Fifteen more minutes to go and I will be out of here, Jamal thought to himself as he rubbed his eyes trying to fight sleep. He got up to check the inventory one more time to make sure everything was accounted for and in place. This was a method Jamal used when sleep was overcoming him and he needed to get up and stretch. If he could just make it through the next couple of minutes without Julie “finding” something for him to do, he would be home free.
“Jamal!” Julie barked from her office as he headed towards the time clock. “Damn, a brother can’t catch a break around her.” Jamal thought as he gathered himself mentally to ward off the bull that Julie was about to sling at him.
“Yeah, Jules what’s up?”
“I couldn’t let you leave without telling you that the managers are pleased with your work ethic and have decided to give you a $3 an hour salary increase.”
Although Jamal was happy at this news he knew that this was something that Julie probably had knowledge of from the moment he came to work but she purposely waited until it was time for him to leave to tell him. She was slick like that. Using tactics that maliciously annoyed the workers but were so skillfully calculated that it would be hard to garner a harassment complaint.
“Please give the managers my sincere thanks. I could definitely use the extra money. Is there someone in particular that I can thank personally?”
“Well for starters, you can thank me. I am the one who chose you among all of the other workers. I told them that you always got to work early and never slacked off. I also notice how you don’t get caught up in office gossip. If thanking me is not good enough for you, then go see Mr. Gross in the management office.” Julie replied smugly with anticipation of Jamal’s overwhelming gratitude. However, a modest thank you was all that she received.
Jamal punched out at 7:10. The 10 minutes delay meant that he would probably miss his train and have to wait 20 minutes for the next one. He shook his head in disgust thinking about Julie’s perfect timing in telling him about his pay increase. She’s heard Jamal on many occasion cut people off in mid-discussion just so that he could make his train. The timing of her news was definitely done on purpose. That’s why he gave her a dry thank you, but he would make sure that he personally thanked Mr. Gross, the person who really mattered. Julie was just a puppet and everyone in the office knew it. Performance was well documented by punching a time clock and nightly inventory sheets that had to be turned in and signed off. So Jamal’s productivity was not a secret to anyone in management. In fact quarterly evaluations were made primarily using this information. Personality traits are the only thing that management may not have known first hand.
As Jamal exited the building the cool fall air greeted him unlike the coziness of a good friendship. He quickly began zipping up his jacket to avoid getting sick. Luckily he had watched the weather report before leaving home and dressed accordingly. The long Indian summer that kept people in short sleeve shirts into November was definitely over. Thanksgiving was a week away and as far as Jamal could remember, it was always cold on Thanksgiving, and this one would definitely keep up with tradition.
The train ride home was quick but the constant rocking of the train began to lull Jamal to sleep. He almost missed his stop. Jamal commenced the five minutes walk home in a sleepy haze but not without taking notice of his surroundings. The morning sky looked like a flawless cloud tapestry that shined brightly against the few half naked trees that lined the streets. Remnants of the evening party goers and street associates fast food meals and extended vices swirled around in the street with every wisp of God’s breadth. The streets were lined with chicken bones, crumpled up cigarette packages, candy wrappers, and a few styrofoam trays. Jamal could never understand how someone could voluntarily litter where they live and then complain that the city did nothing to keep their streets clean.
Jamal’s parents taught him at a young age that you create your own surroundings. If you want to live in a castle then you need to take care of what you have. You can live in the projects and still have a nice place to come home to. It’s those people who feel neglected by society and hopeless who tend to contribute to their own urban plight. Jamal knew that the key to fixing this was by changing people’s attitudes. This was a difficult task and it would take a lifetime of dedication from many in the community not just a few. He was willing to take on this role and see it through. The starting date for him was the moment he opened his own business. In the meantime, he would continue to set an example just by the way he carried himself.
The smell of bacon and coffee wafted through the air when Jamal opened the front door of his house. “Ahh! Mom is cooking breakfast,” Jamal thought pleasingly to himself. He snuck up behind her in the kitchen and kissed her on the cheek. The startled look on her face quickly softened to a pleased grin when Mrs. Williams saw her son’s face.
“Hey baby. I thought I’d fix all of Justin’s favorite breakfast foods in memory of him. I hope that you are hungry because I’ve fixed grits, banana pancakes, bacon, sage sausage, home fries smothered in onions, scrambled eggs with cheese and homemade biscuits.”
“Dog Ma, you threw down today. It’s a good thing that I didn’t get my usual buttered roll and coffee from the bodega to mess up my appetite. Let me get washed up and I’ll be right back to tear up this food.”
Jamal caught a glimpse of Chantelle’s wild sleep hair enter the bathroom. She always seemed to be in the bathroom whenever he wanted to use it. It was almost as if she had a bathroom radar on him. Well, he would just have to wash up in the basement bathroom because he knew that it would take Chantelle forever to get herself together and he wanted to savor every succulent drop of food while it was still hot.
When Jamal made it back to the kitchen, his father was sitting at the head of the table. Jamal couldn’t remember the last time that his father had Sunday breakfast with the family since he always worked on Sundays. Seeing the shocked look on his son’s face, Mr. Williams addressed Jamal before he could ask. “ I decided to take the day off. I thought about what you said last night and I realize that I need to spend more time with my family. So I called Carl to see if he would fill on for me today and he said yes, and that he could use the overtime. Carl was Thomas Williams’ right hand man and the only co-worker that Thomas ever brought to the house to meet his family. Thomas was very protective of his family and was careful who he brought around them, so everyone in the family knew that Carl had Thomas’ back.
“Well it’s good to break bread with you on this fine Sunday morning Dad.” Jamal said jokingly to his father. Unlike the kiss that he gave his mother, moments of witty responses and a smile was the way that Jamal and his father showed their affection towards each other.
“Chantelle!” Mrs. Williams yelled down the hall. “Hurry up out of that bathroom girl. You ain’t got that much to wash!”
“I’m coming Ma!” Chantelle replied then opened the door to the bathroom. You could hear the swishing motion that her feet made across the parque floors in her pink fuzzy bunny rabbit slippers as she walked the long narrow hall to the kitchen. For the first time Jamal noticed how attractive his sister was and how much she had physically developed. Although he schooled her in the art of BS 101, frequently used by teenage boys, he made a mental note to keep an eye on her. Sometimes Chantelle could act a little dingy and he wanted to make sure that she didn’t end up as another statistic teenage mother.
After grace was said, they stuffed themselves to capacity. It was the after effects that bothered everyone because they only had an hour to get ready for church and everyone had the “itis,” the sleep disease that takes over most black people after a good meal. Somehow they all managed to get ready in time to watch the choir make their grand entrance into the halls of Antioch Baptist Church. Reverend Elliott was pleased to see the entire family there and he gave an approving smile towards them. Jamal surprisingly nodded only twice during the reading of the weekly announcements. Once church was over everyone except Betty, retreated to their own rooms to catch up on their sleep. Being the good homemaker that she was, Betty refused to lie down before she cleaned up the kitchen from the morning breakfast. She eventually joined Thomas in the bedroom 45 minutes later.
That evening the family collectively decided to give Betty a break from cooking and they traveled into Brooklyn to Junior’s Restaurant and Bakery. This was Justin’s favorite place to eat because they are known to have some of the best cheesecake in NY and Justin loved cheesecake. Thomas one time joked that he would turn into a cheesecake because whenever they asked the kids what they wanted for dessert, it never failed that Justin requested cheesecake. Jamal and Chantelle would vary their tastes every now and then but Justin never did. So the family thought it only appropriate to eat at his favorite place in honor of him. In fact, they decided that they would commemorate his death the same way every year.
“So Jamal, what’s going on with you and Lela?” Thomas asked. This was a private area for Jamal so he almost choked on his food at hearing the question.
“Ahh, we’re doing fine Dad.” He thought by giving a generic response it would end the conversation but he didn’t know that his father intended to play family catch-up in one night and continued probing.
“Well that’s good. She seems like a really nice young lady and smart too. Why don’t you invite her over for dinner next Sunday?”
“That sounds like a good idea Thomas.” Betty chimed in.
“I don’t know what she sees in your big head or any girl for that matter. All you do is study and go to work. You are boring.” Chantelle had to add her two cents.
Jamal just ignored her childish remark by putting his hand up to her face as if to say, “Talk to the hand,” then addressed his parents. “I’ll have to see if she is available next week.” Hoping that this would satisfy them and maybe they would forget altogether. At the same time he saw how bringing Lela to dinner would prove to her that he did care about her, so he would give this idea more thought later.
The discussion during dinner brought out a mixture of emotions. Everyone remembered Justin in their own way and recalled their fondest memory of him. At one time Betty’s eyes got misty but Thomas touched her hand for reassurance and strength and she pulled it together. The Williams family hadn’t shared a moment like this since Justin’s death. It was just the therapy they needed without the leather sofa, the stone faced psychologist, and the hefty bill. For the first time in four years, everything seemed ok.