The way the girls on the sidelines flip
As you run, jump, shuffle your feet
Your dance moves, like sugar so sweet
From here to the moon, boy, take me on this trip
If I snatch this ball from you, will you kiss me on the lip
Your wink, your smile, your touch like a treat
You hold this ball in your hand like it’s your world
You run this block, this hood, my heart
And if I wanna be your girl
I’ll steal this ball from you, bounce and spin in a whirl
It’s been in my court from the start
I run this whole game, make you fall deep, make your head swirl
“Why can’t you just rap like everybody else?” Charlise says while balancing my small laptop in her wide hand as she reads my poem. “You got some skills, Z, but if you rapped, you would’ve been had your mixtape by now. And you know Marisol would’ve been selling them on every corner from here to Washington Heights.”
We’re on a bench near the gate at the basketball courts in the P.S. 151 school yard. Two groups of guys are playing, and Charlise is waiting for a hoop to free up so we can shoot some ball. The school yard has been more packed than usual with guys from around the way. Word on the street is that cops were starting to mess with people over at Maria Hernandez Park. So guys stopped going over there and started coming out here to get some peace. That’s something the Darcy boys wouldn’t know anything about.
Charlise doesn’t really like balling with me, but it’s much better than just sitting around chatting and chirping like two birds, she says. She doesn’t want us looking like basketball groupies ’cause she’s a baller herself. I don’t tell her that I’m an undercover groupie because I love watching the boys in my hood play ball.
“You want me to be a rapper while you’re a baller so we could be a dynamic duo stereotype?” I say, taking my laptop from her and putting it back into my bag.
“Okay, here we go. Why it gotta be a stereotype, though?” She grabs her ball from beneath the bench and starts passing it between her hands.
“Layla and Kayla still swear that the Darcy parents are ballers and rappers. Well, just the dad . . . the mom is probably just a trophy wife.”
“And they’d move to Bushwick, of all places?”
“That’s what I’m saying. They’re too stuck-up.”
“You’d be stuck-up too, Z, if your pops was making bank.”
“No, I wouldn’t! I wouldn’t think I was better than everybody else. I wouldn’t look down on other people who look like me. Take Warren, for instance. . . .”
“Warren from Palmetto?”
“Uh-huh. Look at this.” I show her his texts in my phone. Since we last saw each other, I’ve already followed Warren on the Gram and Snapchat. And we’ve been texting each other about stuff, like how we almost went to the same elementary school. Nothing too deep, so nothing to gossip about with Charlise. “You would never think that he was smart and went to some private school in Manhattan,” I say.
Charlise laughs, scrolling through his Instagram and tagged photos. “You don’t know the Warren I know. I remember his little scrawny self in the sixth grade right before he got into that program—class clown, always fighting, but yeah, smart as hell. Teachers said he was bored so they had him take this test, he aced it, then they put him in a white school. After that, we never really saw him around the way anymore.”
“So he’s different,” I say, with a half smile. “I thought he was hood. . . .”
“Ay yo, Zuri!” one of the guys from the courts calls out.
I turn to see who it is, and Charlise steals the ball from me. “What up, Colin!” I shout, then wave back to all the other guys who wave at me.
“Colin likes you, you know,” Charlise says. “He’s hood.”
“Come on, Charlise,” I say. “You know what I meant by that. They could be from around here, but they gotta have something going on for themselves. They gotta have goals and aspirations.”
“What if my boy Darius checked all those boxes, and has bank? While Warren will still be trying to get his moms, aunties, and grandmother out the projects when he starts making money. There’ll be none for you,” she says, passing the ball to me.
I bounce the ball, spin, pass it between my legs, and toss it back to her. “Aw, come on! Not you too! I’m not tryin’ to get with some dude just so I could get in his pockets! And I can’t stand him.” As soon as I say this, my phone buzzes in my back pocket. It’s a text from Warren.
Let me take you out tonight.
Now I know what it feels like to smile with my whole body, like Janae does, because Charlise asks if it’s Warren without even seeing the look on my face.
“You’re finally starting to get a little action, Z? It’s about time,” Charlise says for all the guys to hear. She bounces the ball over to Colin and the group of guys at the nearby basket.
“What’s up with me and you, Z?” one of the guys calls out.
“I got a boyfriend,” I say. It’s not true. But it’s not a lie, either. I reply to Warren:
No. Let ME take you out tonight.
I’VE NEVER REALLY had a reason to keep a secret from my little sisters. But even if I tried, they’d sniff it off me, because it’s so tight in our bedroom that there isn’t enough space for hidden crushes, unspoken names of boyfriends, and secret dates.
If my phone buzzes with a new text, Kayla will feel it in her top bunk on the other side of our room. If I’m daydreaming about kissing, Layla will see the dreamy look on my face and ask for a name and a physical description. In no time, both the twins will try to find him on social media and stalk him—even if I’ve made up a name and he’s an imaginary boyfriend.
They’ve already done that with the Darcy boys, because Ainsley is all Janae can think, dream, and talk about. Darius gets it the worst because he’s available, according to the twins. But they couldn’t find him on social media. I checked myself. The twins double-checked and are still trying to find out if he has an avatar with a different name. Though they did find that girl Carrie, and several pictures of Darius on her page—the back of his head, one side of his face, even his lips. She and Darius definitely have something going on. But then again, she has pictures of other boys on her page too, including Warren.
“I’m going to the movies with Charlise,” I say when the twins ask me why I have on lip gloss, my favorite earrings, and extra-tight jeans.
They let it slide, because going out with Charlise means making an effort to look extra cute because we always meet guys wherever we go.
“Just make sure that they have little brothers or cousins for us,” Layla says as she stares into her phone. I always ignore her when she says this.
In the living room, Mama and Papi are laid out on the couch watching TV. Mama has her feet across Papi’s lap, and he’s giving her a foot massage while she talks back to the characters on her favorite show. Without even looking in my direction, Mama calls out, “Ten o’clock! Text or call if you’re gonna be late!”
I give them each a kiss on the cheek, and in that moment, I feel like I can fly around the world and back if I want to, because this is what will always be here waiting for me: my parents’ love; my loud sisters; my crowded and cluttered apartment; and the lingering scent of home-cooked meals.
And someone different and new, but who still feels like home, is waiting for me outside—a boy from my hood. Bushwick Warren.
I told him to meet me on the corner of Jefferson and Broadway, and he immediately knew that I was trying to keep this little hookup a secret from my sisters—and my parents. He knows where I live and could ring the buzzer if he wanted to. But he’s there at the corner waiting with a bright smile.
“You look good,” Warren says as he stares at my braids and giant gold earrings. “You’re ZZ, all right.”
“What do you mean by that?” I ask with a big smile on my face, because he looks extra good with a new pair of fresh sneakers, a crisp tee, and jeans fitted just right.
“I like your style, that’s all,” he says, extending his arm out to me.