Laker Gold by Kwame Opoku-Duku

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I.

Laker gold is how Pops describes it. To Little Man, though, that motherfucker is yellow. Canary yellow and dirty. Little Man knows it’s a Westview Public Works truck, even though the WPW tag was zig-zagged over with black spray paint. The truck absorbs the spring sunlight rather than reflect it. Ain’t even a canary, Little Man thinks. It’s a motherfucking bumble bee, and all my friends are going to see me in this.

Little Man is running. The wind and Pops’ voice are all he can hear. “Faster! Faster!” He outruns the other little man and traps the ball at his feet. He cuts inside onto his weaker foot and chips the ball over the keeper’s outstretched leg. It’s Little Man’s third goal. He stretches out his arms and runs. He feels the air on his face. He feels like flexing. Pops yells at him to stop celebrating that cheap goal. 

Pops is African. Young cats from the Slater houses chase the truck and make monkey noises when they go to soccer practice. One day, at a speed bump, a group of them chasing the bumble bee hop onto the back fender, jump up and down and beat their chests like King Kong. Pops slams on the brakes and turns off the ignition, gets out and chases the little  rotten-ass kids down the street. Little Man closes his eyes and disappears, but he can still smell the truck’s interior in the heat, a mixture of oil and old pine tree car freshener . A minute later, Pops returns from the chase. He is breathing heavily but smiling. “I was this close to getting one,” he says. Pops’ thumb and forefinger are a couple of inches apart. “I could have if I really wanted to.” 

On the way home from an African party, Pops slaps Moms while she’s driving the bumble bee back to Westview from Springfield. Little Man is between them, eating Chicken McNuggets and french fries. He’s crying while he eats. Pops is all the way lit off Hennessey and Heineken. When they get home, Pops punches Moms in the side of the head, drags her around the house by her weave until it starts to rip out. Little Man thinks of this moment years later when he is being pulled off Pops, after Pops receives two stab wounds from Little Man’s Swiss Army knife: the first, a defensive wound on the upper left bicep; the second, a deeper wound on the left abdomen, almost a free shot because Pops had his arms up, protecting his heart and neck. As Little Man enters striking range, he thinks Just take what you can get. While he gets dragged away, he yells, “What now, motherfucker? Try me! Try! Me!”

Little Man has to talk to this white man named Doctor Avery on Wednesday afternoons. Little Man doesn’t tell a soul about it. Neither does Pops. Little Man tells Doctor Avery that he wouldn’t have felt bad if Pops died. He tells the doctor he’s killed animals before. He and his boys smashed turtles with large rocks during mating season. Because he is the biggest and the strongest and the fastest, it only takes him two smashes to finish one off. It takes the others six or seven. Maybe more. Doctor Avery diagnoses Little Man with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and puts him on a moderate dose of Buspirone, which is less physically addictive than Benzodiazepines. They make Little Man sleepy as fuck. He never takes them.


II.

Tito and Alice have a baby at fourteen, and Little Man is pressuring this girl to let him fuck without a condom. He says he has a plan for if they get pregnant, that’s he’s going to move in with Tito and Hakim and start trapping. The girl isn’t with it at first, but then she lets him, and he cums on the first pump. He asks her if she wants to have a cigarette, she sighs and says yes. They go out onto the fire escape, and he tells her how much better it feels without the condom. The girl nods blankly and looks up at the clouds.

Little Man is alone. His eyes close. There’s a dim blue light in the distance, and he drifts closer and closer. Finally, he’s right in front of the dim blue light. He says, “Hello.” Little Man opens his eyes. He is alone in his room, and he wants to go back. 

Little Man is not alone. He talks to this girl. He has cried in front of this girl. They lie in bed and he asks her “What if this universe is just the pore on the nose of another, more advanced form of life?” Little Man tells her that sometimes he leaves his body, but he doesn’t explain any further, and she never brings it up. He tells her she should drop out of her high school, that they could get their own place. She tells him she doesn’t think it would be a good idea, that her parents would kill her. Little Man says he is too smart for school. He introduces her to everybody as his wife.

Little Man is driving when he floats through the roof. He can see himself driving. Is this my soul? he wonders, and he side swipes a parked car. His driving instructor slams on the emergency passenger-side brake. Little Man fails the driving test, and is asked not to try again for six months. He curses out the driving instructor, slams the door and threatens to kill him, but laughs as he walks back to Oak Street.

Little Man hangs up on Moms, lets the phone fall from his fingers onto the couch. He walks outside, he’s wearing a James Worthy throwback. He fucks with the Showtime-era Lakers after watching ESPN and YouTube documentaries on them. Little Man lights a cigarette by the front door. A man crosses toward his side of the street, begins talking to him. After a few words, Little Man knocks the dude unconscious with one punch. The man lies motionless on his back, and Little Man soccer kicks the poor motherfucker in the head. A neighbor runs downstairs, yells for Little Man to stop. The neighbor asks, “What the fuck just happened?” Little Man has the shakes. “He asked me for a fucking cigarette, and I told him I didn’t have any more.” Little Man is trying to, but he cannot cry. The neighbor hides him in a closet in his apartment, and tells the police he heard three or four people yelling outside but didn’t see shit.


III.

At the funeral, Ghanaian men whom Little Man does not remember walk up to him and put a hand on his shoulder. They tell him how much he looks like Pops. “You should go back to Ghana,” they say. They ask him if he speaks Twi, and he says no. They tell him he should still go. To see who his people are. They say Ghanaian funerals are not like this. They say that if you don’t know who you are, you’ll never know what you can be. Later that night, Little Man checks the price of tickets, and they’re too expensive. He closes his eyes for several moments, but nothing happens. Little Man laughs, for reasons he does not fully understand. He has the same laugh as Pops, and he stops immediately.

Little Man finds a sepia-toned photograph of Pops as a boy. He puts it in his pocket. He calls his uncle and asks him to tell him a story about Pops. The uncle says, “Your dad used to be real slick. He used to smoke weed every day when we were young, and he would always light up when he had a new girl in his car, just to test her out. This one girl hated it, and I guess she said something to him one day, like, ‘If you don’t stop smoking weed, I’m going to leave you.’ And your dad stops the car right away, looks her in the eye and says, ‘Would right now be too soon?’” Little Man laughs and the uncle laughs, and the uncle tells him he has the same laugh as Pops, and Little Man breathes deeply, plants his forehead into his palm, and says “I know.”

Right before Little Man falls asleep, he leaves his body. He is outdoors. He hears a gunshot on Providence Street, and when he gets there, young men are running in every direction. No one appears to have been shot. He sees an old neighbor from the Slater Houses, who is now a barber at G’s Cuttin’ Up, poking his head out to see what the commotion was. The police never come. Little Man travels across town to where his mother lives. She is asleep, with soap opera reruns on in the background. He’s nowhere. There’s only darkness. He is thinking about the truck. He is thinking about the color. Little Man wakes up in the morning. The scent of oil and pine fill his lungs. 

Kwame Opoku-Duku is a poet and fiction writer. His work is featured or forthcoming in The Virginia Quarterly Review, The Kenyon Review, The Massachusetts Review, Bettering American Poetry, and elsewhere. Kwame lives in New York City, where he is a teaching artist, and along with Karisma Price, a founding member of the Unbnd Collective. His debut chapbook, The Unbnd Verses, was published in 2018 by Glass Poetry Press.

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