It’s true. I was in jail when my brother called, but things didn’t go down the way Sassy says they did. Her girls over at the hair-braiding salon get to talking in her ear and all of a sudden something that was supposed to be just a private conversation between on-again, off-again lovers turns into some trumped-up assault charge. It’s my fault. I should have known better than to fuck with a Jamaican.
Edwin picks me up the next morning in a rented silver Prius. ‘I’m in town on business,’ he says as I get in. I slam the door just so I can watch him wince. ‘When’s the arraignment?’ he asks.
‘There won’t be one.’
He smirks. ‘Oh yeah, how do you figure?’
‘Sassy’ll drop the charges,’ I say.
‘Sounds like you’re speaking from experience.’
He pulls out of the parking lot onto the road. We pass the steely gray of the jail, the overgrown weeds and brush that line the gravel pass. Looking out of the window, I see a dreadlocked man in bright orange walking out into the sun.
My brother, he doesn’t come like clockwork, but he comes. Every once in a while, his New York-based consulting firm will send a couple of people out to Columbus. Edwin can fulfill his brotherly duties on the company’s dime. He used to take me to dinner at the Kahiki on East Broad until it became a Walgreens. Now, anything will do.
We end up in the back booth of some cheap restaurant. ‘You drinking?’ Edwin asks.
He nods and pores over the menu. We wait. When the waitress comes, she’s smacking gum, her hip cocked. She wants to make sure we know how much our presence bores her, and I want to say, Honey, you’re nothing special either. It’s what I’d say if Edwin weren’t here.
‘You ever gonna marry that girl?’ Edwin asks once the waitress is gone. He has this habit of wiping his forehead with the back of his hand like the old ladies at church when they’re about to catch tongues. He probably learned it from them, back when Auntie Rose used to drag us to the African Christian on Cleveland.
‘I’m not accusing you,’ Edwin says. The waitress plops a basket of rolls down on the table and one jumps out. She does it quick and keeps moving, like a drive-by. I grab the stray roll and start laying butter into it while Edwin watches me. ‘Nana,’ he says, ‘I’m not accusing you. I was just asking. Who am I to give relationship advice, right?’
He’s referring to his divorce from Emily, this tight-assed white girl he met in college. Edwin would never admit it, but she couldn’t stand me. She only came to Columbus once. Auntie Rose and all the other Ghanaian women from our hood spent a whole week preparing food for this bitch’s arrival, and all she ate was a salad. When she met me, she smiled, but it was one of those smiles that rich people volunteering at soup kitchens give to the homeless: pitying and false, filled with the comfort of knowing they never have to see them again if they don’t want to.
The night the divorce went through, Edwin was in Columbus. I got him pissy drunk in a Motown-themed bar, and he let it slip that Emily used to call me his thug brother to her friends at parties. Like, ‘Edwin’s thug brother works at a gas station,’ or, ‘Edwin’s thug brother was picked up for possession.’ When he told me, he’d started crying, and I had to prop him against my body just to get him out of there. And when I put him on the couch in my apartment he was still crying and whispering how sorry he was, but when he woke up he couldn’t remember anything.
‘Sassy doesn’t want to get married,’ I say. It’s only kind of true. Sassy doesn’t want to get married anymore. She did once. When we were high-school sweethearts. Before she found out I was sleeping with other people or that I was using or that every time I said I was going to get her out of Columbus I knew that I wasn’t. That I couldn’t. We’ve been fucking with each other so long it feels like we’re married. She even looks at me that married way sometimes, like the joy and sorrow of all of our years together is hitting her just behind the eyes. But then the joy leaves.
‘Is it cool if I stay with you?’ Edwin asks. Our food has come, and it’s nothing to sing about, but I’m so hungry I could eat a horse eye. I look up, nod.