The Legend of “Fat-Baby” Hopkins
He was a mean old nigga.
I used to watch him kick his mistresses out in the early hours of the morning, just before momma’ would wake Osiris and I up for chores and breakfast. She never woke me though. It was always Mr. Hopkins, hootin‘ and hollerin’ at his “bitches,” between midnight and just after dawn.
“Shhh…” my brother hissed as I leaned against the creaky window pane. “If momma’ finds out that you’re out of bed, she gon’ give you the broom handle.”
“I ain’t afraid of no damn broom.”
“Um-hmm,” Osiris mocked, in his ‘too much like daddy’ way. “That’s what you said last time… and you came back looking like a new fool.” What’s worse, is that I didn’t even make it to the front door. He was kind enough to leave that fact by the wayside.
Truth be told, he didn’t need it. He was right. I was wrong. I’d die before telling him that. Then again, he looked like he’d die before I got the chance. I held my tongue and continued my fantasies about the home across the way.
“Marley,” Osiris pestered again. “Get. Out. Of. The. Window.”
I barely heard him. At 13, the most that I knew of the world was that it hated us. Firehoses and sit-ins became our new normal. It was the 60’s after all. If you wanted to get through to someone, you’d need a little more than some gentle marching and gospel songs.
They started the war… We were just fighting it.
While his brothers and sisters were hard at work, getting their asses beat at picket lines, Charlie P. Williams, my father, was out gambling away our future and spreading his seed. As a consequence of his actions, our family was driven into poverty. Momma’ said that was all I needed to know.
We thrived on donations for a little while. When ‘a little while’ was up, we were dead broke. One month after declaring bankruptcy, momma’ found Charlie swinging from a tree with his own pecker stuffed down his throat. She wouldn’t tell me what they carved into his chest.
By the time I was 5, momma’ was remarried and we had a baby sister on the way. Earl was a good man, if not, then a bit excitable. Nothing fancy. For what it’s worth, after my father, momma’ was due for someone boring.
Alternatively, there was Mr. Hopkins—my North Star. A signal of the impossible joining us here on earth. A truly free black man, beholden to nothing, not even chivalry. Just himself. I wanted that.
“Shut up,” I barked. “Momma’ ain’t gon’ do nothing, cause you ain’t gonna’ say nothing. Got it!”
Osiris was a year older. Due to a bout with typhoid fever, he found himself looking around 10 and living on borrowed time. As depressing as the inevitable was, it didn’t do much in the way of dampening his spirit. At the time, he was nothing but skin, bones, and attitude. Even as he struggled to sit upright and breathe without keeling over.
“Marley,” he rasped, “I know what you’re thinking.” A cough. “Please don’t go over there.” Despite his plea, my mind was made up.
Momma’ monitored our home in the late hours. After discovering a smoldering cross on our front lawn, she’d grown paranoid and wanted to move. Paranoid, though she was, it didn’t change our fiscal reality.
There was barely enough money to keep food on the table—let alone afford a home in more accepting areas. Instead, Momma’ resolved to stand guard, with my father’s pistol, whenever step-dad had to work nights. We hadn’t seen him in three weeks. “Aren’t you curious,” I asked.
“Not enough to take a beating.”
“Oh, please. Momma’ ain’t gonna’…”
Just then, the forbidden voices sang through my window like the church choir. “Showtime,” I said, and slid a pillow between my back and the window frame. “You sure you don’t want to watch, Sye?”
“I’m good,” he muttered and curled back into his wool blanket—just in time to miss the first slap.
Continued in… Bedlam: A Collection of Things –
By Antwan Crump