The following short story was written as part of an assignment for English 405 at CSULB. It is a first draft. A final version is due in December.
Pedro was pissed when he found out what his nickname meant. The nickname that Kiki, his best friend from childhood, gave him. He started calling Pedro Chacho when Kiki got back from ‘Nam. At first, Pedro ignored it. He figured it was no big deal. Then, his brother, Tony, told him that Chacho was slang for Muchacho, as in small boy. Now, all his friends called him Chacho. Pedro protested to Kiki.
“I ain’t no boy. I’m eighteen years old.”
“Bro, it’s just a nickname. Everyone in ‘Nam had a nickname,” Kiki calmly explained.
“Yeah, what did they call you?”
“But, Kiki is your name.”
Chacho stands at 142nd Street and Willis Avenue, watching the sunset between the project buildings. Dark, ominous clouds take its place. Snow is coming to the South Bronx.
He’s freezing his ass off, his cold brown hands shoved deep into his peacoat, a thin alpaca shirt under his coat, no hat. Even his busted ass Keds are no protection for the crosswinds winding their way through the canyons of the Jefferson projects. All he can fume about is the damn nickname.
Kiki said the plan was simple. All Chacho had to do was to be the lookout at the corner. And Chacho believed him. He and the rest of the boys always believed and trusted Kiki who was two years older than the rest of the group. That made him the leader in his mind. And that was okay with everyone, including Chacho, Carlos, Herman, Junior, Guy. They all looked up to Kiki because he wasn’t scared of anyone, anytime, anywhere. But Chacho was scared now.
“My mom’s bedroom window is like right there…on the eighteenth floor,” he protested, “She could look out and see me.”
“What she going to see from that far? Man, you just look like a bug,” Kiki tried to convince him. “Just look cool and watch for the man. If you see him, ya holla.”
Hector’s Barber Shop is two doors down, where Hector himself would give Chacho a razor cut every time he came home from school. Sitting in the barber’s chair as if he was on a throne listening to Doble-OOO radio. Traditional Puerto Rican music oozing out like milk from a momma’s breast. Spanish and Spanglish chatter reminding him where he comes from and where he is at.
He missed it the last four years while he was away at the Seminary. Yet, he felt more distant every visit when he came home for Christmas, Easter, and summer. Now that Chacho was back in the neighborhood, he was trying hard to blend back in. The old crowd was no longer the fourteen-year-olds he left behind. They were now young men, like him, with their own dreams and nightmares. Carlos got drafted and was in ‘Nam. Herman got a job down on Delancey Street with a baby on the way. Last he saw Junior, he was running from la Jara (the police) across Willis Avenue screaming some crazy shit about Yo momma ain’t got no draws. And Guy, the word was he had graduated to a big-time dope dealer in Manhattan. They don’t got time for Chacho. Only Kiki does.
Directly behind him is Sammy’s Pizza, where, on a good day, Sammy would give Kiki and Chacho small paper cups of clean water for free. Sammy knew why they wanted the water. It was used in a ritual where water would drop into a bottle cap full of smack along with a small blob of cotton and heated over an open flame. The water would help purify the death that they tried so hard to bring upon themselves in the name of the father, the son, and the holy ghost. Bless you is all Sammy would say as if it was the last goodbye to Chacho and Kiki. The final act in a dangerous and tragic play called The End.
Chacho is still skin popping. Kiki is mainlining. Bragging how the dope in ‘Nam is the shit.
“Higher than those B-52s dropping their loads. My homeboy told me, some of the brothers be doped up while they dropped their bomb loads on the Cong’s ass.”
Sammy’s clock says it’s five o’clock. Chacho had hocked his watch last week, a gift from his girlfriend Carmen. She noticed it was gone when they went to church to talk to Father Kelly about their planned wedding.
“I lost it in the subway. The strap was loose, and I think it just…,” he tried to tell her, his voice trailing off.
He knew she knew he was lying. It wasn’t the first time that he was nodding in her face. Carmen started crying and ran home. Chacho stood in front of Saint Anselm’s Church wishing he could run after her. But, as high as he was, the only place he was running to was face down on the sidewalk.
The streetlights are on, and headlights are streaking up and down Willis Avenue. It’s rush hour. That’s a good thing. A lot of distractions. Around him, people are shuffling home from bus stops and train stations and dead-end jobs that pay the high rent in rundown apartment buildings where they have to step over the deadbeat bodies of junkies during the dope epidemic of 1968. No one is going to pay any attention to a purse snatch. People gots to get home.
Chacho is standing guard looking up and down Willis Avenue and then 142nd Street and across the street up to the 18th floor to make sure his moms ain’t looking out the window wondering, ‘Why is that fool standing out on that corner in this cold weather without a hat and gloves?”
Yeah, that’s not what she’s thinking! “He lookin’ for la droga again. Soy done con el.”
And she be right. Mom should be done with Chacho because he can’t believe he’s standing with the hawk kicking his ass on the lookout for la jara.
Meanwhile, Kiki walks behind an elderly woman up 142nd Street toward Willis Avenue, eyeing her black purse with the determination of a beast stalking its prey. Kiki is wearing what he liked to call his snatch and run uniform. Black leather jacket with some African print Dashiki thrown over it, black pants, black sweater, black socks, black and white Chuck Taylor Cons (the best for running, he bragged to Chacho). Kiki told Chacho that the clothes sent a message to old people, don’t fuck with me. I’m dangerous.
All they need is ten bucks for two five-dollar bags of dope. Kiki has done this before, he says. “Plenty of times. I grab the purse and run. They ain’t going to stop me. If I have to, I push them down. Not hard. I ain’t no animal.”
Chacho’s never done this before. And he doesn’t want to do this now or ever. A year ago, he was upstate in a seminary studying to be a priest until he met Carmen during a holiday visit home. He was shaking. From fear. From the cold. From the creeping jones that was making its way up from his feet to his nose. The priesthood wasn’t for him. He told his father that. But his father didn’t want to understand.
“Hijo, why’d you leave? We all prayed for you to serve the church.”
“Pop, the Irish and Italian boys always wanted to fight me because I was Puerto Rican. I was alone in the Seminary,” Chacho tried to explain.
“There is pain everywhere. Maybe God was testing your faith.”
For Chacho, there was too much pain and too much testing of his faith. What he didn’t tell his father was the number of times the kids had called him Spic. His father hated that word. His children were forbidden to ever use it.
Chacho had made up his mind that he was leaving after the last fight. He got his ass kicked by some Italian from Arthur Avenue who was twice his size. Father Burke accused Chacho of starting it. The other white boys just nodded. No one came to his defense. Fuck ’em.
In the end, there were just too many rules and too many daily prayers. Worse, Chacho told Kiki, there would be no sex as a priest. Kiki thought that was the best reason to leave Saint Thomas’s Junior Seminary.
Now he was a junkie “aiding and abetting” a strong-arm robbery of an old woman. Damn, I hope my mom doesn’t find out. But the road to a good high is just too strong. More potent than any guilt he would feel if Kiki in his snatch and run uniform had to push some old lady down on the ground because she refused to let go of the goddamn purse.
Suddenly, Chacho hears a scream shooting up 142nd Street, shutting out the Willis Avenue noise of buses, cabs, folks just trying to get home before the threatened snow piles up on the streets. They don’t have any boots on because they just got here from Puerto Rico or Santo Domingo, and they have no snow down there.
Chacho looks down the block, and an old woman is hanging on to something, struggling with Kiki. She’s screaming madness in Spanish, and Chacho can’t quite make out what she’s saying as Kiki pushes her down and starts running up 142nd street towards Willis Avenue.
Chacho prays that he’s got that woman’s purse when out of the corner of his right eye, he sees some bro’ in a doorway of a rundown apartment building on 142nd street. He’s just standing there, hands in his coat pocket, looking down the street. The man gotta see Kiki running and hear that old lady screaming mad as hell, “Por favor, stop him, please!”
Damn it, shut up. Chacho is freaking out looking for a way outta there. His heart is racing. Run mofo across Willis Avenue and home.
Then, the man in the doorway steps down and lunges at Kiki. Chacho figures he’s trying to grab him, but Kiki lets out a scream stronger than the woman’s, “Motherfucker, why you stab me?”
Kiki is running, tripping, holding his left arm. The guy in the doorway is joined by other men from down the block running after Kiki. He ain’t waiting for the light to change as he scrambles across Willis Avenue dodging cars and people towards his and Chacho’s building.
There’s a procession of chasers after Kiki as they cross the Avenue screaming “¡Ese hijo de gran puta! That motherfucker!”
Chacho is faster so he pulls up alongside the lead guy, the one who stabbed Kiki, and yells that he knows who that guy is and the building he lives in.
“He’s at 242. I’ll run around 240 and cut him off in case he tries running up 141st Street.”
They turn the corner and haul ass while Chacho pretends to look exhausted and when they’re out of sight, he runs into 240 and takes the elevator up the 12th floor, and knocks on 12B. There’s blood on the door.
Feature Image by RenoBeranger from Pixabay
Next Week: Part Two
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