Early Spring 2004
“Damn! I can’t be late for work again!” Zeek cried as he slammed the door behind him and sped off down the street. He had only two minutes to catch the 8:35 a.m. bus, so he ran desperately to the bus stop. His heart raced as he broke out into a heavy sweat, praying he would reach his destination in time. His red Staples shirt blew in the wind as he forced himself to run faster knowing his job was on the line. He made a sharp left and took a shortcut through a vacant park. He knew taking the detour would give him the best chance at making the bus. He tucked the back of his shirt in so he wouldn’t get it snagged on the fence he had to get over. He jumped the fence, but he somehow managed to bang his knee on one of the raised rusted posts. He ignored the pain and rushed and made it to the corner.
Zeek’s pupils enlarged as his eyes zoomed in on the last passenger stepping onto the bus. He knew he only had seconds to make it there before the bus pulled off. “Hold the bus, please! Miss, can you please hold the bus?” he yelled as he ran desperately.
The woman rolled her eyes and let the doors close behind her. “Yo, driver! Hold the bus!” He immediately started to wave his hands in the air, hoping to obtain the driver’s attention.
Unfortunately, the driver never checked his rearview mirror, so the bus proceeded to pull off, leaving Zeek utterly down and out.
While holding his knees in an attempt to catch his breath, Zeek hopelessly yelled, “Aww, come on, man! Come on! Damn…I know you seen me… How the hell could he not see me?”
Now with the bus gone, he had to think fast. He knew he could either wait for another bus or run another twenty blocks to Brookline Metro Station and catch a train. Right then a bus that ran a different route pulled up in front of him. He knew it wouldn’t take him to his job, but he would be close, at least in running distance. Without a second thought, he ran up the steps and sat as close to the front as possible. He wiped his clammy hands off on his shirt as he thought about being late.
“I hope there ain’t no traffic,” he said nervously to himself as the bus pulled off.
The twenty-minute ride into town felt more like hours as Zeek sighed heavily. Before the doors of the bus were fully open, he squeezed out of the tight space and took off running. He dodged and weaved through crowds of people who were on their way to work as well.
“Sorry!” he yelled as he ran out in front of a taxi as the driver smashed down on his horn in anger.
He checked the time on his phone and became even more nervous as Staples was now only a short distance away. What the hell am I going to say this time? he thought hopelessly. He’d pretty much run out of excuses for being late.
Zeek quickly entered the store and tensely peered around for his manager. “He must be in the back.” He sighed in relief as he headed for his register.
His co-worker, Tara, was finishing up with a customer when she looked up and saw Zeek trying to creep in. She shook her head and waited for the customer to be out of earshot before she spoke.
“Boy, why you late again? You know Dan gonna go off on you, right?”
“Dan can kiss my ass,” he said in a hushed tone as he tried to clock into the register.
“If he can kiss ya ass, then why you whisperin’?” she said after sucking her teeth.
“I ain’t whisperin’ shit. Dan’s tight shirt-wearin’ ass know what it is. Fuck…why can’t I clock in?”
“Boy, you always be fakin’. You are such a bama.” Tara quickly cut her eyes to the back of the store and happened to see Dan making his way to the front. She smiled and looked back over at Zeek. “Here come Dan. Let’s see you talk that shit now.”
Zeek’s eyes widened as Dan made his way over to his register. Dan’s yellow, overly round frame walked tall in his snug-fitting shirt as he had Zeek in his focus. Zeek’s lips started to quiver as he thought about what excuse to use. All he could do was tap his shaky fingers on the cash register keys as Dan moved closer.
Zeek swallowed hard and said the first thing that came to his mind. “Hey, what’s up, Dan? I’ve been trying to clock in for the longest time, but it’s not working. Is there a problem with the system?”
“Nope. Ain’t no problem with the system. The problem is you,” Dan said as he stared at Zeek with his hands placed firmly on his hips.
Zeek swallowed hard as the realization of what was happening started to set in.
“I decided to let you go.”
“Come on, Dan. I need this job. Just give me another chance.” Zeek begged.
“I’m sorry, Zeek, but you brought this on yourself. I can’t give you any more chances,” Dan said, standing his ground.
Zeek knew Dan was overly tired of his call-offs and late-to-work
routine. It was clear to him after being late this morning that it was his fault that he was fired. He looked over at Tara and became even more embarrassed after he saw that she had been laughing at him. With nothing else to be said, Zeek lowered his head and slowly walked toward the door. He looked back at Dan one last time to see if there was any slight chance he could salvage his job, but Dan had already walked off. He shook his head in disappointment that he had to move on.
Zeek forcefully pushed through the doors and started to walk fast down the busy street. He tightened his lips and balled up his fists as he thought about what had happened. “Damn, I shouldn’t have been late! I can’t do shit right!” He cursed himself after failing to try to be more responsible.
He’d intended to stretch his twenty-first birthday weekend until the crack of dawn and still get up for work on time. He had hoped this morning would have been the start of a more mature Ezeekiel Harris, but yet again, he was dead wrong. “What the fuck am I going to do now?” Zeek said as he wiped his eyes.
His mind was racing a mile a minute and he couldn’t help but feel worthless. He headed back to the bus stop and looked enviously at everyone who drove past him. The summer hadn’t even begun and with the money he would’ve made working, his mind was set on buying a car in September. Now losing his job had ruined his plan. Zeek needed to come up with another way to get a car, but for now, he wanted to go home and sulk in his sorrow.
Once the bus arrived, Zeek stepped up on the bus and took the first available window seat. He still couldn’t believe he’d been fired. He shook off the thought as his eyes started to water again.
“Damn, I’m such an asshole,” he said as he thumped his head against the glass.
He peered dejectedly out of the window as the bus left downtown
and headed back to his neighborhood. His surroundings altered drastically as the business buildings turned into rundown row houses, and the professional working class shifted to corner boys and drug addicts. Zeek shook his head as the U.S. Capitol came into view. The immaculate structure represented a country that attracted millions of tourists from around the world. It also symbolized the power and security that every country respected.
Damn, there’s such a thin line between wealth and poverty. I gotta find a way to get in between, Zeek thought as the bus moved deeper into the hood.
Zeek arrived back at his house but didn’t bother to go in. He sat down on the porch steps and tried to clear his head. He was so distressed from losing his job that he didn’t want to make it worse by sitting in an empty house. All Zeek’s friends were at work so it made him feel even worse about being unemployed again. Zeek decided to call his girlfriend and tell her the bad news. He knew she would understand. Zeek needed someone to talk to, someone who could console him.
Zeek pulled out his cell phone and was about to dial her number until he saw his best friend, Lonzo, walking toward him. Zeek forgot Lonzo went to work around this time of morning, and was caught off-guard as Lonzo quickly approached. He pushed his phone back into his pocket and decided to wait until Lonzo was gone before he called his girlfriend. I can’t let him know that we’re back together yet, Zeek said to himself as Lonzo crossed the street.
“Zeek, what are you doin’ here, man?” Lonzo asked as he approached the walkway.
“Young, I got fired,” Zeek said, giving him a defeated look.
“What you get fired for?” Lonzo asked with slight irritation in his voice.
Zeek started to shake his head out of disappointment as he waited
for the words to leave his mouth. “I was late for work again. I missed the damn bus. I tried to hurry up and clock in, but fat ass Dan caught me. I was only like five minutes late. I don’t think he should have fired me over that, though.”
Lonzo shook his head in amazement that Zeek didn’t see his job termination coming. “Come on, Slim. You know you was fakin’ wit’ that job. You were always late or not showin’ up. People see that as being irresponsible.”
Zeek knew what Lonzo had said was right, and that was his whole reason for wanting to make a change. Zeek wished he could be more like Lonzo; he always had it together. He’d had the same job for over five years and never missed work. Even though Lonzo had been Zeek’s best friend, they were totally different when it came to their work ethic. Zeek could have easily admitted he deserved what he got, but he didn’t.
“I ain’t sweatin’ it,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “I can always get another job. That place wasn’t for me anyway,” he assured Lonzo.
“Man, you know how hard it is to find a job right now? It took you months to get the one you had.”
“True, but what ’bout ya spot? Ain’t they hirin’?” he asked curiously.
“Yeah they hirin’, but I’m not tellin’ them about yo’ ass. You ain’t gonna have me lookin’ bad. Shit…you need to see if you can get your job back at the copy center.”
“Come on, man. I knew you since kindergarten and you won’t stick ya neck out for me?” Zeek asked as he held his arms out wide, completely stunned by Lonzo’s disposition.
“Nope. The way you carried every job in the past gives me enough reason not to. So if I was you, I’d try to get back in that rental office you used to work for.”
Even though Zeek badly needed a job, he knew for certain that going back to the rental office wasn’t an option. “Naw, I’m good off that. There was nothin’ but bamas in that place. Those people got on my damn nerves.”
“Well, any job beats sittin’ on this hot-ass porch for the summer. If I was you, I’d get off my ass and make it happen. Ya dig?” Lonzo rebutted.
Instead of Zeek taking heed to what his boy was saying, he decided to blow him off. “Yeah, whatever,” Zeek said as he waved Lonzo off and looked away.
“Maybe you should look into doing some modeling or acting. You already got the body for it and the ladies think you’re cute. Shit, if anything, you can at least be able to work with beautiful-ass women. What man wouldn’t want that perk?”
Zeek did have that butter-brown skin and muscular physique that the ladies appreciated. His only drawback was that he never had any money.
Zeek looked up at Lonzo and shook his head. “Me be a model? Man, that’s the dumbest shit you ever came up with.”
“Yeah, whatever,” Lonzo said as he checked his watch. “I’ll get up wit’ you later. I got to get to work before I’m late my damn self.”
Lonzo gave him dap and made his way down the street, while Zeek stayed on the porch with plenty to think about. Zeek then bent over, placed his hands on his face, and sighed. “What the hell am I going to do?”