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The late August afternoon brought heat so hostile that no one stayed in the open sun for long. The campus' narrow streets were jammed with slow-moving cars full of anxious students and their belongings. Harbin Hall stood at the back of the parking lot entrance, its façade unchanged since Troy's summer stay on campus. The brown brick walls and rectangular windows were reminiscent of New York project buildings, and he could see why it was commonly referred to as "Harlem Hall." The bottom of the staircase that led from the parking lot to the front of the building was a blitz of move-in activity. Cars, kids and parents were everywhere whizzing by, unloading, and checking their carefully written instructions.
Troy's mother parked the Nissan Sentra near the staircase by Harbin Hall, and together they began to unload his paraphernalia. One of the orientation crew members immediately came to their aid and helped to carry Troy's luggage and records, but Troy knew where his room was, so he headed directly upstairs. He had been assigned to Room 228, and he hoped that Randy, his roommate, would already be there. Troy met Randy during a recruiting trip that spring and after being the only black students on the trip, they had agreed to be roommates in the fall. After meeting Will and a host of other black students over the summer, Troy wasn't sure if his decision had been premature, but he'd soon see. Troy was looking forward to Randy bringing some music with him from New York, his lifelong home until he and his mother moved to Maryland nearly three years ago. Although Troy was aDJ and tracked rap music like a private eye, his current home in Landover, Maryland didn't keep him updated with the new music that came in hot off the presses over New York radio. If he's anything like me, Troy thought, he'll have some tapes. Randy was already in the room unpacking when he got there. They'd kept in touch since meeting in April, but their first meeting as roommates was as though they'd never spoken to one another. Looking at him, Troy sensed no hostility, only a mutual curiosity.
"What's up?" Troy asked, surveying the room.
"What up brother? Come on in!"
Troy, followed by his mother and an upperclassman loaded down with milk crates full of records, entered the room. Troy introduced Randy to his mother, and she and the helper returned to the car, leaving Troy to his unpacking. Randy looked at him like he wanted to laugh and Troy sensed it was because of the blue and white Adidas jogging suit he wore, which was far too much for a summer day in D.C. Troy didn't care; he was comfortable in it. Randy wore a pink short-sleeved oxford, blue slacks and penny loafers. Troy would have normally attributed this style of dress to being square, easily taken, soft. However, since Randy was a New Yorker, Troy mentally forgave the corny style of dress, reasoning that his roommate couldn't be all bad. He was noticeably short and muscular, light-skinned and wore a beard. The facial hair stirred up pangs of envy in Troy; he was certain that the look would drive the girls crazy and he couldn't grow hair on his face to save his life.
"How'd you get here?" he asked.
"Drove down with moms."
"I hear that. I had to take the bus down. Wasn't fun."
"I bet. How did you get all your stuff on the bus?"
Randy laughed. "We shipped most of my stuff. It all got here, too. And I didn't really bring that much, not compared to you. Oh, that's right, you're a DJ."
"Most definitely," Troy said proudly. "And I be rockin' shit, too."
Troy could see Randy roll his eyes, unimpressed. Where he lived, everyone and his brother claimed to be a DJ.
"You scratch and stuff?"
"I do all that shit. I wasn't going to bring the set here, but some brothers I talked to over the summer when I was here said I should. I may not have much spare time, but I'll see what happens." The truth was that Troy was prepared make time to DJ at any cost. Randy may not have related to his passion for spinning records, so he figured he'd play it safe during the conversation.
"Speaking of that, did you bring any tapes from up the way?"
Randy shrugged. "Nothing much, just some stuff from KISS-FM, some Rakim, you know."
"You got some KRS-One though, right?"
"Of course! I saw him at the Quarter this summer. Motherfucker didn't come on stage until three. He was rockin' though." The Latin Quarter was New York's legendary hip-hop club where every well-known rapper performed. Having gone to school in Maryland for the last two years, Troy had never been to the club, which was the epitome of rap music authenticity.
"Damn, I wish I'd been there! KRS at the Quarter? I know that was dope!"
"Yeah, but the smell of crack kind of gets to you after a while. New York is just ill now."
"I hear you." Troy was sure they'd get along.
Troy's mother and the upperclassman returned with more of Troy's things. "Boy, you better come downstairs and get the rest of these bags. What do you think this is?"
Troy tried to shake his humiliation as he went down the steps, but he couldn't.
"Don't sweat it," Randy said, patting him on the back. "Mothers are like that."
"I don't know any like mine," Troy replied, almost whining.
"You're an only child, right?"
"Yeah. How'd you know?"
"'Cause I am, too. My mama cried so much when I left, I almost missed the bus."
"Yeah, brother. It was hard for her. It's hard for any mother to let go of their only child."
The upperclassman moved on to help other students when he saw that Randy was helping Troy. On the way back to the car, Troy and Randy noticed a few brothers surrounding a girl on a bench. The guys all wore red and white.
"You know them?" Randy asked.
"Yeah, from the summer. They're Kappas."
"You know that girl?"
"Who? Oh shit, that's Michelyn!" Troy waved, hoping to catch her eye, but she was too preoccupied with the frat guys to notice. Some of the Kappas saw him wave, but ignored him.
"Go talk to her," Randy suggested.
"Nah, I'll see her later."
The roommates continued down the staircase into the parking lot. Troy found a man talking to his mother, who sat in the seat of her car. She was smiling and laughing. Troy could only see his back. What was so funny?
"Travis, stop it," Troy's mother urged. "You're killing me."
"No, really, I'm serious."
"Excuse me," Troy interrupted. "I have more bags."
"Oh! Mister Harris," Travis answered. "This must be Randy," he said, extending his hand to him.
"Very nice to meet you brother," Randy replied.
"How are you?" Travis asked.
How are you my ass, Troy thought. "Shouldn't you be somewhere else Travis? You know, helping somebody?"
"We were just talking about that. We're all going to need some help adjusting to your first year in school."
"Troy, you have some records in the trunk," his mother advised.
"Mom, I need you upstairs."
"I'll be there when I'm ready," she said. "Don't make me act the fool."
Troy glared at Travis Gordon and was fuming. Travis waved at him as he and Randy went back upstairs with his records. The Kappas were still at the bench, but this time they watched the freshmen as they returned inside.
"Motherfucker!" Troy shouted as he returned to the room. Randy turned around, perplexed. "Not you, Travis Gordon."
"Isn't he in Minority Affairs?"
"Yeah. Bastard's trying to get up on my mom, too."
"You heard me."
"Oh, shit! That's not good, brother."
"No, it's not. Look, I don't want to talk about it."
"Sure, no problem."
The room began to take shape as the boys got settled. Troy had his records and stereo equipment to consider. He wanted to put the turntables on his desk, but he might need that space to study. The only space left was at the bench under their window on the left side of the room. He hoped Randy wouldn't mind. Randy carefully laid a small rug across his desk.
"That's a nice piece of carpet you got there," Troy observed.
"It's a prayer rug."
"You mean for praying?"
"Yeah, brother. It's Islamic."
"So you're a Muslim?"
"You wear bowties and all that?"
Randy laughed. "Sometimes. But I'm not in the Nation."
"I'm still studying. Look, why don't we go back outside?"
"All right." Troy followed his roommate out the door. Randy was shaking his head and laughing as they walked out.
"Something funny?" Troy asked.
"I just wasn't ready for the question about bowties."
"Oh." Troy decided to change the subject. "If Travis is still downstairs, I might have to cuss him out."
"Take it easy," Randy told him as they headed outside. "Is that your car over there?"
"Yeah. He's gone."
Troy and his roommate descended the steps leading into the parking lot. Troy's mother offered to take the boys for a bite to eat.
"Just let me go park."
Troy nodded. His mother sensed his attitude, but ignored it.
Troy's mother left him and Randy to wait in the courtyard. They stood outside the front door to observe the other new students. It was still hot and humid outside, but a slight breeze was picking up, making the day more bearable.
"Troy! Yo, Troy!" someone shouted from behind. Troy turned around to find his partner from the summer.
"There's my homey!" Will shouted.
They both laughed and exchanged street handshakes, fists clutching then twisting into a double finger snap. Will was clearly as excited to be there as Troy. They both kept looking at one another and laughing. Troy was thrilled to see Will again, and now that the semester was starting, he could tell how much fun they were going to have. Will knew it too, and so they continued the greeting ritual, laughing with familiar anticipation.
"Oh, my fault, my fault," he apologized. "Randy, this is my man Will. Will, this is Randy, my roommate." The two of them slapped hands and nodded at each other.
"Hey, moms is going to take us to get something to eat. You want to come?"
"No thanks, man, I still have to unpack. I'll check you guys later, though."
"Definitely." He slapped hands with Will before heading back to the parking lot. Will pointed to Randy.
Crossing the courtyard, Troy, Randy and Troy's mother headed up a set of stairs to a path taking them to the school's front gates. The trio walked through the gates, past the campus apartments and reached the building where Troy's summer class had taken place. At Westmiller's, a popular campus café, Troy's mother bought sandwiches for the three of them and they ate while sitting at the shaded tables on the sidewalk. After a walk around the campus, they made their way back to Harbin Hall, which had quieted down considerably. By then, the evening was approaching and Troy knew it was almost time for his mother to leave. He was overcome with a sudden anxiety, the same nervousness he swore he wouldn't allow inside when it was time to say goodbye. The more he tried to fight it, however, the stronger it grew. By the time he and Randy walked his mother to her car, sadness was all over his face. Unlike her son, Troy's mother didn't try to conceal her emotion.
"Call me tomorrow, okay?" A tear was forming in the corner of her eye.
"Sure, Mom." Troy wasn't expecting her to cry, and her tears made it harder for him to keep it together.
"I love you."
"Love you, too."
They hugged and kissed, then Troy's mother got in the Sentra and drove off. Troy and Randy waved as she drove away. Troy could only think of calling her up, of being sure to talk to her on the phone as much as possible. The upperclassmen said the dorm phone lines wouldn't be on until October, so calling would be inconvenient. The only phones that were available were the pay phones in the downstairs lobby and there were already long lines to use them. Such was life. Now that his mother was gone, he and Randy were left to peruse the other dorms. He also wanted to find Will.
More black students were collecting downstairs in front of the dorm. Troy and Randy blended in, introducing themselves and each other. Troy could see that some were particularly comfortable talking and people watching, just as he had done back home. Got some city folks up in here, he thought. Cool. Someone said there was going to be a party the next evening, but that left nothing on the agenda for that night. After a couple of hours of socializing outside of Harbin, Troy decided to turn in. Randy remained downstairs, talking late into the night with other freshmen.
Troy was blinded by brightness when he pulled the curtains back the next morning. Troy was thankful for the quiet hum of the air conditioning under the window. He figured Randy had turned it on during the night. His roommate's bed was empty, but it had been slept in.
Troy pulled out a schedule from his orientation folder. He noticed that a campus-wide party was scheduled for that night featuring a reggae band. There was nothing academic to do until Monday, when the freshmen would have diagnostic tests to determine their placement in certain classes. Each school had a different test, depending on the high school record of the student. Troy would be tested to determine whether he could place out of Pre-Calculus. Everyone in the Business School was required to take Calculus, and if one didn't pass the diagnostic test, Pre-Calculus was also a prerequisite. Troy had resolved not to take any more math than he had to, test or no test. He was totally unconcerned, otherwise he might have made some attempt to prepare. The academic component of college was still secondary in his mind. He was there to have a good time. Randy came in, dripping wet and holding a towel around his waist.
"What up, man?"
Oh goodness, Troy thought, a morning person.
"You tell me! What was up with your girl last night?"
"Oh, we were just talking. She's from Wyoming."
"I'm for real. Wyoming."
"There are black people in Wyoming?"
"Apparently so, man. I didn't know either. When she told me, I thought we'd be talking about corn husking and life on the plain." Troy laughed. He knew New Yorkers tend to see very little of the world outside of their own.
"What's her name?"
"Phyllis. From Rawlins, Wyoming."
"That's a real city, right?"
"Yeah, there are cities out there. She said she'd be at the reggae jam tonight with her friend from North Dakota. I think there are brothers out there, too."
"Niggas in North Dakota? Really?" This was news to Troy. He couldn't wait to talk to these black people from beyond.
After the roommates finished straightening up, Troy turned on his stereo. He was anxious for Randy to listen to him mix, but Randy promised him he'd listen later and instead opted for a morning run. Troy grabbed the first two records he could reach and began mixing. The window of Room 228 faced the courtyard, where Troy saw a gorgeous caramel-colored girl leaning over the side wall by the staircase. She wore a white T-shirt and a white denim mini-skirt, revealing a magnificent pair of legs. Her position placed her ample behind in full view. Troy forgot all about the music, tracing the slopes of her backside and legs with his eyes. Unable to believe what he was seeing, he put his face into his hand. Hands down she was the most beautiful girl, the most beautiful thing, he'd ever seen. My God, he thought. Honey brown complexion. Fabulous legs, beautiful ass. It was insane. How would he ever get any work done with girls like her around? He suppressed the urge to run downstairs and talk to her. There would be time for that. He closed his eyes and turned up the volume.
Troy's discipline evaporated in seconds. He continued to mix with the records, but he couldn't stop himself from looking out the window. She was incredible. A faint thump came from behind him. It was Randy, returning from his run.
"What's up brother?" he asked.
"Just come here."
Randy hurried over. Troy pointed out the window at the girl in white.
"Do you see that?"
"Daaam ... I was just out there and I didn't see that! Who is she?"
"I don't know, but I'm damn sure going to find out."
The girl turned away from the wall and walked into the dorm. At that moment Troy and Randy developed a true appreciation for the view from their window. No longer able to admire the girl's physique, the roommates turned away. Troy put a tape in the tape deck, unable to continue mixing.
Like most freshmen, Troy and Randy were on the meal plan. The plan, however, didn't begin until the following Tuesday. Until then, they were on their own. Just as they were ready to leave, there was a knock at the door. Randy opened it to find Will, looking ready to take on the world.
"What up, Will?"
"What up, homey?"
"Where you been, dude?"
"Nowhere, just around."
"Yeah, right. Trying to come get some food with us?"
While eating at Burger King on M Street, Troy and Will told Randy about their summer, the antics in the hallway, Troy's frustrations with Travis Gordon, the adventures with Roach and Gina. Randy cracked up after hearing about the two of them in their drawers, in front of Latanya and Michelyn. Troy realized with Randy around, now there would be three skirt-chasing, hip-hopping financial aid recipients instead of two.
"So what's been up, man?" Troy asked.
"Nothing, really," Will said. "What you guys do last night?"
"I crashed," Troy lamented, "but Randy may tell you otherwise."
"No big deal," Randy offered. "People just stayed up talking in the lounge."
"You should have seen the girl outside the window, Will." Troy told him.
"Blessed," Randy added. "Fat as shit."
"She as bad as Michelyn?"
"Yeah," Troy answered. "Maybe badder."
"Michelyn is that girl who was with those frat guys, right?" Randy asked.
"Yeah," Will said. "That's our big sister. You seen her?"
"Yes indeed," Randy replied. "She's fine, too."
"Yeah, well, we haven't got a shot. Take it from my friend from home, Latanya. Her and Michelyn are tight."
"That's all right," Randy said. "There's plenty more around here. Right, Troy?"
"You ain't bullshitting," Troy answered, still thinking of the girl in white.
Later that afternoon the boys were back in Harbin and Will came to hang out in Troy and Randy's room until it was time to check out the reggae party. Before the party, there was a floor meeting in the dorm, an official introduction and information session. Troy and Will knew the routine since they'd experienced it over the summer. Students gathered in the hallway by the elevator and sat on the floor. The Resident Assistant, Andrea, introduced herself and discussed the basic rules of the dorm.
"Here we go again," Troy whispered. Andrea made everyone introduce themselves.
"Okay, let's just go around the hall, starting over here."
Troy wondered how many more times he'd have to do this. Some people were happy for the chance to say where they were from, but Troy, fortified by his new friendships, was indifferent. Still, it gave him a chance to notice the other residents on the floor. During the introductions, Troy began to match faces with the names on the doors. Counting Randy and Will, there were only seven other black students on the second floor, most of whom were girls.
The floor meeting soon broke into small conversations in the hallway. Students roamed from room to room, visiting and getting acquainted. He saw people looking over the posted weekend schedule, and a couple of them were talking to Andrea about registration, an activity that had yet to enter his mind. Deep down he knew that his attitude would get serious once classes started. Maybe the kids talking to Andrea already had their goals in mind.
When Troy and Randy returned to their room to get ready for the party, Troy sniffled.
"What's with you?" Randy asked.
"I don't know, something in my nose."
"Here." With one swift motion, Randy reached into his desk drawer, pulled out a pack of Kleenex and threw it at him.
"I doubt I'll need these, but thanks."
"Will is going to meet us outside, right?"
"Yeah, he was talking to this girl Yvonne. She was here over the summer with you guys, right?"
"She was here, but nothing happened. We just hung out."
"That's okay!" Randy laughed. "They can't all get boned."
Speak for yourself, Troy thought.