by Dionne Peart
Shamar Nicholson scored his first international career goal against the U.S. when the Reggae Boyz played here in D.C. last June. We all went to the game—me, Dad, Mom, even Jay, who’s not really into soccer. Dad had bought the tickets the month before he got laid off and in his words, he “didn’t have money to waste,” so Jay came too. I wish we hadn’t gone to that game, though. Mom and Dad had always been proud of who we were, immigrants from the Caribbean. Well, they were. Me and Jay were born in the Bronx and Jay said that made us Jamericans. But we knew what it was like to be able to claim both countries, to argue over which music festival would be better—Rebel Salute or Coachella—and take both sides, to code-switch when we wanted to blend in or stand out. Most of the time it was good. On Saturdays we used to play basketball at the school and trade Caribbean insults about our respective islands with Jean-Robert, this Haitian-American guy in my class. It was pure jokes between us, but we all felt it when they called his island a shithole country on the news. Jean-Robert was the smartest kid in our class, but sometimes it only takes one comment to make you question yourself. After that, it was only insults about basketball.
The day of the soccer game, me and Jay booted it home after school even though the match didn’t start ‘til seven. Dad said he wanted to get to the stadium early to get good parking, meaning free parking in a nearby neighborhood, so he wouldn’t have to listen to Mom sighing the whole time if we had to walk all the way from Navy Yard.
I was surprised Mom came anyway—she’d told Dad to sell the tickets weeks before when he first got laid off, but he wouldn’t listen and more than once she said she was tired of talking. Dad used to sleep during the day because he was the senior night auditor at a hotel. He’d work Monday through Friday, so we only really saw him for a couple of hours in the evenings during the week. On Saturdays he’d take us grocery shopping at the Caribbean market and buy us patties and coco bread. But Sunday was his day to watch sports. He’d get out the blender, fill it with stout, condensed milk, and nutmeg to make his Guinness punch, then he’d spend the afternoon catching up on soccer or cricket matches he’d missed during the week. Mom was fine with him sleeping during the day while he was working, but when he stopped you could tell it pissed her off. He’d be sleeping at eight in the morning while Mom would be yelling at us to hurry up so we wouldn’t miss the train, and he’d still be asleep when we got home after school. Mom would look up at the ceiling and ask God why he’d sent her this wasteman. She worked in HR and said it was bad enough she had to deal with shiftless good-for-nothings all day—she shouldn’t have to put up with it at home. But that Wednesday was different; every West Indian was going to watch Jamaica play the U.S. You’d lose your Caribbean card if you didn’t show up. So the morning of the game when Dad walked into the kitchen to ask if she was going or what, Mom only said, “Fine.”
I wanted to be the first one to the car so I could sit behind Mom. She’d started telling people how her sons were almost the same height, which made me feel kinda good because I’d just turned twelve, but not so much for Jay, who at fifteen couldn’t look down on me anymore.
“Go on the other side.” Jay shouldered me away from the car door.
“You go.” I shoved him back and stuck out my elbow to keep him from grabbing the door handle.
“Stop the noise!” Dad said. “Marcus, come ‘round this side.”
Jay didn’t even try to hide his smile as I walked to the other side of the car. Dad always sided with Jay because he was the oldest and good at math. Dad was always bragging how Jay could get into MIT if he wanted. Mom said she didn’t have favorites, but I’d always overhear her on the phone telling her friends how I was the one she never had to worry about. Jay got caught skipping school twice this month alone, and last year he nearly gave Mom a heart attack when he thought he got a girl pregnant. Turns out the girl was just “irregular,” whatever that means. He didn’t even get into any real trouble—he faked a month-long onset of almost daily migraines that had Mom so worried he might have brain cancer, she forgot all about the thing with the girl. Jay could lie his ass off, I’ll give him that. One time I caught him on the internet googling migraine symptoms. The next day, he was going for the Oscar: “I’m good, Mom. I’ll just take some Tylenol and lie down for a bit. Then I’ll go to school.” He made sure she saw him stumble and grab for the doorframe in the bathroom. Mom let me stay home from school to check on him since she had to run payroll at work and Dad was in Baltimore for a hospitality conference.
“Ferris Bueller,” I said to him as he got dressed to go out. “Silence has a price.” He gave me twenty bucks to keep quiet, and I did. He kept it up all spring. Even had the doctors convinced the migraines had been miraculously cured when he stopped getting them, just in time for summer break. I made enough off him to upgrade my gaming keyboard, so I can’t complain.
Jay connected his phone to the Bluetooth in the car so he could listen to his Young Money playlist. Mom took forever getting ready for the game—we waited for almost fifteen minutes before she came out of the house in her white jeans, a Reggae Boyz jersey, and platform sandals. Her hair was snatched tight in a ponytail that wasn’t all hers. She was looking good, like she wanted to remind Dad who she was, but Dad made it obvious he was giving her the once-over when she got in the car. Mom looked at him like, You want an argument? He didn’t say anything.
The stadium was a sea of red, white, and blue shirts mixed in with yellow, black, and green ones. Dad had on jeans and a black t-shirt, but a flag for each country in his back pocket because there were Jamaicans on each team, so he said he would be cheering for both sides.
On our way to our section, Dad spotted the guy from Caribe Vibes TV interviewing one of his friends. “That looks like Bobby.” Dad walked over to him, holding his hand in the air, ready for one of those strong-arm greetings. Mr. Hall raised his own arm and they clasped hands and pulled each other in for a quick hug. “Long time, man!” Dad said, then turned toward the interviewer like it was all planned.
“What’s your prediction?” the interviewer said.
“One-nil, Jamaica,” Dad said, waving his Jamaican flag. “But either way, US or Jamaica, it will be a good match.”
“Yeah,” Mr. Hall said. “We’re just here to mix with the people, you know? And have a good time.”
Dad and Mr. Hall started talking about the players and cracking jokes. We all liked Mr. Hall. He and Dad had been friends since they’d met at some embassy networking event that Mr. Hall was emceeing. He was always stopping by the house on holidays. Usually at dinnertime, Mom liked to point out.
It was only around eighty degrees, but Mom kept fanning herself and shifting her weight like her feet hurt. She was looking at Dad, but his eyes went everywhere except on us, like he was trying to ignore Mom on purpose. Finally Mom took a few steps toward him with her hands in the air, eyes wide, like Hello?! Dad stopped smiling when he saw her, gave Mr. Hall another handshake.
“Juliette!” Mr. Hall said to Mom. “I didn’t see you standing there. Your big ugly husband was in the way.” He gave Mom a side hug so tight he almost knocked her off balance, and she puckered her lips like she was mad, but she couldn’t keep it up.
“Nice to see you, Bobby,” she said, and patted his hand.
“The only ugly man in this place is you,” Dad said. “We’ll see you later.” He started walking and me and Jay followed behind after we waved at Mr. Hall. Mom jogged to catch up and said her feet were killing her.
“Who told you to wear those shoes?” Dad said.
“They wouldn’t be bothering me if we didn’t have to walk a mile here.”
“The car’s not even a quarter mile away,” Dad said.
“Half a mile. We could’ve parked across the street for twenty bucks. And then you have me standing here waiting while you skin up your teeth for the camera.”
“Why are you so miserable?”
“I told you. My feet hurt.”
That actually made Dad laugh a bit. He shook his head and pointed toward the entrance to our section. We got to our seats, which were good—the midfield section—so we were between fans on both sides and could see the entire field. It wasn’t packed, but there were enough people to make it interesting. The game hadn’t started yet, so Dad kept shifting in his seat and eyeballing the crowd, looking for people he knew apparently, because he kept pointing them out. “Oh, I didn’t know Michael was going to be here,” and, “That looks like Anthony. Bwoy, I haven’t seen that guy in years!”
Jay turned to the right to check out some girls a few seats down from us. Mom looked annoyed because Dad kept talking with his hands in front of her face. Finally, her arms flew up to block his and he dropped his own in his lap, then slumped down in his chair and stared at the field. I felt sorry for him. Ever since he lost his job, he seemed sad, like he didn’t have the energy to argue. Back in the day he would’ve told Mom to relax herself. They would’ve gone back and forth until one of them got tired of it. Sometimes I think she did it just to see if he’d go back to his old self again, but sometimes I wish she’d just give him a break.
“What were you saying about the World Cup?” I said. Mom glared at me, but I pretended not to see her.
Dad sat up in his seat. “We went to the FIFA World Cup in ’98,” he said, index finger jutting the air.
Mom adjusted her sunglasses and leaned back in her chair.
“I almost went to that World Cup game. France. Man, those were the days.” Dad looked around our section again and I did, too. He waved his American flag at three men sitting in the next section who were chanting “U-S-A!”, joining in with them. They didn’t wave back. He twisted his mouth to the side and turned his attention toward the field.
“You see that? That’s how they stay,” Mom said. She was looking at the three men, like she was sizing them up. One was wearing a baseball cap backwards. Another guy had a red and white headband, and the third one had a blue striped bandana tied around his head. “They don’t want to be your friend. They just want you to play the game for them and keep your mouth quiet.”
It bothered Dad when people pointed out stuff like that, especially when Mom did it. “This is the greatest country in the world,” he was always telling us. “Anyone can come to this country and get anything they want if they’re willing to work for it.” Mom always let out a big sigh when he ignored her or tried to justify the things we saw on the news. “Maybe he was doing something suspicious,” he’d say, or, “Why were they there in the first place?” or, “We’re not getting the whole story.” To say Dad was caught off guard when he got his layoff notice is an understatement—he’d been expecting a raise and a promotion after he’d showed his boss his online hotel management certificate from Cornell. Mom saw it coming, though. Ever since Dad’s supervisor gave him a “needs improvement” on his performance evaluation. Me and Jay heard Mom say she was convinced that woman was looking for a way to get rid of him. Turns out Mom was right—Dad was the only one at his level who was still laid off. It felt different in our house after that. Like finding out your Dad was more Peter Parker than Spider-Man. I still went to him for help with math to make him feel good, but whenever he asked Jay if he wanted him to look over his work, Jay would just say “I’m good,” even if he wasn’t. Dad was light-skinned, and while that might’ve worked in his favor in Jamaica, Mom let him know it didn’t matter here. “Black is black,” she told him. “And light-skinned or not, don’t you think it’s funny you’re the only one at your level who was laid off and didn’t get called back?”
A few minutes later, everybody stood during “The Star-Spangled Banner” and then they played “Jamaica, Land We Love.” Dad didn’t have a voice for singing, but when he noticed the three men across the aisle talking through the anthem, he got really loud when we got to the “teach us true respect for all” part. The guy wearing the red headband looked over and nudged his friend wearing the blue bandana. They continued to talk through the rest of song.
“These people have no manners,” Dad said, loud enough for them to hear.
“Relax!” Red Headband shouted.
“You relax!” Dad shouted back.
“C’mon, fellas! Let’s just watch the game,” came a voice from behind us. I didn’t see who said it, but Dad just crossed his arms.
“Is alright. Watch who going win this match,” Dad said. He raised his chin in the air and looked toward the field.
“Yeah,” I said, and looked at the field too.
The game got started and we all were getting into it, except Jay, who’d moved over a couple of seats closer to those girls. He pointed to one of the players. “That’s our cousin, Shaun. One of the defenders,” he said to the girl closest to him.
“Really?” the girl said.
“Yeah, on our mom’s side.”
The girl with long braids cut her eyes at Jay. “How come you guys aren’t down on the field?”
I slid over next to Jay and smiled in his face. “Yeah, Jay. How come we’re not down there? With our cousin.”
Jay mouthed “fuck you” and faked like he was going to backhand me. “We’ll see him in the locker room later,” Jay said. “I might be able to get you guys in.” The short-haired girl smiled at him. He turned his back to me, blocking my view of the girls, and started telling them how him and Shaun used to train together whenever we visited Jamaica.
Mom said, “Do you hear this?”
“Jason! Come here to me,” Dad said. It was hard not to laugh as Jay stepped over me to sit next to Mom.
“What?” Jay said.
“Don’t answer me ‘what.’ You telling lies again?”
Jay held his fist up to his mouth and looked at the field.
“You wait and see what happens when they catch up to you.”
“You would know,” Jay mumbled.
“Oh God,” Mom said. “Can I have a minute’s peace?”
Dad shook his head, like whatever, but Jay was right; he shouldn’t be talking. And I know Mom agreed, but she gave Jay one of her raised eyebrow looks anyway. Jay moved back to where the girls were, but he didn’t say anything else about getting them into the locker room.
By halftime, no one had scored. Dad stood up.
“I’m going to see what they have at the bar. You guys want anything?” Dad got out of his seat and patted his clothes ‘til he found his wallet.
“You can get me whatever you’re having,” Mom said. “Get some soft drinks for the kids, too.”
He didn’t say anything as he left. Jay must’ve struck out because he climbed over me and Mom’s legs, saying he was going to help Dad carry the drinks.
Ten minutes later, Jay came back alone, carrying Mom’s beer and Cokes for us.
Mom frowned. “Where’s your dad?”
“He’s still up there,” Jay said.
“He gave you this beer to carry?”
“I didn’t drink any of it.”
“You’re bright,” Mom said, in her way that really meant, Don’t get smart with me.
Jay leaned forward and drank his Coke. Mom looked at him for a bit, then ran her hand over my fade, which was turning into a small ’fro since I hadn’t been to the barber in three weeks. Dad kept promising to take me on the weekend, but each Saturday he couldn’t seem to get himself off the sofa. Mom didn’t say anything as she examined my head, and she didn’t have to. I remembered the way she jacked up Jay’s head the year before when he wasn’t allowed to leave the house after the incident with the girl. Mom wouldn’t even let him go to the barber. Told him she would cut it herself. After that, Jay didn’t try to go out for weeks ‘til his hairline grew back. I was hoping she wasn’t thinking about where she put those clippers, so I jumped up. Out of sight, out of mind.
“I’m going to the restroom,” I said.
Mom shifted her legs to the side. “Alright. See if you can find your dad while you’re up there and tell him to get me a hot dog and some fries. I’m nearly dead from hunger.”
After I finished in the restroom, I started walking by the concession stands looking for Dad. About halfway past the next section, there was that guy with a video camera again. Dad was there too, and this time, he had a huge Jamaican flag tied around his shoulders.
“Any insights on the game?” I heard the interviewer say as I walked up.
“Still one-nil, Jamaica,” Dad said. “Maybe two.” He had a wide grin, wider than I’d seen in a long time. He looked relaxed, like he did TV interviews all the time. Mr. Hall was with him again, and there was a woman standing between them. She didn’t look familiar to me, but Dad must’ve known her, since his arm was draped around her shoulder. She was taller than Mom in her flat sandals. She had on a lot of makeup and reddish-brown hair that didn’t look like it was all hers, but I guess she was pretty. Maybe it was because she laughed a lot. Dad was laughing with her and he didn’t seem to mind when she turned and straightened the knot at his neck. He didn’t see me until I was almost in front of him. His eyes widened a bit and he dropped his arm, but he kept that smile. He called me over and turned me to face the cameraman. “Who’s gonna win, Marcus?” he said.
Dad shook my shoulder. “Jamaica. One-nil, right?”
The interviewer held the mic toward the woman.
“Mom’s hungry,” I said, maybe a little too loud. “We all are. She wants to know what’s taking you so long.”
“I’ll be back in minute.” He took me to the concession stand and bought some food.
“She also said to give her ten bucks for popcorn.” He didn’t look like he believed me, but silence costs. I shoved the money in my pocket and took the food back to our seats.
“Where’s your father?” Mom said as she passed Jay a hot dog.
“Up there talking to some people,” I said, and immediately regretted it. I could feel her burning a hole in the side of my head, just staring at me.
“Which people?” she said.
I took a big bite of my hot dog. “I don’t know. Mr. Hall.” My voice sounded muffled, I could tell, because she squinted at me like she wanted to smack the bun out of my mouth. Jay ground his heel into my toe and whispered, “Shut up.” I snatched my foot away. Two years ago, Dad had gone out drinking with his boys on a Friday and didn’t come home until Sunday and he came back without his car. He’d totaled it, which was bad enough, but then Mom got ahold of the police report and saw a woman’s name listed as a passenger. She kicked Dad out of the house for three months. That was the worst winter ever. We spent Christmas morning at the hotel where Dad worked, eating hard scrambled eggs and pretending to be happy about our presents. I don’t even remember what he got me. I only remember the way the server looked at us, like we were the saddest things she’d ever seen. Jay didn’t finish his breakfast and he never turns down food. Mom talked bad about Dad the whole time he was gone. On the phone, she complained to her friends how she could’ve had her pick of any man and stayed in Jamaica, but she chose Dad because he wanted to go abroad, have a family. She sacrificed. She was loyal to him. He owed her. Eventually she let him come back. I was happy, but Jay didn’t seem to care. When I asked him about it, he said, “I’m no player hater, but that’s Mom. You don’t do that to Mom.” We started doing family stuff again after that, but I could tell Mom didn’t really trust Dad.
Dad was laid off. The last thing we needed was for Mom to kick him out again. I was keeping my mouth shut.
It was another ten minutes before Dad came back with more drinks. Mr. Hall was with him.
“What took you so long?” Mom had one eyebrow raised. “And where did you get that?” She pointed at the flag.
Dad looked at me before answering. “It looks good, don’t it?”
Before Mom could ask a follow up, Mr. Hall jumped in. “Juliette, you can fix me up with one of your friends?” He tapped Mom on her shoulder as he spoke. “The woman I went out with last night have on so much perfume, I smelled her five minutes before she even set foot in the restaurant.”
Mom laughed. “You’re a fool,” she said.
“Don’t laugh. It’s not nice. I still have a headache. And I can’t smell nothing.”
The crowd started cheering. One of the U.S. players took the ball down the side of the field. The three men across the aisle kept yelling, “U-S-A! U-S-A!” The player kicked the ball, but Jamaica’s goaltender blocked it. Dad pulled out his Jamaican flag and started shouting, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” Someone passed the ball to Shamar Nicholson on Jamaica’s team, who tapped the ball back and forth between his feet, putting the man covering him off balance. Dad was standing up but hunched low, waving his flag at the field like a matador, yelling, “Yes! Cut him!” I got up and started shouting along with Dad and then Jay joined in. Mom even stood up, but she really had no choice with all of us flailing around. When Shamar cut past the American, he kicked the ball hard. The goaltender leaped, but the ball flew over his head and into the goal. We all started jumping and cheering. All you saw was yellow, green, and gold flags in the air. People were blowing those vuvuzela and air horns like their lives depended on it. Dad and Mr. Hall banged on their seats, and me and Jay yelled “Big up! Big up!” along with the crowd. The three men looked over at us again. Blue Bandana booed. “BIG UUUP!” Dad cheered, shaking his fists.
Mr. Hall, who’d moved into the row in front of us, turned around to high-five Dad.
“You see that?” Dad said. “I told you. One-nil!”
Mom gave him a smile, like he was the one who scored. Jay took the opportunity to slide over a few seats again to talk to the girls. I high-fived Dad, too.
The Americans got the ball again and were heading toward Jamaica’s net.
“You got ‘em! You got ‘em!” the three men yelled.
“Hold him! Hol’ him!” Dad and Mr. Hall shouted.
The Americans made a quick pass and one of the players turned and kicked the ball toward the goal, but it was blocked by one of the defenders.
“Ah so we do it!” Dad was pumping his fist in the air. Most of the fans dressed in red, white, and blue sat down. The three men remained on their feet.
“That it?” I said.
“Not officially,” Dad said. “But I already told you the score.”
Some people started leaving, but Dad and Mr. Hall wanted to stay ‘til the end. The men across the aisle sat down. Jay came back to his seat and pulled out his phone.
“I scored some digits,” he said when I asked him what he was doing.
“One of those girls? Already?”
“Pfft!” Jay looked at me like I’d just asked the stupidest question in the world. “How long do you think it takes?”
“How old are they?”
“Too old for you.” He angled himself away from me so I couldn’t see what he was typing.
Even though Dad said he’d already predicted the final score, there was still twenty minutes left in the game and it seemed like the Americans always had the ball near Jamaica’s goal. Twice more the Americans tried to kick a goal, but they couldn’t get one past the goaltender. Whenever Jamaica got the ball, Dad and Mr. Hall would be back on their feet. “Play the ball forward, man!” they shouted. But Dad was still cheering for the Americans, too. Especially after they substituted goaltenders.
“Oh, this getting good. You know he’s Jamaican, too. Nobody is scoring now.” Dad pulled out his American flag and started shouting “U-S-A!” again when they blocked Jamaica’s attempt. The people two rows in front of us looked back at him like he was crazy, but Dad didn’t care. He kept waving both flags.
“No one is giving up,” Mr. Hall said. “Everybody trying to earn a spot on the Gold Cup roster.”
“That’s all they can do because Jamaica is taking this one. I told you already,” Dad said.
Mom laughed again and Dad asked if she wanted anything else to drink.
“I’m alright,” she said and put her hand on his thigh. It was nice seeing them like that—no arguing, no worrying about getting work or complaining about wasting money. Even Jay was acting like he was having fun.
“Can we get a pizza on the way home?” I said.
“Yeah, we can get one,” Dad said. Mom wrinkled her nose at me and winked.
The minutes were winding down. When the Americans got the ball again, the three men stood up and started clapping and yelling. “C’mon! You got this!” Dad and Mr. Hall were on their feet too, waving their flags around. The crowd started booing and Mr. Hall looked around like everyone was crazy. “No loyalty. If they’re doing good they want to claim them, but if they’re losing they want to kick people off the team.”
“A true thing,” Dad said.
The referee blew the final whistle. “Yes, mi lion!” Dad said. “We won!”
“Of course!” Mr. Hall said. “They can’t hold we!”
There was dancing on the field. Players from both teams slapped palms as the Reggae Boyz celebrated. The three men stood quietly, shifting their weight between their feet.
“Ugh!” Baseball Cap said. “This team sucks!”
Blue Bandana said, “Well it’s half foreigners on the team anyway. They should deport them and get some Americans on the roster.” Baseball Cap didn’t say anything, but Red Headband nodded.
“Probably threw the game. I think some of them are Jamaican.”
“Naah. They just lost,” Baseball Cap said.
Dad shook his head. “These people,” he said, extra loud. “Let’s go.”
We went down to the main level and walked around for a bit so Mr. Hall could finish his drink. After a while, Mom was stepping like she was trying to sneak up on someone and I knew her feet were hurting again. Dad saw the way she was walking and turned to her. “You ready?”
“I just need to use the restroom first.”
The line for the women’s restroom was still long, so Dad told Mom to meet us by the stairs outside Gate C. There was a slight breeze that lifted the flag tied around Dad’s shoulders.
“You look like a superhero, Dad,” I said.
Mr. Hall patted Dad’s belly. “Yeah, Captain Bully Beef. Later my youths.” He waved at us and started walking toward the Metro station. Me and Jay went around the corner to look at the Club Shop. It was closed, so we just cupped our hands against the glass and looked inside.
“I want one of those jerseys,” I said.
“Man, you can’t afford that. You know how much those cost?” Jay said.
Jay shook his head and started walking. “Forget it. Let’s go.”
I followed him back to where we left Dad. The large flag was now in his hand, the smaller American and Jamaican ones hanging from his back pocket. The woman I saw him and Mr. Hall with earlier was standing there, feet crossed and playing with her necklace.
“This your son, too?” She smiled at Jay. He didn’t smile back.
“Yeah, yeah,” Dad said. “My two boys. A family thing today.”
The woman looked past Dad. Mom was walking out of the gate. When Dad saw her coming, he stopped smiling and took a step away from the woman.
“Good to see you all,” the woman said. She waved and walked toward the Metro.
Dad tried to play it off. “You ready?” he said to Mom.
“Who was that?”
“Nobody.” Dad shrugged. “She was looking for Bobby.”
Mom looked at Dad like she just smelled the inside of my gym bag. “You must think I’m somebody’s fool,” she said. “I saw the way you were chatting her up. Keep playing stupid and watch what happens.”
She speed-walked up Second Street to find our car. We all caught up to her. “She’s not my friend. She’s Bobby’s,” Dad said. “Marcus, didn’t you see her talking to Mr. Hall?”
“Don’t drag him into this,” Mom said. “Don’t look for a twelve-year-old boy to save your ass.”
Just then, her shoe strap broke and she pitched forward. Dad caught her arm.
“I just saved your ass,” he said.
“Shut up,” she said, but let him hold her arm. They continued bickering all the way down the street.
At the corner of P Street and Second, we noticed the three guys who were sitting across from us were now behind us. I wondered if they’d followed us, but we weren’t far from the stadium. It could’ve been a coincidence. We turned left on Fourth Street while they crossed the road and stood around an SUV. Dad let go of Mom, walked backwards, and lifted his chin. “Better luck next time,” he said and smiled wide.
“Shut the hell up,” Red Headband said. He pushed out his chest and started walking toward Dad.
“You wanna test me?” Dad stopped walking, raised his hands to his sides, palms open and fingers wide, like bring it. Mom looked at us and called to Dad. “Let’s go.”
“Go back to where you came from,” said Red Headband.
“You don’t own this country, so you can’t tell me to go anywhere. You go back where you came from. Crawl up inside your mother’s—”
“Trevor!” Mom said.
Dad stood his ground for a moment, but Mom said “let’s go” again. Me and Jay were helping her walk, so we didn’t see what was happening until we heard Dad say, “What the ras?” When we turned around, Red Headband was holding Dad’s Jamaican flag. Dad balled his fist and started walking toward the guy, and then we heard something smash. The sidewalk darkened as the beer from the broken bottle spread at Dad’s feet. Blue Bandana gripped another bottle by its neck, like he was getting ready to throw it, too.
“Trevor?” Mom said. Dad turned to look at Mom and I wished he hadn’t. The two guys were on him like wild animals, punching, kicking, pulling him one way, and pushing him another, trying to throw him to the ground. I heard the dull thud of glass on flesh as the bottle broke across Dad’s shoulder. Mom was screaming when they got Dad down on his knees and then to the ground. The first time I heard Dad cry was when Red Headband stomped on his hand. Jay jumped on Red Headband’s back, but he flung him off like he was nothing and Jay landed on the sidewalk. Hard. Before he could roll over, Red Headband was on him, punching him in the face like my brother was a man. I ran over too, but Blue Bandana stepped forward, gripping a third bottle I hadn’t seen before, and I stopped. Mom was on her knees, her voice shaking like she couldn’t breathe, and it didn’t occur to me until later that someone should’ve heard all of this, someone should’ve come.
There was a flash of lights and then the SUV was there, stopped in the middle of the street. Baseball Cap stuck his head out the window. “What the fuck, man? Are you guys crazy? Let’s go.” Red Headband and Blue Bandana got in the SUV. Baseball Cap looked at me for a second. Then he peeled out.
In the distance, I heard sirens. Mom was on the ground beside Dad, her white jeans now smeared with his blood. I went over to Jay, who was holding his side, and helped him up. He spit blood on the ground and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. In the grass, I saw one of Dad’s Jamaican flags, twisted like it had been wrung out. A few feet away was the red, white, and blue flag. I picked up the green, black, and gold one and walked over to Dad, just as red and blue flashing lights came around the corner, blinding us.
We didn’t talk about that night anymore after Dad got out of the hospital. The police interviewed us, but none of us were able to describe what the men looked like, beyond the blue bandana, red headband, and baseball cap. The stadium box office said the seats where those guys were sitting weren’t sold to anyone, so they must’ve moved down to our section to get a better view.
Mom didn’t say anything when Dad slept in anymore, and now she made him the Guinness punch that he drank while watching election coverage on CNN. When he started looking into how to get the land Grandpa left him in Jamaica properly titled in his name, Mom didn’t say anything either, but she did start purging and giving away stuff. Me and Jay were going through the boxes in the garage and Jay found his favorite North Face fleece in a bag marked for Goodwill. He tried to sneak it into his room, but Mom could catch a ninja wearing socks.
“Jay, bring that back here.”
“What?” he said. “I need this.”
“I said to bring it back.” She grabbed for it, and he made the mistake of trying to yank it from her. Her eyes got all wide and she looked at him like he had lost his mind or she was about to lose hers. He let it go.
“Why do we all have to move?” I said. “Dad’s the only one that wants to leave.”
Jay said, “Yeah, and that means I’m gonna miss prom and Dad said we’re supposed to do college tours this year.”
“If Dad moves, we all move. We’re a family,” Mom said. “And you like it there anyway.”
“Yeah, to visit,” Jay said. “Not to live.”
“You’ll have your grandmother and your cousins. We can go to the beach anytime you want. I had the best childhood there.”
“If it was so great, why did you leave then?”
Mom glared at him. “You need a good kick.”
“I’ll take it if you don’t make me leave. I don’t wanna go.” Jay didn’t look her in the eye when he said it. I went over and stood next to him.
“Me either,” I said. I’d take a good kick, too. Mom told us we didn’t have any manners and left the room. A few minutes later, we heard her drive off. After she was gone, Jay hid his fleece in his room. I took out stuff from the Goodwill bags too, hid my New York Giants beanie and even the ugly red mitts I got for Christmas. When Mom asked who’d been in the garage, we both acted like we didn’t know what she was talking about.
It was quiet in the house after that. Mom didn’t speak more than she had to. Jay let me come with him when he went to hang out with his friends, something he hadn’t done since before I’d gotten the training wheels off my bike. It was cool when we were out, like we could almost forget how messed up everything was, but as soon as we got home, we remembered. I never thought I’d be happy to go to school, but at least it felt normal there.
Dad spent Sunday afternoons watching Netflix until the doctor took his cast off. Then he’d just leave the house. Usually only for a couple of hours, but long enough to have Mom looking out the window for him. She never asked him where he’d been or who he was with, and he never volunteered the info. I think she was just glad nothing else happened to him.
Dad stopped watching the news, didn’t care who was dropping in or out of the presidential race, he said. We didn’t hear much from the police after that. The more time passed, the more Dad was convinced nothing was going to happen and nothing was going to change. The stadium sent us free tickets for a game—VIP seats too. But Dad barely looked at them, so Mom said she would sell them at work and Dad didn’t tell her not to. Me and Jay used to have to take the Metro everywhere, but then Dad started dropping us off and picking us up. “It’s not safe for boys that look like you,” he told us. I think that was the first time Jay had agreed with Dad in months. That worried me too.
I turned thirteen at the end of the year and grew another inch. Mom made me a cake and Jay played League of Legends with me all day, but that was pretty much it. Dad used to throw us birthday parties where there were more of his friends than ours, but this year, nothing. It would’ve been nice even if none of my friends were invited, if we could just see him having a good time again.
Eventually Dad found a part-time night auditor job and had started interviewing for full-time jobs in January, and I was hopeful. He’d canceled his trip to Jamaica to check on the property because he said he couldn’t miss work, and though Mom kept threatening to get our passports renewed, she never followed through. When I mentioned it to Jay, he said maybe Mom and Dad had changed their minds. “But don’t ask her,” he threatened me. No worries. I was keeping my mouth shut.
It was early on a Saturday afternoon in late February when Mr. Hall called and told us to turn the TV to the U.S. soccer match. Dad had no interest in watching any games, least of all soccer, but Mr. Hall insisted.
“Turn it on! Tell him he has to see this,” Mr. Hall told me when I took the phone from Dad, who was lying on the sofa watching a movie. I picked up the remote control and changed the channel.
“Who told you to touch the TV?” Dad said.
“Mr. Hall,” I said.
“Mr. Hall paying cable bill in here? Turn it back.” He stretched out his arm, like he was trying to grab for the bottom of my shirt.
“In a sec,” I said, and moved out of his reach.
The Americans and the other team were on the field, spread out across the pitch, but they weren’t moving.
I turned the TV up.
“Well, apparently both teams are refusing to play in a protest against racism,” the announcer said.
Dad pushed himself up to sitting.
The camera switched to the sidelines where some players stood with arms folded while others went down on one knee.
“A man and his son were beaten outside the stadium last June and there were some incidents since then in Europe too,” another announcer said. “What I’m getting from the field is that the players said they’ve had enough and they aren’t tolerating it, so they stopped the game. They’re not playing the half.”
Dad leaned forward with his elbows on his knees and his hands covering his mouth. Mom and Jay came in and looked at the TV.
“Nobody’s moving,” Mom said. “What’s happening?”
Dad just waved at her until she sat next to him. Me and Jay sat on the floor. We watched the rest of the first half of the game in near silence. Forty-five minutes really went by. They ran the clock down. I could swear Dad was blinking back tears, but he would tell you that was a lie. He flexed his injured hand, which still looked stiff to me. “I would never have thought anything like this could’ve happened to a person like me,” he said and nodded at the screen. “But I never thought anyone in this country would do anything like that for me, either.”
During the halftime report, they interviewed some of the players and coaches about stopping the game. “We’re united in this,” they all kept saying. We were all glued to the TV. When the second half began, the teams started to play. It was still quiet in the living room. A few minutes later, Dad went into the kitchen. He was making his Guinness punch again. When he came back, we still weren’t talking.
“Yes,” Dad said suddenly, when the U.S. blocked the other team from scoring. We all looked at him, leaning forward, elbows on his knees like he would jump up at any second and start yelling at the TV like he used to do. I turned up the volume again. Neither team scored, but Dad was cheering both teams by the end. I don’t remember where the other team was from, but it didn’t matter. It felt good.
The home team represented.