Things were different by High School…
Jamal had figured out why Jack had never been able to visit his house. And that didn’t matter anyway, because after Jack got his driver’s license and car, that was squashed (though Jack never stayed the night, but who could blame him). Jamal’s mother cooked goooood; no way was Jack missing that early dinner. A few Nintendo games…Super Mario, then some “Up up down down left right left right B A Start”, and a shit-ton of Double Dribble. Then Jack would rush home.
Back before that, in Jr Hi, life had already turned to Basketball, both on the court and in those Nintendo cartridges …blowing the dust out like it was a harmonica lined with sugar. And there was rap, naturally, and heavy metal. Metallica…Beastie Boys…later came Dr. Dre, and oh yeah, who could forget the grunge… Nirvana. The shotgun-death of Kurt Cobain, and then right around the corner, the gunned-down death of Tupac Shakur. It was about that time when Jamal first began to recognize the differences which were once so easy to ignore. When they rapped together, for some of the songs at least, Jack was just feeling the Beat, but Jamal was beginning to feel the Words. He felt like people saw him differently, and he could tell that Jack’s parents grew more and more on edge as he aged into high school. The subtle difference in how Jack’s parents relaxed around the other teens that came over, versus how they tensed up when Jamal came over. They used to smile so Big at him when he was little. He was the same kid; he didn’t know what had changed. Maybe it was all in his head.
Someday he might think to himself…all little black boys are cute, but black men are not. The stress in their face grows…and everybody knows, but nobody says.
Nah, fuck that, Jamal figured, you gotta “keep ya head up”*. Don’t worry about all this petty shit, Jamal thought. He and Jack…all the high school homies…they were paving a different generation anyway.
Speaking of basketball…man could they hoop. FUCK… Nobody wanted to miss these two, jam. The court was their element…they owned that gym. Jack’s Mom and Dad, they’d be there. Jamal’s mom…Jamal’s gramma, his cousins, his little sis. On the court, Jack and Jamal were complete telepaths…this uncanny instinct of which turn each one would take, micro-seconds on a fastbreak…when the other one would leap…EVERYTHING the other would do next. It was a fucking symphony watching those two… like Magic and Bird on the same team (almost:).
Fucking good grades too…the BOTH of them. Hope was loud and alive. They talked…yeah, they knew they were destined to different colleges. You could say that was sad, but they were optimistic…you can’t split two twins…they always find their way back to each other.
So, two different Universities, two different cities. Jamal stayed local…Jack went to the opposite end of the State. Neither got basketball scholarships…gifted with skill, not gifted with height; that’s just how it goes. Besides, on the court, if you split them up, the power and the sorcery disappeared. Common ballers at best.
Jamal’s roadmap through college was rough terrain…not his grades; the money. He never dropped out though. No way was his mom, poor as she was, EVER letting her son Not be the first to finish college in their family. Hell no. Many times, Jamal aimed to stop…look for work, help mom out…she and sis were suffering. But that wasn’t happening. Ms. Rafiq was made of nails. Jamal reminded himself…this is the muthafuckn land of opportunity. You work hard…you get that piece of paper. Yeah, it didn’t start off even, but just get that paper. Pave a new generation.
Now that’s not to say Jack’s life in college was a cakewalk…it was heartbreak hotel… he struggled being so far away from his family and friends. Picked himself up a few girlfriends he never should’ve had. Homeward bound homie. Be patient.
Some four years later, Jack was back. Right out of college…recruited to LMT products. Just one semester behind, due to some health issue with his sis, Jamal was on the trail! Jamal knew the company…LMT products….he’d lived just a few miles from their office building his entire life. The excitement was magical. His mind was flooded with childhood memories. The boys are back in town…hell yeah. The door was open.. LMT was hiring…big-time. Jack’s getting in was a shoe in the door.
Jamal had the perfect resume… they Both reviewed it. Education, check. Competence, check. Loyalty, check. Hungry to work…Check. Established in the community…long-term potential.
The interviewer’s position wasn’t a manager…maybe Human Resources. A screener, she called herself. Seemed thrown off that Jamal didn’t have an accent, or something like that. A few comments about how clear his voice was; his excellent “grammar”, surprised her. But hey, they were compliments, he figured, and he nailed all the questions, thanks to a semester-long course he’d taken in Resume writing and Interview skills.
A day or two had passed.
Then a week.
Yeah…Jamal knew the result.
“Dude…I’m sorry bro”, Jack said. “I’m really sorry.”
“Hey Jack, no big deal brother, shit’s competitive…there will be other times, you aint gotta be sorry:) Hey, if they hired you in those Velcro shoes, no way they turning me down the next run!”
And then, just like old times, they busted out laughing. “Damn Jamal that’s fucked up…why you gotta be like that? You know I didn’t wear them to the interview.” The memory of Jack tripping on his shoestring was the gift that kept on giving. The jokes were endless.
So, another time there would be. LMT was a good paying job…benefits, vacation, health insurance…the kind you can start a family on…not to mention that 401k with the matched savings plan. Good thing, there was no way Jack was saving a dime unless you incentivized that shit; just like Jamal, Jack loved to live. Nonetheless, hiring time didn’t come fast. After that first failed interview, Jamal spent nearly 6 months straight, just plain job searching. Treated the search as if it were a job in and of itself. Showed up dressed and ready to go at hiring agencies, and in his own office (which was his old school desk at mom’s house). Dress shoes on, Right at 8 a.m…. didn’t stop applying till 4. Forty hours a week, focusing on positions that he was neither over, nor under-qualified for. Telephone interviews weren’t an always-thing, but it happened a lot, even though they were local jobs. Maybe times were hard… but why were there hiring posts everywhere? Yeah, by this point he considered whether it was the black thing, but Jamal was intensely driven, and he knew the laws. Laws against hiring discrimination were accomplished some 35 years ago… so there was no need to fall into that mindset, he figured. What bothered him mostly was the shame he experienced while dating…not being able to say he had a decent job (or any job for that matter). As the shame built up, Jamal finally applied for those bottom-of-the-barrel jobs…which surprisingly, also took longer than expected. But he learned to depreciate his resume…hide the skills, dumb himself down, till finally he landed a part-time, fast-food job. It was a low-point for Jamal; nothing had shaken him more than that. It wasn’t the respectability of the job, but the fact that escaping this outcome was the Very reason he’d went to college in the first place. It was fucking stupid…but he hid his feelings. He knew people’s nature…you gotta hide that shit. “You gotta reflect that positivity vibe Mom…NO MATTER WHAT”, he would remind his mother whenever she went off on some social-equality rant. Besides, maybe there was another option. Maybe he could have applied long distance…other cities…other states, but he didn’t. Intentionally didn’t. He saw the loneliness Jack had faced being so far away during college, and that was just 4 years. Jamal wasn’t about to disappear for his whole life!!! On a gamble? No; he and Jack were still hanging out…less yeah… but the bridge was solid, and he maintained his other bridges as well. No matter his mother’s growing pessimism, the fight inside of Jamal was still alive.
His wait was finally ending…
Another digital book by Omar Sharief: Ortega Sunday (available only on Amazon). Thank you for reading!!