Junior High School 196, Harlem
Silver Jones sat quietly at first, but her patience was running thin. The longer she watched the jump-off go down, the more she began to get heated. She knew it wasn’t her beef, but being the person she was, she couldn’t just sit there and let her classmates get victimized by those two punks.
Catching a first glance at Silver, one would naturally assume that the eleven-year-old honor student was nothing more than a skinny, stuck-up little daddy’s girl because of her flowery amberish hair, striking hazel eyes, and flawless fair skin. But as many students found out, you should never judge a book by its cover, because in addition to her fragile soft looks and almost Urkel-like demeanor, she was also one of the fiercest fighters in the entire school. She was definitely a freak of nature, almost chameleon-like, because she could change from a mild-mannered angel to a fucking Tasmanian devil in an instant, if you rubbed her the wrong way. Silver wasn’t the type to start a fight—she only ended them.
Silver’s mother, Jesse, was determined not to let her only daughter be anyone’s fool, so she taught Silver about life, straight with no chaser. She saw fit neither to talk to nor treat her like a child. Jesse felt that life was too hard to sugarcoat things, especially to a poor black girl from Harlem. Jesse saw far too many girls, including herself, fall victim to the streets because they were naive and ignorant, and Jesse preferred that Silver hear the ugly truth from her rather than hear a beautiful lie from anyone else. Although many of the lectures Jesse gave Silver were chilling and explicit, she felt it was far better that her daughter have heard them and not need them than to need them and not have heard them. Jesse programmed principles so deep into Silver’s mind that it was as if she had wisdom beyond her eleven years.
One of the many things Jesse taught Silver was to always do what her gut told her to do if she felt she was in the right. So Silver did what came naturally. She stood up at her desk and yelled, “Why don’t you leave them alone, Problem!”
Problem and Tyrell, the school bullies, had Beastly and Diego, Silver’s two classmates, hemmed up in the back of the class as they rustled through their pockets.
The other students turned to watch as Silver stared at them with her arms folded, waiting for them to jump bad and say something slick, especially Problem, because she couldn’t stand his ass anyway. Problem, whose real name was Doyle, was blue-black and sloppily fat. He stared at Silver with his dark, sullen eyes. It was silent enough that you could hear a pin drop as the students watched and awaited his response.
Problem glanced at Tyrell, his partner in crime. Everyone knew that Problem would have to say something or he was gonna look like a punk, but by the same token, he knew that he didn’t want to say anything that would piss Silver off. He knew very well about her and also knew she could fight like a boy, so he harbored no quick desire to get in a battle he couldn’t win. The two boys he was robbing, Beastly and Diego, said nothing.
Beastly was the smallest boy in the class. He had recently arrived in the United States from Kingston, Jamaica. His real name was Beasley, but his classmates called him Beastly because of his huge Rastafarian dreadlocks, which made him look like a lion. Diego, on the other hand, was a pudgy Spanish kid who was just as big if not bigger than they were, but he was a punk and got robbed every day because of it.
Tyrell, rail thin, with missing front teeth, urged Problem to handle his business; he assured him that she was only a girl and that he was the fucking man.
“Yo,” said Tyrell, “you gonna let that skinny bitch front on you, dog?” Sucking his teeth, he added, “Nigga, you know I got your back!”
Problem tossed Diego aside and sneered at Silver. “And if I don’t, what the fuck you gonna do about it?”
Problem’s defiance quickly deflated when he heard click . . . click.
Missy, Silver’s best friend, clicked open an orange box cutter. Missy Anderson was a tall girl for twelve, with pretty dark skin and hair that hung down over her shoulders. She often lost her temper if she didn’t get her way, and would fight anyone for any reason, especially boys. She was third-generation project and simply didn’t give a fuck. She’d grown up in a family of all women, no males, so they had to hold it down. She’d grown up watching her mother, grandmother, and aunts fight and maim their boyfriends or other women around the proj-ects. Their weaponry varied from straight razors and butcher knives to NBC (nigger be cool) sticks, which were bats with rusty nails sticking out of them. But their weapon of choice was a special concoction that consisted of Red Devil lye, ammonia, and urine, a secret family recipe that had been handed down for generations. If they felt other women wanted their man, a bitch looked at them funny, or there was some typical “he said, she said” shit, these infractions were dealt with swiftly. Everyone knew that if you fought one Anderson broad, you had to fight them all. That’s how they got down, and this kept the entire Anderson clan fighting year-round in the projects.
As a matter of fact, that was how Silver and Missy had met, fighting each other. When they’d first met in the fifth grade, they hated each other’s guts and fought like gladiators every day, neither girl backing down an inch. It got to the point that they simply kept their faces greased with Vaseline and their hair braided at all times because they never knew when the other would stage a sneak attack.
Then one day after school while both girls were serving detention for fighting, a third person had been needed to play double dutch, and Silver was the only one around. So Missy approached Silver, who stood immediately ready to throw down. But Missy nonchalantly asked, “Yo, bitch, you want to play rope?”
Silver looked her in the eyes, then glanced at the rope, and spoke with attitude. “Yeah, hoe, I like to play . . . but I’m jumping first!”
From that day on, with a simple rope and a common love for double dutch, they’d been the best of friends, having each other’s back through hell and high water. They had no choice, because they found it easier and a lot less bloody to be friends than enemies.
Now both boys eyed Missy as she towered over them. Problem turned toward Silver.
“Yo, I ain’t messing with you, so why you gots to be all up in my bidness?” he asked, his tone less confident.
Silver stepped closer, both hands on her hips. “I’m making it my business.”
Problem was shook, especially when Tyrell backed away and bounced from the classroom, leaving him alone to handle his business by his lonesome.
Missy stood behind him and whispered chillingly in his ear as she placed the box cutter to his blubbery neck. “Talk that shit now, bitch?”
Problem stood speechless, ready to shit on himself. Silver stared at him with disgust. “Yo, why you only pick on people you know won’t fight back?” Before he could answer, she rolled her eyes and swayed her head from side to side. “Because they’ll kick your fat funky ass,” she answered, and mushed him in the forehead for good measure. The entire class busted out in laughter, taunting and hissing him. Silver waited for Problem to make a move, but amazingly, all he did was smile.
It suddenly occurred to her that the entire class had gone silent and sat properly in their chairs. With a sense of dread, Silver slowly turned and saw her teacher, Mr. Bonds, standing in the doorway, wearing a stern look.
“Miss Jones, I want you to go straight to the principal’s office and tell him about that filthy and disgusting mouth of yours.”
“But Mr. Bonds,” Silver pleaded, “Problem’s not even in this class, and he was—”
Problem quickly interrupted. “Ms. Horsley asked me to find some chalk . . . and that’s when she,” he said, pointing at Silver, “started messin’ with me for no reason.”
“You’s a goddamn liar,” Silver snapped. “I’m not going on detention because of your lying ass!”
Mr. Bonds’ eyes widened. “Curse one more time, Miss Jones, and I assure you that detention will be the least of your worries!”
Silver realized her mistake. “I’m sorry, Mr. Bonds, but he’s lying. . . . I mean, you can ask Beasley and Diego, they were—”
Hearing none of it, he simply pointed toward the door. “Now, Miss Jones!”
Silver looked toward Diego and Beasley to back her up, but they remained silent because Problem was eye-screwing them.
Missy stepped forward. “Mr. Bonds, she’s right. Problem was—”
“Did anyone ask you, Miss Anderson?” Mr. Bonds coldly cut her off. “And why are you out of your seat in the first place? Now sit your contemptuous self down before you go with her!”
Missy looked like she wanted to curse him out something awful, but Silver gestured for her to remain silent. The entire school knew Mr. Bonds was soft on little boys and harder on the girls, so it made no sense for both of them to get detention.
“Leave now, Miss Pretty,” he mocked. Collecting the books off her desk, Silver turned to glare at smart-ass Problem, who was smiling and waving bye-bye.
As Silver sat in the main office awaiting the principal, she noticed a musty odor that smelled like a dead rat. She frowned and held her nose, hoping that the principal would hurry up. It sounded like the principal was already in a conference with Ms. Horsley, who taught the dumber students downstairs. She heard every word of their discussion in the office. Apparently Ms. Horsley was talking about one of her students, who wasn’t participating in her class.
“Come on, Andrea,” the principal said. “You are a teacher, for Christ’s sake! Do your job and work a little harder with the boy.”
Silver turned and noticed a scruffy-looking boy sitting silently at the other end of the room, staring impassively at the walls. She knew immediately they were referring to him. His clothes were tattered, and his hair was so nappy it was turning into beaded dreads from lack of combing.
Ms. Horsley spoke, her voice heavy with frustration. “Listen, Bill, I’m a teacher, not a miracle worker. The boy needs to be in a special ed program or something—he can’t read, he can’t even write. I have other students I have to focus on instead of trying to teach the boy his ABC’s! No,” she said, “there’s nothing I can possibly do for him, and to be quite honest with you, I personally think the boy is retarded or something.”
“Anything else?” the principal asked, defeated.
“A bath from time to time wouldn’t hurt him, either. He smells like raw sewage!”
Silver looked at the sad-looking boy, but he showed no emotion or reaction to the cruel words the teacher said about him.
It was sixth period at Junior High School 196, lunchtime for all the seventh graders. Silver had just gotten off the canteen line after purchasing some butter crunch cookies and chocolate milk. No seventh grader in their right mind would be caught dead eating a school lunch. Silver, still fuming over receiving two days’ detention, spotted the boy she had seen in the principal’s office earlier that day. He sat alone in the corner of the cafeteria eating a tray of hot dogs and pork and beans. Silver watched him for a moment, ignoring Missy and the rest of their crew as they waved for her to come and sit with them. Having the same compassion for the less fortunate as her mother did, Silver decided to go and sit with the lonely little boy.
As Silver approached him, the students in the cafeteria looked on in silence as she placed her cookies and milk on the table in front of him. When she sat down, the boy stopped chewing and stiffened. Silver didn’t have any classes with him because she was in the advanced and gifted program.
Silver watched the timid little boy shiver like a wet puppy, and she began to feel even sorrier for him. She decided to break the ice. “So how long you been coming to this school?”
“Not long,” he mumbled, mouth full of food.
Silver could not understand him. “Excuse me?”
Embarrassed, he quickly gulped down the remaining food. “Not real long,” he repeated.
“So, what’s your name?”
Face still averted, he answered, “Chance.”
Silver frowned. “Chance . . . what kind of name is that?”
His eyes remained on his food. “Well, my real name is Chancellor . . . Chancellor Haze. But I don’t like it, so I just tell people to call me Chance for short.”
“I think Chancellor is a beautiful name,” Silver said. “But if you prefer to be called Chance, I’ll respect that.” She smiled. “My name is Silver.”
As if he was talking to his food, he shrugged. “Silver,” he said. “And you talkin’ ’bout my name?”
Silver chuckled. “You’re right. I should be the last person to talk about names.”
“How’d you get a name like that?” he asked, still looking at his food.
As if she had answered the question a million times already, Silver opened up her milk and said, “Well, when I was born, the nurse was cradling me in her arms when I opened my eyes. She said to my mother, ‘Oh, what beautiful eyes she has . . . they look almost silver. What is her name?’ She handed me to my mother, who took one look at me and said, ‘That’s her name. Silver . . . Silver Jones.’ ”
Silver picked up her napkin, wiped her hands, and extended one of them for him to shake. He didn’t notice her hand at first, so she waved it to get his attention. He quickly shook it and pulled back.
Silver smiled widely and said, “Now it’s official. That makes us friends, right?”
Chance shrugged and said, “I guess.”
“And since we are friends now . . .” Silver bent lower to get his attention. “I ask but one favor.”
“What?” Chance looked up suspiciously and then lowered his eyes again.
Silver answered seriously, “When we talk, I would appreciate it if you looked at me when you do, okay?”
Slowly, Chance raised his head and looked into her smiling face.
Excerpted from Harlem Girl Lost by Treasure E. Blue. Copyright © 2006 by Treasure E. Blue. Excerpted by permission of One World/Ballantine, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.