Inspired by True Events • CONTENT WARNING: gun violence
“This is the first time I have been on an actual date.” Fatimah smiled, looking around the restaurant. She noticed an older man sitting at a table eating by himself, but he seemed content.
“Take your time and order whatever you want. Besides, the longer you take, the more time we get to spend together.” DJ, her date, smiled at her sweetly and started cruising the menu.
DJ was not a guy that initially attracted Fatimah with his looks, but his aura made her feel comfortable in agreeing to the date. She liked it when he made her laugh and how he took after his grandpa with his gentlemanly manner. Maybe it was just the excitement of doing something that felt mature. Still, she found his persistence charming.
“Where did you get the nickname ‘Blaze?’” Fatimah tilted her head, then took a sip of water.
“That’s my rap name. My homie gave it to me ‘cause when I rap, he said I come with that fire.” DJ looked at her with a goofy smile. He rubbed his hands together as if to convey both humility and quiet confidence.
“Oh yeah?” Fatimah raised an eyebrow in genuine curiosity and chuckled. “Maybe I can hear you rap sometime.”
“Stick around me and maybe you will!” DJ gently grabbed her hand. Fatimah pulled her hand back when she saw the waitress approaching with the food.
DJ and Fatimah enjoyed the rest of the evening with laughter and fun banter. This was a night she would play over and over in her mind.
Months later, on Thanksgiving Day, DJ was shot and killed just shy of his 16th birthday. The story told was that it was an accident. DJ and a friend named Cori were messing around with a gun. Both of them thought it was empty. The gun went off and DJ got shot in the back of his head. The news about the tragedy spread around school. The word was that a senior named Donnie was at fault. This was shocking since anyone who knew or met him said he was a cool guy. He wasn’t what would be considered “popular,” but he was the type of guy always offering a warm smile and positive attitude.
On the day of the funeral, the sun was shining. A reminder of how the world keeps moving no matter our sorrows. Fatimah attended with her mother, who always thought DJ was a “nice young man”. She was able to hold it together until DJ’s younger sister spoke of their memories and recited a poem for him. The tears flowed as they sat in silence together.
Certain cliches tend to arise when death makes an appearance: should have, could have, and “wish I would have”. Fatimah felt like she could have been more receptive and kinder to DJ. Although she hadn’t felt butterflies spring up or quickened heartbeats, she felt that he had treated her with the gentleness and adoration that comes with a high-school crush.
Donnie eventually re-emerged after being locked up for several months. Many students felt confused and wondered why or how he was released so soon. Although he did not return to school, he was spotted in the street. Fatimah, holding an uncomfortable mix of disdain and sympathy, decided to contact him on Facebook. She intended to ask questions she wanted answered. While they chatted, somehow he convinced her to meet in person so they could talk more privately.
Since neither of them had a car, they met in the evening at the downtown bus station. Heading towards the mall, they made small talk. Eventually, Fatimah found a pocket in the conversation to ask what really happened that day. What he revealed shocked her.
“It wasn’t me.” Donnie looked her in the eyes with an innocence that confirmed his sincerity.
“What do you mean it wasn’t you? Why would you go to jail for something you did not do?” Fatimah asked incredulously.
“We were at my house, but I wasn’t even in the room when it happened. I heard the shot go off, and I came downstairs and saw DJ lying on the floor face down.” Donnie paused with the recollection of the image. “He wasn’t moving. Cori was wildin’ and kept repeating how he didn’t mean to, tryna explain, and I’m there, but I’m not there…man.” Donnie’s voice trailed off for a moment and they sat in silence as he gathered his thoughts. He then went on to explain the series of events in detail―how Cori and he were both arrested, but Donnie decided to take the fall.
The bus came to the last stop and they got off. After all that was shared, Fatimah’s heart felt heavier than before. The person who actually and accidentally killed DJ had been a guy who sat next to her in art class. She thought his absence was due to mourning his friend, but now she realized it was much deeper.
“Why though, Donnie? Why put yourself away for something you didn’t do? Why wreck your life like this!” Fatimah’s tone became loud with concern.
Donnie looked at the sky and sighed before responding.
“I didn’t pull the trigger, but it was my gun. Cori and DJ were and are like my little brothers. I love them both, and if I was there lookin’ out like I should have been, DJ would still be alive.”
Fatimah felt a mix of empathy and anger at the poignancy of the situation. She thought to herself, “If you would have have been there, who’s to say you wouldn't have been shot instead.” She understood the conflict he felt. Even if she didn't understand, Blaze was gone. Fatimah gave Donnie a hug and decided to end the night early. She did not talk to or see Donnie again after that day.
Many years later, Fatimah was reading a Bible verse that reminded her of this event. It gave her a new respect for Donnie.
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.” John 15:13
She now understood his willingness to put his freedom on the line for his friend. Although foolish to some, to sacrifice one’s life is an ultimate act of love.
In Loving Memory of Darion “DJ” Smith AKA “Blaze”
JAMEELAH CRAWFORD has written stories, poems, and song since she was 9 years old. Creative writing is a passion that recently she has had the courage to share publicly and to pursue professionally. She is currently working with Aya Collective on a contribution to an anthology that encourages Black Women writers to find their literary voice.