Luck was a word I knew all too well.
I lived its meaning every single day, loving it, breathing it since I could remember. Taking it for granted would place it far past redeemable transgressions in my eyes; it had been so very good to me.
Luck was there on those nights when my younger brother, Amir, and I were hungry, yet had no real meals to eat. He'd been a baby in that time, and I, a teen. We would learn to acquire a taste for honey on plain white bread when I wasn't at school. The taste still lingered on.
It had become my shadow, this luck. My best friend, my all. It kept me humble throughout my life and now, here it was to reward me once more, granting me the single deepest desire of my heart.
I'd been accepted into one of the most prestigious universities in the grand state of New York. Chatsmen University.
As a freshman, I was beyond eager to begin a brand new chapter of my life, diving into whatever academics Chatsmen had to offer me. Everything was so new, so shiny, so inviting. Never had I ever felt so welcomed before. I needed it, craved it and not before long, it had consumed me.
I was happy there. For the first time in my entire life, I was really happy. But that happiness was nothing but a sham, woven like a spider's web over my heart and mind. It made me forget the broken pieces of myself, the memories of which my significance stood firm, and for this my foundation began to crack.
And crack, until everything fell apart.
I should've stayed humble. I should've held on to the fact that I was never nothing more than a speck of dust who had forgotten how lucky she truly was. Maybe if I had, this luck, my luck, wouldn't have shifted. It had turned into a fog—thick and gray, here to teach me a lesson in the most spiteful of ways.
My focused refused to stay on my calculus professor, Mrs. Marvis. The middle-aged woman, in her southern drawl of a voice, had been prepping our class for our upcoming midterm exams. She could not stress the relevance of it any stronger, repeatedly stating that it will account for thirty percent of our grades.
My classmates hung on to her every word, diligently scribbling down study notes as Mrs. Marvis went on and on. I, on the other hand, hadn't even touched my ball point pen.
Since I had decided to study both night and day—sleep was not an option—I didn't find a need to. I had done very well on my past tests and was confident that this would be like the rest. Now here I sat in class, nipping at the tip of my fingernail as my eyes mindlessly drifted out to the windows by my far left.
It was such a beautiful day this morning—the type where it wasn't too cold, yet not too hot. The type of day when no one batted an eyelash if you wore thin cotton sweaters with shorts and sneakers. They were my favorite kind of days.
Suddenly, something fluttering against the soft current of wind had grasped my attention. A little robin.
Flapping his little wings the color of rust, I watched as he flew into a nearby yellowing oak tree. There he stayed for a moment, his beak opening and closing as he chirped an inaudible chirp. Silently I wished that I could hear his lovely singsong.
As if to answer his call, another bird had appeared beside him. They started to sing to each other, the two birds as they gently nudged one another. And as soon as they came, they were gone, flying off together far past my sights.
When they disappeared, I felt the sensation of an object tingling in my jeans, making my focus shift once more. I drew my hand inside of it and removed the item. My cell phone.
Not wanting it to be a distraction, I ignored it, but as I unlocked its screen, I regretted that choice. The words, twenty missed calls, ten new messages, and twenty-two new voicemails, made me wince.
Keeping up with my phone was something that I was terrible at, admittedly. My studies came first and that was that but seeing as though I was already ahead of the curve, I let curiosity drive me to look through it.
I read over the messages first. They were as I had expected them to be for the most part, mutual classmates subtly begging for study cheats, my roommate sending me invites to parties for the umpteenth time, but there also was one other which caught my eye.
It was from my boyfriend of three months, Marcus.
The message read, 'my first thought in the morning is always you... I think I read that online somewhere, but it's so damn true. Also, that rhymed.'
Softly, I laughed. He would always send me those corny texts, but what may be corny to me was real in his eyes. A sophomore to my freshman, I had always thought that we were mismatched from the get-go, but he never saw it that way. He wanted me for me and could care less of my class.
I absolutely adored everything about him, from his beautifully warm brown skin, stretching across his five-foot-nine height, to heart stopping piercing hazel eyes. And went he smiled, oh gosh when he smiled, it was enough to make my knees buckle.
Drifting out of my thoughts on him, I surpassed the few remaining unread texts and came back the missed calls and voicemails. Twenty of them. Twenty. I couldn't wrap my head around that. Why so many? I wasn't popular here or anywhere else, for that matter.
"There will be a chance at a makeup test, should any of you do poorly," I heard Mrs. Marvis say.
My finger pressed upon the logged list of calls and voicemails.
"If you have any further questions, please feel free to let me know. I am more than happy to assist..."
The calls, the voicemails, they were all from my father.
My father? He's never had a reason to blow up my home like this before. Was he all right?
I reached down in my bag and pulled out a set of flimsy headphones, quickly sticking one bud in my ear as I attached the cord to my phone.
Then I played back the mail.
And as I did, my entire world stopped and fractured altogether.
His voice unstable, he was chanting a single sentence over and over against his constant snuffles.
"...Ashanti please, come home. We need you."
Wits scattered, I grabbed my bag and stood to my feet.
I was long out the classroom before Mrs. Marvis could utter a word.
I drove, and I drove, and I drove. Silent. Distressed. Heart hammering like a drum in my ears. What was supposed to be a thirty-minute drive had turned into forty by the time my old stomping grounds came into view, and even then, traffic continued at a snail's pace.
"Come on, come on, come on. Just drive a little bit faster for me," I pleaded to a silver Honda ahead of me.
Miraculously, my wish came true. The car made a sharp left turn. I wasted no time in pushing my speed until the familiarity of my surroundings came crashing down onto me.
Like a nightmare, memories kept invading my space each way I look. Pit bulls tied up short wired fences, barking at passers-by, nameless women standing on street corners, their clothes and hair askew. I broke off eye contact with them and kept going.
At long last, I saw my house. But just barely. The rest of the road had been blocked off by police squad cars, an ambulance, and curious bystanders.
I cursed under my breath and pulled the car to a stop, ripping the key from the ignition as I pushed the door open. My legs worked to carry me further into the scene, pushing past person after person until I all but ran into a barricade.
My eyes scanned the area, looking past the swarm of cops infesting the place. They were in frantic search of only two people, my mother and father.
They met my father first. He, with his hands covering his face, was sitting in the dying grass of my old home, rocking back and forth as his body heaved.
I walked past the barricade, magnetically drawn to my father's dismay. I needed to know what the hell was going on. Why were the police here? Where's Mom?
A hand roughly tugged my shoulder backward, making me almost stumble. Angered, my eyes darted in the direction of the culprit, a male cop much bigger than I cared to admit.
"This is a crime scene, Ma'am. No outsiders. Please get back," he informed me, his voice monotonous as he forcefully pushed me back towards the barricade.
I shrugged his hand off. "I'm no outsider. This is my old town and that's my dad over there. Let me through." I pointed into my father's direction.
His eyes glanced where I pointed, softening up as guilt shrouded them.
"Oh." Standing down, he stepped aside and let me pass. "My sincerest condolences."
Leaving the cop behind, I made my move towards my father, my heart catching in my throat as he drew nearer and nearer. My pace slowed as I finally stood before him. For an uncomfortable moment, I just stood there and listened to him cry, unsure of how to react.
My father was a tough man, an old school man who was never one to be so open like this. The sight just about did my heart in.
"Dad..." I whispered. "I'm here. I'm home."
His crying was hushed by my voice. He looked up, bloodshot eyes meeting mine. Grabbing me and pulling me close, he fell apart in my arms.
"Ashanti," he sobbed. "Never in my wildest dreams I could have pictured you coming back home to such a tragedy like this. Oh God, I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry."
I pulled him away from me, steadying his slumped shoulders in my arms.
"Dad... Dad, look at me. Look at me," I commanded. "What happened."
His mouth held no words to be spoken, but his eyes had. They trailed far past me and into the street. I followed them and witnessed what he was staring at.
There in the street covered by a black plastic sheet was a body. The body laid still, unnervingly still, surrounded by a thin pool of blood.
An officer was knelt beside the body, a clipboard in one hand and a pen in the other. His face was stone cold as he reached down to adjust the sheet. Just before he'd done so, my eyes swept across a tiny hand peeking out the side of the sheet before it was gone from view. And just like that officer, I ran cold.
My eyes stayed with that body, although my tongue spoke to my father, shaking, uncontrolled.
"Dad... where is Amir?"