“Yeah, but I can’t wait to go back,” she says.
I pull my head up from off her shoulder and stare at her. “What? You just got here.”
“I know, but Z, I need the space. I need the wide-open space to stretch out my arms. I need the quiet to hear myself think.”
“Oh no, Janae! Mama was right. One year at college, and you decide you don’t wanna be in the hood no more?”
She pauses and takes in the dead-serious look on my face before responding in her sweet, calm voice. “Honestly, I don’t. I’m applying for some study-abroad programs. I wanna travel, Z. I wanna see the world. Then I can come back.”
I never knew that’s what she wanted. I can hardly imagine it—my sister on the other side of the world? What if she decides to never come back? “Aw, come on, Nae. You’ve been outta the state. Let’s see,” I say, counting on my fingers. “That time with Mama when we went to the mall in New Jersey, the water park in Pennsylvania . . .” I keep two fingers up, thinking of anywhere else we’ve been and if they count as a whole other state.
“Don’t think too hard, Z, ’cause that’s it. We’ve been to a mall and a water park out of state. That doesn’t count for anything.”
“Dang,” I say, and let my shoulders drop because she’s right. Only once have Mama and Papi taken a bus up to Syracuse for a weekend. It would’ve cost too much for my sisters and me to go, so we stayed behind, and they sent us videos and pictures of the bus ride through woods and small towns and places nothing like Bushwick or Brooklyn. “Read to travel,” Papi always says. Every book is a different hood, a different country, a different world. Reading is how I visit places and people and ideas. And when something rings true or if I still have a question, I outline it with a bright yellow highlighter so that it’s lit up in my mind, like a lightbulb or a torch leading the way to somewhere new. It’s usually enough to make me forget I’ve barely left Bushwick.
“Okay, Z,” she says. “Enough with the pity party. Senior year’s coming up. What’s the master plan? ’Cause you gotta get out of that apartment.”
“Gotta get out of that apartment,” I repeat. “Wow. I can’t believe by this time next year, I’ll be leaving for college. Marisol and the twins are gonna lose their minds ’cause there’ll be two less bodies up in that house!”
“That’s what I said about you before I left.”
“But I didn’t lose my mind. I missed you, Nae-nae.”
“No, no, no. You’re not allowed to miss me. You gotta get your mind right from now, Z. Study for your next SATs, get your college list ready, financial-aid packages, scholarships . . .”
“I know, I know,” I say.
“Seriously, Z. If you don’t do these things, you won’t ever get outta there. Home will always be here, and Bushwick will always be Bushwick.”
“Will it, though?”
She’s quiet for a moment and looks out over the other houses and buildings. “Okay, well, what if you come back home and get started on your career, and then you could actually buy something in Bushwick and afford Hernando’s bodega prices no matter how many ‘organic’ signs he puts up.”
I laugh, and then remember what I’m supposed to be working on this summer. “You think this will make a good topic for my essay to get into Howard?” I ask. “How to save the hood?”
“It depends on how you frame it. What’s your angle, your thesis statement? What are you trying to say?”
I pause for a moment, thinking about my hood and how even though families grew up and changed, things essentially stayed the same, until now.
I uncross my legs, and at the same moment, the door to the mini-mansion opens and out come the Darcys. Each of them has changed into something different. The mother is now wearing a flowery sundress and the father is in a pink button-down with khaki slacks. Ainsley is dressed in a crisp T-shirt and jeans. Darius is dressed exactly like his father.
“Hi, Darius! Hi, Ainsley!” We hear someone yell out from below. It’s Layla, of course, yelling out the window.
The two boys look up. Only Ainsley smiles and waves back. Then he looks up even farther and sees Janae. She freezes, and I can tell that she doesn’t know whether to wave or scoot back so he doesn’t see her. Then she relaxes and stares until Ainsley disappears into the back seat of the SUV, along with Darius, who never once even looked up.
The Darcys drive away and turn down Bushwick Avenue. I wonder where they’re going. They just walked into that fancy house—why would they leave it so soon, even if it’s for a few minutes? I wonder if they’ve been out of the state, out of the country. I wonder about all the places and things and new experiences their money has been able to buy them.
So I start to ask Janae, thinking that she might have the answers, but her eyes are fixed on the setting sun, and I’m sure her dreams are floating with the clouds.
I can see the dim moon in the distance, the orange-blue sky, and can hear the bustling sounds of Bushwick as they wrap around us, and this roof becomes like a cupped hand holding the two of us up.
“Z?” Janae says without looking at me.
“Do you think I have a chance?”
“With who?” I ask.
“Ainsley,” she says, her voice soft.
“Shit” is all I say.
IT’S THE FIRST Saturday morning of summer vacation, and the apartment is a delicate bubble—quiet, full, and round with me and all four of my sisters squeezed into one room. We’re all about the same size and height now, still sleeping in the beds we’ve had since we were little.
Two bunk beds are pushed against the walls in our bedroom, and Janae’s single bed is right beneath the front window.
I’m up before my sisters and in the middle of my book, a highlighter and pencil in hand, just like Papi taught me. I’m reading Between the World and Me and thinking about Ta-Nehisi Coates’s mecca, Howard University, and how it’ll be like a whole other country with no outsiders moving in to change things up and throw things away; where the faces of the people are the same now as they were back in 1867, when Howard was first founded; where even though people come from different parts of the country and the world, they speak the same language—and that’s black, and African, and Caribbean, and Afro-Latinx, all the things that make up me: Haitian, Dominican, and all black.
I finish the chapter I’m on and peek out the window—checking to see if anyone is setting up for the block party yet. But all I see are the Darcy boys in front of their house. Ainsley is jumping about, punching the air as if he’s ready to fight. Darius is stretching out his legs, and both of them have patches of sweat around the necklines of their T-shirts. Something about the way they’re dressed lets me know that they definitely weren’t playing ball at the park, nor were they doing pull-ups on the monkey bars like all the other guys in the hood.
On the corner, a white woman is scooping up her dog’s poop with her plastic bag-covered hand. She pulls off the bag, ties it up, and tosses it into a nearby bin, then pets her dog as if he’s done a good job. I spot Mr. Turner from down the block, standing outside Hernando’s with his cup of coffee. Soon he’ll pull out the plastic crates, turn them over on their sides, and wait for Señor Feliciano, Stoney, Ascencio, Mr. Wright, and some of the other grandpas to join him in a daily game of dominos or cards while smack-talking about politics and the latest soccer match.
When the street lights come on, they’ll move out of the way for the younger guys—Colin and his crew, who just stand there checking out girls, drinking not-juice from bottles, and also smack-talking about politics and the latest basketball game. Then the block party and the music will move in, and everyone will eat and dance late into the night. It’s one of my favorite days of the year. And it’s like a smaller version of my other favorite days: going to the Dominican Day parade with Papi and the Puerto Rican Day parade with Madrina, and repping the Haitian flag at the West Indian Day parade with Mama. Our block parties bring everybody in our hood together, though—the Dominicans, Haitians, Jamaicans, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Panamanians, African Americans, and white couples too, who are buying up a lot of the brownstones down the block.