“I ain’t seen no rainbows round here.” Sitting on the worn out brick steps in front of our dingy gray apartment building, I squint hard trying to remember. Nope, I know I’ve never seen a real one. “There was a couple in the oil stain left by Mr. Johnson’s hunk-a-junk car, but I ain’t never seen one up in the sky with all them colors like they got on T.V.”
“You think they real, Angel?” I look over to see my baby sister Theresa looking up at the sky. Her skin is the color of the good kind of peanut butter and just as smooth. We look like chocolate and peanut butter waiting to melt in the sunshine sitting side by side on the stoop. She keeps blinking her eyes cause the Sun is in them. I don’t know how it can get past those eyelashes though. They look like the ones I seen on a camel when my class took a field trip to the Bronx Zoo. She is a lot prettier than me cause she got light skin, funny-colored Hazel eyes and long, wavy, jet black hair, but we both look just like our Momma bout the face. We got the same daddy cause Momma says she loves a man that speaks Spanish, even if he is no good. When I get my hair straightened with the hotcomb, Momma tells me she wishes we all got that good hair of his.
She says he was even too sorry to do that for us, specially since she think he never did plan to stick around. He musta stayed awhile though, cause I’m going on eleven, my big sister Tasha is fifteen and Theresa is almost ten. She says Theresa got his good hair and I got his quick tongue. She tells me a “quick tongue” ain’t a bad thing. Says I just have a way of talking to people to make it seem like they the only person in the world and that I have a sponsibilty not to try and trick people with my words. I’m not real sure what “sponsibilty” is, but a word that long must mean a lot. That’s why I try to look put for my little sister. I know she looks up to me. Part of my sponsibility.
“Course they real,” I roll my eyes at her to let her know she’s being stupid. “Else they wouldn’t put it on T.V.”
“The Smurfs on T.V. but they ain’t real.”
“That’s different. Everbody knows cartoons is fake. You can’t be jumping off no building and get up. Rainbows are different,” I explain. “They are real. I seen pictures in my science book at school. When I’m grown I’m gonna move away from this ole place. Ain’t even got no grass and them sorry sticks with those short metal fences around them like skirts can’t be what trees supposed to look like. Yup. Gonna get a big house out in the country somewhere. Maybe Long Island. And I’m gonna have them paint my house this color,” I pull the banana yellow Now and Later from my mouth and show her. “Me and my husband gonna have a buncha chocolate babies, some dogs and a whole lotta money. And every morning he’s gonna leave to go to the hospital, cause he gonna be a doctor, I’ll kiss him good-bye at the front door. He’ll pull out the drive way in the dopest navy blue Beamer you ever seen, and I’ll look up and it’ll be a big old rainbow hanging up there in the sky just like a ribbon on a Christmas present. You wait and see.” I at Tashawn Williams and his crew chilling against his car waiting for trouble. “And ain’t gonna be no sorry knuckleheads drinking them forties and slanging on my street.”
“Who gonna marry you with your nappy head?” I turn to see my big sister Tasha standing right behind the two of us on the porch stairs. She and Angel got the same peanut butter complexion, she got her hair from Momma too. When she use to get her hair wet Momma use to almost beat her to make her sit still while she combed through all them little peeze that curled up all over her head. Now that she is fifteen, Momma lets her get a perm to straighten it. Standing there behind us, her hair looks like it’s alive and wiggling with all those braids she just had done. Her eyes look like the Chinese man at the mini-market on the corner. I like the way they look but they got to be too tight if they make your eyes slanted like that. Her purple and gold Nike running suit and matching sneakers are flavor. Must be new and I know Momma ain’t give Tasha no hundred dollars for no sneakers.
“Shut up! I’m gonna have a house and all that. You ain’t gonna be coming to my house either. You gonna be like that bag lady Ole Miss Ella running round here with your shopping cart talking bout ‘The world gonna end, Chile. The world gonna end,’ You gonna be funky with a bunch of no good kids you ain’t seen in years and all you’re teeth rotten out. Gonna come to my clean pretty house, spreading all that funk and I’m gonna sick my dogs on you.”
She does what she always does when I’m right, she pulls my hair. Bumping me with her big hips, she sort of hops down the stairs and gets into the Tashawn’s car.that’s been waiting at the curb. Momma don’t like him. I don’t like him either. He look like trouble walking around on two legs. How he get that BMW with them shiny rims? He always buying Tasha clothes Momma says are too grown and too tight. I know that’s where the new Air Max outfit she got on came from. That’s the kind of thugs won’t be allowed in my neighborhood when I grow up.
When I know Tasha can’t hear I say, “And I should tell Momma you with that no good boy again. Momma told you bout being with him.” Theresa starts laughing like crazy cause she know I only talk junk when Tasha can’t hear. Tasha may be fifteen and kind of short, but she’s built like a grown woman and fight like a one too. Seems like everyday she comes home from school or some party with a story about some girl she fought. I ain’t impressed by all that fighting and stuff, but whenever the older boys that walk home with us pick on me, she sends them home, clothes all tore up, noses running, crying like they tried to make me cry. It’s funny, even now, just thinking about it.
“If you look real hard you see colors like the rainbow all over the place. That car over there is green like grass and the fire hydrant is red as a apple. The new dress that Momma got from that white lady Ms. Lewis she work for to go to church in is purple and the Sun is yellow.” Theresa just don’t quit. She is pointing to all the different colors she see like she on the Safari Train like I was at the zoo. When you get that girl on something she stays right up on it til she’s got the answer.
I see the 7:30 S bus while she’s breaking her neck calling out colors and know that’s Momma’s bus. She’s always tired from working in a sewing shop, then staying after close to clean for some extra money, but today she looks worse. Got to get up at about four in the morning, everyday except Sunday, just to make the five o’clock S southbound to make her train on time. I can tell by the way she slowly gets down off the bus that her feet probably hurting her real bad. With her dark gray work-dress and her black smock loose and blowing in the breeze behind her, she looks like a worn out Wonder Woman. Her skin is chocolate like mine, but hers always looks a little ashey, even after she put on baby oil on it. When we run to meet her at the corner, I can smell working too hard for too long on her clothes and hair as I give her a hug and a kiss.
“How was your day Momma?” As I ask, Theresa leans up to meet Momma’s cheek with a kiss. I almost laugh out loud at the way she sticks out her lips like a fish to kiss Momma’s face. “Who wanna kiss something like that after a long day?” I wonder. Momma must hear what I’m thinking cause she smiles and sort fo laughs as she kisses Theresa. I put my arm around her waist hoping she’ll lean on me a little so her tired feet will have some help. She doesn’t though. Instead she tucks me in close to her and almost carries me along like I ain’t heavy at all. Like she don’t know I’m ten going on eleven. We are on our way up the stairs in front of our building before Momma answers me.
“Whew! Work was rough today. The building was too hot as usual and when the fan broke my boss wouldn’t even send us home early. It got so hot in there I swore I saw the Devil hisself looking for a cool spot in the shade.”
“Ma, you being silly. You know you can’t see the Devil unless you go to h. . . I mean the place where bad people go.” I almost did it that time. There was only two times Mommy ever pulled off her belt to whoop me, although she said she would a lot. One time was when me and Angel was cracking on a strange looking man on the street. His hand was all twisted up and he had a funny way of walking. We weren’t even up on him yet, but you his funk was still smacking us in the face. His clothes looked so old they looked like they would fall off of him if a strong wind blew. The sign around his neck said he was a “vet”. Must couldn’t take care of nobody’s animals real good or else he woulda been asking for money for the work he does and not food. I was making pretend I was cripple like he was and limping around. I didn’t mean no harm. Honest. Just trying to make Theresa laugh. I didn’t even know he could hear us. When I looked at him, his eyes were all fulla water like he was gonna cry.
Momma musta saw the man’s face a minute before I did. I looked up at her and I thought her head was gonna split wide open. She whooped me and Theresa til her arms almost fell off. She didn’t have to though. That man’s face, staring at me bout to cry, whooped me in my dreams every night for a week. When I told her that man was showing up in my dreams every night, she told me that was because I had done what the whole world had done to that man, I had laughed at him like a clown because he believed in the American Dream.
I’m not sure what the “American Dream” is, but now when I see them people on the street I give them any change I have left over from the candy I buy at the store. One time after that, when I was walking to school, I saw a woman and her two kids out there on the street, asking for money. I ain’t have no money, so I gave them what was in my lucnhbox. Wasn’t nothing but a peanut butter and fluff sandwich and a thermos of milk. Didn’t even have a banana that day. I didn’t want them three chasing me around in my dreams too. And I did feel bad for those kids. Gotta be awful hungry to take people clowning you when all you need is something to eat.
The second time I got a beating was when I cussed at my teacher Miss Maranda. at She had it coming, always picking on me cause sometimes I get bored and I daydream. Gonna yell me in front of everybody in class. Momma made me apologize to the lady but then she told her, “maybe if you kept Angel’s mind more occupied she would not drift off into into another world.” I left that office smiling because she told that lady off. We get all the way to the bus stop and Momma looks down at me and says, “You’re gonna get it awful when we get home. I don’t send you to that school because you already know everything. You’re there to learn! You’re not one of these street rats who learns to cuss before they can say they ABCs.”
“Well baby,” Momma tells us through a deep breathe she lets out of her mouth. “I don’t think hell can be much different then this, so be a good girl so you can go to heaven.”
“Momma,” Theresa starts, “you think they got rainbows in heaven?”
“Rainbows? Where did that question come from?”
“Me and Angel was talking,”
“Angel and I were talking,” Momma corrects her.
“Angel and I were talking about seeing rainbows before you got off the bus,” Theresa explains. “If Gods got rainbows up there in heaven, how come He don’t send them down to us?”
“Of course God has rainbows. If you are smart enough to ask that question you are too smart to say, ‘how come He don’t send’ instead of ‘Why doesn’t he send’. God is very busy running this whole world, keeping the planets circling around the Sun. If He sent a rainbow down everyday we would get so use to them we would forget what a miracle they are. He gave us sunrise and sunset, but do we notice?” Momma lets out another breathe from her mouth and starts again. “The Lord is trying to clean up all this foolishness the Devil steady starting. Lucky for the Lord, He has a million angels letting Him know what’s going on. They fly in from all of the world to tell Him who’s trying real hard, who’s having tough times, who’s being kind and unselfish. They even tell Him who is going astray and who’s hurting real bad deep down inside. They also tell the Lord of all the wickedness and how some people’s hearts forget He is still in charge. Then He tells a special group of angels who are in charge of sending the blessings down special delivery that way everyone gets what they need to keep running this race.”
“Like a business?”
“Yes, baby,” Momma’s eyes light up and give love to me and Theresa. “Like a business.”
“Like the one you work for Momma?”asks Theresa.
“Oh no, sweetie. This business is so much better. The work is easy and so sweet those angels would say it isn’t work at all. It’s never too hot or too cold and the pay is eternal life. Your back doesn’t get sore and your hands don’t ache so bad you cry when you twist the doorknob trying to get in the house every night.” She tries to open and close her hands to show us what she means. The look on her face lets me know it hurts too much to ball up her fist all the way.
Sometimes I forget momma is still young, at least she says she is. Momma’s thirty-two years old don’t look nothing like those ladies on T.V. selling that Oil of Olay. Tiny little lines stretch out under and around Momma’s eyes, going in all directions like rays from the sun. Same thing around her mouth and all across her forehead. The insides of her hands feel like there are teeny, tiny pebbles under the skin where her fingers reach the big part of her hand.
She’s still pretty though. Specially on Sunday mornings when she puts on her best dress and does her hair up all nice. I still son’t know how she can walk in the high heel shoes she puts on. When we’re walking the five blocks to our church, she seems to almost dance down the street. The tail of her dress just flipping back and forth like it’s just as happy to be going to church as Momma is. The sound of those heels clicking against the sidewalk and the sight of that dress dancing down the street makes Momma look like a party. And her skin don’t look so ashy then.
“In one section of heaven there are angels whose only job is making things to help make this Earth pretty,” Momma tells us. “They are up there make skies so blue it looks like you can swim in them. In another place they make snowflakes one by one so every one is different. And there’s another section, right next to God’s throne, where they make those rainbows you asking me about. If someone you know goes to heaven and they’re thinking about you, or you’re down here missing them real bad, they just might send one down to you.”
“You mean somebody I know gotta die before I can get a rainbow?” I shake my head. “If that’s the case, I don’t need no rainbows. How come I gotta lose somebody and my heart hurt bad before I can get one? It ain’t fair.” I shake my head again. “Them people on T.V. have more rainbows then they know what to do with. They don’t have to wait for nobody to die.”
Momma laughs and says I watch too much T.V. I’m still mad about having to lose someone who loves me to get a rainbow as we make our way to the last flight of stairs, through the hall, past the elevator that has never worked and come up on the door to our apartment. Even thoguh most of the lights in the hall don’t work, the window at the end of the hallway with the metal bars up against it lets in enough light for Momma to see what key to put in the door. It also lets in enough cold air to make your teeth shake while you’re waiting to get the door open.
She pulls off her shoes and lines them off on the wall next to the door so quick you woulda thought there was fire in them. We take ours off too. Momma says her Momma taught her you’re not supposed to drag to dirt from out in the street all over a place where your soul is supposed to find rest. She says that’s why so many people can’t forget work even when they go home. “Still standing at the bus stop or riding on the train and they are in their very own home.”
By the time Momma gets down the short hall to the back of the apartment to the tight little room she calls her bedroom, most of her dress and smock are off and folded over her arm.
“You all get yourselves something to eat. Momma’s dead tired tonight. Has Tasha been home to see about you two?” Before I can get to the bedroom door to make an excuse for Tasha, Momma is strecthed out across the bed in her slip, sound asleep. I pull the door closed real slow so it won’t creak, even though it’s broken and don’t close all the way. Theresa and I sit down in the livingroom in front of the T.V. and eat the fried chicken, potato salad, and string beans Momma cooked for Sunday dinner last night. I’m looking down at the blue daisies on the chipped plate I’m eating off of and decide the shutters and door on my yellow house will be this color blue.
It is about nine o’clock when we hear loud music outside. Can’t be nobody but Tasha and Tashawn. Peeking out the window in the livingroom, I see the shine of his car underneath the lights from the streetlamp. Since the lights in the street are on I know I shouldn’t go out, but if that music wakes up Momma, she’ll be on Tasha awful for being with that boy. She may be a pain sometimes, but I watch Tasha’s back and she watches mine.
“Stay here,” I whisper to Theresa. “I’m gonna go down there and tell them to turn that music down.” I creep out the front door , sit down in the hall and lace up my sneakers then start on on my way down. After about two flights of twisting and turning to get downstairs, I hear the door open and close behind me. The footsteps I hear are running. It has to be Theresa cause Momma don’t run. There is no time to turn around and send her back, so I run faster so we can both be back upstairs and in front of the T.V. before Momma wakes up. By the time I get outside to the stoop, Tasha is already getting out of the car.
“Tell him to turn that music down before he wakes Momma up,” I yell in a whisper. Why she wanna hang around with him for anyway? Don’t even have sense enough to know how to sneak right. I’m standing there with my hand on my hip, rolling my eyes so hard I don’t notice this dude walking up on Tashawn’s car until is pushing his face in the car window on Tashawn’s side. I ain’t trying to be in nobody’s business but I can’t help but over hear what they are saying.
“Tashawn, man, you got my money?” asked someone underneath a sky blue baseball cap with a white “NY” stitched on it. Under the streetlights it looks like lightening in a clear sky. “You shoulda been slung that rock I put on you. Up the loot nigga!”
“Don’t be trying to punk me in front of my girl, man.” Tashawn’s voice sounds kind of shaky, not like the voice he uses when he’s arguing with Tasha, trying to tell her what to do. “I’ll check you about it in a minute.”
“NAWH, NIGGA! NAWH! YOU GON CHECK ME RIGHT MOTHERFUCKING NOW! I DON’T CARE IF THIS IS YOUR BITCH OR YOUR GODDAMN MOMMA! UP MY SHIT RIGHT NOW! YOU TRYING TO FRONT FOR THIS HOE!?! BITCH ASS NIGGAS ALWAYS TRYING TO BEAT ME OUT MY MONEY! YOU GON CHECK ME RIGHT NOW!” He’s swinging his arms all around and twisting his head like his ready to snatch Tashawn outta the car right through the window.
“Bitch!?! Hoe!?! Who you talking to!?!” Tasha is yelling at the hat like she may be ready to fight him if even if Tashawn isn’t.
The baseball cap turns towards Tasha and his finger points at her so hard it hurts my feelings. “IF THIS PUNK-ASS NIGGA WASN’T SO BUSY TRYING TO RUN UP IN YOU, HE COULD GET OUT THERE AND HUSTLE LIKE A MAN DO! OR MAYBE HE’S BUYING THAT ASS WITH MY DOUGH!?!”
“Yo man, don’t talk to her like that,” Tashawn says from inside the car.
“I’LL TALK TO ANYBODY I FUCKING FEEL LIKE, ANYWAY I FUCKING FEEL LIKE TIL I GET MY MONEY,” he tells Tashawn. He focuses back in on Tashawn inside the car. “NAWH! YOU RIGHT! NO MORE TALKIN” He pulls the biggest, blackest gun I’ve seen in my life out of his waistband so quick it looks like a magic trick.
I don’t duck or run or nothing even though I am scared to death. I want to, but I can’t move. I feel someone pulling at my legs and look down to see Theresa trying to get me to come down there with her. Tasha is flat on the ground like a G.I. Joe soldier and she’s crawling, like the do on their bellies, to get up to where we are. She’s screaming, but the words are all weird and I can’t figure out what she’ trying to say. I’m begging my legs to drop down to where Theresa is, but they won’t listen to me.
I hear thunder cracking like it’s right inside my head and see the white flashes coming from the end of gun. “Please God, ” I pray. “Make my legs listen!” I must be crying cause I feel water on my cheeks and taste snot on my top lip. One. Two. Three. The white flashes leave the gun sounding like M-80s. Right into the car and right into Tashawn. He hunches over the steering wheel with his face pressing the horn so hard and so long it sounds like he’s calling for help. Blue cap looks up at me and smile the ugliest smile I’ve ever seen with his lips all curled up like he’s proud of what he just did.
“Please God!” I’m trying to scream but ain’t no sound coming out. “Help me fall down! Please! Momma! Anybody! Help me! Make these legs of mine fall down before he get me too!” Blue cap is looking me dead in the eye and I can read his lips before the sound gets to my ears.
“No witnesses, no crime,” his lips tell me through his smile as he raises the gun and aims it at me. Now I’m beating my thighs with my fists and screaming, “Fall down! Fall down!” When I look up from my legs that aren’t listening, past Tasha who is at the bottom of the stairs still on her belly, over the car and into the face under that Blue cap, the white flashes are already coming out. One, or two, maybe more. I lose count cause my legs finally listen and curl up underneath me. I can’t feel them but I’m happy they listened and let me drop. I lay there, curled up, til Tasha runs to me and picks me up.
“GET A AMBULANCE! MOMMA! MOMMA! CALL THE COPS,” she screams! She’s crying and trying to stop the cherry red circles on my shirt from getting any bigger. She can’t stop them. They get bigger and bigger until they run right into one another. Tasha pulls me into her lap and tries to use both her hands to stop those circles. “THERESA, GO GET MOMMY NOW! GET HER RIGHT NOW! Theresa is crying and screaming too. She’s on the porch, backed up into the corner we use for base when we play hide-and-go-seek. Tasha tells me Momma will be here and I’ll be alright. She tells me to stay awake until Momma comes and I’m trying to get my eyes to stay open, but they don’t listen any better than my legs do.
“Oh God, No! Please! Please, don’t take my baby, God! Please!” I can see Momma is just opening the door. Still in her slip, she takes me from Tasha’s arms and I finally hear the first sirens. I tell myself to keep my eyes open until help gets to me, but now Momma’s rocking me. And I’m so sleepy now. And cold. She’s telling me what a good girl I am, how proud she is of me. Begging me not to die. Telling me I am her baby and her babies are the only reason she didn’t quit living a long time ago. I try to tell her I’m okay, tell her I love her. I’m just a little bit sleepy. Just need to sleep.
When I woke up, I was here. Momma was right. Right next to the throne room, making rainbows to send down for her cause I know she’s missing me bad right now.