Posted on: January 23, 2014
"I brought this," Tony pulls out a package and unwraps the chicken foot as though it is precious treasure. In fact, it is raw offal dangling from twine.
"Damn, man, what's that for?" Jamal reels back like the foot is the most disgusting thing he has ever seen.
"Good luck," Tony shrugs. "It means good luck, right?"
"Naw, man - that's a rabbit foot," Jamal laughs.
"What's this?" Craig emerges from the alley, and the wind wails his arrival. He fingers the twine and shakes his head. "This is some hoodoo shit, Tony-o!"
Jamal and Tony lean in close to listen to what Craig will say next. His family is old NOLA, hanging on with sheer Southern stubbornness and tracing their roots back from Craig through the Jazz Age, Reconstruction, and, if Anne Rice adaptations are to be believed, when vampires had Tom Cruise's crazy charm and Brad Pitt's bone structure.
"Gramma's big into hoodoo, you know? She told me once a chicken foot is like, a protection charm," Craig says, "Not exactly good luck, but probably better for us if shit goes down."
If shit goes down. Tony thinks about the bad reception on his mom's tv set, grainy static interspersed with satellite images and doomsday prophets in the form of news anchors and politicians.
If shit goes down. Jamal pictures Big Ray and his swagger; Jamal sees the man’s face, an unfazed mask devoid of remorse every time the police arrest him.
If shit goes down. Craig remembers Gramma's stories of the past Big Easy, how families can float without a care in the world and then spiral down the drain as quick as dirty bathwater.
"Y'all still want to do this?" Craig's voice has the unmistakable shake of nerves and fear.
"Where'm I gonna go, motherfucker?" Jamal barks. "Ain't got money to leave, ain't got another place to stay."
"Yeah," Tony chimes in, his voice a tinny echo after Jamal's baritone bravado. "I came home and Mama won't leave, says the place'll stay up. I try to tell her what the people on the TV say, but she won't listen."
Come with me, please!
No, Antonio, no. It's safe here.
"Fuckin' language barrier," Jamal says, as though it can boil down to that.
"We should go," Craig says.
"I should have stayed," Tony says during a moment of relative quiet. The light is dim and the air is thick with humidity. Years later, they would tell people they were in danger of slowly suffocating in the Superdome, and the only thing that ever cut through the heavy air was the stench of rot and disregard, poor planning and impossible expectations.
"You can leave if you want, Tony-o," Craig replies. He does not say it with the anger or malice Tony expected. "If you're worried about your mom, it's the right thing to do."
Tony realizes he thought less of Craig than he should, and feels bad that it took a literal disaster to recognize this.
They have been in the Superdome for three days, and something has changed among the three friends: they will always be fellow survivors, bound by the knowledge they were once refugees in their own home.
"Yeah, but can you leave?" Jamal asks. There is a slow, unhealthy wheeze in his breath that makes everyone nervous. "They say there's already looting, but you know that's ridiculous. If you're taking food and cases of water, that's not looting; that's survival."
"You don't know what's going on out there," Craig says.
"I know no one's wading out for some DVD players when there's no electricity and no black market," Jamal retorts.
"Do you think she's okay?"
Craig and Jamal stop bickering and exchange glances in the dim light. Jamal coughs and the search for an un-empty water bottle in the ration kits distracts them from answering: no, probably not.
They don't have anything to steal, so they don’t catch anyone’s interest until the fifth day.
"Diablo," the old man says to Tony, pointing a crooked finger at the chicken foot. The old man looks like he may keel over any second.
"Oh, shit," Jamal whispers.
"Why didn't he throw that thing away?" Craig says. "Maybe that's adding to the smell."
Tony tries to explain to the old man, to reason with him, but everything sounds stupid: see, I abandoned my mom because she refused to leave, but I took this chicken foot for good luck, and then it turns out that a rabbit foot is good luck, and maybe I shouldn't have thought hacking off the limbs of small animals was good, period.
The old man has the crazed, delirious look of near-death in his eyes, like Greek mythology and the Fates--Atropos grasping the old man's thread of life. She'll sever it at any moment. Craig doesn't know the words that slip from Tony's cracked lips, but he can see the same panic that Grandpa had at the end. There is no reasoning with Death.
A stout black man approaches the group. Jamal bristles; they're now attracting attention.
"What's this? You piss him off?" The man says. Jamal doesn't care that his shirt is stained with sweat; it's the dried blood that has him worried, and that look he's seen from Big Ray so often: defiance and cool cruelty. This new guy doesn't care about the old man; he wants to fight.
The tense undercurrent was bound to surface, and no one is surprised when someone falls to the ground. The surprise, at least for a moment, is that it is Tony who throws the first punch.
Craig knows they only have a temporary advantage, so he kicks the fallen man in the ribs, eliciting muffled cries.
Jamal watches the chicken foot whip through the air and connect with the man's face again and again. Blood covers the tiny claws like nail polish and scarlet stains the twine.
Shit goes down.
Written by: Erin Justice
Photograph by: Jaemin Riley
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
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