Home > Blackout

Blackout
Author: Dhonielle Clayton

The Long Walk


Act 1


Tiffany D. Jackson


Harlem, 5:12 p.m.

IT’S A HEATSTROKE kind of day. One where bad stuff happens. Tensions matching the temperature make people do stupid things in a city full of millions. On days like this, you wouldn’t catch me dead outside. I’d be huddled in my room, next to the air conditioner, streaming movies, with an iced tea and a turkey on wheat. So when the train doors open on the hot-ass platform, blowing sticky air in my face, I have second thoughts about the new job.

Out of the station, I’m surprised to see so many people on the street, the Apollo Theater’s sign gleaming in the brutal sun. If this was my film set, we’d be wrapped, or I’d switch to night shoots. Concrete melts the bottom of my sneakers as I run down 125th Street, train delays setting me back a whole ten minutes. The MTA doesn’t give a damn about being on time, even during a heat wave. Now I’m going to be late. Well, I’ll be on time but that’s the same as being late! Dad always says, If you’re early, you’re on time; if you’re on time, you’re late. That’s why I never chilled in the halls between classes, was always first in my seat minutes before the second bell would ring. Think that’s why all the teachers liked me. It showed I respected them. Even Mr. Bishop, and no one hated gym more than me.

My dress is soaked by the time I take the elevator up to the fourth floor. I don’t think I’ve ever sweat this much in my entire life. But they said I needed to drop off my paperwork before Monday’s training.

Yes, HR orientation training. For a legit job. Your girl is the new office assistant at the Apollo corporate headquarters. My advisor hipped me to the opening. Working for the most famous Black theater in New York, known for the start of such music superstars like Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey, and Stevie Wonder, will have me kiki-ing with elite celebrities. Good practice for when I become a big-time director.

The pay: $3,500 for six weeks.

Sure, it’s all the way in Harlem, no less than an hour and change by train from Brooklyn. But it puts plenty of distance between Bed-Stuy and me all summer long.

I don’t want to be around there anymore. Not since . . . it happened. Not since “we” became a him and her, then a me.

The acceptance email said to arrive at five fifteen, and since this was going to be the first time my coworkers would see me, I put on my new yellow-and-blue baby doll dress, bought thanks to some graduation funds. You know what? I’m going to buy a whole new wardrobe before school, all to match my new life as I leave my old one behind. Might even start introducing myself as Tam instead of Tammi. Who would know the truth? It’s not like anyone’s coming down to Clark Atlanta with me. I’ll be there . . . alone.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this, I think as I approach the reception desk. “We” had different plans. Promises made. But there’s no longer a we, and it’s time I learn how to live my life without him.

“Hey, hon.” The elderly Black woman beams, sweat dripping off her brows. “Can I help you?”

I pull back my shoulders and shake the thoughts away. “Hi, my name is Tam Wright. I’m the new intern, here to drop off my paperwork.”

“All right, then. Let me see if Maureen is here to sign off. Whew, hot enough for you?”

The windowless office area is steamy. I peep men and women at their desks in damp clothes. “Um, yeah.”

She turns to grab a folder off the desk. “Well, heard it hit 101 around noon and hasn’t come down since.”

I wrap my braids up in a high bun, fanning my face.

“Is it always this hot in here?” I’m trying not to panic but I’m already thinking about the few dresses and shirts I own that’ll keep me cool in here all summer. I need to look perfect. Everything needs to be perfect.

She throws me a sympathetic smile. “Sorry, love, system has been acting up all day. I think a—”

“Whewwww! Shit. Sorry I’m late!” The voice behind me makes me jolt and stiffen, my skin going cold, even inside this oven. I close my eyes and start to pray.

Please don’t let it be him. Please, God. Please. Anyone but him.

“Hey, hon. Can I help you?” the woman asks.

His hard steps sound like the killer approaching. He always wore sneakers that were either too big for him or that he refused to lace, soles slapping the floor, giving a high-five with each stride.

“Hey! How you doing, I’m Kareem . . .” His voice trails off until he yells, “Tammi?”

Damn.

I finally open my eyes and pivot to face him. That brown skin. Those beautiful eyes. It’s not like I haven’t seen him. We’re neighbors and went to the same school, Stacey Abrams Preparatory, on the Upper West Side. But this is the closest I’ve stood near him in the last four months—close enough to smell, and I wish he didn’t smell so damn good.

“What are you doing here?” I ask. It comes out real aggressive but with good reason.

He rolls his eyes, turning to the receptionist as if I were a ghost. “Sorry about that. I’m here to drop off some paperwork for orientation.”

Orientation? No, no, no . . . we can’t work at the same place. No way!

“Wait, you’re both here to drop off paperwork?” she asks.

“No,” we say in unison and glare at each other.

“I mean, yes,” we say in unison, again.

Mortified, I take a step to widen the space between us and clear my throat.

“What I mean to say is, I’m here with my paperwork. I don’t know what he’s doing here.”

He grins. “Guess I’m here for the same reason.”

Her eyes toggle between us, and she quickly opens the folder in her hand, scanning papers. She returns to her computer screen, reading something hard while I steal a quick glimpse of him. He’s wearing his favorite jeans (even in this heat), a black polo shirt, and a fresh pair of Jordans. Probably ones she made him get. Kinda miss his beat-up red Converse and collection of superhero T-shirts.

Stop it, Tammi! You don’t miss anything about this dummy.

“Uhhh, just a second,” the receptionist says, her voice shaky. “You two can have a seat. I’ll be right back with Maureen.”

Kareem and I exchange a suspicious glare as we slowly head over to the waiting area. Hopefully Maureen won’t take too long to come get me . . . and leave his ass here.

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