The apartment is crowded so I take a walk down the street. Earbuds in, Young Rif on blast in my ears. I set out just to get out, wandering around looking at the houses at the end of the street. No duplexes, nice lawns and they all have dogs, mostly little scrappy ones, like this little hair ball going nuts in the window.
Behind the curtain a lady is all hunched over, peeking, like I can’t see her beady eyes on me, following my steps. Between her scowl and…nosiness I can’t help but sink into a strut just to mess with her. I mean, it’s a public street, lady, what are you going to do?
I ignore it and move on. Sort of. I mean, I can walk down this street just like anyone else? I give her an easy grin as I slide past, taking my time and fixing my shoe laces. Let her know I see her, suspecting or whatever she’s doing.
She stays back there, all crusty and stiff, nose almost touching the window until I’m out of her sight. I circle the street and come back, this time hopping up on the curb, near her little flowers and neat mulch beds because these old white folks really like their gardens around here. Her eyes explode. Go so big you’d think I just took a dump in her yard. Her little dog getting frantic and it’s cracking me up. I start rapping along with the song in my ears.
The door opens and I hop down–yeah, okay, she kind of caught me by surprise with the door. I pop out an ear bud. This lady actually shooes me away.
“You mind staying off the grass?’
“Wasn’t on the grass.”
Her wrinkles double. “Looks like you were.”
“Don’t worry about what I’m doing.”
No joke this lady steps all the way out on the porch, looking heated in her flowery dress. I’m guessing she’s upset that I’m not all like yes ma’am, no ma’am. But she’s got this teacher stance going on. You know it when you see it.
There’s something else, too. See, old white people scare the shit out of me, the way they age. Like mummies wrapped in Swiss cheese. And this lady, her cheeks are pruned and her hair’s so white it’s yellow. But she’s brave, waving me over.
I glance up the street, back down, then I take a few steps. She goes on about respect. Calls me a smarty pants or something corny. So I inform her that I just made honor roll.
I’ve never bragged about my grades in my life, but it feels like I’m defending myself. And her face, priceless. She’s doesn’t buy it. She holds up a curled finger, tells me to come closer. I take a few more steps, all the way to her porch, still watching for trouble and hoping she’s hasn’t called the cops, or worse. But then she just starts going on about schools and kids and teaching. I’m hardly listening until she offers me a hundred bucks to prove that I made honor roll.
Seriously, a hundred bucks—that’s like a million dollars to old people. She must really think I’m lying. I shake my head and smile. “You sure?”
I hustle off to make some easy money. Back down, I’m a little nervous to knock on the door because again, I keep thinking she’s playing me. Sure, she’s just be a little old white lady but old white people are armed these days. End of times shit and all. Maybe granny just loading up the shotgun shells.
Before I can knock the door rips open. That yappy dog going nuts all over again. I step down from the stoop. Back into her grass.
No gun. Just this lady, staring at me like she’s confused, like we didn’t just make a bet. I’m feeling stupid so I thrust out my report card. Five A’s and a B, because Trigonometry sucks. She fixes her granny glasses, leans down so that it’s an inch from her nose, her rasp making if flutter in her hands. I just stand there. The dog freaking out as I wait. Then she turns and heads back inside, shuts the door behind her, taking with her the report card that I’d just ripped off of the refrigerator.
I’m feeling like an idiot but then the door opens again. She taps the piece of paper. “How do I know this is you?”
I roll my eyes. “What, I stole a report card?”
She nods. “Good point.”
More silence. I’m standing there wondering what I’m doing when she goes in her purse and gets a one-hundred-dollar bill. For real. Brave ass lady.
“Here. If you do it again I’ll give you another.”
I take the money and my grades from her veiny hands. I’ve never seen a one-hundred-dollar bill and it looks like play money. Then I tell her the bad news. “I’m headed for a C in Trig.”
“Well, then you won’t get paid. Off the grass, now.”
I take two steps then turn back to her. “Why do you want to pay me for my grades?”
She looks annoyed. The dog steady barking in the window. It won’t shut up. Her hand like hot butter on the doorknob.
“I used to donate my money to the city schools. I’m not satisfied, so I’m simply cutting out the middle man.”
With that she opens the door, looks back to me with a smile. “Now go work on your Trigonometry. If you need a tutor, I charge twenty dollars an hour.”