Rays of sunlight poured through the window, shining on the wooden centerpiece in the living room. The curtains did all they could to discourage the blistering sun, but it was no use. Beneath my feet, the rug felt smooth and silky. In the corner stood the brown bookshelf, filled with all the classics you could think of. Through the window, I could see the intense summer sun beating on Kefa’s blue ‘71 Dodge Challenger, creating a brilliant display of colors as he pulled into my driveway. Reclined on the sofa, I myself was in high spirits. I bolted upright at the sound of the doorbell. Everything seemed so lively. It was quite perplexing how quickly that changed.
“ Bro listen, I ain’t got much time so make it quick, aight.” Kefa, sat upright on the brown, leather sofa, directly across from me. He’d just arrived, but the way he was leaning forward and rubbing his palms together made it look as if he’d make for the door anytime soon.
I looked at him. He had on a gold watch. If this was ten years ago, he’d have on handcuffs while cops surrounded him. Now he seemed to be a well off twenty-eight year old. His appearance didn’t deceive me though. I still knew he got his money from dealing drugs. I’d have liked to hope that he’d stopped smoking but the subtle wrinkles forming at the edges of his lips suggested otherwise. He had an intimidating build, but so many years of causing mischief and getting caught with him had exposed to me his inner character.
“ Well, you ‘boutta speak, or you just gon’ stare?” Kefa demanded.
“ O my bad bro, I ain’t seen you in so long. I tried callin’ but you ain’t ever respond.”
“ Aight man, get this shit over with, or else i’mma leave.” He was still the same strong-willed man I’d last seen nine years ago.
“ Aight. Kefa, I’m talkin to you as a brother who don’t wanna see his boy struggle. ” He cut me off and raised his right eyebrow, as if to say, “ For real bro, you serious ?” My guess wasn’t that far off.
“ Don’t gimme dat. You don’t give a fuck about me. Dame, you left me behind. You walk out of my life and now you talkin ‘bout you don’t wanna see yo boy struggle. Don’t gimme dat.”
“ I know bro, but just listen. We was like brothers, always chillin’. We got into a hella trouble too. Remember when we was robbing the gas station.”
We sprinted out the gas station, hands full of cigarettes, lighters, and family size chips . If we managed to get home with everything, there would be a party tonight. Somewhere behind us, I could hear the blaring sound of the police sirens.
“ Make left at Chico’s Pizza,” Kefa yelled in between gasps of air. Up ahead, his hair swayed back and forth in the chaotic wind. We were about a block away from Chico’s.
My chest was burning. My legs were aching. All my senses were screaming for me to stop. I ignored them.
Suddenly, Kefa came to a stop and I would’ve barrelled right through him had I not seen the cop in front of the Chico’s. His gun was pointed at us. I didn’t know who he was aiming at, but I hoped it wasn’t me.
“ Drop everything, drop everything, get down, get down on the ground! Hands behind your back. Hurry up! Put your hands behind your back!” He barked the orders faster than we could obey. My face was pressed to the ground. It smelled like the bottom of feet. A crowd began to form. In a matter of minutes, reinforcement cops arrived at the scene. The first cop began to feel my pockets. Although I didn’t have anything in them, I tried to resist in protest. He simply shoved my face back down to the earth. Then, a loud murmur passed through the crowd. I lifted my gaze onto Kefa. His eyes widened in warning. Following his line of sight, I saw what the chaos was all about. About three feet behind me stood a cop. I wouldn't have cared if he was just standing there. Seeing him loading a gun is what weakened my spirits. Every bit of will I had left in me to fight with quickly disappeared in that moment.
“ Okay, okay, i’mma stop,” I begged.
After making sure that we didn’t have anything in our possession, handcuffs were put on our hands. Although discouraged, I still managed to connect my feet with the cop’s knees. He barked, a mixture of pain and annoyance in his voice. That gave me some satisfaction. He got over himself rather quickly though, and lifted a booted foot. It was too late when I realized what he was about to do. His foot connected with the side of my head, sending a searing agony up my skull. The last thing I remember was an ear splitting scream of my name shattering against the afternoon sky. I woke the next day, dried blood on the side of my face. I got out of bed to go to the bathroom, but then realized I couldn’t. The jail cell was locked.
I continued my sentence. “ That was what we was bro. Teenage boys who ain’t got no purpose in life. But then,”
He cut me off and finished my thought, a hint of agony echoing in his words, “ But then, my pops was shot, so yo bitch ass decided to abandon me. Yeah, I said it.”
I knew he was right but I’d never admit it to him. Shortly after graduation, Kefa’s Dad was shot.
I sprinted, holding on to the bag for dear life. I didn’t see any of the gang members, but I knew it wouldn’t be long before the were on my tail. It wasn’t easy to get your hands on this type of stuff. Between fifth and sixth avenue, I stopped to catch my breath, my head facing the pavement. The cracks reminded me of the gummy worms we’d stolen two weeks ago. It was when I looked back up that I saw a gang member bolting towards my direction. This sight was succeeded by the sounds of gunshots blasting everywhere around me.
“ Oh no, no, no no.” I wasn’t getting caught again. I darted across sixth avenue, my grip on my prize getting tighter with each lunge.” It was when I turned onto seventh avenue that I propelled into Kefa’s Dad. I quickly stood up, dusting myself off in the process.
“ Oh, hey Lennon. We gotta go.” “ They’re coming,” I panted.
“ What are you-?” His face twisted with realization when he saw what I had in my hand.
“ Give it to me.”
“ But,” I hesitated. In the distance I could hear frantic steps against the pavement. They were nearing. I handed over the bag.
“ Go home and no matter what, don’t turn around. ” “ Damian, don’t try to save me, save yourself.” After saying this, his face crumbled with pity.
I turned and continued home. When I heard a loud bang followed the grunts of pain that could be none other than Lennon’s, I knew that was the last conversation I’d ever have with him. And those were the last things I’d ever hear him say. He’d told me to save myself, and I’d done just that.
It was a hard struggle for both of us and soon I couldn’t bear the guilt that came along with knowing that if I hadn’t stolen that bag of heroin, and if Kefa’s Dad hadn’t been caught returning it, and if the gang hadn’t mistaken him for me and shot him, then maybe my best friend's father would still be alive. This experience opened my eyes and I really wanted us to change for the better. I wanted us to stop smoking, to stop drinking, to stop doing drugs, to stop getting arrested, to stop stealing, to stop everything and I really tried but Kefa wanted none of it. Those things seemed to be the way he coped with his father’s death. I couldn’t help seeing him like this. Many times, I came close to telling him what had really happened, that I had killed his Dad, but each time the shame wore heavily on my shoulders and eventually I was forced to leave. I didn’t know what I’d do the day he found out.
I recollected myself. “ Kefa, we all made mistakes in our past, we don’t gotta let those mistakes make our future, and that’s why I want to talk to you bro.”
He seemed to have a response for everything, each one more bitter than the one before it. “ Oh yeah, which kinda mistake you made? Why you think you know my situation? You ain’t ever made no mistakes. Hold up, maybe you do, but you just keep that shit to yourself.”
The conversation was slowly creeping into a den I had spent the past ten years hiding in. “ I don’t know you saying,” I lied.
“ For real, so you forgot that you the reason my pops ain’t here. You forgot that you the reason my momma worked her own job and the one pops left behind, the same way you left us behind. Man, you forgot Dame? I ain’t taking dat.”
To this day, I still can’t describe what that moment felt like. I didn’t know where to look. At his face or at his feet. I didn’t know what to say. Whether I should apologize or cry or smile or, I just didn’t know. He seemed to sense my distress because he continued.
“ It’s cool tho. I left that behind me. I mean, that’s the type of shit we do now, ain’t it? Leave things and family behind?”
My sweat beaded hands began to grow tense. No amount of words could portray the intense fury that hung behind long after his words were spoken. He was slowly tearing me apart and there was nothing I could do. I was anxiously petrified of how a conversation about his wrongdoings had turned into an assailing on myself.
“ Kefa, I was ‘bout to tell you but..” I trailed off.
“ But what?” The pleadingly innocent look on his face made me afraid.
“ Dude, tell me cause I ain’t even know what I’m doing anymore.” At this point he was shouting. His veins bulging out of his head, his eyes red with a mixture of desperation and anger.
“ Kefa, the way in always the way out man.” I didn’t even know if the words coming out of my mouth were true. I didn’t even know if I believed them, but the agitated attentiveness on Kefa’s face told me he wanted to believe me, and that was dangerous.
I sat there, dumbfounded, scared, marveled, sad, mad… I’m ashamed to admit that a wave of relief passed through me when Kefa stood up, gave me a nod and hesitantly walked to the door. Before he twisted the knob, he reached for his pocket, and just barely pulled out something that looked to be a green envelope, but he quickly returned it to his pocket. Then he turned to me one more time and said one last thing, that sounded quite familiar.
“ Damian, don’t try to save me. Save yourself. ” Then he was gone.
“ That ain’t right,” I croaked, but I doubt he heard me over the loud slam of the door. That last statement stung because I remembered that many years ago, a friend’s father had told me the same thing. The same thing his son had just told me. And I had listened. Now, I felt selfish, alone, ashamed, sweaty, relieved, thankful, and I was wrong.
For the next couple of days, I couldn’t stop thinking about how our discussion had went. About a week later I received a letter from Kefa, and I knew I had reached him, that he had forgiven me, that he’d change.
The envelope was green with yellow trimming. Something nagged at the back of my mind, but I couldn’t place my finger on it. I cut open the letter with a kitchen knife. The slanted scribbles looked all to familiar. It was nice to see that some things hadn’t changed. I’d forgotten how much of a poet Kefa was. His words were arranged in stanzas. I began to read and didn’t look up until I finished. It read,
Our paths began in the same place,
Bound together by one destination,
But when you left everything as you knew it behind,
My real person of the heart lay bare,
My mind and gaze, fixed on the things behind me,
Refusing to hang the keys of the former things,
I was forced to continue down the road,
The road that led to some prosperous past,
Failing to recall why you left,
I was compelled to continue in my ways,
At first I knew you,
now, it was only from a distance,
Thoughts of you hindered my steps as I maneuvered the crooked paths
Over your boulders of stumbling I went
and your rocks of offense remained neglected.
Still, you tried to tell me that true, we had a struggle-
But it wasn’t against each other,
rather towards our own guile interests
So, I didn’t write to create a scene to the world,
Nor did I relate to prove myself guiltless in any manner,
Observe what I’m saying-
That when I continued down my path
your boulders of stumbling became pebbles of success I yearned for,
Your stones of regret I sought to evade,
Unlike I remember why you left,
You told me many times that the way in is always the way out,
Well, I lost my way in,
And so upon my return I hang here from the rope of repentance,
The key of my past slipping from my grasp,
But you, Damian, don't try to save me, save yourself.
Even though I need a hand,
even though I need a rope to cling to,
Before the rope rather clings onto me.
I’m afraid that in that moment,
It would be too late.
The letter grew cold in my hand and I let it fall to the ground. I didn’t try to save him because at that time, I knew it was too late. He told me to save myself. This time I didn’t listen. I didn’t save myself. I looked at the note on the ground. A droplet of blood trickled down my palm and dropped onto it. I picked up the note and inspected it one last time, realizing that my blood had formed a period after “save yourself.”