Part 7: I’d Like It If They Like Us, But I Don’t Think They Like Us

Watch yourself young boy, watch yourself because you’re a marked man and 36 men are watching you. Not men but boys, boys in the classroom of 4th form. Boys in the stink of Drakkar Noir cologne, boys trying to b-boy up school uniforms by opening three shirt buttons while letting the pants slump and crumble on top of Reebok pumps. Boys swaggering to the bus stop walking semi crab style to LL Cool J. Boys spitting on the pavement and chatting new lingo, imported from New York, yo that was stupid fresh. Boys finally out of the purgatory of chin and pubic hair baldness, boys in school with boys making a performance of how much they know pussy. Before me fuck her she piss shhhhh but after me fuck her she piss whooooooosh says a boy who stepped into the classroom crotch first, because he earned it, because he has fucked a girl from Priory High School and can talk about it.
 
36 boys are watching you. Boys who go to class with just boys have to prove it all day. Meanwhile you’ve been listening to Prince too long. 1984 was two years ago and everybody is a cha-cha boy or b-boy now. Listening to Prince makes you an art faggot I mean “Kiss” is cool but why such a battyman video? At school prayers the Principal mentions a boy with no name, expelled because he was caught in the midst of an inappropriate activity. It takes a week for everybody to notice one boy missing, an actor and comedian—you know what they say about boys with talents. Maybe you should get a C for your next art assignment, screw up on purpose and get boys to like you.
 
Boys shouldn’t act like girls, but to be with boys you must do what girls do. Set your brain on dim so that boys will call you over to their lunch time stoop. At the gate with the cha-cha boys, on the steps with the brainy boys, popping and locking with the b-boys, at the fence of the girls’ school with the fuck boys, outside the Principal’s office with the white boys. Do it now, put your brain on dim and use that spillover energy to watch yourself. Look at you now, asking that kid to borrow his ruler. You stick your hand out barely four seconds before the wrist droops, the hand sags. Limp wrister. You swing your wrist back straight but not before the boy two class rows down hisses and flicks his own wrist to match yours. Faggot. Keep you hands to your side next time. If you must extend your hand keep every joint straight and let nothing go 90 degrees; boys are watching.
 
And your legs are too close together. Boys sit as if thighs are made of the backside of magnets. Why you sit so narrow, you have a pussy to protect? But boys who sit wide have crotches on display—don’t look. Stand up then sit down with your legs wide apart. Stand up then sit down with your legs wider. Stand up then sit down until your tendons scream. Don’t sit up straight, hang off to one side and let your head rest on the chair. Get Reeboks or Nikes and don’t come here in leather shoes again. At least you like Bon Jovi so there’s one thing scary about you. When you walk swing your arms wider. Keeping them to your sides makes you look like you’re gliding and boys will call you floating battyman. Did your hips just sway? Don’t laugh, you laugh like a girl and don’t respond when they tease in fact just don’t say anything. Never, and this is important, never ever volunteer to answer any question asked by a teacher that demands more than one word. Kneel like a man. Sit like a man. One foot must be on the ground at all times. When cool boys ask you to do their homework, do it. When they call you battyboy in public laugh like the butt of the joke is walking away from both of you. When they ask you to do their homework two days later do it again.
 
Get a cha-cha boy haircut. Practice lowering your voice in the mirror. Study dancehall on FAME FM and use one or two words of slang in at least 1.5 sentences a day. In lieu of actual girls, make it be known that you have a growing collection of porn. Stop drawing art—that’s for faggots, and draw breasts butts lips and pussies with women attached. Did you just cross you legs at the knee? Boys don’t cross legs. Play football, but be the goal keeper since you can’t dribble or kick or play football. Consider joining the Inter School Christian Fellowship since nobody has the balls to mess with a God-boy. When one of the boys says, him faggy but him brainy accept that this is as good a compliment as you are ever going to get.
 
Watch as cool boys discuss you with the art teacher who says you’re just fine. One of the boys the teaser whose homework you do says, You know you cool, you really cool is just… He never finishes the sentence and you never ask him to, but you live in the ellipsis for seven months wishing more than anything that he told you what was wrong so you could fix it. You want to fix it more than anything. But there are many ways to fix something and later when you walk all the way downtown to get the bus you keep walking past roads, shops, signs, warnings, sea salted docks and gulls until your shoes are two inches off the pier with a ship blocking your view of the sea. A man says, only yesterday some boy fall off and land between the dock and the ship and he couldn’t swim out. You look down at the narrow space between the dock and the ship and realize that it could suck you up so quickly nobody would know you’re gone.
 
—What the fuck you doing boy?
 
You forget that you never walk downtown alone.  That even rejects have friends with little in common other than being stomped by the same foot. You can get through a hateseason when you’re seven strong. Because even in a Boys’ school, boys find boys who may not share girlfriend names but share X-men comics. Not parties but early afternoon matinees. Not stolen beer but traded Dungeons and Dragons cards. Not fucking tips but paint brushes, inks and paper. And all of Live Aid on one VHS. The anti-social cusser. The Art fag. The poor boy. The Fag-Fag. The nerd. The fat boy. The new kid who will realize this coming summer that he can do better.
 
—Not doing nothing, just watching the sea.
 
—A ship blocking you view, genius.
 
—I know. You sure that record store up the road have the new Eurythmics?

Front page image by Marcel Oosterwijk.

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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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