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The Hate U Give: Part 5 – Chapter 24


Because Seven said we’d be all right, everything goes wrong.

Most of the routes through the east side are blocked off by police, and it takes Seven forever to find one that isn’t. About halfway to the store the car grunts and slows down.

“C’mon,” Seven says. He rubs the dashboard and pumps the gas. “C’mon, baby.”

His baby basically says “fuck it” and stops.

“Shit!” Seven rests his head on the steering wheel. “We’re out of gas.”

“You’re kidding, right?” Chris says.

“I wish, man. It was low when we left your house, but I thought I could wait a while before I got gas. I know my car.”

“You obviously don’t know shit,” I say.

We’re next to some duplex houses. I don’t know what street this is. I’m not familiar with the east side like that. Sirens go off nearby, and it’s as hazy and smoky as the rest of the neighborhood.

“There’s a gas station not too far from here,” Seven says. “Chris, can you help me push it?”

“As in, get out the protection of this car and push it?” Chris asks.

“Yeah, that. It’ll be all right.” Seven hops out.

“That’s what you said before,” Chris mumbles, but he climbs out.

DeVante says, “I can push too.”

“Nah, man. You need to rest up,” says Seven. “Just sit back. Starr, get behind the wheel.”

This is the first time he’s ever let anyone else drive his “baby.” He tells me to put the car in neutral and guide it with the steering wheel. He pushes next to me. Chris pushes on the passenger side. He constantly glances over his shoulder.

The sirens get louder, and the smoke thickens. Seven and Chris cough and cover their noses with their shirts. A pickup truck full of mattresses and people speeds by.

We reach a slight hill, and Seven and Chris jog to keep up with the car.

“Slow down, slow down!” Seven yells. I pump the brakes. The car stops at the bottom of the hill.

Seven coughs into his shirt. “Hold on. I need a minute.”

I put the car in park. Chris bends over, trying to catch his breath. “This smoke is killing me,” he says.

Seven straightens up and slowly blows air out his mouth. “Shit. We’ll get to the gas station faster if we leave the car. The two of us can’t push it all the way.”

The hell? I’m sitting right here. “I can push.”

“I know that, Starr. Even if you did, we’ll still be faster without it. Damn, I don’t wanna leave it here though.”

“How about we split up?” Chris says. “Two of us stay here, two of us go get some gas—and this is that white-people shit you guys were talking about, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” the rest of us say.

“Told you,” says DeVante.

Seven folds his hands and rests them on top of his dreads. “Fuck, fuck, fuck. We gotta leave it.”

I get Seven’s keys, and he grabs a gas can from the trunk. He caresses the car and whispers something to it. I think he says he loves it and promises to come back. Lord.

The four of us start down the sidewalk and pull our shirts over our mouths and noses. DeVante limps but swears he’s all right.

A voice in the distance says something, I can’t make it out, and there’s a thunderous response like from a crowd.

Chris and I walk behind the other two. His hand falls to his side, and he brushes up against me, his sly way of trying to hold my hand. I let him.

“So this is where you used to live?” he says.

I forgot this is his first time in Garden Heights. “Yeah. Well, not this side of the neighborhood. I’m from the west side.”

“West siiiiiide!” Seven says, as DeVante throws up a W. “The best siiiiiide!”

“On my momma!” DeVante adds.

I roll my eyes. People go too far with that “what side of the neighborhood you from” mess. “You saw that big apartment complex we passed? Those are the projects we lived in when I was younger.”

Chris nods. “That place where we parked—was that the Taco Bell your dad took you and Seven to?”

“Yeah. They opened a new one closer to the freeway a few years ago.”

“Maybe we can go there together one day,” he says.

“Bruh,” DeVante butts in. “Please tell me you ain’t considering taking your girl to Taco Bell for a date. Taco Bell?

Seven hollers laughing.

“Excuse me, was anybody talking to y’all?” I ask.

“Ay, you my friend, I’m trying to help you out,” says DeVante. “Your boy ain’t got no game.”

“I have game!” Chris says. “I’m letting my girl know I’m happy to go with her anywhere, no matter what neighborhood it’s in. As long as she’s there, I’m good.”

He smiles at me without showing his teeth. I do too.

“Psh! It’s still Taco Bell,” says DeVante. “By the end of the night it’ll be Taco Hell with them bubble guts.”

The voice is a bit louder now. Not clear yet. A man and a woman run by on the sidewalk, pushing two shopping carts with flat-screen TVs in them.

“They wilding out here,” DeVante says with a chuckle, but grabs his side.

“King kicked you, didn’t he?” Seven says. “With those big-ass Timbs on, right?”

DeVante whistles a breath out. He nods.

“Yeah, he did that to my momma once. Broke most of her ribs.”

A Rottweiler on a leash in a fenced-in yard barks and struggles to come after us. I stomp my foot at it. It squeals and jumps back.

“She’s all right,” Seven says, though it seems like he’s trying to convince himself. “Yeah. She’s fine.”

A block away, people stand around in a four-way intersection, watching something on one of the other streets.

“You need to exit the street,” a voice announces from a loudspeaker. “You are unlawfully blocking traffic.”

“A hairbrush is not a gun! A hairbrush is not a gun!” a voice chants from another loudspeaker. It’s echoed back by a crowd.

We get to the intersection. A red, green, and yellow school bus is parked on the street to our right. It says Just Us for Justice on the side. A large crowd is gathered in the street to our left. They point black hairbrushes into the air.

The protestors are on Carnation. Where it happened.

I haven’t been back here since that night. Knowing this is where Khalil . . . I stare too hard, the crowd disappears, and I see him lying in the street. The whole thing plays out before my eyes like a horror movie on repeat. He looks at me for the last time and—

“A hairbrush is not a gun!”

The voice snaps me from my daze.

Ahead of the crowd a lady with twists stands on top of a police car, holding a bullhorn. She turns toward us, her fist raised for black power. Khalil smiles on the front of her T-shirt.

“Ain’t that your attorney, Starr?” Seven asks.

“Yeah.” Now I knew Ms. Ofrah was about that radical life, but when you think “attorney” you don’t really think “person standing on a police car with a bullhorn,” you know?

“Disperse immediately,” the officer repeats. I can’t see him for the crowd.

Ms. Ofrah leads the chant again. “A hairbrush is not a gun! A hairbrush is not a gun!”

It’s contagious and echoes all around us. Seven, DeVante, and Chris join in.

“A hairbrush is not a gun,” I mutter.

Khalil drops it into the side of the door.

“A hairbrush is not a gun.”

He opens the door to ask if I’m okay.

Then pow-pow—

“A hairbrush is not a gun!” I scream loud as I can, fist high in the air, tears in my eyes.

“I’m going to invite Sister Freeman to come up and give a word about the injustice that took place tonight,” Ms. Ofrah says.

She hands the bullhorn to a lady who’s also in a Khalil shirt, and she hops off the patrol car. The crowd lets her through, and Ms. Ofrah heads toward another coworker who’s standing near the bus at the intersection. She spots me and does a double-take.

“Starr?” she says, making her way over. “What are you doing out here?”

“We . . . I . . . When they announced the decision, I wanted to do something. So we came to the neighborhood.”

She eyes beat-up DeVante. “Oh my God, did you get caught in the riots?”

DeVante touches his face. “Damn, I look that bad?”

“That’s not why he looks like that,” I tell her. “But we did get caught in the riots on Magnolia. It got crazy over there. Looters took over.”

Ms. Ofrah purses her lips. “Yeah. We heard.”

“Just Us for Justice was fine when we left,” Seven says.

“Even if it’s not, it’s okay,” says Ms. Ofrah. “You can destroy wood and brick, but you can’t destroy a movement. Starr, does your mother know you’re out here?”

“Yeah.” Don’t even sound convincing to myself.

“Really?”

“Okay, no. Please don’t tell her.”

“I have to,” she says. “As your attorney I have to do what’s in your best interest. Your mom knowing you’re out here is in your best interest.”

No, it’s not, ’cause she’ll kill me. “But you’re my attorney. Not hers. Can’t this be a client confidentiality thing?”

“Starr—”

“Please? During the other protests, I watched. And talked. So now I wanna do something.”

“Who said talking isn’t doing something?” she says. “It’s more productive than silence. Remember what I told you about your voice?”

“You said it’s my biggest weapon.”

“And I mean that.” She stares at me a second, then sighs out her nose. “You want to fight the system tonight?”

I nod.

“C’mon then.”

Ms. Ofrah takes my hand and leads me through the crowd.

“Fire me,” she says.

“Huh?”

“Tell me you no longer want me to represent you.”

“I no longer want you to represent me?” I ask.

“Good. As of now I’m not your attorney. So if your parents find out about this, I didn’t do it as your attorney but as an activist. You saw that bus near the intersection?”

“Yeah.”

“If the officers react, run straight to it. Got it?”

“But what—”

She takes me to the patrol car and motions at her colleague. The lady climbs off and hands Ms. Ofrah the bullhorn. Ms. Ofrah passes it over to me.

“Use your weapon,” she says.

Another one of her coworkers lifts me and sets me on top of the cop car.

About ten feet away there’s a shrine for Khalil in the middle of the street; lit candles, teddy bears, framed pictures, and balloons. It separates the protestors from a cluster of officers in riot gear. It’s not nearly as many cops as it was on Magnolia, but still . . . they’re cops.

I turn toward the crowd. They watch me expectantly.

The bullhorn is as heavy as a gun. Ironic since Ms. Ofrah said to use my weapon. I have the hardest time lifting it. Shit, I have no idea what to say. I put it near my mouth and press the button.

“My—” It makes a loud, earsplitting noise.

“Don’t be scared!” somebody in the crowd yells. “Speak!”

“You need to exit the street immediately,” the cop says.

You know what? Fuck it.

“My name is Starr. I’m the one who saw what happened to Khalil,” I say into the bullhorn. “And it wasn’t right.”

I get a bunch of “yeahs” and “amens” from the crowd.

“We weren’t doing anything wrong. Not only did Officer Cruise assume we were up to no good, he assumed we were criminals. Well, Officer Cruise is the criminal.”

The crowd cheers and claps. Ms. Ofrah says, “Speak!”

That amps me up.

I turn to the cops. “I’m sick of this! Just like y’all think all of us are bad because of some people, we think the same about y’all. Until you give us a reason to think otherwise, we’ll keep protesting.”

More cheers, and I can’t lie, it eggs me on. Forget trigger happy—speaker happy is more my thing.

“Everybody wants to talk about how Khalil died,” I say. “But this isn’t about how Khalil died. It’s about the fact that he lived. His life mattered. Khalil lived!” I look at the cops again. “You hear me? Khalil lived!”

“You have until the count of three to disperse,” the officer on the loudspeaker says.

“Khalil lived!” we chant.

“One.”

“Khalil lived!”

“Two.”

“Khalil lived!”

“Three.”

“Khalil lived!”

The can of tear gas sails toward us from the cops. It lands beside the patrol car.

I jump off and pick up the can. Smoke whizzes out the end of it. Any second it’ll combust.

I scream at the top of my lungs, hoping Khalil hears me, and chuck it back at the cops. It explodes and consumes them in a cloud of tear gas.

All hell breaks loose.

The cops stampede over Khalil’s shrine, and the crowd runs. Someone grabs my arm. Ms. Ofrah.

“Go to the bus!” she says.

I get about halfway there when Chris and Seven catch me.

“C’mon!” Seven says, and they pull me with them.

I try to tell them about the bus, but explosions go off and thick white smoke engulfs us. My nose and throat burn as if I swallowed fire. My eyes feel like flames lick them.

Something whizzes overhead, then an explosion goes off in front of us. More smoke.

“DeVante!” Chris croaks, looking around. “DeVante!”

We find him leaning against a flickering streetlight. He coughs and heaves. Seven lets me go and grabs him by the arm.

“Shit, man! My eyes! I can’t breathe.”

We run. Chris grips my hand as tight as I grip his. There are screams and loud pops in every direction. Can’t see a thing for the smoke, not even the Just Us bus.

“I can’t run. My side!” DeVante says. “Shit!”

“C’mon, man,” Seven says, pulling him. “Keep going!”

Bright lights barrel down the street through the smoke. A gray pickup truck on oversized wheels. It stops beside us, the window rolls down, and my heart stops, waiting for the gun to come pointing out, courtesy of a King Lord.

But Goon, the Cedar Grove King Lord with the ponytails, looks at us from the driver’s seat, a gray bandana over his nose and mouth. “Get in the back!” he says.

Two guys and a girl around our age, wearing white bandanas on their faces, help us into the back of the truck. It’s an open invitation and other people climb in, like this white man in a shirt and tie and a Latino holding a camera on his shoulder. The white man looks oddly familiar. Goon drives off.

DeVante lies in the bed of the truck. He holds his eyes and rolls in agony. “Shit, man! Shit!”

“Bri, get him some milk,” Goon says through the back window.

Milk?

“We’re out, Unc,” says the girl in the bandana.

“Fuck!” Goon hisses. “Hold on, Vante.”

Tears and snot drip down my face. My eyes are damn near numb from burning.

The truck slows down. “Get li’l homie,” Goon says.

The two guys in the bandanas grab some kid on the street by his arms and lift him into the truck. The kid looks around thirteen. His shirt is covered in soot, and he coughs and heaves.

I get into a coughing fit. Snorting is like hacking up hot coals. The man in the shirt and tie hands me his dampened handkerchief.

“It’ll help some,” he says. “Put it against your nose and breathe through it.”

It gives me a small amount of clean air. I pass it to Chris, he uses it, passes it to Seven beside him. Seven uses it and passes it to someone else.

“As you can see, Jim,” the man says, looking at the camera, “there are a lot of youth out here protesting tonight, black and white.”

“I’m the token, huh?” Chris mutters to me before coughing. I’d laugh if it didn’t hurt.

“And you have people like this gentlemen, going around the neighborhood, helping out where they can,” the white man says. “Driver, what’s your name?”

The Latino turns the camera toward Goon.

“Nunya,” Goon says.

“Thank you, Nunya, for giving us a ride.”

Woooow. I realize why he looks familiar though. He’s a national news anchor, Brian somebody.

“This young lady here made a powerful statement earlier,” he says, and the camera points toward me. “Are you really the witness?”

I nod. No point hiding anymore.

“We caught what you said back there. Anything else you’d like to add for our viewers?”

“Yeah. None of this makes sense.”

I start coughing again. He leaves me alone.

When my eyes aren’t closed I see what my neighborhood has become. More tanks, more cops in riot gear, more smoke. Businesses ransacked. Streetlights are out, and fires keep everything from being in complete darkness. People run out of the Walmart and carry armfuls of items, looking like ants rushing from an anthill. The untouched businesses have boarded-up windows and graffiti that says “black owned.”

We eventually turn onto Marigold Avenue, and even with the fire in my lungs I take a deep breath. Our store is in one piece. The windows are boarded up with that same “black owned” tag on them, like it’s lamb’s blood protecting the store from the plague of death. The street is pretty still. Top Shelf Spirits and Wine is the only business with broken windows. It doesn’t have a “black owned” tag either.

Goon stops in front of our store. He jumps out, comes to the back of the truck, and helps everyone out. “Starr, Sev, y’all got a key?”

I pat my pockets for Seven’s keys and toss them to Goon. He tries each key until one unlocks the door. “In here, y’all,” he says.

Everyone including the cameraman and reporter go in the store. Goon and one of the guys in the bandana get DeVante and carry him inside. No sign of Daddy.

I crawl onto the floor and fall on my stomach, blinking fast. My eyes burn and fill with tears.

Goon sets DeVante on the old people’s bench before running toward the refrigerator.

He rushes back with a gallon of milk and pours it onto DeVante’s face. The milk momentarily turns him white. DeVante coughs and sputters. Goon pours more.

“Stop!” DeVante says. “You ’bout to drown me!”

“I bet your eyes ain’t hurting no more though,” Goon replies.

I half-crawl, half-run to the refrigerators and get a gallon for myself. I pour it on my face. The relief comes in seconds.

People pour milk onto their faces while the cameraman records it all. An older lady drinks from a gallon. Milk pools on the floor, and a college-aged guy lies face-down in it and gasps for air.

When people get the relief they need, they leave. Goon grabs a bunch of cartons of milk and asks, “Ay, can we take this in case somebody needs it on the street?”

Seven nods and sips from a carton.

“Thanks, li’l homie. If I see your pops again I’ll tell him y’all here.”

“You saw our—” I cough and sip some milk, dousing the flames in my lungs. “You saw our dad?”

“Yeah, a li’l while ago. He was looking for y’all.”

Oh, shit.

“Sir,” the reporter says to Goon, “can we ride along? We’d like to see more of the neighborhood.”

“Ain’t no thang, homie. Hop in the back.” He turns to the camera and twists his fingers so they resemble a K and an L. “Cedar Grove Kings, baby! Crowns up! Addi-o!” He gives the King Lord call. Leave it to Goon to throw gang signs on live TV.

They leave us alone in the store. Seven, Chris, I are in the pool of milk with our knees up to our chests. DeVante’s arms and legs dangle off the old people’s bench. He chugs back some milk.

Seven takes his phone from his pocket. “Damn. My phone’s dead. Starr, you got yours?”

“Yeah.” I have way too many voice mails and way too many texts, most of them from Momma.

I play the voice mails first. They start out safe enough with Momma saying, “Starr baby, call me as soon as you get this, okay?”

But they soon become, “Starr Amara, I know you’re getting these messages. Call me. I’m not playing.”

They progress to, “See, you’ve taken this too far. Carlos and I are heading out the door right now, and you better pray to God we don’t find you!”

And on the last message, left a few minutes ago, Momma says, “Oh, so you can’t return my calls, but you can lead protests, huh? Momma told me she saw you on live TV, giving speeches and throwing tear gas at cops! I swear I’m gon’ snatch your life if you don’t call me!”

“We in deep shit, man,” DeVante says. “Deep shit.”

Seven glances at his watch. “Damn. We’ve been gone about four hours.”

“Deep shit,” DeVante repeats.

“Maybe the four of us can get a place in Mexico?” says Chris.

I shake my head. “Not far enough for our mom.”

Seven picks at his face. The milk has dried and formed a crust. “All right, we need to call them. And if we call from the office phone, Ma will see it on the caller ID and know we’re not lying when we say we’re here. That’ll help, right?”

“We’re at least three hours too late for any help,” I say.

Seven stands and gives me and Chris a hand up. He helps DeVante off the bench. “C’mon. Make sure y’all sound remorseful, all right?”

We head for Daddy’s office.

The front door creaks. Something thuds onto the floor.

I turn around. A glass bottle with flaming cloth—

Whoomf! The store is suddenly lit bright orange. A heat wave hits like the sun dropped in. Flames lick the ceiling and block the door.


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