Saturday, January 20, 2018

FAIR TRADE


Below is the first one of my short stories to ever be published. The time feels right to present it here at A LINE A DAY as my first #ShortStorySunday entry of 2018. Now that so many of my tales have been presented here, I'll need to write some new ones soon to avoid running out of material. I hope you enjoy it. Feel free to let me know if you do since writers are fueled by compliments.  😍





                                        
                      FAIR TRADE



       A short story by ROY L. PICKERING JR.




The plan was perfect.  Simple and effective, so dependable in outcome you could set your watch to it.  The four adolescents had pulled this off numerous times previously, always without a hitch.

Rodney had the most mature sounding voice of the group, so it was always he who placed the call.  Always to a Chinese take-out restaurant for a variety of important reasons.  Reason number one was that the delivery guy was typically smallish, frail seeming, and quite clearly scared to death of black people.  At least when he was surrounded by four of them.  Reason number two, they never arrived in a car, always on a beat up old bicycle, so they never tried to run for it.  The third and fourth reasons were that all four of them liked Chinese food (who doesn't?) and there were about half a million Chinese restaurants in the area.  This might seem odd to some, since very few Chinese people lived in the neighborhood so far as they could tell, but the four young men didn't spend much time contemplating the enigma.  They tended to accept things as they were without excessive questioning.

"What's taking this guy so long?" asked Cognac, who was named after the beverage responsible for his conception.  His running joke was that if other parents in the neighborhood used the same method of name giving as his parents, there would be a whole lot of Malt Liquors running around.  Cognac was in love with gold.  It adorned his fingers, wrists, neck, ears and one tooth.  His nickname, as if someone named Cognac needed a nickname, was Glitter.

"If he doesn't show up in the next two minutes, I say we don't tip him."  As usual, Coletrane's joke cracked up none other than Coletrane.  His laughter was a sight to see due to a great quantity of loose flesh that bounced and jiggled in every which direction.  He claimed to not really be fat, merely too short for his weight.  Coletrane planned to correct this situation by having a growth spurt to go along with his newly grown chest hairs.  What he failed to realize was that in order to be of average weight, he would need to shoot up to about seven feet.

If somehow this did happen, he still wouldn't be much taller than Jerome, who seemed to grow about a foot per month. Jerome held a basketball in hand, his trademark.  It had been signed by three current members of the New York Knicks. The game of hoops was the most important thing in his life.  It was his school, his church, his lover, his mother and his child.  Jerome could recite from memory the statistics of just about any player in the NBA.

Rodney's memory was equally impressive, only with a different subject matter.  Roaming around in his head were the lyrics for pretty much every rap song ever recorded, as well as close to one hundred songs he had composed.  The customized headphones around his neck were as constant as a tattoo.

The four friends killed time by bragging about the numerous girls who were allegedly into them, and recycling insults at each other.  All in the name of fun.  Any moment now their latest victim would arrive, supplying them with much needed (or certainly wanted) cash, an antidote for their boredom, and some never to be taken for granted free food.

"Here he comes."

The delivery man approaching appeared to be about a thousand years old.  He looked too antiquated to walk ten consecutive steps, much less be peddling a bike laden with food uphill.  As soon as he hopped off the bike (yes hopped, the man was startlingly agile) and started looking for the fictional address Rodney had given to lure him, the four young thieves made their move.  Their move was simply to surround the delivery man.  Nine times out of ten, food, money and the bike were willingly offered without them having to say a word or make a single threatening gesture.  Their mere presence was sufficient.  They never actually wanted the bicycles, being that they were always pieces of crap, and often the most difficult part of the crime was convincing the delivery man of this fact.  Occasionally they had to be a bit more menacing to convince the guy to forfeit his goods.  Once Rodney had pulled his knife, which was how they learned that he carried one on him, but that was as dramatic as it had ever gotten.

Coletrane didn't look particularly menacing on this day.  His mother dead and father in whatever unknown location he happened to be, he had been raised by his grandparents on his mother's side and taught to respect the elderly.  Coletrane didn't have the nerve to threaten someone who made his grandparents look like teenagers, but he didn't want to appear cowardly to his friends.  He walked up to the delivery man along with the others, but instead of staring into the man’s eyes as was custom, looked sheepishly down at the ground.

The four of them waited patiently for the old man to realize he was in the same shoes that Custer had found himself in, probably during this guy's childhood.

"Food for you?"

"Hell yeah, food for us," Jerome growled.

"Twenty two fifty."

"How about for free and we let your old ass live?" said Rodney.

"Twenty two fifty."

"How about one ass whipping?" asked Cognac.  "Or you can just hand over that food and the money in your pocket and we'll call it even."

"You boys should be shamed of yourselves."

"Who you calling boy?" asked Jerome, who towered ridiculously over the little, fearless old man.

"You boys need a spanking.  Your mammas raised you better."

"Now I know you ain't talking 'bout my mother," Rodney said, taking a step forward with intent to intimidate.

"Give me money or we make trade."

"What?  You senile or something, Grandpa?  Hand over my mother fucking Moo Shu now."  Rodney was clearly getting agitated, and he had a nasty temper that could ignite quickly when situations unfolded unexpectedly.

"Money or trade," the delivery man insisted.

"Fine," said Cognac.  "We'll trade you those bags and whatever cash you have on you for your life.  Sound good to you?"

"No good."

"You ain't 'fraid to die, fool?"

"I ninety seven years old.  Sometime I think death scared of me.  Twenty two fifty or trade."

"Trade what?" asked Cognac.

"I take one of your gold chains, your headphones, your basketball, and ...  What you have for me round boy?"

"Let's just let the old guy go," said Coletrane, still studiously examining his sneakers. 

"I'm getting tired of this bullshit," said Rodney.  "This is a robbery, not a negotiation."  Rodney tried to grab a bag of food from off the delivery man's bicycle but his hand never reached its destination.  The old guy quickly and firmly slapped it away.

"Not a smart move, Gramps.  Now I'm gonna have to jack you up."

"Let's just leave the man be," Coletrane said.

Rodney raised his fist and started walking towards the old man.  "No, I don't think ..."

Suddenly Rodney was laying on the ground in fetal position, statement left incomplete, his hands between his legs covering the vulnerable area he had just been kicked in.  That alone was ample cause for amazement on the parts of the three would be robbers who remained standing.  What really shocked them though was the old man removing the headphones from around Rodney's neck.

"This pay your share."  The delivery man turned towards Jerome.  "Now you."

Jerome was unsure of himself, that much was apparent by the look on his face.  Cognac and Coletrane half expected him to run off.  Instead he started to bounce his basketball.

"You want it, take it."

Jerome was an excellent ball handler for his height, for any height in fact.  On the basketball court he was unstoppable.  He would come racing down the floor dribbling the ball with the dexterity of a Harlem Globetrotter, then go soaring over his lesser opponents in Michael Jordan-like manner and slam the ball through the hoop with Shaq-like authority.  He was a shoo in for a college scholarship and would probably end up being one of the rare success stories from their neighborhood.

Cognac and Coletrane watched Jerome expertly dribble the ball at a dizzying speed, through his legs, around his back.  They were rather surprised to see the old man assume a defensive position.  They were stupefied when he cleanly stole the ball from Jerome.

The old man tucked the ball under his arm.  "This pay your share."

A dejected Jerome hung his head in embarrassment but did not protest.  Anyone who could humble him in the game of basketball deserved no disrespect.  As much as he cherished that ball, he knew that sometimes in life you have to pay what you owe.

The old man turned towards Cognac, but before he could even say a word he was being handed a gold necklace.  Cognac had seen enough to convince him that it was preferable to glitter a few karats less brightly than to deny this old man his due.

"This pay your share."

The delivery man placed his newly acquired goods on the ground next to his bicycle.  Then he turned towards Coletrane who was still determined to avoid the man's gaze.

"What you have for me?"

Coletrane remained silent, his shame at harassing such an elderly, although quite spirited man placing a heavy burden on his tongue.

"You no deaf or dumb, so you answer me.  What you have?"

Coletrane raised his arms helplessly.  "I don't got anything.  What you see is what I have."

The delivery man stepped towards the rotund lad and lifted his chin so that their eyes may meet.

"What you tried to do to me was wrong.  You should know better.  You should never do anything that don't make your mamma proud."

"My mother's dead."

"She still watching.  My mamma watch me.  Your mamma watch you.  You understand?"

Coletrane did understand and nodded to convey this.

"Good.  Now you pay me your share."

Coletrane bowed his head in shame again.  Not because of his guilty conscience, but because he felt that he did owe the old man something, but he really had nothing to give.  From the corner of his eye he noticed Rodney quietly rising to his feet and extracting a switchblade from the back pocket of his jeans.

Rodney sprung forward, the blade of his knife pointed towards the small of the delivery man's back.  Coletrane had come to believe that the old guy possessed supernatural abilities learned in some Tibetan monastery.  What other explanation could there be for the stunts he had pulled?  But he didn't seem to notice a thing as the end of his existence grew violently near.  So it was up to Coletrane to brush past the man, deflect the path of Rodney's outstretched hand with its deadly attachment, and knock his friend unconscious with an elbow to the head.

When Coletrane turned around he saw the delivery man taking the bags of food from off his bicycle.  He walked over to Coletrane and lay the bags at his feet.  The old man glanced down at the prone body of Rodney, then turned his attention back to the boy who had saved his life.

"This pay your share."

The ancient delivery man went back to his bicycle, hopped on, and rode off into the proverbial and literal sunset.  Coletrane, Cognac and Jerome watched him in wonder until he was gone from view, then proceeded to retrieve and devour the food.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Questionable Attire











I don't know. I don't even much care, really. I remain capable of seeing a black kid reading a book & not thinking of monkeys, and of seeing a white kid hanging from a branch & thinking "look at that 'little non-literal monkey' having a blast". No insult intended towards either kid.


 In this case I mostly see the point of those who are pissed at the ad because it's too hard to believe H&M didn't know better, that they didn't realize the nerves that would be hit. Certainly there are a fair number of people who see these things before someone presses send for it to go live. Not a single person at H&M voiced concern over how the photo would be perceived, particularly in this day and age, with amateur self-appointed PC police carefully scanning social media for any misstep? They had to know people would take offense and raise a fuss over this. Either they didn't care (highly unlikely) or they were courting the obvious response it would elicit. Bad publicity is better than no publicity? Like I said, I don't pretend to know H&M's motives nor do I much care. It's all too deju vu. I've seen this movie quite a few times before. The end is not going to take me by surprise AT ALL.






Here's a suggestion - Here's another.



And now for the "ending" that could be seen coming a mile away...


Amazes me how quickly the power of social media can make a company apologize and plead for mercy, yet when it came to getting the right person elected president a year ago, it was powerless. Minor accomplishments got folks puffing out chests while the achievements that most matter stay undone.