Illustration by Saadia Pervaiz
  1. A Meeting in May
  2. Lemons Always Keep Us Cool
  3. They Call Me Ida B. Wells
  4. The Regal Theater
  5. Bronzeville Sisyphus
  6. Anita Jumps the Red Lines

After a long night of Halloween festivities with his children and grandchildren, Justice D. Harry Hammer went out on an evening stroll. As he was walking, he realized this was the first time he had taken the time to enjoy the crisp nighttime air and calmness of the moonlight in years. After making a mental note to take more nighttime strolls, he turned to his left and saw an unfamiliar face staring at him from the first-floor window of the building across from his. At the time, he thought it was strange because his neighbors rarely had guests, especially at this time of night. However, he did not give it much thought.

The next morning as he was drinking his coffee and enjoying the sounds of birds chirping and trees rustling, he saw a couple he had not seen before taking a morning walk with their dog. Seeing them brought back bittersweet memories of his wife, who had died two years prior. He chuckled to himself, remembering how his wife had hated dogs. Then something happened that banished all happy thoughts to the back of his mind and filled him with anger and disappointment. The couple had let their dog poop in his yard, and not only that, but they had also trampled the flower bed that he and his wife had started before she passed away.

After getting over the initial shock, he turned his attention to the street, scanning for the couple who had defiled his wife’s garden. He saw the couple almost immediately. They were talking on his neighbor’s porch, the same neighbor that had the suspicious visitor the night before. He stared at them through the window for some time deciding whether to confront them or not. Ultimately he decided to confront them. The woman of the couple turned and noticed him as he walked toward them and waved. He considered waving back but decided against it. After realizing that he would not wave back, she turned back to her conversation. As he neared the steps, he realized that he was too old to climb the steep cement steps leading to the porch. He decided that the adversity of the stairs would not deter him, so he planted his feet firmly on the ground and said, “I’m sorry to interrupt your conversation, but I think your dog pooped in my yard,” in the calmest voice he could manage.

The group responded, “It seems like my dog loves your grass.”

“That is not a valid reason or an explanation of why you left the poop in my yard or why you trampled my wife’s garden,” he said.

The conversation continues with Justice D. Harry getting increasingly frustrated, and the group is defensive, passive-aggressive, and annoying.

“We can’t control where our dogs decide to poop,” they said in a vaguely annoying way.

“Even if that was the case and you truly didn’t have control over where your dog poops, you have control over whether you pick it up, and you have control over whether you trample my wife’s garden,” he contorted.

“Animal poop is a perfectly natural part of the ecosystem. Birds, rabbits, and other animals don’t pick up their own poop, and you don’t expect them to, so why do you expect dogs too,” they quipped.

“Dogs are not rabbits or birds, and that still does not explain why you thought it was ok to trample my wife’s garden,” he said with undertones of anger.

The man in the group took a long, drawn-out sigh as if he was about to lecture a screaming toddler about table manners and said, “dogs are just like birds and rabbits because they’re all part of the same ecosystem.”

“I did not come here to talk about ecosystems, or whether dog poop is natural, I came for a real explanation of why you let your dog poop in my yard and why you trampled my garden,” he said, feeling like he was trying to convince a carrot that it’s a beautiful Victorian mansion.

“That is a real explanation,” the group responded, still refusing to admit their wrongdoings.

He decided that there was nothing he could say to make them admit their wrongdoings or apologize. There was no sense in arguing with people who had already made up their minds. So he thanked them for the conversation and started walking back home. He realized that he had always been “the bigger person” throughout his life as he walked back. Constantly having to apologize when he was not at fault, constantly conceding and compromising himself and his opinions in the hopes that one day he would have climbed high enough to be himself and to let the people in his community be themselves without fear of repercussions. Then something jarring happened, something more unexpected and mind-boggling than winning the lottery, than getting robbed and beaten up by a sea turtle wearing a Big Mac as a ski mask. He heard a woman’s voice yell, “this is how you treat your new neighbors.” Had he been a little more theatrical and less self-conscious, he would have fallen to the ground wailing.

The interaction left him feeling drained and hopeless, like a modern-day Sisyphus rising every day motivated by the slim but ever-present possibility of something new, rolling the boulder right up to the precipice of change close enough to clip its nails with a baby nail clipper only to be dragged back down by hundreds of angry hands. Every day, another one of his neighbors was gone, pushed out of the neighborhood by gentrification or increased property taxes. He was doing everything he could to prevent this displacement as the alderman of Chicago’s 4th ward. However, nothing he did seemed to have any positive impact. He was beginning to feel like a pigeon screaming in a bread crumb vending machine every day.

Sometimes he considered moving to the suburbs and leaving his worries about the community and his legacy behind. These thoughts of migration were always quelled by the few families that remained and the memories of his deceased wife. However, now that most of those families were gone and his wife’s flower garden had been trampled, the place that had once been his home was nothing but a building.

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Afam Anigbo is in the 8th grade and is homeschooled.

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