An odd, sad night in Harlem.

It is 4:30 in the morning right now. Until about 15 minutes ago, I was knocked out. To be completely honest, I was in the middle of a dream about Kirstie Alley on “Dancing With the Stars.” I don’t watch this show, but I’ve read on a bunch of blogs that she’s doing well in the competition, and that’s the kind of minor, random stuff that ends up in my dreams.

In the dream, Kirstie’s routine was just beginning. She was lowering herself into a split while her partner held her arms above her head.  I was shocked and impressed with old girl’s agility. Just then, I heard someone cry out, “I’m sorry!”

The voice was pleading, tear-filled and repetitive. It didn’t take me long to gather my senses; the voice’s wailing refrain immediately shook me out of my sleep.

“I’m soooooooorry! I’m sooo soooooooorry!”

The sound was coming from outside my open window. I had to get up to see what was happening.

I peeped through the curtains and saw two young men, probably in their early twenties. They were outside the building across from me. One guy was standing in a red baseball cap and gray hoodie, leaning against the building with his head bowed and his hands shoved deeply into his pockets. The other guy was sitting two feet away from him on the steps of the building’s entrance. He was dressed casually too. Black jeans, black t-shirt.

The guy in black had his hands to his face and was rocking back and forth. He was crying in a way that can only be described as hysterical weeping. Never had I seen a grown man behave this way. Not in real life at least. Maybe in a movie. But this young brother was balling right outside my window.

At first I thought he was a little drunk. I know women who cry like this when they get drunk. But as he cried out “I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” over and over again, I realized that the only time people react this away – even in movies – is when they are mourning.

“I’m sorry!” he hollered to the air. “I’m sorry, Uncle Joe!”

Then he  turned to face the guy standing in the hoodie. “They shot him eight times in the Bronx, yo! EIGHT TIMES!”

The calmer, quiet hoodie-dude stayed silent but nodded his head.

“My uncle, man. My one that had that high voice. Eee-eee-eee,” he imitated, motioning his hand like a disc jockey on turntables. “He dead, man! They shot him!”

Then he leaned back and covered his face.

By now, I wasn’t the only neighbor up watching the scene from her window. Hoodie-dude noticed someone brazenly videotaping the whole thing from her window a few floors above mine. She didn’t have the good sense to sneak and do it like me.

“You keep doing that, you stupid bitch!” he yelled. “You fuckin’ with the wrong one, bitch. Don’t think I won’t come up there and kick yo’ muthafuckin’ ass! You in the wrong fuckin’ neighborhood, bitch! You in the wrong fuckin’ neighborhood!”

This is silly, but my very first thought was, this neighborhood’s not that bad.

I immediately felt guilty. Both for watching the young men and for getting defensive about my block at a dumb time. But I couldn’t pull myself away from the window. It was surreal. That word gets overused, I think. But it’s the best word to describe what I was seeing and feeling as the episode unfolded.

I seriously contemplated making the guys a cup of coffee and taking it down there in my pajamas, robe and head scarf. It seemed like the neighborly thing to do, and my French press makes awesome coffee. But I couldn’t figure out what to say if I ever worked up the nerve to actually go down there. I didn’t want to admit that I hadn’t given the men any privacy, though they shouldn’t have expected any considering their location.

These kinds of impulses remind me that I’m not a born New Yorker. My edges are a lot sharper than they were before I moved here nine years ago. But my southern self bubbles up often enough to remind me that I’m really a long-term visitor. And more than anything, I wanted to put on my slippers and go hug those young men.

Instead I stood at my window for a few moments watching. Then I got tired of standing, so I opened my curtains a little so that I could see the view while sitting on the corner of my bed. I thought of all the ways I would suffer later  as karmic payback for continuing to gawk. But I was happy to be even further away from the window and more likely to avoid detection.

I couldn’t tear my eyes away. And that’s when I realized what my voyeurism was really about. In the forty-five minutes that these two men were outside my window, I saw all the intimate hallmarks of love and brotherhood that I almost never see in my everyday life. One man wept openly. He pledged his undying love for the uncle that – from what I could make out between sobs – he had taken for granted. It was seeing a man grieve for another man. And it was seeing a man support another man in his grief.

The dude in the hoodie listened and hugged and said, “Ah, I know, man” at all the appropriate times. And when Crying-guy got so emotional that he started to pace aggressively as if summoning the courage to seek revenge, Hoodie-dude talked him down.

“Whatchu doin’, my nigga?” He asked this respectfully, but his tone was like that of a big brother catching a little brother with his first Playboy magazine.

“Where you going?” Hoodie-dude continued. “You gon’ get SHOT! Where you going? Huh? Why you can’t tell me where you going?!”

Hoodie-dude blocked Crying-guy with his arms and hugged him tighter.

When Crying-guy turned his anger to a nearby window, punching and kicking it, Hoodie-dude let him. Even I was like, Kick it, man. Let it out.

(I feel sorry for whoever lives in that apartment, by the way.)

After a lot of shattering glass fell, it got quiet. I looked down for a second to write some of this blog and I heard Hoodie-dude say with caution, “Don’t do it, man. You gon’ fuck yo’ shit up, man. Don’t do it.”

I looked up to see Crying-guy standing  in front of the building’s brick exterior. He had one foot behind the other, fists-up, Ali-style.

Oh no.

Crying-guy hesitated for a moment. I could hear his voice catching as he tried to get his crying under control.

Hoodie-dude was now sitting on the steps motionless. “I’m telling you, man. You don’t wanna do that.”

Even in his frenzied state, Crying-guy had the good sense to step back over to the window. He punched it some more.

The cops came soon after. A man and a woman. They approached in that slow, confident, hands-on-hips way cops do. Before they could even say anything, Crying-guy tossed his arms limply away from his body and barely got out through his weeping, “They shot my uncle. My uncle’s dead.” He sounded resigned and tired.

“Take me, you wanna take me?” he continued, putting his wrists together for handcuffs. “I don’t care. My uncle died.” Then he let out another sob as his shoulders shook.

The male cop raised a hand to waist-level. “Just have a seat. We want you to calm down.”

“Do you live here?” the male cop asked Hoodie-dude.

“Yeah, this is my cousin. His uncle just got killed and he came over here.”

“I understand. But, uh — you know how this goes.”

“Yeah, man, I got it.”

The cops moved on, thank goodness.

A few minutes later, Hoodie-dude prodded quietly, “let’s take a walk, man.”

I watched the cousins until I couldn’t see them anymore. But I could hear them.

“They set my uncle up, nigga! They set my uncle up.” His voice was strong, but grew more and more faint every time he said it.

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About RtG

Rakia the Great, or RtG, is a publishing geek and sometimes literary snob. She's stumbling her way towards personal fulfillment and world domination by, oh, I dunno, writing this blog. Most days she's living her dream as a fancy schmancy editor. But not, like, today.
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8 Responses to An odd, sad night in Harlem.

  1. Anonymous says:

    I felt like i was here… and i literally was crying in the first paragraph b/c i could feel Crying-dude’s pain. all of your extra thoughts were hilarious too, but i think u r right. no matter how u try to fight it u r a southern gal. and the fact that u raised 3 of your siblings leaves u in a position where u will never be able to abandon those maternal instincts, even for some strangers who are technically disturbing the peace. u should feel good that u werent judgemental though, b/c u could easily say. well what did the uncle do? n that’s just all wrong, justifying his murder. its sad though. and its really a cold world. we just have to be happy that we havent been affected directly by something like this. this sort of sounds like a prologue to a story about brotherhood and bonds that are way deeper than blood. I love oyu Aunt Keke!!!

  2. bec says:

    Rakia,
    Thanks for sharing this. I got shivers reading your memories of a look into someone else’s awful reality.

  3. Charreah J. says:

    Thanks for sharing, Rakia. I really felt like I was there, and not just because I use to live on the blog

  4. Wow! Simply well written. I felt as if I was there. Yes, I could feel crying dude’s pain and cried too.

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