TW: Violence, gore, language
“I’ve been waiting for this day all week!”
“Me too boo! I can’t believe it’s been over a year since we’ve seen each other.”
“I honestly missed New York so much.”
“I missed you like crazy. It was so weird not seeing you in classes anymore. I’m just glad you’re back for the summer, I’m never letting you go.”
The vibrant trees pass us by, bathing in the steaming sunshine.
My hands dance outside the window, and Kenje laughs at my movements. I love carefree moments like this, when I can get lost in the present.
My life has always been about the future. People asking me, when will you finally join Estade? Never, I left Manhattan, not just to study literature in Shakespeare’s origin country, but to get away from my mother’s fashion editorial company that she named after me.
She molded me into an eye catching young woman at the ripe age of 5, feeding me spoonful's of riches and privilege. Like every mother who wants their children to follow in their footsteps as a model, I ate green meals once a day, and couldn’t run track in school because I would bulk up.
Mum was pissed when I accepted the offer to London. Her eyes stabbed me in every part of my body.
“Earth to Estade!”
“I’m sorry, what did you say?”
Kenje laughs, “I asked if you met anyone special in London?”
“God, no! Never. I don’t even pay attention to the guys there; my head is in a book half the time.”
“Really? I heard the men over there are another type of fine.”
“I would be glad to show you around. They would love you, Kenje.”
“Yes, please. Only if it were pretty to look at?”
“It? Like, my school?”
“I’m talking about the whole entirety of London. Don’t the buildings look super old and brown?”
Not every single building is aged and crumbling; London has built some lovely, modern structures.
My eyes avert to the neighborhood we enter, from a distance, I can see the towering glass buildings in the city, dominating the cloudless skyline. But around us, the old shops that lived on the street are now replaced with gourmet markets selling pounds of green juice, delivered by underpaid workers.
The old convenience store that used to have the huge, buy a Pepsi, get another one free sign is no longer graced with groups of carefree school kids.
Some New Yorkers sit on the sidewalk, dressed in heavy clothing, with nothing but a trolley, or their sweaty hands.
Some speak on cellphones, or earpieces, rambling about how tired they are of working for their abusive boss, or the fact that a homeless woman is begging them for money.
“Is this Crown Heights?” I ask.
“You’ve been in London for a year and a half and you’ve already forgotten what this place looks like?”
“Shut up! It looks so different, that’s all.”
We stop at a red light, just a few minutes away from Brower Park. The putrid smell of a man, with an arched back and irregular holes in his brown clothes, overwhelms me, yet he stands a car ahead.
Kenje rolls his eyes, “Hope they don’t bother us in the park. Bastards; if only they worked hard like everyone else, they wouldn’t have to beg in the streets and live with vermin. Society always wants to throw the blame at us for causing this, but we didn’t force anybody to do anything. Telling us to feel empathy for them. They should take some notes – paragraphs - out of our books.”
If facial reactions could speak, I would be an enraged coward.
The homeless man approaches the driver’s window and Kenje’s finger presses deeply on the buttons to wind up the window. Bloodshot red eyes scream desperation, but the pity in my eyes is hidden by Kenje’s big head.
The man lightly taps the car with his dirty fingers, “Spare me some dollars? I don’t got nothing to eat.”
My hands immediately reach for the sequined wallet in my purse, but Kenje beats me to it.
But not exactly in the way I thought he would.
“Get your crusty ass hands off of my car! I'll call the police-“
“Chill out Kenje! He’s just asking for some money, it’s not a big deal.”
Before I could bless a stranger’s day, Kenje hits the gas in response to the light turning green.
He parks on the side of the street.
“Did you really have to react that way?” I ask.
“I don’t even know why you insisted on going to Brower,” Kenje says.
I roll my eyes, grabbing the mint colored cooler that sits by my feet, filled with fresh lemon juice.
He continues, “They staged a whole protest at school for the homeless. Place was filled with news reporters, it was absolute chaos on campus. None of us really cared for the cause, they were just being annoying. We pay too much money for all of that nonsense.”
Sweat starts to make its appearance on my gold laced neck as we enter the park.
“Just forget about all of that and let’s have a fun afternoon, please?”
On one side of the field, children dressed in cheap clothing kick a tattered football. The other side plays Frisbee and an organized game of American touch football. Their clothes crisp and clean.
“Let’s find a place with some shade; it’s hot as hell today,” Kenje says.
We nestle under a large tree, its branches desperate to touch the grass.
“So, do you stay with your parents or live in your own place?” I ask as Kenje sets the blue plaid blanket on a clear patch.
“Why would I live with my overbearing, annoying, maddening-“
I shush him with my manicured hands, his point is made. Ice cold lemon juice is brought out of the cooler and into our hands.
“It’s so lively out today.”
“For our next outing, I’m picking where we go. Clue, we’re going to a mall.”
I chuckle at Kenje’s humor, “For now, we should just enjoy the scenery and eat some good food, and cheers to returning back home.”
Our bottles clink loudly. The pure taste of fresh lemon runs down my throat, cooling me down. I close my eyes to take in the sweetness.
Kenje gasps and my head turns to him, my hart rate racing.
“What? What is it?”
His hand slaps his forehead, “I’m so dumb, I forgot the picnic basket in the trunk. I’ll be two seconds, babes.”
I watch as his lean body walks down the gravel path towards the entrance of the park. He’s always been one to forget something in a classroom or a car, since Elementary School.
The sound of small steps become louder, and I look up to see a frail looking little boy with mud colored hair, eyeing the cooler.
“Can I help you?”
His mouth opens, then closes. It opens up again when he tugs on his worn tank top, “Could I have some?”
He nods slowly.
I don’t know where this kid came from, or where his guardians might be, but by the looks of his shape, he needs more than just lemon juice.
I hand him a bottle, and he thanks me, a whisper so quiet it could haunt me in the quiet of the night.
“Hello, sorry to bother you but could you take some photos of us?” a woman now stands on the other side of the blanket, her rose gold phone out towards me.
At least I have something to do as I wait for Kenje.
I capture captivating pictures in the afternoon sun for the woman and her partner, ensuring they come out flawless.
The impromptu photo shoot ends, and Kenje still isn’t back. The sun must have shifted at least 30 degrees to the right. Everything is moving so annoyingly normal, maybe it’s just the hunger that’s making me impatient and irritated.
From the corner of my eye, my eyes spot a swaying dirty brown basket, except its body is frayed. Kenje would never carry an atrocious looking basket in public, plus, his picnic basket has a yellow bandana wrapped around the handle.
Should I look for him?
My question is answered when I spot the basket in a crowd of people walking by the entrance.
I can barely make out Kenje holding the basket, it’s like the top half of him has disappeared.
I walk closer to the him, “Oh my gosh, you took so- wait, you’re the boy who asked for a drink.”
His squinty brown eyes judge me as we stand right in the middle of the path.
“That picnic basket looks really similar to my friend, Kenje’s. Did you happen to see him, a black guy holding one that looks like this?”
Nothing emotes from the little boy.
“Look, kid, I know this is Kenje’s basket and I think you stole it from him.”
The kid tries to walk away from me, “I’m talking to you! Did you steal this from him?”
He stares at me longer and finally speaks, “He should have said yes.”
I’m confused, sweaty, and hungry, I do not have time for nonsense. I came back to reconnect with my best friend, and this is what I get, some shoeless little boy stealing our food.
“Give it back to me,” I say firmly.
Instead of granting my wishes, he rushes right past me.
I have never wished so badly for my mother to have let me run track. Before I can chase him down, a roar of profanities echo through the park. Normal for New York, but the echoes sound louder when I realize they’re coming from different people in all corners of the park.
The couple who carried the wretched, frayed picnic basket no longer have it in their hands. It’s in the hands of a little girl, who looks like she could be the sister of the boy with Kenje’s basket.
Other frail looking children appear in masses, grabbing any picnic basket they see. They look like they live in sewers, disturbed but delicate, violent and meticulous.
I watch as they wrestle to steal food, attacking even larger adults who guard it.
I am not patient enough to watch some sick prank happen in front of my eyes, I need to find Kenje and get out of here.
My attention goes back to the little boy I was chasing, but he's gone. All the children blend in with each other, I can’t make out which one is my culprit.
Families cry out in agony as their perfect afternoon turns odd and creepy.
The children are multiplying by the second, shoving anyone who gets in their way, including me, simply standing frozen.
“Get your filthy hands off of me! This is a park, not a damn zoo! Where are your parents?” An older man with a thick New York accent and lines of tattoos yells. Has to be a firefighter.
Several people run past me calling the police, telling me to move out of the way and get to safety.
I grab my purse which is still hung around my shoulders, thank God!
The spot that had our plaid blanket is no longer our spot, several kids take the drinks out of the coolers as well as our blanket.
Pandemonium reaches a new high when police sirens ring in the distance.
I try calling Kenje, but there’s a problem. I took my phone out of my purse earlier, and must have dropped it by the cooler when I went to take photos for that couple. I have no way of contacting Kenje, what if he left me here?
I'm left wondering whether to try and find the little boy, or my best friend.
A trio of kids eye me from afar, prowling slowly towards me.
In this moment, I muster the Usain Bolt inside of me and sprint for my life. Are these kids trying to jump people or what? Rascals already stole my phone, I can’t imagine what they want to do with me.
The entrance is congested with those kids, and the safest way for me to escape the park is to climb over large green bushes by the spiky fence. Hopefully, I can use all the adrenaline powering through my system to jump high enough.
Other children start to point at me and others still trapped in the park who are still trying to escape, and follow on our trails.
Please God, don’t let me be killed by a bunch of little children.
I push through the thick bushes, and my feet leave the ground. Within a few seconds, my gorgeous outfit is ripped, but my feet are on concrete, not grass. This heat could kill me, but at least I made it.
“He should have said yes.”
I grab my chest when I hear the little boy’s voice behind me.
“You! You- where the hell is my friend?”
He doesn’t react. His body language isn’t as threating as the other kids who were chasing me, but I don’t know how much I can trust him to not attack me.
"I asked him for food. He should have said yes."
His tiny feet start to walk across the now quiet street, towards where Kenje parked the car.
What did Kenje do now? You know what, I’ll knock on the car window, Kenje will slowly appear from the rear seats from a crouching position, he'll give the food to the boy, we’ll head to a trendy, air conditioned restaurant in SoHo, and talk about how crazy the last hour was.
Approaching the car, gnawing sounds fill my ears. The smell of red meat whispers into my nostrils and my stomach growls.
Nothing could prepare me for the purging sensation I would feel after seeing the ghastly sight that is a disheveled man’s face and hands dripping in blood.
Someone’s leg sticks out from the driver’s seat of the car, their thighs completely devoured, a femur bone sticking out like a large toy dog bone.
The homeless man from the red light is consuming my best friend.
I let out a disturbing shriek, and he staggers dangerously close to me, eyes wide on a high.
“Kenje!” my voice breaks.
He laughs, “You wanna cry over someone who couldn’t even give a homeless man a few dollars. If you people wouldn’t stop coming into our neighborhoods, and driving us out, we wouldn’t have to do this!”
“No, don’t say that. I was go- going to give you some money but… So you’re going to eat him? This is crazy!” I wipe the tears that sting my skin, “Look, I don’t like what they’re doing either; but I have nothing to do with it. Why would you send your kid to steal for you?”
“All of these children haven’t eaten in days, weeks even! It’s a struggle to even send them off to school when we’re living shelter to shelter. This is our home and it’s you people who are taking it away from us!
“Wait, it’s okay dad. She… she’s different. She gave me drink when I asked,” the little boy comes in between us.
This disgusting family affair is sending me into delirium. This isn’t real. This man who appears to be the father of this little boy is not standing right in front of me. There’s no way I am “different” because I gave a homeless kid lemonade. I’m going to wake up from this hellish nightmare and Kenje is going to be alive. I have to wake up.
Warmth encases my shaking hands, not from the sun, but from a person.
The little boy's doe eyes looks up at me, his other hand holding his father’s bloody one.
“Maybe you truly do understand,” His father tells me.
I watch Kenje’s leg turn dark blue with death, and sense leaves my body.
The little boy jumps up and down, “Let’s have a picnic!”