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I was half asleep. The covers were pulled tightly over my head. My body was balled up in the fetal position and I was sucking my thumb. Something I still did when sleeping. A fly buzzed over my head, the sound woke me up completely.

“Sara. Sara. Sara!” Jean was yelling.

I felt the covers being pulled off my head. I grabbed onto the blanket and tried to keep it from coming off any further, but Jean had a good grip on it and was pulling me as well as the blanket onto the floor.

“Get up girl. It’s time to get ready for school, don’t you hear momma calling us?”

At just that moment, I did hear my mother shout to come down and eat breakfast or else starve. “Okay, I’ll get up, just leave me alone!” I sat up swinging my legs over the side of the bed. I then took three deep breaths, breathing slowly as I exhaled the bitter air that came up from my lungs. I believed that if I did this every morning I would be cleaning up all the bad air that I had inhaled during the night. My window was about twenty feet from the trash can that everybody used, which is about twenty-five apartments, and that’s a lot of trash. So, I had every reason to believe that I was breathing in all the filth and decay that floated up to my window every night. 

I then went to the bathroom. The walls were painted green with yellow curtains on the window. There was no shower stall and the tub looked like it had seen better days, and it had. The sink was so little that it seemed it was made for the use of an infant only. I looked into the cracked mirror over the sink and frowned at the sleep that had formed in the cracks of my eyes. Something ran over my foot. I didn’t even bother to look because I knew it was one of the many roaches in my crib, and everybody else’s.

I ran bath water, stopping the tub up with a piece of old washcloth that was saved for just that purpose. While brushing my teeth, I noticed that I was getting a red throat. I hoped it wasn’t a cold or anything serious coming on, I hate being sick. Sick meant no school or nothing else. Shelia would see to that. I examined my face for any signs of pimples and found none on my smooth chocolate skin. Thank God. Jean had enough pimples for both of us. I told her to stop using that Noxzema cream. She wouldn’t listen to me. I tried it once and it broke me out. After that, just water and rubbing alcohol on my face and no pimples. Jean lathers up with that white cream and looks like a friggin’ pin cushion. A peached colored one with red spots. 

While taking my bath, I kept my mind on pleasant things, such as my up-and-coming birthday, the fair that was coming to town, this year Kool & the Gang was coming. My not gaining any weight this week, anything that would keep my mind off of Smooth and the alley. I had been having nightmares about finding Smooths body and seeing the blood on the ground as it seeped from his bullet wound. Shelia had been furious with Jean and I and had put us on punishment for three days. We missed the Ohio Players concert. This was the fourth day and we both couldn’t wait to get out into the streets to see what was happening, and if anything had come down regarding Smooth’s death. No one had mentioned anything about anything that had to do with death or a shooting at our school. But then again, I didn’t hang out with the students that would be likely to know anything about the streets, let along what was happening in them, I didn’t know anything about the streets, except my dealings with Smooth. 

Jean was making loud noises in the bedroom, so loud that momma called up for her to please be quiet. The sound got a little dimmer, just a little. I wondered if Jean had heard anything and was keeping it from me. It wouldn’t be the first time that Jean withheld information in order to look like she was on top of everything. She just loved playing games like that with me. I think this was because I’m the oldest, and she feels this is one way to be one step ahead of me. Whoop-tee-do! I wish she would understand that I don’t like this big sister crap any more than she does. I don’t get my jollies off from being the oldest. I end up doing most of the crappy work around this place due to being the oldest. I just bet she knows something about his death, or at least knows if anything is being talked about at school.

As I got out of the tub, I remembered a time last year when Jean had kept from me that a boy I liked, was seen with a boy known to be gay. She had waited days, while people laughed behind my back, before she told me, laughing all the while she was telling me. I had cried for one week straight, marking the days off of my Jackson Five calendar that my mother had gotten me for a Christmas present. I haven’t liked a boy since that time. Not in that way. Yeah, Jean wouldn’t tell me about any news if she had it, not without my begging for it. I finished dressing, combed my hair into a ponytail, grabbed my books from the bookcase, glanced at the bed, decided to make it later, shut the door and ran down the stairs to eat my breakfast before going to school.

Mom had a bowl of oatmeal with a piece of toast on a saucer for me at the table. Jean was halfway through with her food. I put four spoons of sugar and some Carnation milk on my oatmeal, the only way I can get it down my throat, and grape jelly on the toast. Mom was looking out the kitchen window with a worried look on her face.

“What’s the matter Mom?” I asked.

“Nothing for you to worry about. Hurry up and eat your food so you won’t be late for school.” Shelia turned from the window, smiled at the girls and walked out of the kitchen.

“Somethings wrong with Mom. She’s not acting right. Did you notice, Jean?”

“I didn’t notice anything. Like what?” Jean finished off her glass of milk.

“I don’t know, I can’t put my finger on it. She just seems to be worried about something. She keeps looking out the windows like she’s expecting somebody.”

“No. I haven’t noticed. Will you hurry up and eat so we can go!” Jean stood up from the table and grabbed her books and headed towards the back door.

“Wait! Here I come!” I quickly ate the last bite of toast, grabbed my books and ran out the door after her.