Authors: Angie Thomas
No it won’t, but I know what will.
I take the pass, grab my backpack out my locker, and go back into the gym. My classmates follow me with their eyes as I hurry toward the doors. Chris calls out for me. I speed up.
They probably heard me crying. Great. What’s worse than being the Angry Black Girl? The
By the time I get to the main office, I’ve dried my eyes and my face completely.
“Good afternoon, Ms. Carter,” Dr. Davis, the headmaster, says. He’s leaving as I’m going in and doesn’t wait for my response. Does he know all the students by name, or just the ones who are black like him? I hate that I think about stuff like that now.
His secretary, Mrs. Lindsey, greets me with a smile and asks how she can assist me.
“I need to call someone to come get me,” I say. “I don’t feel good.”
I call Uncle Carlos. My parents would ask too many questions. A limb has to be missing for them to take me out of school. I
only have to tell Uncle Carlos that I have cramps, and he’ll pick me up.
Feminine problems. The key to ending an Uncle Carlos interrogation.
Luckily he’s on lunch break. He signs me out, and I hold my stomach for added effect. As we leave he asks if I want some fro-yo. I say yeah, and a short while later we’re going into a shop that’s walking distance from Williamson. It’s in a brand-new mini mall that should be called Hipster Heaven, full of stores you’d never find in Garden Heights. On one side of the fro-yo place, there’s Indie Urban Style and on the other side, Dapper Dog, where you can buy outfits for your dog. Clothes. For a dog. What kinda fool would I be, dressing Brickz in a linen shirt and jeans?
On a serious tip—white people are crazy for their dogs.
We fill our cups with yogurt. At the toppings bar, Uncle Carlos breaks out into his fro-yo rap. “I’m getting fro-yo, yo. Fro-yo, yo, yo.”
He loves his fro-yo. It’s kinda adorable. We take a booth in a corner that’s got a lime-green table and hot-pink seats. You know, typical fro-yo decor.
Uncle Carlos looks over into my cup. “Did you seriously ruin perfectly good fro-yo with Cap’n Crunch?”
“You can’t talk,” I say. “Oreos, Uncle Carlos? Really? And they’re not even the Golden Oreos, which are by far the superior Oreos. You got the regular ones.
He devours a spoonful and says, “You’re weird.”
“So cramps, huh?” he says.
Shit. I almost forgot about that. I hold my stomach and groan. “Yeah. They’re real bad today.”
I know who
win an Oscar anytime soon. Uncle Carlos gives me his hard detective stare. I groan again; this one sounds a little more believable. He raises his eyebrows.
His phone rings in his jacket pocket. He sticks another spoonful of fro-yo in his mouth and checks it. “It’s your mom calling me back,” he says around the spoon. He holds the phone with his cheek and shoulder. “Hey, Lisa. You get my message?”
“She’s not feeling good,” Uncle Carlos says. “She’s got, you know,
Her response is loud but muffled. Shit, shit.
Uncle Carlos holds the nape of his neck and slowly releases a long, deep breath. He turns into a little boy when Momma raises her voice at him, and he’s supposed to be the oldest.
“Okay, okay. I hear you,” he says. “Here, you talk to her.”
Shit, shit, shit.
He passes me the piece of dynamite formerly known as his phone. There’s an explosion of questioning as soon as I say, “Hello?”
“Cramps, Starr? Really?” she says.
“They’re bad, Mommy,” I whine, lying my butt off.
“Girl, please. I went to class in labor with you,” she says. “I pay too much money for you to go to Williamson so you can leave because of cramps.”
I almost point out that I get a scholarship too, but nah. She’d become the first person in history to hit someone through a phone.
“Did something happen?” she asks.
“Is it Khalil?” she asks.
I sigh. This time tomorrow I’ll be staring at him in a coffin.
“Starr?” she says.
Ms. Felicia calls for her in the background. “Look, I gotta go,” she says. “Carlos will take you home. Lock the door, stay inside, and don’t let anybody in, you hear me?”
Those aren’t zombie survival tips. Just normal instructions for latchkey kids in Garden Heights. “I can’t let Seven and Sekani in? Great.”
“Oh, somebody’s trying to be funny. Now I know you ain’t feeling bad. We’ll talk later. I love you. Mwah!”
It takes a lot of nerve to go off on somebody, call them out, and tell them you love them within a span of five minutes. I tell her I love her too and pass Uncle Carlos his phone.
“All right, baby girl,” he says. “Spill it.”
I stuff some fro-yo in my mouth. It’s melting already. “Like I said. Cramps.”
“I’m not buying that, and let’s be clear about something: you only get one ‘Uncle Carlos, get me out of school’ card per school year, and you’re using it right now.”
“You got me in December, remember?” For cramps also. I didn’t lie about those. They were a bitch that day.
“All right, one per
year,” he clarifies. I smile. “But you gotta give me a little more to work with. So talk.”
I push Cap’n Crunch around my fro-yo. “Khalil’s funeral is tomorrow.”
“I don’t know if I should go.”
“Because,” I say. “I hadn’t seen him in months before the party.”
“You still should go,” he says. “You’ll regret it if you don’t. I thought about going. Not sure if that’s a good idea, considering.”
“Are you really friends with that cop?” I ask.
“I wouldn’t say friends, no. Colleagues.”
“But you’re on a first-name basis, right?”
“Yes,” he says.
I stare at my cup. Uncle Carlos was my first dad in some ways. Daddy went to prison around the time I realized that “Mommy” and “Daddy” weren’t just names, but they meant something. I talked to Daddy on the phone every week, but he
didn’t want me and Seven to ever set foot in a prison, so I didn’t see him.
I saw Uncle Carlos though. He fulfilled the role and then some. Once I asked if I could call him Daddy. He said no, because I already had one, but being my uncle was the best thing he could ever be. Ever since, “Uncle” has meant almost as much as “Daddy.”
My uncle. On a first-name basis with that cop.
“Baby girl, I don’t know what to say.” His voice is gruff. “I wish I could—I’m sorry this happened. I am.”
“Why haven’t they arrested him?”
“Cases like this are difficult.”
“It’s not that difficult,” I say. “He killed Khalil.”
“I know, I know,” he says, and wipes his face. “I know.”
“Would you have killed him?”
He looks at me. “Starr—I can’t answer that.”
“Yeah, you can.”
“No, I can’t. I’d like to think I wouldn’t have, but it’s hard to say unless you’re in that situation, feeling what that officer is feeling—”
“He pointed his gun at me,” I blurt out.
My eyes prickle like crazy. “While we were waiting on help to show up,” I say, my words wobbling. “He kept it on me until somebody else got there. Like I was a threat. I wasn’t the one with the gun.”
Uncle Carlos stares at me for the longest time.
“Baby girl.” He reaches for my hand. He squeezes it and moves to my side of the table. His arm goes around me, and I bury my face in his rib cage, tears and snot wetting his shirt.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” He kisses my hair with each apology. “But I know that’s not enough.”
Funerals aren’t for dead people. They’re for the living.
I doubt Khalil cares what songs are sung or what the preacher says about him. He’s in a casket. Nothing can change that.
My family and I leave thirty minutes before the funeral starts, but the parking lot at Christ Temple Church is already full. Some kids from Khalil’s school stand around in “RIP Khalil” T-shirts with his face on them. A guy tried to sell some to us yesterday, but Momma said we weren’t wearing them today—T-shirts are for the streets, not for church.
So here we are, getting out the car in our dresses and suits. My parents hold hands and walk in front of me and my brothers. We used to go to Christ Temple when I was younger, but Momma got tired of how people here act like their shit don’t
stank, and now we go to this “diverse” church in Riverton Hills. Way too many people go there, and praise and worship is led by a white guy on guitar. Oh, and service lasts less than an hour.
Going back in Christ Temple is like when you go back to your old elementary school after you’ve been to high school. When you were younger it seemed big, but when you go back you realize how small it is. People fill up the tiny foyer. It has cranberry-colored carpet and two burgundy high-back chairs. One time Momma brought me out here because I was acting up. She made me sit in one of those chairs and told me not to move until service was over. I didn’t. A painting of the pastor hung above the chairs, and I could’ve sworn he was watching me. All these years later and they still have that creepy painting up.
There’s a line to sign a book for Khalil’s family and another line to go into the sanctuary. To see him.
I catch a glimpse of the white casket at the front of the sanctuary, but I can’t make myself try to see more than that. I’ll see him eventually, but—I don’t know. I wanna wait until I don’t have any other choice.
Pastor Eldridge greets people in the doorway of the sanctuary. He’s wearing a long white robe with gold crosses on it. He smiles at everyone. I don’t know why they made him look so creepy in that painting. He’s not creepy at all.
Momma glances back at me, Seven, and Sekani, like she’s making sure we look nice, then she and Daddy go up to Pastor Eldridge. “Morning, Pastor,” she says.
“Lisa! So good to see you.” He kisses her cheek and shakes Daddy’s hand. “Maverick, good to see you as well. We miss y’all around here.”
“I bet y’all do,” Daddy mumbles. Another reason we left Christ Temple: Daddy doesn’t like that they take up so many offerings. But he doesn’t even go to our diverse church.
“And these must be the children,” Pastor Eldridge says. He shakes Seven’s and Sekani’s hands and kisses my cheek. I feel more of his bristly mustache than anything. “Y’all sure have grown since I last saw you. I remember when the little one was an itty-bitty thing wrapped up in a blanket. How’s your momma doing, Lisa?”
“She’s good. She misses coming here, but the drive is a little long for her.”
I side-eye the hell—excuse me, heck; we’re in church—out of her. Nana stopped coming to Christ Temple because of some incident between her and Mother Wilson over Deacon Rankin. It ended with Nana storming off from the church picnic, banana pudding in hand. That’s all I know though.
“We understand,” says Pastor Eldridge. “Let her know we’re praying for her.” He looks at me with an expression I know too well—pity. “Ms. Rosalie told me you were with Khalil when this happened. I am so sorry you had to witness it.”
“Thank you.” It’s weird saying that, like I’m stealing sympathy from Khalil’s family.
Momma grabs my hand. “We’re gonna find some seats.
Nice talking to you, Pastor.”
Daddy wraps his arm around me, and the three of us walk into the sanctuary together.
My legs tremble and a wave of nausea hits me, and we aren’t even at the front of the viewing line yet. People go up to the casket in twos, so I can’t see Khalil at all.
Soon there are six people in front of us. Four. Two. I keep my eyes closed the whole time with the last two. Then it’s our turn.
My parents lead me up. “Baby, open your eyes,” Momma says.
I do. It looks more like a mannequin than Khalil in the casket. His skin is darker and his lips are pinker than they should be, because of the makeup. Khalil would’ve had a fit if he knew they put that on him. He’s wearing a white suit and a gold cross pendant.
The real Khalil had dimples. This mannequin version of him doesn’t.
Momma brushes tears from her eyes. Daddy shakes his head. Seven and Sekani stare.
That’s not Khalil
, I tell myself.
Like it wasn’t Natasha.
Natasha’s mannequin wore a white dress with pink and yellow flowers all over it. It had on makeup too. Momma had told me, “See, she looks asleep,” but when I squeezed her hand, her eyes never opened.
Daddy carried me out the sanctuary as I screamed for her to wake up.
We move so the next set of people can look at Khalil’s mannequin. An usher is about to direct us to some seats, but this lady with natural twists gestures toward the front row of the friends’ side, right in front of her. No clue who she is, but she must be somebody if she’s giving orders like that. And she must know something about me if she thinks my family deserves the front row.
We take our seats, and I focus on the flowers instead. There’s a big heart made out of red and white roses, a “K” made out of calla lilies, and an arrangement of flowers in orange and green, his favorite colors.
When I run out of flowers, I look at the funeral program. It’s full of pictures of Khalil, from the time he was a curly-haired baby up until a few weeks ago with friends I don’t recognize. There are pictures of me and him from years ago and one with us and Natasha. All three of us smile, trying to look gangster with our peace signs. The Hood Trio, tighter than the inside of Voldemort’s nose. Now I’m the only one left.
I close the program.
“Let us stand.” Pastor Eldridge’s voice echoes throughout the sanctuary. The organist starts playing, and everyone stands.
“And Jesus said, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled,’” he says, coming down the aisle. “‘You believe in God, believe also in me.’”
Ms. Rosalie marches behind him. Cameron walks alongside her, gripping her hand. Tears stain his chubby cheeks. He’s
only nine, a year older than Sekani. Had one of those bullets hit me, that could’ve been my little brother crying like that.
Khalil’s aunt Tammy holds Ms. Rosalie’s other hand. Ms. Brenda is wailing behind them, wearing a black dress that once belonged to Momma. Her hair has been combed into a ponytail. Two guys, I think they’re Khalil’s cousins, hold her up. It’s easier to look at the casket.
“‘My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?’” Pastor Eldridge says. “‘And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.’”
At Natasha’s funeral, her momma passed out when she saw her in the casket. Somehow Khalil’s momma and grandma don’t.
“I wanna make one thing clear today,” Pastor Eldridge says once everyone is seated. “No matter the circumstances, this is a homegoing celebration. Weeping may endure for a night, but how many of you know that JOY—!” He doesn’t even finish and people shout.
The choir sings upbeat songs, and almost everyone claps and praises Jesus. Momma sings along and waves her hands. Khalil’s grandma and auntie clap and sing too. A praise break even starts, and people run around the sanctuary and do the “Holy Ghost Two-Step,” as Seven and I call it, their feet moving like James Brown and their bent arms flapping like chicken wings.
But if Khalil’s not celebrating, how the hell can they? And why praise Jesus, since he let Khalil get shot in the first place?
I put my face in my hands, hoping to drown out the drums, the horns, the shouting. This shit doesn’t make any sense.
After all that praising, some of Khalil’s classmates—the ones who were in the parking lot in the T-shirts—make a presentation. They give his family the cap and gown Khalil would’ve worn in a few months and cry as they tell funny stories I’d never heard. Yet I’m the one in the front row on the friends’ side. I’m such a fucking phony.
Next, the lady with the twists goes up to the podium. Her black pencil skirt and blazer are more professional-looking than church-looking, and she’s wearing an “RIP Khalil” T-shirt too.
“Good morning,” she says, and everyone responds. “My name is April Ofrah, and I’m with Just Us for Justice. We are a small organization here in Garden Heights that advocates for police accountability.
“As we say farewell to Khalil, we find our hearts burdened with the harsh truth of how he lost his life. Just before the start of this service, I was informed that, despite a credible eyewitness account, the police department has no intentions of arresting the officer who murdered this young man.”
“What?” I say, as people murmur around the sanctuary. Everything I told them, and they’re not arresting him?
“What they don’t want you to know,” Ms. Ofrah says, “is that Khalil was unarmed at the time of his murder.”
start talking then. A couple of folks yell out, including one person who’s bold enough to shout “This is bullshit” in a church.
“We won’t give up until Khalil receives justice,” Ms. Ofrah says over the talking. “I ask you to join us and Khalil’s family after the service for a peaceful march to the cemetery. Our route happens to pass the police station. Khalil was silenced, but let’s join together and make our voices heard for him. Thank you.”
The congregation gives her a standing ovation. As she returns to her seat, she glances at me. If Ms. Rosalie told the pastor I was with Khalil, she probably told this lady too. I bet she wants to talk.
Pastor Eldridge just about preaches Khalil into heaven. I’m not saying Khalil didn’t make it to heaven—I don’t know—but Pastor Eldridge tries to make sure he gets there. He sweats and breathes so hard I get tired looking at him.
At the end of the eulogy, he says, “If anybody wishes to view the body, now is the—”
He stares at the back of the church. Murmurs bubble around the sanctuary.
Momma looks back. “What in the world?”
King and a bunch of his boys post up in the back in their gray clothes and bandanas. King has his arm hooked around a lady in a tight black dress that barely covers her thighs. She has way too much weave in her head—for real, it comes to her ass—and way too much makeup on.
Seven turns back around. I wouldn’t wanna see my momma looking like that either.
But why are they here? King Lords only show up at King Lord funerals.
Pastor Eldridge clears his throat. “As I was saying, if anyone wishes to view the body, now is the time.”
King and his boys swagger down the aisle. Everybody stares. Iesha walks alongside him, all proud and shit, not realizing she looks a hot mess. She glances at my parents and smirks, and I can’t stand her ass. I mean, not just because of how she treats Seven, but because every time she shows up, there’s suddenly an unspoken tension between my parents. Like now. Momma shifts her shoulder so it’s not as close to Daddy, and his jaw is clenched. She’s the Achilles’ heel of their marriage, and it’s only noticeable if you’ve been watching it for sixteen years like I have.
King, Iesha, and the rest of them go up to the casket. One of King’s boys hands him a folded gray bandana, and he lays it across Khalil’s chest.
My heart stops.
Khalil was a King Lord too?
Ms. Rosalie jumps up. “Like hell you will!”
She marches to the coffin and snatches the bandana off Khalil. She starts toward King, but Daddy catches her halfway and holds her back. “Get outta here, you demon!” she screams. “And take this mess with you!”
She throws the bandana at the back of King’s head.
He stills. Slowly, he turns around.
“Now look, bi—”
“Ay!” Daddy says. “King, man, just go! Leave, a’ight?”
“You ol’ hag,” Iesha snarls. “Got some nerve treating my man like this after he offered to pay for this funeral.”
“He can keep his filthy money!” Ms. Rosalie says. “And you can take your behind right out the door too. Coming in the Lord’s house, looking like the prostitute you are!”
Seven shakes his head. It’s no secret that my big brother is the result of a “for hire” session Daddy had with Iesha after a fight with Momma. Iesha was King’s girl, but he told her to “hook Maverick up,” not knowing Seven would come along looking exactly like Daddy. Fucked up, I know.
Momma reaches behind me and rubs Seven’s back. There are rare times, when Seven’s not around and Momma thinks Sekani and I can’t hear her, that she’ll tell Daddy, “I still can’t believe you slept with that nasty ho.” But Seven can’t be around. When he’s around, none of that matters. She loves him more than she hates Iesha.
The King Lords leave, and conversations break out all around.
Daddy leads Ms. Rosalie to her seat. She’s so mad she’s shaking.
I look at the mannequin in the coffin. All those horror stories Daddy told us about gangbanging, and Khalil became a
King Lord? How could he even
about doing that?
It doesn’t make sense though. He had green in his car. That’s what Garden Disciples do, not King Lords. And he didn’t run to help out with the fight at Big D’s party.
But the bandana. Daddy once said that’s a King Lord tradition—they crown their fallen comrades by putting a folded bandana on the body, as if to say they’re going into heaven repping their set. Khalil must’ve joined to get that honor.
I could’ve talked him out of it, I know it, but I abandoned him. Fuck the friends’ side. I shouldn’t even be at his funeral.
Daddy stays with Ms. Rosalie for the rest of the service and later helps her when the family follows the casket out. Aunt Tammy motions us over to join them.
“Thank you for being here,” she tells me. “You meant a lot to Khalil, I hope you know that.”
My throat tightens too much for me to tell her he means a lot to me too.
We follow the casket with the family. Just about everyone we pass has tears in their eyes. For Khalil. He really is in that casket, and he’s not coming back.