A Brother, a Daughter

Mike calls me out of the blue.

I pick up the receiver to a sonic wave of grief. They shot my baby, he wails, they took my girl.

You loved her a lot, I offer, the words stumbling out of my mouth.

I loved her like my own.

Her daddy passed away in November. Harry. He helped me move into my apartment, put in the down payment… now he’s gone.

Wailing, the sobs come in waves. Bubbling, snorting, sniffling. Mike is a mess.

Listen.

I took Jubrille shopping just last week to get boots. Right out here — that Skechers on Bancroft? Giovana didn’t like this one pair that Jubrille really liked oh God oh god oh gawd oh god

Silence from time to time… hello? Silence. Hello?

I’m still here.

She was the last of 2012… I wish I was the last of 2012. I’m done, Drew, I’m done. It hurts so bad. Why’d they take my baby?

How’s Belinda?

The sobbing continues. She’s… bad, Drew. Belinda’s doing bad. You gotta call her man.

Jabrille, Gabriel, Jabrille, Gabriel — like the angel. Here’s her picture.

Mike shows a video to me from his phone, taking his time to swipe through about twenty different pictures. There the image is, her room, shadowy in the afternoon, the sun filtering through dark curtains. Graduation photos, bags from various stores taped to the walls — FOOT LOCKER, FOREVER 21, H&M. There is the sound of Mike choking back tears. There is a man in the room too, his arms slouched over his knees, giving Mike & camera a long look.

Be strong Mike for my mom and my sister. Pull yourself together. You can’t cry.

Giovana is shut off. Won’t talk. Can’t blame her. Her dad just passed too. And now her sister…

At the farewell funeral I met Giovana, who looked a lot skinnier and wider-eyed than I had imagined her being. She was only a year older than her sister, and walked shyly around the mourners, talking in side glances with her high school friends who looked pained and out of place. Some of them were smiling — whether it was the incongruity of it all, or using humor to mask deep sadness, I didn’t know.

The candlelight vigil was last week, but oh man. It’s gonna rain, Mike says, I gotta get there and get the teddy bears in her room.

I’m feeling out of place. The Kingpin owner comes over to our table. Mike says: you hear the news. They took my daughter. Shot over New Years. The shop owner comes over and clutches Mike’s phone loosely. Yeah. He looks concerned, then hands the phone back to Mike.

Everywhere I go I see girls that look like Jabrille. I stop and look at them. The other week we came out here and she bought boots at Skechers here. Right here in Berkeley.

Belinda says now you gotta help me raise the girls. So I say to Giovana: first thing is you can’t go outside. Don’t hang out with your hoochie mama friends. And she didn’t say nothing.

Over our table now Mike slides over to me an open newspaper, the SF Chronicle, opened to an article about Malala, Pakistani girl who got shot by the Taliban. Read this? he asks. So sad.

You gotta be strong, Mike. Wait till this all blows over. I gotta be strong. I gotta be strong for Belinda.

Jubrille’s viewing was the first viewing I’ve ever been at, and she looked… unnatural. Plastic. There used to be a soul in there. Mike would stand over the casket and kissed her on the forehead. Justin and I stood awkwardly and waited in line and paid our respects and then, feeling a bit of displacement, we sat down in the pews and let Mike sit behind us and rattle on about his plans for the obituary. The entire scene felt unreal. Children running around, crawling under the pews, laughing. Belinda, who I finally met, was nicely put together, chatting it up with loved ones. I’d overdressed; I had thought to dress up, but felt self-conscious in my tie and nice shoes. Walking back to the van Justin remarked to me and nobody in particular, is it not crazy that this kind of thing happens in Oakland twice a week?

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