Staring out the window aimlessly as her taxi cruised past numerous rundown buildings and barely surviving businesses she’d spent most of her childhood running in and out of; Akemi Davidson took a deep breath as she resigned herself to the fact that she’d done the one thing she swore she never would.
She’d returned home; a failure.
All she’d asked of those who’d sacrificed their own lives to raise her was a little time to explore and find herself, chase a dream and become a success on her own terms. That hadn’t gone well; and all she had to show for three years worth of an effort and struggle was a suitcase full of tattered and torn notebooks, plenty copies of a book she couldn’t sell, and a broken spirit as she returned to the quaint little town of Irvingville.
It was just as she remembered it, just as she’d left it. Suffocating; with visible signs of wear and tear as new generations of underdetermined kids grew up with only a desire to hang about the street corners, talking trash with their friends or selling drugs to the older generations that had fallen to the lowest points of their own personal failures. The air reeked of disappointment and content. The only sounds that filtered through the small crack in her window was that of women screaming for their multitude of children, most of whom probably didn’t care for anything aside from the sport of their choice or video games if they were lucky enough to have parents that could afford them. Unfortunately, for Akemi, she could still picture what her life could have been like had she not left Irvingville at eighteen. By now, she’d be married. No doubt to the one guy her family approved of. With one kid, going through the process of potty training and another on the way. Her husband would be one lucky guy, with a wife willing to live as a stay at home mom while he went on to take over and run the family business once his father retired. She’d be ‘happy’ and fulfilled, and discussing recipes and cooking secrets with the other women in her graduating class that had settled into life as a small-town mother and wife to men who harped on their glory days as stars of the high school football team.
Fortunately for her, however, her family had heard her pleas and understood that venturing out into the world, far beyond their hometown was something that Akemi needed more than anything. Had she not been given an out; well, they hated to imagine what great lengths she may have gone to just to escape.
Akemi finally sat back in her seat as the cab driver turned down Parker Lane, letting her know that they had about five minutes of drive time remaining before they arrived at the house she’d grown up in. There, waiting for her, would be the three people she would forever be grateful to.
Her older brothers.
Knowing what a huge responsibility it would be, knowing that they’d have to make sacrifices of their own, including being stuck in Irvingville a lot longer than any of them wanted to be; they’d taken it upon theirselves to raise her when they’d lost their parents. Akemi, at the time, was only ten years old, and the last thing her eldest brother wanted was for them to be split up. He’d had numerous friends in the foster system, and he knew that if his baby sister had a chance at anything in life, she would certainly lose it if she had to grow up being bounced from home to home.
She smiled thinking of them all, admitting to herself that she was beyond excited to see them. Though they’d called one another, written letters and kept in touch; it’d been exactly three years since she last saw them. She couldn’t wait to hug them, lose herself in the differences each of their embraces held. She wanted to know if they still looked the same, held the same attitudes. She even had to admit to herself that she missed the fact that the youngest of her older brothers would go a little overboard anytime he sprayed on cologne. She wondered if he still wore the same brand or if he’d found something more ‘potent’ to gain the attention of the ladies. Suddenly, she missed everything about each of them.
There was Amir, the oldest. He’d automatically assumed the father role for all of his siblings, but Akemi had instantly become his baby. If anyone asked if he had children, his response was always a strong and resounding yes. It would be followed with his prideful boasting of all the things she’d accomplished in her young life; all of the things he never even knew she did just to make him proud, to never give him a reason to feel as if he’d made a mistake in giving up his own goals and dreams just for her. The tallest of the siblings, he stood out from all of the Davidson children as being the darkest, though he never let that or any harsh words thrown his way by taunting kids in school get to him. Along with his own sense of self-love; his attitude towards being darker and loving it, being proud of it, taught Akemi how to love and embrace herself as a black girl that didn’t pass the standards that seemed to be pushed out via magazines, television shows, and other media outlets that were trying to teach young black girls that you had to look one way, and one way only, to be considered beautiful. She adored Amir; would go to the end of the world, stop at nothing if it meant she’d always be his pride and joy.
Then, there was Adrian, the second eldest. Anywhere you found him, you could find her… running behind, waiting to soak up varying amounts and types of knowledge he’d learn and drop as he went through his own journey of learning and growth. Like Akemi, he was a writer. And from him, she’d learned different styles and techniques that eventually led her to winning a multitude of contests in their hometown of Irvingville and beyond. Sometimes though, she came in second to him. But she didn’t mind. Adrian was, in Akemi’s eyes, a genius with street, life, and book knowledge. He lived in the library, would spend hours upon hours, daily, sitting alone in a corner, pouring through book after book so that he could learn more about life, the world, the things he had yet to experience himself. He wanted to be well versed for when he got his chance to travel the world; he wanted to hold conversations with everyone he’d ever come across in his lifetime. If there was anyone she’d want to lose to, it was him. It’d taught her early in life to step her game up, to do better; that motivation is what made Akemi admire Adrian so much.
And last, there was Iman, the youngest of the Davidson men. Always the scrawny and nerdy type, he often kept to himself, spoke whenever he was spoken to. In fact, the only time anyone could hear a peep out of Iman was if there was a young lady in the room, specifically a young lady that may have caught his attention at school or some of the local hangouts he and his siblings frequented. However, the side no one, aside from his family, ever saw was the goofy and sometimes immature side. He was a clown, by nature, whenever he was comfortable around his family and often looked for ways to brighten up whatever serious mood Amir had set with lectures, family meetings, or punishment to keep them all in check if they stepped out of line or got too disrespectful. Unlike all of his siblings, Iman took extra steps to distance himself from the ‘brainy’ title he’d earned as a straight-A student, like his siblings had been. He wanted to be seen as more than just a bookworm, admired and respected for something else, some type of talent or skill. He was also the only one of the siblings that had yet to figure out what he wanted to do with his life. That never stopped him from being the one to give sound advice though. He always had encouraging words, a great and positive outlook to share with anyone feeling down, and he always went out of his way to make sure others were happy and okay. His willingness to help and give to others, without expecting anything in return was what Akemi loved and respected about Iman. It made him a bit of a saint in her eyes.
“Miss, did you hear me?”
Finally focusing, Akemi smiled and apologized as the cab driver told her the total once more. Pulling a twenty and a ten from her wallet, she paid her fare, letting him know to keep the rest as a tip and quickly got out.
Grabbing her bags from the trunk, she thanked him once more and waited until he’d pulled away before she finally exhaled and began making her way up the driveway towards her childhood home. It was still tiny, rinky-dinkish. The only blue house on the street, with a missing mailbox, one lopsided window shutter, a board missing in one spot of the porch, and her brothers’ dirty tennis shoes and work boots lined up on both sides of the door. She smirked to herself, grabbing on to the railing as she carefully walked up the steps and over the hole where the board was missing. Knocking on the white painted door once, she took a deep breath, turning around to look at the street while she waited. “Thought I would come home to new scenery, but it’s the same ol’, same ol’.”
“Well, when you’ve got a mayor and a governor that would rather spend tax dollars on the things that benefit himself and his family, this is what you’re left with. The ‘hood they refuse to clean up or help restore.”
Dropping her bags at the sound of his deep and commanding voice, Akemi screamed and turned around before jumping into Adrian’s arms. His laugh was thunderous, a hearty one that she could feel sending vibrations through her own body as he hugged and swayed her from side to side. His hug, as always, offered a level of comfort that she couldn’t seem to find anywhere else.
Pushing his sister back, Adrian smiled warmly before gently wiping away the tears that had begun to fall. “Hey, what’s all of this for?”
“Nothing. I guess it just hit me how much I truly missed you.”
“I missed you too, Kemi, and I’m very glad that you decided to come back home. The Bros might not admit it, but we’ve been pretty damn miserable without our favorite girl around.”
Akemi laughed, thanking him as he grabbed her bags and ushered her inside. “Yeah right. I’m the one who’s been miserable. You haven’t the slightest idea how hard it is to keep pushing myself forward when I don’t have you or Iman whispering inspiring things in my ear. Or, when I don’t have Amir around to boost my ego. It’s pure torture.”
Kicking the door closed, Adrian set his sister’s bags down before taking a second to lock it. As he turned back around, he caught sight of Akemi taking in her surroundings. From the look on her face, he figured she thought she’d come home to great changes. It was all the same.
“Listen, Kemi, I know you set some really good goals for yourself.” She nodded absentmindedly as she walked over to the bookshelf, curious to see if Adrian had added anything new to his personal collection. “And I know that coming back to Irvingville, for anything more than a visit, was the last thing on your agenda.”
Akemi stood up straight and looked at her brother, smiling. “It’s fine Adrian, and you all don’t have to walk around on eggshells, or stress about how to approach me coming back home. I went out, saw the world, made an attempt at being this acclaimed writer; and I failed.”
“I wouldn’t say ‘fail’. Just a small setback, that’s all.”
“Yeah, a setback does sound better, huh?” Adrian nodded, pushing his hands into his pockets. “Either way; I gave myself three years to make something of myself, and well I haven’t. So, with me being broke, I figured the only logical thing to do was to come back home and regroup. Work to rebuild my funds, write on the side, and hope that somebody, somewhere decides that my work is good enough to be accepted by book lovers of the world.”
“Come off it, Kemi. You are good enough. You’re great, and you know it.”
“Yeah, I know. But could you tell that to the six publishing companies that turned me down in favor of those willing to change themselves and their art?” She cleared her throat, focusing on the bookshelf again. “I know everything I write isn’t perfect, and I know that no matter how great something is, a few changes here and there are inevitable. But is the success really worth selling out if I no longer feel good about whatever the final product is after they’ve changed what I worked so hard to create?”
“Depends on what your definition of success is.”
“I thought about just doing it for the fame and accolades, and the money.” Looking towards her brother again, Akemi sighed. “There was this one company, offered me this outrageous deal for three books. I could instantly become a best seller with their guidance, a little editing, a few changes here, a switch in the plot, drop of a character or two. Had I created an entire series, I’d be somewhere picking the cast for the movie version that they just had to make a few months after the release of book three in the series.” She chuckled. “That’s all of the crap they told me anyway. And just when I was about to sign my name on the dotted line, I thought I’m about to screw up what might be the best thing to ever happen to me. And I walked out without saying a single word. Been getting rejected ever since. I really feel like it’s some type of karma for being dumb enough to walk away from what I wanted so badly.”
Adrian shook his head. “Your art means more to you than anything else. You care about your work, passionate about the things that you write. And I get it; when something is changed so much, you feel as if it’s no longer yours. I get it, and I get you walking away and being protective of yourself and your art. There’s nothing wrong with that Kemi. And eventually, artists like yourself do get discovered. They do get their time to shine. It’s just a matter of how bad you want it, and how much harder are you willing to work for it.”
“Hey, as long as you haven’t returned home to give up completely. It’s good to have you back.”
Akemi smiled, clearing her throat. “Good to be back.” Giving Adrian a quick hug, she picked her bags up and headed straight for her old bedroom so that she could shower and change into something more comfortable.