Malcolm Bakersfield’s new classmate, Nia Stellar is “not your average girl.” Exciting and fantastic events occur, seemingly to do with her and a scruffy, used pencil. Nia challenges Malc in many ways and he discovers new abilities and sides to himself. We join him in his quest to find the truth to to the power of the pencil. And, like him, we just may learn a lot about ourselves.
At home I think bout how there’s a down side to gettin older an good grades in school. It’s harder to walk cool then, specialy if you a male. Cuzza my achievement–I get teased, mean looks, an havtuh go through stuff like my cap bein took an tossed around like a baseball. This treatment’s nothin compared to what happens to other students. Kenyon an me talk bout one a the latest victims on the phone: “Yeah, Malc, I know they got fourth grader Pauline Clifford yesterday. I saw her on the way home. She showed me her broke glasses. She was pushed around in the bathroom by some older girls til they fell off her face. She said she didn’t cry, though.” I feel myself gettin real angry: “See, man. That kinda stuff goes on all the time! Did they hurt her or take anything?”
“Naw, she’s ah’ight.”
“Good. I know she’s pretty tough for her age.”
“Stupid bullies ain got nothin better else to do. Mosta them be the kids who don’t wanna learn nothin. I’m sick a them tellin me I’m a sell-out an ‘actin white’ cuz I do my schoolwork.”
“They need to focus on they own biz. Quit tryin to get us to join the club. But I think most be scared to try to do better.”
“Yeah, like if they don’t try, they don’t fail.”
“Some do got serious problems, though. A free lunch’s probly all they get outta school. My father tol me sellin out really is, don’t try to learn nothin, halfway go to school, an drop out mentaly–then physicly.”
“You know. Sometimes I do wish my parents would cut me some slack bout school.”
“Mine be on me bout it too. But it’s all good, homeboy, cuz we can actualy plan our future! Ain too many kids round here talkin bout goin to college.”
“I know, man. I can just picture it. New girls to meet–”
“Ma says everybody don’t gotta go to college. Some kids do good gettin a job after high school an work up to bein a manager or more. Some go to a trainin program an make it that way. But she feels if you got a chance to go to college, try it, cuz it might be your thing after all. An–if you can’t go–you can learn a lot jus by readin.”
“My parents say: There’s dignity in all positive work.”
“That’s like my man, Mr. Skye. To be the school janitor, cool wit us, an do his job right too! He’s married, got three kids an my respect. He holds a smile for everybody an calls us kids his ‘youngstars’ even though most treat him like he’s the school slave. Lease he got a real job.”
“Yeah, Mr. Skye is cool. Lease he ain out there sellin drugs like Sherona Wicks’ famly do.”
“Yup.” I try not to think bout Martin.
“Shooooot, man. I’ma get me some scholarships so I can go away to college!”
“Me too man! Play sports for a Big Ten school. Livin on campus would be real cool!”
“Dang, man! Do you gotstuh make everything rhyme?” “Just can’t help it mosta the time.”
Remember when I said I usely stay outta trouble? I forgot to mention I got some help in that area. I don’t havtuh worry too much bout bein a target at school cuz I’m cool wit a lotta the olduh kids in the hood. I also got protection in the form a my brotha, Martin. He’s named after Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. It’s funny, cuz the only time Martin looks for peace is when he’s worn out from runnin the streets all week! Last year, Mom had enough a his rowdy behavior an sent him to live wit his father. Martin’s dad hardly ever be home so Martin can do whatever he wants–like only makin guest appearances at school. Anyway, he’s got my back cuz I’m his brotha an he always says: “Stepbrotha don’t mind steppin up for his brotha.” He’s only fifteen an got sommuh the olduh boys at his school terrorized!Martin drops by the house every so often just to make his presence known an to give Momma a hug. He tol me a while back: “If it makes you happy to get good grades, Malc, I’ma see that you do. Jus cuz I don’t care bout school don’t mean you ain got to. Sommuh us jus can’t deal wit all the rules an regs, know whatam sayin?”
I wish he’d give school more of a chance or at lease get a G.E.D. He ought a go to college but I know better than to even bring that up–just like my suspicions regardin his activities. I figure they might be somethin I’m better off not knowin bout. Somethin else bout when you got protection, it kinda covers your boys too. Me an Juan Lee havtuh act a lil tougher round school an the neighborhood. I usely walk home wit him. Kenyon lives in the other direction. We all got bikes but we don’t want them to disappear–ha, ha.
Me an Juan Lee reach his house first. Mine is one block away on the same street. Today I’m gonna ask his mom if he can study wit me at my house. When we get to his door he tells me to wait an goes inside. He comes back an lets me in, holdin his finger in front a his mouth. The whole house is dark but I can hear somebody snorin. Juan Lee turns on a small lamp an I see his mother layin on the couch. There’s a bottle that looks like some wine or somethin an a lotta cigarette butts in a ash tray on the coffee table. Juan Lee pulls out a piece a paper an writes a note. I guess he’s lettin his mom know he’d be at my house for a while. He puts the note on the table wit a corner under the bottle. Then he motions for me to go to the door. We go out quietly. Juan Lee locks the door–it wasn’t locked when we got there. He looks at me cuz he’s feelin shamed. I touch him on the shoulder an say nothin.
We walk on to my house.
It’s a perfect fall day, like the Indian summers my granma talks bout from when she was a kid. She remembers trick-or-treatin wit only a sweater over her costume. An the worse thing that could happen was your bag a candy gettin snatched! Now kids havtuh have they candy inspected by the police an stuff. An you best be careful who you open your door to if you passin out treats. My mother don’t even like Halloween no more. She only lets me go to the rec center or to private parties to celebrate it. One time I asked could I go wit Kenyon to t-or-t in the suburbs. From what I’d heard, that was the best way to get good loot! My mother said ‘no’ an she was a lil angry bout me even askin. Later she argued:
“What, you think candy from the suburbs can’t be poisoned?”
I tol her I guessed so but I knew it was botherin her for other reasons cuz she had a lil frown on her face for a while. I think it’s cuz she wishes we lived in a better neighborhood. I think it’s cuzza her pride an all.
My dad’s comin to get me soon. He an my mother still get along, they just couldn’t live peacefully together so they got divorced. I usetuh let that really upset me but then I think bout Martin an Juan Lee. They dads just don’t seem to care at all. Today my father is takin me to the movies. Sometimes his new wife goes wit us. She always waits in the car at my house. She ain wit him this time so Dad comes in an has a lil convo wit Mom.
“How are things with you, Carolyn? Our boy still doing well in school?”
“Everything’s good, Richard.”
I’m sittin there all up in they bizness cuz I still wish they’d get back together. But then, I remember the yellin an cryin an door slammin an think it’s best they don’t. Sides, Mom’s boyfriend, Jam, is pretty cool an I get to go places wit him too. When he had a motorcycle he let me ride on it twice. That’s how he met my mother cuz my Uncle Walter worked on his bike. Later, Jam sold it cuz he was worried bout his legs gettin hurt. He tol me: “I need my feet to keep the beat!” He’s a drummer in a jazz band. I been to see him play a few times. He an Mom been together for almost a year. I think they might get married; then I’ll be a stepson. I wonder how many steps I’ll havtuh climb before I feel really close to Mr. Jamal Musa Hayes.
Dad stands up, kisses Mom on the cheek, an asks me: “Ready to ride, boy?”
“Yep.” I kiss my mom on the other cheek. She smiles an says: “See you tomorrow, son.”
Bittersweet is how I feel when I’m wit both a them together.
My dad’s name is Richard Bakersfield but everybody calls him Rich. Makes me wonder if he got a stash a cash somewhere–ha, ha. He’s tall–six-two–an we share the same deep brown color. He was born in Jamaica an came to the U.S. when he was twenty-one. He’s got large hands an is usely doin somethin wit them. Dad’s almost always smilin an in a good mood unless you press him, then you get to see a whole nother side. His car is kept good but it’s bout two years ole. He an new wife live in a noice, big apartment in a tall buildin. I figure he’s doin ah’ight. He works for a construction company. New wife works too at some office somewhere. They don’t have any kids yet. I wonder how I’ll feel if that happens. I’m already a lil jealous cuz I’d get to see my dad more often if it wasn’t for her–I mean Aurora. I’m clad he an I alone this time.
The movie, Kung Fu Hustle, was cool! It had lotsa martial arts action! Becuz it was in Chinese we hadtuh read subtitles. I did pretty good at keepin up. But you don’t havtuh read everything to understand the story. It had a lotta funny parts too. Dad wasn’t too happy bout it bein so violent and all. But I’ve seen a lot worse on video games! My dad likes watchin foreign–an ole–movies. He says you learn somethin bout other cultures an times that way. I do the same thing by readin mythology an folktales.
We had passed up gettin refreshments cuz we gonna eat some fast food garbage–as Dad calls it–later. Fine wit me. Mom don’t like me to eat much junk food. After eatin, we go to the park an toss a football for a while then Dad shows me some more moves wit a soccer ball.
“You’re getting better, son.”
I feel good an play harder, pretendin to be Freddy Adu. “Dad, where’s Freddy Adu from again?”
“West Africa. Ghana, I believe”
“He’s still just a teenager, right?”
“Yah, mon. Before him was Pele, yah know.”
“Yeah? Where’s he from?”
“Brazil, South America.”
“Is Pele his real name?”
“No, and I can’t remember what it is.”
“Accordin to the Internet, there’s another soccer man from Africa that’s really popular. Do you know his name?”
“You might mean George Weah. He’s from Liberia, West Africa. And there’s also Steven Appiah and Michael Essien who are up and coming. They’re both from Ghana. They all may get to play professionally in Europe.”
“Is Liberia a African word? Sounds like library.”
“No. It comes from the ancient Roman language called Latin. The country was named Liberia because freed black people were sent there from here while most blacks in America were still enslaved. The word is also where the English words book and library come from. Liber means free.”
“Do you think Barack Obama has a chance to become president?”
“Yes, son. He has a very good chance.” Dad smiled.
“I’ma get Juan Lee an Kenyon to come play soccer wit us one day. OK?”
“Irie. The more the merrier!” I don’t know any other kids who play soccer. I’ll bet my dad would teach it at the school if he had more time. He enjoys sharin his knowledge. I like the way he just knows things. He’s always joggin my brain an introducin me to one thing or another. I don’t even mind him playin his reggae music on the way to his home. I’m kinda likin it too now.
I wonder how two men my mother was wit could be so diffrent. Course, I mean my father an Martin’s father. My mother says she was very immature when she was goin wit Martin’s dad, Eddie Davis.
I feel a lil sorry for Martin. He hangs out mostly wit men an they treat him like he’s already grown. Dad gave him a standin invitation to hang wit us if he wants. Martin smiled like he was cool wit the idea but he tol me later he had other things to take care of. He’d thanked my dad an loped off down the street. Martin’s lope is one a the things that really gets on our mother’s nerves.
Mom worries bout Martin a lot. I heard her an Auntie Evelyn talk bout how he’s almost sixteen an will surely drop outta school when he is. Sometimes Mom hastuh go to his school cuzza him bein truant. The only thing that stops her from givin Martin’s father any trouble, is that Martin at lease got a home to go to. But I think it’s also cuz my mother still got legal custody a Martin. He can’t live wit my Granma Silver cuz she says: he ain the boy she knew growin up. An Martin’s Granma Elease moved back to South Carolina after his granfather died. I think if Uncle Walter was home, Martin could live wit him an Auntie Evelyn.
Sometimes I hang wit Martin at his house an his dad’ll come through. ‘Mistuh’ Eddie looks like he some sota playa an real busy. It seems like his cell phone rings every five minutes! He an Martin favor cept Martin’s a bit shorter an not mean lookin. Mistuh Eddie pays the bills an gives Martin money for food. I can tell they don’t like each other much. Eddie keeps a lock on his bedroom an always seems on the edge, like he might pop any second.Martin says his Pop–ha, ha–brings a lot a diffrent women over an they all act like they seriously in love wit him. But Eddie just uses them until they become ‘a problem’. Me an Martin still keep respect for females cuz Mom brought us up that way. My dad never seems to disrespect women. Jam don’t either–far as I can tell. Anyway, I know my mother wouldn’t be wit him if he did. Martin tol me he hastuh leave the house when his father’s doin bizness wit somebody–whatever that is. I suspect they don’t see each other too often. I believe Martin’s dad only lets him stay there cuz he an my mom got some kinda money agreement over child support.
By the time me an Dad finish our hangin an reach his home, Ms. Aurora has been there for a while. She’s tall an deep brown too an she kinda looks like my mother somehow when she smiles but she seems shy an quiet. She reminds me a the beautiful sculpture of a African woman Nia showed me in a book.
“How are you Malcolm?”
“I’m good, especially since I’m with Dad. How are you doing Ms. Aurora?”
“I’m well, thank you.”
I always remind her in lil ways how important my father is to me. It’s still takin me a while to warm up to callin her ‘Mom Aurora’ cuz I feel weird callin her that. Mom, Mother, Momma, Ma, Moms, only means one person to me for now. [NP
The nex day, Dad an me go to the barbershop. I like it there. The diffrent smells, the usely all men party an the special attention I get just for bein Rich’s boy. The men always be talkin an jokin bout everything under the sun. A lotta the jokes go over my head an I always wanna ask what they mean but my dad don’t appreciate me buttin into adult conversations. I do get to play checkers wit him or one a the other customers most times, though. Today I notice a man wit locks an ask my dad did he ever think bout doin that to his hair.
“No, mon. You think just because I’m from Jamaica, I should have dreads?” I say no an then I tell him bout Nia.
“She sounds like a special, special young lady. You like her a lot, eh?”
“Yeah,” I mumble. Then I say, “Maybe I’ll try lockin my hair. I think it looks cool.”
“Well, son, I’m not saying you should or shouldn’t but it’s more than a notion, seen? You have to be all spikey-haired for a long time and I don’t think your mom would like it.”
“Maybe when I’m older.” I smile.
“Yep, maybe then.”
When we reach my home I hug my dad hard.
“What’s this, now? Yah tink yah nah go see yah faadah again?”
“I’m just glad to have a real one.” I get outta the car an run up the steps.
CHUCH, MORE FAMLY AN BRAIN
Dang, I was sleepin good! Havin one a my superhero dreams where I could do anything! My mother hadtuh shake me several times to wake me up. Why did Dad havtuh bring me home last night? Now I gotta get up an go to church! When I’m wit my dad, he leaves it up to me whether or not I go wit him an Ms. Aurora. An usely, I do choose to go. I just hate gettin up early on my days off from school. “Ow, my eyes!” I grumble when Mom raises the shade an the sun comes floodin in.
“Get up, son. You want to have breakfast first, right?” I clean up an get dressed an wish it was one a those days when my mom didn’t go. Then it’d be easier to get her to let me sleep in. We have a quiet breakfast an go to 'chuch'. The church my mom an me usely go to is kinda big. If she sends me by myself, I go to the smaller one that I can walk to. We like attendin either one. Today we go to the closer one cuz Mom is low on gas. We arrive while the choir is singin an others is just sittin down so we aren’t actualy late. The pastor had chose for his sermon the meanin a responsibility. I can almost hear my mother willin me to pay close attention to the man. Pastor Freddie DuBois explains that he ain just referrin to responsibility to God, he’s also includin to ourselves an each other.
“The Good Samaritan was someone who knew that, indeed, we are our brothers’ keepers. But the way things are today, one might--and understandably so--fear to do as much. However, there are many ways to be responsible to others and not just our kinfolk. Some ways are doing charity work, mentoring youth, being a friend to the elderly, and so forth. Do you encourage young people when you see them doing right? Do you thank others for every kindness? Do you try to brighten the day of someone who works in the service industry or do you just walk away without a thank you because they get paid to do whatever they did for you? Our responsibility could be looked upon as trying to make the world a bit better for everyone. Small acts such as those I just mentioned go a long way. However, if any of you need a little help in this direction, I can specifically use some assistance in the soup kitchen. Please see me after the service. You see, even I am performing a service right now. Do I expect to hear a thank you from each of you as you leave? No. Your presence is my present! But I certainly wouldn’t mind a thank you. Lets me know you like what I do on a personal level. We can all use encouragement and appreciation. They help keep us walking in the right direction.
We are responsible for each other in many ways simply because we are human. We all need each other. And always remember: a little goes a long way! Take care of yourselves--and yours--and do what you can for others. A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle. Let the 'chuch' say amen.” [NP ]The service continues an when it’s over, folks seem to really be takin what Pastor said to heart. It looks like everyone is thankin him today as we go out. Past the Pastor ashes passes the he’s countin the sheep I find myself thinkin.
In the afternoon, we meet up wit Auntie Evelyn (I keep forgettin to ask her to look up my name in her baby name book!) an baby Charlotte at Granma Silver’s house. It’s a two famly flat an Auntie Ev an Charlotte moved upstairs from Granma right before my Uncle Walter hadtuh leave cuzza the war.
There’s a lot to eat an I do more’n my share. I also do my best speakin English cuz Grandma Geraldine Silver don’t play.
“So Malcolm,” Granma begins, “Your grades have gone up I hear.”
“Yes, Grandma, I’m really working hard. I’m learning a lot every day. And I’m trying to become more responsible and–yes–I still enjoy school.”
“Hmmmph, I should hope so! Education is the key, young man, and don’t you forget it! Keep your eyes on the prize!”
“How’s that brother of yours doing?”
“He’s OK. I see him every now and then. He looks good.”
My mother smiles at me. Her skin is a deep, warm brown just like her eyes. Granma is almost tan wit dark brown eyes that seem to see into your brain–just like Martin’s. Auntie Evelyn is almost as dark as me wit hazel brown eyes like Nia’s. Baby Charlotte is what some people call ‘yellow’, very light-skinned. It’s too soon to tell what color her skin an eyes’ll stay. I am the darkest person in the room. My mother calls me her brown bear an Martin is her chocolate child. Uncle Walter is Granma’s caramel candy and my mom is her coffee with a drop of cream. So many colors in one famly. I tug at Charlotte’s lil hand an say the poem my mother wrote bout her when she was born:
“Just know she’s pretty,
Certain she’s sweet.
Congratulations for giving
The world such a treat!”
Auntie Evelyn smiles and Charlotte squirms in her mother’s arms as if she knows what I said.
After our early dinner, I go to the special cabinet where Granma keeps things for me to amuse myself wit. It was already made plain long ago that these things would stay when it was time for me to go. Sommuh them had been used by her children; Mom an Uncle Walter. I’m always grateful that as I get olduh there’s more challengin toys an puzzles. But mosta my favorites be the oldest ones. There’s ole books an almost mint condition comic books on Spiderman–the first teen-aged superhero–The Silver Surfer an The Black Panther. I still pull out those green army men from way back. But I don’t play wit them for now. They make me think bout Walter Silver the Third haventuh go overseas cuz he’s in the Air Force Reserves an there’s a war going on. I think I miss him as much as Mom, Granma, an Auntie Evelyn do. But they eyes usely water whenever his name is mentioned. Sometimes I can’t look at the pictures a him in the house, specialy the one where he’s got his uniform on. I mean to write to him but I don’t know what to say.
When we get back to our house, me an Mom change our clothes an go for one a our two weekly walks. We walk fast cuz we walkin for exercise. Mom brings her five pound weights an I get the long stick for stray dogs. Mom holds her forearms up, hardly movin them wit the weights in her hands. Sometimes we trade. We usely walk to the library an back. That makes our walks bout two miles each.
My mom is five feet, seven inches tall. I’m almost to her chin now. I wonder if I’ll end up as tall as my dad. Mom thinks I will cuz I’m kinda on the large side when it comes to my hands an feet. An Uncle Walter is bout six-one.
Mom and me don’t talk for a while until I say: “How tall is Jam?”
“Oh, I think he’s five-eleven.”
“Almost six feet. I wonder if I’ll be taller.”
“You will be at least six feet, Mr. Bigfoot.”
We get to the library an turn back toward home.
“Mom, do you think you an Jam’ll get married?”
“Yes, I think so. He’s very sweet to me and I like the way he takes an interest in you boys.”
“Will you have another baby?”
“That I’m not so sure about. It depends on if–and when–we get married. Are you looking forward to a younger brother or sister?”
“I guess it’d be OK. I’m old enough now where I might be some help.”
“’Might be?’ What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Aw, Ma, I’m just teasin you.”
“So are you still keeping up all those A’s I’ve been getting used to?”
“Cause you know, A’s are pretty easy for a mom to get used to.”
“I know! Such responsibility!”
We reach our porch an both a us take a seat. Mom removes the scarf from her head an pulls her fingers through her short, curly hair.
“Hey girl, how you doin?”
It’s one a Mom’s friends walkin up toward the house. [NP“Hey yourself, Lucille!”
“Hey to you too Mr. Malcolm!”
“Hi Ms. Jones.” Here we go.
“Carolyn, look at your son gettin handsomer an handsomer every time I see him!”
“Yes, he does tend to do that, doesn’t he? Gets it from my side a the famly. I usely don’t let him come out too much cuz I’m scared one a these overgrown lil girls gon swoop down an carry him off!”
“OK, ladies, I’m going into the house, now, so you may continue your visit. All I ask is that you change the subject, please.”
“Why certainly, Mr. Malcolm. Nice to have seen you.” Ms. Jones teases. She an my mother been good friends since I can remember. When they get together, it reminds me a the girls at school. I like the way my mom slips in an out in her speakin wit friends when I’m around. She just tries to set a good example for me when we be alone. Pretty soon she an Ms. Jones is gigglin bout another subject an I’m free to listen to sommuh my CD’s before I get tol to rake the leaves.
Copyright© Karen E. Dabney. All rights reserved.