THE COMBINATION


   Janequa sees Saturday as the best day of the week. She pops out of bed, and as her bare feet hit the floor, she thinks about her breakfast combination at BoJangles. She still has time because she has to get her teen-aged son out of bed.   Putting on her pink flannel robe, she lights her cigarette and inhales slowly.  Full-throated she yells,
   “Tyrell, get your sorry ass out of bed.  I got some Vienna Sausages on the counter for you.”

   Waiting for Tyrell to get moving, she sadly thinks about her baby girl Freedena. Her precious daughter with her soft hair, beautiful skin and big smile.  Everybody says Freedena was the prettiest baby any mama ever had. Then one night Janequa put her to bed and she never woke up.  The doctor said it wasn’t anybody’s fault. But Janequa hurts all the time. Looking at the corner where the crib used to be, she muffles a sob, “I hate to be down to one kid knowing it’s Tyrell.”   

   Eventually, her roller coaster mood turns. Today she’s going to Style Now Hair and Nail Salon.  She hears the blaring of her cell phone, checks the number and knows it’s her sister.

   “What you say girl? Why you callin me this fool hour of the morning?

    I don’t know nothin till I get my breakfast. Hold on.”

     She puts her hand over her cell, clears her throat, “Tyrell, you know your Mama’s got things to do. It’s Saturday, you need to get gone.”

   She takes a final drag, crushes the butt and gets back to her sister, “I’ve been screamin my head off. That boy ain’t makin tracks nowhere. Sometimes I think he’s fifteen goin on jail. And don’t you be tellin Mama I said that.  She’s all bout Tyrell and how I gotta make him do right. I’m sick of that too.”

   Janequa flips the channel to Basketball Wives, “Hush up now.  I’ll see you at 10:00 at Style Now.  I gotta go shake the bed loose from him. Bye.”
   At full-tilt, she rattles the knob, opens the door to an empty room and slumps on her son’s bed,
   “He’s gone. What am I gonna do?”  In her fury she crumbles the bed-sheet and throws it at the wall. Utterly spent and as frustrated as a one-eyed cat, she calls her sister back,
     “Tyrell ain’t even here.  He’s been gone all night. I’ll tell you what. He don’t need to be bringin home some mama’s baby.  I’m not pushin that hospital mop around all day to be slingin his youngin around all night.”
     She puts down her cell and flicks some polish off her nails, “You know Tyrell is just like his old man. I stopped carin if that sorry loser came home a long time ago. I can stop carin about Tyrell too.”

 It doesn’t take Janequa long to get ready.  She feels a twinge of pain and sits for a spell.  She moans and whispers, “If my baby girl were here, I’d be pushin that hospital mop to get everything for her. But workin for Tyrell and me, it’s hardly worth it. All he wants is the money I don’t have. Then he wants more.”

      She looks in the mirror, applies her silver eye-shadow and fixes her hair, Anyway, I’m tired of his teachers callin me. Those bitches need to be teachin him and not worrying me about what he don’t know or what he’s doin. They can call his old man.

   In the frost –bitten morning, she scrapes the car window and starts the engine in her old hump of a car.  Pulling into BoJangles, she turns down her radio and approaches the speaker,
   “Make mine a ham and cheese biscuit combo, cook it fresh with some hot-seasoned fries, sweet tea and a bo-berry biscuit on the side.”

    She parks her car, “Damn this is one fine breakfast. And no use worrin about Tyrell. There he’s walkin down the street.  When did he get to be so tall and skinny as a rat?  He can keep on walkin. I’m not buying breakfast for a boy who don’t come home at night.  Who are those fool lookin boys he’s with? They’re nasty and come to think of it, Tyrell’s lookin nasty too. Maybe I should talk to him about them. I just don’t know.”
    She reaches for her bo-berry biscuit. Lost in thought about the sweet taste of the icing, she hears her cell,
   “What you mean, Mama? I know you help raise Tyrell, but he’s a grown boy now. His raisin days are bout done.”
    Finding one last crumb she worries that her mama will ruin her day.  She puts a stop to it, “You talkin crazy.  I just saw Tyrell walking with his friends, They’re all looking fine. Bye now.”


      With that Janequa takes a left turn away from her son and drives into the parking lot of Style Now Salon.  She takes a deep breath and watches the lights blink around the salon windows.
      As she opens the door, bells chime.  She is engulfed by the rapturous smell of Relaxer and the simmering pot-pourri of Gardenia. She loves how the acid odor blends into the sweet fragrance and is more at home here than anyplace else.

     Her attention is immediately drawn to the wide screen TV. She starts to join in singing and dancing to HAPPY. For the first time in a long time, she is turned onto life.  
   Kadesha looks up from the desk, “Seems like you got the groove on.  Your sister’s over there.”  Janequa looks past six swivel chairs, the new flocked leopard wallpaper and sees her sister getting her hair washed in a turquoise basin.
     She dances over to her and with a symphony of loving banter says, “And by the looks of her now, she’ll be sittin there way past midnight and that’s sorry.”
    Her sister replies to a new round of laughter, “You need to get your big sorriness to a booth and get those ugly nails done.  There’s no reason to be drab as dirt.”
     Janequa has been listening for this, “There’s nothing drab bout me. With a dramatic wave of her hand, she announces, “I made my final payment on my new EDGE leather jacket. We’ll see who’s got the goods.”

   This time when the salon patrons break into laughter, it’s mixed with a fair amount of envy.  Kadesha takes it all in and says, “You’re really it. You work hard and save your money.  Today we’re giving you a free glitter coating on your nails.  We’re proud of you.”

    Janequa enjoys her moment of triumph.  With brand new nails and a three hour marathon of laughter, she blows kisses and waves good-bye to Style Now.  She feels like the parking lot is opening to her destiny. She drives to the basketball game at Farris Community College.  The combination of how she is looking and where she’s going makes her giddy, “Our Team is gonna win. I just know it.” 

    Janequa tightens the strap on her stiletto heels and saunters into the gym.  She buys her ticket and her favorite cookie and drink combination. She carefully climbs up the bleachers.   The band starts, friends walk in and the game is on.  Her whole neighborhood is cheering the Stinging Hornets. She hopes that they notice her lacquered nails and her yellow scooped-neck shirt.  Her heart is almost jumping to the big bass drum. It’s just that good.

    At the half-time buzzer, her attention is drawn to the swinging of the gymnasium doors.  Tyrell walks in wearing a black hoodie, ass dragging jeans and a red baseball cap.  Shocked, she didn’t buy those clothes, doesn’t like them and knows what they’re about. But her nerves are most torn-up because he came in late, “Everybody knows he came in for free. That’s shammin me.”
      Her friend Idie follows her stare, “You know that’s Tyrell. He’s always alone but today he’s got some friends.  They look about as mean as snakes.”
       Janequa takes a long sip of her Pepsi, pushes her arm against Idie, refreshes her lipstick, takes a quick spray of her perfume and keeps her cool, “What you sayin? Tyrell’s got lots of friends. Maybe I don’t know these boys, but Tyrell’s a good boy. He flies right.” 
     But Tyrell isn’t flying anywhere. He’s just sitting there watching his friends watch the game.  Janequa never pays attention to him and, for sure, he never looks at her.  At game end, Tyrell’s gone in a flash of colors and Janequa is careful not to chip her nails.

      The sun sets early on this Saturday night.  As Janequa leaves the game, the sky is strangely lit with a flame of red. Always afraid of the dark, she hurries into her apartment.   She turns the knob of the unlocked door and sees Tyrell fast asleep on the sofa.  She switches the channel, unpacks the stuff on her chair, sits and takes a final drag on her cigarette.  She checks her texts. Her Mama wants Tyrell to come over on Sunday. In the shimmering glow of the TV, Janequa naps until she is awakened by her own snoring,
    “Tyrell, we’re gonna eat soon. You need to go to Quick Stop and buy me some cigarettes and Mountain Dew.”
      He shifts around and looks at her like she’s the lady next door, “What you want?”
    “Here’s the money, buy me a bag of Doritos too. You come right back. I don’t want to hear nothin more about Tyrell, who he be hangin with or what he be wearin. I don’t want no more empty beds surprising me neither. You hear me?” What they both hear is the slamming of the door that doesn’t stay shut.
     Janequa hates a kitchen without a clean pot, pan or plate. But tonight that’s all she’s got. When her son comes in, her mood turns sour.  They eat in silence with the welcomed distraction of MTV,

   “Grandma’s frying tomorrow night. She wants you to come for gizzards and spend the night.  She’ll give you soda money for school. OK?”
        Tyrell nods his head yes and heads for the shower.  He has more on his mind than the frying of a gizzard. It’s a cold night for a fifteen year old boy to wander the streets but it’s a good night for his mother to go to bed early and rest undisturbed.
        

     In the morning, she is awakened by her sister’s knocking on the door, “Why you knockin so hard? Is the devil chasin you?”
     She spots the McDonald’s bag, “You doin us right. Tyrell goin to Mamas till Monday. I think he’s there now. Let me get some Mountain Dew. I got plenty.”
    As they eat their sausage biscuits, Janequa gets restless, “Let’s go to the movies today.  Tyler Perry is showin his ass at TOWN THEATERS. We’ll supersize and get a Pepsi.”

    Janequa is happy and ready to wrap herself up in a movie and be far away from the ghost sound of the mop hitting the pail on the hospital floor. It haunts her.
    Tyler Perry doesn’t disappoint them. On their ride home, the sisters again tell all the funny parts from the movie.  Two Hardees hot dogs later, Janequa is home.

    It’s the discordant sounds of the night that make Janequa’s laughter stop and her weekend memories fade.  With the pop, pop, pop of gunshots, she wonders where her fear ends and danger begins.  With a sigh, she double-checks the double lock on her door, checks her cell, washes dishes and quietly moans, “This is some kind of loneliness in a world gone crazy.”  She pushes the blinds to the edge of the window and shudders.  With that Lincoln down street, she knows there’s too much going on for her to get much sleep.  The Monday alarm wakes her.

   By early afternoon Janequa is moping room C132. As she arches her back to release her seizing pain, her supervisor comes in and takes her to an office she has never seen only to see two police officers she has never met.   The officers wait for the supervisor to leave. With the defiance of one who has been questioned one time too many, Janequa stands ramrod straight and says, “What you want? I ain’t been doin nothing wrong.”
     Officer Donnelly, “Are you Janequa White?” She nods.  He continues,
“Is your son Tyrell Tyson White?” She feels the weight of her son pressing in on, “Yes, Tyrell is my son. What about him?”
     Officer Donnelly, “Ms. White, we have your son at the police station. This morning, Tyrell walked into Howard High School Cafeteria and stabbed Nylese Keys in the neck with a knife.  He shows her a picture of the knife, “Does this knife look familiar to you?” 
    Janequa sighs, looks at the knife and answers, “No that’s not my knife and it’s not Tyrell’s knife either.”
    Officer Donnelly steps a little closer to her, “What can you tell me about your son’s relationship to Nylese Keyes?”

    She sits a little straighter in her chair, “I don’t know no Nylese.  
I don’t know what he did to my boy.  That’s what you need to find out.”
    Her anger begins to rise, “You want me to go to the station and pick up Tyrell.  I’ll tell my supervisor I gotta go. He’s my boy, I’ll take him home.”
   With a certain sadness she continues, “I’ll bet they suspend him from school. They never liked him and don’t want him there anyway. They better suspend that Nylese too.”  Tears begin to burn her eyes.
   Officer Donnelly clears his throat, “Yes Maam, you should come to the station. But you won’t be bringing Tyrell home.  He’s in our custody. Nylese Keyes is in the hospital in critical condition.

   Janequa enters the station and is ushered into the smallest of rooms.  She feels a terrible chill.  Tyrell is sitting on a folding chair.  She looks at him as if his life were a dress rehearsal for this moment.

   Hearing the ticking clock she settles in, “Tyrell what you be doin here?
We don’t have no cutting knives at home, where’d you get that blade?”
   Tyrell looks deeply into the unknown and remains silent.

   Janequa turns to the detective, “I best be takin him home now.” She grabs her keys, “I gotta get back to my job. When do you want him back for questioning and all?”
   Detective White says, “Your son stays here.”

    Janequa feels her life slipping away from her. She takes a deep breath and nearly stares a hole through her son, “What you got to say for yourself?.
You wanta come home with me now, don’t you son?”
      
     Tyrell puts his head in his hands, slumps to the table and in the voice of the child he never was, answers “I don’t know.”
    No more words are spoken, not even good-bye. 


Competition Information

Former PWG Competition winners




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