Read an Excerpt
Riding Dirty on I-95
By Nikki Turner
Random House Nikki Turner
All right reserved. ISBN: 0345476840
Everybody's Got a Hustle
"Would you like to say anything else before I make my ruling?" the judge asked.
Mercy looked directly into the judge's eyes as she spoke. "Your Honor, I would just like to say that I have been a model student in spite of my circumstances and it wasn't the state, my social worker, or any of the foster families I was placed with that made that possible. It was me, my determination, and my drive to rise above being molested, beaten, and mistreated while the state turned its back. I persevered and endured until a better day. This day, Your Honor. The day my life would be placed into my own hands without any roadblocks to hinder me. If allowed, I could be a productive member of society." She paused a minute to wipe her eyes. "So, Judge, I am asking you--I am begging you--please grant me independent living." Her voice went soft as she swallowed. Despair was written all over her face as she prayed for her emancipation. "I can only hope that you don't make me go back to the group home. I am asking you to give me what no one has ever given me since I was seven years old--a chance."
At seventeen years old Mercy stood in front of the judge and pleaded her case. Over the past ten years she had been in eleven foster homes and one group home and had never even come close to being adopted.At the last foster home, her foster mother's boyfriend tried to molest her. He crept up on her in the kitchen and tried to stick his hands under her skirt. She grabbed the first thing she could, a steak knife. Lucky for him, the butcher knife wasn't closer. Once she stabbed him, there were no more foster homes for her. She was hauled off to a group home, even sent to a nuthouse for evaluation at one point. Now she wanted her independence.
The judge looked her over. Her smooth walnut skin bore no makeup, and her short, flat pageboy haircut made her look innocent. However, having a file of her entire life in front of him let him know different. Their eyes met, and he quickly redirected his eyes to the stacks of legal documents before him and began to write on the court documents before him.
Look at this redneck motherfucker, Mercy thought. I know he ain't going to have no mercy on my soul. He probably gets a hard-on every time a black person comes before him with their life in his hands. Hell, he ought to be wearing a white robe instead of that black one, and a white hood over his head at that. That damn gavel ain't nothing but a torch, and that high pedestal he's sitting up on might as well be a horse. Sittin' up there calling himself a judge when he ain't nothing but the grand marshal of the KKK. Mercy couldn't help but grin a little, but then quickly hid her smirk when the judge looked up at her. He then looked back down at her file and began going over it again.
I don't even know why I'm getting my hopes up about all this. How could this old white man understand my struggle? He can't. But right now I hope he at least tries to. I just need him to cut me loose from this fucked-up life I've been living. Please just let me go. Release me to the wolves in this big bad world. Let me fuck shit up myself instead of appointing other people to do it for me. I guess it ain't no more I can do. I done prayed all I could, so now it's up to him. I hope he's having a good day. I hope he didn't wake up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. I hope his wife sucked his dick good this morning or something. Damn.
"Mercy Jiles," the judge said as he looked up from Mercy's file. He then took his glasses from the tip of his nose and rubbed his eyes. "Ms. Jiles, this has been a very hard decision for me. Your situation is similar to other girls' who come into my courtroom every day."
Ain't this a bitch? Mercy thought. I got his card. We all look alike, huh? If he's seen one negra girl, he's seen them all. This Ku Klux Klan motherfucker is going to send me back to that fucked-up-ass group home, I just know he is. Mercy took a deep breath and sighed.
"But, Ms. Jiles, you are different from those 'other girls.' For some reason, I believe that you are destined to be something. I see your determination and your hunger to rise above your circumstances. And that, I admire about you. However, you must understand because I am going to grant you your motion--"
"Thank you! Judge, thank you so much!" Mercy shouted, cutting off the judge. What else did she need to hear? She had heard enough. Mercy had never been so happy in her life.
The judge continued talking, but Mercy couldn't focus on all the stipulations he was running by her. Thankfully, her court representative later reiterated them. She had to get her high school diploma or GED as well as maintain employment. The program would give her a state-issued check on the first of each month and provide her with subsidized living in a small efficiency apartment. Mercy would be responsible for her utility bills and all her other needs, including clothing and food. If Mercy didn't comply, she would be forced to go back to the group home. At that point she could go before the judge and ask for a second chance. If she was denied, she would have to come back to court every year until she turned twenty-one, when the state could no longer keep her at the group home.
Mercy had no intentions of blowing it. She chose to complete high school rather than cram years' worth of learning into just a few months. Some people say that book smarts only get you so far in life. Well, how Mercy saw it, she was pretty much nowhere as it stood, so however far school could get her was farther than she could have gotten herself otherwise.
In the days following Mercy's court hearing, Mercy applied for jobs everywhere, from fast-food joints to drugstores to retail shops. Things looked promising when she got a call back from McDonald's, where she even had to take a written test, which she passed, missing only one question. She kept checking her pager every five minutes that day, making sure she didn't miss any calls. When the manager called her back the next day, she was certain she had the job in the bag.
"This is the manager who interviewed you at McDonald's yesterday," a man said.
Mercy took the phone from her ear, put it down to her side, and said, "Yes!" She then spoke into the phone. "When would you like me to start?"
The manager paused. "I'm sorry, Ms. Jiles. We're not going to be able to hire you. Your school hours conflict with the hours we need you to work. But we are putting you on the list in case a position should arise with hours you can work."
"Well, guess what?" Mercy said.
"Yes, Ms. Jiles?" the manager said pleasantly.
"You're on my list, too," Mercy yelled, slamming the phone down. One minute after the next it seemed as though doors kept getting slammed in her face.
"How the fuck I can't get a job at McDonald's?" Mercy cried. "Damn, is my luck that bad? It's McDonald's for Christ's sakes. What the hell McDonald's doing having second interviews and tests and shit in the first place when all a mothafucka gotta know how to do is say 'Would you like fries with that?' "
Finally, Mercy had gotten out of the group home, and now she worried that she might not be able to uphold her end of the bargain. She was just about ready to say "fuck it" and let the state take care of her for another year, but she had to give job-hunting another shot.
The next day she met with success. She landed a job at the Ambassador Hotel, which was on the other side of town, and known for its drug traffic, but Mercy didn't give a damn. It kept her in the independent-living program plus put a few dollars in her pocket.
A senior in high school, Mercy was finished with her classes by 12:30 in the afternoon, so she went straight from her locker to the bus stop. She took three buses to get from school to work, and her commute was two hours. After transferring twice, Mercy usually arrived at work at her 3:00 p.m. start time on the nose. However, if the bus was running late, she was late. Sometimes she was able to sneak in without being noticed by her boss, Farrah. Other times she wasn't so lucky and she was either written up or her pay was docked, depending on how late she was.
At the hotel, Mercy was the check-in clerk. Farrah was what Mercy referred to as a BBWA (Black Bitch With Authority). She acted like she owned the whole damn company. Mercy had run across plenty like Farrah in her day, and she hated the feeling that developed in her gut every time she came around. Farrah wasn't mean only to Mercy; she was a bitch to all of the employees. Even when she praised an employee, it was in a condescending manner. "Good job, Mercy," Farrah would say, "but good isn't great."
Farrah knew Mercy's situation and how important it was for her to hold a job. She stayed on Mercy's case and seemed to enjoy the power she had over her. So many times Mercy wanted to snap the fuck-off on Farrah, but just as Mercy was about to beat the brakes off her, Farrah would say, "If I were you, I wouldn't do anything simple that could land your ass right back on the doorstep of that group home you came from."
Mercy would faithfully have to remind herself that this bullshit was only temporary. She could handle Ms. Farrah, but what she didn't want to do was find herself back at one of those foster homes where she could barely sleep at night, trying to guard her pussy from the man of the house. And she sure as hell didn't want to go back to the group home, where she had to fight the ugly jealous-hearted bitches while at the same time trying to stay out of the way of the manly dyke broads who had been turned out many years before. Stealing pussy was all they knew. So Mercy immunized herself against Farrah's snide comments.
One day when Mercy rushed into the Ambassador Hotel lobby at 3:15 p.m., she was relieved to see that Farrah was nowhere in sight. Sam, who had worked there for about three years, was the only one at the front desk.
"About time, Miss Thang," Sam said to Mercy, rolling his eyes. Sam was the tip of a lit match, flaming. He stood six feet tall and couldn't have weighed more than a buck twenty-five soaking wet. He had smooth brown skin and eyebrows that were arched to perfection. His hair was processed with black looped curls. Both ears were pierced, but he never wore his earrings on the job. On the weekends, not only could you find him with earrings in both ears, but you could find him hanging out at Club Colors with pumps and a miniskirt, too.
"I'm so sorry, Sam," Mercy said, rushing in, trying to hurry and take her jacket off and get in her position behind the counter. "My English teacher stopped me to discuss a book we are reading in class. I missed the 12:40 bus and had to wait on the 12:55 one."
"Umm-hmm," Sam said, sucking his teeth.
Just as Mercy was removing her jacket, Farrah got off of the lobby elevator.
"Guyd dayum. Here comes this bitch," Mercy said under her breath.
"Mercy, come into my office," Farrah said, not even making eye contact with Mercy. She was wearing her navy blue work uniform, a jacket and skirt. Her curly roller-set neck-length hair bounced with each step she took in her one-inch navy blue pumps. "Sam, I know you were supposed to be off fifteen minutes ago," she said, stressing the words fifteen minutes, "but I just need you to stay a couple more minutes, please."
As Farrah whisked past the two of them to make her way to her office, she left behind her scent of Tabu perfume. Mercy didn't mind the scent at the local department store, or the softness of it when her mother used to wear it way back in the day. However, on Farrah it made her want to puke.
"I already know what this is about," Mercy began as she entered Farrah's office.
"And it's a shame that you do," Farrah interrupted. "You know there is nothing I hate more than a tardy employee. I'd almost rather you didn't show up at all than to strut in here late like everything is okay. This isn't your place. You don't own this hotel, nor are you the manager. You're an employee, and you follow the rules, my rules, or else. And poor Sam had already worked a double shift as it was."
"I apologize," Mercy said, putting her head down. "It won't happen again."
"You don't say," Farrah said, giving Mercy a fake smile, then quickly dropping it. Mercy stood there. Farrah looked at her as if she expected her to say something.
"Isn't there something you want to say to me?" Farrah asked. "Do you want to try to convince me not to write you up? Perhaps you would even like to apologize a little more humbly before I complete this slip?"
Mercy rolled her eyes. "Apologize?" she said under her breath.
You better be apologizing to me for making me put up with that strong-ass perfume that smells like you bathed in it, Mercy thought. You better be apologizing to me. Bitch, step yo' perfume game up instead of getting that shit off the three-dollar table in Rite Aid. That fragrance was the shit eight or nine years ago, but today that shit is played out like an eight-track.
"I know it's highly unlikely, but perhaps now you'll be on time," Farrah said, handing Mercy a pen.
Mercy took a deep breath and signed the write-up slip. Farrah held her hand out to take it back, but Mercy slammed it down on her desk and headed out of the office.
As Mercy stormed out of the office, the first thing she saw was Sam standing there with his hands on his hips. "What did the head beyatch have to say?" he said as he began to gather his belongings to leave.
"I got wrote up," Mercy said, pinning on her name tag.
"Child, ain't that your third one already in four months?"
Excerpted from Riding Dirty on I-95 by Nikki Turner Excerpted by permission.
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