A loud screeching sound comes from the stage and makes me jump. A thin white boy with long hair grabs a microphone and shouts, “What’s up, Bushwick!”
Everybody around cheers, and it’s all so incredibly surreal. “I can’t believe this,” I say out loud, and grab my phone to take a picture to send to Charlise.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Darius taking a picture too.
“That’s your homeboy?” I ask. “Oh, I’m sorry. I mean, your buddy? Your pal?”
His nostrils flare, he licks his lips, and he exhales. “That’s Jaime Grisham of Bushwick Riot. They’re my sister’s favorite band. I’m sending her a pic.”
He says this as if it’s information I should know already.
“Your sister?” I ask.
He nods. “Younger sister.”
I take a good look at this band called Bushwick Riot. There’s the skinny white boy with the hair, another one wearing a black ski hat, a shorter, chunkier black one with a thick beard, and two girls—a thick white one with bleached hair, and the other is a black girl with mohawk braids. Each one is either behind a keyboard, a drum set, an electric guitar, or a microphone. “Interesting,” I say out loud. “Is your sister still in . . . wherever y’all just came from?”
“Georgia’s interning in D.C. for the summer.”
“Interning?” I nod my head several times because this is all coming together. “Makes sense.”
“What do you mean by that?”
I shrug, not really wanting to spell it out for him. “Rock band, interning, tight shorts. Makes sense.”
He laughs with his mouth closed. “Your sister doesn’t seem to mind.”
“My sister’s just making new friends, that’s all.”
The band starts with a thunderous drumroll. Some people start to move closer to the stage. “So you’re a fan of this band too? Bushwick Riot?”
“No. That’s Georgia’s thing.” He inhales deeply, puts his phone into the back pocket of his too-tight shorts, and crosses his arms.
“Is this . . . your thing? Art festivals in parks? Like, how come you don’t go to the park to play ball or something?”
He smirks. “You don’t leave that little corner of your neighborhood too often, do you?”
I lean back to get a good look at him. He stares at me, but he blinks first. “Just so you know, in this hood, you’re just like everybody else. The cops and all these white people will take one good look at you and think you’re from Hope Gardens Projects no matter how many tight khaki shorts or grandpa shoes you wear.”
I tilt my head to the side, and we stare each other down.
His jaw shifts again, his nose flares. I’m beginning to realize that this is what happens to his face when he’s pissed. “Damn. I thought we were having a nice conversation, but you just went left.”
“To the left, to the left,” I say, reciting the Beyoncé lyrics while pointing my thumb and tossing my head to the left.
Darius throws both his hands up and shakes his head.
Over his shoulder, I can see Janae and Ainsley on their way back to us. They’re both holding little paper containers of food, hardly enough to fill my belly after that twenty-block stroll down Knickerbocker Avenue. They’re purposely bumping arms as they walk, and Janae is smiling with her whole body, it seems.
Janae hands me my little paper bowl filled with two small tacos and laughs at something Ainsley says. For the first time since she’s come home from college, I can’t stand her. She practically begged me to come with her. But now I feel like the third wheel, even though there’s four of us.
“Actually, Janae, I’m gonna head home,” I say. Darius gives me a look as I stand up.
“Wait, why? We just got here,” Janae says.
“Hey, man! Yo, Ainsley.” A black guy waves at our blanket. He walks up to Ainsley and gives him a pound. Ainsley awkwardly shakes his hand, of course, while this new boy gives him a straight dap like a normal black dude. Darius acknowledges this new boy with just a head nod.
“This is Janae,” Ainsley says to the boy, “and this is Zuri.”
The new guy nods in Janae’s direction, then looks at me and says, “What up, Zuri? I’m Warren.”
I pause from picking up my purse and give this Warren a second look. There’s a little bass in his voice, a little hood, a little swag, not like these Darcy boys.
He catches me staring at him, but I don’t look away. I want him to know that I’m checking him out, and I want Darius to know too. Our eyes lock for a long minute, and it’s as if everything around us—that band, those voices, that warm summer breeze, sirens, and honking cars in the distance—all come to a full stop.
“Zuri was just leaving,” Darius says, rudely. But Warren and I keep staring at each other.
This isn’t the love at first sight Madrina likes to talk about, but it’s a you-look-so-damn-good-that-my-eyes-are-eating-your-face thing we’ve got going.
Warren steps closer to me while pulling out his phone from his back pocket. “I wanna call you,” he says. “I wouldn’t mind getting to know one of the Benitez sisters too, right, Ains?” He throws a head nod over at Ainsley.
“How you know our name?” I ask.
“I’m from around here, and every dude from Cypress Hills to the Marcy Projects knows about the Benitez sisters with the fat asses.”
“Excuse you?” I quickly say. “Don’t be talking about our asses!”
“Oh! Pardon me, but you know how brothas get down. And none of y’all were checking for dudes from Hope Gardens.”
Now both Janae and I are thoroughly confused. “You’re from the projects?” I ask with a screw face.
“You don’t have to say it like that, though.”
“Hold up. I just mentioned Hope Gardens to this dude over here,” I say, pointing at Darius with my chin. “And he didn’t say anything about knowing anybody from Bushwick, especially the projects.”
Warren laughs. “Darius and I go to the same school, and we’re two out of nine black guys in our whole grade. That’s about it.”
“What school is that?” I ask.
“The Easton School in Manhattan,” Janae answers for me, with her eyebrows raised as if this is something impressive. I’ve never heard of it.
“I got into one of those programs that takes smart kids from the hood and puts them into private schools,” Warren says, rubbing his chin. He says this as if it’s something impressive.
“Private school?” I say. I can’t hide the smile on my face, because I am definitely impressed with this boy. He smiles too. Warren’s smile is golden. Warren is smooth and easy. Warren is Bushwick.
My phone number just rolls out of my mouth. I don’t blink, I don’t think about it, I simply throw each number at him as if they’re dollar bills and he’s a male stripper at a club like in those music videos the twins like to watch.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Janae trying to hold in a laugh. Behind her is Darius and his tight jaw. I want him to see what’s going down; I want him to see how it’s done. This is swag. This is how you step to a girl from Bushwick—a Bushwick native.
“Zuri, weren’t you just leaving?” Darius asks.
“Nah, I’ll stick around,” I say. “Actually, Warren, do you want to get closer to the stage?”
“Let’s do it,” he says, and knocks my shoulder with his.
“Shoot your shot, sis!” Janae says, smiling at me.
Warren stands next to me the whole time Bushwick Riot plays. All around us are the white people doing their strange dances to this punk music, the Whole Foods bags, the colorful blankets, and the kids from around the way who try to carry on as if nothing is changing. But like Madrina said, everything is changing. Old and new are mixing together like oil and water, and I’m stuck here in the middle of it all.
Boys in the Hood
Ball don’t lie, how it bounces off concrete
With swag, sway, and dip