• The Rent Manual

    Sidik Fofana

    Fall 2017

    days left: 10 . . . money you got: $0 . . . money you need: $350

    The slip is gonna come in the mail like it do every month, with the Lysol and the save-the-children envelope lookin regular as hell. It’s gonna have your name, Michelle A. Sutton, on it. And it’s gonna say balance. And it’s gonna say when the balance due: first of the month. They hiked your rent up one hunnit dollars. They said they was gonna do it and they didn’t lie.

    Read the slip to yourself.

    Scream, Shit, then stub your toe on the kitchen table.

    The old man in 14C gonna hit the wall.

    Hit the wall back.

    The Banneker Homes on 131st and Fred Doug ain’t pretty, but it’s home. Until now, it’s been the same since you moved here when you was pregnant with Fortune. One long gray-ass building, twenty-five floors, three hundred suttin apartments. Four elevators that got minds of they own. Laundry full of machines that don’t wash clothes right. Bingo room that the old folks hog up and a trash chute that smell like rotten milk.

    Little bit of everybody here. Young people with GEDs. Old people with arthritis. Folks with child-support payments, uncles in jail, aunties on crack, cousins in the Bloods, sisters hoein. That’s what everybody wanna concentrate on. The shit that be happenin only 1 percent of the time. Like that boy that got molested and thrown off the roof. Niggas still talk about that like it happened five times a week. Don’t nobody wanna talk about the cookouts with beer and wings and aluminum flyin off the grill and you be smellin it and thinkin, Can I get a plate? The summer time when the souped-up Honda Civics bumpin Lil Wayne be vroomin thru the back parkin lot leavin tire marks. The dudes who be shirtless on small bikes tryna get Malik or some other snotnose to run to the store. How you take a foldin chair outside and cornrow people’s hair from sunup to sundown for twenty-five dollars a pop and make a killin. Don’t nobody wanna discuss that. You didn’t come up here for no shoot-ups. You came here to make a good life on your own. You couldn’t be twenty-five livin with your mother and sisters in the Weldon Johnson Houses. Plus, Swan, Fortune’s father, is here.

    You gonna go over there and live by yourself? Your ma asked.

    That’s what I said, Ma, didn’t I?

    Chase after a man that don’t want nothin to do with no baby? And how you gonna make for rent?

    Imma get a job like responsible people.

    I heard that before.

    Remember them last words as you study that slip again. Don’t try to hold the tears in, because you can’t. Go in the bathroom. Rub the snot out your eye. Fortune gonna barge in as soon as you try to close the door.

    How you thuin, mommy?

    Fine, baby.

    You thon’t look fine.

    Sidik Fofana received an MFA in creative writing from NYU and teaches high school in Brooklyn. His collection Stories from the Tenants Downstairs is forthcoming from Scribner in 2021. 

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