New black silk pajamas felt cool on Randall Lark’s ebony skin.
Sitting cross-legged on the double bed at Frenchy’s Oasis Motel he watched “Honkies Hit Harlem” on TV, one of the least well-known low-budget 70s blaxploitation films that pitted the brothers against each other and the cruel, cruel world. In this one even badass dudes who cut each other’s throats and battled in blood over territory to sell cocaine and women came together to fight white invaders and win.
But that was Hollywood where Super Fly and Shaft and the Hammer ruled rather than fell in a barrage of bullets fired from a white cop’s gun. Randall lived a lawful life in the ghetto not nearly as slick as the movie players, homies in green Cuban heeled platform shoes, cranberry-colored leisure suits and matching wide-brimmed skimmers that impressed the ladies in their red stiletto heels, short tight leopard skin skirts and Afro hairdos big as basketballs.
After enlisting at 18, if his time with the U.S. Army taught Randall anything in Afghanistan, the military industrial complex prepared him to expect anything at any time, even from his own side which was sometimes hard to identify. By the time Randall separated from service and landed back in the world he wasn’t sure who to call the enemy. Taliban commanders and Pentagon generals all looked alike to him.
The same went for most college professors. Even Black scholars lived in comfortable ivory towers where ivory was just another shade of white. You’d think Black faculty at a historically Black college would know the streets and the culture from which they came. But these experts weren’t so expert after all. Except for unique teachers like militant Cornel West, give a Black Afro-American Studies professor from Princeton or Columbia a couple of appearances on MSNBC, a few New Yorker articles and a book deal about James Baldwin, and they forget where they came from as easily as any self-absorbed cracker. Professional brothers and sisters are too quick to forget, assuming they knew what was going down in the first place.
At least Randall came home alive and aware with sergeant’s stripes, combat medic experience and eventually a bachelor’s degree in Black Comparative Literature from an HBC, understanding fear, death and survival more than most PhDs. Even now Randall carried paperbacks by Black Detroit writer Donald Goines and Black Chicago writer Iceberg Slim, wise men who dug deep into urban jungles pregnant with violence, prisons packed with desperation and original gangsters packing handguns, recognizing systemic racism, injustice and the battle for survival many Black people lost long before they started.
Sweet baby Tyrone lost.
So did little Boss who wasn’t even Black even although he swore to Randall he was.
Randall couldn’t save either one.
Marty Durkin stepped to Randall at the hospital the night Durkin shot Randall’s young brother Tyrone. Randall stood there looking through the cop’s eyes, listening, breathing calmly until the cop’s buddies walked him away crying, blubbering apologies and talking all this accident shit that didn’t matter.
Randall wanted to kill him then.
Now, after stalking Durkin to his new tropical life on the beach, the other night at RayRays’ Elbow Room bar Durkin didn’t even notice Randall sitting in the back of the dining room, the only Black patron in the place. Sooner or later Durkin would spot him though.
Mama wouldn’t sue the Stone Harbor Republicans for Tyrone’s death.
Mama just prayed.
Then she died fast from the same Kool menthol cigarette-induced lung cancer that six weeks later killed her husband Julius, Randall’s father. Gone just like that. The insurance money would help him get settled somewhere else, even if that somewhere else turned into a crime scene. Randall didn’t want a chaplain standing next to him at the electric chair or the gurney onto which white men would strap him for a lethal injection. He’d take death the same way he took life – uncertainly.
Jesus wasn’t listening. Ignoring Mama’s plight and the troubled world of color, allowing horror as bad as anything Hell had to offer to envelop humanity and torture all species, Jesus just rolled as another pimp on the block. Dude wasn’t even Black no matter what the jitterbugs said. Randall knew if Jesus were Black the man wouldn’t stand for half the shit he let happen. A real Black Jesus would save the world.
Attempted prayer got Randall nowhere, making him edgy and angry. The only time he truly tried to believe was when he watched a gunfight break out in the neighborhood that left three teenagers who lived on his block dead in the gutter on the corner. Randall squeezed his eyes closed and begged Jesus to help. Bowing his head made him dizzy. Randall knew Jesus didn’t care.
Ask countless dead Afghan kids American taxpayers killed if Jesus loves the little children, all the children in the world?
While you’re at it, ask Muhammad.
The child in Sayed Abad district in Afghanistan’s Wardak province introduced himself with a raised fist and a chipped clay plate full of fresh figs he handed Randall in the middle of a patrol designed to capture a brazen killer warlord and opium poppy farmer who worked for ISIS as well as the Taliban and stole whatever he could from the United States government in between.
“Soul food,” the boy said.
Randall tried not to laugh but fell out despite the overall oppression of war. Although he knew better, he took two figs and tossed them into his mouth. Sweet, chewy, moist, the figs tasted wonderful.
“Thank you, little brother,” Randall said, his mind flashing back to little brother Tyrone at home.
Taller than 6-year-old Tyrone, this 8-year-old boy stood erect, his weathered face gaunt yet smooth as a hand-carved walking stick compared to Tyrone’s chubby cheeks, jelly belly and high waist. Pulling up the sleeve of the brown long top that covered him to his knees above loose pants and calloused bare feet, the boy held out his arm and rubbed his tanned and weathered caramel-colored skin.
“Look, I’m Black like you,” he said.
“You are one solid little soul man, all right,” Randall said.
“Soul men,” the boy said. “Battle buddies. You and me. What’s your name, bro?”
“Boss,” the boy said. “I’m Boss.”
Grinning wide grins they laughed easy as old friends.
Whoever taught the child to speak English shared a good attitude with him as well – the kind of trait that usually comes from love, the kind of affection Randall’s mother provided him when he was young. The child’s personality came from that magic place that anoints those who spread light in the lives of others, people who want to share benevolence, kindness and friendship.
Randall always called him Boss, even at the end.
Moving off the bed as fast as one of the many Palestine yellow scorpions he killed on the Afghan battlefields, Randall clicked off the TV. Walking to the balcony he watched the slow lights of a grouper fishing boat moving in from the Gulf, past shadowy condominiums on the other side of the bay that winked as black water rippled softly in the nighttime breeze. Stillness reined until small muffled sounds drifted up from a friendly party downstairs, three or four white Baby Boomer tourists vacationing, believing they called the shots in their lives – retired, drinking, smoking and joking without a care.
Fate owned them and fate wasn’t always nice about making new acquaintances. Nobody’s in charge of anything. Destiny is a lie. Some white cop acting on a disturbing the peace complaint could kick in the door at any moment. Oops. Sorry. Shit happens. Shit happened to Tyrone. Shit happened to Boss. Shit happens most to those who deserve it least.
Randall needed to stop shit from continuing to happen. At least get even. Yeah. Randall would get even. That’s right. Malcolm X, Bobby Seale, Huey, Ali, even Martin would fathom revenge under these unfair circumstances.
Randall almost couldn’t wait.