Baba never liked the smell of scented candles. Burning wax imitating the tantalizing fragrance of cherry cheesecake or cinnamon apple muffins. Baba never liked when the scent cascaded onto his nose hairs. Baba never liked the sight of flowers. The aroma of daffodils and peonies invading the house, terrorizing his masculinity. He never enjoyed the act of cooking either. Crying with the onions and screaming with the oil. But Baba likes Mama. And it's their twentieth anniversary today.
"Baba!" I exclaim right as a drop of coconut oil had the audacity to land on my father's furry arm.
"Ah!" he shrieks. Then he sighs. "What now, Rosh? Can't you see I'm cooking for your mother?"
"Yeah. I can see that. And you are burning the kibbeh,” I inform him, giving him a minute to think.
He does a full 180 and commands, “You’re not going. You’re the waiter for me and your mom tonight.”
For some unknown reason, whenever Baba utters a sentence or command, it seems that his words are being engraved in a stone tablet somewhere in the world. Maybe in Hawaii. Or perhaps a country in Africa. But one thing is for sure: what he says goes. That’s why I’m having a debate inside my head on whether or not I’m crazy. But it’s unanimous. I’m definitely crazy. “Can’t Amira be your waiter? I haven’t hung out with Jay in centuries.”
He furrows his bushy brows. I swallow my saliva. He scans me up and down. I regret my life choices. “You’ve got guts, kid," he says. “Fine, you can go. But if you guys go on the streets, be careful. Oh, and don't forget to call your sister and tell her she can't sleep over at Jennifer's tonight."
I break my silence in relief. "Yeah, OK. I will. And Baba, we're seventeen. Almost eighteen." He looks at me again. This time I can literally feel heat scanning me.
"Thanks, Baba.” I pull out my phone so fast to text Jay, it’s almost like a blur. Trained police officers swiftly pulling out their weapons have nothing on Roshaun Mustafa Ahmed.
I know what Baba means when he says not to stay out late. He cares about me. Maybe a bit too much. But I’m almost legally an adult. Still, I know the colour of my skin and the sound of my name provide a target for the arrows of the socially behind individuals. I get it. My mom’s African American, my dad’s Lebanese. I expect nothing less. But I refuse to let the looks from strangers staring at my perfection get me down ‘cause tonight is the night I ask out Kenya Thomson.
Fine, fine. I’ll be honest, and this is my first confession. Jay’s having a party tonight at his house. He lives two blocks away but Baba isn’t leaving the house for nothing, so everything's good.
I grab my watch, chain, fake Gucci belt and throw them in my bag as my father hums a song. I slip my feet into my Air Force Ones and shout, “Later, Baba!”
"Yeah. Mhmm.” He flashes me off, concentrating on the recipe on his phone.
I texted Jay to meet me at Mr. Bobby’s tiny corner store down the street. I’m walking down the street on cracked sidewalks, almost tripping every two seconds. I'm trying to rehearse the future conversation I’ll be having with Kenya at the party, but the smell of Ms. Whitaker's chocolate chip cupcakes as I'm passing her house is distracting me from what's most important: Kenya and the party. Music, beer, and the new smile I have thanks to my new spicy mint toothpaste – all influencing her mood towards me. Wish me all the best! When I open the door, I see Mr. B, or as I call him, Mr. Clean face timing his granddaughter. Well, trying to FaceTime. Jay is already here, scavenging through the chips section looking for the onions and sour cream flavour chips.
“Hey, Jay! What’s up?”
“Yo, Rosh. You ready for tonight?” he says, smiling as he picks up the last two bags of chips.
"Yeah, this party’s gonna be sick.”
"Nah, man. I’m talkin’ bout Kenya.” Curiosity and mischief oozing out through his teeth.
"As ready as I’ll ever be, I guess.”
He walks up to me, puts his hand on my shoulder, stares into my eyes and says, “If you mess up, I’ll be there… to snatch her from your hands.”
“Bro, come on!”
As he’s trying to come up with the most teasing comment to shoot at me, three white guys enter the store. Jay's sight stays fixed on them and he starts to stutter. Nervous is not a good look for Jamie. That's his real name, but he hates it with a passion.
"Gimme a minute, Rosh."
"Yeah, sure." He joins the three thugs and they start conversing outside. I turn to my right to see Mr. Bobby looking outside, then to me and asks, "What was that about?" I shrug. Oh, I forgot to call Amira to inform her about her temporary position tonight. So I start dialing.
"Hey, sis. Good news! You're the waiter for Mama and Baba's anniversary dinner tonight."
"What? No! I already made plans with Jenn tonight," she whines.
"Watching the Bachelor is not considered 'plans', Amira."
"How did you know?"
"I know now. You-"
I turn to Mr. B, whose face is frozen in fear. The fluttering of petrified birds' wings fleeing and Amira's unanswered 'hellos' reverberate in the atmosphere. I drop my phone and rush outside. The four of them are standing straight. Then Jay turns to me, emotionless.
He manages to utter, "Help me." But then he falls.
I look at the thugs with complete confusion, and I see the middle guy is too still. Almost like a statue. He has a gun in his hand.
"What did you do?" I yell, waterfall running down my face.