The East Bay Express

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The fourteen-year old boy shared a small room with his older brother. In the room, there were two windows about four feet apart on separate walls.  The windows were totally bare except for pages of the East Bay Express that were taped across them. The carpet was old and brown. Yellow paint peeled away from the cracked ceiling. On nights such as this one when his older brother came home, the fourteen year would open his eyes as soon as his brother stepped in the room but he would still play sleep. He would put the cover over his head and fake snore as he heard the lamp being turned on. The gold chains being placed on the dresser, followed by the gold rings, the roll of money, and finally the grill. Then he would hear the lamplight turnoff.

Silence. Darkness. He was slowly dozing back to sleep.

“You been jacking off little nigga?”

Giggles! Then muffled laughter almost to the point of hysteria.

“Shhhhh. You gone wake up Mama and the girls,” the older brother said alluding to his mother and two younger sisters in the other room.

“Nah, I don’t be doing that.”

“Stop lying dammit. It’s hella hot in this room. You was probably jacking yo little dick before I came in here. Thinking about um. Um, what’s the girl name? LaTriece?…”

“I don’t know who you talking bout.”

“Oh you know who I’m talking about. The little dark skinned girl with the dimples.”

“LaShelle?”

“Yes dammit, LaShalle.”

They whispered to one another as if they were in a very dark library, knowing that their mother was more than likely awake and if she was awake then she could definitely hear them through the walls.  But they kept on. The fourteen-year-old totally up now and smiling with every word he spoke.

“LaShelle don’t even go there no more. She moved to Antioch.”

“That don’t mean you can’t jack off to those memories.”

Muffled laughter into the pillow.

“You probably jack off with your left hand too huh? Just to switch it up huh?”

The fourteen-year-old couldn’t help it. He laughed out loud until he gagged. Just then their mother knocked on the door four times in rapid succession.

“GO TO SLEEP!” She said from the hallway.

“Sorry,” the fourteen-year-old said.

The older child said nothing.

They continued to whisper. The fourteen-year-old now fully into his story about N’yesha the new girl in school who sat on his lap at lunchtime and she didn’t even know him and she has a boyfriend. He propped himself up on his elbow and relayed the story as if it were the most salacious scandal the world had ever seen. It must have been because she found out he was on the basketball team, he reasoned. Of course that meant he had to tell his brother all about practice because the two of them were only in the same room together about once every three days so he had to cram everything in.  As soon as the fourteen-year-old began to tell his bro about the fight he almost had with Dwayne over a hard foul, the older brother said:

 

“Alright dude, you got class in the morning. Go to sleep.”

Thirty seconds later he was snoring leaving his little brother wide awake and in awe. It was crazy because in an ideal world the older brother would have class in the morning too. He would be a senior preparing to graduate and go off to college. He would obey curfew and have a job at Jamba Juice or Round Tables Pizza or something like that. But their world was absolutely not ideal. Their world was real and for at least one of them being a square was not an option. The fourteen-year-old’s eyes had now totally adjusted to the darkness and he would not be able to go back to sleep before his alarm clock went off. All he could do was listen to the rhythm of his big brother’s snoring, until the sun rays lit up the pages of the East Bay Express that were taped to the window.

-Roger Porter

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HerStory

EPIC! That’s the first term that comes to mind when I think about the long journey of bringing “Herstory” to fruition. It was March 30, 2012 when I sat down to conduct my first interview with Niema Jordan in my shabby East Oakland living room. When we finished recording our conversation I thought the project, in its entirety, would be complete within two months. I was hella wrong.

So many bad things happened that my selective memory won’t even allow me to recall most of them. I do remember amicably parting ways with my original editor halfway through the project. I do remember at least two other people committing to the project only to back out once they were able to truly internalize the fact that I could not pay them. And well, everything else is a blank until I reconnected with a fellow Skyline High School graduate who possessed the skill set and the passion to bring Herstory back to life. It was February 11 when she committed to the project. Now seven weeks later it’s done.

I’m high right now. I mean I’m super elated. I’m glad that Herstory survived all of the abandonment that it was exposed to in its infantile stages. I’m glad that beauty still exists in this world and I am so grateful that I have crossed paths with three super dynamic black women that opened up to me and told me their stories. With no further ado this is Herstory: