Ch 3: Shadows Of The Past

Miguel's nights were often restless, haunted by memories of the incident that had landed him in juvenile detention. This night was no different. The darkness of his room seemed to close in on him, and his mind replayed the fateful encounter.

Bad Word

Miguel and Carlos were walking home from basketball practice, the sun setting and casting long shadows across the street. They were almost home when four thuggish kids with tattoos and ripped jeans, no shirts with sagging pants, approached them, their faces hard and menacing.

"Yo, Garcia," one of them, named Rico, called out. "Don't bring your retarded brother down our street anymore."

Miguel's jaw tightened. "Don't call him that."

Carlos, clutching his basketball, looked at Rico and said, "Hey, that's a bad word. My mom says that's a bad word. Bad word. That's a bad word. Bad word." He seemed to put his hands in the air giving the sky a high five while saying the words over and over in his own daze.

Rico rolled his eyes. "Shut up, weirdo," he snapped, shoving Carlos to the ground.

Rage surged through Miguel. He lunged at Rico, fists flying. They grappled on the pavement, a flurry of punches and kicks. The other boys joined in, raining blows on Miguel. He tried to shield Carlos, but it was impossible. Suddenly, a gunshot rang out, and everything went black.

Miguel woke up screaming, his body drenched in sweat. He was punching the air, reliving the terror. Maria rushed into his room, grabbing him and shaking him gently.

"It's alright, baby. It's alright," she whispered, holding him close as he sobbed into her shoulder.

Tea Talk

A teapot on the stove began whistling, breaking the stillness of the night. Maria kissed Miguel's forehead and hurried to the kitchen to turn off the stove. She poured two cups of tea and returned to Miguel's room.

Miguel's room was typical of a teenager's. Pictures of fast cars, including a Ferrari and a Lamborghini, adorned the walls, and posters of basketball legends Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Kobe Bryant were everywhere. A shelf held his basketball trophies, a testament to his skill and dedication. On a small table by his bed was a picture of his grandfather, Tito, and his father, Nasir. Tito had his arm around Nasir, and they were standing in the garage, smiling. It was the only photo Miguel had of them together.

Maria handed Miguel the tea and noticed the picture. She smiled softly, her eyes distant with memory. "I remember the day that picture was taken," she said, sitting beside him. "It was the day your father and I told my dad that I was pregnant with you."

Miguel sipped his tea, his tears subsiding. "Really?"

Maria nodded. "Your grandfather and father were so happy. My dad always wanted a son. He loved me deeply, but he longed for a son too. And Nasir... he was such a kind and strong man, just like you. I often think about how proud he would be if he were alive to see you. He would have been a great father."

Nasir

Maria began to tell the story of how she met Nasir. He had come to America to attend Prairie View University, an HBCU near Houston. "When I was locked up, I read about colleges and I remember reading about Historically Black Colleges and Universities but I could never go to one of those because I am not Black," he told his mother. She taught him, "Yes you are mijo. You are mixed with two beautiful strong cultures. It is just as important for you to learn about your African roots as it is about your Mexican heritage," she insisted.

When Nasir prepared to start school, he learned his mother in Nigeria was sick. He wanted to go back to Nigeria but his family there told him he could make more money to help in America. His family couldn't afford her medical bills. A friend, in Dallas from Nigeria as well, had promised to help him find work and give him a place to stay until he was able to stand on his own. However, that friend began working offshore on a ship, leaving Nasir with six months' rent paid but no job.

One morning, Maria's car broke down on her way home from the grocery store. Dozens of people passed her by, but Nasir stopped to help. He fixed her car, and she insisted he come back to let her father pay him. When they arrived at her father's garage, Tito offered Nasir money, but he refused. Instead, he asked for a job. Tito, impressed by Nasir's skills and work ethic, agreed.

"It didn't take long for my father to recognize what a hard worker he was," Maria said. "And it didn't take long for me to fall in love with him."

Not Around Here

Miguel listened, captivated by the story of his parents' love. Maria described Nasir as a tall, strong yet slender Black man who loved to cook. He often introduced her to Nigerian dishes, and she taught him how to make Mexican dishes as well. He particularly loved her Chicken Enchiladas.

However, Tito initially disapproved of their relationship. He felt Maria should find a nice Mexican guy, believing that dating an African man would only stir trouble with the locals around them. No matter what her father said, Maria saw something in Nasir that magnetized her heart from the day they met. She had never dated outside of her race before because Tito was very controlling when she was young. However, her feelings for Nasir had nothing to do with his race. It had more to do with his kindness towards her. She always felt safe around him, and her father just couldn't see it.

"When other Mexican men saw us together, they didn't like it," Maria recalled. "Many would call him names and tell me not to have him around our area because they said it was disrespectful. It was hard."

Maria's grandfather initially disapproved of their relationship, claiming it was hurting the business. But everything changed one day when some men tried to rob the garage. No one was there but Maria, her father, and Nasir. The robbers demanded the combination to the safe, but Tito refused. One of the men punched Tito and put a gun to Maria's head.

"Nasir came out of nowhere like a trained warrior," Maria said, her voice filled with pride. "It was like watching a movie. He disarmed one guy, kicked another, and punched the third guy so hard his teeth came out. They ran off, and he helped us up. From that day, my father respected him."

Miguel rubbed his fingers over the small frame looking at his dad and father with pride. A small smile broke across his face as his mother put her hand under his chin and lifted his head up.

Maria looked at Miguel, her eyes softening. "You have that same spirit in you, Miguel. That instinct to protect the people you love. But you need to channel your anger and frustration into something positive. You have the spirit of a warrior, but if you don't learn to control it, it will keep you in trouble."

Miguel nodded, understanding the weight of her words. "I'll try, Mom. I promise."

Maria kissed his forehead. "I know you will, mijo. I believe in you."

As Maria left the room, Miguel glanced at the picture of his father and grandfather. He felt a renewed sense of purpose. He had their strength within him, and he would learn to use it wisely, for his family and for his future.

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