Jamal was listening to a podcast of an interview with Earl G Graves Sr., walking across campus when he spotted Andre coming out of the Administration building. He looked as out of place as clear stripper heels in church. Jamal was far enough away that he could have easily avoided contact but when he realized that Andre was alone and looked somewhat lost he felt compelled to catch his attention. “Sup Dre!”
I wonder if he’s okay, Jamal thought as he approached. It had been a few years since he’d seen Andre during the day outside of the neighborhood. The two shook hands and gave daps. “What brings you here?”
“Picking up financial aid forms, tryin’ to get that paper.” Andre said.
Figuring Andre was chasing some girl there on campus, Jamal was about to start with the wisecracks until he noticed humble sincerity on his face.
The two started walking toward the Business department; Jamal had received a voicemail requesting that he stop by his advisor’s office. Since his advisor almost never called, he knew something was up. Conversation kept him from over-thinking what it could be, particularly once Andre began reflecting on Friday’s shooting incident. “Dude went to my mom’s church. They say he just got accepted at Penn State.” He added with stunned pity. “You just never know when time’s up.”
Jamal nodded, intrigued by hearing such a response. Since graduation, Andre’s life had been about blunts, booty, and Xbox. He knew something had to change. Any other time he would have been at least a little high, made light of the incident and then switched his focus to getting some wings because he had the munchies. The shooting was an unexpected catalyst he needed.
When Jamal appeared in the doorway, Mr. Steiner, his advisor, looked up from a desk covered in paperwork with a lukewarm response. His explanation started before Jamal even had a chance to shake his hand.
“Replaced? Lemme get this straight — you’re saying I’m fired? For what?”
Mr. Steiner began to gently rock in his chair. “Well, fired isn’t the word. You’re being placed somewhere else.”
Jamal grabbed his forehead to keep from cursing when Mr. Steiner said that he was going to have to wait a whole semester for his next possible internship. “Why?”
“The company felt that your participation wasn’t working out,” Mr. Steiner picked up a fax and adjusted his reading glasses. “Personality conflicts. I can’t go any further due to a possible pending an investigation by the disciplinary board.”
“Disciplinary board?” This has Leslie written all over it, he thought.
When Mr. Steiner noticed Andre out in the hall listening he closed the door. “I have to say this,” he asked with a weird hush, “By the way all your other reports read, it sounded like they were going to give you a VP parking space. What happened? And why’d you call the EEOC?”
Jamal pulled up a seat and sat down in silence to gather his thoughts. His mind went into a spin. “EEOC?”
As the story went, apparently a few hours after Jamal left the law office his supervisor got word that there was a problem; about that time the EEOC called, filing a sexual harassment complaint. Someone called the Provost who, in turn, called the Dean who called the department head who then called Mr. Steiner into his office for an emergency meeting. The law firm Jamal interned at was also a long-time major sponsor of campus sporting events. “Whoever started the ball rolling must know the Doc personally,” Mr. Steiner concluded; “he got the call on his cell during lunch.”
Saturated in confusion, Jamal was so ready to explode that he began to laugh. He couldn’t believe all this was happening because he wouldn’t play stud-boy. He might have even been a little flattered if this scenario had not cost him a promising internship, possibly set him back a semester, included a score of campus administrators and jeopardized his reputation in their eyes.
Mr. Steiner, slightly surprised by the reaction, mentioned that he had to go pick up his daughter from daycare and that they needed to meet again in the morning to finish their discussion. Jamal agreed, shook his hand and wasted no time leaving. Out in the hall he bumped into Andre moving away from the door as he abruptly ended a phone conversation. Both were so taken off guard by what they heard that neither said a word as they left the building.
On their way to the subway Jamal’s phone rang. When he glanced at it he was quick to answer — it was Leila asking him to stop by before going home. His spirits soared when she said that she needed to talk and apologize for the past few days. Back in Queensbridge, Jamal said goodbye to Andre then sprinted to her mother’s apartment. He was overjoyed that she had come to her senses and forgave him for what he didn’t do.
Leila’s little brother Ronny took a timeout from an Xbox game long enough to buzz Jamal in. When he walked in, his greeting went unanswered; Ronny was back clicking away in some shoot’em up. Leila was in her bedroom, listening to the 5 o’clock news and doing Google research for a current events paper. When he saw her face, the first thing he did was rush into her arms; for a few precious seconds, his problems faded like a newspaper left outside for days. She hugged him tight, burying her face in his shoulder to hide her nerves. Back on campus, when Andre overheard what happened he knew his friend was going to need the kind of comfort that could only come from his girl; he called a friend who called a friend who’s cousin called Leila.
After Jamal explained about the internship and how he suspected that Leslie got him fired, Leila spoke up. “I met with Leslie over the weekend.”
As Leila went into detail, it was as if she broke a bottle over his head. He winced, somewhere between startled and recalling the cat-n-mouse conversation he and Leslie played. …Even had a spot at the table saved for you and your girlfriend; By the way, how is she… She’s fine; downstairs waiting for me. She said to tell you hello. He leaned back on her bed and slowly covered his face, embarrassed that Leila went behind his back and interfered in his professional affairs and how Leslie let him push his lie like a bad Poker player trying to bluff a pro. When Leila mentioned ‘EEOC’ he sat straight up.
“Hold up,” he shouted. “YOU called the EEOC?”
“I’m sorry,” she replied and pursed her lips with mild remorse. “I knew she was gonna keep on. If it wasn’t you it was gonna be somebody else.”
“But it wasn’t any of your business!”
“You’re my man – it was completely my business,” Leila slapped her hands together with each word. “That is, unless you liked it. Did you wanna get with that old-ass heffa? Is there something I should know?”
“No no no,” Jamal quickly interjected, afraid to let her draw the wrong conclusion again. “I’m sayin’ — you jumping in to fight my fight is like stepping on my manhood.”
“And your manhood wasn’t gonna let you call her out, now was it?”
The two of them talked until he was calmer and she was more at ease. While Jamal’s mind had already begun to sort out possible solutions, Leila was studying his reactions, hoping to convince herself that Leslie was wrong about her not understanding him. Even though she felt a better about the situation, Leslie’s comments at the café were certain to stay with her for a long time, certain that she would never look at Jamal the same again.
He kissed Leila, thanked her again, and then headed home. Finally understanding the dynamics of the situation was one thing; figuring out a solution was going to be something else entirely.
Back home, Jamal walked into the den, said ‘Hello’ and flopped down on the couch. His parents were in their respective Lazy-boy chairs, eating TV-dinners and watching the news. Just after a string of stories about the Iraq War, a high school yearbook photo of a young black male filled the screen as the anchor started talking about an investigation of a weekend shooting. These stories were so common that they might as well have been commercials. The screen switched to black and white footage from several surveillance cameras. A police Lieutenant described the actual shooting then switched between video sources. Jamal was staring at the ceiling, pondering how to tell his parents about losing the internship, when suddenly he heard someone that sounded like Andre shout “Aye yo Jay! <BLEEP> get yo’ <BLEEP> over here!”
Slowly he looked at the television and froze when he spotted a familiar figure approach and lean up against a garage door. “I can’t take this <BLEEP> anymore,” the guy turned and said to someone off camera. No way, he thought as his eyes widened.
The Lieutenant chimed in “He is a young black male, approximately between 18 and 24 years of age. Detectives consider this a person of interest in the investigation.” The video zoomed in on the face. Although it was somewhat grainy and at an odd angle, Jamal realized he was staring at himself on the news. “If you recognize this person please contact Crime Line 1-800-LOCK-U-UP.”