BROTHERS SHOULDN'T FIGHT EACH OTHER so hard, especially not in public. I may not have a brother to fight, but my family’s good for exchanging punches behind closed doors. My older sisters don’t leave scars on me. They’re kind about it, I think. Lucy purples pinches under my arm, and Jenny shoves me into walls when I’m not looking. Simple stuff. These two, the Grand Brothers, they throw each other into parked cars and aim ribcages at side mirrors. The scuffle spills from the worn basketball court and out into the middle of 1st Street, completely empty at this time of day on a weekend. Four of us watch the Grands go at it, but I mostly watch their footwork.
Two pairs of Nike Air Flights in harmonious step with one another, the both of them can move. Swing, block, slide, block, shift back to avoid the punch – like video game boxers in a demo level on a forgotten blacktop. The Spalding basketball that started this mess rolls harmlessly away, washing its hands of the flagrant foul. Rasheed forearmed the bridge of Kamill’s nose to block a game-winning layup – a 9 a.m. pick-up game no one cares about, on an empty basketball court no one cares about. Swing, block, slide, block, shift back to avoid the punch – like video game brothers that wear Nike Air Flights to dance brutal choreography on a one-way street.
A taxi zooms toward the action. The driver’s probably playing with his phone, but I can’t see. I’m watching the footwork. Kamill has long arms, and he’s mid-haymaker when he spots the speeding vehicle, likely with his peripheral vision. His right arm’s momentum remains the same, but his fist unfurls to reach for the back of his brother’s neck and rip him from the line of danger. Rasheed, tall and slender, doesn’t slide to avoid Kamill’s hand, allowing himself to be pulled onto the sidewalk. It could be that he recognizes a warning in his brother’s eyes – or maybe it isn’t like that. My eyes are on the Flights. What I can see is Kamill planting his feet to lift his brother through the air. Rasheed nimbly springs forward, off his left foot, and he leaps from the middle of the street to the sidewalk, crashing through his brother in the process. The taxi driver misses the back of Rasheed’s left heel by inches. The two brothers land on each other in a heap. The car’s brake lights tap for a second, but the cabbie continues to roll forward. Just as well, the rest of us are obligated to launch our Snapple bottles at the back of his cab.
Mo’s bottle whiffs and crashes, while Derek’s and Jorge’s bottles each slam the trunk. I’m the only one who hits the rear windshield, though my aim was only to look like I was trying to hit something. The car comes to a full stop. My wayward bottle rolls off the durable windshield, over a Snapple dent on the trunk, and lands back in the street from whence it came. The driver halts, the engine running while he looks at the rear window and through it – no serious damage to the car, and four wild-eyed teens assembling in a united front. For a second, the only sounds on 1st Street are a congested engine, a chipped Snapple bottle rolling unevenly over asphalt, and Kamill shoving his brother off him, cursing Rasheed with loud disdain.
“It’s your own stupid fault you almost got hit! I shoulda let you.”
“You couldn’t let me get hit because if I die first I’ll haunt you every night. Forever.”
“So what? You’d suck at haunting like you suck at life. I’m not scared.”
Rasheed does this thing where he kisses his thumb and juts his other fingers out to emphasize sincerity. “Swear on my mother, I’d haunt you in your sleep until you woke up in a pissy bed. ‘Oh, no. Your bed smells like piss. That’s nasty. Who did this to you?’ Me! And all because you let me get hit by a taxi.” Rasheed kisses his thumb and juts his fingers. “Swear on my mother, I’d make you do so much laundry.”
“You’re an idiot.”
I'LL VISIT RASHEED IN JAIL about twelve years from now. I’ll ask him if he remembers the day when he almost got hit by a taxi, and he’ll remember that, but he won’t remember the part about the haunting and the pissy sheets. We’ll both be twenty-nine within a few weeks, before the end of the month. He’ll be serving a three-to-five for aggravated assault. The victim in question will be a homeless man who purposely bumps into Rasheed while walking past him on a dimly lit 1st Street. Rasheed won’t stop hitting the man until the street is red and blue and a baton lands hard in Rah’s ribcage, right where the side mirrors used to fit. I’ll ask Rah what happened. He’ll shrug under loose-fitting orange and he’ll say he doesn’t remember it too well. He’ll say he can do the time, though, and he’ll tell me not to worry about him. He’ll ask me about my family’s health, and then he’ll tell me to thank Jenny for the commissary. Then Rah will ask me if I’ve spoken to Kamill recently, and he’ll ask me if Kamill’s asked about him at all. I’ll say he has. I’ll lie to Rah, and Rah won’t call me on it. I won’t have the heart to tell Rasheed that I haven’t heard from his brother since before Rah was last arrested.
IT'S NOT UNTIL RASHEED and Kamill pick themselves up off the ground that the cabbie decides to drive off, once and for all. Rah and Mill are large figures on a thin street surrounded by apartment buildings with no spaces in between them, everything tight and narrow on 1st Street. The abandoned court is on the corner of 1st and Central, but the rest of the block is zig-zagging fire escapes as far as the eye can see. Windows with closed shutters occasionally open a small slit, then close again with indifference. Through the rising exhaust fumes and echo of screeching tires, we stand together in a staggered line, though Rah and Mill tower over the rest of the line. Rah’s taller, and Mill’s stronger, though they’re each both of those things to the rest of us. Mo’s getting fat these days, and Derek’s so short he wears sneakers with thick soles, and Jorge’s posture gives him a humpback, and my eyes go cross-eyed when I get excited. We’re a sorry bunch. Fiercely loyal, but sorry. Rah and Mill look like tag team champions, but the rest of us are WWE jobbers, by comparison.
I'LL SEE KAMIL AT MY JOB about thirteen years from now. I’ll be thirty, and he’ll be thirty-two, and we’ll both be dressed up for the parent-teacher conference. We’ll be suddenly loud and borderline unprofessional when we see each other, exchanging an excited handshake that’ll turn into a quick hug, replete with booming pats on the back from Rah’s bear mitts. I won’t know ahead of time that I’ll be teaching Mill’s son because his last name won’t be Grand. And Mill won’t know his son’s teacher’s name is Mr. Alvarez because Mill will just have reconnected with his ten-year-old, his son’s mother allowing him to attend the parent-teacher conference with her as a show of good faith. Kamill will look as though I’ve saved his life when he sees me, his son’s teacher identified as a lifelong friend. Kamill’s son’s mother, Kathy, will ask me how Kamill and I know each other, and she’ll relax into an easy smile when I tell her that Kamill and his family were dear friends during my youth. I won’t mention Rasheed by name because Kathy will undoubtedly know bad things about him, and I’ll be too busy saving Kamill’s life by proving that having him around can be positive for their son, Fred. I’ll ask Kathy and Kamill how long’s it been since Kamill was back in the picture. They’ll hesitate to respond, but I’ll tell them that I only ask because I’ve seen a significant improvement in Freddy’s temperament and behavior as of about six weeks ago. They’ll both smile widely, and Kamill’s watery eyes will thank me for getting the number just right. I’ll wait until our next conversation at a more appropriate time to tell Mill about Jenny’s fading health. He’ll want to know, what with Jenny having been such a positive presence in the lives of all my childhood friends. Mill and I won’t lose contact again after this chance meeting.
WE MEET IN THE CENTER of the street for high-fives, daps, and primal screams. The taxi gone, we yell at each other with raucous approval, our voices filling the empty 1st Street. Jorge points at Mo’s shattered Snapple bottle, the one that whiffed, and ridicules his throw.
Mo explains why his bottle fell short of the mark. “My damn coat, man.” He tugs on his sleeves to show how tight they are. He recreates the throwing motion, and just as he’s at the apex of release, “You see? You see?” He repeats it once, then twice. We all agree that Mo has tight sleeves.
Jorge and Derek are unrelenting with their fat jokes. Mohamed’s a good sport, though. He leans into the humor with hearty laughs that flash a visual of what Pakistani Santa must look like. Derek picks up small projectiles to launch in an unflattering motion, tossing rocks and bottle caps the way Mo tosses everything – short-armed and with a story to follow. Jorge keeps bending over to pick up things to throw, but he continuously pretends to tear his pants, and then he does a bit where he has to cover his rear so no one sees. It’s Mo’s favorite bit.
MO WILL BE A FULL-FLEDGED FATTY about fourteen years from now. His sleeves will be as tight as ever, and he’ll blame them – or his pants or his shirt – for his stumpy movements. He’ll accidentally knock over a floral arrangement at my sister’s wake. It won’t be too bad, but some of my family who don’t know him will look mortified. My other sister, Lucy, will roll her eyes and smile out of annoyance, but the distraction will have interrupted her most recent crying fit, and for that I’ll be thankful. I’ll tell everyone present what I’ll tell Mo: that Jenny always liked Mo, and she always laughed when he knocked things over. I’ll tell them about the time that Mo came to visit Jenny in the hospital and he promptly knocked orange juice all over her when he went in for a hug. I’ll remind Mo that it was because of how tight his shirt was tucked, and I’ll remind him of how he showed Jenny. “You see? You see?” I’ll tell them all that it was the most I’d seen Jenny laugh in a long time. I’ll pick up the floral arrangement and I’ll tell everyone that this was the best possible way for Mo to say goodbye. Mo will breathe out relief, though he may never forgive his pants for their constricting betrayal.
The flowers will be cleaned up just as Kamill arrives with Kathy and Freddy. “It’s them tight-ass pants, right?” Kamill will say to Mo. “I see, man. I see.” Kamill will smile at Mo through glassy eyes, and Mo will shake his hand and turn it into a strong hug with booming back-pats. Kamill and I will go straight for the hug, though I won’t let any embrace linger. It’ll be too difficult to keep a level head. Derek and Jorge will save me when they make their way toward us. Derek will pat Kamill on his high back, like he used to do as a kid just to prove he could reach, and Kamill will slap hands with Derek and hug him aggressively. Jorge will do the same with Mo, then with me. Then he’ll humbly ask me if he could get a moment of my time.
“Sorry, hermano, but can you step outside with me real quick? All of y’all, actually. Just a minute?” Jorge will be fidgety and tense, and Derek will clench his jaw and stare down at his thick-soled shoes while they wait for our responses. We’ll say sure and we’ll walk through the wave of grieving family and friends, and we’ll wonder about the secrecy until we step outside.
Rasheed will be standing across 6th Street, just outside the Chinese food spot, Lee’s. I’ll yell out to him over the wafting lo mein fragrance, “YO!” I’ll open my arms up to the sky and wave him over. “Since when you got out, kid?”
Rasheed will cross the street, “Last week, bruh. Good behavior.”
Kamill will say, “Ha. Right.” No one will look at Mill when he says that.
“Why you don’t wanna come inside?” I’ll say to Rah.
He’ll look down at his clothes: a long white T-shirt and ratty jeans, though his retro Nike Air Flights will look new. “Uh, nah, I didn’t wanna be a bother. I just wanted to tell you how sorry I am for your loss. Jenny was always nice to me, yo. I wish I coulda visited her in the hospital.”
Mill will suck his teeth as he turns away his head.
Rah will then address his brother, “And you.”
“Me what?” with aggression.
“Thank you,” with sincerity.
“For what?” with confusion.
“The taxi,” with finality.
Mill will slowly lift his head and focus his eyes on his younger brother. “You know you never—”
“I know. I never.” Rah will extend his hand. “Better late, though, right?” Mill will accept his brother’s handshake just as a car zooms around the corner, blaring rap music and blowing out a pungent aroma of marijuana. The horn will honk twice in quick succession, and Rah will say he has to go. We’ll all nod as Rah sleeks his way into a black Infiniti with tinted windows, and we’ll watch until the car turns the corner at a too-fast speed.
WE RUN DOWN 1ST STREET, laughing, weaving in and out of parked cars. We howl at the sun and invite return howls. We judge ourselves by our company, and our company is strong. We hear people yell at us through barely-open shutters, and we scream back. We’re untouchable. We slap hands, and we throw Snapple bottles, and we fight people, but we don’t fight our brothers, especially not in public. We move about with unrehearsed choreography, two pairs of Nike Air Flights worn by a pair of fighters and all the satellite pairs of sneakers that are in their orbit. We’re in a T-minus countdown till takeoff. We wonder where the day will take us next.
Adrian Class is an Ecua-Rican writer from Jersey City. He has a background in hip hop and slam poetry. Adrian is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at William Paterson University while he is working on his first collection of short stories titled "From 5 West to Now."