Jamari by Christine Kendall

Miss Anderson’s scared of Jamari. Our whole class knows that. Well, everybody except Jamari. He doesn’t know 'cause he likes school. Jamari likes everything; birds, drawing, and snakes like the yellow and green one we found near the piers in Riverside Park. Jamari says it's a corn snake. He knows 'cause he looks up stuff to show Miss Anderson. He likes her so much, but she doesn’t like him back.

I think she’s mad, too, 'cause we’re twins—Jamel and Jamari Walker. Her face gets all squinched up whenever she says our names. So, after what happened yesterday, I asked Mama why she had two 8-year-old boys at the same time. She was standing in front of the refrigerator looking at the picture Jamari made this morning. It shows a boy pointing up at the sky wearing big, big glasses. Mama didn't answer me so I asked again.

She said we weren’t 8 when she had us. I went outside after that and sat down on the stoop. A little bit of water was still trickling under the curb from Mr. Witherspoon washing his car again and there was quiet church music next door. Some big kids were playing basketball in the street but I didn't wanna ask if I could go down there. A red bird was up in the elm tree and Mama came looking for me. She gave me a popsicle and sat down real close. She smelled sweet like Johnson’s baby powder.

“Twins are double luck, Jamel.” She tickled me under my arm and it made the popsicle crash up against my front teeth. “Double love and—”

“Double dirty,” I said. I stretched out my T-shirt so she could see the raspberry popsicle stains that were already all down my front.

Mama laughed and then she didn’t look so tired. She looked like Sunday morning’s pancakes; light brown and airy. Her curly hair was like the syrup that drips over the sides. The red bird chirped and Mama looked up into the treetops.

“How many cardinals do you think there are in Harlem?” she said.

“I don’t know.” I wrapped my twisted up napkin around the popsicle stick. “That’s a Jamari kinda question.”

Mama looked off down the street. “How was it at school without your brother?” she said. Her voice sounded different. It sounded like it did after she finished talking to the principal about Miss Anderson. I said school was okay 'cause I didn’t want to make her mad again. I didn’t want to see her get so mad and then sad and then cry like she did when I told her Jamari got handcuffed by the School Resource Officer, so I didn't say how Miss Anderson wouldn't look at me the whole day. “He didn’t do anything wrong, you know. There’s nothing wrong with asking questions.”

I knew that already; she told us that before. Mama should tell Miss Anderson. She’s the one who doesn’t know. She turns red every time Jamari asks one of his million questions. He jumps up and down kinda like a rocket until he gets an answer. And even after he gets one answer sometimes he keeps asking more and more questions 'cause he’s just thinking real hard. I think his head is exploding 'cause he’s so smart. Somebody should tell Miss Anderson not to be afraid. Jamari saves up questions for her 'cause she’s the teacher.

Mama stood up and dusted off the back of her skirt. “Let’s go find your brother,” she said.

“He’s drawing a picture for Miss Anderson.”

“A picture?” Her head jerked back real hard and she touched her skirt again. “A picture of what, Jamel? She called the police on my child."

Mama turned around so fast I was afraid she was gonna lose her balance and fall down the stoop. She snatched the door open, tore down the hallway, and ran into our apartment like a tornado.

“Jamari, come out here right now.” Mama ran into our bedroom but he wasn’t there. “Jamari,” she called his name again. She sounded like she did when I got lost at Great Adventure.

We went into the kitchen and I saw the scissors drawer hanging open. Then I heard Jamari humming out on the back steps. We went outside and there he was. He was down on his knees with a long, long, long piece of brown shopping bag. That’s how he makes his drawing paper, by cutting the handles and the bottoms off, but this time he did way more. He'd taped all the bags Mama keeps under the sink together into one piece. It was falling down the steps and it showed a row of big brownstones, Mr. Witherspoon's car, the yellow curtains on the church lady's window next door, just, our whole block with all our birds all over it—cardinals, bluejays, and hawks like we see over by the river.

Mama slumped against the screen door and put her hand over her heart. “That’s beautiful, Jamari. What are you going to do with it?”

“I’m gonna give it to Miss Anderson,” he said. “She told the cops there aren’t any birds in Harlem.”

Contributor Notes

Christine Kendall grew up in a family of artists where she was surrounded by lots of creative energy. She has attended numerous writing conferences including Bread Loaf and the Southampton Writers' Conference where she studied children's literature. Her short fiction has appeared in Niche Literary Magazine and her debut novel, Riding Chance, was published by Scholastic in the fall of 2016. Before becoming an author, Christine worked in the field of law firm talent management where she recruited lawyers and managed diversity initiatives. Christine lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.