Issue 182, Fall 2007
Me and Jasmine and Michael were hanging out at Mr. Thompson’s pool. We were fifteen and it was the first weekend after school started, and me and Jasmine were sitting side by side on one of Mr. Thompson’s ripped-up green-and-white lawn chairs, doing each other’s nails while the radio played “Me Against the World.” It was the day after Tupac got shot, and even Hot 97, which hadn’t played any West Coast for months, wasn’t playing anything else. Jasmine kept complaining that Michael smelled like bananas.
“Sunscreen,” Jasmine said, “is for white people. That’s them white girls you’ve been hanging out with, got you wearing sunscreen. Black people don’t burn.”
Never mind that Michael was lighter than Jasmine and I was lighter than Michael, and really all three of us burned. Earlier, when Jasmine had gone to the bathroom, I’d let Michael rub sunscreen gently into my back. I guess I smelled like bananas, too, but I couldn’t smell anything but the polish, and I didn’t think she could either. She went on about it anyway, though.
“You smell like food,” she said. “I don’t know why you wanna smell like food. Maybe that works in Bronxville, but ain’t nobody here gonna lick you cause you smell like bananas.”
“I don’t want you to lick me,” Michael said. “I don’t know where your mouth has been. I know you don’t never shut it.”
Jasmine and Michael were my only real friends and if they fought I’d have to fix it. I turned up the dial on Mr. Thompson’s radio, which was big and old. The metal had deep scratches on it, and rust spots left by people like us who didn’t watch to see whether or not we flicked drops of water on it. It had a good sound though, and the music was loud and heavy with bass. When the song was over they cut to some politician saying that it was a shame talented young black people kept dying, and it was time to do something about it. They’d been saying that all day. Mr. Thompson got up and cut off the radio.
“You live like a thug, you die like a thug,” he said, looking at us. “It’s nothing to cry over when people wake up in the beds they made.” He walked back to the lawn chair where he’d been reading the paper. He let it crinkle loudly when he opened it again, like the sound of someone else reading would make us less ignorant.
Jasmine snorted. She lifted Michael’s sweatshirt with the tips of her thumb and index finger so she didn’t scratch her still-drying polish and pulled out the pictures he had been showing us before Mr. Thompson came over—photos of his latest girlfriend, a brunette with big eyes and enormous breasts, lying on a bed with a lot of ruffles on it.
“You live like a white girl, you act like a white girl,” said Jasmine, frowning at the picture and making her voice deep like she was Mr. Thompson.
“She’s not white,” said Michael. “She’s Italian.”
“Italian people ain’t white?”
“What the fuck are they then?”
“Mr. Thompson,” Jasmine called across the yard. “Are Italian people white?”
“Ask the Ethiopians,” said Mr. Thompson. None of us knew what he was talking about, so we all shut up.