It was a quarter past

when Jamal walked through the door of his family’s 1960- style row house, located in Long Island City, Queens. It’s an industrial area; sort of quiet-type, near LaGuardia College, in the same area where Swingline Staple Company was located.


“Wassup, big-head?” He said to his 16-year old sister when he passed the living room on the right-hand side. 


Chantalle was on the phone; as usual, yackin’ with one of her girlfriends probably about some boy. She was leaning back in their dad’s favorite recliner. Her right leg was thrown over the arm of the chair. She waved him off with her hand and mouthed something smart, which Jamal couldn’t understand, but she never lost a beat with her conversation. Jamal chuckled and headed toward the kitchen, where he knew his mother was always.


“What up, Ma?” Jamal said coming up behind her at the sink, where she was peeling potatoes for dinner. He kissed her softly on the cheek.


“Hey sweetie, how was your day? How’d the presentation go, is what I really want to know,” Betty Washington said.


Jamal was recalling the day’s events. What should he begin to tell his mother about his hellish day? Of course he should start with the good, but he also wanted to tell her the drama he’d gone through before he could get to the best part…


“Well, the best part of the day- – beside knocking my presentation out of the park – – was seeing Lela,” Jamal smiled, in a trance, as he savored their last moments together in the park earlier and the taste of her lips…

Jamal!” Betty was snapping her fingers in his direction. “Where is your mind, boy? The day must’ve been real good for you to go off in la-la land.”


“Naw-naw, I mean, yea it was a great day” he said, trying to quickly regain his thoughts. He’d have to think about Lela later, when he was alone, and no one could disturb him. “Ms. Jones really liked the presentation a lot. So much so, she has offered to introduce me to a friend of hers who can help me get into the business.”


“That is outstanding, baby. I am so proud of you, and Justin, God rest his soul, would have been proud too. I can’t believe it will be four years this Sunday. I sometimes feel his presence around the house, as if he is guarding us from all the troubles outside,” she sighed, “I miss him, but it was his time.” she continued.


Jamal wasn’t expecting a downer to the end of his great day. He missed Justin too, but he usually pushed him to the back of his mind, because after four years, the pain of him not being around was still prevalent and he carried their relationship very close to his heart. They were three years apart and ran in separate circles. Unlike Jamal, who loves school and is athletic, playing basketball and running track, Justin always hung around knuckle-head dudes from the block. He hung out late some nights with his boys, partied and worked since he didn’t go to college. He always had music around him in some way. Whether deejaying at parties or singing with the radio, which he used to have stretched from their old room to the bathroom so he could rhyme to the latest rap song. He gave their dad lip every now and again, but what kid didn’t try their parents, if only once? Their parents only allowed them one “fit”; maybe two, but they had them all under control as far as discipline.


Justin didn’t like school much but he always went, and brought home decent grades, mostly C’s and low B’s. Their parents just expected them to do their best. But that day on the block seemed like yesterday…


“What’s up Justin?” Black Mike had said when he walked up on the set. 


“Ain’t nuthin’. “What up wit you?” Justin said


“What up, dude,” Bink said.


“What’s up,” Black now sounded angry, “…is, I heard that one of ya’ll punks is messin’ with my girl, Trish up on 8th?”


“What! Trish? who’s Trish? Bink looked at Justin, and Justin shrugged not really caring about the conversation.


Black Mike was a drama king to say the least. The neighborhood hustler, Black was a 19-year old, dark-skinned pretty-boy, who drove an SL500 Mercedes Benz, and could get any girl he wanted. So why would he think anyone else would want his girls? They were broke, trying to just make another day. Black Mike kinda took over the block when one of his boys went down for sellin’ to an undercover cop.  He had coke on him and some priors, so Black Mike made a pact to hold it down till he got out. He was younger than Bink and Justin, so he never fazed them in the neighborhood or at school, which they shared one school year. They were in the 12th and Black Mike in the ninth.


“Don’t lie, Bink, the dudes up on Douglass, said they seen you wit her and ya’ll was all cuddle like.”


“I wasn’t up there with no girl named Trish, I was up there meeting, MY GIRL, Danielle,” Bink said, louder than before and with more-bass in his voice. “So you got the wrong man.”


And Justin said, “And it ain’t me, because I ain’t got no girl right now, I’m playin’ them all,” and started laughing.


“Yeah whateva,” Black Mike said. “Go on and laugh, ni**as, cause if I ever find out one of ya’ll messin’ with ANY of my girls, I’ll kill ya” looking boldly in Bink and Justin’s eyes.


Neither boys said a word, but they did stare him back down, with a, “yea okay, but an I hear you too, look.


A few weeks passed and Bink and Justin went about their normal routines, partying hanging out, and just loving life. Who would have thought that 4-years ago, Justin would be lying in a box, over some foolishness?


Bink and Justin were standing on the block at the corner store with some other dudes, when Danielle and her two girl friends came out of the store to join them when Black Mike’s car skidded backward up the street towards the store where they were all standing. He jumped out, leaving the car running and the door open, and walked fast towards Bink and Justin. 


He snatched- – no almost ripped- – Danielle by the arm, pulling her wig off. “What the (bleep) you doin’ here, Trish? What, you think by disguising yourself no one would recognize you?”


“Wait! Hold up man,” Bink said, stepping between Black Mike and Danielle, “This ain’t your girl man, she’s mine,” Tell ‘em Danielle,” He turned and looked at Danielle, who had her head down as her eyes welled with tears. 


“I’m sorry Bink, I am Danielle to you,” she said, “But on the streets and in the bars, my name is Trish and I belong to Black Mike.” she said between sobs.


“Well not anymore,” Bink said, brazenly moving Danielle behind him. “Can’t you see she happy, B? She don’t wanna live that life no more, man. She has big dreams and aspirations way outside here man, and foreal, I didn’t know this was the girl you were talkin’ about. I know her as Danielle, and she has always worn this hair…wig, whatever,” he amused himself a minute. “But anyway man, let’s not go crazy over this, lets just…”


…and as Bink was trying to persuade Black Mike to reason, Black Mike pulled a gun from his back and shot Bink at point-blank range. Black Mike got scared and started bustin’ off the rest of the bullets wildly at all of them. After Bink was shot, second were Danielle and then Justin. The other three rounds went into the store window, the street, and Black Mike’s taillight. The dude couldn’t shoot worth crap, but managed to kill Justin but only wounding Bink and Danielle.


Black Mike took off in his car and hid out, but hours later he was picked up by NYPD for murder and two attempted murder charges in the second degree.


Stupid Mike was a hot-head who was all about the money and wasn’t gonna let any one stand in the way of it. 


Black Mike was selling girls from the local clubs to other club owners, and trading girls from other areas for girls in New York. “My best strippers for your best strippers” was the game. Well, Danielle had only been in the city for a few months and was ready to go back down south when she met Bink, who said that he would go back with her when she was ready. So Danielle ran away from the two bedroom apartment she and three other girls shared. Black Mike had them bunked up two to a room. Danielle was gone for two months before she was spotted by a regular at the club. He spotted her with Bink coming from a basketball game at the college nearby.


She and Bink, whose real name is Brian Coleman, ended up moving away together down south where Danielle was from and got married and had a daughter named Justine, in remembrance of Justin.

Jamal’s family was devastated, losing Justin in a senseless way like that — a young man who had a lot going for him in his music. All he wanted was to have fun, make people laugh, have a family and survive. Now he would never get that chance.