The night air made my question linger; it took him a long time to get an answer ready. We were walking back from the 7-11.
"I knew Big from high school, but only then. I don't know Biggie the rapper, and all he's become and all of that. If you wanna hear about that find someone else, man." He opened his bag of chips.
"George Westinghouse High. It's supposed to be some fancy tech school. I guess it is, they got these new computers now…. Anyway, yeah, like a lot of people, I knew Big. He wasn't exactly hard to miss. Fucking big dude, with a mean face. Wasn't mean in the slightest though, only when he had to be I guess. He was in my English classes in both 10th and 11th grade. He was the dude who always walked into class with a bunch of people around him; he always had a crew. But that's real ironic considering how quiet he was. He never really said much now that I'm thinking back. He would be making smart-ass comments every now and then but definitely quiet on the whole. I kinda liked that about him 'cause I don't like to waste words either. People don't need to be yapping for every little thing.
"All through high school I remember there was an unspoken something around him. Something told you to be cool to this guy, to get on this guy's good side. Being big as fuck probably had something to do with it, but it was probably more than that. It was probably everyone kinda knowing the shit he was going through. I don't know how people knew anything 'cause he sure didn't tell anybody shit, but whatever. Y’see, even before I got to know him I knew a lot about him and how he was.
"I hear about him wanting to drop out and I'm like, fuck, y'know? Like shocked in a helpless way. I was going through shit of course, like every other fucking person, and I was struggling in school. Even though I didn't know him personally, he was like a mentor, a fortifier. I looked at him and it gave me confidence. I was impressionable I guess; I was a kid, I needed shit like that. Later I start hearing that he's dropping out of school. That news hit me hard. All I could think about was maybe I can’t do this either, I can’t do this either. Big was a smart dude, how the fuck couldn't he deal with it? You know what I mean? I don't know….
"Fast forward, I know this isn't answering your question. I'll just skip the long stuff, whatever."
I told him that I wasn't bored or anything. He kept his gaze straight ahead.
He began again: "One night, I'm with some dudes from class and Big shows up with his black hoodie looking real happy. There was a lightness to him. He'd made money that night. He starts talking about getting some food and I'm like cool. Nobody else was down though.
"We walk to the BK on the next block and we order and sit down. It's late, like around midnight. Big had told me next to shit the whole time but now says, 'It's crazy how alone they leave you in these burger joints late at night.' He was right, we were the only ones there and even the cashier was doing some mysterious menial shit in the back. He sighs and looks out the window through the neon.
“'I heard you were dropping out.’
“He was definitely never interrogated for anything; his answers sliced through you. Like, not only did he answer you as bluntly as possible, but it was like he told you at the same time to mind your own business.
“Against my own judgement I ask him why.
“'I know I ain't gonna do shit with school, man. Fuck that shit, I know the only place for me is the corner, hustling, tryna make some money so I can fuckin eat, y'kno'm saying? So my moms can eat n'shit.'
“He drank some of his coke.
“‘Everybody be telling me to get my ass back in school. I don't need that shit. You think niggas gonna leave this world with a G.E.D.? Nah, I can't wait that long. I can't be doing shit I don't like for that long. The only place for me is the streets, y'kno'm sayin'. The dark world where the green comes through like a fuckin’ river. I be grabbin’ at that shit all day, man. Money is the only thing I'm tryna get right now. I be needin' that shit so much it's like I can't even think of anything else. Nobody fuckin’ gets it. This is why I don't be givin' a fuck 'bout what niggas think 'bout me, man. Everybody needs to focus on themselves. Fuck charity nigga, fuck people tryna fuckin' feed you with a baby bottle. Focus on your goddamn self. Ain't nothin' but greed in this world and if you don't get what you want there ain't no way you'll ever get it. You think I’m happy where I’m at? Shit is gettin’ to me, man. I be stressed out every fuckin’ day. But I know if I work at this shit, if I keep sellin’ n’shit, I’ll get to where I wanna be. Look at this shit.’
“He brings out this fat roll of twenties.
“‘You think a G.E.D. would get me this shit? I’m sellin’ my soul for this shit right here. And it feels good too.’
“I remember I looked at him and I probably showed way too much of how I was feeling in my face, and he noticed of course.
“‘I know you gonna be doin’ good though. I’m sorry ‘bout your moms, keep your chin up. Whateva though man, where the fuck the food at?'
"He was probably sick of everybody asking him why he wasn't going back to school and he just had to let go of that stress that was building up in him. After that we pick up our food, eat, and we head home. I know Big never told anyone anything like that. That sudden anger stuck with me. I got strength out of it, some primal strength. After that I never felt alone again. Not ‘cause I felt like I made friends with Big, nah. I actually saw him like twice after that night. It was just something in the way he spoke to me, I knew how I was supposed to feel. And I felt strong. I think it’s funny ‘cause when I look back he didn’t really say anything to me. I don’t know, man….”
I looked at him and he seemed lost in some kind of familiar pain. I’ve never seen him feel this way.
“There’s more to it though.”
We were halfway home.