Chapter 9:

The devil's Playground

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          Darkness crept over the Steel City as Kevin sped eastward along Penn Avenue. Electricity ran through his veins. A newborn flame now burned inside of him. Running into Grace had worked a devilish magic on his psyche. His mind had become a sword. All that remained foggy were the streets. Irony had never tasted so sweet. For as he now played the fugitive of circumstance, his long-estranged sister had returned home. Their destinies had switched places and life’s next chapter was set to commence. Abnormal as it was, it couldn’t have felt more appropriate.

          Kevin’s thoughts arrived on Syd and his gang, who were probably scrambling around like headless chickens on his behalf. The notion brought about hysterics from the twenty-five year old. He gleefully slapped the steering wheel as he drove. Kevin had bested Syd at his own game, which was quite the impressive feat. Now, he was headed towards the safety of the ghetto, far from the reach of Syd’s conniving fingers. His idea was to stay at Rashad’s for only the night. There he would regain his footing and formulate the beginnings of a long-term plan. And when the morning arrived, Kevin planned to leave Pittsburgh for good.

         However, underneath his excitement laid a growing sensation that Kevin couldn’t shake—nakedness. After saying goodbye to Grace, he had pondered long and hard on his sister’s humble advice. Amid all his guilt and anger, not once had Kevin considered himself a victim of his father’s brutality. It was a difficult idea to grasp when comparing Grace’s plight to his own. But just like when they were young, Kevin knew to trust Grace’s wisdom. It was a necessary realization that provided a curative foundation that could be built on.

         The feeling stayed with him as he turned left from Penn Avenue and approached a stone underpass. The word “Welcome” was painted ominously above the entranceway. When Kevin emerged from the tunnel, he entered a landscape that would make The Valley seem almost pleasant. On this side of Penn, city funding and equal opportunity met its end. Those who lived outside of this community rarely batted an eye in its direction. Nor did they care much for its residents, even if they did feign sympathy when asked.

The scene was a bleak one. Junkies lingered along entire blocks of boarded up houses and trash-filled lots. Their daily mission: to score dope from the kid packing a five-year sentence in his jeans. Old timers relaxed on their porches while prostitutes patrolled on distinctly chosen corners. Most of the legal business revolved around convenience stores where cigarettes and lottery tickets remained the common purchase. Gang members wearing various colored bandanas held parleys in heavily guarded HQs, ready to ride at a moments notice. Police with itchy trigger fingers lurked constantly in unmarked cars, sanctioned with a license to kill. In this neck of the woods, the problems of Grace and Kevin were insignificant. Here, moments were more precious and each breath held higher value. For those who walked the Devil’s Playground, the meaning of life sang a wholly different tune...

        

         Kevin arrived at a small brick house that featured green and white aluminum awnings. He found Rashad and his good friend Ghost relaxing on the front porch, sitting comfortably thirty steps above the sidewalk. His backpack over his shoulder, Kevin exited from his car and cheerfully embraced Rashad at the top of the stairs. He then gave Ghost a distinct urban handshake before the three entered the house.

         Kevin took his seat on the large living room couch as lyrically advanced hip-hop echoed from the speaker system. Rashad proceeded to roll a large blunt of marijuana while Kevin embarked on describing his quandary. Rashad found Kevin’s story to be extremely amusing, and they both had difficulty containing their laughter.

         “Dude got what he deserved then,” chortled Rashad. “You don’t gotta worry about Syd around here fam, we got you.”

         “I appreciate that for real,” Kevin replied thankfully. “I’ll be out of your hair by tomorrow anyway. And you already know you won’t go unrewarded.”

         Rashad nodded his appreciation, and then his priceless grin returned.

         “I still can’t believe you buried that dope,” he chuckled, almost laughing his way out of his chair. “You’re crazy.” 

         Kevin grinned, for he was just thinking the same. Ghost, however, was not as impressed by Kevin’s story. He shook his head in disbelief while the blunt dangled from his lips.

         “Man, y’all white boys don’t understand how good y’all got it.”

         He took a long hit from the blunt. The embers burned red and crackled. Smoke curled from his nose and mouth as he continued.

“Y’all niggas ridin’ round with bricks, shootin’ guns, playin’ ghetto, yet we don’t reap the same consequences. Cops don’t even blink an eye at y’all. Period.”  

         He stated it all in a calm, matter of fact tone. His eyes then widened and his gaze drifted towards the cover of a vintage comic book lying on the table.

         “You ever been to jail, K?”

         The question caught Kevin off guard. Nevertheless, he gave Ghost his honest reply.

         “No, I haven’t.” he mused. “I was arrested a few times when I was a teenager. Did a little stint in juvy. Then later I got sent to rehab and followed it with a year on probation. No jail time though.”

         Kevin felt his guilt returning, although now it took a different form.

         “Maaaaaan,” replied Ghost, laughing as he hit the blunt. “I’ve been arrested twice already this year, and only once was I doing something wrong.”

         He leaned back into the couch and flashed a wide toothed smile at Kevin and Rashad. They both laughed.

       “Rehab and probation, please,” Ghost continued. “That’s the white boy special. Meanwhile, your average judge ain’t got a problem slappin’ niggas with jail time without blinking an eye. Rehab and probation, pshhhhh.”   

          Ghost shook his head and handed Kevin the blunt. Kevin took a lengthy hit that nearly burned it to the roach. He then exhaled a plume that engulfed his face and replied,

         “I feel you, but this shit is real. I almost got shot. My life here is pretty much over.”

         The three fell silent. For the next minute, the only voice in the room came from the speakers. Ghost rocked back and rested his arm on the top of the sofa, behind Kevin’s head.

         “Hey man, I ain’t tryna put you down or nothing,” he said. “I just had to throw in my two cents on this whole white-black Pittsburgh thing after hearing your little story. Now I know you’ve had a long day, so I’m done with this topic for the evening.”

         He grinned and slapped Kevin on the shoulder.

         “Just had to give you a little perspective first.”

         Kevin chuckled as he passed the blunt back to Rashad. Ghost was absolutely right. Kevin was due for an increase in perspective. Having received a lifetime’s worth of reality during the afternoon, Kevin supposed a further dose of reality wouldn’t hurt him. So with an open mind, he pondered on the knowledge that Ghost had so eloquently presented. In fact, his own beliefs on the matter weren’t far off. In Kevin’s eyes, white people stole everything. They stole land, they stole ideas, they re-wrote history to their liking. Nothing was sacred, from musical preferences to clothing styles to general body language. Nothing. As one who mimicked urban culture, Kevin found himself guilty of these offenses. Yet for some odd reason he didn’t care in the slightest. Maybe he too was a part of the problem. Who could really say for sure anyway? It was certainly a troubling time to be alive.

         As for the three companions, they spent the evening discussing an array of topics ranging from philosophy, to music, to science, to well, life itself.  

For Kevin, it would be the first night since he could remember without dreams…

 

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