I’m going to tell you three lies that make me who I am today. Lies that I use to protect myself from others getting too close. Of course there are other little falsehoods that make no difference whether there’s truth to it or not, but these are the ones that allow me to survive.
Lie number one.
Nicki or Nicolette, whatever the fuck… Is not my birth given name.
“WHO IS SHE DANTE?! IS SHE IN THERE?! YOU BROUGHT HER IN MY HOUSE?!” The wife screamed. Her voice carried on the other side of the closed bedroom door as I blindly gathered my clothes, and shoes off the floor in the dark room. My blonde braids whipped about my shoulders and back as I attempted to shove one foot into my Chucks. Dragged the shirt over my head with no bra when the pounding on the door caused my body to jump. The dark shadows flashed and blinked under the doorway, showing the two were physically going at it.
“YOU NEED TO CALM DOWN!”
“I’M NOT CALMING DOWN UNTIL YOU LET ME IN MY FUCKING ROOM! I’M THE ONE THAT PAYS THE BILLS IN HERE! NOT YOU!”
Of course you do...
“WHO IS SHE?! I MUST KNOW HER!”
“Dante don’t do it,” I begged silently while looking around the room for a hiding spot. I jumped down to the floor, shoving my arm underneath the stuffed bed before pulling back as I looked out the window. I shot up with a whip of my braids as I dug into their shared nightstand, feeling around for something familiar.
“I HEAR SOMEBODY IN THERE DANTE! WHO IS SHE?!” Jada yelled as her fist began pounding on the door. “You know you fucking on my man!? He got somebody!”
“Nobody is in there! What chu doing?! Baby what chu doing?! It’s nobody! I got the window open!” Dante shrieked as I dug deeper into the next drawer, feeling a cell phone and a thing of cash that I snatched out. Didn’t have time to think about my next move, just snapped the window lock open before shoving the blurry glass up as I looked down at the busted fire escape zigzagging down the brick building. Metal peeling and rusty from wear and tear throughout the years. Only thing I cared about at that moment was the street lights giving me enough view to throw on the rest of my clothes when the bedroom door suddenly slashed open, snapping the door off the hinges as I looked back with wide eyes to meet Jada’s erratic expression.
“NICKI?! NICKI?!” She screamed, seeing the tears swell up as I quickly jumped down on the railing, leaving my leggings behind, my hoodie and took off.
“NICOLETTE?! THIS ENTIRE TIME?!” She yelled out the window as I looked up with both hands gripping the rail. I could see the hurt in her eyes but when her thick leg swung over the window seal, gripping the sides of the brick building, I kept moving. Ignoring the whistles, and hollers from men and women watching the chaos go down.
“Where ya pants at baby girl?! You looking wild out here!” One of the men yelled from his window as I continued to run.
“Nothing but a fucking rat! I knew you was a rat when I first met you!” Jada screamed.
“You finally got caught Nicki! I told you it was only a matter of time chica! You can’t be playing with people’s men like that boo!”
“Come hide at my place! I got you!”
“NICOLETTE?!” Jada yelled, feeling her weight hit the bars like a sonic wave, vibrating the fire escape.
“Shit, shit shit!” I screamed in mid laughter, holding my breast as I looked back up, watching Jada wrap around the steps, taking two at a time with Dante’s sorry ass following behind her trying to stop. Moment my Chucks hit the wet sidewalks of New York, I took off. Looking back, watching Jada and Dante’s every move until my body crashed into a stuffy chest, feeling someone grip my arm tight to keep me from running. I screamed out of habit until I saw the NYPD officer grow pale in the face. Mustard specks around the corner of his mouth after stuffing his face with a hotdog, he looked down at my current state in complete shock.
“NICKI?!” I heard Jada yell as I frantically looked back seeing Jada hit the sidewalk with the same intensity as I panicked. Trying to twist my arm from the officer’s hold.
“Either help me or let me go!” I yelled, snatching my arm back just in time to keep moving.
“Ma’am?! HEY?!” He yelled. “Officer Moreno here. We got a African American female running with no clothes on being chased on the corner of---.”
“NICKI?!” Jada screamed. “IF YOU EVA SHOW YO FUCKING FACE AROUND HERE AGAIN BITCH!”
“But I ain’t the only one!” I popped back over my shoulder.
“NICOLETTE!” Dante yelled with the officer screaming over the two.
“Take yo bitch ass back to the south! We don’t play that up here Nicki!” She yelled. One of the last things I heard before I was cut off by two other officers.
I knew my days in New York were numbered, but that night when I sat in the police precient with a grey blanket wrapped around my waist to cover myself. Braids thrown in a sloppy bun with one hopped earring on as I watched people come and go for petty crime, I was eventually pulled into a room by the same latino officer stuffing his face with one of those nasty dogs. Buzz cut hair with a stomach that sat just over his belt when he looked over some papers.
“You don’t have a listed address,” he noted as I sat back in my hair, staring this man down with an attitude. “Where are you from originally?”
“Do it matter? Why am I being held?”
“Well we can get you a couple of charges but I figured you could use the help more than anything---.”
“Nigga you ain’t got shit on me,” I popped. The look on his face said I pushed him entirely too far when he stood up. “I’m from Georgia, and have no desire to go back.”
He looked down at me before sitting back in his chair with a sigh as he looked through his papers.
“Nicolette Lewis is what you’re going by I assume… You have an interesting rap sheet,” he listed off with a low whistle. “Do you have family here? You stay with somebody?”
“I stay in my car,” I told him. “All I have to my name.”
“You got family you can call to come get you? I wanna help you out. I really do. Pretty girl like you shouldn’t be caught in things like this. You staying here doesn’t seem like the best option for you right now. When people come out here, they have these dreams of one day making it big. It just doesn’t happen for a lot of people, and they end up on the streets like you. Is that how you want to continue life? If you can think of anybody that can come get you and make sure you’re okay...”
When I remained quiet, he nodded before standing up. I don’t know if him walking out on me made me uncomfortable with pressure, but I blurted out.
“I have somebody… She’s not from here but I know she will find a way to get to me,” I said as our eyes connected. “If I, or you can make the call and tell her I’m here…”
“And who is she?” He asked, leaning down on the table, ready to take down her number.
“My sister Angie. Tell her Nicolette is ready for a change. Try and sell it so she’ll believe it this time,” I winked as the officer looked up at me with a knowing smirk.
Which brings me to lie number two.
I have no one I consider family or true friends. It’s just me.
“Where are we?” I groaned with my head against the window of Angie’s Honda. Curled up in the passenger seat with clean clothes and tired braids that frizzed up around my roots, begging to be taken down. My reflection in the glass left a lot to be desired. Dark brown eyes lost their zest for life the further south we went, and my lips seemed to dry and crack around the corners from the heat while my chocolate skin began to bake from the sun as we drove through a small town, riding alongside a crumbling railroad track.
“We’re almost in the city so calm down,” Angie retorted as she scratched at the back of her neck. “You’ll see life soon. I been told you to come down here and start over. Start a new life but noooo, you wanna chase after niggas and wreak havoc everywhere you go. For what? I don’t know Nicki, I really don’t… You never seemed to get it right and you’re going to be thirty this year. Don’t you think it’s time to settle down? Like grown women do on a regular basis?”
I turned my head with a scornful glare at her before looking out my window again, in my own thoughts. Angie and I used to party, go from city to city as runaways. Running from the same shit for different reasons. She, and I met one night and just clicked. Although we looked nothing alike. She had a Spanish background but spoke no spanish, didn’t know shit about being a Latina. Angie related more to a black woman who just happened to have a brown face with straight dark brown hair. She was a product of her environment but she managed to get out in time, and find a man. I, on the other hand thought nothing of it. Why settle, and end my life when I haven’t even begun to truly live and enjoy it for once?
“Look Nicki, look,” Angie said excitedly as she pulled at my thigh before pointing. I sat up in the seat, and looked around the surrounding traffic of cars. Tall buildings towering over us on either side, the streets were filled with people coming in all shades of brown, and black. Moving like they had somewhere to be. We passed by high-end stores and shopping malls. City Hall where people gathered around the steps to listen to someone speak. Students with books clutched to their chest dashed across the street as officers patrolled the sidewalks.
“Hampton came up,” Angie boasted. “I told you this place had potential.”
I cut my eyes at her before looking back at the window as I watched a mother with her two kids dressed in school uniforms walk into a building together.
“This is where you, and your husband live?” I questioned skeptically. Angie’s lips twisted, trying to fight back the smile I was already giving her. “Exactly,” I laughed.
“I mean we’re making moves to do so! Not everybody can afford it out here right now, but we make do with what we got for now, and it works for us. Shit, it's gonna work for you since you ain’t got no choice, am I right?”
She was right.
We drove through the city of fucking black excellence until the buildings started to die down in height. People started to look less appealing and the city bus made their stops as we crossed over a railroad. One of the buildings had a colorful painted mural of the neighborhood with the words in black saying,
Welcome to Presely Park.
“Over there is where everyone goes to play ball or just hang out,” Angie pointed as I looked over the dashboard at the large basketball court that was situated in the middle of a large park. Niggas stood on the corners watching traffic come and kids with no parent supervision ran, chasing cars down with sticks attempting to tap on the windows. We pulled up to a red light and I looked out at the group of cops hanging around, leaning on the hood of their cars with shades on. Stuffed with gear and weapons to their bodies, I pointed while looking back at Angie.
“The cops out here are trouble. The ones that patrol The Park mean no good in every sense. I know your temper is short, but try and keep your head down. This ain’t the neighborhood to run wild in.”
“I’m here for a change remember.” I retorted, leaning my head against the window as the light turned green.
“Just watch yourself Nicki. Some of them are fine, but they’re all trouble. You already know how we are about them anyway.”
“Don’t fuck with no po-po,” we both sang in unison before Angie laughed.
“I know it isn’t much, but everyone knows everyone here in this lil neighborhood,” she continued. “It can be a fresh start for you. It’s time to stop playing games. Time to figure out what you wanna do, what you wanna be in life. It’s just time...to grow up. Maybe date seriously this time. The men may not be much, but there are a few good ones,” she nodded proudly, speaking on her husband. “And you know you’re a pretty girl. Men out here are going to go crazy over you.”
I kept quiet, taking in everything as she pulled up to a small brick home with a basketball goal sitting in front of the garage. Net torn, and barely hanging on. She had two bikes that sat in the front yard and a single white lawn chair that sat on her small porch fit for one. Best thing about her house was the large oak tree that hovered over her home in the middle of the yard, providing shade as her screen door creaked open.
“And there’s my family. They drive me crazy but I wouldn’t change my man or kids for the world,” she said with a smile before cutting me with a warning stare. “Watch cha mouth around my kids Nicki. I’m serious. You are not my third child---.”
“I’ll be good,” I promised. “Soon as I get my car down here, you won’t hardly see me.”
“I hope that’s a good thing in your case,” she muttered before getting out. “Gabe?! Come help with the bags baby!”
Which brings me to my third and final lie. Gabriel. Angie’s faithful husband.
I sat down in the kitchen at the small glass table, pouring a bowl of Lucky Charms as I propped my bare feet up in the chair across from me. Popping the milk open, I glanced out the kitchen window after seeing movement in the backyard before I paused. Sitting the milk down, I walked over to the sink and pulled the small curtains to the side. Gabe was in the backyard of another house across from us pulling his basketball shorts up, and wiping around his face as the young girl stood by the backdoor with little to nothing on. He looked back with a smile, waving her to go back in the house before hopping the fence into his yard. Niggas. The socks with the slides. The bloated beer gut, the basic fake watch he wore even in his sleep, and the crooked glasses he struggled to keep on his face as he yanked his blue du-rag off, and started for the back door of his house. I quickly sat back down, and took a spoon to the now soggy cereal when I heard the door push open.
“Oh shit,” he muttered, taking a step back. I didn’t turn around. Just continued to dab the spoon in my bowl, taking everything in. “I ain’t know you was here Nicki. My bad. I keep forgetting you live here now. What’s it been? A few days or something?”
“Or something,” I muttered, hearing the door close shut as he walked behind my chair. My nose turned up, smelling the rank girl on him before watching him disappear into the hallway, stepping over his children’s toys.
“You been looking for a job yet?!” He yelled.
“Nah, not really!” I replied. “You?!”
“You know I work night shifts,” he laughed as he came back into the kitchen with a change of shorts, and a shirt before sitting down at the table beside me. Yanking the cereal box for himself.
“Can’t be in here eating my kids shit, and not contributing to nothing. I told Angie you can stay as long as you want, but you gon have to get up and make money one way or another baby. Just the rules of the house.”
I put my spoon down, and stared at him. Shoving my braids back from my chest as his eyes glanced at my breast like it was an open invitation.
“I know a few people that can help you get something. My mama work in one of them fancy stores out there in the city. Right there at the mall, and she already said she can help you if you’re serious. Rent is due first of every month. You either in or you out.”
Everything ran through my mind at that moment. Confronting him about cheating on his wife with the bitch across the street. To the way he stared at my body out in the open even when I wore clothes to how he walked around the house like a fucking King, making Angie do most if not all the housework, including taking care of the kids, but I needed my car. I needed money, I needed to get the hell out of this house, and I had less than a month to make that happen.