Part 10: If He Hollers, Let Him Go

You walk like a duck and quack like a duck, but keep telling yourself you’re a camel. And when you enter the high school room sporting that GQ with Greg Louganis on the cover (subhead: The Fanciest Diver!) and hungry hands grab it away, you pull a Peter right before the crucifixion, and deny it three times. God what a faggot magazine, can you believe it? It’s just fashion, somebody says and you watch how a person comfortable in his skin walks to class. Meanwhile you count down the hours before you can go home and look at skinny white boys jumping up and down in blue spandex. Greg Louganis lives with his manager. His manager dresses like him. His manager looks like him. His manager finishes nearly every line in the interview. They both show up in white short-shorts and you wonder if the article is telling the whole world something, or maybe just you. Whatever, that girl threw herself at you and you made sure that school block saw. That bought time took you straight into summer.
Summer, and you’re still with the boys, Ron, Ray, Ralph and Hughie, and the boys are playing house music in Hughie’s kitchen. One of the boys gets a job teaching summer camp at Kingston’s largest hotel so now you crash in hotel rooms and pretend to order room service. Most days you just show up—nothing to do, but wait for electricity back home, but today you’re summoned by Hughie because there is a crisis. One of us is going the other way. The crisis that can only be spoken in euphemism because to just say it might bring the curse upon oneself, and AIDS is still judging the planet.
One of us is going the other way. You should have never brought that fucking Greg Louganis to school two weeks before summer. And just because a cool kid says he reads International Male all the time for the fashions, doesn’t mean you do. You don’t want to go to the hotel that afternoon, but you head anyway. After all, you’re a peripheral friend. Everybody likes you, but nobody knows you, and you live too far away to confirm anything. You’ve built a life out of that distance and nobody knows that your house does not have five bedrooms, your parents do not drive two Volvos, and you do not have a VCR in every room. Nor have you ever been to New York. Those Ralph Lauren polo shirts have fake press-on logos, and you do not have a library of porn that’s unfortunately in Pal not NTSC so no, you can’t lend the videotape. The fringe benefit is that you’re so blank that nobody imagines you fucking anybody at all, besides damn it, that girl threw herself at you and bought you time.
And it’s not you, it’s Ralph. Ralph, still the only person you have ever seen keep a pen till the ink ran out, then went to Woolworth’s to buy a refill. Ralph with English manners and a British passport, Ralph who does walk with a sorta sway. The boys gave him a girl’s name two days after the first day of school (and gave you one on the third day). Ralph and you, brothers thrown together because nobody would hang with us, but this is when you remember when a cool kid looked at him and said, why you still a battyboy? Then pointed at you and said, him not one anymore. As soon as you get to the hotel room, Hughie takes you aside.
—I’m really worried, you know. I see it, I see it. Ralph walking a certain way and talking a certain way. And him really like Milli Vanilli.
—What the fuck you talking about, you same one cabbage patch to Baby Don’t forget my number.
—Yeah, but him just have a vibe I tell you and if we don’t stop it, he going go the other way.
—What you mean other way?
—What you mean, he going turn into a battyman.
—Maybe he’s just British.
—No, him hip sway when him walk.
An hour later Ralph is in the room, furious.
—I have fucking wide hips! You have a problem fucking talk to God bout it!
Ralph never says fuck. He never cusses. And he’s about to leave because he doesn’t have to answer nobody’s fucking question.
—But you do act kinda girly, Ralph from ever since you was ten. We ignore it after a while because we is your friend but we out of high school now and—
—And what?
—You can’t be a man like that.
—Who tell you I’m not a fucking man. I’m a fucking man just like you.
—You not like me brethren. Me fuck girl and leave them, then fuck them sister.
—Oh Ron, so that’s a man. Maybe I’m not a man like you.
—That’s the problem, Hughie says. You turning into a battyman.
—I’m not a fucking battyman!
Ralph looks at you, expecting solidarity and you hate him for it. You’re normal now. The cool kids say so. Ralph says,
—Only you know what I have to go through from grade 6.
But you look at him blank. You don’t know what he’s talking about.
—Ralph you’re weird.
—Me not bombocloth weird, I’m Ralph. And I not going forget this.
—You have a girlfriend?
—None of you fucking business.
Then he points at you.
—Ask him if him have any fucking girlfriend.
You look around to see if anybody heard. You don’t know whether to laugh like you’re above it, or walk away like you’re below it.
—Everybody know him fucking Rosemarie Buck. They don’t even hide it at school.
It takes a good ten seconds for you to realize that he was speaking about you. A girl slaps you with a note book twice, touches you once and kisses you on the cheek and suddenly you’re fucking her silly. You’ll take it. There’s a line cut in the middle of the hotel room and you’ve left your friend to himself on the wrong side. But you’ve seen The Omen I, II, and III and wonder if you should bring up prayer. Better yet, just listen to Soul II Soul or watch porn on the hotel cable, anything. Ralph looks at you.
—You know, don’t you? What it’s like to have people attack you your entire life?
You wish you had a megaphone, but even that wouldn’t have been loud enough to shout yes. You wish there was word louder that yes, and word with a darker vowel like an O, a sharper vowel like an A, or a deeper vowel you can stretch to infinity, like a U. All yes does is chirp with an E and then hiss its way to an end with a limp S. It never declared anything, not even when fuck sluts shout it in porn. You know, don’t you?
You do, but now you’re the man fucking the living the shit out of Rosemarie Buck. Split the seconds and live those words in reverse.
Buck. Fuck. Man. You.
You. Man. Fuck. Buck.
You can’t nod yes, nor can you nod no. So you look past him through the window and wonder if the hotel TV has MTV.

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Marlon James

About the Author

Marlon James was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1970. He is the winner of the 2015 Man Booker award for his third novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings. His first novel, John Crow's Devil (Akashic Books, 2005) was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Commonwealth Writers Prize and was a New York Times Editors' Choice. The novel was published in the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy in 2008. His second novel, The Book of Night Women (Riverhead 2009), won the 2010 Dayton Literary Peace Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, The NAACP Image Award, and The Minnesota Book Award, and was New York Magazine's third best book of the year. Marlon was Go On Girl! Book Club's 2012 Author of the year.
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Marlon James