Courtship: A Snowflake Novella

From ‘Courtship: A ‘Snowflake’ Novella:

His eldest brother was supposed to pick him up. But Ibrahim wasn’t particularly surprised when Isaac didn’t show. Isaac was flaky on a good day, unpredictable on a bad. And Ibrahim actually kind of liked walking out on his own, looking up at the blue, blue sky and taking a few moments to feel the sun on his face for the first time in eleven-and-a-half months. He stood there for a long while, just feeling its warmth, his eyes closed, inhaling long, slow and deep. Two other dudes were getting out at the same time as him. One of them, an ese, once he hit the pavement outside, let out a whoop and was swept up into the arms of a noisy group of dudes who ushered him to a waiting, tricked-out blue Cutlass Supreme. Just before he pulled off, the ese gave Ibrahim the slightest lift of the chin in acknowledgment.

Inside, they had been cool. As cool as they could be, considering. Both of them hovered on the edges of their respective racial groups rather than getting in too tight with anyone. And they definitely couldn’t get in too tight with each other. It was a razor’s edge for sure. You didn’t want to beef with the eses, but you couldn’t buddy up to them either. Damn near the first question you got asked when you went in was ‘who you wit’?’ Who you were with on the outside dictated who you were with inside as well.

Tempted as he was, Ibrahim knew that ‘no one’ was the wrong answer. Jail was no place to make a declaration of independence. You had to be with someone, otherwise you’d get jumped, or something much worse. So he dropped the name of the set his brothers ran with, the set that was responsible for his short bid. He took a charge that wasn’t his because both his brothers had two strikes already. The ese had been in a similar predicament, and like Ibrahim was only half-assed committed to the life he’d found himself embroiled in, and more interested in getting out of jail alive and intact than anything else.

The second releasee was another Black dude, and like Ibrahim, he had no one to greet him. Probably from a place much farther way off than Oakland, he looked right and left, as if he didn’t know which way to go. GDJ, as the Glenn Dyer Jail was not-so-affectionately called, was only a stone’s throw away from the courthouse and close to many transportation options, so Ibrahim wasn’t about to play Good Samaritan and offer directions. And besides, Jefferson Square Park was just around the corner. Feeling the need to see some trees, and bask in a lot more of that sun, Ibrahim ambled toward Jefferson Street. Behind him, he could feel that dude was poised to ask him a question, so he walked a little more briskly.

In his pocket was just enough money for a phone call, and maybe a soda and an all-beef, no-preservatives-added hot dog. And not the crappy boiled-to-bland kind he’d gotten inside either. Ibrahim was craving the real thing. Something that had been cooked on a grill, slathered with sauerkraut and spicy mustard. Or maybe a couple tacos, and an empanada. And once his stomach was full, he might find a girl, some weed and spend his first day of freedom getting faded.

But all that was, was habit, a recurrence of the unclean thinking that had helped get him locked up in the first place.

But damn it was tempting. If he wanted, he could easily call Breonna. She would scoop him and within the hour they would be in her bedroom, buck-naked and doing the wildest …

Ibrahim stopped his thoughts from taking that direction, and reminded himself of the bundle he had in his back pocket. He had disposed of the bag they’d given him to carry his things out of the jail. And then disposed of most of the things he’d initially put in the bag as he left his cell. He didn’t need any mementoes of his stint as a guest of the State of California.

All he kept was the letters, folded into a large knot and stuffed in the back pocket of his jeans. There were more than two dozen of them, all of them from Jada Green. Thinking about her made him smile as he made the turn onto Jefferson Street heading toward the park.

Damned if he knew what a girl like Jada Green was doing writing to the likes of him. She said in her first letter that she’d heard from Desiree that he got locked up. And that she was ‘sorry to hear that.’ Like him getting locked up was an act of God, and not the predictable result of law-breaking. That first letter had been short, and written on plain old notebook paper, that looked like it had been ripped out of a composition book; but there was a slight perfume to it as well.

When no one was looking, Ibrahim had held the paper up to his face and inhaled. It wasn’t a scent he knew, but now, it was one that he would associate with her forever.

He met Jada at a party in Eastmont that she wasn’t supposed to be at, she later told him. She had come with her girl, Desiree, who happened to be Ibrahim’s other brother Immanuel’s ex-girlfriend. Desiree was Ibrahim’s age, and two years older than Jada. And she should’ve known better than to take a seventeen-year-old girl to a party like that one. But today, thinking back, Ibrahim was glad she had.

He’d spotted Jada across the room, swaying to the music while next to her, Desiree was being chatted up. Ibrahim only noticed her because of Desiree at first. Because Desiree and his brother Immanuel weren’t completely done, and he knew that if Immanuel saw her practically leaning against that dude, Immanuel and the dude would scrap for sure, and if one of them was carrying …

So, Ibrahim was thinking about that when he noticed the hair. The girl next to Desiree who was moving to the music had skin like milk chocolate and a lot of thick, long, jet-black hair. It was straightened, but still full and massive, like neither a straightening comb, nor chemicals could tame it. She kept flipping it off the back of her neck like it was making her hot. It was warm, even though the sun had long gone down. She was wearing a red spaghetti-strap top with washed-out tight jeans, and red Reeboks. All that red could mean she was affiliated, but something about the way she looked, and the way she moved told Ibrahim that she was not.

What you lookin’ at, Prophet?

Ibrahim had turned to see his brother, unexpectedly next to him. Prophet was the nickname his family called him, though Ibrahim had long forgotten why or how it had come about. Within moments, Immanuel had followed his gaze and noticed Desiree with her admirer, now standing even closer. Without pause, he shoved his way through the crowd and toward them, Ibrahim on his heels, hoping he wouldn’t have to break anything up. Immanuel was a hothead. He acted first and thought later. Or often, he didn’t think at all.

But when he was directly in front of Desiree, all Immanuel did was give her a pained, almost pitiful look. Most of the time, his brother was a savage, but this girl? She could break him down with a quickness.

D, he said, ignoring her companion. Lemme talk to you right quick …

Desiree, who generally reveled in the drama that came with her and Immanuel’s on-off-and-on-again relationship, twisted her lips to one side, and uncharacteristically, nodded in agreement. Ibrahim checked her admirer’s expression but he looked resigned, and not inclined to argue. The muggy evening seemed to have mellowed everyone out. No one had the energy for beef, wading through the humidity as they all were.

When Desiree and Immanuel walked away, her friend in red looked momentarily panicked.

Ibrahim moved in to occupy the vacancy next to her. He extended a hand.

She looked at it for a moment, then up at him. She stared directly into his eyes and in hers he saw something. He didn’t know then now to describe it, but later he would think that what he saw was like a door opening. Like she recognized him from somewhere, like they’d met before and she was letting him back in after a long absence.

Hi, he said.

The greeting alone was not at all how he usually stepped to chicks. It should have told him right then that something about her, about that meeting, about them, was going to be different. But he wasn’t thinking that right then.

I’m Ibrahim, he continued, still holding out his hand.

Something in her eyes lit up, like curiosity. Girls always asked about his name: you a Moos-lim or somethin’? was the most common question he got. But this girl didn’t ask anything. Her eyes just lit up a little.

The dude who had been talking to Desiree moved on. Tipping back his beer for a long gulp, he sighed as if conceding defeat and wandered off.

Honey in the red top with the mass of dark hair and milk chocolate skin took his hand. He almost expected to feel a jolt or something because her look was so intense. Her eyes met and held his, causing him to rethink his first impression of her as shy, or unsure of herself.

Hi, she said. Her voice was soft, but calm and self-possessed. I’m Jada.