1{A Real Ninja}

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I would do anything for my baby sisters and brothers, including work so that they don't have to. At nineteen that means working double shifts at the local corner store owned by this middle eastern man who I can't stop calling Jafar. I know it's racist...or racialist as my Ivy League best friend keeps telling me, but the man straight up looks like Jafar from Aladdin. He's kinda creepy, too, but whatever keeps the money coming in, right?

But I'm looking to move up in the world and get away from the Stop N' Go on MLK street and Newport drive. I've been there for over a year, and I could use a change of scenery, so I've been taking the bus more and more lately and putting in applications wherever I go. No luck yet.

I tap the end of my pen against an old inked up receipt lying on the grimy faux wooden counter and think about how I'm going to bs my way through that paper that's due tomorrow for my American Lit class at the local college. It's not hard to do, analyze Edgar Allen Poe's "Ligia" and get it over with, but my previous teacher sucked at teaching us how to construct a thesis with matching points, and plus I won't be getting off for another hour, and the sun is already beginning to set.

I just don't have enough hours in the day or enough time to work and take care of everyone. It's bad enough that mama's kidneys are bad and that the doctors don't see her getting any better. To top that off, my baby sister is pregnant and not working.

"Damnit" I rub my forehead and let the sigh that I've been holding in for too long escape out of my lips like trapped gas. I'm like that dead whale in that video I've been trying to show everybody. It's dead, but that's not good enough. A quartet of men in yellow hazard suits have to come and stick it with a huge knife to let all of the toxic gas out, and along with that comes guts, blood, and other nasty liquids.

I'm like that whale.

I should be having fun and living on campus, but being the person I've always been, I've taken my family's problems on my shoulders. My Pell and Texas Grant can only get me so far, and my scholarship has been cut in half because my GPA dropped below a 2.3 last semester. How am I supposed to take care of my family when at least 4,000 dollars of the 7,000 I've been awarded has to go to books and tuition. That's 3,000 dollars left for the semester, and that's quickly depleted by high rent, high electricity, gas, and water bills. I can't even get a car. I took out loans last semester, but I've always told myself that I wouldn't touch that money until I went to graduate school. So now I owe ten thousand and I haven't even made it out of my second year of college.

It's all enough to make me groan a little bit louder, so loud in fact that change jingling against the countertop is the only thing that brings me back to the current world.

I look up, straighten myself, and apply a weak smile at the man holding the can of coke in front of me. I wonder if he's seen how distressed and weak I am. You can't let them see you down on my side of town; they take advantage of that, and now he's grinning at me like he's won a lottery-single gold tooth shining as he speaks to me, "What's wrong baby?"

I know slick niggas like him. I take the change and count it "Missing five scents, sir."

"Oh, really?" he's an old one, I can tell from his eyes, but life has been better to him than most so he can easily pass for a late twenty-something or early thirty-something. He hold out a quarter and winks at me, "keep the change, sweetie."

I pocket the money and keep my smile pasted, "thank you, sir."

"What time you get off Sweetie?"

I swallow hard and find something else to do while I wait for someone else to walk in. It's not really a corner store, more like a tiny super market and there are at least eight other people in the building with me; two other cashiers, four back in the meat department, and two others ambling around, but I still feel nervous "I dunno. Gotta check my schedule."

"How 'bout I take you out for some ice-cream."

Niggas always trying to take you out for some ice cream, but I know that there's really only one cream that he wants to see, and I'm not down with old men.

"No, thank you."

"'suit yourself," he says with a whistle and walks away, his young body looking so awkward with the old gait he holds as he saunters out the door.

I roll my eyes at the piece of torn paper lying on the counter with a number scrawled and stuff it into my pocket, knowing that the old devil is going to be back in a few days to see if I'm willing to take the bite. He's one of those men who thinks that he can promise me the world because my cotton shirt is threadbare, my nails are unpolished, and my glasses hang down to the tip of my nose.

But he doesn't know me.

<>

Neither do I know myself as I sit on the low step in front of the apartment that me, my mama, my baby sis, and my baby brother live in. I smoke on an imaginary cigarette and blow through my middle and index finger as I watch everything unfold in my apartment complex. See, where we stay is a mixture of hood and lower middle class. There are black people, but there are also a couple of low class white people, struggling interracial couples and homogeneous couples, middle Eastern people, a few Asians, and of course a few Mexicans. We're a melting-pot of ethnicities in the pursuit of something better, but we know that we're not as close as we want to be.

The boy I used to mess with is on his porch, too. He's smoking a cigarette and jamming to an old boom box sitting next to him. He knows that I'm mocking him, but he doesn't mind. We're like old friends in spite of our differences, in spite of the fact that we knew we were wrong for each other when we first started to kick it. See, he barely graduated from high school and his favorite pastime is smoking cigarettes and weed with a couple of other kids from the complex. He doesn't have much going for himself except for his long wispy black hair that he keeps pulled back in a bun, bronze skin, and exotic features, but that's all thanks to his Polynesian mother.

He digs his elbows into his bent knees and holds the cigarette in the air eyeing me. He told me that when we stopped messing with each other last summer that he was going to come back for me when he got his life together, but when is Lani going to get his life together? Huh?

I puff on my air cigarette a little bit harder, position my fingers to mock a Marilyn Monroe- esque woman, tilt my head up to the side and blow upward like smoke is the only thing inside of me.

Our porch lights are the only reason we can see each other.

But I like to think that he thinks of me even when he can't see me. I smile at him as I get up, dust off my shorts, and wave at him. He stands up, too. And he's as tall as his dad, stocky too, and every bit as handsome even in a pair of basketball shorts and a wife beater. He drops his cigarette, crushes it under his flip flops and beckons for me to come with his large hand, "Freddy! Come and chill with a real nigga!"

"You mean half a nigga, and I told you to call me by my name!"

He gives me half a bow, "Freda, canst thou cometh to chilleth with a real nigga?"

I stick my tongue out, "No," and give him a half wave as I turn around.

You can't chill like that with guys you sorta have bad blood with.

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A/N: I know I shouldn't be writing new stories, but the idea just came to me! Note that the MLK and Newport street and Stop N' Go are fictional sites. Forgive me for neglecting my other stories. I couldn't resist!


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