By K. Somadhi
“Hey, Old G, you got any Sun Tzu books up in here?”
“Yeah. You know. The Art of War.”
Solly lowered his head and peered over the rim of his glasses at the teenager. Twice during the week, two different boys had come into the North Star bookshop looking for that book, and this made the third, this one with his yellow boxer shorts showing brightly above his jeans, lowered and belted tight right below his buttocks. The sight offended Solly. But he pushed his disgust down into the pit of his gut so it wouldn’t show on his face. He wanted to reel in this boy, this almost-man, get him off the street, get him planning his own mental liberation.
“You may call me Mr. Baines, or Brother Solly, but don’t call me Old G. You understand?”
A wordless stare agitated the air between them. “Sure, Brother Solly. So, do you got the book or not?”
“How do you spell the name? Have to order a few copies. Seems popular among you young bloods.”
“I ain’t no Blood,” the boy shot back, gripping his jeans and rocking from side to side. “Ain’t no Crip, neither. Ain’t in no gang. Why you old dudes think all us young brothers be in a gang?”
“Now it’s my turn to understand,” Solly said, slowly peeling blank paper from a notepad. “But did you know that once upon a time, the term ‘young blood’ didn’t have anything to do with being in a gang? Used to be quite respectable.”
“Yeah, okay. Old—Brother Solly, s-u-n, you know, like the sun, and T-s-u, or maybe T-z-u—I think. Art of War, that’s all you need to look up.”
“And what’s your name?”
“Why? You writing my name down for something?”
“Yes. I always get to know my customers, starting with their names and what they like to read.”
“Oh. Malcolm, Malcolm Harris.”
“Check back next week, Malcolm,” Solly said, scribbling fast across the paper. “Should have something by then. And tell your friends, the ones who stopped by a couple of days ago looking for the book.”
“Aw right then, later, Brother Solly.”
Malcolm turned, holding firmly to his belt buckle with one hand to secure his jeans from falling on his wide stride toward the door. When he reached it, he hesitated, letting his eyes roam fast around the shop before giving Solly a goodbye nod.
And Solly stood, positioned his glasses over his eyes and held them in place while he watched the boy survey the bookshop. In that moment, Solly saw in Malcolm a true young blood. Pure. Needed by his family. Needed by his people, a warrior when rightly trained. And if he sought a book called The Art of War, training, one way or another, lurked on his uncertain path.
“See you next week, eh, Malcolm?” Waiting for no answer, Solly affirmed his own words. “Yep, next week it is.”
The door slammed. Alone again. Solly picked up a stool and walked with it behind the sales counter. From a low shelf, he retrieved a small, worn book, its title faded and smudged and many of its pages, dogeared. He quickly glanced around the shop before sitting to read. Sun Tzu. The ground of battle would be here.