I am only sharing two more chapters of The Women with Blue Eyes as I’ve decided to publish it as a full-length novel. As promised, I am sharing freely the first 20 chapters. Today, we return with Chapter 18. New to this blog? Start at the beginning.
Chapter 18: “1500”
The women boarded the elevator for the 15th floor. The old buildings didn’t have elevators. There was no need since they were not high risers, but the renovations added several floors, elevators, laundry rooms, and two-bathroom apartments. Altgeld had fresh green paint, new windows, and more cameras. But none of that mattered in the end. Drug dealers and addicts still ran the buildings and poverty prevailed. It was like covering shit with chocolate and hoping it would turn into candy. Many of the more political residents complained about how the city wasted money on glitter and gold but didn’t address the real issues.
“Come on now, J, don’t start that,” Tabitha scratched at her wig. “We got a new shipment today, and I don’t need you acting all brand new. You know we get paid by the number of bags.”
“You know I hate this stuff, Tab.”
“I know, baby, but you can make that lil bread you owe tonight and be done if you play your cards right. Take that money and never look back.”
“I’ll do half tonight and come back tomorrow. Make that my last night.”
“See you being lazy. Twenty of them lil bags, ain’t nothing. I do that in a couple of hours.”
Janiyah laughed. She couldn’t spend that much time here. She had to relieve Miss Bernice soon. Janiyah had a strict curfew.
“Dang, we gonna miss you J.”
“What about you Tab? Don’t you wanna get outta here?”
Tabitha brushed it off. “And leave all this?” She twirled around and posed, smiling.
“I’m serious. You ever think about something else?”
Tabitha rolled her eyes. “Come on now J. I ain’t for the preaching tonight, aiight?”
Janiyah waved her hand. “Aiight.”
There was silence between them as the elevator climbed and stopped on the thirteenth floor. A mother and her daughter got on.
“Of course, I think about it,” Tab lowered her voice. “But I ain’t got a big house in the suburbs and a fancy-ass detective mama to spoil me to death.”
“She’s not my mother…”
“Okay, whatever. You know what I mean. A detective auntie then who make sure ya’ll don’t want for anything. What do I have? Of course, I think about leaving, but for what J? What’s waiting out there for me?”
Janiyah let the silence fill the air. After getting custody over her and her siblings, Tina moved them into that big house in the suburbs, while people like Tabitha had to stay here. It wasn’t fair, and Janiyah hated having to leave her. She also didn’t want people thinking she’d forgotten where she came from. It was part of why she made frequent visits to Altgeld. Janiyah was angry with Tina for taking them away. She thought about her history class, where Professor Grier referred to them as “The Talented Tenth.”
According to Dubois, the talented tenth was the ten percent of blacks who were skilled and intelligent enough to guide the ninety percent. Grier said they were the leaders of the race. Some bullshit, Janiyah shook her head. If every successful black person moved out of the hood, who would help the hood? Janiyah thought black people abandoned their own when they made it, leaving people like Tabitha feeling like there was no way out. And what did “made it” look like anyway? What did it feel like? They were doing well, but here she was on the same elevator, getting ready to do the same thing as Tab.
The elevator opened to floor fifteen, and the women stepped out, leaving the woman and her daughter. They must live on the sixteenth floor, Janiyah thought. The building only had sixteen floors, and everyone knew what the fifteenth floor was all about. The woman gave a side-eye to Janiyah and Tabitha as they exited.
“What?” Tabitha smacked her lips and rolled her eyes as the elevator doors closed. “Judgmental ass.”
The young women walked toward apartment 1502, stopping at apartment 1500, where many people stood, some of them workers waiting on the door to 1502 to open, and some of them leechers just there for weed and drinks. They could hear the music booming, the conversation roaring, and the drunken laughter as they got closer. Men and women surrounded the doorway. It was like a party every night at 1500.
“What it looking like in there today?” asked Tabitha as they walked up, speaking to one of the women.
“I thought we were getting a new shipment tonight?”
Tabitha wondered why the door to 1502 was still closed. It was time to get down to business. She was all about making extra money. It’s how she paid her bills.
“Nah,” said a man standing by, “It ain’t come yet.”
Tabitha laughed when she looked into the man’s glossy eyes. “Yo, you on that trip, huh?”
“Yea,” said a woman, “he tripping hard. The woman turned her attention to Janiyah, “how you doing, lil mama, you good?”
Janiyah forced a smile, “Yea, I’m straight.”
Irritation consumed her as she avoided eye contact with the woman. She couldn’t stand being around these people, especially the women. Most everybody had heard stories of her first job and what she used to do. She had to fight off the women just as well as the men.
They stood around and talked some more, idle conversation to pass the time. The apartment door was wide open, and Janiyah and Tabitha walked into a large living room area where people slumped on the couch, already high. Others argued over a game of dominoes at the card table in the middle of the room. Weed smoke and musk filled the air, and drinks were abundant. A short woman with short blonde hair approached them smoking a cigarette.
“They ain’t ready yet. Said give them ten minutes to finish the last round. Ya’ll eat? Got some wings in the kitchen.”
“Hey Mika, girl,” said Tabitha hugging her. “We just tryna handle this and be out.”
Janiyah and Tabitha had rules too. They never ate at 1500 and never drank unless it was bottled water or made it themselves. Most of the time, they brought their own drinks. Mama ain’t raise no fool.
“I feel you.”
Tabitha and Mika talked and laughed, and Janiyah frowned. Dang, can they hurry up? She turned to look at the door, the group of people still standing around. That meant they weren’t open yet.
“How long they say they gonna be?”
Mika looked Janiyah up and down. “What, you got somewhere else you need to be?” The woman stepped back, her eyes roaming Janiyah’s body.
“Yea, I heard about you,” she smiled wickedly, and Tabitha grabbed Mika’s arm.
“Chill with that lame shit aiight?”
Mika snatched her arm away. “I’m cool. I just think people with histories shouldn’t act, so uppidity is all I’m saying.” Mika laughed and walked off.
Janiyah shook her head. “I can’t stand that bitch.”
The women mingled for a few more minutes until a man called Big Boi, the head watchman made the call. Whenever Big Boi yelled, “we up!” into the apartment and people scattered, they knew apartment 1502 was open, and it was time.