UNIVERSE

.......
It was afternoon now. I had been sitting in what I could only describe as an enchanted state on my grandmother's porch which on this hot summer day doubled as a front-row seat to what adolescence had waiting in store for me. The neighborhood girls I had grown up with had moved across town and took with them most of the spirit of the street. I had overheard my mother describe their new location as "quieter." Of course, by quiet, she meant far enough away from trouble to raise 2 kids. The other kids my age were now far more concerned with sports and music than I was at the time. The video games we used to share now lay in the basement of sprawled across the backyard begrudgingly as a reminder that my youth was over. As my eyes continued to research up and down the many homes lining the street I stopped at the neighbors' house directly across from where I stood. I was taking in the sweet scent of and sounds of the lawnmower tumbling across the forest that was Ody's lawn. Or I guess his mother's lawn. When he noticed I was staring, Ody stopped and gave a sort of half-wave acknowledging me. Scared and nervous, I half waved back. The man's name was Ray but he preferred to be called Ody by everyone he met, at least since he had been out. My mother called him many names, none of which was Ody. When I asked her why she swiftly replied "Ain't no nigga in the hood named Ody, I'ma call him what his mama birthed him as." I replied, "you think you're the same baby that granny gave birth to?" A quick pop to the mouth for "getting smart" and I left it alone. On this day and pretty much every day for the last 4 months, Ody wore an all-white tank, now stained green from his time on the mower. Ever since he moved back in with his mother, he's worked a somewhat stable job as a lawn man. Stopping just short of his ankles, he donned the biggest pair of '96 Pistons basketball shorts I had ever seen. They probably could've fit a man 3 times his size. His thin frame struggled to hold them up at his waist but if you followed up his chest to the base of his neck you'd see more evidence that Ody was living not as he was but as he saw himself to be. Acting as the last remnant of his past life and in the afternoon sunlight, a beacon in bright yellow, seemingly cut by the gods themselves in a brilliant cuban link pattern, his chain supposedly continued infinitely around his neck coming to a snap at the very back. Not that it mattered, no one's ever seen him take it off. Today, his gold look reminded me of the ancient pharaohs I had studied in history class. He acted just as regal. My observation was interrupted by a tap on the shoulder and when I turned around I was greeted by a familiar face. "How you living my baby" which I understood was not a question but an introduction. Marcus was 26 now and it showed. Since he moved out he'd grown an enormous beard and an even bigger ego but the attribute that stood out to me the most was the fact that he too wore a collection of raw materials on his chest similar to Ody, only his disguised under the thick cotton of his t-shirt. "Oh okay!" I exclaimed, "where'd you get that?" The chain appeared to add 10 pounds to his overall body mass and as he fixed his posture to stand straight up above me, he began. "Oh, these?" gesturing to his rimless sunglasses. "I been had these, you know they real buffalo, right? You never even seen a buffalo till right now, this the closest you'll get. "No. Not those" I interjected "This." I gesture at what's missing from my own neck. "Awh man." He says with a grin. "You know we getting money over here man, quit playing, how else I'ma get y'all out the city. "What's wrong with the city?" I question.
"Aint no opportunity you know, niggas cant grow for real. "I mean, I see you found plenty out there, you ain't think to bring none back in that suitcase?
He chuckles half-heartedly "Man it don't work like that, you ah understand one of these days soon. "Right." I look away hoping to end our short exchange.
As I gaze around looking for an escape, I catch Ody, now finished tending to the lawn, out the corner of my eye beckoning me to come closer. I look up at Marcus. "I'll be right back." before making my way across the street.

Ody greets me with a dap. "How you living young man?" He starts. His demeanor is somewhat nervous and awkward as if he has something really important to tell me but doesn't know the words. I shoot back "not shit for real. "Woah! Don't make me tell ya mama you done start cussing now." I laugh "Man, she wouldn't let you come near her with a 10-foot stick"
"You not lying." he trails off and nods directionally back across the street. "What's you and my young dawg got going on over there?"
"Man, he just came home he tryna get off talking all this about moving out the city I'm like why? What's wrong with the block? And you know he can't give no straight answer. Seems like no one can."
"Yeah, I noticed."
"Yeah...would you have come back if you had the choice?"
"Man no doubt about it. This home for real..." he gazes around from street sign to street sign, taking in the sheer size of what I can only imagine he sees as his personal palace.
"You read at all? Like books?" he continues.
"Yeah, a little, mostly for school though."
"I got something for you...stay right here."

Ody returns with a softcover collection of parchment paper that looks a little older than me. "Take a look," he says. I open the front cover to see the name Ray H. with the words "Michigan Department of Corrections" underneath. "This is where I found my name. It's called the Odyssey. The main character is a sweet ass warrior who leaves home to go fight some big ass battle or some shit - it doesn't take him too long to get there but it takes him 20 years to get home." "He goes all these beautiful places, falls in love, makes new friends, starts a new family, kills a few demons, just real hard shit but whenever niggas around him ask what he wants? His answer always the same. Just tryna get home. That's some out-cold shit! Because he knows that's where his life began, he loves where he's from and that's something no one could take away from him."
"That's where I got the name from, Odysseus."
"Hold on hold on hold on" I stammer. "You just woke up one day and gave yourself a new name?"
"It's power in words, little man. Naming yourself is the first step in taking back control of your life. That's the problem with niggas - they choose to be boxed in rather than make the effort and sacrifice necessary to be free. It's inescapable for some."
"So I can just name myself anything."
"Yeah, I mean, whatever you like."
"What's the name for hope?"
"Elpis. Hope was one of the things at the very bottom of Pandora's Box."
"But I thought there were only bad things in there?"
"Depends on how you look at life."
"Okay...I like that one. Elpis. That can be my name."
"Alright, El! Yeah, that's kind of hard! Hahaha!" he lets out a big chuckle.
We both laugh for a moment as the sky gets dark and the streetlights begin to flicker on.
Now in bed, I open Ody's copy of The Odyssey" and under his name, I write my own.

- Tylan H.
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