It started when we were in middle school. Jamel would come up with these crazy ideas and I always shouted him down out of principle.
\\\’Why not? They got gel pens, so why not use gel for other things?\\\’ he\\\’d asked.
With a typical roll of my eyes, I said, \\\’Well, maybe. But ain\\\’t nobody gonna make gel throwing stars or spears or any crap like dat. After all,\\\’ I summoned all of my 12 years of street knowledge, \\\’gel ain\\\’t strong enough to be a weapon.\\\’
Jamel closed his eyes and nodded, his best impersonation of the wise old ninja masters we watched on Saturday afternoon kung fu movies. \\\’Wait and see, bruh. Wait and see.\\\’
Somehow, we both survived high school relatively unscathed. Jamel\\\’s uncle was killed in a drive-by and my cousin went to the pen for the rest of his life. We didn\\\’t think much of it because those stories were typical and tame for where we lived. Everybody we knew had a similar story. Or worse.
I lost touch with him after that. I followed in the footsteps of just about every dude in the family: took all the tests and went into the military. My uncles served and said it was as good an option as any. I\\\’d get housing, food, clothes, and learn something I could use later. They all did okay, \\\’cept for Uncle Willie who lost both legs in Vietnam and Uncle Marcus who got killed in Afghanistan. In the end, I took an offer from the Navy and went into submarine electronics. Figured all those years hotwiring cars could go to use, and they did. I excelled and advanced.
I got out after twenty years. In that time, I had only gone back to the old \\\’hood like three times. Once when Uncle Willie died, again when Big Momma died, and when my sister Maraya got married. I didn\\\’t have anywhere else to go in the end, so I moved back into my old room for a minute to get my head straight.
First person I wanted to look up was Jamel.
I asked around and everybody told me he\\\’d gone to college, like real college. Got all types of degrees and was working for the government as a scientist. I pulled a few favors and found out he was up in Quantico and everything. But, he had a team working for him locally and would come into town every couple months. I went past and dropped my number, asked somebody to ask him to call me.
About a week later, the phone rang.
\\\’Yo, DeShawn – what up?\\\’
He sounded the same as he had the last time I\\\’d spoken to him.
\\\’Jamel, what up man?\\\’
He laughed. \\\’It\\\’s your world, yo. How many stars and bars you got? They let you drive one of them nuclear subs home or what?\\\’
\\\’Nah, yo. And check you out, knowin my info. What about you, I hear you a Company man now. How a bruh get somma dat?\\\’
\\\’Come past again tomorrow, round eleven. We can grab lunch. I might have somethin for you.\\\’
I couldn\\\’t sleep that night. I imagined going back to the little storefront and finding out it was a secret spy lair or something. I got down there at quarter-to and Jamel was outside. He looked the same but taller, more dangerous, a Black James Bond.
\\\’Yo!\\\’ His smile radiated below the dark glasses. I hesitated, only seeing the reflection of myself in the lenses.
I gave him a pound and a hug, as if it hadn\\\’t been twenty years since we\\\’d last talked. \\\’Check you out, all suited down and whatnot. If I\\\’d known this was a formal date, I\\\’da brought flowers.\\\’
We walked around the corner and he stopped next to a dark blue Audi A8. \\\’Get in.\\\’
The drive was like going back in time as he took me to a sandwich joint we used to visit back in the day. The same owners were there, somehow slinging meals even though they both looked a thousand years old. We took our trays to the picnic tables farthest away from everybody. Jamel caught me up on twenty years of hook-ups, births, deaths, and changes.
Setting his glasses on the table, he tented his fingers. \\\’I understand you received quite a few commendations for your work.\\\’
Oh, it\\\’s like that. We doin business now.
\\\’Yes,\\\’ I sat up straight as if I was talking to my C.O. again.
He reached into his jacket and pulled out an envelope. \\\’When you get home, open that. If you\\\’re interested, come back past tomorrow at nine.\\\’
He wiped his mouth on a napkin and stood. Lunch was over. He drove back to his office in silence, gave me a pound when we got out of the car, and walked away.
So he wasn\\\’t the same Jamel after all.
I rushed home and ripped open the envelope. It had pictures, a brief schematic, and an offer of employment for more money per year than I think I earned in my first ten years at sea.
Jamel had been right about gel. He\\\’d weaponized it.
There was a handwritten note:
We didn\\\’t make spears or throwing stars, but the bullets and darts work pretty well. Now we need help with the firing mechanism. You in?
I sat up most of the night, wondering what I\\\’d be into if I said yes and what wisdom I\\\’d miss from Jamel if I didn\\\’t.
I twisted my hair the other day and because my usual hair products were somewhere in boxes from the moving company, I had to use a back-up gel. I had some that had inadvertently dripped behind my ear, so when it dried, I pulled it off in a strip. It turned into a \\\’what if gel was made into a weapon\\\’.