by Adeola Adeniyi
“You must smoke crack if you think we’d be dumb enough to ride with y’all,” Charlotte told Harold Briggs while standing near the closed Nevins Street subway as he sat behind the wheel of his dark blue Nissan Maxima. She already watched her friend Courtney go sit in the backseat the second after he pulled over five minutes ago and offered them a ride. At least her other friend Chanel stood beside her. Courtney ignored Charlotte when she knocked on the back window and ordered her to leave right now. The young dude with long blond dreadlocks riding shotgun told Charlotte and Chanel they’ll freeze to death if she didn’t take up the offer. Charlotte had seen the shotgun rider a few times before in the kitchen at the newly built art studio on Nevins and Livingston called In Craze where they just left from, but her, Chanel, and Courtney never talked to him before. To Charlotte, he looked like he went to high school during the Reagan years with his full beard and graying chin. The three almost seventeen-year-old girls would have already been riding the 3 train if all the MTA workers hadn’t gone on strike this afternoon and now they had to shiver in the cold with snow dropping from the cloudy sky to be with the four inches already on the ground.
“You’re acting insane, Charlotte,” Harold said. “Just because I like the American version of Aiko’s Revenge and you love the real Japanese version doesn’t mean we’re still not cool. It wouldn’t be right not helping y’all out.”
Charlotte frowned. “I have nothing more to say on the subject since you made your point of view very clear. We’re all going to the movies anyway to see the real Aiko since it’s my turn to pick.”
Courtney brought down her window. “It’s so warm back here. Can we please have this never ending convo when we get to the theater.”
Chanel lit a Newport. “You know there is no way in hell I’m getting in a car with a dude I don’t even know.” She gave Charlotte her cigarette after Charlotte asked for one pull. “My sister’s man asked to drive me to school this morning, and If I’m not riding with a man who has been with Roxy since Moses split the red sea, then I’m for sure not riding with any strangers. I don’t even know you like that, Harold.”
Harold shook his head laughing. “That’s G Building talk. I’m Harold Chauncy Briggs. The whole world knows Harold Chauncy Briggs. I’m the first brother to have his work shown in Misty’s Dump. Did you forget I was on TV the other day, Chanel?”
“It was public access TV and Misty’s Dump only opened a year ago, Dr. King.” Chanel snatched her cigarette back because Charlotte was already enjoying her third puff. “I didn’t know taking pictures of empty crack vials on the ground in East New York is such edgy work.” She took a pull.
“Crack is the metaphor to show the excessive behavior of our consumer based society that will never be satisfied,” Courtney said. “It’s a real fact!”
“Thank you,” the shotgun rider replied. He zipped up his Mets jacket.
Harold buttoned his coat and stepped out the car holding a wave brush. He approached Chanel and Charlotte smiling.
“I’m just trying to do y’all a favor is all,” he said. “Why y’all being like that?”
“Chanel and I already have boyfriends,” Charlotte said, lighting one of her own Malade brand French cigarettes. “My man drops twenty a night on the court at school and Chanel’s man is a real artist. Diss artists are the only true artist because dissing is real.”
The shotgun rider turned on Hot 97 playing Tupac and stuck his head out the window. “When Harold’s new shit drops next month at the exhibition New Brooklyn Artists is having at Hunter College, he’s gonna have to charge the ladies rent for living on his penis. Then he’s gonna have to beat them away with fifty bats once he’s ready for Missy’s gallery.”
“Crack vials and garbage are not truly edgy ’cause it’s just crack vials and garbage,” Charlotte shouted at the shotgun rider.
A few people walking past them stared at Charlotte a little and then continued on. Harold laughed so much he coughed as he brushed the waves in his hair.
“Like you taking pictures of bums sleeping next to garbage cans and begging ass winos is so original, Charlotte.” He faced Chanel still brushing his hair. “And roasting niggas isn’t a true art form. Hurting someone’s feelings is cool, but it’s not art. Drawing everyday shit like apples and the ocean and gardens was already played out in 1987 and you need to grow out of wanting to be the Dominican Rosalinda Soto and Javier Luis Lopez.”
Chanel pointed her cigarette in his face. “I bet my man can hurt your feelings after he whoops your ass. I’ll call him tonight and see if he doesn’t come tomorrow afternoon.”
“This is insane, Chanel,” Harold replied. “It’s freezing out here and I just want y’all to be safe and warm. Let me please just give y’all a ride.”
“That’s never happening,” Chanel said.
Harold brushed his hair and went back inside his car. Charlotte walked over to Courtney.
“Get out here, Court, ’cause you ain’t riding with a talentless stranger who isn’t smart enough to realize the faces of bums tell millions of stories,” she said. Charlotte finished her cigarette and threw the butt at a speeding white dollar van.
“I swear you live just to tell folks what to do, Charlotte,” Courtney replied, stepping out the car and slamming the door.
The cars and vans stopped for a red light. Charlotte tried pulling Courtney by her arm to walk with her in the middle of the street, but Courtney pushed her away.
“Two years in New York and you still think like a West Virginia hick,” Charlotte said, pushing her back in the chest. “Only stupid girls get in cars with two old niggas they don’t know.”
Chanel, done with her cigarette, dropped it and ran to stand between Courtney and Charlotte.
“This is Harold Chauncy Briggs at the end of the day, y’all,” Courtney whispered to them. “I really don’t like the crack shit ’cause shock is mad ’95 and one of the niggas in his gang life pictures is doing a Beverly Hill Country Club fifty ounce beer print ad now, but white folks like Missy at In Craze will make him real soon so who knows.” Her teeth were chattering and she lit a cigarette. “Maybe when he gets made he might throw us a few crumbs. All I need is a crumb and I will gladly make my own cake from it. That’s a real fact.”
“No offense, but you can’t turn a crumb into a cake when you secretly tape record men going into porn shops on 42nd Street or pay junkies to record them shooting up and then call yourself a real visual artist, Courtney. The only thing worse than shock is boring shock.” Charlotte bummed a cigarette from Chanel to save hers for later. “That’s a fact.”
Courtney said, “You do the same shit. Dirty shops and dope fiends are a metaphor for never ending consumption in this country. I show the world what’s real. Them boys at In Craze only praise your work because your a pretty yellowbone. That’s a real fact!”
“I never just exploit my subjects and I already know I’m great. Don’t be a player hater,” Charlotte said, poking Courtney in the shoulder with her finger. “I bet I can send all my work out with your face pretending to be you and it’ll still be praised despite you just being kinda aiight. Most boys only want you I’m sure ’cause your still a girl at the end of the night.”
The shotgun rider put on a wool hat. “Y’all really need to chill.”
“You riding with strangers is some real ignorant shit and I’m not gonna let you do it.” Charlotte’s red plastic lighter died when she tried to light the cigarette so she used the matches in her black leather jacket and sucked on it hard. “You are such a West Virginia hick.”
Courtney rolled her eyes at Charlotte as she let smoke race out her nostrils. “Like Felton, Oklahoma is so goddam hard. Fuck the Sooners.”
“Niggas die every night in Felton. Fuck the Mountaineers,” Charlotte replied, tapping her ashes.
“Niggas die in West Virginia too and that’s a real fact,” Courtney said. She hugged herself and her teeth chattered even more after she dropped the cigarette.
“This is crazy bullshit,” Chanel said, wiping snow off her face with a napkin. “Let all get outta here.”
Harold came out the car again. “I’m really sorry. I swear I am. Can we please just all get inside and discuss this later. It’s like fifteen degrees and I’m really, really starving.” He began nodding as the new Joralemon Brown song “Suicide Notes,” started playing on the radio.
Chanel put her hands in the pockets of her heavy yellow coat. “We’re all minors. Why are you fiending to have minors in your car so goddam bad?”
“It’s freezing out here and I just want to take y’all to the movie theater. I’m just being cool. It’ll be a great story to tell your children one day. ” Harold rubbed snow off his lightly bearded brown face. “Just let me drive y’all.”
“I have an A average at one of the best private schools in the city and I was raised in Bed-Stuy,” Chanel replied. “You know I’m not dumb enough to ever let that happen.”
Charlotte threw the cigarette at the garbage bags belonging to the hot dog store after she started coughing. “Let’s just go, Courtney. Can you please just come with us.”
Courtney stood right in Charlotte’s face. “Look, you don’t own me, Massa Valdez. I’m gonna ride my black ass in a nice heated car while y’all get to the theater however the fuck y’all get there.” She then ran back inside the car.
“Why are we still going to the movies tonight, Charlotte?” Chanel asked. “Let’s just go tomorrow.”
“That question is retarted,” Charlotte said, digging through her inside jacket pocket and finding a gum ball. “You know tomorrow is Friday and today is the last day for the reshowing of Aiko so we are going to see it.” She wrapped the extra scarf in her book bag around her face once it went numb. “I don’t give three fucks if the whole world freezes to death today.”
“I’ll meet y’all at six right in the lobby,” Courtney said. “Last week Charlotte pigged out on my money when it was my turn treating so it’s payback today.”
“You sure you don’t want a ride, Chanel?” Harold asked.
Chanel said, “I’d die before I put myself in a car with some dudes I don’t know. I don’t trust no dude.”
Harold sucked his teeth and kicked the wheel before going back inside. The girls then watched them drive away. Charlotte spat her gum out at the direction of the car.
“Everyone would say we were stupid for riding with them,” Chanel told Charlotte after they left the packed dollar van at the corner of Flatbush and Church an hour later and each handed the driver the ten bucks he charged due to the strike. It quit snowing, but the air was colder. “And the cops wouldn’t OD searching for us. They’d find our bones in the woods thirty years later.”
Charlotte laughed. “They’ll look for half of me at least.”
Chanel stopped at a payphone. “My Dominican ass will get one overworked detective.” She picked up the phone and quickly put it back on its cradle. “Goddam shit don’t work.”
“You really think Harold could do something so grimy?”
Chanel shrugged. “I don’t ever want to find out, Miss Valdez.”
Charlotte thanked God they didn’t see a line outside the RKO Kenmore. She did get angry though not seeing Courtney in the lobby. The smell of popcorn hit them as the tall usher opened the door for a couple leaving.
Charlotte sighed. “It’s six and my movie is gonna start soon. I will wage war with Courtney if we miss any of this shit. We should have just forced her not to ride with them.”
“I’m sure she’s fine and will be here.”
Charlotte and Chanel brought two tickets for the Disney movie Zoo and Charlotte smiled asking the cashier if he’d be sweet enough to let them use his phone to page their friend. He gave it to her with the theater’s number to use for the callback. She paged Courtney 911 and waited with Chanel in the lobby. By six-thirty, the phone rang five times, but none of the callers were Courtney. At seven, Charlotte stared at the New Jack City 2 poster on the wall with Coming Soon underneath it regretting that she didn’t just snatch Courtney out that stupid car by her arm. She kept seeing in her head Harold and his friend holding Courtney’s arms and legs down in a living room, or Harold with his hand over her mouth in the backseat of his car parked in an empty lot somewhere as she struggled to break out his grip. Her pager could be in a garbage can or the East River. She walked to Chanel and hugged her as she looked at the chandeliers over the concession stand brushing her long black hair.
“What’s that for?” Chanel asked.
“I’m so happy you’re here, girl,” she said, continuing to hugging her. “I’m happy you have such good New York instincts. I know Courtney has deep envy towards my work, and I’ll admit I do have mines towards the painting she did of that junkie’s arm, but she’s still my homegirl. Y’all are my sisters and I’m just feeling real worried is all.”
Chanel nodded. “The kind of purple she used for the track marks was dope. Anyway, I’m sure she’s fine. It’s still early and traffic might be shit.”
“But we got here on time and she always answers her pager. I just wanna see Courtney or at least have her tell us she’s fine so we can go at it.”
“Let’s go smoke,” Chanel said.
They shared one of Charlotte’s French cigarettes outside and Chanel pointed out to Charlotte the dark blue Nissan Maxima stop near the closed bodega. Charlotte ran there so excited to see Courtney still alive, but two young men got out the backseat of the car and an old man drove away with an old woman riding shotgun.
Adeola Adeniyi was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and is a graduate of Medgar Evers College. His work has been published in Black Magnolias, Akashic Mondays are Murder series, Black Renaissance Noire, and Solstice Literary Magazine. His literary influences are Edward P Jones, Roberto Bolano, Kiese Laymon, and every episode of HBO’s The Wire.
Photo: Andres Siimon/Unsplash
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