I'm sitting here and I'm smoking a spliff and I'm thinking of an uncle I have named Alphonso. Everyone in the family calls him ‘Junior,’ because he has the same name as my grandfather, but his friends call him Al. I call him what I have called him ever since I was a little kid, being tossed in the air in the summertime on the corner of the block my where grandparents lived: Fonso.
Fonso had traveled the world. Moved to Africa when he got out of college then to Florida after, so he could surf. He would take me down to my grandmothers basement, where all the boxes of old books I would dig through were, and the discarded appliances that were either outdated or broken sat, waiting for my grandfathers magical hand to cure them of their ills. There was a dusty dartboard and a ping-pong table, covered in the junk of an entire generation. I think my uncles use to hang out there when they were in their teens. There was a couch in the corner, where I bet they sat and bragged about the girls they dated. Above this couch was a rack and on that rack was a thousand surfboards.
He would stroke their edges and tell me stories. Letting his hand search the body of the board, the curves of it, the cracks and dents that held the memory of each wave he crashed into, and explaining to me how he felt a man should live. I would only half listen most of the time, never fully giving in to his arrogance, distracted by his booming voice. I would wait for him to get bored with his audience, and study the mess for monsters. It was scary down there.
Sometimes he would take me to play Frisbee, all the while encouraging me to throw better, then screaming, “Yes! Now you’re getting it!” when I executed a good toss.
One time I passed Fonso and some men sitting on he stoop of a neighbor’s house while walking home from school. He stopped me as I walked along, or maybe it was I that stopped to talk to him and his friends, hoping to be cool, a man, for a brief instant before I took off my catholic school uniform, I don’t remember. It doesn’t matter. As I was about to leave he grabbed my shoulders and turned me away from him, then he opened my backpack and put something in it. He turned me around.
-Take that home with you. And DON’T LOOK AT IT!
I nodded my head absently, and walked away.
When I got out of eyeshot I looked in the bag.
It was a knife. Huge and jagged. The kind you would kill a deer with. It was long and thick and steel and it had a black grip molded to fit a large hand. So it could be held tightly while ripping something like say, guts, from a body.
I freaked out. An rush of violence shivered in my blood. I almost began to cry. I was seven.
I don’t know why, maybe it was the sly look he gave or the smirk he wore or the condescending way he would interrogate me about what I knew of girls, but I didn’t want to be involved with whatever he was doing. He had been arrested before. My mother had told me he’d shot a cop in self-defense. That it wasn’t his fault but what could a black man do in this system? I knew the score. He’d shot a cop. He’d did his time. I still didn’t want his knife in my bag.
So I walked back to where he was. Gigantic bubbles of snot in my nose. Humongous tears swelling in my eyes. And told him I couldn’t do it, and dropped my bag at his feet.
-Awwww, he laughed. You looked inside.
I held my head low, falling. He grabbed my neck and pulled me towards him.
-It’s ok little buddy. Go home. I’ll bring the bag. He let me go and I ran to my grandmothers. The door was unlocked.
Fonso let me read his porno magazines. His was the first ones I’d ever saw. He kept them under his bed and I’d sneak into his room and read them when he wasn’t home. One day he caught me and instead of freaking out, just laughed and let me be, but not before nervously saying, -don’t let your grandmother know you’re looking at those.
When the family and me “broke up,” I knew that if I called and he answered everything would be ok. Not because I trust him, but because I know he isn’t trusted, so we would be in the same boat.
Last time I saw him, he had lost an eye in a fight. He still bragged about all the women he had though, and I still only half listened.