by Christopher J Calhoun
They call me Junior. Everyone pronounces it Joon-Ya. My real name is Juquan Abilene, but no one knows that. I'm just a regular ordinary boy, and I'm considered "average" in the family. There's nothin' special about me, except that I can barely read, and I almost fail all of my classes. That's typical in my family. My granddaddy owned a plantation here in the South years ago. I never met the guy. He died before my time. We live up in the rural valleys of Georgia, in the town that's not even on the map: Mellowfield. We have nice people surroundin' us, and the town crier always gives us sweet potato pies on Sunday afternoons.
There's a chapel on the corner, a small shoppin' center next to it, and farmhouses beside some mobile homes next to the corn fields. Besides that, nothin' else is goin' on here. The dust crosses the town when the wind is high, and the rain pounds down the broken windows we got 'cross the porch. The squirrels like to run around in the cornfields, and eat up the corn seeds we plant. Everywhere you look, there's corn and lots of it. From time to time there may be oats, but that's unlikely to spot.
We go to a schoolyard across town. It's a forty-five minute ride by bus, so I gotta get up extra early just to make it to school. Let me tell you somethin': gettin' up earlier than everybody else is not fun.
I'm sixteen, soon to be seventeen, and I'm barely making it through my junior year in high school. My family lives in a small plantation house owned by our neighbors across the fields. There ain't a single house in front of us, and the graveled road next to us is the only thing noticed. The house ain't big enough for all of us to live in, but there's nothin' we can do about that.
My Mama don't work. She stays home, cookin' and cleanin', and her normal routine is sittin' up in the chairs lookin' at them court shows all day. I got two little sisters and a little brother. Naydeen is the second oldest. She's ten, and in fifth grade. Deja is seven, and she's only in second grade. She's the bad one. She always gets into trouble at her elementary school. She got black hair smeared around her face, and she wears red ribbons everyday she gets from her friends. Naydeen is kinda shy. She puts on a fake smile just to let you know she's happy, but I know she misses her father on the inside.
Speaking of which, our father (we call him Daddy) lives in a different county of Georgia. He don't pay for our child support, and he's been incarcerated for over the years. My Mama don't like talkin' about him, so I never knew what happened between them two. He'll never come back in our lives. I don't have to worry about that.
And then, there's the "other" Junior, my five-year-old brother named Marcus. Mama decided to wait 'til next year to put him in kindergarten. He stays home with Mama during the day, helpin' her clean the house and gather food from our local market, and corn from the fields. He sort of has a job of his own.
Since Mama don't work or do nothin' outside the house, she ain't got much money. She doesn't have a car, so we can't go anywhere but stay here. She used the Volkswagen from a hillbilly across town, but he got tired of her never returnin' the thing, and he almost sued her for it. She didn't like it much. It was an old piece of metal anyway. On the weekends, we have to walk to different places, and we even walk to the chapel on Sunday mornings. I don't mind walkin', but tryin' to walk with two sisters and a brother who won't shut up is hard work.
I'll admit. I'm not the best son around, and I do have difficulties with my Mama. She says I don't respect her enough. How can I respect a woman who doesn't do anything for me? We lucky we even got this house! She insists I go to college, but how am I gonna go to a college with a 1.8 Gpa? That's not happenin'.
There are a lot of things I think Mama has a problem with. She never listens to me, and I'm the one tryin' to care for her kids. These ain't my kids. I shouldn't have to deal with them and put up with them. I find myself helpin' them out with their homework than I do with my own. Mama hardly ever lifts a finger around here, and I'm stuck cleanin' up after her. The worst thing is she always calls me "Junior", and she never says the name she gave me. I don't mind being called that, but I do have a name. She treats Naydeen, Deja, and Marcus like angels, and maybe it's because they're young and still children. When I was growin' up before Naydeen came in the picture, she never treated me like she does with the other three. It does hurt, but I've gotten over that. Life doesn't stop because you want it to. It only stops because your mind wanted it to stop.
Our Grandma lives in Alabama with the rest of our folks. We moved out here right when I was born. We only go to Alabama to visit her for special holidays like Christmas, Easter, Mother's Day, and occasionally on Thanksgiving. She never visits us. She can't stand the atmosphere out here, and she can't do the things now like she did years ago (one of those things includes driving.)
Easter is comin' up soon, but we're too lazy to go visit her. We told her to come here with the rest of the folks, but she already has plans to barbeque with all our cousins, aunts, uncles, and half-cousins. I was kind of sad to find out we weren't going to see her this Easter. I think the main reason is we don't have a car or vehicle this time. Last Christmas, a friend let us borrow his car (he wasn't doing anything that Christmas.) I love seeing my Grandma, and although I only have pictures to remind me of a wonderful woman she is, I know I can go to her for anything. I guess there's next year.
The kids around town call her Miss Abilene. Mama don't like to be referred by her real name, and she'll get the fryin' pan on any of those kids who disrespect her. She was thinking about starting a daycare for the other kids around town when their parents go to work, however she can't do that unless she's licensed from the state, and she definitely not gettin' a license anytime soon. There's a small television in the kitchen. Our house is a two-floored house with a small basement, and since no one goes down in the basement, we only have two floors. Luckily, I have my own room. Naydeen and Deja have to share their rooms, and Marcus has a small bed right across from Mama's room. As for me, I get some privacy.
I try to appreciate my Mama everyday, but it seems like our lives are gettin' worse and worse, and we can't get nothin' done. I love her, but I wish she would see me as her own child, and not some average, ordinary child the world sees me in. I'm sharing this story because I wish I could've gotten the chance to show her how much I care, and that I'm not that little boy down the street that everyone points to and laughs at. I'm more than average, mom. I'm your son, and I wish I could've told you how much I loved you before you had to go. I wish I could let you know what I have to offer to the world. I wish I could've made you proud. My prayers will always be in your heart.
2. The Big Argument
It all started the Thursday before Easter. Mama was bakin' the rolls that day, and spreadin' butter on the mashed potatoes. The cows were mooin' from the barnyard, and the school bus was arriving. I wasn't home yet. Naydeen and Deja always get home before me.
Mama heard the bus stoppin' outside of the house. She quickly stopped stirring the collard greens, and ran outside. Deja and Naydeen, both of them wearing a dress, came runnin' out of the bus holding an art project. Mama waved to the bus driver, and he took off.
Naydeen and Deja ran into Mama's arms.
"Naydeen! Deja! I'm so glad you're home! How was school today?"
"Good, mommy!" Deja said.
"Good, mommy! I had a good day as usual," Naydeen added.
"Did you do anything special today?" she asked them.
"Yeah!" both girls answered.
"We made pictures of our family in arts and crafts today," Naydeen mentioned, showing Mama the picture.
"I made a vase in my art class. We used glitter and glue and scissors! It was so much fun!" Deja said, showing Mama her picture.
Mama took both pictures in her hands. "This is wonderful," she said, "I'm gonna put these pictures up on the fridge. You both did a wonderful job! Yall should be proud. Mah girls are doin' something great. Let's hope your big brother can do the same."
The girls laughed. Okay, it's true. I can be a klutz sometimes, but you don't have to rub it in. It just makes me feel bad. Naydeen and Deja ran inside the house with their art projects, dragging alone their schoolbags. Mama waited outside. She knew I'd be home soon. Marcus ran out, wearing his overalls way too tight.
"Mama! Mama!" he screamed, "when is the food gonna be ready?"
"In a minute, sweetheart," she answered, tussling his hair.
"Whatcha doin' out here, Mama?"
"Waitin' for your brother. He should be home soon."
My bus came bouncin' down the gravel street. It's weird, because I don't think this street has a name or anything! The bus approached the house. I got off. "See ya later, Junior," some kids were sayin' sarcastically. One of them even threw a paper ball at me. I would've retaliated, but I was already at home.
I get off the bus and it turns away, driving off in the pavement. Mama sends Marcus back in the house.
"Hey, Mama," I said, grasping my backpack.
"Hey, Junior. How was your day?"
"It was alright. It was better than most days."
"That's good. Listen, Junior. I got some potatoes on the stove that needs butterin'. Also, the trash needs to be taken out, and them clothes need to be washed by tomorrow. I already did some of Marcus's clothes. I think you can manage the rest. Naydeen and Deja's school clothes can't go in the dryer, so make sure you fold them up. You can do that stuff after dinner."
"But Ma, I got things of my own. I got homework to do, and I have to write up a late paper for my teacher. I have a life of my own. Why didn't you finish the laundry while we were at school? You know darn well you could've finished before we got home. Can't you teach the girls how to do their own laundry? I'm not finna touch their dirty laundry!"
"Get inside the house, boy," Mama fiercely said, tugging on my arm. She pushed me inside the house, and slammed the door shut.
Marcus wanted to know what was going on, so he peeked his head out from the living room.
"Go to yo room, boy!" Mama ordered him. He quickly vanished.
"Mama, I can't do all of that right now. I need to do my homework," I explained.
Mama slapped me right across the face. She made a mark on my face, and I was down to the ground. "Listen here, boy," she told me, putting her finger up, "I don't care about nothin' you gotta do. You shoulda done your late homework yesterday. I need work done around this house, and I can't do it by myself!"
"Maybe if you got up off your butt and do something, the work would be done!"
"Don't talk back to Mama, Junior. I'm only askin' you to do one thing! Now go do what your mother told you to do!"
"I'm always doin' what you tell me to do. You never listen to me! When was the last time you called me by my full name? When was the last time you told me where my father is? You don't even know where he is. You're just selfish, and you only care about yourself!"
Mama scratched her face. "Junior, let's not do this right now," she said, "listen to me this instant. You only get one mother in life and that's it. I deserve the same respect from you as I do from Naydeen, Deja, and Marcus. One day, you gonna know what it's like to live in the 'real' world, and see things you ain't seen yet. You respect me 'til the day I die, you hear me? Now go to your room and don't think about comin' out 'til dinner is ready."
I gave her a sinister look, and ran up the stairs. I slammed my door shut. Naydeen and Deja came racing down the stairs, wonderin' what was goin' on.
"What happened, Ma?" I heard Naydeen ask.
"Junior's havin' a bad day. That's what. He'll snap out of it soon," Mama answered.
She always says that when things go wrong. "Junior's havin' a bad day." To be honest, today was a good day for me. I ended up doin' all the chores she wanted me to do, and I got no study time in. I'm definitely gonna fail these quizzes comin' up, but I've failed before, so I don't really care. After the steak and mashed potato dinner with rolls, I quickly fell asleep. The girls were still up playing dollhouse, and Marcus was with Mama, helpin' her wash the dishes.
"Will our lives get better soon?" he asked her. "Our lives are fine the way it is. Junior and I got into an argument, that's all. All is well in our family," Mama told him. She was lying.
3. Mama's Last Words
Easter Sunday came quick. Naydeen and Deja got their Easter baskets ready, and Mama gave them some candy. The baskets matched their blue and green dresses. Mama helped Marcus dress into a nice suit. "You children look nice today," she said, all of them standing near the front door, "if only I had a camera to take the picture."
Here I come trottin' down the stairs, wearin' tight jeans and a sleeveless shirt I found buried in my room. "Where's your suit, honey? I got it prepared just for you," Mama said.
"I didn't wanna wear that old thing. It looks hideous!" I answered.
"You lucky chapel service start in ten minutes, or else you'd be on the floor right now," Mama told me.
"Junior's in trouble!" Marcus laughed.
"Be quiet, Marcus. Don't talk to your brother like that. Come on. We're walking to the chapel this morning. Service is about to begin."
We walked to the chapel. Some of the folks around here gave the kids some candy for their baskets. After service, there was an Easter hunt for the kids at Becky's house across the cornfield. Of course, Mama was there talkin' to some adults, and I sat alone, watchin' the kids play in their dresses and suits. Mama comes up to me.
"Junior, you in big trouble. When I tell you to do something, you do it. You don't go upon yourself doin' whatever you want to do. You ain't got that right."
"I don't got any right in this family. I'm just ordinary to you. Nothing else. I have no special talent to you. I'm just your pet. That's all I am."
"Is that how you feel, Junior? I love you boy. It's just, you make mistakes, and I don't want the other three kids to make those same mistakes. It's okay, Junior. Everything will be all right."
"No it won't, Ma. Our lives are not good and you know it. You said it yourself. One more bill you get and that's it. We gonna have to move in back with Grandma, and she can't raise all of us. You gotta get a job somewhere."
"Where am I gonna get a job, Junior? It's impossible."
"No it ain't, Ma. You have to try."
Mama turned away from me. "You're still in trouble when we get home. Don't worry about the Sunday dinner. Our neighbors got it covered."
We ate dinner there, and went home. I got yelled at for not wearing the suit she picked out, and I was grounded for the rest of April, and all of May and June. I didn't care. There's nothing to do here anyway.
The next day, Becky comes over early in the morning to take Marcus for a play date at her house with her small children. He'll be there the entire day. Mama waves goodbye to Naydeen and Deja as they're on their way to the bus. I come down the stairs, and she puts her hands on her hips. "What'd I do?" I asked.
"Nothin', Junior. You did nothin'. You'll always be ordinary, and you'll never be the special boy I know you can be. There's somethin' in my heart that tells me you're gonna be special one day. You have to know that, and tell yourself to do somethin' with it. I can't be the one doin' that for you."
"I'm not gonna be special, Mama. I'm not goin' to college, I'm not workin' anywhere, and I'm not certified for anything. I'm just gonna stay home and take care of you. What else do I have goin' for me? You said I'm ordinary and plain, so that's what I am. I'm not that southern boy lookin' for adventure. That's not me, Mama. Why don't you see that? Why don't you love me for who I am?"
"Junior. I love you with all my heart."
"That's why you gave me the spanking. My face is cut."
"You know why too."
"Please, Ma. Save your dramatic story for someone else. I don't wanna hear it. You won't even tell me where Daddy went. He could be dead for all we know, and you think that's okay. It's not okay. I want my Daddy back. At least he gives me things I want, and treats me like I'm somebody."
"Did something happen in school?"
"No. Nothing happened. Why do you care? You never do."
I turned my head away. Mama was about to cry. "Whatever happens, Junior," she said, trying not to cry, "I'll always love you. Can you at least love me back?"
"I don't know," I quickly answered, "I'll have to think about that. There's my bus. I'll answer you when I get home."
I grabbed my schoolbag, and got on the bus. Mama restrained her tears, but a few came dripping down her face. The bus pulled off. Mama was alone at that moment.
I get home before Naydeen and Deja today. I don't know why, but I'm guessin' the bus schedule was a little off today. I open the house door with the key.
"Mama! Mama!" I yell, trying to see where she is. I go in her room. Maybe she's sleep. She wasn't there.
"Mama! Are you in the kitchen? It's me, Junior. I'm home," I called.
She still didn't respond. I ran to the kitchen, and saw her body on the ground.
"MAMA!" I screamed.
I didn't feel her pulse. I could see she was eating a tub of chocolate ice cream while watching some court show. I quickly reached for the phone, and called the Mellowfield ambulance.
"Mama, wake up! Please! Wake up!" I scream.
I turned around to see Naydeen and Deja skipping in the house. They spotted me in the kitchen, and Mama on the ground.
"What happened? Is Mama okay?" Naydeen asked.
"What'd you do this time, Junior?" Deja asked me.
"Mama won't wake up! I got here and she was right here! I swear she was!" I answered.
"I hope she's all right," Deja said.
"She has to be! She's our mom! Who's gonna feed us?" Naydeen wondered, starting to worry.
The paramedics came in, quickly checking our mother. There was about ten of them, and they put her on a stretcher and into the ambulance.
"Is she okay?" I asked.
"It appears she suffered from a heart attack. Who knows how long she was there. It could've been hours, and she couldn't reach the phone. It was an abrupt heart attack," the paramedic answered.
"Will she be okay?" I wondered.
"I don't know if she'll make it. You kids are coming with us to the hospital!" the paramedic urged, other men grabbing us and putting us in the ambulance with our mom.
"What? She's gonna die?" Deja asked, starting to cry.
They closed the doors on us, and we were left alone with our mom.
"What about Marcus? Where's he gonna go?" Naydeen asked.
"Don't worry. Mama gonna be fine. We'll see her tonight, and she'll live out with all of us," I encouraged them, making them feel better.
Marcus arrived with Becky and her kids to the hospital. I quickly called Grandma to tell her what was going on. She had no choice but to drive down here now.
She was pronounced dead the next hour. All of us started crying. We couldn't believe our mother was gone away from us.
"She had to have been on the ground for over three hours. She wouldn't have made it regardless," a nurse told us.
"What are we gonna do? We ain't got no Ma anymore," Marcus said, crying on Naydeen's shoulder. Deja was crying on my shoulder. I tried not to cry.
"Mama wants us to be strong. That's what we're gonna do," I said.
We buried Mama the next weekend. As for us, we were gonna finish out the school year here with our Grandma watching us, and then we would go and live with our Grandma in Alabama when school is over.
"Don't feel bad, Junior. Your Mama loved each and every one of you children," Grandma told me one day.
"I know, but I wish I could've told her how much I loved her. She'll never know. Do you think I killed her?"
"That's a silly thing to think about, sweetie! I know your mother was hard on you, but she did it because she loved you, and she still does. She knows your heart, and she knows you love her. You don't have to tell her. If you want forgiveness, you pray to God, and ask Him for forgiveness. Mama's in Heaven now, and she's lookin' down, and saying what a wonderful son you are, and the same for the rest of her kids. She loves you, Juquan, and so does the rest of us." I gave my Grandma a hug, and started crying.
"Thank you, Grandma. I love you too," I said.
"Everything will be fine. I promise you that," Grandma said.
Marcus, Naydeen, and Deja come into the kitchen with the rest of us.
"I miss Mama!" Naydeen cried.
"We all do, Naydeen. Your mother will always be in our hearts. She loves each and every one of you. You only get one Mama, but you will always have one God. Remember that for the rest of your life," Grandma said.
"Will we see her again?" Marcus asked.
"Of course, Marcus. She's waiting to see what her children will be. She knows they will be the best," Grandma answered.
"What will happen to the house?" Deja asked.
"It will be auctioned off. We'll get some money for it. Start packing, children. School is almost over, and we have to go back to Alabama soon. I love you all, and don't worry about anything. Mama is in our hearts."
I went to my room, and prayed to God. I know Mama is in my heart, and I know I'm in her heart. I didn't get a chance to tell her how much I loved her, but this made me realize something. I can be whoever I want to be, even when things look bad. I don't have to rely on Mama or Grandma or anyone else. Before, I was always under my Mama. Now, I can discover the world, and become my own person. I prayed for my brother and sisters, and I hope they can be fine without their mother. I think they will be.
I'm definitely going to college now, and I'm taking my mother's advice, and going to try very hard in school during my senior year. There's still time for me to get into a good college, and start my life abroad. It's never too late. Thank you Mama, for everything you've done. I'll never forget you, and I'll always love you. I want you to know you have the best kids, and we'll all try to not only impress you, but ourselves too.
As for me, I am no longer "Junior."
I am Juquan Thomas Abilene.