t's the first day of school, and I'm standing in South Bay High's Main Hall. The air is thick with the smell of fresh paint. I think I'm alone, but then I see Nellie and Mickey are there and yelling at me; then suddenly, there are students all around us joining Nellie and Mickey in chanting, “Jayd, whip her ass!”
I turn to my opponent. She and I are in the middle of the frenzied students, circling each other like gladiators. I'm ready, I think. I take off my backpack and hand it to Nellie. When I do, my charm bag falls out, and I notice the writing on it. I can't make out what it says, but I know it's Mama's handwriting, and then I can hear her in my head telling me, “If you'd done your assignment like I told you to, you'd be able to fix this mess on your own. Now, you're going to have to fight your way out of it.”
Before I can think about what it means, my sparring partner moves in close and slaps me across my face. There's an explosion of oohs and oh-no-she-didn'ts from the crowd. They're all looking at me now, wondering what I'll do. I won't lie; the blow hurts. I grab the right side of my face and look daggers at her, wishing she'd burst into flames. I taste blood and tears on my tongue as the crowd gets louder. I'm breathing hard now, and she's staring me down, daring me to retaliate. Her eyes tell me she doesn't think I will, but she's wrong. I take my time though, slipping off my gold hoop earrings and handing them to Nellie as well. I consider my opponent once more. Then I attack, reaching out with a slap of my own. She wraps her arm around my waist, pulling me to her. Entangled, we fall to the ground.
The crowd continues to egg me on. “Whip her ass, Jayd. Whip Misty's ass!” they say. I'm fighting Misty? I get up off the ground, where I've pinned her down, and look at her again. But nowhere in this girl crumpled on the floor, holding her face and side in pain, do I see Misty.
“It's over. Misty gives up,” Mickey announces to the crowd. I look at Mickey confused.
This girl I'm fighting isn't Misty, I think. Then KJ reaches out from the crowd, grabbing me by the hand. He begins to lead me away, but I pull back to look once more at the girl who I saw so clearly just a minute before, but who now has no face, before taking KJ's hand and leaving the scene of the fight.
“Jayd, get up. You gone be late for work,” my mom yells from her bed, snapping me out of my dream. It's early in the morning and I'm stretched out across my mom's sofaâmy bed during the weekends and holidays that I spend with her. I sit up to find it's already hot as hell. I want to think about my dream. I try to remember the details, but they're already fading. Frustrated, I get up to wash my face and prepare for the day. The last two days of summer are waiting for me; no time to waste dreaming about drama. I know there's plenty of drama in the real world.
“Make me wanna holler/
The way they do my life”
haven't talked to my man, KJ, in two days. I know something's up. That's probably why I had that weird dream last night. I'm still mad at him and Misty, my former best friend, for trying to hook up my first time doing it. So, I really don't want to talk to Misty at all, but KJ's a different story.
“Jayd, go ahead and take a twenty-minute while it's slow,” Shahid says.
I love working at Simply Wholesome. It's way better than working at a fast-food restaurant like other kids my age. It's the only health-food store and restaurant I know of that's both Black ownedâShahid's the manâand supported. My uncle Bryan is so proud of me working here, him being both the Black revolutionary and vegetarian of the family. He loves it when I bring home free eats.
I walk outside to enjoy my break and look at the beautiful row of homes and Black folks in shiny cars. It's a perfect, sunny L.A. day, smog and all. I don't feel like snacking, not even my favorite spinach patties, so I take the opportunity to see why my man's tripping.
It's times like this I'm glad I splurged on a cell phone. It cost damn-near a whole paycheck, but I was tired of being the only person I knew without one.
I try to get a signal on my cell, but they're hard to pick up over here. I don't know if it's because we're so close to Kenneth Hahn Park, notorious for dropping calls, or because there are no cell wires near the oil wells on Stocker. Whatever it is, I'm lucky to get a signal at all.
What's up? Yes, you've reached him. KJ, The Man. Leave a message and maybe I'll get back
Damn. It's his voice mail again. I've been calling him all weekend and I refuse to leave a message. He knows it's me.
I hang up the phone, pissed at his ass. Why is he avoiding me? I thought he was over last week's drama. Misty's probably told him all about me telling her off after she tried to pimp me out to him on our last date. I heard Maisha's back in town. He better not be with that heffa.
“Don't slip up and get caught, 'cause I'm coming for that number-one spot.”
I love that I can download Ludacris to my ring tone.
KJ's name pops up on my screen as the song plays. It's about time that fool called me back.
“Hello,” I say, trying to sound both upset and sexy at the same time.
“What's up, Jayd?” He sounds cool as a cucumber, like he hasn't been avoiding me all weekend.
“You tell me. You the one not returning calls. Is there something you want to tell me?” I say.
Instead of apologizing or even responding, KJ only takes a deep breath and lets out a long sigh. It sounds like he's moving from one place to another.
“KJ, where are you?”
“Do you really want to know?” Now he sounds angry.
“What the hell is that suppose to mean?” I ask. I'm starting to feel sick to my stomach. This usually happens when something big is about to go down.
“Well, actually, I've been kinda kickin' it with someone else lately.”
Now I know I'm going to be sick. “What the hell you mean by âkickin' it,' KJ?!” I scream into the phone. People hangin' outside the restaurant are staring at me. I know this is so ghetto, but this fool's got me hot.
“What difference does it make, Jayd? I'm kickin' it with her the way I can't with you.”
“What's that suppose to mean? We've only been together for a couple of months, KJ. How you gone give up on our relationship just like that?” Tears are streaming down my face, which I'm sure has turned red. Sarah, one of my coworkers, comes out to hand me a box of tissues from the store; when she goes back inside, she closes the door behind her.
As I blow my nose hard into the phone, I hear KJ telling someone to be quiet. Then I hear a door close in the background. My blood is boiling. Something told me he was with that heffa Maisha, or some other heffa. Just because I won't have sex with him? I don't believe this.
“Who was that, KJ?”
“Look, Jayd, I can't talk to you right now,” he says. He still sounds cool. He's playing with me. “I'm kinda in the middle of something.”
?” I ask. I'm getting angrier with every second that goes by.
“You know what, Jayd?” he says, sounding upset. “I ain't got time for this. I got to go tend to my company.”
“What are you telling me, that you got another woman? What the hell? I thought you said you were in love with me?”
“I was, but you didn't do nothing to keep the love there, Jayd. And I got other females who are willing to show me how much they care.”
I can't believe what I'm hearing. This fool is way too full of himself for me.
“Are you serious, KJ? Because those other females gave you some ass you think they love you more than I do?!” I shout, forgetting where I'm at. Customers are all over the place rushing in and out of Simply Wholesome and to their cars, but it doesn't matter; I'm about to go off.
“KJ, do you hear me talking to you? Answer me! Do you think I love you less because I won't give up the cookies?!” I say. Now I'm screaming at the top of my lungs. I wonder if these people even know what the hell cookies are.
“Jayd, you're being a little melodramatic for me. You had to see this coming.”
I hear him sigh and then his other line clicks. It's probably one of his other broads on the line.
“How could I have seen this coming? Just last week you were telling me you loved me and you were willing to wait. What the hell? A week is waiting?” I can't believe this jerk is breaking up with me because I won't give it up to him. I should have Mama put a curse on him.
“Jayd, I can't do this right now. You get the message.” And just like that, he hangs up.
How am I supposed to go back to work now? This fool just broke up with me over the phone. This fool that I love. I would call my mom, but it's Sunday and she's at church right up Slauson. I would ask her to pick me up, but I don't get off until four P.M. and it's only noon now.
“Jayd, break's over!” Shahid yells to me. He doesn't see the tears behind my sunshades. I wish I had time to call Mama. She'd know what to do. Maybe she can give KJ a wart on his forehead or something. I can't wait to get off work.
The bus ride home takes longer than usual. Maybe because my mind is on the fact that this morning I had a man and now I don't. When was he going to tell me? Tuesday, at school? Great way to start a new year.
As the bus rolls down LaBrea, the scenery quickly changes from rolling hills and beautiful homes to apartment buildings and liquor stores. Every time I leave work I feel like I'm Dorothy leaving Oz, but in a hood sort of way. As we approach Baldwin Hills, I look out of the bus window, wishing I could stop at Eso Won, my favorite bookstore and the only place Mama can find her special interest books. But, I can't. I'm too exhausted. I just want to go home and chill out.
There's tagging on the walls of businesses and bus stops with the different gang initials as we get closer to Inglewood. I remember I used to call myself a tagger in junior high. My tag name was “Lyttle.” I can't really draw or even write fancy or nothing like that. But neither can half these fools out here.
Every now and again though I'll see some real hot tag displayed on an overpass or on the side of a bus that'll just take my breath away. Honestly, sometimes the tag art is better than whatever was there before it. But, that thug stuff has got to stop. That ain't art. That's just something somebody threw up to be rude. Tagging is about making a statement, not about being rude.
KJ's lucky I ain't the girl they used to call “Lyttle” no more. Otherwise, he and whatever hoodrat he's running with now would be in some serious pain. I used to fight boys and girls alike, at the drop of a dime. Fighting used to be my favorite pastime. Not because I liked it, but because I was good at it. Girls used to think that just because I'm pretty, I can't fight. They didn't know I was raised with a bunch of rough dudes and I could basically kick anybody's ass.
I didn't have any problems with gangs or people trying to jack me until my mom moved to Inglewood. I swear it seems like every time I go outside around here I'm either seeing some shit go down or I just missed it. I'm not saying anything's wrong with Inglewood. I just wish my mom lived on the other side by the Avenues and not over here in the hood. My mom's car gets broken in to so much, she doesn't even bother putting a new radio in it. Instead she makes do with her boom box on the car's floor or on my lap if I'm sitting in the passenger's seat.
When I get to my mom's house she's lying in her usual spot on the couch.
“Hey, girl. How was work?” my mom asks, all sleepy-like. Like most people on a hot Sunday afternoon, she was asleep before I walked in.
My mom's apartment is quiet, but hot. It gets so hot in this little place, sometimes I can't stand it. It's a one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment with a little balcony right off the dining room. The kitchen, dining room, and living room all flow into one big room. My mom has excellent taste. She shops at spots like Pier 1 Imports and Cost Plus off Santa Monica Boulevard, so she has some real cute stuff.
Her house is in all natural tones. Her couch is beige accented with plush white-and-tan pillows and a bright, multicolored throw that looks so pretty against her mahogany skin.
Lynn Marie Williams, aka my mom, is a fine little thing, to hear her men tell it. She's thirty-five, very petite, only five foot one inches, and only 120 poundsâmost of that is up topâwith long, black hair and bright green eyes, just like Mama's. Mama and my mom share the first name Lynn because when Mama first saw her daughter, it was like looking into a mirror. My mom can't say that about me though. If it weren't for our big breasts, we would look nothing alike.
I can still feel the knot in my throat from all the crying I did earlier. I don't feel like talking to my mom about KJ because she just wouldn't understand. She never has men problems. Ever.
“Jayd, why you standing there daydreaming? Don't you have packing to do? Don't forget you going back to Mama's tomorrow. Can't be until the afternoon though. The plumber's supposed to be coming in the morning to fix that leak in the bathroom.”
“Mom, tomorrow's Labor Day, the day folks in this country don't work. Do you really think the same plumber who was supposed to show up a week ago is gone show up to work on a holiday?”
“Yes, because I went down there and talked to that wench myself and told her if that sink wasn't fixed by Monday morning, I would call the water company and report the leak.”
That wench would be the manager, Ms. Bell. She acts like she's from the same place her name rhymes with. As I walk across the living room into the kitchen to get a glass of water, I notice my mom's been drinking some AlizÃ©. No wonder she's in such a chill mood.
I walk out the kitchen through the dining room and onto the patio. My mom hears the patio door open and takes it as a reason to ask me her favorite question.
“When you gone get around to cleaning off that patio, Jayd?”
“When hell freezes over,” I mumble under my breath. She's got to be joking if she thinks I'm gonna clean this mess for her. There's stuff out here from when she first moved here.
“What did you say?” my mom asks as she shifts from one side of the couch to the other to look at me.
“When I get some time, Mom. That's all I said.”
I use one of her old suitcases as a chair and look out at the cement wall separating our driveway from the apartment next door. The eight-unit building is old as dirt, but usually well maintained. My mom moved here after she and my dad broke up a little over fourteen years ago. My dad still lives in the same house he lived in with my mom in Lynwood, a little city in between Compton and Watts. After they split up, my dad left her with nothingâno house, no money. Nothing. She left that house with what she had on and never looked back.
Just like KJ, my dad thinks he's the greatest gift to women. He's a good-looking manâtall, bright yellow skin, with a short-cropped afro, and a very charming personality. But, he's a dogâalso just like KJ.
I can't stay in this cramped apartment with all this on my mind. I don't feel any better about KJ or Misty. When I need to get out, I take a walk to the liquor store.
I change out of my work clothes in the bathroom, putting on some Guess shorts and a Baby Phat tank top and some flip-flops from Target. I catch my reflection in the mirror and see I need to braid my hair tonight. Until then, a scarf will have to do.
I yell to my mom that I'm going for a walk and ask if she needs anything. She's still on the couch drifting in and out of sleep.
“Yes, Jayd. Could you please get me some Lay's chips and some sour cream?” she mumbles. “I feel like eating some onion dip.”
“What kinda Lay's you want? Those new ones with the cheddar cheese are slammin'.”
“No, Jayd, all that new stuff is for y'all youngsters. Just get me the kind in the yellow bagâplain.”
“All right, but when I come back with my bag don't say nothing.”
“Whatever, Jayd. Oh, and can you bring some French's onion soup mix too?” my mom asks, still in the same position.