They call me Fairy ’Fro with the flow
You know, I’m not slow but fast as a ball swished in a basket
No caskets, no askin’ for a man to tell what happened
How I got the hairstyle putting criminals in piles
It’s my style with a pow from my fist hard as bricks
Makes me sick with all this two-sided politics
The loot and riotin’, protesters hollerin’
And their pockets thin, and the rich are thick
Being belligerent with the difference
The hugs and kisses turn to disses
My mom is the one I misses
Lost her when I was an infant
I’m sometimes distant from my culture
Surrounded by vultures, too dark for ya?
But I can spark ya as I float on a cloud
Of wool, straight from school and practice
Quick reaction from my pops
A former cop, before my mom got shot
By a glock nine and I wasn’t even nine
But minus the ages, more pages
More days move forward
I’m no chauffer or secretary
Keeping my father is as necessary, as my name
Tianna Clifford. To some I’m bigger
Than life, and mentally sharper than a knife
I won’t say it twice as some call me Tee-Tee
You can’t see me
Under my mask of smoke, kicking you know what
Let me keep my mouth shut
This intro is getting too much.
1. Mom’s Gone Absent
It’s sunny outside and close to noon, and Officer Tanya Clifford, who’s been a mother for five years now and just got back from an overseas deployment with the Army National Guard, is driving in the rough streets of Erv-Ville—a city named for a star basketball player, Erving Cole, who died overseas after being drafted. Clifford, his granddaughter, was inspired to join the service by him, and she was a star player too in her college days, though she never got to meet him. She’s a dark-skinned black woman, slender with brown eyes, and nearly six feet tall. Her short tapered hair, with a bit of length on top and a cut part on the right side, was sliced through by a clipper. She’s wearing her navy-blue police uniform and driving a squad car.
The rough part of Erv-Ville she’s driving is considered the ghetto, the slums or the hood. It’s mainly African American. She sees little boys on the sidewalk with no shirts or shoes. Small homes with front yards that have no grass, just dirt, and others with grass that hasn’t been cut in months. She sees little girls playing tag or just chasing one another. That one there puts a smile on her face.
Further on she sees a teenage boy standing on the corner by a stop sign, looking suspicious, like he’s ready to sell drugs. She sees a gang of teens wearing blue walking toward another gang in red. She pulls over to the curb and rolls down her window, and when they see her looking at them, the red gang turn back the other way, and the blues depart in the opposite direction.
Time goes on, and she’s still driving. She sees teenage boys and girls playing basketball. The court’s rim has no net, and it’s rusty. She parks nearby, pops the trunk open, and takes out a few new basketballs. As she rolls the balls toward the court, the teens stop what they’re doing and turn in her direction with excitement.
They rush toward her.
“You came back!”
“When did you get home?”
“Ready to teach us a few lessons again?”
Some of them pile into a group hug while others start bouncing the new balls around. Tanya’s still taller than all of them, though a few are getting close, but they look to her as a role model, no matter the height.
“Now who here still thinks they can beat me in a shooting game?” she asks with a grin.
“Let’s see if you still got it,” says a boy with braided hair. He bounces the ball to her. The young adults give her space to shoot from the three-point line. She shoots the ball, and it rolls through the empty rim.
“She still got it!”
“She’s the shit, my nigga!”
She frowns at the last lad, who has cornrows down to his neck, and points a finger at him. “Aye, no foul language around me. What did I tell you about that?”
“My bad, Officer Clifford,” he shrugs, holding the ball in his hands.
“Good. Now you all behave. Play sports and keep out of trouble, and don’t forget to show me you all’s report cards. I have gifts for you once they arrive.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” they answer in chorus.
She gets back into the car and drives off.
Late at night, back home in the suburbs, she lies tired on the couch as her husband Sean sets a tray of food on the table for her. Nothing but a steak and salad. He sits next to her and puts an arm around her shoulder. Sean has caramel skin, hazel eyes, and dreadlocks. He stands a few inches over six feet and is muscularly built. Right now he’s wearing just a tank-top and pajama pants—both gray, his favorite color.
“Long day, huh? How’s it feel to be back? Still willing to protect and serve?”
“You know, babe, I may have to hang up the badge soon. Same routine. I see gangs, kids running around the slums with no shoes, and teens selling crack and cocaine. I almost saw a gang fight, but they split when they saw me pull up.”
“You watch them kids playing ball again?”
“Oh yeah, those kids. Even took a shot, and it went in. They showed all the love with the hugs. I’m expecting their grades soon, to hand out more than just basketballs.”
“Maybe you should retire and become a basketball coach. You can influence the kids, teach them about staying off the streets. I mean, they use sports to stay out of trouble, but sometimes they can think that’s their only ticket to success.”
“I should.” She walks to the fireplace and looks at the fire. “Sometimes it burns when you’re trying to protect your community. You have people who are against you. It’s not easy being the person behind the badge. Especially as a woman of color.”
“Exactly. I left the police world to raise Tianna, but I realized I could help the community with my other talents. I like to coach boxing, so we’ll be opening a boxing gym soon. That will keep them off the streets too, and it could lead them to better life decisions. I’m even thinking about having a space in the gym for after-school tutoring and homework. And you can encourage them to join the military, so they can have school paid for if they don’t have the money. You joined the military yourself before playing college sports, and you used the benefits to get to where you are today. Do that. Give your influence, and tell your story.”
Five-year-old Tianna is standing by the couch in her pajamas. She has the same complexion as her mother, but her hair in curls. Tanya picks her up and gives her a kiss on the cheek.
“Tee-tee! How was your first day of kindergarten? Mommy missed you so much! Work was hard, but it made the day a lot easier just having you in my arms, little one!” she says, full of grief and happiness at seeing her only child.
“It was good, Momma. The teacher is good. And they gave apple juice and crackers to everyone who didn’t talk in class.”
“They bribed you with snacks? I might have to see about that, and Mommy will have to attend to class to see what it’s like for my Tee-Tee.”
“When are we going to play basketball together, Momma?”
“When Mommy has the time. Your momma is getting busy with work and keeping the city safe. If your dad and I don’t work, we can’t put a roof over our heads,” she says, poking her daughter’s nose.
“It’s time for bed now, Tee-Tee,” her father says. “You have school early in the morning.” Tanya hands Tee-Tee to him, and he sets her on the floor feet first.
“Now you have to walk to bed on your own. Why is that?”
“Because it teaches me to walk on my own and not always depend on other people to take me places,” she answers with a big smile.
They walk to Tee-Tee’s bedroom, and as she climbs into bed her daddy pulls the covers up to her neck and gives her a kiss on the forehead. “Daddy loves you. I’ll take you to school tomorrow, and Mommy will pick you up after work. You’ll get to ride in her police car.”
“Cool! I want to see the police car!”
“Night, Daddy! Night, Mom!”
Hours later, the Cliffords are in bed together, watching television in their pajamas and cuddling tightly. A breaking news announcement comes on, showing a cop of the opposite complexion choking a black man to death with a billy club. The man screams “I can’t breathe” many times. The video was recorded on a phone by a witness. A few cops in it tell the witnesses to stand back, their hands on the weapons tucked into their belts.
“Oh my goodness. When is enough enough!?” Sean asks. “That’s one reason I left the force. It’s like they keep killing them and finding excuses to get away with it.”
But there’s more. The news anchor continues speaking. “Mr. Brady was accused of using a fake $5 bill to buy a few bags of chips in Erv-Ville. The cops found him not too far from the store. He said he had no idea the money was fake, but they wanted to take him in for more questions, and they accused him of resisting. A witness spoke on Brady’s behalf.”
A black teenager identified as Britney speaks into the microphone. “He didn’t even resist. I saw the whole thing. He just had his hands up and asked what he did. They feared him in the streets because he’s big and black, but if he was a football player they’d be asking for his autograph!”
“Change the channel, babe,” Tanya says.
“What? Why? This is the truth.”
“I said change it!”
“What is your big deal?” he asks.
She gets up and turns off the television herself. Then she turns and looks at him. “The media that washes you up is the big deal!”
“Washes me up? I used to be a cop too!”
“And I’m trying to help better the community! You think I like to see that stuff? It makes no sense that I should have to keep watching this and hearing this, and then protests happen. I just saw two gangs of our community members about to kill each other!” She throws her hands into the air.
“That’s different. When we kill each other, we go to jail. When they kill us, we get no justice. That’s no place for someone like you. You’re living in both worlds right now,” he says, getting out of bed to stand in front of her.
“And then what? Start all over again? New job that pays less, and move to a cheaper home? We have to think about Tianna! And the dude was probably resisting. If he would’ve complied, he’d be alive today.”
“Hey, I quit that job myself. It’s not a good feeling to see my own community hating me for wearing blue. I went into that work to improve the community, but nothing changes. It’s like politicians aren’t trying, and brothers look at me as the villain.”
“And teenage boys and girls look up to me for doing what’s right for the community,” she responds, looking him straight in the face.
“Because of basketball. They want to know how you got to be so good. They don’t see a woman in uniform. They don’t see a woman who served overseas for this country. At the end of the day, we’re still black.”
She waggles a finger at him. “How dare you use that kind of statement against me. I didn’t come back here to hear that.”
She leaves the room, opens the front door, and just stands on the porch, looking at their suburban neighborhood. She holds back tears and covers her eyes.
Sean touches her on the shoulder. “I’m sorry.”
She turns around and hugs him. “I don’t know what to do, babe.”
“You can just pick up Tianna tomorrow after you’re done working.”
The next day, Tanya drives around Erv-Ville in uniform, as usual. She stops abruptly as a crowd of protesters marches into the street, blocking her and other cars. She pulls over and parks on the curb. They chant, their fists in the air.
“Let me breathe! Let me breathe! Let me breathe!”
“Killed over a five-dollar bill!”
“Hands up, guns away!”
Tanya can’t believe what she’s seeing. Hundreds of them are marching about the corner store where Brady was accused by an employee of paying with a fake bill.
Time passes, but the protestors remain. It’s a peaceful protest until a few police cars pull into the parking lot. A few officers get out of their cars with their hands on their weapons.
“All right guys, that’s enough! You’re disturbing the peace,” one says. He’s a tall, lean middle-aged Caucasian man. He’s the lead officer and shows no fear.
“What? No one is doing nothing! We have the right to protest, and you guys can’t do shit about it, dog!” says a dark-skinned teen with cornrows—the one Tanya corrected about his language.
The cop pulls out his weapon and points it at him. “Get the fuck down on your knees!”
The protestors become irate.
“Aye, man, he ain’t do shit!”
“This shit was peaceful until you guys showed up!”
“We’re recording this shit now, bro!”
Several other cops grab protesters too, male and female. A white male officer grabs a black woman by the arm and yanks her down, forcing her to sit on the ground.
“On my momma, I’m getting my family on you! On my momma!” she says. She punches her own hand a few times to release her anger.
“Shut the fuck up, I said!” responds the officer.
“She didn’t do shit, bruh! This shit going on social media, on Daddy’s grave it is!”
“Yup, y’all getting your reputations ruined!”
Tanya pulls into the parking lot and stops near the confrontation. She gets out of the car to see what’s going on. The teenagers who greeted her at the basketball court yesterday are part of the protest. They’re shocked to see her.
“It’s Officer Clifford! She’s going to save us!”
“Do something! We didn’t do anything!”
“Don’t just stand there, help us!”
She hesitates. The protestors are screaming at the other cops, and the cops still have a few restrained on the ground, telling them to be quiet as the others film them. Those on the ground are lying on their stomachs, their hands behind their heads. She has no idea what to do. The other cops look at her for backup.
“Don’t just stand there! What are you here for?” says the officer who has his weapon pointed at the teenager with cornrows.
“What did he do?” Tanya asks.
“Do your job and help us!” he responds in frustration.
“I asked you a question! What did the boy do?” She starts to shake, and she points a finger at him. “Because these protestors have every right to protest and have you on camera! If you can’t justify restraining them and pointing weapons at them, I have every right to back these protesters and file a complaint against you guys!” she continues at the top of her lungs.
The protesters go silent, watching her and the other officers with straight faces.
The lead officer puts away his weapon and nods to his crew. The others follow suit, and the protesters who were restrained get up and dust themselves off.
“Let’s go, team. Officer,” he says to Tanya, “I’ll see you at the department to discuss whether you deserve to keep this job.”
The police officers return to their cars and drive away. Tanya looks at the protesters, and they smile at her. She keeps a straight face, climbs back into her car, and drives away.
Moments later, she sits parked across from the basketball court, her eyes closed, taking deep breaths. Finally she opens her eyes and looks at the empty court.
Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!
Bullets pierce the front window and her chest. A teenager wearing all black – hoodie, basketball shorts, shoes, and a bandana covering the lower half of his face –stands in front of the car shooting at her.
“That’s what you cop killers get!” he yells, turning to run off.
Tanya takes her last breath, blood dripping from her lips and chest, and her eyes roll to the back of her head.
Tee-Tee is waiting outside her school, wearing a sky-blue shirt, gold shorts, and a gold backpack. She sees kids running to their moms’ arms and walking to cars holding their hands. Time passes, and her mom doesn’t arrive.
Her father finally pulls up in a car and parks. All the kids are gone and no one else is around. Her dad gets out the car and rushes to her with teary eyes. He drops to his knees and hugs her, holding her tight.
“Daddy, what’s wrong? Where’s Momma?”
action & adventure
African American Fiction