Jada Fletcher

August 16, 1991|By Jada Fletcher

This essay won second prize nationally in ACT-SO, the Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics, sponsored by the NAACP.

I DON'T have many memories of friends in my younger years. I must have had some, but I am sure they were not close buddies or more than "walking home" companions. Occasionally, however, these same people would take it into their heads that they didn't like me as much as I thought they did and teased and taunted me. As a result, I often found myself running home instead of walking.

I'm not a person given to holding grudges, but I'm also not too keen on getting beat up. Yet somehow, between fleeing and hiding, I found time to make a genuine friend.

His name was Calvin. He was someone I could always depend on, someone to run with me. I fancied myself as having a crush on him simply because we walked home together. It took me a while to realize that a girl and boy could be "just friends." We didn't really talk much, either in school or out; rather, we just enjoyed each other's company. Perhaps Calvin and I were drawn to one another by that implicit bond that connects a loner to a counterpart. Whatever it was, ours was a relationship that was special. Looking back on it, Calvin was probably the best friend I ever had.

As loners, Calvin and I were susceptible to the treatment that some people deem proper for those who are "different." There appeared no end to the line of hooligans that lay in wait for us almost every day after school. Sometimes it got so bad that we had to run from the building right after the bell rang and dodge from street to street in order to evade the neighborhood toughs. It was not that we were highly disliked or even weird. We just provided an apt diversion for those who preferred to stay after school and push around little kids instead of going home and studying.

Across from our small primary school, there was another school for grades kindergarten through 6. Over the years, juvenile delinquents began to gravitate toward it, and it became a dumping ground for educational misfits. Such was the dubious reputation of P.S. 61 that it struck terror into the hearts of the puny waifs who attended Duke Ellington Primary. It was considered the worst school yard insult to say that a person was "as dumb as someone from 61." Few were the times a student from Duke could be seen hanging around the place, unless he had a penchant for getting his face smashed in.

It was the dumb luck of most of Duke Ellington's students that P.S. 61 was en route to their homes. It stood like a wolf in our path, ready to jump out and bite us at any moment. On many a day after school, children from Duke could be seen sprinting through the side streets, desperately trying to make the five-minute break between our bell and 61's. Sometimes students were unlucky. One day it was our turn.

Why Calvin and I left school late, or why we felt in no hurry to get home, I have no clue. I do know that as we were walking, idling in the manner of people who haven't a care in the world, it occurred to us that we were being followed. We didn't have to turn around to know it was some guys from 61. We broke into a run. I guess we thought we were invisible, but we hadn't been paying attention, and now it was too late.

We headed for the playground. We knew that once we got past the tennis courts, we were home free. They wouldn't waste time trying to catch up to such easy pickings. Needless to say, that was not the case. We ran and we ran fast, but to 6-year-olds, five steps seemed like five blocks. Nonetheless, when I heard them gaining on us, I was out like a shot. I was in survival mode. I screamed behind me for Calvin to "run, run, run!" But it wasn't until I actually stopped and looked around that I realized he was almost half a block behind.

Everything seemed to pass in slow motion. "C'mon!" I yelled at the top of my lungs. He was paralyzed. For the briefest second, I considered going back to get him. It was too late, though; they had gotten hold of him. I was right at the entrance of the playground. Then I heard Calvin's voice: "Go!" it said, but I knew he meant stay. I didn't need to be told twice. I turned and kept running. One of the boys saw that I was getting away and said, "Let's get her!" I put on the steam. When they saw that there was absolutely no way they could catch up, they went back and concentrated their efforts on Calvin. I wanted to go on, but my conscience got the best of me. I ducked behind a bench and waited for Calvin. I wished I'd listened to him and kept going.

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