french-toast-933386_1280.jpgChapter 1 Emmanuel

It was nine thirty in the morning and Manny tried to keep from checking his email for the fiftieth time today. He had been glued to his phone since yesterday afternoon. He gave in to his urge and double tapped the screen on his phone to turn it on.
Damn, still nothing. He sighed. His head fell back on the faded plaid sofa. His dark dreadlocks hung from the back of it. He stuffed the phone back into his pocket. The new cell phone was his only birthday present this year. A complete surprise, being that his Aunt still only had a land line.
Manny was not-so-patiently waiting on a response from Westerlynne Ridge Estate’s “It Takes a Village” foundation. Two months ago, he had turned in his 2000-word essay, where he expansively explained why he would be the best candidate for their summer internship program. Every summer Westerlynne Ridge, the richest African American community in Columbus, Ohio, would take in a less fortunate high school graduate. One lucky winner would be chosen to stay in a suite at the Westerlynne Ridge Hotel for three months. All expenses were paid by the foundation so that an intern could live comfortably among these well-to-do men and women and their families. Then, through personal one-on-one interviews, career shadowing, and even home visits with some of the most prominent men and women in Ohio a young black man or woman would be given the secrets to success, along with the tools to achieve their wildest dreams. Any minority  high school senior, who had maintained a 3.8 g.p.a for both their junior and senior years could apply for this once in a lifetime opportunity. For some it was too good to be true and so they didn’t even bother trying. However, for many it was the g.p.a requirement that took them out of the running. Nevertheless, every black teen in Columbus, at some point or another, imagined what it would be like to live a day behind those gates.
At night, when the lively city of Columbus, Ohio became romantic, its beds were filled with young boys and girls who dreamed of one day getting married and raising a family behind those gates. In the surrounding universities, young entrepreneurs studied hard with hopes of devising something world changing so that he or she could one day get their very own personalized pass codes to the country club entrance where they could golf and play tennis with their uppity neighbors.
Of all the people dreaming to peek behind the gates at Westerylynne Ridge, Emmanuel “Manny” Wright may have been the kid who wanted it most. From a young boy, Manny signed up for any and every sports league sponsored by Westerlynne Ridge Country Club. Not only basketball and football either, Manny had played junior golf, tennis and even swam for the Club. He performed hard for the team coaches as if he were trying out for a NFL football camp. What he was hoping for, was to find his father. He wasn’t picky. If his biological father wasn’t there, any wealthy black man would do. His number one goal was to find Quincey, the nice, rich man his mother spoke of to his aunt. However, he had a backup plan, which included but was not limited to, being snatched up by some rich fellow who had never quite gotten around to making kids of his own, but deep down always wanted a son just like Manny Wright. A straight “A”, super athletic, classically handsome, well-mannered, willing to conform, just waiting to be loved, black little boy like Manny.
Manny had maintained a 4.0 g.p.a since the sixth grade, since the summer he had overheard Coach talking about the summer program with another coach. Like it was yesterday, Manny could hear the loud rich voice saying to his assistant, “This boy has gotta arm on him remind me of Wes. He keeps throwing like that and he won’t need to get into the internship program to go places!” Manny could care less about whoever this cat Wes was with the arm or even about becoming a professional football player, instead he went straight to the library. He googled “Westerlynne Ridge internship program.” The search results changed how he moved, thought, and planned for the next six years. He kept his grades up and whenever the scare arose that a “B” might be in his future he begged his teachers for extra credit. The email he was now waiting on was all he needed to prove his efforts were not in vain.
Aunt El came dragging her feet from her bedroom dressed in a housecoat and slippers. She had a floral scarf tied that covered her two French braids. Manny knew the braids were there under the scarf, even though he couldn’t see them. They always were.
“Hey Boo,” she said to Manny pinching at the sides of his ribs compelling him to squirm and roll his eyes. He wasn’t in the mood.
“Don’t do that,” Manny said, annoyed. Aunt El looked at him sympathetically.
“Ain’t heard nothing yet, huh” she asked Manny?
“Unh Unh” groaned Manny looking at his aunt stale faced.
Do you still think I’d still be here with you! He thought. He knew better than to say it out loud. Although he was eighteen, a whole grown man, his aunt would have gotten in his ass.
“Want some French toast and coffee?” Aunt El asked. She always cooked good on her days off. “Mmm, don’t that sound good?” she went on.
She didn’t wait around for Manny’s response. She walked into the kitchen and started whipping eggs and cinnamon and all sorts of aromatic seasonings together and soon enough the sound of bread sizzling in the fryer was enough to pull Manny’s mind away from his phone.
“I’ll take some Aunty,” Manny shouted, hoping she had put on enough for him.
“Mmhm,” Aunt El said grinning and winking at him
“We got O.J,” Manny asked as he got up and went into the kitchen to pour him and her some drinks. He felt bed for treating her dryly.
“I don’t think so, we got some Kool-Aid packets. Make some of that,” She yelled over the sound of the frying toast. She flipped over a piece, proud to see the golden crisped bread peppered with cinnamon. Gourmet breakfast, almost fit for a king, if it wasn’t for the fact that it was the only item on the menu, not including the Kool-Aid.
I bet the people in Westerlynne got O.J., Manny thought to himself as he stirred the bright red fruity liquid.
As always, Aunt El’s breakfast hit the spot. When the plates had nothing left but syrup on them, she grabbed her and Manny’s dirty dishes and headed to the kitchen sink. That’s when she started.

“I can’t understand why you wanna work for some uppity ass black people like them anyway when Mr. Carghil been asking for your help down at the car wash for about four summers in a row, now. He pay good money, too,” she said while scrubbing the mess out of them plates.
“Man, Aunty, don’t nobody want to work for Old Carghil crackhead ass” Manny said disgustedly.
“Watch your mouth, boy,” Aunt El said raising an eyebrow. Her glare begged Manny to open his mouth and make another sound so she could smack the delicious aftertaste of their breakfast right out of it. Seconds felt like minutes before her eyes went back to the sudsy plates. “He got his issues, same as me, same as you but Mr. Carghil is good people. He fixed my car on credit many times. The same car that drove your little ass back and forth to school, every day. ”
Barely, Manny thought as he envisioned Aunt El turning the key in the ignition and the engine whining and groaning but not turning over. Something was always wrong with that old beat up Volkswagen Jetta.
Aunt El couldn’t stand Westerlynne or any other community of people who acted like their shit didn’t stink. She accused those types of people for her sisters death. She had no proof that some wacko from Manny fathers side had started the fire that ended her sister’s life but she did know that no estranged father ever did show up to gather his son, to claim what was his. So, she blamed them, for all of her troubles. She blamed them for all of the things she could never blame her nephew for. Rich folks were the reason she never finished Culinary school. It was also their fault she hadn’t married and had kids of her own. The extra weight pocketing around her middle and all over her ass, yep, they did that too. Thus, she talked about the people who lived in hidden in gated communities, tucked away in  cul-de-sacs, every chance she got. Tore them up. Crazy, horrible stories she told Manny, that would typically dissuade a person from wanting anything to do with such a place. However, for Manny, it did the opposite. He was attracted to the adventure that seemed to go on there. He wanted nothing more than to get closer to it. It had to be better than where he was at now. Hell, compared to the mundane neighborhood he grew up in, Westerlynne may have well been a kingdom. Westerlynne Castles, it could’ve been called. One thing was for sure, he knew niggas weren’t in Westerlynne begging for rides and borrowing shit that couldn’t be given back, like cigarettes and sugar. Manny refused to sum himself up as one of them blacks, wanted nothing to do with them, as a matter of fact. As cold as his arm was he wasn’t throwing a football for some closet alcoholic football coach at West Central High. He didn’t want to hang out with their bound-for-nowhere children, either. His Aunt El would have been cast out too, but she was all the family he had, until maybe he could replace her with a classy black family from Westerlynne. One with a car that ran and enough money to do shit like go on vacation.

He didn’t know if he really meant that but Aunt El just didn’t understand, working for Carghil was exactly the shit he was looking to get away from. The folks in Westerlynne didn’t need shit fixed on credit. They would never leave their hot whips in the hands of an addict. The nigga been done sold their shit for a couple of rocks and got high. All of this Manny thought about, but he wanted to keep the peace.

“You right Aunty. I’m sorry, I’m just a little on edge. I’m gone walk over to Brandon’s.”

Aunt El stood drying her hands on the thin kitchen towel. She looked at her hands as if she didn’t recognize them. They were someone else’s. The life that she had lived for the past eighteen years was someone else’s. None of this had she asked for. She groaned out loud.
“Auntie,” Manny called out. He hated it when she went there and left him here. He wasn’t sure for how much longer but he needed her, still. She snapped out of her trance, Manny smiled at her to show that he was truly sorry for how he was acting. The magic crawled from out his deep dimples. Her head tilted as she came back to her reality.
“Okay, Sugar,” she smiled back. “Tell his mom and dad I said hello.”
Manny walked through the park that separated his house from Brandon’s. He was walking but his mind was running. He checked his notifications in his phone again and acted not to care this time when he had no new emails. He stuffed his phone back in the pocket of his shorts and looked around at the houses surrounding the park. The homes weren’t too run down. They were definitely a step up from the projects but Manny fevered to be around the proud black home owners on the ridge. Manny loved his culture, but he hated seeing his people represented by the down on his luck, ain’t got two nickels to fucking rub together, blame it on “the Man”, blacks. He wasn’t like some of the desperate Toms from his neighborhood, though. The ones who practiced to get rid of the rich base in their voices and to gesture with no rhythm what so ever, to fit in with those who weren’t fortunate enough to be gifted with pigment. That’s what impressed him the most about Westerlynne. You didn’t have to choose. You could be rich, as well as black. Not Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell black but black black; afro wearing, big booty girl chasing, barbecuing in your back yard while listening to Hip Hop and R& B black. Not hood rich either. Not like these Big Meech wanna-be cats claiming project turf in Manny’s neighborhood, but truly wealthy. Honest earned money is what Manny believed was what had gotten those well to do black folks behind those dark burgundy brick walls. Talents that proved you deserved more than the others. Forward thinkers and determined go getters, who were nothing like the people Manny grew up around, made up the neighborhoods on the ridge. What Manny didn’t know was that regardless of race or class, every neighborhood is pretty much made up of the same key characters. If only he had looked harder, if his mind wasn’t clouded with his own dream, he could see that every neighborhood was more the same than it was different. Some neighborhoods may have the money and tools it takes to conceal its trifling ways, nonetheless, the issues, the drama, the skeletons are always there and Westerlynne was no exception.

Copyright © 2017 by AJ Crowder


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