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'Aight, soldier

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Corners and avenues bustling nearly every hour of the day like clockwork, rarely a true moments silence drifting through the bitter cold air, sirens and gunshots ringing out and bouncing across the walls of derelict vacants….that was Baltimore.

You were either lucky enough to be raised by someone, or you were dragged up by the streets. The same drugs most boys ended up making a meagre living from and dying because of had ravaged entire generations, depriving them all of family and stability.

Drugs didn’t discriminate, men and women were wasting away in equal measure, and the corners kept selling with the steady stream of boys that were orphaned because of dope and coke.

The bullets that fly across streets and the revolving prison door were just as inevitable as the dope fiend treading to the same corner day after day, stepping outside of that seems as pointless as it does impossible.

If you weren’t made by the streets, drugs or chosen family, then you were made by the need for finding a way to survive.

Surviving was more than most of them could hope for, rather than truly living. With a life expectancy shorter than a carton of milk for most of the corner boys, making a fistful of cash at the expense of ever feeling safe, loved or like you mattered seemed to be just enough.

Bodie Broadus had been dragged up, alright.

His grandma had tried her best, and god damn if she wasn’t the only person left in the world Bodie knew he had love for, but she was tired.

By the time Bodie had been permanently put on her doorstep at the age of four, her daughter had succumbed to the needle one last time and died out on the same streets Bodie was selling on.

When D’Angelo makes a moral lecture about treating dope fiends better, Bodie can’t help but see the ghost of his mothers face on a whacked out woman dragging one foot behind her as she walks away from the pit, even though Bodie isn’t even sure he can remember his mother’s face anymore.

The pictures his grandma showed him in his brief moments of calm in his early teenage years didn’t resonate with him. He saw a woman with a smile that was infectious, who had smile lines, not a ravaged face and track marks over every inch of skin that could hold a needle.

His brother James had been the one he’d leant on at first. He looked out for Bodie as best he could, even though for all of Bodie’s temper, he had nothing on James’ lack of patience, especially when it came to dope fiends.

He guesses it might have something to do with the fact that unlike Bodie who was four when their mother died, not really remembering her much, James remembers the woman before she fully succumbed to the needle. It was probably hard to remember the ‘before’ than it was to brush off the ‘after’.

James had meant everything to him. Even back then, Bodie had struggled to find any connection with others beyond the superficial. He didn’t want a group of guys who’d joke with him one week on the corner and stare aimlessly at his coffin the next, he wanted ride or dies, people who knew him beyond the way he ran a corner.

He misses sparring with James, the way his street-aggression would be channelled into something that he could enjoy with someone who meant something to him. He could see the change in James when he’d spar too, the way his eyes didn’t seem as distant or mistrustful.

Bodie can still remember seeing him lying on the sidewalk with a hole in his head, eyes looking as dead as they had when he was alive. It had been the last security blanket Bodie had allowed himself to have, so he decided to shed all hopes of having security then and there at the age of thirteen.

Guys like D’Angelo didn’t know what it was like to come up hard.

He had the security of an uncle who had money and influence and who gave a damn about him, and a mom who, in all of her insecurities and overbearing nature, gave her own version of a shit about him.

Someone like D’Angelo can shoot a motherfucker in a situation that could’ve had fifty less inconvenient outcomes and still have a home to go back to, a job in which he could be demoted but still get paid and a family that still had his interests at heart, even if he didn’t have the sense to comprehend the consequences of his actions.

Who’d stand tall for Bodie?

When Wallace starts acting up, he can’t take a moment to practice fucking patience, because D’Angelo is swaying between being the boy’s fucking loving mother and then scolding him, and Bodie hasn’t got time for a motherfucker who thinks he can go to his grannies house for a weekend away, say he’s quitting the game, then stroll back up and gets put back on the count immediately.

The game hasn’t got time to stop for weak bitches.

He doesn’t have to ask who String is talking about when he asks what’s wrong with ‘that boy’, because he’s been wondering the same thing too, recently.

 String’s eyes are unrelenting when he stares at Bodie, and Bodie can feel the weight of expectation on his shoulders.

“I heard he was out the game?” His voice is non-committal, but Bodie can hear the scrutiny in it, because he shares the sentiment.

Ain’t nothing wrong with Wallace not having the heart for the game, but either do it or don’t. You can’t try to profit on something you morally oppose after making it clear to everyone else that the second you feel a certain type of way, you’re gonna throw them all under the bus.

“He was, but he back now.” Bodie stares out of the window, away from the unflinching stare of the man sat beside him.

Bodie can’t help but think about James, shot through the head by some no-name wannabe gangster from behind. James didn’t even see the threat coming, didn’t even have any beef with the guy.

Here Wallace was, one foot in the door and one foot out, staring the threat in the face and deciding after all his back and forth that this is him now. He had more choice, more protection than James ever did, yet here he was fucking throwing it all to the wind over naivety.

D’Angelo was just as stupid. He let the boy stroll back in, giving it the big ‘I am’, and putting him right back in the firing line. Bodie couldn’t respect Wallace for running away either way, but if D’Angelo actually cared about Wallace, he should’ve packed him up and sent him right back to his grannies house rather than putting him back on the count.

It was like all the motherfuckers lucky enough to have the ability to choose in their lives were willing to throw it all away.

It’s fucking rigged.

“Where he been at?” String’s voice snaps him from his thoughts and vacant stare, looking back into dark eyes that promise something Bodie is certain will haunt him for longer than it’ll haunt String.

“At his granny house, he said.”

String’s laugh is hollow and doesn’t quite meet his eyes, and Bodie is certain of what String is going to ask him to do, not that String will even make it a question.

Wallace had signed his own fate the second he didn’t commit.

“I heard he damn-near shit his pants when he saw what happened to Omar’s bitch.” String snorts, shaking his head.

Bodie shakes his head, too.

“He just ain’t built for this, y’know,” he stares into the distance, “heart pump kool-aid.”

“What about you?” Strings gaze is impenetrable, intense. “You built for this shit?”

Bodie resists the urge to laugh, to tell String that he’s been built for this shit since he was ten. He’s been running around for Barksdale since he was fourteen, had seen shit that grown-ass men shouldn’t see and hasn’t ever flinched away from any of it. Has taken more beatings than a pro-boxer and still never backs down from a fight.

He stares String dead in the eyes. “No doubt.”

“You ready to put the work in?” He can see the acknowledgement in String’s eyes, and he’s certain it’s because String knows Bodie’s type when he sees it.

Loyal to a fault, hard-working, doesn’t complain.

Bodie’s been working for a long time now and ain’t ever had time off yet, so the nod he gives is assertive in its finality.

He’s ready to move up and be somebody.

“You got heat?” String’s voice is steady but considerably lighter than it had been when he’d first gotten into the car.

Bodie’s hand moves towards where he’s packing. It used to be James’ gun. It was about the only thing of sentiment Bodie owned or acknowledged, and he’d had to drag it from his brother’s cold body before the police took him and marked him down as another no-name, inconsequential murder.

 Now, String smiles, and Bodie can’t help the relief that comes from the approval. To be acknowledged, at last, rather than overlooked for people that didn’t fucking deserve it.

“’Aight, soldier.”