I was headed over to the city office to pay a parking ticket I had unjustly received (Hey, I put five quarters in the machine, but it was broken) when I heard a loud "Pssst."
I looked around but didn't see anybody.
Then I heard another that seemed to be coming from the air above me.
I looked up. "Mulenga, what are you doing in that tree?"
"I'm trying to find out how it feels to be a piece of fruit on a branch."
"What the heck are you talking about?"
"Well, I heard that orange is the new black. I used to be black, but I guess now I'm an orange. I'm feeling kind of juicy and citrusy."
"That's just the name of a TV show," I said. "I've never seen it, but I know it's been popular the past few years."
"Well, I don't have a television," Mulenga said.
"Sometimes I wonder if you've got any good sense. Get down out of that tree."
Mulenga looked a little defiant and stayed where he was. He craned his neck as he surveyed the surrounding area. "I don't know if I should come down. This is good cover. The way people are getting shot up lately, I don't like to show my face much. Michael Brown, Renisha McBride, I mean, brothas are an endangered species."
"I thought you were all orange up there."
"Orange, black, it doesn't matter if you're not white," he said. "I mean, white folks showed up over here with guns and started shooting red folks until there were hardly any of them left. Now they feel like they have to shoot up everybody else just for breathing their air, not that the air is going to be much worth breathing in the long run with all these industrial emissions and that incinerator over there. But they seem to be feeling a little crowded these days."
"These days?" I asked. "I think most of them always feel a little crowded whenever things get a little ethnic. A lot of them can't deal with people being a little different."
"Like I said, they showed up here with guns, and they're ready to keep using them," he pointed out. "Especially if someone else is going to act like they just belong here."
My neck was getting a little sore from looking up at Mulenga. "Man why don't you come down out of that tree? Folks are going to wonder what I'm looking at."
"You don't have to look up; just talk to the trunk."
"Like that's not going to attract a little attention," I said.
He looked around again. "You think it's safe to come down?"
I shrugged. Who knew when it was safe? You could be sitting in your house and a bullet could come flying through the wall. That happened to a kid in his bed recently. Mulenga was suddenly standing beside me wearing a T-shirt that read "Don't shoot."
"How'd you do that?" I asked.
"I'm like a ninja," Mulenga invoked mysteriously. "I'm here, I'm there, I'm nowhere. You've got to be able to dodge the bullets."
A truck clanged as it hit a bump rolling by up the street. Mulenga dropped to the ground.
"Was that one of your ninja moves? Get up, man, it was just a truck."
"You never know," Mulenga said. "They don't even have to be after you for you to get killed. Did you see that shooting instructor who got accidentally killed by the 9-year-old girl with an Uzi? The recoil made the gun jump up, and she popped him. White people killing white people, brothas killing brothas, it's crazy out there. People getting killed by accident; people getting killed on purpose."
"I don't hang around shooting ranges," I said. "I'm more concerned about being too close when somebody else is going at it. You heard about the drive-by outside Eastland where some rapper and his girlfriend got shot? Then the next day there was a drive-by not far away when four people standing outside a house were shot. An 18-year-old girl who was visiting the family there was killed."
"Just standing around outside?" Mulenga started looking around again
"Man, you're getting kind of jumpy. I thought you had chilled out recently."
"I can't help it," Mulenga said. "You can't even trust the police."
"What do you mean?" I asked. "This ain't Ferguson, Missouri. And Kym Worthy is a good prosecutor. She don't play. She made her name taking down those cops who killed Malice Green, she took down Kwame Kilpatrick, and she got a conviction on the guy who killed Renisha McBride. She could probably run for mayor and win if she wanted to."
"It doesn't matter how good the prosecutor is if you're dead," said Mulenga. "And the Detroit police — did you hear about how they lifted the federal consent decree on the police department the other day?"
"Yeah, what about it? Money is tight around here, and we had to spend a lot of money to the federal monitor. I heard that the jail conditions have got better."
"But one of the main reasons it was put on them is because of the use of excessive force by officers." Mulenga said. "That hasn't stopped. The judge didn't even consult with the folks who brought the federal suit against the police in the first place."
"Yeah," I said. "But use-of-force incidents are down. That's something."
"That won't count when they come bopping upside your head."
The voices of a group of people passing across the street floated over to us. Mulenga turned a little away from me.
"What are you doing?" I asked him.
"I'm turning because you're a smaller target from the side."
A police cruiser passed on the street. "Don't make any sudden moves," Mulenga told me. "And keep your hands in sight."
"Man, you are paranoid."
"I can't help it," Mulenga said. "Guns, guns, guns ... every time I turn around, I hear about people getting shot. I just don't like being around them."
"But the gun folks say an armed society is a polite society," I said.
"There are a lot of guns out there," Mulenga said. "People don't seem to be so polite. An armed society is a pugnacious society. You see those cowboy movies. They laugh at polite cowboys. These open-carry folks strut around like they own the world, and you better not say a word about it to them. They know their constitutional rights, and they're going to back them up with a gun."
"That's pretty much the case," I said.
"By the way," he asked. "What are you doing over here? This isn't your part of town."
"I got a parking ticket," I said. "I have to pay $45."
Mulenga shook his head. "Man, that's robbery without a gun. They got you easy."
A car hit the curb on the corner, and one of its tires blew. The sound rang along the street like a gunshot. Mulenga shot up the tree. I looked closely and couldn't see him anywhere.
He was gone like the wind. mt