Ronny A. Vargas
Copyright © 2017 Ronny A. Vargas
All rights reserved
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It was another dreary winter night in Vinegar Hill. Jamal arrived at his apartment at almost midnight after a shift of delivering pizzas. It was Friday and, as usual, the windows shrugged with cold. He climbed the aged, creaking, wooden stairs of the old white building.
He flopped down on the maroon couch in front of the TV. Looking at the flowers in the rainbow-colored pots that occupied the most important corner of the living room, he recalled that he needed to water them. He always watered them exactly as his mom had done until the day she committed suicide, even though this ritual always stirred in him a collection of bad memories.
It had been only three months since he found his mother’s body hanging from the strongest beam of the ceiling. Every time he used the vintage copper watering can with the faded, mustard-colored flowers to water the pots, tears mingled with the water. He had promised himself to take care of the flowers until they or the horrific memories died, whichever came first. But whenever he performed the act, vivid images still flooded his mind.
The truth of the matter was, his mother’s smile had faded away with an unexpected call from the police department. It was Thanksgiving Day and she was preparing dinner. The news was bad–his younger brother had been shot dead by a police officer. His mother could only tolerate the pain in her heart for a week. Then she could take no more. He was her youngest son.
Jamal sat back, staring into the blank TV screen, his eyes dark and troubled from the memory. In truth, suicide haunted his own mind from time to time, and the only thing that kept him from following his mother into death was the love he had for Rosa, a pretty Puerto Rican girl from Queens. Every time she talked to him, she always said something to cheer his soul and clear his mind.
His cell phone rang, interrupting his thoughts. It was, in fact, Rosa. She asked him if they could spend Saturday together.
“Yes, babe. I’m not working tomorrow. Don’t feel like it,” he continued. “Don’t come all the way here, though. I’ll come to Queens to pick you up. We can go to a Puerto Rican restaurant there.”
“No, I’ll come to your apartment,” she insisted.
The next day, after she arrived, a taxi drove them over the Manhattan Bridge. They stopped for lunch at the corner of Broadway and Market Street. The restaurant’s Latin background music was joyful, but in Jamal’s head, only a tone of distress played.
They walked along the broad sidewalks in front of the September 11th monument among the tumult of people.
“Did you like lunch?” Rosa asked with a smile that glimmered over her brunette skin. The color of her lips, like rose petals, matched her red earrings.
“You know I always do,” he replied, his attention wrested from him by the busy, noisy street.
“I understand what you’re going through,” she said kindly, reaching for his hand. “I hate seeing you this way.”
“I don’t think I’m going to the NBA new talents audition,” Jamal announced.
“But you have to go, Jamal. Basketball is your life.”
“I know, I just haven’t felt it lately.”
“You have to try.”
“I don’t think I can do it, not and be at my best.”
“Awful things are going through your mind again? You promised me you’d try not to think about it.”
“I don’t know, maybe destiny will reunite me with my brother and mom.”
“Don’t say that! You promised me. Remember your mom’s flowers? You promised you would never let them die.”
“I know,” Jamal said, his eyes fixed and thoughtful.
“Listen,” she said, now gripping his hand, “God gave you the skills to play basketball. You have the height, agility, and you love the game. It´s in your genes. My mom told me something like that back when I was living in Puerto Rico. She encouraged me to try out for the volleyball team when I finished high school. And look what happened. I ended up in the Olympics! I never imagined I would go so far.”
“You’re so positive. That and your cute accent always make me change my mind,” Jamal finally said with a smile. “Anyway, if I do, it’s because I want to give you a better life.”
“You must try it,” she encouraged him again, and then they both got lost in the crowd.
On their way back to his apartment, a light at the corner of Jay Street and Plymouth suddenly burned out. From the darkness, two gunmen surprised them. Rose and Jamal jumped back, scared.
“Money and jewelry or you´ll die here,” one of the thieves demanded.
“Cover your eyes, Rosa. Let them take whatever they want,” Jamal whispered, gritting his teeth.
The gunmen took everything they could, leaving only the jeweled tears of panic on Rosa’s face.
“It’s okay, babe. It’s only material things. We can replace them later,” Jamal comforted her.
The following Wednesday, Jamal forced himself to get ready for the basketball audition. He got up early and had a light breakfast. He wasn’t in good spirits after all that had happened, but decided to try his luck.
He stopped at the bank to get some cash and then made a quick stop in a gun shop on Hicks Street. The shop with striking black letters over red target circles read “For Self-defense.”
It was not a clever idea to carry a gun to an audition, but after the latest events on Saturday night . . . he didn’t want to take any risks. He wrapped the gun in an old newspaper and hid it in his backpack during the try-out.
Returning to his apartment that evening, he pulled out his keys to open the door. Entering, he tossed them against the flower pots and sat in the dining room chair to think over the audition. The phone rang, jarring him from his thoughts. It was the recruiter thanking him for coming out to audition, but he had not been selected this time.
In anguish, Jamal dragged his body to the living room and sank down into the couch.
He could not look at the flowers, instead, he focused on his backpack. He looked at it intently. At times, he was determined and in other moments, lost.
“I think it’s best,” he reflected.
He unwrapped the gun from the newspaper, chambered it, then turned on the TV so no one would hear the noise.
The channel was broadcasting the five o’clock news. Jamal felt the cold barrel between his lips. The announcer was holding a news bulletin in his hands as if it were the most important news of the day. Jamal closed his eyes.
“We don’t yet know the cause, but we have confirmed reports from all over the country stating multiple water sources are drying out, the anchor announced. “Experts call it the acqua phenomenon or water phenomenon as we know it in English. The authorities recommend the public store water and use it only for the most necessary items in your household.”
Jamal opened his eyes, recovered his breath, and removed the weapon from his mouth. He walked towards the corner of the kitchen where he kept the vintage copper watering can. He filled it and watered his mother’s flowers.