Keke Hamsho and the Falconers: Chapter 1

21 Dec

Keke Hamsho and the Falconers is a serial about Keke Hamsho, an eighth grader at Rindge Avenue Upper School. Keke is also homeless.


Keke Hamsho was late for school because the tent had collapsed for the third time that night and they had to help their aunt and Ahmed put it back up. The winds from storm that had soaked the area kept knocking it down and the earth of the Alewife Reservation remained too wet and soft to secure the tent’s stakes. This time Ahmed used the odd ends of twine to tie the tent off to neighboring pines. As soon as it was up, Keke tore off down the bike path, through the Alewife T station, dashed between the bumper to bumper traffic on Fresh Pond Parkway and then sprinted down Rindge Ave, mud clinging to their purple Keds and bell bottom pants. After checking in at the front office they decided to duck into the accessibility bathroom to clean up before slipping in to Mr. Taulson’s history class. Just as Keke was about to push open the door, the hulking form of Jabari Harris popped out. Keke jumped back.

“Trying to get a peek, perv?” Jabari just stood there blocking Keke’s path. Everyone at Rindge Avenue Upper School knew Jabari Harris, the all everything to be, youth league football standout, basketball star and said to be a near lock to start at wideout on the high school team next year. He was also allegedly a rare eighth grade member of the Falcon Posse, the secret high school club that everyone wanted to be part of and fearful to be the target of. It was practically mandatory to follow them on TikTok and Instagram. A Falcon Posse post mentioning you either earned you friendly back pats in the hall or a week of cold shoulders.

“Sorry, in a rush,” Keke stammered.

“What are you anyway?” the larger student growled in his deep, other side of puberty, baritone.

“A human, same as you,” Keke said as they slipped pass and bolted the door. Quickly they wiped the mud from the sparkly Keds and pick fluffed their hair so that the purple and azure highlights of the blond crop shown with an aura-like effect.

At lunch Keke sat with Hazel and Cal, COVID masks under their chins pulling on their ears as they ate.

“Trade you a half PB and bacon for half your dog,” Hazel said to Keke, knowing how much her friend enjoyed the crunchy lunch treat her mom made.

“You don’t have to,” Keke said.

“C’mon, school dogs are the best, hit me up with that ketchup pack too.”

“Did you hear,” Cal asked, “someone stole Jenny’s favorite squishmallow from her backpack.”

“Jack Skellington?” Hazel asked.

“Yup.”

“That sucks, I wonder who the loser is who did it.”

“Hector,” Cal said, “said that Antoine told him he saw the new girl snooping through the bags after coming back from a bathroom break.”

“You know,” Hazel said, “two days ago, my Pockys were missing from my lunch bag, I thought I had just forgot to pack ‘em, but now…”

“And I had several bracelets I was working on,” Keke said, “go missing last week. I thought they fell out of my backpack when I was running to school.”

“Nadja, Nadia? The girl from Tanzania, right?” Hazel asked.

“Nyla and she’s from Ethiopia,” Keke corrected.

“Someone should tell Ms. Franklin,” Hazel said, “I’m going to buy Jenny a new Jack Skellington squishmallow for Christmas and send it to her on the down low, Secret Santa style.”

“At the front office this morning,” Keke said, “Vice Principal Santos was talking to a cop about someone taking the menorah from the ‘Multicultural Holiday Celebration’ exhibit and defiling it with swastikas in the teachers’ parking lot.”

“Haters be hating,” Hazel said.

“Asses be holing,” Cal laughed.“Prolly some bullshit Falconer Posse initiation ritual.”

“Bet it’s you’re boy Jabari,” Hazel said.

“That guy’s just the worst. A bully with a capital B.”

“He kinda hassled me this morning when I was trying to go to the bathroom.”

“When I see him I just walk the other way.”

“That was a mean shiner he gave you on Halloween. Hey Kek,” Hazel said, “have you heard the latest drop from Black Pink?”

“I wish, I dropped my iPod in a puddle during the last rain. I’m still trying to dry it out in a bag of rice, but I think it’s dead for good.” “Here, have a listen,” Hazel said putting earbuds into Keke’s ears and loading up the latest K-Pop hit on her iPhone.

Later that day after leaving their math session with Ms. Phillips, the learning specialist who helped them stay caught up with the class, Keke saw Nyla coming out of the accessibility bathroom and wondered what they were doing roaming the halls during a class period. The girl locked eyes with Keke but didn’t say anything until after she passed by. “Hey,” she called out.

Keke turned. “Hey yourself. Aren’t you going the wrong way? Don’t we have English?”

“I got pulled out to see Ms. Santos.”

“What for?” Keke asked.

“I don’t know,” Nyla said digging around in her pink, fake leather backpack. She produced three beaded bracelets, the same three beaded bracelets that Keke had lost, except now each one had a little rubber troll charm attached to it. “Want to buy one? Five dollars each.”

Keke was shocked. “I don’t have any money,” they stammered and then demanded, “Where did you get those?”

“I made ‘em.”

“You made them?”

“Yup.”

“That’s funny because those look just like the bracelets I make.”

“It’s just beads, anyone can make. If you don’t want one then I’ve got to go.”

Keke couldn’t wait to tell Cal and Hazel about the encounter, but before the last bell she got asked to stay after by Ms. Franklin. “Tomorrow before early release, go down and see Ms. Santos,” Ms. Franklin told Keke. “Also thank you for the lovely bracelet. Here’s a little something for you too,” Ms Franklin said and handed Keke an envelope. “We’re not supposed to do this, so let’s just keep it just between you and me, okay? And have a really happy holiday break.”

The next day at school Keke was still brimming to tell Cal and Hazel about the Nyla incident, but Nyla was sitting too close by and then Mr. Taulson came in. Later, in Ms. Franklin’s class both Nyla and Antoine were pulled out about half way through. As they packed up their belongings and exited, Keke and Cal and Hazel flashed each other wide eyed glances.

At class break Keke was finally able to share the story of the hallway encounter with Nyla.

“She’s so getting busted right now,” Cal said.

“I can’t believe she did that, that’s worse than lying to your face,” Hazel said.

“It was lying to her face,” Cal retorted.

“Their face,” Hazel corrected.

“Right, sorry.”

“No worries mate,” Keke said with a strained Australian accent as they gave Cal a friendly punch in the arm.

“Oh, before we take off,” Hazel said grabbing the hands of each of her friends, “I want you guys to come over for movie night during break. I’m thinking Home Alone 2 or Bad Santa if my mom will let us.”

“Only if your mom makes her awesome seven layer dip.”

“We’ll see. Kek, how can I get in touch with you? Do you guys have a cellphone?”

“No, not really. You can email me on my class PC, but we don’t have internet. I can sometimes get on the wifi from the cafe in the office park across the swamp.”

“Don’t worry, my friend,” Hazel said. “Problems have solutions and no one knows how to kick problem ass better than me.”

“That’s because you got a big one,” Cal chuckled.

“Dude, you just see Kardashian everywhere. You need a new hobby. Seriously.”

When Keke arrived at the principal’s office, the police officer they saw the day before was in with Principal Caldwell and Jabari Harris. Antoine and Nyla were sitting in chairs just outside the door awaiting their turn. Keke was about to check in with the receptionist when Vice Principal Santos beckoned from her office, “Keke, come on in.” As Keke took up the chair on the opposite side desk, Ms. Santos rolled her chair in tight and slid a small manila envelope over to Keke. “That’s a bus and subway pass for you, so wherever you are, and whatever the weather is, you can always get to us. There’s no charge, it’s part of a program the MBTA runs with public schools.”

“Thank you,” Keke said.

“How are things going otherwise?”

“Good.”

“I’m glad to hear that. No one’s bothering you or anything like that?”

“No.”

“That’s good. I want you to know you can always talk to us. People here care.”

“I know and thank you.”

“Well, have a wonderful break and I’ll see you back here next year,” the vice principal said with a wry smile.

“Thank you, you too Ms. Santos.”

That evening as Keke and their aunt ate cold soup and waited for Ahmed to come home, Keke opened their backpack to retrieve the envelope Ms. Franklin had given them. Inside there was also a small package, one that Keke had not seen before. It was plump and padded and overly sealed with tape. On the front in blue magic marker it said “For Keke” and nothing else. Keke opened the envelope from Ms. Franklin first.

Inside was a folded piece of paper and a gift card to Whole Foods. The computer printed text on the paper said, “Use this to get yourself a cherry pie for Christmas Day. I realize you probably don’t celebrate Christmas, however the sentiment remains. There should be enough for a turkey or a quiche to serve as an appetizer before you gorge on that cherry pie.”

Keke looked over at their aunt and smiled warmly.

To open the other package Keke needed Ahmed’s rusted jackknife to cut through the gobs of tape. Tucked inside a fold of bubble wrap was an iPhone and a pair of ear buds. Keke knew right away it was Hazel’s phone by the glitter covered pink case and purple PopSocket grip on it. On the face of the phone was a Post-it note with the number “7070″ on it. Keke tuned on the phone and punched in the code to unlock it. The phone said it had one new message from “Mom.” Out of curiosity Keke opened it, but all it said was “Call me.” Apprehensively Keke put in the earbuds and called.

“You got it!” her friend exclaimed.

“Yeah, but why?”

“Well now I can tell you when to come over and besides, my mom has three phones, plus you can now listen to K-Pop over the break.”

“Weird, but thank you I guess. Why did you not just give it to me at school?”

“You know me, weirdo to the max. Plus would you have taken it?”

“Good point.”

“So did you hear? It was Antoine who was stealing the shit…”

“Language!” Keke could hear a woman’s voice shout in the background.

“…and selling it to other kids. He probably sold your bracelets to Nyla who had no clue she was selling you, your stuff back to you.”

“She could have told me when I called her on it.”

“Who knows, she’s a quirky quacky duck.”

“I dunno, I kinda get where she’s coming from some. Her parents might not speak English and probably have a hard time finding work.”

“Don’t go all Debbie Downer on me. The day after Christmas, mark it down, save it, oh and can you do a sleep over? I’m now thinking Avatar or a Harry Potter movie fest, but…” Hazel now whispers, “…if we can close the door to the den, maybe we can put on Squid Game, cuz I know you love all things Korean.”Hazel giggled. “Because my mom knows we’re both into K-Pop she’s talking about making something called mandu soup.”

“It’s dumpling soup. I’ve never had it.”

“Me either.”

After Keke hung up they gave their aunt a big hug before crawling into their sleeping bag to listen to K-Pop. They knew in the morning they’d have to go to the hipster cafe in the industrial park to charge up the phone. It was a pretty good day and hopefully there would be more like it.

…to be continued

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