As Solomon Fisher nudged his mother’s shoulder, his heart slapped like a loose pinball. “Mama, get up. It’s today!”
Deshawna Fisher opened a single stinky eye, making him wish he waited for the alarm to ring her awake as she’d told him. He ran from the room before her wild swing could catch his behind.
He peeked into the room from behind the door jamb. “Sorry, Mama.”
She rolled over and buried her face into a pillow. “Double shift, Sol.”
He hated those words. It meant spending the evening alone and her coming home late, smelling of smoke. But there were lots of sick people in that hospital, and they needed those nurses.
“It’s today.” He bounced on his toes. “We can pick it up today.”
His mother rolled over, her eyes snapping to a glare. “That’s right.” She sat up. “It is today.” The covers came off her in a single sweep, and she was out of bed. “I’ll be in the shower. You make me some coffee, hear?”
Solomon ran to the kitchen and dragged the step stool up to the coffee maker. He pulled it to the edge of the counter and got the glass pot. If he made a full pot, she might want to drink it all. Instead, he filled it only half full with water. That was enough.
When his mother came out of the shower, she didn’t spend the usual amount of time making up her face. She poured the coffee in a metal cup, and they left the apartment.
Out on the street, they walked to the corner where some of the bigger kids liked to hang out before school.
“Hey, Sol,” one of the boys called.
Solomon turned to wave, but Mama tugged his by the backpack, pulling him closer to her. “Mind your business, son.”
He heard some laughing behind him, but they kept walking.
Normally, he’d be on the way to school right now, but she let him skip because today was too big to miss. He liked school because he could see the San Francisco Bay, at least on the way there and back. Mama didn’t like the water much, so she didn’t take him, but when she wasn’t around, he’d sneak down there by himself. She said most third graders didn’t get to see the big boats from school, that they only had four sad walls to look at, and he should consider himself lucky. But Solomon never really felt lucky until the day he found that briefcase.
They reached the bus stop, where several other people already waited. With all the new buildings going up nearby, he didn’t recognize any of the faces.
“Let’s wait over here.” Mama led him away from the rest of them and got on her phone.
When the bus came along, the group climbed aboard. He usually liked to check the bus number when they went into the city, but today, he forgot to look. Nineteen. It was usually nineteen. Mama sat near the front and spent the time texting on her phone. He took off his backpack and sat next to her. He could tell by the sparkle in her eye, she was excited, too.
“After we get the briefcase, can we go to the water?”
Her eyes did that thing he hated, where the brown part rolled behind her lids. All he could see was the white part.
It meant no. It always meant no.
“You act like we won the lottery.” She went back to her phone. “You still have to go to school, and I still have to go to work.”
“What about the park? There’s one real close. Can we at least go to the park?”
Her shoulders fell. “Alright. Just this one time.”
The park wasn’t as good as the ocean, but today, nothing could make him sad, not even a city surrounded by water without the chance to see it. The big buildings were always in the way. They even kept out the sun. He’d ask her again later, after the park. Maybe she’d change her mind because today was special.
Solomon name-checked every street they passed to check their progress. It was mostly a countdown from 26th Street to 15th, with a big jump to 7th, but they seemed to go in circles and threw in some odd names just to confuse people like Mariposa. Sounded like a girl’s name. Mama didn’t know any girls with that name, so he looked it up. It was Spanish for butterfly, but he doubted there were many butterflies that lived in the city. When they finally reached 7th street, he knew they were really close.
“Mama, we’re here.”
“I know, son.” She pocketed her phone. “We would’ve had it a long time ago, if you’d listened to me.”
The bus finally slowed to a stop in from of the police station, and he jumped off the top stair to the curb.
Mama held onto the rail, taking careful steps in her red high heels. How could she move so slow? This was the best day ever.
But he couldn’t wait for her, and he ran around the corner toward the entrance to the Hall of Justice. When Mama appeared, she scooted down the sidewalk in that bent-knee run she did when wearing her big shoes. Special day or not, she was mad.
“Don’t you run off like that again. You hear me?”
She tugged his ear this time, hard, and they went up the stairs and inside the building.
They went through a metal detector, which made a beeping sound until the man in front of them took off his belt. They looked inside his empty backpack, but he Mama went through easy. They took the elevator to the Lost and Found department
When they approached, a male officer at the desk with pink-white skin said, “You must be Solomon Fisher.”
Sol looked at his mother and back to the officer. “Yeah, how did you know?”
“I’m the one you talk to every Monday and Friday afternoon.”
Ninety days was a long time to wait. “It’s still here, right?”
The pink lips spread into a smile. He put a clipboard on the counter. “I just need your mother to fill out the paperwork, check her identification, and you can take possession of the briefcase.”
Sol jumped into a spin, his fist shooting into the air. “Yes!” When he landed, he put a palm up to high-five the officer. “Thank you!”
The clap was loud.
Mama took the clipboard. “He’s a little excited.”
“That’s a fine, young man you have there, ma’am. Smart, diligent, and polite.” He pointed at Sol. “He’s one to watch.”
Sol saw his mother’s eyes brighten. “Yeah, he’s a house-a-fire, this one.” She ran her hand over his hair.
As she filled out the form, the thumping in his chest went even faster. She gave the clipboard back to the officer, and he asked for her driver’s license. Mama held it for him while he took down the information.
“I’ll be right back.”
Solomon danced to some song in his head. He didn’t know if it was one he’d heard on the street or if he made it up, but it pounded just like—-
Her hand landed on his neck. “Stop that, son. You can go crazy later. But not here.”
The officer returned with the briefcase and opened it.
“Please inspect it, and if you’re happy with it—” He pointed to another form. “—sign here, and you can be on your way.”
She took a deep breath and reached inside the case.
Maybe they didn’t win the lottery, but $8,500 was a lot of money.
While she counted, he dreamed of all the things he would buy, including some new dresses for Mama. Most of hers were too small.
Her breathed as if the weather were cold. “Eighty-five hundred dollars. It’s all here.”
“I can’t believe I finally get to take it home.” Sol spun around until he was dizzy.
Mama signed the paperwork with her free hand.
He’d found the tan briefcase under a bush at a park in the city. It was made of soft leather that smelled good and had a couple of pouches, a zipper, and a pair of handles. Finding the pack of money inside, though, he knew someone would need it for shoes or rent. Mama was so mad when Sol had turned it in to the policeman. She made sure they got a receipt.
Anyway, it was theirs now, and she promised Solomon that he could carry it home, but only in a backpack. She didn’t want them flashing an expensive briefcase out on the streets. He looked up the name on the briefcase, and that brand sold for over a hundred dollars. Mama said there were too many people who wanted to steal it.
He opened his backpack wide so she could put everything in it.
Mama whacked her palm with the stack of hundred dollar bills. He could tell she didn’t want to put it in the backpack, even looked down at her skimpy, little purse, but it was too small for a regular wallet. Eventually, she sighed and put the money in the briefcase, zipped it, and put the case inside the backpack. She closed up the backpack and helped him put it on.
He wondered if this was how Superman felt with his cape, knowing he could fly. But he wouldn’t run, not in the building or out on the street. This was serious. Like Mama told him, he was the man of the house, and he needed to start acting like one. So he trudged down to the elevator and out of the building with all the self-control he could muster.
In the fresh air, his head spun a little as if he were sick, but without the feeling-bad part. Good dizzy.
Mama was texting again, but she’d promised they could go to the park on the next block for a short while before heading home. He skipped ahead of her.
They were near the park when her voice hit his back. “Solomon James.”
He looked at his mother, who now had two stinky eyes, so he waited on the sidewalk until she clacked up to him in those tall, red shoes. Silly, old things. If she couldn’t run in them, why wear them?
Just then, a car with dark windows pulled over to the curb beside them. A man got of from the back seat. Even with the mask, Solomon saw white skin around the angry blue eyes.
“Give me the backpack, kid.”
When Sol noticed the shiny gun, his muscles went all soft, and he felt pee roll down his leg. He looked at his mother. She didn’t like pee anywhere but the toilet.
Her lips were scowling, “You give him what he wants, son.”
But Sol couldn’t move. His muscles wouldn’t do anything he wanted.
From nearby, someone screamed, “He’s got a gun!”
The gunman turned toward the voice, the blue-eyed stare broken. Sol didn’t think, didn’t decide, he just ran across the street.
Then he heard the gun shots. A corner of the building turned into dust. When he looked back, the man pointed the gun at Mama and fired.
Tears spilled from Sol’s face. Mama.
After that, he didn’t turn around, he just ran as fast as he could.
This was his fault.
Now, they’d take him away for sure.