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No Way Out (In Chicago)
By Amir Humphries
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Amir Humphries
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWearing an orange jumpsuit with 201833 across my back, I started telling my story. "What a difference a day makes," I began ...
From down the hall, I heard my name being called.
"Baraka," Mookie yelled, "get your tail up!"
With a grunt, I said, "Gone somewhere My cousin Mookie slapped me on the head and ran down the hall yelling, "Grandma! You better tell that high-yellow girl to quit playing so much!"
I heard Mookie go into the kitchen and ask Grandma what she was cooking. "It smells really good," she said.
"Grits, bacon, eggs, and homemade biscuits," Grandma replied.
There was a knock on the door, and Mookie yelled, "Who is it?"
"Who?" Mookie asked again.
Mookie turned and yelled, "Baraka, your smelly friend Art is at the door."
I walked down the hall to the door and opened it. "What's up, joe, I'll be out in a minute," I said, then turned to my grandma. "Did my mother called last night?"
"No, baby, but I'm sure she'll be by here later on today."
I grabbed my coat, and Grandma yelled, "Boy, where are you going? You didn't touch your breakfast!"
"But they're waiting on me," I said as I gave her a kiss. "I love you, Grandma."
"I love you too. Be safe in those streets."
"What's up, joe—did you hear all that noise last night?" I asked Art once we were outside.
"Yeah, it sounded like the Fourth of July. It sounded like they were shooting for about an hour, man," Art said.
"Quit blowing stuff out of proportion," I teased him.
"No—it did seem like about an hour. Anyway, did ya'll finish ya'll homework?"
"Nah," I said, "cause I was with your mama last night."
"Baraka—what kind of name is that? Sounds like something you catch on your feet."
We were still laughing as we entered the school. The day went by as usual—until recess when all the kids gathered around to play a game called Johnny Come Across. When I tried to make my way to the other side, I ran headfirst into a brick wall, and all the kids laughed. I went to the nurse's office, and my uncle was called to the school to pick me up. When word got around school, my friends thought I got into a fight and went home early.
Around 2:45, there was a knock on the door. Grandma answered the door, and the kids there said, "Mrs. Humphries, can we speak to Baraka?"
I went to the door, and one of my friends said, "Damn, man! What happened? We thought you got jumped."
"Nah, man, we were at recess playing Johnny Come Across and I ran into a wall—that's how I got this hickie. I'm all right, man. I know you guys love me, I'll holla at you all later."
Later on that day, my mom, Helen, came home. "Mom, I need to talk to you," I said. "There's this girl that likes me; her name is Jackie. She wrote me a love letter using the words from a song, and there's a house party this Saturday."
My mom looked at me and said, "Boy, do you even know how to dance?"
"I'm a gangster, Mom!"
"Okay, gangster, let me see what you got." Laughing hard, my mom called her mother into the room and said, "Momma, come check your grandbaby out!"
Grandma came in the room and said, "Go ahead, baby, get your boogie on."
"Momma, you need to stop," said Helen. She looked at me and said, "Boy, let me show you a few tricks of the trade."
"Hey, Ms. Brown, how you doing?" I said to Art's mom the next day when I went to pick him up.
"Fine. What's going on, Baraka?"
"Nothing much. My mom said to tell you hi." Turning to Art, I said, "Art, you ready?"
Art replied, "Let's roll."
After we left, I said, "Man, did you see what Jackie had on today? Yo! She was looking so good."
"You should have seen Melisa. Man, I told her she was looking good, and she smiled, said thanks, and kissed me on the cheek. Man, I damn near fainted."
We both laughed as we entered the park. I yelled out, "Who got next?" to a bunch of kids playing basketball, and then we teamed up and the game went on.
After the game, as we walked home, I said, "Man, you couldn't stop me today.
"You couldn't stop me either," Art said.
When we returned to the building where we stayed, we put the hoop up and played until Mookie yelled out, "Baraka, it's time to bring your tail in the house!"
Art turned to me and said, "You got lucky this time, but you know it's not over."
We were so competitive; everything was a battle. We would pitch pennies, play Trouble, strike' em out, and a winner had to be declared. If not, the game would go on until it was clear who won. Art was my best friend; what I didn't have, Art had—and the other way around. Art was the best dancer in the neighborhood, which got us into parties for free; that was Art's specialty.
When we were twelve, my mom took us on our first trip out of Chicago; we went to Florida. I was having a ball, but Art seemed a little distant. I asked him if he was all right, and Art said, "This is real nice of you and your mom, but it would have been nice to have my mom here."
"It's cool," I said, "but it's a big difference from all the shooting every night, the drugs, smelly hallways, and the gangs."
"You know what? You're right," Art agreed. "Last one to the other side of the pool is a rotten egg."
"Man, you know I can't swim!"
"Me neither," Art said.
The day we returned to Chicago, it was zero degrees with a wind chill of negative two.
A week later, Art, Lashaun, Kenny, Terrence, and I tried out for the basketball team; we were told the results would be out Friday. When the list was posted, to our surprise, none of our names were on the list.
When I got home and told my mom, she said, "So, honey, were you that bad? Or were the other guys that good?"
"Neither one," I said.
On Monday, my mom called the school, and that's when she was told that sixth graders couldn't join the team. Mrs. McGuire said she would check into it to find out why. Before the school day ended, Kenny and I were called to the gym by Mr. Johnson, who told us we made the team. We were pretty sure it was because of our height, because the only time we got into a game was when our team was winning by fifteen or more points. We finished the season 10–6 and made it to the second round of the playoffs.
School was out, and the summer began; everybody was out. Fire hydrants were wide open, snow cones were being sold, little kids were on the swings, house music was blasting, and cars were driving by with their booming systems.
The king of black disciples made his way to the park and pulled up in a Chevy Blazer with two cars leading the way and three cars in back. He got out of the truck, and everyone showed him love by throwing up gang sign. He had "next" on the basketball court, and everyone gathered around to see the big boys play ball.
By mid-summer, my friends and I were all on summer basketball teams. My team played against Art's team for the championship, and we won by six points. I had fifteen points, fifteen rebounds, and was voted MVP of the tournament. Art was named Co-MVP, and if his team had won, he would have been MVP.
By the end of the summer, Art had moved to the south side but still attended St. Callistus with me. He and I made the school basketball team and were stars in our positions. In seventh grade, our team was 1–15 for the season, and the following year, we were 14–2 and then lost the championship to Resurrection by three points.
During the season, we became closer friends. We would go downtown to Mr. Subs, Dunkin Donuts, and the three-dollar dollar movie before one o'clock.
Close to graduation, Dushay was having a graduation party. Art came over with a couple of friends from his new neighborhood—the type of guys who stole cars, sold drugs, and robbed whoever they came in contact with who wasn't on their level. We were in the hallway drinking a bottle of Old English 800 when one of the guys pulled out a joint. I said, "Art, what's up? You smoke now?"
He said, "Baraka, this is what I do. But don't worry, if you get high, I got your back."
We left the building and headed over to the party. It seemed as if everyone had been waiting on us to get there, because when we walked in, everyone gave us daps and represented. We partied, and then shots rang out—one of my boys got shot in the stomach. He died on the way to the hospital. We later found out that it was our rival gang that had come through shooting. The Disciples were in an uproar that night and out for revenge, which cut Art's visit short—and the guys he came with.
June 15, 1986. It was graduation day from the 8th grade. I stood there with my shiny grey suit and burgundy tie, while Art wore burgundy pants, a white shirt, and a grey tie. In all my years in school, I was never called for the Honor Roll, but this time I made the list. As they called "Baraka Humphries," my family cheered for joy. That was an exciting time for us; we took pictures, laughed, and enjoyed the moment.
Needless to say, Art and I partied that night, and by now you know how we partied. Art and some of his guys came and scooped me up in a sweet car. I asked Art, "Whose car is this?"
Lil Mike looked at Art and said, "Is this guy serious?" Then he said, "Look at the steering wheel—don't you see the collar is missing?" But it was graduation night, so it didn't matter. We just rode around and kept drinking, smoking, and hitting that powder. By 12:30, we had run out of everything, including money, so one of the guys said, "Let's find us a victim and get our paper right."
A feeling came over me, so I said, "Take me to the crib."
"Baraka, what's up?" Art said.
"Man, take me to the crib now."
Three days passed and I hadn't heard from Art. I went to his crib and knocked on his door. I said hey to his mom and asked her how she was doing. "Not too good," she said. I asked what was wrong, and she stood silently for a minute and then said, "Art is in jail."
I asked what happened, and she said, "They got him for armed robbery and for being an occupant in a stolen vehicle. Baraka, baby, get your mind right because there's nothing out here in these streets."
So I was gonna use this summer to get my mind right. Little did I know that my best friend was going to receive four years and I was going to learn about my mom's extracurricular activities.
"Mom!" I yelled. I opened the bedroom door and witnessed the crack pipe fall from her mouth.
"What the hell! You come in my room and didn't knock on the door."
"Momma, I'm sorry, but you didn't say anything when I called your name."
The next morning, she sat me down and we had a long talk. Let's just say from there, my whole thought process changed. I never knew—I guess I just didn't want to believe it—that my mother is a crack head. That didn't change the way I felt; I loved her with mind, body, and soul.
Mookie yelled, "Baraka! Grandma said get in this house." So I gave my boys some dap, threw up our gang sign, and headed to the house.
While I was waiting for the elevator, Curtis walked by and said, "What's up, Lil Rock and gave me some dap."
I looked at him and said, "Man, my name is Baraka."
"I know, but when you smoke weed like I do, who can say that name? You can ball, so I'm going to call you Lil Rock."
"I can roll with that," I said.
Curtis was signaled by "KD" to come around the corner. As I was waiting at the elevator, I heard them arguing. KD said, "Who are you talking to like that?" As the elevator opened and I started towards it, I heard a bang, followed by two more—bang, bang. I looked to the right and saw Curtis's body drop, his head wide open. I looked in his eyes as he twitched, then stared at KD with a sharp, piercing look as his gun fell to his side and the elevator door closed. I couldn't believe I was just talking to Curtis three minutes ago. My hands and body were shaking.
I made it upstairs, and Grandma asked, "What's wrong, baby?"
An hour and forty-five minutes later, there was a knock at the door.
"Who is it?" my grandmother said.
"Detective Jackson and Whitter." They were better known as Action 'n' Jackson. "We'd like to speak to your grandson about a murder that took place an hour and a half ago."
"Well what does my grandson have to do with it?"
"The elevator camera shows him looking to the right as he stepped into the elevator. We have a few suspects in custody, and we want to know if he can identify them."
They took me to the station, and in custody were KD, KD's right-hand man Skillet, Bo-leg, and Roni. "Son, can you identify the shooter?" they asked me.
"Like I told you all before, all I saw was the body drop and no shooter."
The police interrogated KD and his gang then let them go.
After that, something had changed. It seemed as if everyone was looking at me funny. I didn't know if it was because I didn't tell or if I should have told, but I was getting a lot of respect from the older gang members.
One day, as the sun was fading, I was shooting ball in the park. Three cars pulled up, a door opened, and a voice said, "Little homey, come here." As I approached, I saw it was KD. I was looking him straight in the eyes. I stood by the door, and as he got out of the car, he asked, "Do you know who I am? Everyone knows who you are." He pulled his gun from his waist and said, "Are you scared?"
As I stuck my gun to his waist, I said, "Of what? My dad taught me to fear no man, that you bleed like I do—or maybe even more."
"Get in and let's take a ride," he said.
"My mom told me not to ride with strangers," I said with a smirk.
"You're funny too. Get your little ass in."
Everything was quiet at first in the car, then he asked, "Do you smoke?"
"Weed," I said.
He told me that when you're high, it clouds your judgment and your reaction time, and in these streets you have to have an advantage. "What was your conversation with the police?" he asked.
"With all respect, I'm trying to forget the whole thing, and you know I didn't tell them anything because this little ride wouldn't be happening."
"For a young buck, you're kinda loose at the lips."
"My dad told me to always look a man in the eyes, and if you're speaking the truth, a real man can't do nothing but respect that."
He just looked at me and shook his head.
We road around just kicking it until it was time for me to go home. He pulled up to the building and handed me a knot. I told him, "I'm cool."
Insisting I take the money, he said, "I don't want you to ever feel like you owe me something, therefore I won't feel like I owe you something. Tomorrow, after you do your homework—you do do your homework, don't you?—page me and I'll be by to pick you up."
It seemed like I had the whole world in my hands. We rolled and talked every day. I had earned the respect of everyone in the hood and on every side of town. Not only because I rode with him, but also because I started on his basketball team. I was only thirteen, 6'3" and 150 pounds and was killing them. He took me under his wing and showed me a lot of things, especially the dope game.
We hit the tables one night, and I had never seen so many drugs in my life—not even on TV. We were in and then we were out. It was always business at the table, but everyone had fun, and after everything got divided, everyone was happy. He made sure everyone stayed on their P's and Q's but kept everyone happy and treated everyone fairly. At the same time, he was a maniac if you crossed him.
He told me to always get your folks on one page and always believe in your system. "If I'm making five thousand and you're making two thousand, we all are eating good. Always have a code for when you're being set up. The person who takes the hit will be taken care of while he's in and will be blessed when he gets out. You have to give them a sense of security and loyalty, therefore you can stay in the game a long time and make a lot of money. Never send a man on a mission that you wouldn't go on yourself. I'm around every day; I keep my ears to the ground so I can hear them coming and keep my eyes open so I can know where to go."
I had to be the luckiest guy in the world. I was making over 40,000 a week and was about to start varsity as a freshmen. I was a 6'3" small forward with a silky smooth point guard that went by the name of Silk, a 5'11" shooting guard by the name of Judon, a 6'4" 200-pound power forward by the name of Chris, and a 6'5" center with curls. They were juniors and were ranked in the top twenty-five in the nation.
Excerpted from No Way Out (In Chicago) by Amir Humphries Copyright © 2012 by Amir Humphries. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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