The first words I heard that day were “Smell this!” It was 8:45 am and I had just walked into the office. Mr Green, the head of security, was holding out an Arizona Ice Tea bottle. It was clearly something he had confiscated from a student, so I grabbed it and took a whiff – expecting vodka or something. What I inhaled instead was a corrosive vapor that screamed to the end of my limbs and back to my brain before smoldering behind my eyes for a few seconds.
“Whaddya think?” Asked Mr Green. “Bleach?”
“Hmm..” I said, as I looked into the bottle and suppressed the urge to throw it in his face. Flaky particles floated atop a viscous liquid. “No, it doesn’t smell like bleach to me,” I said, still blinking in pain.
“Ammonia?” Added Green.
“Maybe,” I said. “Who brought it in?”
“The Bat Brothas did, of coahse,” he yelled, referring to two Guyanese kids whom we last heard from when they attacked a member of the Cr!ps on the street outside the school with baseball bats.
“Are you serious?”
Green stretched his neck towards me like he was daring me to punch him. “As fockin’ cancah,” he growled. “They’re ovah theah right now gettin’ their asses beat by tha cops.” He made a dismissive gesture towards the other section of the office.
I turned my head to peek through the window that separates the two sides of the office. “I guess they’re the Chemical Brothers now,” I muttered to myself. “Hey, you think they planned to use it as a weapon?”
“You tell me,” he shrugged. “They’re definitely gonna need somethin‘ to protect ’em, that’s foah shoah. But they’re gonna need a hell of a lot moah than some fockin’ Pine Sol or whatevah tha fuck that is.”
He was referring to the all-but-guaranteed vengeance they would get from the all-powerful Cr!p contingent at Patriot in response to the bat attack, which had itself surely been a response to something else, etc., etc.
“Maybe it’s flammable, and they were gonna throw it on someone and then light it,” I offered.
“One of ’em did have a lighta,” said a frowning Mr Green.
I decided to go over to other side of the office where my desk is and where the interrogation was taking place. The door creaked loudly as I entered. There were 3 cops standing around the Bat Brothers, and they all turned and looked at me like I had just caught them with their hands in the cookie jar. I nodded uncomfortably and scurried into my nook a few feet away and pretended to do paper work as I eavesdropped.
The cops were all familiar to me, as was every cop from the local precinct. I get the feeling that Patriot High provides them with most of their business.
“We’ve nevah found nothin‘ on any Cr!ps,” barked a young, tough, Irish cop named McMahon, who always takes the lead when he comes into the office. “But YOU guys. Yoah comin’ inta tha buildin’ with AMMONIA, and drivin’ around with a car fulla fockin BATS.”
Two other cops, one Italian and one Hispanic, stood glumly behind McMahon, their hands resting heavily on their gun belts.
One of the Guyanese kids, named Gujarat, was leaning back in one of our office chairs – his long skinny legs splayed wide open in front of him. He was baby-eyed with unruly curly hair, and he was constantly flashing a rabbity grin that he spiked with a bizarre bravado and incessant, spooky giggling. You wouldn’t say that Gujarat struck a particularly intimidating figure, but he made up for that in spades by being bat-shit crazy. He always seemed to be having a lot of fun, but his actions were so illogical and self destructive that it seemed pretty clear to me that he was really just desperately running away from some deep emotional injuries.
His father was a pathetic character. Utterly spineless. I’ve met his mom too. Two years ago, after she flew all the way from Guyana to check up on him, we all sat in my nook, our knees touching, while she sobbed uncontrollably over his behavior, and Gujarat tenderly wiped the snot ropes from her face. She promised she would take him back to Guyana if he didn’t shape up, but he only got worse, and of course she never took him back.
“Yo, it’s my right ta carry a bat!” Gujarat yelled at the cops.
“And it’s my right to lock you up!”
“You can’t lock me up for somethin’ tha’s my right,” he complained. But then he threw his hands up in faux surrender and said calmly, “but if you want to, den go ‘head, cuz I know dat would make your day.” Then he let out a big grin, “and I love ta make peoples’ day! Haha!”
“Yoah a moron,” said the cop. “You know that?”
“Monkey see monkey do I guess, my nigga! Ahhhhhhhhhh!” he yelled, as he pointed at the cop like he had just been publicly humiliated.
“Ya know what, maybe we shouldn’t lock you up,” said the cop calmly. “And maybe they shouldn’t suspend ya either. Maybe we should just leave ya’s here and letch ya getch yoah ASSES beat by the Cr!ps! How bout dat?”
I pumped the fist inside my mind. Yesssss! I thought. Please do that! Tell em, McMahon!
McMahon was waiting for his proposition to sink into Gujarat’s brain when all the school loudspeakers suddenly erupted sinultaneously in a terrifying,”GOOOOOOOOOOOD MORNING PATRIOT HIGH SCHOOOOOOOOOL!!!”
The cop looked around like the office like a shot had been fired, “WHAT THA HELL WAS THAT?”
His partners both chuckled without smiling, and without moving their hands off their belts.
It was only the fourth period announcements – the bane of all fourth period teachers. After that jolting introduction, it always goes right into the Pledge of Allegiance, which most of the kids don’t know, the Pakistanis refuse to even stand up for, and which, to me, is no more than a foggy reminder of a distant world where the notion of pride within a community larger than your own particular housing project may/may not still exist. Hell, I don’t stand up for it anymore either. In short, and not a little ironically, in the halls of Patriot, its message rings just about as hollow as a skull.
After the Pledge, the announcements start. The lady who reads them tries to sound super positive but it only makes it worse. “DON’T FORGET, PATRIOT STUDENTS. WEDNESDAY IS WACKY TACKY DAY. THURSDAY IS TWIN DAY. AND FRIDAY IS TIE DAAAAAY!!!”
“Gimme a break,” mumbles the secretary.
“Is she foah real?” moans a teacher who happened to be eating a sandwich in the office.
The cops had had enough themselves, so they went over to the other side of the partition in the office to speak with the head of security, leaving the Chemical Brothers unharnessed.
Gujarat turned to me wide-eyed, “”Yo Mista Pistol, you saw them cops try an’ beat our ass in heah? Oh, tha’s right! You wasn’t in heah. Yo, nigga, he came in heah, looked around the room, and then Bam! He elbowed his ass in the face!” Gujarat was referring to his friend, who was sitting there with a semi-conscious smile on his face, nodding wordlessly. “I thought he was comin’ at me next son!”
The friend finally mumbled something but Gujarat put his hand up and whisper-shouted, “No don’t say that! Don’t say that, yo! They can arrest you fo sayin’ that!”
The friend obediently continued his blank-stared and silent nodding. I hadn’t heard what he had said, but I figured he had probably said something about knocking off a cop or two.
“But yo, if they hit me,” said Gujarat, “I’m causin’ a scene. I’m jumpin’ awll inta this computah right heah. Causin’ a scene yo! Police brutality, yo.” He licked his lips at the prospect and then, cocking his head to one side, he spoke in a calmer tone, “But one of these days niggas retire, dawg. And they move into a nice house, with they grand kids comin’ ovah and shit. And you nevah know what could happen, son. Cuz I got badge numbers and I got names. And I might just send ’em a little postcard or somethin’.” He paused for a moment and then looked right at me and smiled. “I got a crazy imagination right?” he said as he gave the floor a light push with his feet and spun slowly in his chair. When he came to a stop, he looked up at the ceiling and said, “but the only thing is, MY dreams come true.”