SCHOOL WAS OVER AND THE SUMMER MORNING stretched ahead like a soft, sweet piece of bubble gum. It was still early for a boy who had just finished fifth grade and promised himself he would sleep until noon every day of summer vacation. But the day was warm, and no matter how he tried to ignore it, the sunshine had called him early to get up. Rico Johnson grabbed his basketball and headed down the street to Ziggy's house.
Rico liked to go to Ziggy's house because it was so different from his own. Rico lived with his mom, who drove a dull brown car and worked in an office building downtown, where she wore sensible, flat shoes and wrote careful letters to people in other offices. She went bowling with her friends every Friday night and took Rico to piano lessons every Saturday afternoon. She was the kind of mom who didn't think dinner was complete unless a green vegetable was served.Basically boring, thought Rico.
But Ziggy's house-now that was another story. It was huge, brightly painted, and cheerful. Ziggy's mom sometimes planted flowers and sometimes vegetables in the front yard, so there was an odd assortment of tomato plants, roses, corn, and lilies growing together. The grass was cut whenever someone thought about it. One summer it had even been kept short by Ziggy's uncle Raphael's pet goat. Trimmed or not, it always looked soft and inviting, and was the perfect place to stop and rest on a hot day.
Ziggy's doorbell didn't work, so Rico knocked on the screen door. Raphael came to the door looking sleepy and confused. His hair, long and braided, hung down over his eyes.
"So, little mon, you come see Ziggy?" Rico grinned and nodded. "Him still sleep-go get his lazy bones up, mon."
Raphael let Rico in and headed back to bed to finish his morning nap. Three more uncles and a cousin were staying with Ziggy's family, but the house still felt large and roomy. Ziggy's mom came from a family of fourteen in Jamaica, so she kept her door open to any relative who needed a place to stay.
Rico had spent the night at Ziggy's many times, so he knew exactly where he was headed. He ran up the stairs, turned left, and opened the bathroom door. There, in the bathtub, wrapped in an army sleeping bag, lay Ziggy. He was wide awake.
"I been waiting for you, mon," said Ziggy with a grin. "What's up?"
"Not you, man. Why you still sleepin' in the tub? You got a perfectly good bed right across the hall."
"Ah, Rico-mon, a soft bed is for sissies! I'm practicing for when I become a spy for the FB of I. Spies gotta be tough, you know. Besides, when I gotta get up and go to the bathroom at night, I'm already there!"
Rico laughed and helped Ziggy out of the tub. Ziggy got dressed, brushed his teeth, grabbed his basketball, put on a large black, yellow, and green hat his mother had knitted, and tucked his braids inside. Then he and Rico headed downstairs. Ziggy's mom, who was already in the kitchen cutting onions for dinner, smiled at them and said, "It be a fine morning for young doodles like you two. Make sure you eat something before you leave."
Ziggy grabbed two onions, took a big bite of one, and said with his mouth full, "We'll be playin' basketball, Mum. Be back soon."
Rico, who usually had cereal and juice and toast in the morning, just like the picture on the front of the cereal box, was always surprised at what Ziggy ate for breakfast. Yesterday Ziggy had eaten a cold ear of corn covered with peanut butter. "Don't be afraid to try new ideas," Ziggy had said. "When we're spies for the FB of I, we may have to eat bugs!" Rico hoped not, but he didn't tell Ziggy.
They were both laughing as they left Ziggy's house and headed for the basketball court down the street. They practiced bouncing their basketballs on the sidewalk at exactly the same time, so that only onethunk could be heard instead of two.
Laughing and concentrating, they didn't even hear Jerome sneak up behind them. He knocked both balls out of their hands, yelling, "And Washington's famous come-from-behind sneak attack takes the ball from the two rookies once again!"
"You think you so slick, Jerome-mon," said Ziggy. "But I knew you were there all along. I just wanted you to think I didn't see you."
"Yeah, I forgot, Ziggy, that you were in training-"
"To be a spy for the FB of I," Rico and Jerome shouted in unison.
Jerome lived with his grandmother and two little sisters. Some days he couldn't come out to play with the other guys because he had to babysit. Once, he took his sisters with him to the basketball court, and LaTonya had fallen and bumped her head on a rock. She had screamed like her head was split wide open, even though it was just a tiny bloody spot. She couldn't wait to tell Granny, of course, and after Granny had given her a little plastic bag of ice to put on it, she got great pleasure in announcing to Jerome, "Granny said you can't ever take us down there anymore. You gotta stay here with us until she gets back!"
So Jerome felt good today. School was out, LaTonya and Temika had gone shopping with Granny, and he had the morning free to shoot a few hoops with his friends. Rashawn had called earlier, hoping he would be able to play today.
Rashawn lived at the very end of the street with his mother and his dad, who was a police officer. He had a dog, a Siberian husky named Afrika with one blue eye and one brown eye and a large white stripe down his nose. Everybody said Afrika was crazy. That dog had once chewed a hole right through the wood of Rashawn's garage-just because he didn't feel like being locked up that day. Ziggy said Afrika was the best watchdog in the neighborhood because all he ever did was watch people. He never barked; he just stared at people who came to the house. No one ever knew if he was going to attack or go back to sleep.
When Rico, Ziggy, and Jerome got to Rashawn's house, they yelled, "Hey, Rashawn! Come on out." Afrika just yawned. Rashawn, wearing army boots and dark sunglasses, came out of his house, not with a basketball, but with a large, black plastic dinosaur.
"What's up with the dinosaur?" asked Rico. "That's awesome!"
"A brontosaurus!" yelled Ziggy. "My favorite, mon!"
"It's an apatosaurus, not a brontosaurus," Rashawn corrected him. "They were vegetarians, just like me."
"I still don't believe you don't eat hamburgers or hot dogs or pork chops, man," Jerome chimed in. "I just couldn't make it if I had to live on lettuce and bean sprouts, like you."
"If an apatosaurus could get this big and strong just eating vegetables, then I guess I'll be okay," Rashawn replied, smiling. "Let's go shoot some hoops and I'll show you who's got the power!"
Rashawn-tall and skinny; Jerome-short, strong and tough; Ziggy-who jumped and bounced and was never still; and Rico-the only one with his shirt neatly tucked inside his shorts, raced one another to the end of the street, where the city had put up two basketball nets for the neighborhood kids. The older, high school kids usually didn't come out until later, so Rico and his friends had the courts to themselves this time of day. Rashawn, the fastest runner, got there first, even though he was holding the dinosaur. Then he just stopped and looked around in disbelief.
"What's up with this?" he exclaimed.
"Why would anyone want to do something so awful?" moaned Ziggy softly.
Rico and Jerome were speechless. Someone had taken a chain saw and cut the basketball poles into little pieces.
© 2006 Sharon M. Draper