“You don’t have to keep doing this,” Miles said to Troy, the indifferent young teenager sitting with him on the park bench. The two had become something like friends over the past few months since Troy moved in and found they came from the same part of town.
Even though there was a fifteen-year age gap, Miles could relate to the new trends that captured Troy’s generation’s attention. Likewise, Troy was mature beyond his years and could hold conversations about matters of substance. In Miles’s eyes, Troy was still a kid with bullish confidence, just like any young man who believed they had seen enough of the world yet failed to see the error in their ways.
“Man, I’m just trying to smoke right now. I’ve been moving since five this morning.” Troy said as he took a puff. Miles nodded.
“I get it. I ain’t tryna kill your high.” Troy passed the blunt over to Miles, who obliged and took a drag.
“Your name is buzzing out here, homie. I know it probably feels like you doing things right, right now, but be careful.”
“Must be doing something right, then!” Troy joked, breaking up the seriousness. Miles grinned and passed the blunt.
“Maybe you’re right. Maybe years down the road, you gracefully exit this game, open your own business and sail on into the great blue yonder.” They both laughed
“I pray that is what happens, and you can prove me wrong,” Miles continued, “but in my forty-seven times around the sun, I’ve never seen it play out that way. You know that just as well as I do. Shit, we come from the same spot.”
Miles paused in reflection, considering if Troy would listen to his advice. Miles knew the apprehension youth had toward wisdom. Instead of losing his audience trying to force a lesson on Troy, he would rather remain silent.
“I’m going to get outta dad-mode and stop preaching to you,” Miles said. “You got a lot of potential. I’m not saying this because you’re young and you can do whatever you want. I’m saying you, specifically, have a strong energy about you. There is a lot you could accomplish if you set your mind to it. I can see it in you. But don’t lose that in pursuit of money.”
Silence fell between them briefly.
“Goddamn, Miles. I thought you said you weren’t gonna preach!” Troy said, still trying to cut down the seriousness with humor. Miles chuckled as well.
“Here is the problem, though,” Troy began, “I got friends who do the nine to five thing, which is cool. I get it. But here I am hustling all day, and by the end of it, I’ve made as much as they make in a month. Anything less is going backwards.”
“I feel you. That’s hard to overcome. But look at it this way, they got the freedom to lay their head down at night and not worry about what could happen to them tomorrow.”
“Shit, I got a pistol and that pack. I got freedom, too!”
“Then prove me wrong, Troy,” Miles said, having resolved that Troy was beyond listening to his advice. The only teacher he would listen to now was Life and consequences.
“Preciate the blunt. I gotta take off.” Miles said, shaking Troy’s hand.
“Be safe out there.” These were the last words Miles ever said to Troy.
There had been a deep stirring in Troy’s gut recently that he could not articulate or conceive of an origin. As Miles talked, Troy realized that this instinctual feeling was a primal reflex the mind has to suspicious circumstances. The intuitive warning that something was awry. It was a soft-spoken voice deep in a cave that was heard via echoes. He was numb to the feeling and deaf to that voice between his immaturity and drive for money. Troy concluded that maybe he forgot to pay a bill, cut off the oven, or some other trivial matter that was not worth worrying. Having settled on this rationale, he carried on his day as usual.
Troy had two more plays before he would go home. Both were with regular customers who consistently bought large amounts. The series of events played out much the same as any deal. Troy pulled up to their house, went inside, exchanged drugs and money, and left. He was unaware that one of his customers was under surveillance by the police regarding another issue that had not involved Troy. Unfortunately, he became collateral damage to this situation.
As he was about to leave the last house and head home, a dozen squad cars swarmed in front of the house with lights so bright they were debilitating. Before Troy could react, he had several guns in his face and large masked men who threw him to the ground. They opened his bag and found the pistol, the scale, the drugs, and the money. Even though Troy was not their intended target, he became a new case for the police. Said case cost Troy several years in prison and nothing to his name but the clothes he wore that day.
Brittani Baxter had been working at Electrical Supply Co. for six months and had become accustomed to the day-to-day activities of her new job. She was happy to have finally found work during challenging economic times and was even more grateful to be with a company that allowed some growth. She was still in her early twenties and had difficulty reckoning her life versus where she wanted to be. School had become too much of an expense, causing her to leave. Meanwhile, social media, the catalyst of envy, perpetually exposed her to the lifestyle of other young women her age who by grace, fortune, or lies, enjoyed photo-worthy existences while she was at work. She had the confidence to know her value and good looks could potentially earn her a similar lifestyle but did not have the audacity to pursue it.
Her coworkers were ordinary, decent people. Most of them were older and cordial in conversation. There was no depth with any of them to the degree that she could voice her thoughts, save one man who worked in the warehouse named Troy. He was in his mid-thirties, somewhere in age between her and the older coworkers. Something of his person was different from the others. He was a conversationalist and helpful in any way he could, but there was a depth and energy Brittani felt with him that made him distinguishable. Troy was the only one she had serious conversations with and offered better advice than some of her closest friends.
They both took a smoke break mid-morning to catch up outside, as was their routine. Brittani had intended to talk to Troy about her feelings over the last few days.
“Whatchu got goin on Bee?” Troy said
“Looks like you got something on your mind.”
“So, I’ve been thinkin’ about doin’ a thing.”
“What if I got a side job as a bartender?”
“Bartender?” He said, a bit surprised. “Where would you work?”
“Cheetah, in the city.”
“The strip club, Cheetah?!” Troy said, surprised
“Yea.” Brittani conceded, with a look of expectation for how Troy would react.
“Why the hell would you do that?”
“Well, you make good money. And I would only be bartending. I wouldn’t be doing anything else.”
“Nothing else? You sure about that?”
“Yea. I would only work the bar for a few hours, then go home.”
“You ever bartend?”
“You ever been to a strip club?”
Troy dropped his head, dramatically.
“Homegirl. You hear yourself, right? You’ve never been to a strip club and never worked as a bartender.” Brittani grinned, acknowledging how ridiculous it sounded. They both knew that she was of an age when spontaneous life-changing decisions were made.
“I know, but it isn’t hard. And I would only be behind the bar.”
“I see what you’re saying, but you would be putting yourself in a life you are not ready for. I’ll say this about you; you got your shit together more than most people your age. I could easily see you doing your own thing and really changing the world around you, but putting yourself in places like that will dim your light.”
Brittani did not know what to say to both a compliment and a warning.
“Thats the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me, Troy,” she began after a drag. “But it’s like why not, you know? I just got my first house on my own, with no roommates. I can work here and barely make ends meet or do something like that and be making bank, you know.”
“Believe me, Brittani, I’ve been there. But with all this potential that you have, would you be willing to give that up for a check?”
“It’s not even like that, though. It’s not like I’m going to start doing a bunch of coke and get pregnant. I’m just serving drinks.”
“You ever heard that old expression, if you stay in the barbershop long enough, you’re gonna get your hair cut.” He said with a shrug, “You stay around people and places like that, its gonna rub off on you.”
“I know, but, like, I’ve never even smoked weed before. Like, I’m not gonna jump out there and start doing coke.” She said, playing the devil’s advocate to the sound advice of Troy.
“Word. What do you think ya Nana would say?” Troy asked, referring to Brittani’s grandmother. Brittani had told Troy enough about her life for Troy to know Nana was the loving matriarch of the family, one whose opinion Brittani valued above anyone else.
Brittani remained silent, knowing the answer yet was unwilling to admit it.
“Look,” Troy began after a brief silence, “I’m not gonna say I told you so. You and I both know what your Nana gonna say. I know things might not be pretty for you now, but that is all part of the struggle. You gonna lose way more than you gain chasing that check now instead of laying your foundation.”
“I know but…”
As Brittani talked, Troy fell into a train of thought reflecting his past and the decisions he made. He could hear her rationale, which, motivated by finances, was shaky at best. He felt what his mind was going through before he was incarcerated. His rationale was much the same as Brittani’s, save the particular act. The abundance of money, the youth to defy the odds, and the carelessness to think his life and the world around would fall into unison, and nothing but fantastical realities would emerge that saw the current sins fade with each passing day. Stupidity was what guided Troy in his younger years, accompanied by a naïveté that he was capable of attaining such a reality in accordance with his actions. He saw his younger self, grinning in the mirror thinking the world was his, which was juxtaposed to the memory of seeing himself for the first time after he went to prison. Head shaved, graven and ashy skin with eyes that were hollow and unrecognizable. It was too much to consider.
“Damnit, Brittani!” Troy exclaimed impulsively “Do you hear yourself? Do you?” His pained expression pierced her soul
“Don’t you see where you are leading yourself? Can’t you see that there will be others that are as pained by your actions? Your Nana, your mom, brother, younger sister, fuck, even me!” He paused, aggressively flicking his cigarette far into the grass.
“Look, Brit,” he began, assuming a calmer, exhausted tone, ”I’m not saying this cause I got feelings for you, or cause I’m your best friend, or for whatever reason you may think. I am saying this cause I fucked up bad when I was your age. Really bad. I never had an ole timer smack me upside the head and tell me to get my head outta my ass or nothing. Not to say that would have changed a damn thing, but maybe it would have given me another day. Maybe it would have given me just long enough to think about what I was doing and give me one more day to make that decision. But I ain’t have that. I got thrown right into the belly of the beast.”
Troy realized he had been so lost in thought that he never looked at Brittani as he was talking.
“What happened to you, Troy?” She asked, nervously.
“We will save that talk for another time, home girl.” He said with a grin. “Just do me a favor, and everyone else you care for. Don’t make any rash decisions today. Think on it, alright?”
The work clock sounded, signaling the end of their smoke break. “I’ll see you, Troy.”
“Thanks,” Brittani said before heading inside, her thoughts still rattled by Troy’s outburst.
Although their discussion had not revealed anything new or enlightening that Brittani did not already consider, it gave her pause to reflect on her value and what it would feel like to switch jobs and lifestyles. She found herself still in that weightless argument between herself. It was as if she were the judge to either party making their arguments in a courtroom. The one side offered an abundance of money, a fun lifestyle, attention, freedom, and a slew of other qualities she often found herself fantasizing, yet always seemed too good to be true. The other was not as glamorous. With every bit of stability there was an equal measure of control. With every hope of a long-term goal, there was a measurable sacrifice of freedom, somewhere. Where the money did not pay as well, she also never had to worry about her natural beauty falling out of favor and with it her livelihood.
The hearing between both mindsets continued in her subconscious as she got back to her desk. For the time being, she knew she would not make the rash decision to up and leave her new job for something that was as yet unclear. Although there was still a strong calling to a future of possibilities she managed to gain enough control of that impulse, and reasoned that she would take each decision day by day. Troy was right; that was the best decision, now. Still, she was young and the world awaited her. Still, the temptation lingered.