in their own house. He kissed her and squeezed her and told her goodbye and she wrapped her arms around his neck and cried into the sweet spot under his ear. He headed to the West Oakland Bart station where the Mega Bus stop was, without a bus ticket, with the intent of giving Jaylen his car keys and getting on the bus.

He met Jaylen at the Mega Bus stop. It was a trade off.  Jaylen could borrow the car while he was gone if he got it fixed and took care of it. Jaylen said, “Awright then.” Jaylen took the keys, gave Red Velvet the one armed man hug and took off.

He spotted her right away, moving too timidly and looking too shy to be a native of West Oakland, twenty to twenty five years old, high yella’ and pretty. Red Velvet sidled up to her. He was not without his charms. “You’re lining up a little early.” She wasn’t surprised he was talking to her. Light skinned girls assumed dark skinned guys liked them. It would work to his advantage.

“So are you.” She countered

“I guess you’re right.” Red Velvet looked down at his feet playing shy too. “Are you hungry?” he asked.

She wrinkled up her nose. “A little,” she answered.

“Have you ever had an empanada? There’s a great spot across the street,” and to seal the deal he said, “My treat.”

“Well, I don’t know.” She looked at her cell phone to check the time.

“Come on. We have lots of time and it won’t take but a minute.”

“Okay.” She smiled and picked up her bag.

“Better put that ticket in a safe place. You wouldn’t want to lose it.” Red Velvet admonished. He watched her carefully as she tucked the ticket in the front zippered compartment of her small suitcase. He ushered her across the street. “Ola, Tia.” He says to the Latina lady behind the counter. “Tres empanadas y horchata por favor.”

“Como no.”

“Go down to LA often?” Red Velvet asked.

“Not really, I’m just going to visit a friend in Anaheim.”

The lady behind the counter motioned that their order was ready. The pastry was flaky and brown and the girl took a bite. “Ummm they’re good. Is that chicken?”

“ Yes, it’s chicken. Try some of the drink.” Handing her the drink, Red Velvet released the drink a fraction of a second early and the drink spilt on the girl’s lap. “I’m so sorry.” Red Velvet jumped up and grabbed a few napkins. “The rest room is right there. Go on in. I’ll watch your things.” 

The girl paused and looked Red Velvet squarely in both his eyes. That last sentence was reminiscent of a line her mother had warned her about. But then Red Velvet smiled a charming crooked smile and she smiled back; then she swirled around and went into the rest room. 

Red Velvet reached quickly for the Mega Bus ticket in the girl’s bag. The cost was $29.00. He hastily stashed two twenties where the ticket had been. He blocked the door with a chair and placed her suitcase on top to make the chair harder to move. The Mega Bus was loading. Because the Mega Bus arrives and leaves in a flash, Red Velvet dashed across the street, showed the driver the barcode of ticket and got on the bus. He managed to get a seat on the top. As the bus was pulling away, he saw the girl’s small, sad face staring at the bus as it drove off. He knew she couldn’t see him through the tinted windows, but it looked like the girl was watching him as the bus pulled away. Red Velvet felt pangs of guilt. He wasn’t that type of guy. The guilt connected with the sinking heart dread he was feeling of going somewhere strange and being alone.

He felt so alone.

His phone was off and there was no caring adult to call anyway. No one to tell “I got there safely.” Or “I hate this place, I want to come home.” He had no home. It was as if he had stepped outside a space ship and become untethered. The world was so vast and he was swirling around in it without protection.

He knew Diamond would cheat on him. She loved him but she was too desirable, lonely and insecure to stay alone for long. He had already forgiven her for what she would do. But he needed a dedicated someone to look out for him, to be there for him. 

His pain caused him to make an audible sound and he reached out to embrace God. He noticed a glint of silver in his bag and pulled out a foil wrapped lamb sandwich, his favorite. I guess somehow, someway his aunt had slipped him a lamb sandwich and hope blossomed and God embraced Red Velvet back.

 

©Carolyn Dukes Alexander, 2019


      Carolyn Dukes Alexander, BAWP 2001. I have been a librarian in California for 18 years. I love writing fiction and science fiction but I have not been investing time in it. I am trying to write more essays as well. I am a storyteller and the mother of two. Always looking for the next adventure. I can be reached at writercdukes@yahoo.com.

 

 

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