Valerie came into class to see me tonight. As she has since the start of term. (“What? I miss you.”) Tonight I decided to formalize her presence. “Everybody, this is Valerie. She was my student last term. Now she’s in J’s class.”
Class was nearly over, so — as everyone shut down their computers, wrote their reflections and copied the assignments for Wednesday and Thursday — Valerie and I talked quietly. People started leaving (when they finish their reflections, they can go home), and soon it was Valerie, Jackie, Desirée and Tariq. Valerie and Jeovany are fighting right now (quelle surprise!). Valerie explained how it was all Jeovany’s own fault. “If you know that knowing who I been with in the past is going to make you tight — ” (piss you off) “why you gonna go ask around to find out who I was with before you? You say you don’t want to know how many men I f****d in my life, why you asking everybody for the number?” Desirée and Jackie agreed, did that bonding thing where you share similar bad boyfriend stories, and then they left and it was me and Tariq.
“You know how I see it, Miss?” I thought he was going to shed some light for me, help me understand why Jeovany was poking around in Valerie’s past. “I think that’s because she’s with a Spanish guy. It’s different with a African American. Spanish boys go harder than us. They always so much about control. They have to know everything.”
He explained how not like that he is, how he’s about being equal with his girl. “If I have something, I share with her. I told her that. And she does the same. It’s not about anyone is better than someone else. We’re the same. You know what I mean by that? Equal.”
Tariq is sixteen.
I said some black men behaved just as Jeovany was behaving and that I suspected there were plenty of men of all kinds who would fall into the ‘hard’ category.
Tariq seemed skeptical. “I don’t know about all that, Miss. But I know what I see.”
And that’s fair, of course, but let me say again: Tariq is sixteen.
He helped me put the laptops away and did a little out-loud chicken-counting about the money he’d be able to contribute to his household when he got a job. I thought there was some specific thing he wanted to say, a reason he was hanging around until everyone was gone, but when the classroom was clean and ready for the morning, he just waved, said goodnight and headed down the stairs. Curious. But nice, too. And he was adorable company.