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[2 of 5 - Group A] Long Division, Book One, pages 50-102 by Kiese Laymon (2013)

Author: Kiese Laymon

Laymon, Kiese. “Book One, Pages 50-102,” Long Division, Scribner Book Company, 2013, 2021.


(BOOK ONE, pages 50 – 56)

As soon as I stepped off the Greyhound bus in Melahatchie, Grandma hugged my neck, but I was straight zoned out. That Long Division book had me feeling weird, new weird, like I was a character in a book or video game and someone was writing or controlling all the craziness around me.

Grandma interrupted my new weird. “My baby’s still husky,” she said, and kissed both of my jaws. Then she grabbed my shoulders and took a step back. “You look so intelligent. I don’t care what none of them folks say.”

Whenever I went down to Melahatchie, I always felt younger than I was. Mainly, it was because Grandma had really never talked to me or treated me any different between the ages of five and four-teen. I had to trim the hedges, crack open walnuts, and get the okra out of the bottom of the deep freezer now just like I did when I was five years old.

I threw my stuff in the back of her Bonneville and thought about how besides being the thickest grandma in Mississippi, I would have bet my original wave brush that Grandma was probably the thick-est, finest grandma in all of Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, and Louisiana. I’m not saying Grandma was perfect, either, but even the annoying stuff about Grandma, like how she was completely swinging from the scrotum sack of the Lawd, was– well, kinda… thick.

Grandma was probably six feet tall, and every part of her body and face was so thick that nothing looked thick. But her stuff was symmetrical, too. Sometimes you’d see folks with all thick parts, but half of their body weight was all up in their ass or all in that gut, or one of their eyes was way bigger than the other one, or maybe there was too much distance between their eyes and where their hairline started.

For example, my mother had this rounded, thick, mushroom-style nose and she looked like the early version of Weezy on that old Nick at Nite show, The Jeffersons. Mama looked like Weezy, but Mama’s lips were kinda… well, I hate to talk about my own mama like this, but Mama had lips like the white folks on Jersey Shore. There was no thickness or pinkish hang to Mama’s lips. You saw thin poofy lines and you saw teeth. Snake lips, I called the fat beneath her nose. I still don’t know how in the hell that happened to Mama since she came out of the vagina of someone as thick and perfect-looking as Grandma. You wouldn’t even know Grandma was six feet tall or the finest, thickest Grandma in the region until you walked right up on her.

Anyway, of all the different kinds of people in the world, Grandma was the last person I wanted to watch me act a fool at the contest. But I also knew, even though she couldn’t say it, that she was one of the only people who would know what it was like to be up there on that stage and not know if there was a difference between being right and doing wrong.

Grandma had a bag with two pork-chop sandwiches in her hands and her eyes were twitching like a hummingbird while she sat in that driver’s seat.

“Them folks is just evil,” Grandma said. She never mumbled or slurred her sentences and her voice was deep, heavier than cane syrup. “Plain devilish. You hear me?” Grandma thought the man who worked in the bus station restaurant hadn’t given her enough change back on purpose.

“Well, did you tell him how evil he is, Grandma?”

“Naw, City. No telling what that man could’ve put in our food.”

She pulled all the way out of the bus station. “You gotta be careful with them folks if you stay with me the next few days. You hear me?” I nodded. “If you learned anything after messing with them folks on that stage, should be that you don’t never know-” She looked me right in the eye.

“Never know what?” I asked her.

“How far they’ll go to get you.”

Grandma told me that we had to stop by Walmart before we went home. She said Walmart had a sale on her new favorite brand of wig, Wigs4Blax, and that she might as well get the wig today since this was her half-day off.

My grandma had three jobs. She worked as a housekeeper at the Island View Casino. She washed and ironed clothes for three white families in town. And she sold pound cake and fruit salad every other Saturday afternoon.

When we pulled into the lot of the Walmart, a green pickup truck flew past us and damn near knocked the front end off the Bonneville. Grandma stuck out her arm and secured my chest while slamming on the brakes. “Jesus give me strength,” she said. “What in the world is wrong with your children?”

It was the middle of the day, so most folks who worked hard and sweated for a living were still at work. Grandma was getting ready to park next to this orange and gray Cadillac sitting on 22-inch rims.

“Young folks ain’t got nothing better to spend that money on except long cars and crazy tags?”


“What a nigga do in the dark will damn sure come to the light somehow.”


“Yes, baby?”

“I appreciate how it sounds when you say ‘nigga’ and I’m sorry about acting a fool at the contest.”

“Shhhh.” Grandma said and parked the car. “And leave your little brush in the car. Folks in here likely to steal everything that ain’t nailed down.”

The Melahatchie Walmart was always packed. Always. I never had anything stolen the hundreds of times I’d been in there and folks always looked so happy walking around, especially in the electronics section. I walked with Grandma to the wig section of the store and this old white woman with wrinkly skin, a maroon scarf around her pudgy neck, and her hair in a ball came up on us.

The woman’s name tag said “Louise Ellington.” She had gold for days draped on the outside of her scarf, and on her fingers were the shiniest rings I’d seen in real life. She walked up onto us lightweight fast, with one hand on her hip and the other on her chin.

“Hey. Hellooo here!” she said. “We want y’all to know’ew that today, we’ve got a special on our Wigs4Blax brand.” She pointed to the raggedy-looking wigs on the sale rack. “We sure do’ew.”

I could tell that the lady was from Jackson and had probably worked in the outside malls in Jackson before taking a job at the Melahatchie Walmart. At the outside Jackson malls, all the older white ladies with hair in a ball and penny loafers always said “o” sounding words like “o’ew” sounding words, but in Melahatchie the “o” sounded like “o” no matter who said it.

“So’ew,” she said, “if you buy one of those Gary curl wigs, y’all get a free year subscription to the new Ebony magazine..” She trailed off, and just looked at me. I tried to look away, then look back, but she was still watching. “Y’all got a talkative little devil there, don’t y’all?” she said to Grandma. “Were you the one doing all that talking on TV yesterday?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Grandma said. “My baby does love to talk. Don’t pay him no attention.” She patted me on the back. “Now how much did you say the Gary curl wig was?”

I couldn’t believe Grandma was talking like that in front of that lady. Her voice, her body, everything shrunk. It was like she wasn’t even Grandma anymore. I never heard Grandma say “ma’am” to someone who was younger than her. The rumor was that Grandma actually brought the Jheri (not “Gary”) curl to Melahatchie from Milwaukee back in the early ’80s. Now she was acting like she couldn’t even pronounce it right, all because she was talking in front of a weird-looking white woman who couldn’t even pronounce “so” and “do.”

Grandma and I held hands as we walked back to the Bonneville.

“If Tom Henry coulda seen you raising hell on TV, he woulda swore up and down that he was looking through his red eyes at himself”

“Why?” I asked her.

Grandma started getting comfortable in the driver’s seat chair. I could tell she was about to go into one of her Granddaddy stories. The stories always started different, but every one of them, except the one that ended with him disappearing in Marathon Lake, ended with Granddaddy acting like a demon and destroying something before Grandma intervened.

“I remember one Saturday we got to fighting ’bout money or something like that,” she started. “He was tired of me working all these jobs, you know? Anyway, Tom Henry claimed he was going for a walk to get his mind right. I knew that meant he was ’bout to get that damn stuffed monkey and walk off in them woods across the road from the house.

“Anyway, while he was gone, his friends Cherry and Shank come over here looking for him to go fishing. All three of us, we out there on that porch, you know? ‘Course I ain’t tell Cherry or Shank he was over in them woods with no fake monkey, so I just said he wasn’t nowhere to be found. Soon as I said that, here comes your granddaddy prancing out them woods with that monkey in his hands and one of those shit-eating grins on his face. Tom Henry walks up on the porch and tries to hide the monkey behind his back.

“Cherry says, ‘Tom, what the hell you doing holding on to a ugly little fake monkey off in them woods, man? Ain’t you done outgrown dolls and hide-and-seek?’ Like I told you before, I reckon your granddaddy reacts like a demon when somebody stands on his own porch and calls him crazy. So Tom Henry commenced to beat the clothes off Cherry and Shank. Off! You hear me?” Grandma was laughing hard as she could and smiling ear to ear. “And when the police came, Tom Henry was still beating both of them to the white meat until I calmed him down. He spent two nights in jail for that.”

Grandma got busy when it came to her sentences. With Grandma’s at-home sentences, it was like there was no screen between her mind and your ears. You got all of her, all of her voice. She could destroy anyone in the region in a sentence contest, including LaVander Peeler and me, as long as the judges were fair. I realized then, though, that Grandma’s at-home sentences and her in-the-car sentences were completely opposite of her at-the-mall sentences.

“Hey, Grandma,” I said. “Would you tell that story at the mall in front of that white lady, with the same dynamic sentences?”

“First of all, that wasn’t no story. And I don’t know nothing about no dynamic sentences,” she told me. “That’s the truth. And the truth ain’t got a thing to do with that damn white woman, City.”

“Oh. Okay,” | said, knowing Grandma was lying through her teeth.


(BOOK ONE, pages 57 – 62)

Grandma and I walked up on the porch of her house. Hurricane Katrina tore up Grandma’s old shotgun house eight years earlier, but within a year, she’d gotten a new shotgun house built in the same spot. The house was raised off the ground about a foot and a half by some cinder blocks. The porch led to the front door, which opened to the living room, and from there, depending on what angle you looked in the house, you could see through the bedroom, the dining room, and the kitchen.

Grandma didn’t have a hall, either, like the houses on TV and in books. Grandma’s house had a living room with an old floor-model big-screen TV, a glass table with some Bibles and photo albums on it, a played-out stereo that only ever played Mahalia Jackson, and my uncle Relle’s sleeping bag right in the middle of the floor. Uncle Relle stayed with Grandma probably four times a week. Anyway, pictures of our family, the ones live and dead, were all over the living room. Walk ten more feet, there was a dining room with a plastic chandelier over a round wooden table. On one side of the table were two big deep freezers full of dead animal parts and food from her garden. On the other side of the table were a washing machine and a basket filled with the white folks’ clothes Grandma washed to make a little more money. Fifteen more feet and there was a tiny kitchen. Four more feet and you were out the back door, under a clothesline, where there was a scary work shed I was never allowed to go in and a chinaberry tree.

I kept looking at Relle’s sleeping bag, wondering when he was coming home. I wanted to know what he thought of what I’d done at the contest the night before. I figured he was going to be the only person in my family who was actually proud of me.

“Grandma, do you get wireless yet?”

“Wireless? Wireless what?”


“Naw, we ain’t got none of that mess, and you ain’t gonna be hooking up no wireless to my TV.”

“It ain’t got nothing to do with the TV,” I told her. “It’s so people can check their email. What does Uncle Relle do if he wants to check his email?”

“He heads up the road to the library like everybody else, I reckon.”

I wanted to push it more but I didn’t want Grandma getting mad at me. I know Melahatchie was only a bus ride away, but it felt like a time warp. It always felt like it was behind whatever time we were in up in Jackson, but after Hurricane Katrina, it’s like time went fast in reverse instead of just slowing down.

“Why you sweating, City?” Grandma asked me. “Go in the bathroom and wipe your face off.” I turned to open the screen door and half-stepped in the door when Grandma finished her sentence: “… and go get my switch.”


I stared at Grandma’s face, not hardcore like I had the power to shoot liquid heat from my eyes, but more like I had X-ray vision and I was looking at the raggedy spinal cord that held the skull, that held the mouth, that held the tongue that formed those terrible words, go get my switch.

“You remember where it is, don’t you? Go on and get my switch now,” Grandma said. “You can’t be acting a fool like that in front of them folks. You know we can’t have that.”

Man, she said it so calm. Like it was only a whupping. Grandma hadn’t whupped me in two and a half years.

But what could I do?

Nothing except drop my head, walk through the front screen door, through the living room, through the kitchen, out the back screen door, around the side of the house, and under the chinaberry tree. I had just matured to a point where I could get nice with myself in places other than the shower and the bathroom at school, and here I was about to get a beating like a child.

I almost hated this part of the beating way more than the actual beating. The anticipation and fear of all those lashes builds and builds, and then you realize how shameful it is that you’re about to get your ass and back beaten by the same switch you’re about to pick. And the whole time you’re thinking that you don’t wanna mess up on purpose and pick a little thin switch. You also don’t wanna pick one that’s too big to leave welts, because that means Grandma is gonna take her fine ass out there to pick the switch herself. And it didn’t matter how deep in that bush the perfect switch was, Grandma would always find it.

I narrowed my choices to a slender one with a lot of leaves on it, or a big one that wouldn’t wrap around my fat back too well.

Now, I had to hand it to her.

Should I smile or cry?

Grandma was out on the porch scaling the nasty big fish we were going to eat for dinner when I finally made it back.

Should I smile or cry?

I opened the screen door and waited for her to extend her hand.

“Here you go, Grandma.” I acted like I was going to hand the switch to her, but when she reached for it, I dropped it on the ground and took off through the screen door, through the TV room, through the kitchen, and out the back screen door.

And Grandma came flying after me.

I ran on the other side of the clothesline and tried to use one of her yellow fitted sheets as protection. “Boy, put down my damn fitted sheet,” she yelled. “Put it down!”

I threw the yellow fitted sheet on the ground and ran and ran. And Grandma ran and ran, too. Then she stopped by my granddaddy’s work shed, right next to the chinaberry tree. She threw down that wack switch I gave her and then dove right in the bush and pulled out a switch that looked like a six-foot whip with a handle.

I understood right there that I wasn’t simply running away from the greatest whupper in our family. Hell, I was running away from the greatest whupper in the history of Mississippi whuppings.

Grandma started running after me again. When I reached the back of the house, she was in the switch’s reach, but she tried to turn the corner too sharp, and slid into a split.


I knew Grandma would no longer just beat me for acting a fool at the contest. In the fourteen years that I’d known Grandma, she’d whupped me about six times, and the crazy thing was how she never looked at me like she wanted to rip the spine out of my back when she was whupping. You could tell that it was just regretful work for her.

Five minutes later, I was sobbing and balled up on the ground like a greasy, burnt-brown cinnamon roll with good waves. To tell you the truth, I felt honored to be whupped by Grandma. And I felt proud that during the entire whupping I never let go of my new brush.

After the beating and bath, Grandma prayed for me while I sat on the bed. Then we ate. I got so full off nasty-looking, good-tasting catfish and fries, sweet iced tea, and thick pound cake that I couldn’t breathe. I helped Grandma do the dishes, then we jumped in her bed to take a little nap before The Bernie Mac Show and Meet the Browns came on. I asked Grandma if it was okay for us to sleep on top of the sheet in our underwear with the fan directly on us.

Even though I was lying there in my underwear, Grandma looked at me in a way that made me feel like I was wearing something top-notch like a leather tuxedo with matching Jordan 6s. And even though my mama had seen me naked way more times, I felt less weird about Grandma seeing me. Grandma had a way of looking at you when you were naked that didn’t make you feel terribly fat and soft. Most other folks, especially my mama, looked at me naked and made me feel like the fattest, softest ninth grader out of all the states in the Southeastern Conference. My mama tried not to look like that, but you could tell that she was trying too hard by the way she kept cutting her eyes away from me and saying stuff like, “We should probably start buying Diet Mountain Dew, Citoyen.”

But with Grandma, whether I was naked or not, she looked at me the same way. To tell you the truth, if Grandma was trying to get the hem right on my slacks, she could have accidentally bumped into my scrotum sack and I wouldn’t have cared because I knew that Grandma wouldn’t have cared. If anybody else bumped into my scrotum sack like that, I’d probably act like I was dead or paralyzed until they left.

Grandma just looked at me without talking for about fifteen seconds. That’s a long time to look at someone who is right in front of you. She smiled real thick and slung her arm across my chest. “Them folks is millions and millions of miles away from here today, you hear me? Million miles away,” she said. “I want you to read the Bible every day you’re here. You trying to get free, but you can’t do it by yourself. We gotta get you to that water, City. That’s why your mama sent you here.”

“Wait.” I sat up in bed. “That’s messed up. Mama really sent me down here to get whupped and baptized?”

I waited for an answer, but the lids of Grandma’s eyes slowly fell down. Her breathing got all heavy again, and about six seconds later, Grandma was asleep, her thick arm still slung across my chest, protecting me from something she wanted me to believe was millions and millions of miles away.


(BOOK ONE, pages 63 – 79)

I grabbed my book and my brush and decided to go out and see if my Melahatchie friends had ever heard of Long Division.

I really only had three Melahatchie friends: Shay, MyMy, and Kincaid. Kincaid lived in the Mela-hatchie projects. Shay lived right down the road a little. MyMy lived in a trailer in the Mexican trailer park right next to Grandma’s house. The only white people in the whole trailer park were MyMy and her mama.

The dirt underneath the Mexican trailer park was like the dirt at a playground, except it was darker and redder and filled with lots of perfect rocks. There were paper-sack-colored flat rocks with three or four deep scrapes, rocks the shape of chicken nuggets, black rocks that looked like charcoal, and dirty white ones with sharp edges.

I walked maybe two steps on that dirt when four limping rat dogs starting howling and running circles around these two women who were working on this broken-down Explorer.

The women saw me looking at them and they stared at me like I had a smushed little foot growing out of my cheek. I didn’t know if they looked at me like that because I had a brush in one hand and Long Division in the other, or if maybe they had seen the contest and heard what I said about those Mexican kids from Arizona.

As soon as I stepped to her door there were MyMy’s beady eyes. She was holding her Magic Slate, and looking crazy as ever. MyMy was ten ears old and she was still in that phase where you find a detail about yourself that’s different than evervone else and vou try to make that one thing “your” thing. Her thing was trying to talk as little as possible, so she always carried this Magic Slate so she could write what she wanted to say. The only time she’d talk was if she was in the woods across the road from her house. She called those woods the Magic Woods.

MyMy’s Magic Slate was the old-school kind with the thin plastic over the top, the kind where you wrote with a little plastic pencil and if you wanted to erase it, you had to pull the plastic up. If you met MyMy, you probablv wouldn’t be surprised that she would communicate through a Magic Slate. Nothing about the girl was regular. Her glasses weren’t even regular glasses. They were these cheap greasy magnifying glasses that let you see every little movement her eyes made. Her eyes seemed to be back farther in her head than normal. And they were blue. But the black part in the middle of MyMy’s blue eyes was big and beady. And even when they looked at you, they kept zooming back and forth way too fast. It made me scared to look at her sometimes. One of the only regular things about her was that she always wore some Saints mesh shorts like the kind I wore to sleep back home.

As soon as MyMy walked down the steps of her trailer, I could tell by the way she held her head that she wanted me to hug her.

I didn’t hug her, though. I just said, “MyMy, did you see me on TV?”

She nodded up and down.

“What did you think?” I asked her. “You can be honest.” MyMy shrugged her shoulders. “What would you have done?”

She pulled out her Magic Slate and wrote, “You and Baize are Fameus.”

“Girl, I know you know how to spell famous,” I told her. “Did you even know Baize?”

MyMy just looked at me and didn’t say a word. Even before Baize Shephard went missing, everyone in Melahatchie talked about her like she was their best friend. Baize was one of those girls who had thousands of friends on Twitter and Facebook, but she wasn’t that close with anyone in Melahatchie except my friend Shay.

MyMy and I were headed to the Magic Woods when we saw these two big green trucks with Confed erate flags in their back windows. They were parked in the middle of the trailer park.

“Mean white men drive them trucks,” MyMy said.

“That ‘not talk’ thing you do, I’m just letting you know it ain’t cute. And how are you gonna call somebody white when you are white as a bleach stain?”

MyMy just laughed and said, “Bleach stain.”

We walked in the opening of the woods as I was rereading the beginning of Long Division. The book described a covered hole in the ground that opened with a rusty handle, and I wanted to get a sense of where it was. MyMy snatched the book from me and opened it to the first page.

“Your name is in this book,” she said.

“I know,” I told her. “Keep reading. Baize up in there, too. You see the name of the second chapter?”

“I don’t want to,” she said and threw the book down. “I don’t like that book.”

“Why? You should read it. It’s not a hard book to read.” She just looked me in the eyes and didn’t say a word. “All the time you been in these woods, MyMy, have you ever seen a rusty handle that leads to a hole in the ground in these woods?”


“Have vou seen one or not?”

“I think so.” she said. “I think it’s over here.”

I followed her and sure enough, hidden by some pine needles, was a rusty brown handle coming out of ground. “Oh shit. You ever pull that handle before?”

MyMy started walking away from me. “I don’t think we should open that.”


“We don’t want to know.”

“Girl, please. Who are you supposed to be? We don’t want to know what?”

“You hear something?” she asked me. I listened harder. We heard some cracked bass and a synthesizer blasting from some tinny speakers.

MyMy snatched my arm and we took off out of the woods and ran back onto Old Morton Road.

Coach Stroud, who let me play on the Melahatchie baseball team in the summer, was driving the ice cream and watermelon truck our way. No matter where you saw Coach Stroud, he always wore a Titans hat turned to the back.

Coach stopped his truck in front of us.

“Hey, Coach!” I said.

“Hey Wide Load,” Coach said while stretching his neck. “How you making it these days? I heard how you lost your mind on TV, but I ain’t been able to watch it on DVR.”

Coach had this lisp that was deep and ringing, more like Biggie’s lisp than Mike Tyson’s. When I was ten, Mama gave me this slightly illiterate book about how all humans come from Africa. The book had pictures in there of the first man and first woman. The first woman didn’t look like anyone I’d ever seen except maybe Michael Jackson, but the first man had a mouth just like Coach Stroud. I’m not saying that I didn’t look lightweight ape around the mouth area, but Coach looked pretty much full ape. That was really one of the best things about him.

“That’s the little white gal you been running ’round with since you got on TV?” Coach asked and stared at MyMy. MyMy walked up looking all hungry and crazy at the pictures of ice cream on the truck.

“I ain’t running around with no white girl. I just got here. People spreading rumors about me running around with white girls?”

“You know how y’all do,” Coach said.

I had no idea what he was talking about. “You still suing the city, Coach?”

“Well, we working on it,” Coach said. He was one of those dudes who always talked about suing somebody and taking the money he won to the casino to play blackjack. “Always doing something to keep a hardworking Black man down. So I gotta handle my business.”

Coach Stroud smiled as he scratched the sack part of his tight red coach pants. Everyone in Mela-hatchie said that Coach Stroud was busting booties with my friend Kincaid, and when you hear that a grown coach and one of your friends are busting booties, it makes you want to run your big ass back into the woods when you see him scratch his sack.

I figured that one of the worst things in the world was to have folks think you bust teenagers’ booties. Nobody would ever look at you the same after that. Even when you’re just doing stuff that everybody else does, like scratching your sack, no one would look at you the same. Coach was a walking “Kindly pause,” and that was fine with me. I just hated that I ever even thought I loved LaVander Peeler. No part of me really wanted to touch his sack, but I knew you couldn’t tell people that you


“We don’t want to know.”

“Girl, please. Who are you supposed to be? We don’t want to know what?”

“You hear something?” she asked me. I listened harder. We heard some cracked bass and a synthesizer blasting from some tinny speakers.

MyMy snatched my arm and we took off out of the woods and ran back onto Old Morton Road.

Coach Stroud, who let me play on the Melahatchie baseball team in the summer, was driving the ice cream and watermelon truck our way. No matter where you saw Coach Stroud, he always wore a Titans hat turned to the back.

Coach stopped his truck in front of us.

“Hey, Coach!” I said.

“Hey Wide Load,” Coach said while stretching his neck. “How you making it these days? I heard how you lost your mind on TV, but I ain’t been able to watch it on DVR.”

Coach had this lisp that was deep and ringing, more like Biggie’s lisp than Mike Tyson’s. When I was ten, Mama gave me this slightly illiterate book about how all humans come from Africa. The book had pictures in there of the first man and first woman. The first woman didn’t look like anyone I’d ever seen except maybe Michael Jackson, but the first man had a mouth just like Coach Stroud. I’m not saying that I didn’t look lightweight ape around the mouth area, but Coach looked pretty much full ape. That was really one of the best things about him.

“That’s the little white gal you been running ’round with since you got on TV?” Coach asked and stared at MyMy. MyMy walked up looking all hungry and crazy at the pictures of ice cream on the truck.

“I ain’t running around with no white girl. I just got here. People spreading rumors about me running around with white girls?”

“You know how y’all do,” Coach said.

I had no idea what he was talking about. “You still suing the city, Coach?”

“Well, we working on it,” Coach said. He was one of those dudes who always talked about suing somebody and taking the money he won to the casino to play blackjack. “Always doing something to keep a hardworking Black man down. So I gotta handle my business.”

Coach Stroud smiled as he scratched the sack part of his tight red coach pants. Everyone in Mela-hatchie said that Coach Stroud was busting booties with my friend Kincaid, and when you hear that a grown coach and one of your friends are busting booties, it makes you want to run your big ass back into the woods when you see him scratch his sack.

I figured that one of the worst things in the world was to have folks think you bust teenagers’ booties. Nobody would ever look at you the same after that. Even when you’re just doing stuff that everybody else does, like scratching your sack, no one would look at you the same. Coach was a walking “Kindly pause,” and that was fine with me. I just hated that I ever even thought I loved LaVander Peeler. No part of me really wanted to touch his sack, but I knew you couldn’t tell people that you loved another boy, because as soon as folks heard the word “love” they would look at me the same way I looked at Coach when he had that sack itch. I wondered, for the first time, what busting booties had to do with love. Once I thought I loved Toni Whitaker and Octavia Whittington, but that was because those girls were the only two real people I thought about when I got nice. They were the people who made my privacy the hardest. As much as I thought I loved LaVander Peeler, I can’t even say that anything about him made my privacy hard. So if it wasn’t love, I just wondered what it really was, and why I felt so much of it when I saw him up on that stage.

Anyway, I was allergic to watermelon, but Grandma seemed so happy when she ate them, so I decided to use the ten dollars Mama gave me for the trip to buy Grandma a gift.

“Coach, lemme get one of them baby watermelons.” Coach just looked at me and started rolling his tongue underneath the inside of his top lip. “Gimme one of them baby watermelons, Coach! Why you looking at me crazy?” He still just looked, steadily rolling his eyes like he would look if you fumbled in practice or acted scared to hit someone or didn’t run a play right.

“Come back here with me, Wide Load.” He walked through his truck. I looked at MyMy and walked back with him. “What you doing, man?” he asked me.

“What you mean, Coach?”

“What I mean?! Wide Load, you worse than them ignorant-ass rappers grabbing hard on them dicks, selling that poison, and calling everybody ‘niggas.’ You don’t eat no watermelon in front of no white folks,” he told me. “I know them folks in Jackson taught you better. Don’t look at me like that, boy. I don’t care if she is just a little white gal. Like I told y’all during the season. Practice makes perfect. You play the game the way you live your life.”

“White folks don’t like watermelon, Coach?”

“Naw, Wide Load. That ain’t it. It’s just some things you just don’t do. I swear before God that I don’t know what’s wrong with y’all little young boys in this generation. Black men like me fought so–“

“Oh Jesus,” I said.

“Now you blaspheming his name? We did our best so y’all could have equal opportunities and some of whatever the white man got. We got a Black president in that White House fighting to stay alive and here y’all go trying hard to act like niggas in front of the white man’s woman.” He stopped and looked at me like he’d just asked me a question. “What if Obama acted like that? You don’t see how they love seeing us do things like fighting and acting a fool on TV and dancing and eating on watermelons?”

“That’s stuff I like to do anyway, Coach,” I told him. “Plus, I like to do other stuff, too.”

“Shhh. Wide Load. Shut the hell up. I’m asking vou how you think that make us feel?”

Coach was waiting for an answer, but you know what’s crazy? I’d never thought of Coach Stroud as being any part of the “us” he was talking about. The only time people talked about Coach Stroud was when they talked about Melahatchie’s biddy ball team. And the only time folks really talked about Melahatchie’s biddy ball team was when they were saying we might not need to be coached by someone who liked to bust booties.

“You ain’t answer me, boy.”

I opened my mouth, but he interrupted me. “It’s like this, Wide Load. I’mo say it to you one more time. White man see you acting a nigga, he liable to think we all still niggas. Niggas are less than white folks in they eyes. Look what they did to that young brother, Trayvon. If they think you less than human, you don’t deserve no respect. Period. You are a smart young man. I know you understand.”

“You done?”

“See, that’s your problem, Wide Load. You play too much. White man see your big ass acting a fool on TV, and he gon’ have a reason to take away the rights we done worked so hard for. Y’all gotta learn how to manage that freedom we got for y’all. You see what I’m saying. Ain’t enough to be free. What you gon’ do with the freedom?”

Coach was pissing me off even more than Principal Reeves when she gave that wack freedom speech. “Coach, you know something?” I was about to call him a half ape, half f-word in too-tight coach pants.

Instead, I said, “You probably should just give me the watermelon before I say something to hurt your feelings,” and went back around to the side of the truck.

He leaned close to me. “You act like a li’l head-buster, but don’t never forget, City, that you got a head, too.” Coach leaned back, blinked a few times, and swallowed some spit. “Here you go, boy. That’ll be six dollars.”

He really had a look in his eyes that told me he wanted to elbow me in the jaw. I thought about how since my friend Kincaid was known as the best young fighter in Melahatchie, there really was no telling how effective Coach Stroud was with his hands, but still I wanted him to know something.

“Coach Stroud.” | looked down at MyMy and thought about not saying this in front of her. “You pissed me off in the back of your truck a few minutes ago, but I guess I really don’t think you be busting Kincaid’s booty. I don’t. I just think he’s too young to have a grown boyfriend or girlfriend. And I thought about calling you an ‘f-word’ back there, too, but then I remembered how you were damn near a ninja,” | told him. “I also kinda remembered that ‘f-word’ sounds like some kind of balled-up monster made of ground-up dookie chunks, razor blades, and rotten muscadines. You ain’t no mon-ster, Coach. Not to me.”

I looked at Coach and I grabbed MyMy’s hand and got a little distance from the truck. “I hear what you saying back there, but can I give you some advice? Fuck white folks,” I told him. “For real! Their eyes ain’t gotta be everywhere you are. Y’all are too old to care about them so much. They can only do as much harm as you let them, and all y’all oldheads are letting them do way too much.”

Saying that made me feel like Satan in a way because I knew that Coach Stroud couldn’t go up in anyone’s house in Melahatchie, including Grandma’s, and tell on me. Everybody in Melahatchie would allow Stroud to walk on their porch. And they’d sit down with him and they’d laugh loud and talk louder about the weather, the Saints, white folks, or some trifling heathen who wasn’t there to defend himself. But I didn’t know of one grown person in Melahatchie who would let him all the way in their house. Not one.

Coach Stroud drove his truck on down the road and MyMy and I were on our way out of the woods when that green truck that was parked in the trailer park drove slowly toward us.

It stopped in front of us. Four men were squeezed into the cab. They were blasting that old Ricky Rozay song, “I’m Not a Star.” One of the dudes had crossed eyes, dimples, red hair, and a potbelly that looked far too old for his face. Something about the mix of the eyes, the dimples, and the potbelly looked so sad to me. I had a baby watermelon in one hand, my brush under my arm, and Long Division in the other hand.

“You the boy who was on TV yesterday?” Sooo Sad asked. “The one with that brush who done all that talking?”

“Yeah, that’s me,” I told him. “My name is City.”

“City?” He looked down at me. “What’s a boy named City doing out here in the country? You got family in New Orleans, don’t you?”

“I don’t believe so. I’m just visiting my grandma,” I told him. “City is just a nickname.”

“I see,” he said. “Let me ask you this. You fast as you is smart?”

“For my size, I’m alright.”

“You faster than this man right here?” he asked and pointed to the only boy in the truck, who wore a V-neck shirt with the arms cut off.

“That’s a boy,” I told them. “He ain’t no man.”

“City love to sass, don’t he,” Sooo Sad said to the other men in the truck. “You had plenty of sass yesterday on that TV, didn’t you?”

Sooo Sad whispered something to the round-faced white boy. The kid jumped out the back and stood next to me. The truck was right in front of us.

“Now, we gonna say ‘go,'” Sooo Sad said, “and I want y’all to run after the truck ’til we say ‘stop.””

“Naw, I’m good,” I told the man. “I’m tired of running. I don’t even know y’all like that.” I put the watermelon down and started brushing my waves. “Plus, my wind ain’t that good ’cause I just raced.”

“That’s alright, Chucker. We ain’t going that far.”

“My name is City,” I told him and kept brushing my hair. “You know what? I don’t like the feeling of this situation, so we’re finna go on about our business.”

“Mind if I look at your brush, Situation?”


“Never seen one up close,” he said. “Just wanna look at it.”

“Naw,” I told him. “I’m good.”

“You don’t wanna race. You don’t wanna share your brush. What you wanna do, Situation? Use some sentences. How you practice for something like that?”

“My name is City,” I told him again. “Not no Situation.”

All the men in the truck were laughing so hard at this point. One of them said, “Situation, you wanna use ‘brush’ in a sentence?”

“I can do that,” I told him and started walking toward them. “The next funky-ass white boy to ask me for my brush is going to get knocked out, Deebo-style, and if his friends jump in and try to help, they might get a few licks off, but I’m gonna get my revenge with my Jackson army one way or an-other. Let’s go, MyMy.” I grabbed her hand.

“Here,” the man said, and threw a comb on the ground. “You are so talented, Situation. I’ll let you see mine if you let me see yours.”

The comb wasn’t like the heavy plastic black combs Mama and them used sometimes. It had smaller edges and a thin handle. I reached down to pick it up and hand it to him, when out of nowhere, I felt a heavy foot in the center of my back. My solar plexus smashed into the ground and my lips kissed the asphalt right as my brush popped out of my hand. Then I felt another kick in my ass.

I looked up. One of the men picked up my brush and threw it to Sooo Sad, and they all jumped in the truck. I spit the little rocks, dirt, and blood from my lips and looked at the eyes of the other men in the car. “Use that in a sentence, you nigger son of a b—-,” Sooo Sad yelled. Red dirt started pouring out of the back of that truck and they slowly rolled away. I sat there on the ground, swallowing the taste of rocks. It felt like someone was tickling the back of my tongue with one of those square batteries.

I went in my pockets, grabbed those right-heavy rocks, and tried to break out their back windows. MyMy ran with me. She was beside me throwing rocks. Sooo Sad’s voice was still back there laughing, pointing, teasing, watching me. The young boy that he had called a man was recording it all, too, on a cell phone. “Hey girl, hey,” Sooo Sad yelled as the boy recorded it all. “You best don’t grow to be no nigger-lover. Leave all that alone.”

I turned around in the middle of the road, wiped the dirt off my face, and walked back into the woods. “Move, MyMy,” I told her, and spit a bloody piece of the inside of my bottom lip on some sticker bushes.

My mother had beaten me probably over a hundred times in Jackson, but no man and no white person had ever put their hands on me. Ever. I had lost some battles at school with LaVander Peeler and felt like I had lost on that stage yesterday, but in those situations, I always thought I could fight back. Even if I lost, I knew that the other person or other people fighting me knew that they had been in a fight.

This was completely different.

All I could do after getting my chest smashed into the ground and being called a “nigger” by those white men was hope it all stopped hurting. That was it.

MyMy started trying to wipe the dirt off my face. “Don’t get dirt all on your clothes,” I told her and wiped my face again with my own shirt.

“They called me ‘nigga’ too, City.”

“MyMy, you ain’t no nigga,” I told her. “And don’t say it again.”

“How come?”

“Because it hurts when you say that word.” | turned back toward the road behind us. “And I know it don’t really hurt you when you hear the word.”

“It does hurt me,” she said and kept trying to look me in the face. “I didn’t like it when they said it.”

“It didn’t really hurt you, though. It’s like the word ‘b-. My principal said boys shouldn’t ever say that word because we never have to deal with being treated like a b—-. She’s right, too. Or…

“But you just said it.” MyMy interrupted my thought. “You said ‘b—-.'

“I was making a point,” I told her. “Don’t say that word, either. You too young to say words like that.”

“City.” MyMy tugged on my shirt. “What does that word really mean?”

“Which word?”


“Damn, girl. Didn’t I just tell you not to say that word? Look. I know that I’m a nigga. I mean… I know I’m Black”–I thought for a few seconds of what Mama told me the word meant when I was in Jackson–“but ‘nigga’ means below human to some folks and it means superhuman to some other folks. Do you even know what I’m saying? And sometimes it means both to the same person at different times. And, I don’t know. I think ‘nigga’ can be like the word ‘bad.’ You know how bad mean a lot of things? And sometimes, ‘bad’ means ‘super good.’ Well, sometimes being called a ‘nigga’ by another person who gets treated like a ‘nigga’ is one of the top seven or eight feelings in the world. And other times, it’s in the top two or three worst feelings. Or, maybe… shoot. I don’t know. I couldn’t even use the word in a sentence, MyMy. Ask someone else. Shoot. I don’t even know.”

“City,” MyMy interrupted me. She kept moving side to side, tearing leaves off little lilac clovers. “I think we can kill them. They made you sound crazy on TV.”

“Naw, girl. We could try to kill a few, but they had rifles in the back of their truck and they were taller than us and they could kill us a lot quicker than we could kill them. Plus, if I kill a white person, they would throw everyone in my family under the jail,” I told her. “Me and you can do bad things, hood-rat things, but we can’t ever kill white folks. How do you not know that?”

We started walking out of the woods when MyMy stopped and looked at me with those crazy eyes. “City, I have a brown thing on my hand. See?” MyMy held out her left hand and showed me a little brown dot in the middle of her palm. Looked like a big freckle. “I wish this thing was white and the rest of me was the color of my birthmark.”

“Don’t be dumb. Just be happy that you are whatever you are,” I told her. “At least the way you are, ain’t nobody kicking you in the back and making you use ‘niggardly’ in a sentence. It’s not that you’re dumb, MyMy, but you’re kinda dumb compared to me. You feel me?”

“City?” MyMy said.

“What?” I could tell she was flipping subjects again.

“I don’t know what n-i-g-g-a is.” MyMy was talking her ass off now. “And you do not know what n-i-g-g-a is, but we can say I’m not n-i-g-g-a and you’re not n-i-g-g-a and Baize is not n-i-g-g-a.”

“MyMy, we can say that if you really want us to, but I’m pretty sure I’m a nigga for life,” I told her. “And you might wanna stop talking about Baize since you didn’t even know her. Because I’m almost positive Baize would tell you that she was a nigga for life, too.” We started walking again. “I swear that white folks need to just shut the hell up sometimes. Y’all make it hard for everybody.”

We started walking out of the woods for the third time. “MyMy, watch out for them sticker bushes,” said.

I had Long Division in my lap when Grandma came out on the porch and asked me what was wrong. I told her that I was sad because I didn’t want to get baptized and I wished she had internet so I could see what people were saying about me.

“What happened to your lip, baby?” she asked me.

“I just fell in the woods. Why?”

Grandma went in the house and came back out on the porch with some peroxide and a washcloth. “Don’t ask me why,” she said. “Tell me what happened to your lip, City.”

“Grandma, do white folks like watermelon?”

“I reckon they do.”

“More than Black folks?”

“I don’t reckon they do.” She started laughing.

“Well, Coach Stroud didn’t want me to buy a watermelon in front of white folks. That’s what he said.”

“Baby. Coach Stroud was just trving to protect vou.”

“From what, Grandma?”

“From life, City,” she said. “Stroud ain’t all the way right, but he just wants you to survive. Keep your guard up, because you don’t never know.”

“Never know what, Grandma?” I was getting anxious and a little mad at the goofy answers Grandma was giving. “How far they go to get you? That’s what you said when I got off the bus. But what if I do know how far they’ll go? I know. I do!”

Grandma didn’t say a word.

“Well,” I said, “if someone was tired of hearing about white folks, do you think they should say, ‘Forget white folks,’ or ‘Forget what white folks think’?”

Grandma looked at me harder. “I think the fool probably ought to ask himself why and what it is they want to forget. I ain’t forgetting nothing they did to us. Nothing! I spent my whole life forgetting. Shit.” Grandma started rubbing her wrist really hard. “City, what ain’t you telling me?”

“I’m telling you everything,” I told her, when her phone rang. I could tell it was Uncle Relle by the way Grandma’s face dropped and her eyes starting twitching. Grandma handed me the phone and walked out to give me privacy. She was really good about doing that.

“You did it, li’l nigga,” Uncle Relle said over the phone.

“Did what?”

“You made that move.”

“What move?”

“You got folks playing what you did on the internet everywhere. Now you ’bout to make that TV money. They ain’t tell you?”

“Tell me what?”

“Listen,” he said, sounding way too giddy, like Funkmaster Flex. “Don’t tell Mama I told you this, but they want you to be on a reality show.”


You, nigga! Your mother don’t want you to do it but we got to find a way to make it work.”

“Me?” I asked him. “Why?”

“Because of what you did,” he said. “You got over two million hits on YouTube, damn near a million views on WorldStar, and it ain’t even been twenty-four hours since it happened. They know that they can make some money off you. I’ma tell you all about it tomorrow. BET and VH1 trying to do a Black Reality Stars of YouTube.”

“Stop lying.”

“I ain’t bullshitting you, baby boy,” he said, sounding completely sincere. “They want you, and that corny tall one who won.”

“LaVander Peeler?”


“But he didn’t win.”

“Don’t hate,” he said. “Look, I’ma be there tomorrow morning. I gotta record you going through your day. Shit might be worth something someday.”

“But you don’t have a camera.”

“City, I got about six phones with cameras. Don’t worry ’bout me. Just do you. And don’t say nothing to Mama.”

“Uncle Relle?”


I didn’t want to say what I felt but I needed to tell someone. “I don’t believe you,” I told him. “Bad things are happening to me too fast. You know what I mean? Everything is happening too fast. White folks so mad, but I don’t know why. I’m reading this book called Long Division and there’s a character in it from the ’80s named City. It’s hard…”

“It is what it is,” he interrupted me. “Fuck a book. Ain’t nan nigga reading no books in 2013 unless you already a star or talking about some damn vampires and wolfmen. Like Jigga said, every day a star is born. He ain’t say a writer. A star, nigga! Today, that star is my nephew.”

“Bye, Uncle Relle,” I said, not really understanding how much of what he said was truth but knowing Jigga didn’t really have anything to do with it. I went out on the porch and looked across Old Morton Road at the Magic Woods. They didn’t seem nearly as magical as the woods I’d been reading about in Long Division.


(BOOK ONE, pages 80 – 90)

Grandma’s screen screeched open around 8 p.m. Boom Boom Boom. Grandma looked at me and grinned. I grinned back so she wouldn’t feel as stupid as she looked. Boom Boom Boom. After knock number three or six, depending on how you count, Grandma’s door opened and, in slow motion, in walked our boy, Ufa D, in a head-to-toe camouflage outfit with two DVD collections under his arms.

Ufa sat his big self on the couch next to Grandma. They half-smiled, touched feet, and tossed goofiness at each other like grown folk did on good cable after they got done doing it.

Ufa looked over at me on the floor and just started laughing his ass off. I would’ve been more pissed but Ufa had a burning sweet tobacco smell about him. The smell had its root in his mouth, but somehow it spread all over his body.

Ufa alwas brought one episode of The Dukes of Hazzard and one episode of Dallas over to Grandma’s on Friday nights. Ufa and Grandma realized a year ago that you could buy the box sets of old shows at Walmart. Ever since then, Friday was Dallas and The Dukes of Hazzard night just like I guess it was for them way back in the 1980s. After bringing in the box sets, they would go back out to his truck and get the fried fish or chicken platters and cold drank that he left there.

When folks came to Grandma’s house, they parked in this little rocky sand patch to the right of the porch. But Ufa D went way past the patch and parked on the grass next to the work shed, damn near the back of Grandma’s house, under a magnolia. We walked back and looked in his orangey-red pickup. On top of lots of dry pine needles and lots of long stalks of sugar cane were three big burlap sacks filled with orange drank, donuts, fried chicken parts, and potato logs from Jr. Food Mart. Even though my chest still hurt from what happened earlier with Sooo Sad, and even though my insides felt super sour, I couldn’t wait to eat as much greasy food as soon as possible. For a second, I thought about this skinny speaker they brought to Hamer to talk mainly to the girls in my grade. This skinny dude kept talking about how Black girls loved to eat their feelings when things were sad for them. I acted like I wasn’t paying attention, but I really wanted to ask that skinny dude so many questions. Anyway, I wondered if I was trying to eat my feelings after what had happened to me over the past two days.

By the time we got in the house, I didn’t wonder about anything except how much greasy food I could force down my mouth in the shortest amount of time. If I was eating my feelings, it felt so good while it was happening. I was hours into a chicken-fat-and-orange-drank-induced sleep when Grandma tapped me on the booty.

“Get up, baby,” she said. “Time to go to bed.”

I waddled back into Grandma’s bedroom and lumped myself into her bed. I still had chicken crumbs and cold drank stains all over my shirt.

A little while later, Grandma came into our room. She took off her clothes and put on her gown, but kept on her wig. As long as I knew Grandma, before she went to bed, she’d turn on that damn Mahalia Jackson song, “How I Got Over.” Then she’d start humming and writing in a tablet. Usually, I’d be in the bed reading some book or something and Grandma would be on the floor humming.

“I’ll be right back,” she said.

I was in that bed for about four minutes thinking about all kinds of stuff, and then I heard the screen door open.

I kept listening for the door to close. I didn’t hear anything else except the chunky buzz of bullfrogs. I tiptoed over to the door of our bedroom, put my greasy hands on the edge of the door, and peeked around the corner.

Layers of Grandma’s booty were spilling over the fingers of Ufa’s paws. And Grandma had her arm wrapped around him, too. Their arms made a long, off-center “X” on the side of their bodies.

All I could think about was Grandma’s hand behind Ufa’s back, probably cupping his tobacco-smelling booty, too. It’s one thing to think of your Grandma’s booty being cupped, but when you think of her cupping someone else’s booty it makes your insides rot and tangle, especially if that someone is probably married and named Ufa D. It makes you think that the person who fed you and talked to you and listened to you and laughed with you and bathed you when you were young was really some super freak you didn’t even know.

Ufa’s head was to the side and he and Grandma were standing in the doorway, kissing and hunching like some young white fools on Ufa had his hat off so I could see his face and raggedy eyebrows pretty good. As soon as I saw the white of his eyes, I ran my ass back to the bed, covered my head with our sheets, and faced the fan in Grandma’s window.

The screen door closed and Grandma stomped back into the bedroom.

“City, you meddling in grown-folk business again, ain’t you?” I didn’t say a damn word. I figured my best bet was to fake sleep until Grandma tapped me on the booty. I didn’t move an inch. Didn’t shake. Didn’t even smile like I usually did when I fake slept. Even with my greasy head under the covers, I felt the heat of Grandma coming near me. I thought she was going to try to kiss me, so I made sure my face was tucked tight. But even under the covers, I could still smell Ufa on her.

I needed to throw up.

“Know that I love you, baby,” Grandma said, rubbing my back with her fingertips. “You gotta wake up early to go to the library with Relle. G’night.”

When Uncle Relle and I walked into the library Saturday morning, I was surprised at the shampooed-carpet-and-corn-bread smell of the place, especially since the floor was linoleum. Looking at all the slightly wack books in the library made me grab Long Division tighter. hadn’t been in a real library for so long and this one didn’t really feel real either. It was more like a mobile home with a lot of bookshelves in it. Every bookshelf in the library was its own section. You had your colorful kids’ books section, your Bible section, your John Grisham and William Faulkner sections, and then you had a Classic section filled with books that were thick, dark, and spinach-green and had that rich, gluey smell.

I was too old for the kids’ books and to tell you the truth, all the Bible stuff I’d heard didn’t seem interesting for too long. For less than two pages, you’d get something interesting about naked Adam and Eve eating on apple cores and grabbing snakes by the throat, and then three hundred pages later, you’d get some boring stuff about jokers named Isaac and Ham. But the Bible was better than those other spinach-colored Classic books that spent most of their time flossing with long sentences about pastures and fake sunsets and white dudes named Spencer. I didn’t hate on spinach, fake sunsets, or white dudes named Spencer, but you could just tell that whoever wrote the sentences in those books never imagined they’d be read by Grandma, Uncle Relle, LaVander Peeler, my cousins, or anyone I’d ever met.

If you didn’t want to read books at the Melahatchie Library, you could read magazines or get in line for one of their two computers. The only problem was that the computers were usually used by dusty oldheads sneaking looks at big-booty porn sites.

I sat down at one of the computers and saw that someone had been googling “long division.”

“Can you come here?” I asked Uncle Relle.

There was nothing about the book I’d been reading for the past two days, so I typed a sentence from Long Division and googled it: I still have no proof that I ever made Shalaya Crump feel anything other than guilty for leaving me with Baize Shephard.

There was still nothing on the screen that had to do with the book.

“What you doing copying sentences out of that book?” Uncle Relle said. “Thought you wanted to find out about yourself. You messing around?”

“You think it’s possible to have a book and not have it appear anywhere on the internet?” I asked

Uncle Relle.

“Who wrote the book?”

“I don’t know.”

“What vou mean you ‘don’t know’? Who wrote the shit? Look up his last name.”

“For real,” I told him. “I don’t know who wrote it. It could have been a boy or a girl. It’s a lot of dot-dot-dots in that book, too.”

“Well.” He sat next to me and poked me in the chest with his nubs. “If it ain’t no author, it ain’t no gotdamn book, is it? Unless it’s one of them pamphlets that niggas be calling a book. That shit be embarrassing to me. And even some of them pamphlets be on the internet, City. Now, can you please look up that other shit so we can go? I got a meeting in twenty minutes.”

I knew Uncle Relle didn’t have a meeting, but I went to YouTube and typed, “City, Can You Use That Word in a Sentence” anyway. The YouTube clip of my speech already had four million hits. It was called “The Wave Brush Rant.” It had been linked by over 80,000 people on Facebook. Another clip, the one of me trying to understand the word “niggardly,” had two million hits and was called “City Spells Nig-gardly.” The clip of me telling that white boy on the bus that I hated him only had 24,000 hits. On the right side you could see LaVander Peeler’s link, too. His only had 300,000 hits and it was called “Chit-terlings Are Chitlins.” Right below that was a still picture of me from a distance, throwing rocks toward Sooo Sad’s truck, called “City, the Nigger, Running.”

Everything that had happened to me the past three days, except the whupping from Grandma and catching her making out, had made it on to the internet.

“City Be Busting Heads” had over 200,000 views and “City, the Big Little Nigger” had 90,000 in less than a day.

Uncle Relle showed me how someone had added the T-Pain voice coder to my voice when I was talking to the Mexicans from Arizona. Folks were selling T-shirts online with a picture of me brushing my waves with the word “niggardly” with a question mark underneath in deep black.

I turned the volume down on the computer so only I could hear the sound and I pushed play on the video from the contest. I’d made YouTube videos before but they always had other people in them and really none of the videos I’d made were just about me. But this was so different. For example, when I was going off on that stage at the contest, on the computer, I looked like I wanted to kill that Mexican girl from Arizona when really I didn’t even know her. I was just desperate to find something to make them feel pain and be sad and embarrassed like I’d been embarrassed on national TV. But when I saw the video, there were so many white kids around that I could have said mean things about and I didn’t say hardly anything directly to them. Also, I never thought I was super cute but I didn’t realize how much my thighs rubbed together and how the back of my head was bigger than every other head in all the videos. Even though I felt all of that strange stuff, I can’t even lie: the thing I still felt the most was famous.

The first comment under the contest clip was “dis my nigga right here. crackers mad city stay keeping it real. flav ain’t got nothing on city. fuck white folks just like he said.” It was posted by someone called “LockNess.”

Beneath that, someone called “CawCuss” commented, “Note to Niggers: Niggardly is a word that has nothing to do with Niggers. Learn to read before complaining Niggers.”

Uncle Relle said we had to go but after reading CawCuss’s comment, I really had to look up “niggardly” and see what it actually meant.

“Uncle Relle, did you see a tape of the contest?” I asked him.

“Yeah, I watched your part ’bout a hundred times.” He put his hand on my head and started laugh-ing. “Why?”

“I’m saying, do you think ‘niggardly’ is, you know, about us?”

“City, you can’t ever put anything past the white man. They knew that word had ‘nigga’ in it. That’s all I’m–“

“But, you know, do you think maybe it just like, happen to have ‘nigga’ in it and anyone would have gotten that word?”

Uncle Relle actually paused and took his hand off my shoulder. He bent down and started twirling the threads that were coming out of his hem with his nubs, then looked back at me. “Look,” he said, “they knew what they was doing. You shouldn’t have had nothing to do with that word if you were on TV. That’s all I know. Look how they did your friend. Let’s get out of here.”

“Naw,” I told him. “Hold on.”

Uncle Relle watched me open Microsoft Word on the computer and type “niggardly” in a new document. I highlighted it and dragged the mouse to Tools where the thesaurus was. Before clicking on Thesaurus, I just held my finger there and imagined what I’d see.

“If you gon’ click it, click it,” Uncle Relle said. “What you wasting drama for? You supposed to save all this drama for the show.”

I looked right at Uncle Relle and begged him to shut the fuck up without even moving my lips.

“Ungenerous (adv.)” is what popped up under “Meanings.” Under “Synonyms” were the words “stingy” and “meager” and “miserable” and “miserly” and “measly.” Under “Antonyms” was the word “generous.”

The actual definitions confused me even more.

“Come on, City,” Uncle Relle told me. “We gotta get it moving.”

Uncle Relle was pissing me off. I looked at him in a way I’d never looked before. And he did something I’d only seen him do with Grandma. He looked down at his fingers, picked up a folded newspaper that was right between the computers, and said, “Okay, favorite nephew. Just hurry up.”

In a huge color photo on the cover of the paper was a picture of Baize Shephard. The photo must have been one of those yearbook pictures, because Baize had a look on her face I’d never imagined her having in real life. The left side of her mouth was smiling and the right side had a little bit of her tongue sticking out. I figured the photographer probably told her not to make faces and she did the goofiest face she could get away with. Plus, she had this thick fake rope chain around her neck that she always dared anyone to snatch.

The headline said, “Investigators Have New Lead in Disappearance of Honor Student Baize Shephard.”

I typed “niggardly” in the Google finder and clicked on the mouse.

Uncle Relle didn’t say a word to me the first five minutes of the ride home.

“Look, City,” he said as he pulled in the driveway of Alcee Mayes, his weed man, “just ’cause you the face of..

“The face of what?” I asked him.

Uncle Relle looked down. “Sometimes the glass is way more than empty,” he said. “That’s all I’m saying. Sometimes the glass is way fuller than a motherfucker, even if you can’t see it. You better drink.”

Uncle Relle ran into Alcee Mayes’s trailer and left me in his van. I knew he was thinking I should be happy that millions of people around the world were looking at me and typing my name on the inter-net, but seeing my picture pop up when I googled “niggardly” broke my heart. I just couldn’t figure out how I had become the face of “niggardly” in fewer than three days. If I could have stayed at the library longer, I would have responded to every messed-up comment on YouTube and I would have typed my own response to the fake @MyNamelsCity Twitter feed someone made up.

Instead, I stayed in Uncle Relle’s van and continued reading Long Division, a book that, according to the internet at the Melahatchie local library, didn’t exist at all.

A few minutes after we walked into the house, Grandma pulled the screen door open and whispered something in Uncle Relle’s ear. Next thing I knew, I was in the bedroom and was told not to come out until she or Uncle Relle came to get me.

I pulled out Long Division and wrote in the first blank page I could find:

It was like she wasn’t even Grandma anymore. I never heard my grandma say “ma’am” to someone who was younger than her. And I heard that my grandma brought the Jheri not “Gary” curl to Melahatchie from Milwaukee back in the early ’80s. Now here she was acting like she couldn’t even pronounce “Jheri” right.

Under the revving of box fans and the hum of crickets, I heard about twenty minutes of loud cuss words coming from mashed-up voices. Slowly though, the yelling and cussing slid from the trailer park to the back of Grandma’s house, where the railroad tracks were. And after a while, there were no voices at all.

When Grandma finally came into the house two hours later, she made me sit on the toilet in the bathroom while she took a bath. The suds in the tub were brownish and pink from the dirt and blood on Grandma’s hands. I tried to only look at this little pinkish-brown moat of suds near the back of the tub the whole time she bathed, but I kept catching her long nipples out of the corner of my eye.

We didn’t say one word to each other until I asked her, “What happened today, Grandma?”

“Nothing, City. That man, he gone far away from here.”

“What man? Gone where?”

“Ain’t nothing in that work shed for you, you hear me?”

“Did somebody mess with you? ‘Cause I never seen you just…”

“That man is gone home, I reckon,” Grandma interrupted. “You got to be a special kind of evil to spend your whole life getting more than you deserve, then turn right around and hate on folks for getting half of what you was born into. Just evil.”

“Who is a special kind of evil?” I asked her.

“Listen.” She reached out of the bathtub and her hands touched my knee. “That man, that truck, this day, ain’t none of it even real as you think. Treat it like it never happened, you hear me? You are a smart child, an educated young man. You try to act grown in front of them cameras? Well, grown Black folks forget what they need to forget. That’s what grown Black folks do. Can you do that for Grandma?”

“Yeah, I can do that, Grandma, but you might want to ease up talking to me like this is fifth-grade special ed.”

Grandma’s eyes got to twitching. I looked at the ground, trying my hardest not to get whupped again. “Can you do what I asked you, City?”

“Yeah, Grandma.” | had no choice. “I can do what you asked me.”

“Okay,” Grandma said, and got out of the bathtub. She dried off while I looked at the floor. While she was looking at herself in the mirror, she said, “They always expecting us to forget. I’m tired of forgetting. You and that baby didn’t do nothing to nobody.”

I couldn’t completely understand how Grandma could go from telling me that grown folks forget what they need to saying she was tired of forgetting. I knew not to ask any more questions, but, in a way, it was all starting to make a little more sense.


(BOOK ONE, pages 91 – 102)

After all that weirdness with Grandma earlier, I just wanted to run down Old Morton Road and never stop until I was back in our garage in Jackson. Since I didn’t have either the wind or the guts to do that, I called my friend Shay and asked her to come over.

Shay was the junior queen of Melahatchie and raiser of way more hell than a little bit. She walked in Grandma’s yard wearing a pea-green muscle shirt and some Memphis Grizzlies shorts. Usually her Afro puffs were the same size, but today the left one was way bigger than the right.

“I don’t know what you was thinking,” she said, with a voice that came directly from her nose. “Nasal” actually isn’t the word for Shay’s voice. Shay’s nose was damn near wider than her lips, and it stayed clogged up so she only breathed through her mouth. Shay spoke fast, too, but it wasn’t like she said certain words fast. It was more that she moved from word to word fast. “I knew you was crazy,” she said, “but I ain’t know you was that crazy.”

“What you mean?”

“Wow!” she said. “On national TV, too? In front of all them dubs?” Shay called white folks “dubs.” which was short for “W’s.”

“Listen,” I tried to change subjects. “Have you ever heard of this book called Long Division? It’s about Melahatchie.”

“Quit changing subjects, boy,” she said. “If there was a book about Melahatchie, don’t you think I would have heard of it? Is it a book for dubs or a book for us?”

“Us, mostly,” I told her. “But it’s complicated. It’s a book for us and a few dubs, I guess. There’s this one boy and he’s in love with this girl named Shalaya Crump, and they travel through time and find this girl who lives in Melahatchie. The girl’s name is Baize.” Shay looked up at me. “Baize Shephard. You heard of it?”

Shay rolled her eyes at me and told me to shut my lying ass up without even opening her mouth. Every time I saw Shay, it was like seeing someone you haven’t seen in forever, and it was like seeing a star of a good show and it was like seeing someone you wanted to see every day. Shay never acted too excited to see me ever since I told her this secret when we were playing The Secret Game. The first time I had a wet dream, she was there–in the dream, I mean–and I told her that, and I also told her what we were doing with our hands and mouths.

We jumped the creek and went into this little path leading into the Magic Woods. After stomping through the woods and trying to dodge sticker bushes, we ended up in this dusty opening between pine trees and tree stumps. We were about fifty feet from the Melahatchie Community Center.

Shay walked deeper in the woods. “Keep talking,” she said. “I’m listening.” She wasn’t really listen-ing. I heard all kinds of sticks and leaves breaking before she came out with this huge stick. Right in the same spot where Shay found hers, I found the perfect stick. Not really perfect, but perfect if I was gonna be fighting her with the stick she had.

I was always scared to hit Shay’s stick hard unless she hit my hand or my stomach with her stick. Sometimes you could hold your stick out and the person you were playing against would swing wildly at yours and theirs would get stuck in the dusty-ass ground, or the soft mud if it had been raining. It would be stuck just long enough so you had the perfect angle to smash that joker. If you did that technique to Shay, she got so mad that she’d quit or catch fade with her praying-mantis technique.

“I didn’t know what else to do,” I told her.


“At that contest.” I told her. “I swear I wanted to win it for all these people. Like vou and Kincaid and fat boys with waves like me, too.” She started laughing. “You laughing, but I’m serious. I wanted to win it for all of us.”

“You messed up before beginning, then,” she said. “You should’ve been trying to win it for you. We wanted you to win, but if you ain’t win, we would’ve been happy just ’cause you were in it. You didn’t have to shout out Melahatchie like that either. You made us look like scrubs.” She paused and looked like she was thinking of what to say. “I just feel as though you should’ve just sat down when you got it wrong. But whatever. That’s you. Come on and play, City,” she said. Shay hated if you held your stick away from hers. “Play, boy!”

“I am a playboy, ain’t I?”

“More like a gay boy,” she said and started laughing.

“Why you call me a gay boy? I ain’t gay.”

I swung my stick and tagged the mess out of hers, but it didn’t break.

My hand bones were vibrating. “Dang, I hit that mug hard, too.”

We were both happy as hell to see a stick that hard. It’s hard to explain. The stick was a monument in itself and we just stood there smiling in the stick’s direction for about fourteen seconds. Then, guess what I started thinking about? I started thinking about my mother. I wondered if she was in our garage missing me and if she had any clue what was happening in Melahatchie.

“Does this feel like dejà vu to you?”

Shay sucked on her teeth. “Boy,” she said, “Quit trying to switch subjects, talking about déjà vu. Naw, this don’t feel like déià vu.”

Shay started laughing and walked deeper behind some baby sticker bushes. “Come over here.”

“For what?”

Time slowed down, I swear it did. When Shay walked her Afro-puffed self over in front of me, the sun coming through the woods hit her face perfectly. She had the color and the shine of a brand-new genuine leather football. Shay rarely sweated, so the Vaseline all over her face and shoulders never dripped. It just stuck to her and made whatever was surrounding her look dull and blurry.

Shay took the pointing finger of her left hand, and joined it with her thumb, making the symbol that white folks on dumb television commercials used to say that everything is okay. Then she took her middle finger and her index finger of her right hand and pushed them in and out of the hole made by her left-hand fingers.

I wasn’t as scared as you probably think I was. I just didn’t know what to do. Shay walked over to me and grabbed my hips. “Stand right there and just put your back against the tree.”

“I can’t.” I told her. “My grandma ain’t in the mood for me to come back smelling like outside. I ain’t lying.” Shay just stood in front of me with her hands on her hips.

“Alright, City. Stop talking. Just put your arms behind your back and hold your body off from the tree. Okay?”

It was weird. My fatness wouldn’t let me hold myself up like I wanted to. Plus, my lower back and arms started aching, too. All I was thinking about was if Shay was gonna think my belly button was deformed. I had a regular innie-style belly button that she’d never seen, but from what I’d seen, all the kids in Melahatchie had walnut sized belly buttons.

Shay told me to take my pants off. I did it and let my pants hang around my ankles.

“What’s wrong?” I asked her as she was looking at my stuff.

“Nothing,” she said. “Nothing at all. Close your eyes.”

Sounded like a weird thing to say to someone, but I did it anyway.

“They closed?” she asked. “Don’t be peeking, boy. You a virgin?”

“I ain’t no virgin,” I told her with my eyes closed and my penis getting harder and harder. “I did it once with this girl named Octavia. We recorded it on her stepdaddy’s iPad. But look, I think we should probably get a condom from my uncle Relle if we really trying to get nice. You feel me? You don’t want to be pregnant in high school and I don’t even know how child support works if I have a baby mama before I’m technically even allowed to work. Maybe we should think about this.”

“I can pay my own bills,” I heard Shay say before I heard the sound of a camera phone and..


The pain in my testicles moved through my lower body and into my chest and head. I couldn’t talk. I was on my hands and knees, just fiending for air. I looked up to see what had happened. A blurry Shay had grabbed her broken-off piece of tree and recorded herself whipping me in my naked testicles.

I just crouched over the leaves, damn near choking as Shay took pictures of me. She was dying laughing, too.

I got off my knees, pulled my pants up, grabbed Shay’s shoulders, threw her to the pine-needled ground, and jumped on her. Her phone fell out of her hands. I felt crazy being on top of her like that. I mean, I thought about how no one had probably ever had the nerve or the skills to push Shay down like that.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” I asked her. “You can’t just go around whupping people in they sack whenever you get ready.” I was still all in her eyes. “You know how tender the testicles be? That stuff hurt.” | felt goofy saying “testicles” and “tender” to her.

“It’s called ‘skin-sacks,'” Shay told me. “And it’s all one word, with a hyphen.”

“Wait.” | started laughing. “What? That’s the dumbest thing I heard in a long time. ‘Skin-sacks’? Who said it’s called ‘skin-sacks,’ with a hyphen?”

“My brother, Alcee. He said it’s two sacks and it’s covered in skin, so it’s skin-sacks.”

“But the skin is the sack,” I told her. “And there ain’t two sacks. There’s two nuts in one sack.”

“My brother said it’s called ‘skin-sacks,’ so it’s called ‘skin-sacks.'

“Well, first of all,” I told her, “Alcee Mayes is my uncle Relle’s weed man and my uncle said he’s steady overcharging him for an ounce, so I don’t believe nothing Alcee Mayes say.”

When I had her down on the ground and was yelling at her, that was the first time I noticed that Shay had on that little pea-green muscle shirt, so I could see the little hairs under her arms. I had negative hair under my arms, not even minor hair bumps. I was looking in her big eyes and squeezing on her shoulders softly, and I’ll be damned if my penis didn’t start getting harder and harder. It made me too embarrassed, so I gave her one more good push in the shoulders and I got off her.

“My bad, City.”

“What?” I asked.

“My bad. I wasn’t trying to hurt you. Me and Baize made a bet about who could make a boy do that first. I won’t show the pictures to no one but her,” she said. “I promise.”

“Where you think she went? Baize, I’m talking about. The newspaper said they got a lead in the investigation.”

Shay picked up some pine needles and walked toward the road. “The paper don’t know shit!” she yelled and came back toward me.

“Maybe something else happened to her.”

“You met Baize before, City.” Shay looked me right in the face. “Whoever took Baize either hurt her or killed her before they took her. Or maybe they knew.”

“Knew what?”

“Never mind. You think that girl would let somebody just take her? We would’ve heard about it.”

“Wait,” I told her. The craziest thought in the world entered my head. “You think that white man knew whatever it is you talking about? You think he took Baize?”

“You mean the one in your grandma’s shed?” Shay asked me. “Probably. Or you know what? That girl could be around here just trying to get her mind right.”

“Ain’t no white man in my grandma shed,” I told her. “How you know about a white man in my grandma shed?”

“Wow.” she said. “You worse than Rick James. Is it a white man off in there or not? Folks say they saw Baize walk off in these woods one day a few weeks ago with a computer.”

“A computer?”

“That laptop computer she always be messing with.”

“Did anyone find the computer?”

“The white man in your shed.” Shay changed the subject. “Didn’t he kick you in your back yesterday?”

“Wait. Can we talk more about Baize?”

I was expecting a little more quality heartfelt sharing between us, but Shay walked off toward the bushes again. “Where you going?” I asked.

“Kincaid told me that your grandma’s preacher, Reverend Cherry, got a carload of pictures of skanks from Waveland doing it.”


“So, that’s where I’m going. He hid the pictures in his beat-up car, the one he always letting Deacon Big Shank drive,” Shay said.

I thought for a second about what would be the point of stealing naked pictures that belonged to my grandma’s preacher, especially with a girl who had just hit me in my skin-sacks with a stick.

Then it clicked.

If I stole the pictures and showed them to Grandma, there would be no way she’d let me get baptized by a preacher who kept that kind of nastiness in one of his cars.

“Can we take a picture of the pictures in the car with your phone?” | asked her.

“Yeah,” she said, and came back from around the bushes. “Don’t ask a whole lotta questions, though. You coming or not?”

Shay started texting someone as we walked toward Reverend Cherry’s house.

Reverend Cherry lived about three minutes from Grandma’s, on the other side of the woods. He lived right next to my friend Kincaid.

“Hey, scown,” Kincaid said to me as we walked in the yard. “What you doing?” Kincaid was fourteen, but his deep voice made him sound a good four or five years older. “Heard you went crazy yesterday.”

“I did, kinda.”

“They say it’s on WorldStar and everything. Heard you had fools calling you master, and the Shogun of Jackson.”

“Yeah, I guess,” I told him. “Sometimes you gotta let fools know, you feel me?”

Shay looked at me and shook her head. She was being strange and quiet but Kincaid was steady nodding and chewing on a toothpick. The best thing about Kincaid was that even if he heard you did something huge like embarrass yourself on national TV and the internet, he’d focus on the fighting you did instead. He loved saying the word “titties” and he loved anything that had to do with fighting. He’d been telling people he was going to be a professional UFC fighter ever since he was six. It was funny at first, but most folks in Melahatchie would be surprised if he didn’t end up fighting for money. He’d beaten almost every boy’s ass I knew in Melahatchie. Everybody he beat claimed that they lost ’cause they didn’t want to “get close to no real-life f-word.”

Kincaid’s grandma put him in a kung fu class downtown for his twelfth birthday present. Coach Stroud taught that kung fu class for a while until parents complained that he was too touchy. Soon as Coach Stroud quit, Kincaid quit, too. He said he quit because he wanted to chop people in the throat and throw ninja stars, but the new white teacher from Biloxi wanted folks to stretch their legs in yoga poses and work on soft punches to the solar plexus. Behind Kincaid’s back, everyone said he quit because his boyfriend, Coach Stroud, didn’t want him learning from a new teacher.

Before he quit, though, Coach Stroud gave Kincaid one of those white karate suits. And Kincaid wore that suit with his own black leather belt at least three times a week during the summer.

“Y’all came to get them titties, scown?” Kincaid asked, like he was ready for nakedness. “The car right over here.”

We walked about twenty yards down the road and we were right next to the car. Kincaid was looking funny, like he was laughing or something.

“What you laughing at, Kincaid?” I asked him.

“You know I always be laughing, scown,” Kincaid said. “Go ahead and get them Waveland titties.”

“Y’all ain’t coming with me?” I asked them.

“Naw, that’s your preacher’s car, scown,” Kincaid said. “Plus, ain’t no room for three people up in there.”

I went up to the car and looked around to make sure that no one was coming down the road then. “Close the door behind you, scown,” I heard Kincaid say.

Soon as I got in, I saw a picture hanging out of the glove compartment. Shay didn’t tell me that there were pictures in the glove compartment. I figured that if what was under the seat was anything like what I saw in the glove compartment, we were in for the freakiest naked pictures we’d ever seen.

Dangling there was a shiny, slick picture with a creased breast down the middle of it. I unfolded it and saw this whole dark breast that was full and hanging. The picture cut the woman off at the neck and the waist but the breast hung just right, midway down her stomach, and the dark part around the nipple-I didn’t really know what that part was called- was damn near bigger than my cheeks. It was the first time I’d seen just breasts cut off from a woman’s face and even though the breasts were nice, it was wack to just see breasts and no face. But that was the first time I realized that seeing breasts of any kind was like eating pancakes. Even the nastiest pancake in the world was always better than the best stack of toast you could imagine. Still, I hoped the woman who owned the breasts wanted her head cut off from the picture. If not, it was one of the meanest things I could imagine doing to someone.

“I see titties,” I yelled. “Waveland titties ain’t no joke.”

“Go ahead and bring them Waveland titties out then, scown,” Kincaid yelled from way across the street. “Check the glove compartment and under all the seats too. Get all the titties you can.”

I reached under the seat to see if there were any other pictures under there. There were about five issues of King magazine.

“Shay,” I yelled and peeked over the dashboard. “Bring me your phone.”

“Oh. Shay said she gon’ be right back,” Kincaid yelled from way across the street. “She gone! Go ahead and get all them titties, scown.”

“I told you I’m getting the titties, man. Damn,” I yelled back. “I don’t know why you faking like you love some titties anyway,” I said under my breath.

I was about to raise up when I heard a weird noise coming from the glove compartment. I hadn’t looked all the way in the compartment, but I hoped there would be at least ten more naked pictures up in there. I stretched out and pulled the compartment open with my right hand. All I saw was a map of Melahatchie. I pushed the map to the side to see what else was in there.

Wasps. Big wasps.

I jumped out the window of the passenger side of the car and the wasps stung me all upside the head.

Kincaid was across the street just laughing his ass off, recording it on Shay’s cell phone.

I did it for y’all, I thought as I ran home. I did it all for y’all.

DMU Timestamp: March 30, 2023 18:12