by Andrea Scott
He didn’t know how they kept getting in but there were dead bees on the windowsill of his bedroom. He hoisted up the window and flicked them one by one onto the street below. There were seven of them and they flew into the air as light as popcorn. The smell of the garbage wafted up and he could see a bum rifling through the bins. He didn’t know why it bothered him so much, the man wasn’t bothering anyone, but it made Lazurus hunch his shoulders and slam the window closed. His fingernails were disgusting and even though he’d just used his index finger to flick bugs he gnawed on the nail a little bit. His mom said it was a filthy habit that would hinder his chances of getting a job. She didn’t think a job at the mall counted and that’s where he worked two days a week at a sports store. A job’s a job, ma, he’d mutter as he opened the fridge looking for something to eat after he got in from school.
Lazarus Ofori was sick of high school. He felt that as long as he was a teenager there was a target on his back. Parsley, Ontario was a tiny town and he stood out. Six feet tall, arms that dangled so far he felt like an octopus and giant hands; everyone at school assumed he’d join the basketball team. He did not. He couldn’t play because he was un-co-ordinated and, frankly, hated going to practice. He wanted his time to be his own. The only reason he got a job was so he could buy an iPod and pay for a phone since his mother refused to get one for him.
‘Why would I get a phone for you when I can barely pay the phone bill for this house?’ her accent still strong after being in Canada 20 years. ‘Besides, you wouldn’t answer the phone when I call you even if I bought one for you. No, you want a phone, get a job.’ She turned around to continue seasoning the chicken she’d taken out of the fridge and ignored him. That was 4 months ago.
His buddies, BooBoo, Fat Kirk and Binkie had called him a punk for not having a cell. Everyone had one and none of them had jobs. BooBoo was clumsy, sort of stupid and had a great memory for sports statistics. He wanted to be a great athlete and constantly injured himself attempting feats he would never achieve. He broke his ankle and was on crutches for 8 weeks after trying to do a Nollie kickflip at the local skate park last year. Then he cracked his collarbone when a man in a crappy car doored him on Hudson Street, sending BooBoo sailing and into the back of an even crappier Chevrolet. His body was a map of scars and nicks that could tell a painful, bloody story; he’s lucky to be alive. His parents gave him a phone so he could easily call them from the ambulance after another stupid accident.
If only bike accidents were the only threat to Lazarus (whose friends called him Russ) and his crew. As he approached his high school he noted the flag was at half-mast. ‘Yo, Binkie,’ Russ called out to his friend who always had a toothpick in his mouth, ‘what’s up with the flag?’ Binkie was walking towards him with a slow strut and one earbud in. He could hear OG Maco’s voice tinny but strong coming from the iPod. ‘Man, I dunno, some soldier got blowed up, I guess. Don’t got nothing to do wit me.’ They bumped fists and walked towards the front steps of Parsley High School where Fat Kirk sat, a light skinned girl working coconut oil into his shoulder length dreadlocks.
The girls loved Fat Kirk with his gray eyes, full sleeve of tats and quiet West Indian drawl. He was a big guy for 17 years old because he worked out at the school gym every single day. He wanted to be a cop when he graduated and planned on being in sick shape when he had to take the physical exam. He’d gained a reputation for being someone you didn’t mess with after he’d fought off some boys who were trying to ‘interfere’ with a 15 year old girl who’d said no repeatedly. When asked about it all he’d say was, ‘It nah right, mon. Leave the likkle gyal alone. Don’t mek me come fuh ya, yu hear?’ Everyone knew that Fat Kirk didn’t repeat himself and if he set those steel gray eyes on you then you better run.
The crew all stopped by the cafeteria for their morning coffee and walked into Mr. Reid’s class on the second floor. The class was more or less full and Mr. Reid was writing on the board; it said, ‘KNOW THYSELF’. The boys sat down and checked their cell phones. Mr. Reid put the chalk down and turned around. ‘I’ve decided to mix things up today. I want to talk to you about something completely removed from the normal curriculum. Can anyone tell me why the flag is lowered today?’ Nobody said anything. Student bodies hunched over their desks, some flailed back over chairs and many were doodling. Binkie called out, ‘Some soldier got killed in Iraq, or somethin’?’ He pronounced it I-Rack. ‘Samuel, you know I’d prefer that you put your hand up but I’ll accept your answer this once. Usually the reason we lower the flag is because of a death, yes, and over the last few years it has been to remember the fallen over seas. But, today I asked Principal Dunn to lower the flag to make a point.’ Binkie raised his hand. ‘Yes, Samuel’. Binkie sat up straight at his desk and said in his most proper speaking-to-an-adult voice, ‘what kind of point, Sir?’ The class giggled.
Mr. Reid came around to the front of the class and sat on his desk. He took off his glasses, rubbed his face and, even though that revealed he was much younger than he initially appeared, he looked tired. ‘That we are living in an era when it is open season on black boys and brown boys.’ The giggling stopped and everyone looked up from their notebooks. ‘Yesterday in the United States a young boy, no older than all of you was shot by police as he was pulling his cell phone out of his coat pocket. It was dark, the police had been called because a neighbourhood watch idiot had seen…something and could they please check it out. The boy, his name was Ryan Freeman, had his ear buds in. He didn’t hear them repeatedly ask him to show them his hands. The cops say they feared for their lives. A young man is dead. I asked that the flag be lowered so we can remember that there is another war being fought but one side is unarmed and oblivious. In a confrontation with police you can say you were right but that doesn’t matter if you’re dead. Those cops will get off because they always do.’ His shoulders were slumped and he looked down at his hands. The soft, white hands on a man who had never done a day of hard labour in his life save a stint as a tree planter in university.
Kathy Chartrand put up her hand and spoke before being called on. ‘Why are you telling us this? Do you want to scare us into…into what? Always do what the police say?’ Mr. Reid put his glasses on and looked around at his students who hailed from as far as Somalia and as close as PEI. They were looking at him with more focus than they ever had in the 6 months he’d been teaching them. ‘No, no, that is not what I’m saying, though you should always be respectful of the law. I want you to know that you matter; that your lives matter. Be mindful. Look up, keep the volume down on your music, educate yourself on your rights because I can only do so much. The boy that was shot yesterday could have been my son on his way home from a game or study session. He could have been your friend or he could have been you. You are the future, guard it well. That’s it for class today. You can stay and talk or leave and do what you want until your next class. I have decided that today is a day of remembrance. Class dismissed.’
Nobody moved. Nobody doodled or checked their phones. For the first time the words in class made sense. Everybody stayed.
Russ rolled into his place around 4:30 and he could hear the water running in the kitchen. He slipped into his room and threw his bag on the ground beside the bed. He walked over to the window and found another dead bee lying on its back, as still as a moment. He gently lifted it and placed on its feet so it could face the outdoor view. He reached to the back of his sock drawer and pulled out the box his phone came in. Inside was a small bundle of crisp bills. He peeled off one hundred dollars and walked into the kitchen. His mother was scrubbing the sink with steel wool and sweat was trickling down her temple. She glanced at him and stopped. ‘What?’ He shook his head and muttered, ‘Nothing.’ She turned her back on him and kept scrubbing, her curved back shaking as she dug in. Her right arm came up and she wiped the sweat before it got into her eyes. Her son slipped the money into her purse and went back to his room.