Hamzah AD 2018
On the familial bonds of love, grief, and legacy
Editor’s Note: Press play above to listen to the author read her story aloud.
Hamzah came home and headed right to our door. We didn’t know he was coming that day. His last letter said he was going to face the board, and then nothing, and then he was standing there with a few hundred dollars, eight years’ worth of prison labor, which he handed me, and said, “Put y’all shoes on so we can get some food.” We went to the buffet because he loved that bogus Mongolian grill and all that orange soda. He loved those well-rationed crab legs and would stand at the station until the owner brought them out, a dozen at a time, annoyed that our father would take the whole dozen with him back to his seat. We thought that was real funny: him and Twin, back and forth for plate after plate. I only really liked the shell-on shrimp. Connie liked the cheesy spinach. “What refill you want?” And we all stopped breaking crab legs and laughing long enough to say, “Orange!”
Hamzah always came to see about his children first. He asks me, “Do you remember? You were only about four years old. You were coming down 149th Street on a red bicycle, and you jumped off and screamed, ‘Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.’” I don’t remember, but this is his favorite story, so I know it to be true. It never changes. Hamzah’s memory is butter. He insists that my bicycle was red; he insists that I wore pigtails; he insists that even though the hill that separates Amsterdam from Convent is steep, too steep for a four-year-old on a new bicycle, that I was riding fast down 149th and jumped, midair, off that tiny machine and into his arms.
Twin would get caught up in North Carolina. We didn’t have money for a lawyer, so Hamzah told him to plead out. They put our brother on the chain gang, picking fruit and vegetables. We all said “chain gang” like an idea we’d heard of in a book, not real men bound together in a field filling steel buckets with tomatoes and okra and…