I was sitting in the park minding my own business when a woman in front of me got up and asked if I would watch her things.
“No problem,” I said, thinking nothing of it, and she left her bike, bag and sneakers and went down the hill with her phone and yoga mat into the flat open field to do yoga.
I was stoned and on my third beer. I brought six. Police continuously lynching Black people brought me out of quarantine and into the streets with the world to protest. After my third protest in a day, I left the crowd when the drum circle started and white twenty-somethings started dancing like they were at Coachella. No justice, so fuck that peace.
Yoga-watching from the hill, I sensed somebody hovering. There was a dude next to me. He resembled a young Bizzy Bone, light-skinned with his hair pressed and in a bun. Scoping the terrain, he pulled his surgical facemask up from his chin and rolled up to the yogi’s things I was watching. He lifted the bike up to see how heavy it was, then casually proceeded to jack it.
“Excuse me,” I said, getting his attention. “That’s not yours.”
Dude played me for that new nigga—bougie, college-educated and paying too much for coffee and rent—and ignored me.
“Nigga, shut ya bitchass up!”
How the situation escalated to me being a “bitchass” so fast, I had no idea, but I wasn’t taking his disrespect. “Leave that shit alone,” I warned and called for the yogi but she couldn’t hear me through her earbuds.
Dude started yelling shit about how I didn’t know him and who his Bloods click was, his voice getting bigger, performing for all the white onlookers. He pulled out his phone and, looking around, asked himself aloud, “Where we at? I’ma call a valet on this bitchass nigga! Watch!”
“Fuck your Uber drive-by,” I told him. “This is Long Meadow. Ain’t no cars allowed in here.”
Dude was enraged. “Nigga, you don’t know what I got in my backpack!”
I hadn’t noticed his backpack. There was a bag in his hand, though. It was food. In the direction he came from was an abandoned Citi Bike. Motherfucker was delivery. Essential. People just clapped for his ass.
“Bruh,” I said, “get out my face and deliver your food before I give you a bad review and get a promotion code for a free meal.”
Nearby laughter turned to gasps when Dude went into his backpack and pulled out a gat. As much as the people spread around might’ve felt they should do something, they were in the process of reevaluating their privilege and reeducating themselves on issues concerning race and froze instead. This was a Black thing, something they didn’t understand.
Being Black in America, I had trained all my life for fight or flight moments and had one second to take cover. Run, negro, run!
A white guy obliviously tending to his toddler’s meandering while texting, blocked the tree to the right of me. I couldn’t put the child in danger. The only other people of color for acres were to my left, under another tree I thought to hide behind. Black Trans Lives Matter, one of their posters read. It was Pride Month; I couldn’t forgive myself for putting them in harm’s way either. Dude was in front of me, down the hill.
Behind me, up the hill, was a white couple, a man and woman, who’d come from the protest I was just at. Their posters read, Black Lives Matter and White Women For Black Lives Matter. The couple had two bikes, one stacked atop the other. When Dude started busting off shots, I ran for the bikes as everybody nearby scattered.
Dude had seen too many movies, played too many video games, and lit up the ground around me as I ran uphill and dove and tumbled over the bikes, taking cover behind them. A bullet ricocheted off a bike and struck the white guy. When all the shots had fired, it was as if Dude had suddenly snapped out of a white-hot blackout rage. “Oh, shit, my bad!” he yelled. Scared he’d mistakenly killed a white person, a far worse crime to him than killing me, he tossed his gun and took off running.
I came up from behind the bikes and asked the wounded guy if he was okay. Fearful of our close proximity, he pulled up his face covering and insisted he only had a flesh wound, as his lady friend frantically used their blanket to apply pressure and stop the bleeding.
“We should call somebody,” I suggested.
“No cops!” the guy blurted, before asking if I was okay. He didn’t know whose Black life mattered more, mine or Dude’s.
“I’m good,” I said. “Sure you don’t want to get some help?”
He took the gunshot like an OG, adamant he wasn’t going to snitch “to the fascist cops we’re fighting in the streets to abolish.”
I wasn’t going to snitch either. Even though Dude disrespected me, I should have been the mature adult and not responded by disrespecting him like I did. My brother’s keeper.
Those nearby hung back, wondering what happened, if it was safe to stay. Nobody wanted to go home. They’d been inside for months and the weather was beautiful. Others in the park were so spread out the gunshots sounded no different from the fireworks that had been going off incessantly for weeks from dusk till dawn.
I picked up the food left behind— Indian— and was about to make my way out of the park when an onlooker stopped me. White and gangly, in a black Do the Right Thing t-shirt, he charged up the hill on his fixed-gear bike and, huffing behind the black paisley bandana covering his mouth, told me, “We’re lucky to still have jobs, health insurance, and access to the basic things we need. That poor guy is obviously desperate. We’ll be out here for him— and you— for as long as it takes.”
His saying such presumptuous shit to me unprovoked didn’t sit right with me. His bike was expensive and so were his sneakers and watch. I asked what he did for a living.
“Tech,” he said.
I imagined him in the streets not for as long as it took, but until he had to go back into his office, where he still wouldn’t stand behind Black coworkers struggling with discrimination at work. He spoke up only until it fucked with his livelihood. Which was why I asked for twenty-two hundred dollars. Rent was due, my job had gone away, and I had two kids to co-parent.
No questions asked, he asked for my Venmo and gave me more than I asked for. The woman with homeboy who caught the bullet for me found the gun Dude left behind, wrapped it in the scarf she used for a face covering and hid it deep inside her bag.
I can’t trust white people like them to be on my side.
Chuck Nwoke was born in Nigeria and raised in Houston, TX. A sponsored skateboarder in his former life, he’s been published by Litro Magazine, Akashic Books, Huffington Post, Bull, Salon, Good Men Project, Streetlight Magazine, Cahoodaloodaling and the London Magazine, where he was winner of the Short Story Prize. His stories explore the human condition, the nuances of race and identity, masculinity and vulnerability, connection and isolation, the satirical and the absurd.