It was easier, that night, to play Bat Boy. Nope, sounds like a baseball bitch.
I went out and caught a bus. Traveling into North Philly, I felt more and more out of place. Eventually I was the only white person on the bus, but nobody said anything to me. I got off and walked by a shopping center with a McDonald’s as big as a church. Somebody rode by playing a rap song so loud the house windows rattled. I tried not to look at anybody, walking down to Mike’s block. A group of guys looked at me. One said, “Hey kid, you want dippers?”
Another added, “Make you feel like a super-hero.”
“You gone need that out here.” A few laughs and then they ignored me.
I shook my head no and shuffled past. I didn’t feel like a super-hero, but I actually was one.
A group of kids my age were playing football in the middle of the block. I stood watching them until I saw Deshawn. He stuck out, giving orders, calling huddles, angry at his receivers for missing catches. When a smaller kid suggested he throw, Deshawn said, “You think you can throw?”
The kid said, “Better than your corny passes.” Deshawn threw the ball right into the kid’s face at point blank range.
“Better than that?”
The kid shook his head and said, “You an asshole.”
I was shocked a little and I think my jaw was hanging open. He saw me. “What you looking at, whitey?’
I didn’t say anything. He stalked toward me, and I thought he was going to hit me. “You better answer me when I ask a question.” Actually, he tried to push me first; two hands came up shoving me in the chest. I didn’t move, but he fell back a few steps. The voices of the other kids around started. “Oh snap, Deshawn.”
“He ain’t scared of you, Deshawn.”
“Why you push like a (insert misogynist word referring to the female anatomy here. Miss Farr said that she hoped that if we ever used words derogatory toward female genitalia that we would never get close to one)?”
Deshawn knew better than to talk at that point, he stepped up and threw the biggest punch he had. I caught it. He looked at me in shock, and then, following his instinct, swung the other fist. I side-stepped that one, and brought the flat of my hand across his face hard. The swashing blow knocked him back. The only thing that kept him from hitting the asphalt was my grip on his other hand.
“Deshawn, he ain’t respect you enough to punch you.”
“Slap you like your mama.”
The commentary was quality. I let go of him. I could see the fear in his face, the slap still hurt, but he was more scared of the comments, the damage to his reputation. He got up, and came at me one more time. This time I slapped him with a hammer motion on the top of his head. The blow pushed him to his knees.
I waited until his eyes refocused, and he looked me in the eye. “Stop picking on people for no reason. You don’t want me coming back.”
He nodded, and murmured, “Ok.” I walked off. On the ride home, I replayed the events of the fight. I tried to feel triumphant, but being super-powered and beating up on regular people, even when they’re bullies, doesn’t feel that great. Mouse squasher. Jack the G-Ant-Killer. Get it. G as in gangster?
I thought that Mike would be talking over the next couple days about how much Deshawn had changed. Even if it didn’t feel like a triumph, it’d feel nice hearing how Mike’s situation was improved. I thought about telling him what I’d done for him. He’d love the part about Deshawn’s humiliation in front of the whole bunch. I threw that idea out, ‘cause Mike would be mad I didn’t tell him about my super powers right away.
However, the next day, Mike didn’t come to school, and the day after that he came in with an ankle splint and the lumpiest eye I’d ever seen.
Kyana started, “What happened to you?”
Mike shook his head.
“Not that Deshawn dickhead?”
Mike nodded his head. “Yeah. So my little friend Boog from our block told me this crazy story. Two nights ago all the kids on our block are playing football on the street, yelling five oh every time they say a cop car, just your normal night in the ghetto. Then this white kid walks down the block, like some serial killer, and stares at Deshawn. Deshawn gets offended and steps to this white kid, who basically concusses Deshawn with two slaps and tells him that he’s supposed to stop picking on people. All the kids are nodding, but after the white kid leaves, Deshawn starts to beat up the smallest kid out there, who was Boog, and Boog just cussed him out, but then the next morning he manages to get up at six thirty and fuck my morning up. He punches me a few times, and if that wasn’t enough chucks me down into the train tracks, and when I land I sprained my ankle. My mom said she’s too busy to go to the doctor. So that’s how come I missed two days.”
My first reaction was I got angry with Deshawn. Why wouldn’t he learn? But what Mike said next showed me the truth.
“That dumb mutant white kid. Don’t he know that shit always flow downhill?”
I didn’t say anything to that. He looked at me. “It’s weird, the kid sounded like you- but if you had mutant strength you’d tell me.”
“Yeah, of course.”
“You’d need a Professor X to give you advice.”
“I’d think you more as an Aunt May.”
“Same thing.” Of course I couldn’t tell him. He wouldn’t believe me, and he’d be mad at me for basically breaking his leg if he did. I felt so stupid.
One of the things that Miss Farr talked about as we were reading toward the end of Hamlet was the logic of blood. She talked about how gangster movies, whether it’s Godfather, Goodfellas, or Scarface, those who kill, spill blood, don’t escape the repercussions. Each act of violence is like a rock thrown in a pond; its effects ripples out and hurt even those far from it. Claudius kills the King, and the whole kingdom is destabilized. Hamlet stabs the “most secret, most grave” counselor, and Ophelia dies, Laertes seeks revenge. In fact, she said, repercussion should be reverberation, because it comes back on the perpetrator, and then bounces back out.
That’s a lie in comic books. Violence is not a solution. But I believed them, thinking slaps were going to make North Philly a place where a smart kid could be safe.