The following short story was inspired by the song "I Gave You Power" on Nas' second album It Was Written, which was released on this date twenty years ago. As a 14-year-old, this album made me fall in love with hip-hop, and after reading reviews about it (which I disagreed with wholeheartedly), I went back and listened to a dubbed copy of Illmatic and became a Nas fan for life. I'm posting this now to pay tribute to the cassette tape that changed the course of my life.
It's sad how easy it was to get a gun in those days. It's still too easy and it's still sad. There are documentaries that say it's easier to get guns than fresh fruit and vegetables in certain New York City neighbourhoods and there are places like that here too. Places where winter nights are colder and summer days are bloodier because people who should know better use guns to solve their problems, the staccato spray of bullets and wail of ambulances sing their song to this day.
Anyway, one day I found one in the grass at the park. It wasn't a big deal to find one in the park those times—the 24-hour news stations will make you think the city’s a more dangerous place now but it’s not—it was lucky though. It was dark and I had been the only one left at the basketball court when the lights had shut off for the night. I looked around before picking it up. I grabbed its cold steel body, letting its killing power pulse through me before concealing it in the small of my back between my jeans and my basketball shorts, the way I imagined a real thug would, pulling it from under his car seat to sneak it in a club. I could picture a gangbanger loading it carefully in his bedroom, preparing for the beef that was inevitable, counting bullets precisely, clicking them in place, shoving the clip in loudly and yanking everything back dramatically to slide the first lead slug into the chamber.
I didn’t know exactly what kind of pistol it was; a semi-automatic or a Desert Eagle or what? I was no expert. Its seven inches poked me awkwardly, and its four pounds dragged my jeans lower on the short walk home, forcing me to pull my t-shirt down to hide the dull glint. How far had it travelled in its long, criminal life? How many provinces and cities and towns had it passed through? No matter how old and worn out it was I bet it’d feel good to pull it out and watch the chaos and death it could unleash. If guns had feelings would they enjoy that? Would they fiend to be fired when their owners absentmindedly stashed them on shelves and under beds in favour of newer, shinier ones with smoother working parts? Would they want to be owned by real gangsters that kept them loaded with hollow-head bullets, ready for war? Ready to pull out at any moment like, how you like me now? Let off and move crowds like a rapper, ruin entire neighbourhoods, steal away childhoods, scar and cripple bodies, minds and hearts forever, drunk off power, completely out of control?
The friend of my cousin that bought it from me was always in some shit. He said that his gun was an extension of his dick, that holding the barrel was like jacking off and cocking it back and pulling the trigger was better than any orgasm he’d ever had. It felt that good, he said, to blast another hustler trying to creep in on his business or his family. To see them run, bleeding, eyes wide with fear of death, tears rolling down the most hardened mugs. He could tell by looking that this gun had seen and done it all: robberies, retaliation, people lowered into the ground at premature funerals.
He took it home and left it on a shelf and forgot about it. He’d paid me only five bills for it without so much as a test-fire in the Don Valley, so it lay there next to a grenade that may or may not work and an even more worn out TEC-9 whose serial number—52093850—he’d never gotten around to scratching off. My lucky find had its serial defaced long ago, and would be a better choice for his next caper since there was little chance police could ever trace where it came from, much less return it to its rightful owner.
But what if that gun was tired of murder and just wanted to be a regular gun? What if the next time its owner’s life depended on its power, it took matters into its own hands?
Weeks went by and I was surprised that gun was still on the shelf with all the shit he’d acquired since I sold it to him: ammo, two bulletproof vests and a nine-millimetre along with the grenade and the TEC that hadn’t been cleaned in so long it seemed to cry out in pain whenever it was opened and loaded. It might break to pieces any day, like an oft-injured, journeyman power forward, ready to retire after an up-and-down fifteen-year career.
Finally it was time. That old gun’s new owner couldn’t avoid trouble any longer and he grabbed it off the shelf, mumbling, eyes bright, shaking with anger and fight-or-flight adrenaline. He’d fought and lost, but it wasn’t over. It was on. He placed it on his waist as if it was created solely for Blacks to kill Blacks. Guns like that one killed niggas by accident, what chance did another nigga have if it was purposely aimed to kill?
He walked back outside to the basketball court, pulled it out on this cat, cocked it back and said, remember me? He pulled the trigger but something went wrong. He squeezed harder, but that gun wouldn’t shoot. Was it really sick of all the blood? Sick of wanna-be thugs using it to settle their grudges instead of their fists or their minds or their words? The other kid didn’t hesitate. He pulled out his own heat, a piece in much better shape, and as my cousin’s friend took off he gave chase. The shots split his wig so fast he didn't know he was hit. It almost looked like he ran a couple more steps before it was over with. The gun fell silently in the grass.
Everyone was running and screaming, there was a faraway-sounding siren and while sprinting the opposite way I saw this kid change direction for a few steps, reach into the grass, grab the gun and keep running. Damn.