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Call It Dreamin' Deja 6 minute read

Deja Vu / Deja’s View

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Deja dragged the metal chair, with the cracked yellow plastic cushion up to the counter, stood on her tippy toes, and stretched to grab the bag of Fruity-O’s. She poured herself a bowl of the red, green and orange loops, added water from the sink, sat down at the card table and ate while watching an infomercial on a super-suction vacuum on tv. Deja wanted to switch the channel to SpongeBob Squarepants, but although her mother was snoring loudly on the sunken, old purple velvet couch, she was scared that changing the channel may wake her up. The empty fifth of Jack Daniels leaning on the leg of the faux wood coffee table warned her that the whoopin’ would be brutal this time should her mom be disturbed.

Quietly as possible, she put her paper bowl and plastic spoon in the already overflowing trashcan and went into the bathroom to brush her teeth and do her hair. She liked her hair best when her Auntie Pam would cornrow her hair in maze-like styles; but since her Momma and Auntie Pam got into such a bad fight during a game of spades that the police had to be called, Deja had taught herself how to make two perfect afro-puffs halo the sides of her oval, sand-colored face.   She then smeared Vaseline on her face like her Momma taught her to — before Momma got . . . “sick”.

She put on her sister’s old pink puffer-coat, grabbed her backpack, gently opened the door, and took one step out when she almost ran into Lucky (named so because he had been shot 6 times and showed no visible damage).

“Yo trick-ass Momma in dere?” he rumbled without releasing the Newport from his platinum-filled mouth.

Deja walked around him and started running down the steps; only moving her mouth to bite her bottom lip–hard.

“You hear me, gurl. I’m talking to you. Must be retarded or something like ya damn Momma,” Deja heard him yelling as she ran down the 4th, 3rd, 2nd, and finally the ground floor, which opened to the Johnson Park, donated by some basketball player who was from the same projects. The park was already busy; though it was only a little after 6:00 a.m. But time is insignificant in chaos. People were littered everywhere; litter rolled around endlessly –“ghetto tumbleweeds” her Momma used to call it.

Deja cut across the park and made a right onto Smith St. As she walks against the wind, holding her head down only slightly enough to block her eyes from tearing, she slowly drags her hand along the building that used to house a few businesses. The bumpy texture of the old stucco felt good to her opened palm. The building, like the prostitutes who would oftentimes lean on it, was stained with too much makeup—black tags and multi-colored graffiti advertising each artist’s need to be recognized in a place that you typically felt invisible.

Frank was in his same place, with his cart and an old, sleeping bag stuffed in the doorway of the old Pic n’ Pay. He wore wrinkles that said either his life was long, exceedingly tough or both; an easy toothless grin that said while his habits were bad, his heart was good. He, without a home, came to represent home to Deja: always constant, always there.

Deja offered him her own partially toothless smile, then turned right onto Lincoln Ave.—the beginning of the area everyone called the Jungle: full of color, life and outlandish beings. There was the constant underground hum of the subway, the click-clack of cheap high heels against the pavement, the pa-da-pop of gun shots at night, the staccato of the business street doors rolling up and down, the “who-aah” of the buses taking off, and the background singers crowing in Spanish, Spanglish, Farsi, and street.

She liked this part of her journey. She had made up a form of hopscotch, using the cracks in the sidewalks as her marks to skip in-between.

She sees her bus coming and quickens her steps, slides her bus pass, and scans the bus for the best seat. She decides to sit next to a chubby, East Indian woman wearing a McDonald’s uniform, who looks kind, yet exhausted although her day has just begun. Deja has seen her before and knows that she gets off one stop before hers: Nickel Avenue.

Right before her stop, a tall brother with shoulder length dreads, Timberland boots and gray sweatpants gets on the bus and starts walking towards her seat. He stops two seats before hers on the opposite side and demands to a short, Latino man in blue coveralls, “Get the fuck up, so I can sit down.” Confused, the seated man continues to sit. Again the dreaded brotha demands, “Did you hear me Paco, Get the fuck up. Adios mother fucker.” Deja looks in his face. She knows what those eyes mean: jumping from person to person, simultaneously menacing and petrified. He’s sick too—just like her Momma. The bus doesn’t move until the seated man relinquishes his seat, with a look of resignation and a sigh of defeat.

The 20-minute bus ride seems to cover the same change and distance as a transatlantic flight. Even after 2 years, Deja’s journey makes her feel a bit wobbly every time she jumps off the last step of the bus. Here, it was so quiet and peaceful that even everyday sounds seemed piercing: a baby crying, a ball hitting the pavement. Noise is discouraged and disturbances are disparaged. Here, Deja felt that she should walk softly. On the short walk to Hudson’s Elementary School for the gifted and talented, Deja tries to smooth off her sharp corners.

Mrs. McGuillory, smelling of Tabu perfume and moth balls, shook her head disapprovingly as Deja walked into the school’s main office, “late again” she admonished as she shook her head and slid the tardy slip across the table. Deja barely looks, grabs the note and walks down the antiseptically clean hallway to her classroom, Room 32. This is the place where her stellar grades and genius IQ earned her a spot; but they really didn’t speak to her real journey to get here—day after day.

 

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