the other side of the game . pt. 1 . pretty blaq & hbflyy
Instructions: before you start reading, go listen to ‘Other Side of the Game’ by Erykah Badu
From the moment we met, I never saw myself with anyone but Malik. Growing up, whenever people spoke of us, they never addressed us separately, it was always as a pair, ‘Malik and Malaysia’. That’s how tight our bond was. We met at ten years old, fell in love at thirteen and started having sex by fifteen . We were inseparable, a typical ghetto cliché love story: boy meets girl, boy gets caught up in gang, boy sells drugs, boy catches his first charge…. And then his second…. And then his third…. Girl waits for boy…. boy gets out of juvenile detention… boy wants to do better… boy goes to college…. Girl waits for him.
The environment that we grew up in made us want better for ourselves. We were products of broken and dysfunctional households. I grew up in the foster care system, and Malik was the youngest of three brothers, raised by their Grandma Kat. She worked a minimum wage job and the little bit of welfare assistance that she did receive for them, was barely enough to keep food on the table. Malik's oldest brother started selling drugs to bring some more money into the household. He then taught their middle brother, and Malik followed suit.
Malik caught his third charge as a juvenile by twelve years old. He served his three year stint in the California Youth Authority, where he was able to still receive his education, training, and counseling services. When Malik got out, it was a struggle to readjust into regular life, but luckily, he’d excelled so much while in YA, that upon his release, he was appointed a mentor, who was able to cultivate his gift of Art. He was never really cut out for street shit. He was always smart and gifted; but his older had brothers always taught him that a man pays his own way, and struggling wasn’t in their DNA. He took whatever they told him to heart, they were both like his father figures, because he’d never had one. He Loved and admired everything about them, but after witnessing his oldest brother being killed and the middle brother taking a 10 year bid on gun and drug charges, he quickly realized that the streets aint loyal to no fucking body.
After Malik's art was entered into a contest that he won, he received multiple scholarship offers. He decided to attend Morehouse in Atlanta, but after a year in the South, he transferred to Berkley. By then I’d emancipated from the foster system, and decided to stay back in Oakland to attend cosmetology school and work on opening my own hair salon.
It was always Malik's dream to come back to Oakland and teach black children. He wanted to show them that they could do more than sell drugs, dribble a ball, or become the next Instagram model or Sound Cloud rapper. Malik double majored in art and literature, and when he returned home, he immediately found a job teaching english to junior high school students for the Oakland Unified School District. While there, he was a primary advocate for improving the curriculum, and helped to launch their first arts program becoming one of the most loved and well known teachers within the district.
But shit, this isn’t a ‘Lean on Me’ or ‘Dangerous Minds’ type of storybook life we’re living in. The reality of it all is we as black people are now left dealing with some severe fuck shit; the school systems aren’t concerned with exposing black children to art and literature, or expanding their minds beyond the hoods they live in making it possible for them to attend college. They seem more worried about how many asses are in their seats so they get paid for the attendance of each student.
When budget cuts and layoffs came into play, guess who was the first to be let go?
Finding work is hard for a black man, even when he has a masters degree. White folks get intimidated when a 6ft 3inch black man with dreads walks into a job interview. I tried telling him to cut them off, in hopes of him bettering his chances of getting a new position, but he always replied to me "It’s a Bay area thang baby.” His locs were a source of pride for him, and Malik would be damned if he cut them off for anybody, especially some damn white folks who were trying to get him to assimilate.
I'm sitting on this toilet right now, for what seems like the longest 3 minutes of my life. My anxiety has kicked into overdrive with all of the fore mentioned thoughts running through my head.
I look down at the pregnancy test in my hand.
Two dark pink lines, clear as day. This is the third pregnancy test I’ve taken within the last six hours. The first two read positive, but I didn't trust them because I got them from the 99 Cent Store. When the First Response pregnancy test I got from CVS read "positive" there was not a shadow of a doubt that I was indeed pregnant.
How in the hell did two 28 year olds from the East side of Oakland, manage to avoid teenage pregnancy, beat the odds, one go to college, the other start a hair business, only to end up with an unplanned pregnancy. We barely have a pot to piss in or a muthafuckin window to throw it out of. Malik can't find work, and it’s not enough, quick weaves, braids, and sew-ins I can do to keep us afloat while raising a damn baby!
As soon as I started thinking to myself that I'll just get an abortion and not tell Malik a damn thing, he busted into the bathroom to pee, he looked down and saw the pregnancy test in my hand.
The only words he spoke were,”Damn Laysia.”
The look on his face and the tone of his voice told me that he was just as disappointed as I was. He just walked out the bathroom, without speaking another word to me.
Looking down at my gas tank and seeing the red indicator leaning significantly more on the side of empty than full pissed me the fuck off. The precious fuel had been wasted traveling across the city for two interviews, and I know that neither intended on calling me back. The first interview was for an audit managers position at the First Republic Bank near Maxwell Park. I had no clue what an audit manager did, but I still applied online. When I walked into the bank everyone turned to stare at me; the customers, tellers, everyone. The pasty white, sloppy looking, fat, armed security guard casually adjusted the belt on his large waistline, his hand resting near the gun in the holster. I got the message. The second interview had been at a private school in the same area, and it lasted less than twenty minutes. I knew that I had no experience whatsoever in banking, so I’d expected that interview to be an awkward one at best; however I did have a masters degree from Berkeley, and until a few months ago I’d been a teacher prior to being laid off; the second interview should have gone a lot better than it did. But it didn’t and now half a tank of gas was wasted. Oh well, “It’s all part of the process” as my Uncle Ray used to say about any and every setback life had to offer. He was correct and with everyday that passed, the cliche statement proved to be true.
Ive been applying everywhere and interviewing every-time I get a call back, and still nothing. A few interviews I felt like I’d nailed them, answered all of the questions thrown at me with thorough grade ‘A’ responses, and I felt confident that the jobs were mines, only to never receive a call back. My confidence has always been like an invisible cloak of armor that I wear, and all of these set backs were like clinks in the metal.
Last week Malaysia hinted that it was probably time to cut off my locs, and the insinuation alone had pissed me off with her. I’m not cutting off shit. I started growing them the last time I was in juvenile detention, my locs are apart of who I am and where I’ve come from in this life. Sometimes I’m too prideful, I can admit that; but somethings required you being prideful about them.
Walking into the apartment, the smell of burning frankincense and the sound of Erykah Badu playing let me know Malaysia was home. Our one bedroom apartment was small, and not in the best of neighborhoods, but you’d never guess that from the inside. The decor was warm and earthy, just like Malaysia. Kicking off my shoes so I didn’t have to hear her nag me about it, I darted towards the bathroom. I’d been holding in my urine the entire drive home. Malaysia was sitting on the toilet looking startled like she didn’t know that I lived here too. My eyes instinctively scanned the tiny bathroom and landed on the pregnancy test that was sitting next to the sink. It had two pink lines, and I knew immediately what that meant.
The music playing in the living room was drowned out by the sound of my heart beat, thudding loudly in my chest. I walked out of the bathroom leaving the door open behind me as I headed to the kitchen table taking a seat. How in the hell had this happened? Isn’t she on birth control? Does she want this baby? Do I want a baby right now? Damn are we having a baby? Wether or not I wanted a child with her wasn’t the question, she’s my entire world. The only woman I’ve ever loved. The timing for this is all wrong. When I checked my bank account this morning it was less than $1600 total. Her small shop was newly opened and she was barely starting to break even. The car note was due. Two of my credit cards were maxed and the minimum monthly payment on those was more than what I could pay. I felt like some wicked invisible lady had her delicate fingers wrapped around my neck, and with each day that passed her grip got tighter and tighter making it harder and harder for me to breathe.
The sound of the toilet flushing brought me back to reality, and it hit me that I’d left Malaysia sitting on the toilet. I could hear her wash her hands and then walk to the bedroom. Damn.
I got up and made my way to our bedroom. She was laying in the bed on her side with her back to the door. I climbed in the bed with her, spooning her from behind. I wrapped my arms tightly around her and breathed warmly onto her neck. Without seeing her face or hearing the sound of her voice I knew that she was crying. I know her inside and out. We didn’t need to exchange words. Gently, I rocked her until she drifted off to sleep. Once I was certain she was asleep I carefully got out of the bed, purposefully making sure I didn’t wake her up. I pulled the covers over her and headed towards the front door, blew out the frankincense, turned the music off and slid my shoes back on my feet before grabbing my car keys. Laying in the bed holding Malaysia I’d made up my mind, and I knew what I had to do.
Pulling up in front of my Grandma Kat house I scanned the surroundings once I parked. This was where I was born and raised off and on, going from here to juvenile detention centers then back to here, like a pinball I bounced around, the results of my own bad decisions. My grandmas faded light blue house looked like it’d been to hell and back, crazily it didn’t stand out from the other houses up and down the worn street. Grandma Kat raised me, and my brothers while our parents ran the streets fucking and smoking crack with no regard for the damage they’d done. Grandma Kat tried her hardest to keep us in check, but the circumstances prevailed her efforts. While I somehow ended up with this worthless degree from Berkeley, my oldest brother Tyson got killed in some street shit back in 1998 and that damn near killed Grandma Kat, he was her eldest grandchild. My other brother Tyrell, like myself, he’d been in and out of trouble when we were kids, and while I grew less interest in the mischief, he seemed to dive further into it. He graduated from doing knuckle head shit, to selling major shit like it was going out of style. He was getting paid and everyone knew it. The evidence of this was his Mercedes-Benz G Wagon parked in the driveway, gleaming like a shiny dime amongst a bag of old pennies. No matter how much money he made he never left Grandma Kats house because she wouldn’t leave and he refused to leave her. With Tyson dead, me away at school and working, Tyrell watched over her.
When I let myself in the house it smelt like fried chicken and moth balls, the same way it smelt when I was a child. It was dark inside and I didn’t hear the tv on in the family room so that must’ve meant Grandma Kat was in her room sleep or watching the tv in there. Good. I got real shit to talk about with my brother. I crept up the wood stairs and knocked on Tyrells bedroom door a couple of times. When he opened the door and saw it was me he smiled and went to lean in embracing me in a brotherly hug like always,
“Lil Bro!” He said, releasing me.
“What’s up? Come in man” he said stepping to the side to let me into the room like it was an apartment.
I almost wanted to laugh, but decided not to. A side from the basketball game that was playing on the huge flat screen tv hanging on the wall, and the Rolex watches that sat on his dresser, his room looked the same as it had when were in middle school.
“Man” I said exhaling loudly.
Tyrell looked at me concerned,
“What’s good? You good? Where’s Malaysia?” He asked concerned. He could see the angst on my face.
“She good. She good.” My voice trailed off, “Man she pregnant” I said feeling the invisible bricks on my shoulders stack up.
“All shit! What?! No way!” He said excited. I smiled halfway.
“Man I lost my job.” I responded bluntly. “And that’s what I’m here for right now.”
He looked confused, trying to understand what I was saying.
“Aye I need you to let me get something, and then I’ll give you that back off the top. You got me?” I asked coded.
He nodded his head and put his finger to his mouth indicating that he understood me.
And just like that, I was back in the drug game…