The Battle of Jericho by Sharon M. Draper


  “We will begin with a recitation of the vows,” Madison said quietly. “It is imperative that you remember and obey every word.” He nodded at Rick Sharp, who repeated the vows and made the pledges stand at attention and chant them once more.

  “Thank you, pledges. You may be seated,” Madison told them. “The paper that is being given to you now is a copy of the pledge you just recited. If you agree to everything, please sign your name on the bottom and pass it to the front of the room. These forms will be kept on file, but will not be circulated. As we have said, secrecy is our greatest strength.”

  Jericho read the form and hesitated just for a moment, but he signed it and passed it to Kofi, who was sitting in front of him.

  Rick cleared his throat and announced, “I want to tell you a little about Pledge Week. It lasts from Monday until Friday of the last week of January. Get your homework done early, because every night you will be involved in pledge activities that are designed to strengthen you, teach you to depend upon each other, and test your honor, loyalty, and courage. The very last night, Friday night, lasts well past midnight, because included in that night is a celebration party—just for us, the former pledges and the current members. Saturday evening is a formal dinner-dance to which you bring a date. At that time you will be officially welcomed into the group.”

  Jericho thought about Arielle and how proud she would be of him that night. Then he gasped. The last Thursday of January was the trumpet competition! There’s no way he could miss that! What was he going to do? Jericho’s mind swirled as he forced himself to pay attention to what Rick was saying.

  “The form that is being distributed now is one for your parents to sign,” Rick continued, “indicating their permission for you to be involved in Pledge Week activities. Please return that to Mr. Culligan’s box at school first thing tomorrow morning. This is our school connection—don’t screw it up.”

  Eddie took over then. “Between now and the last week of this month, anything that a pledge master asks you to do—anything,” he repeated, looking directly at Dana, “you are required to do. That’s at school or any place off campus. Understood?”

  “Understood,” the pledges repeated.

  “Let’s see if you really do understand,” Eddie smirked. “Luis, come here!” Luis jumped from his chair and ran to where Eddie stood. “Stand on one foot!” Eddie ordered.

  Luis, an accomplished track star, lifted one foot and balanced with ease. A minute turned into two and Luis began to hop to maintain his balance. Three minutes, four. Finally Eddie commanded, “Enough! Good job, Morales.” Luis went back to his seat, a frown on his face.

  “Who wants to be next?” Eddie barked, staring right at Dana.

  “I’m game,” Kofi said with a loud cough. Jericho wondered if he had volunteered because of the way he had seen Eddie looking at Dana.

  Eddie picked up two folding chairs, one in each hand. “Hold these two chairs, arms straight, elbows unbent. He placed one chair in Kofi’s right hand, and another in his left. Kofi looked at Eddie strangely, but he obeyed. The room was silent as everyone watched. At first it was easy, then his arms began to tremble a little.

  “Kofi’s skinny as a pencil and probably just as strong,” Josh whispered to Jericho.

  After six minutes Kofi’s face was red and his breath was coming in harsh bursts. “Enough!” Eddie commanded. He seemed to enjoy wielding such power. Kofi dropped the chairs with a sigh, and rubbed his arms.

  “Next?” Eddie offered. He looked again at Dana, who did not move.

  Josh said loudly, “Try me!”

  Eddie looked at him coolly. “Okay, Mr. Prescott. Sing us a song!” Eddie commanded. Josh grinned and burst into “Ninety-nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall” at the top of his voice. It broke the tension as everyone in the room laughed. Even Eddie managed a slight smile.

  “That’s all we have time for now, Eddie,” Rick said. “I’m sure they get the idea about obedience.” Eddie looked disappointed, and Dana looked relieved. “Are there any questions before we dismiss?” asked Rick.

  “Is the pledging process going to be difficult?” Kofi asked.

  “You will never forget it,” Eddie Mahoney replied without smiling. Again he looked directly at Dana as he answered.

  “When do we get the Warrior jackets?” Josh asked cheerfully.

  “The very last Friday night, assuming you’ve paid your pledge fee by then,” Eddie replied. “And Josh,” he added, “you better learn how to drive.”

  Josh and Jericho looked at each other in amazement. They hadn’t spoken of the driving incident since that day. Jericho stared at Eddie, who look self-satisfied and victorious.

  A sense of uneasiness crept quietly into Jericho’s mind. He raised his hand slowly. Rick nodded to him. “Uh, suppose a pledge had something really, really important to do on the fourth night of the final week of pledging?”

  “I’d suppose that pledge wouldn’t need to bother to come back on the last night,” Rick replied clearly. “Any pledge who does not complete the entire week is automatically eliminated.”

  Jericho’s heart fell to his shoes as he thought about the trumpet competition. How could he choose one over the other?

  THURSDAY, JANUARY 22

  JERICHO SAT IN THE MAIN HALL WAITING for Arielle, who had to stay after school to make up a biology test. He felt only slightly guilty as he munched on a large bag of potato chips and slurped a soda. After all, the soda was diet.

  Eric rolled over to where Jericho was sitting. “Whassup, man?”

  “Not much. Want some chips?” Jericho offered.

  “Yeah, sounds good. Thanks.”

  Jericho handed Eric the bag. Eric took a handful, handed it back to Jericho, and said, “So the Warrior stuff kicks off next week, I hear.”

  Jericho felt uncomfortable. “Yeah, that’s what they tell us.” Jericho hoped Arielle would hurry up so he could leave.

  Eric was quiet for a moment. “You know, I woulda loved to be a part of that.”

  Jericho wasn’t sure what to say. “It’s no big deal, really.”

  “Yes, it is. It would put me on the inside of everything instead of the outside.”

  “I wish there was something I could do,” Jericho said lamely.

  Eric sighed. “I don’t mean to lay this on you. It’s just been one of those days. You know what? All my life I dreamed of going to the prom. I can’t even get a girl to talk to me for more than five minutes. How am I gonna get a date? And if I did, what would I do there—wheelies to the music?”

  Jericho wasn’t sure how to answer. “You know, Eric,” Jericho said quietly. “Sometimes I feel like I’m outside lookin’ in on the rest of the world too.”

  “Yeah, but you do your lookin’ standing up, while I have to do mine sitting down—all the time.”

  “Don’t you just want to scream sometimes, Eric?”

  Eric smiled. “I’m sorry. I’m just feeling a little down today. And yes, sometimes I want to scream so bad, I think I’ll explode!”

  “So do it!” Jericho challenged him.

  “Explode?” Eric looked at him, astonished.

  “No. Scream!”

  “Here? Now?”

  “Yep. Right here. Right now. Scream your head off.” Jericho was grinning now.

  “There’s still people in the building,” Eric said hesitantly.

  “So?”

  “So what if I get in trouble?”

  “What are they gonna do? Break your legs?” Jericho looked at Eric to see if he had gone too far. But Eric was laughing hysterically. “Scream, Eric, scream!”

  “Ahhhhhhhhheeeeeeee!” Eric screamed at the top his voice. The empty halls echoed.

  “Do it again!” Jericho said with exultation.

  “Ahhhhhhhhheeeeeeee!” This time it was even louder. They looked at each other and cracked up.

  A door opened down the hall. “What’s going on out there? Is somebody hurt?” It was Mr. Boston and he was headed in their di
rection. “Was that you two making all that noise?” he asked angrily.

  “Yes, sir,” Eric replied between giggles. “I told myself if I have to sit in this chair one more second, I’m just gonna scream. So I did.”

  “Do you feel better?” Mr. Boston asked. Jericho noticed that he seemed to rein in his anger a bit. Even teachers tiptoed around disabled kids, he realized.

  “Yes, sir, I do,” Eric replied. “Here’s my bus. I’ll be going now.” With that, he gave Jericho a high five, rolled out of the door, down the ramp, and to his bus. Jericho waved as Eric sat on the electric lift, slowly being raised up. Eric was still smiling when the bus drove away, but Jericho couldn’t stop thinking what Eric’s life must be like. Mr. Boston, shaking his head, returned to his classroom.

  Jericho checked his watch and wished once more that Arielle would hurry up. He was hungry and he had a lot of homework to get done tonight. He looked up and saw Kofi coming down the hall.

  “Hey, Jericho. Did you hear all that screaming a little while ago?” asked Kofi.

  “That was me and Eric Bell.”

  “The kid in the wheelchair?”

  “Yeah, he needed to let off some steam, so he did. It was too tight!” Jericho told him.

  “That’s good. I’d hate to be stuck in a chair like that.” Kofi glanced outside at the handicap ramp. “Why you still here, man?” he asked. “Everybody’s gone home but the janitors and Mr. Boston. I think he must sleep here.”

  “Waiting for Arielle. Slowest female in the world!” Jericho joked. “What are you doing here?”

  “Mrs. Walton asked me to fix something on her computer. I swear, if I drop dead, all the computers in this school will just fizzle up and die too. Half the teachers, ’cause they were born back in the Dark Ages, are scared of the computers, and the rest either don’t know what to do with them or don’t know how to deal with the details of running the programs.”

  Jericho laughed. “You ought to see my little stepbrothers on the computer. They’d probably make you feel like a dinosaur! How’d you learn so much about computers, anyway?”

  “My grandmother won a complete computer setup—printer, modem, scanner, the whole bit—in a contest at the grocery store a couple of years ago. She told me, ’Kofi, come get this thing outta my house ’fore it tries to get all in my mind and my business!’ I tried to tell her it was just a machine, but that’s exactly why she didn’t like it! She wouldn’t even open the box. So I took it home, set it up, and taught myself. I’m as good on a computer as you are on a trumpet,” Kofi teased.

  “Maybe,” Jericho admitted. He frowned in thought a moment. “Let me ask you something, Kofi. I got a trumpet competition comin’ up real soon. If I do well, and since my lips got magic, I know I will . . .” He paused and smiled a moment. Then he finished seriously. “It could mean a scholarship to Juilliard.”

  “So what’s your problem? You scared your lips will fall off from kissin’ Arielle before you have a chance to play at the competition?”

  “Naw, man, it’s just the contest is the last Thursday of the month—the fourth night of pledge week,” Jericho told him glumly.

  “Man, that sucks! Can you reschedule the contest?”

  “No.”

  “What are you gonna do?”

  Jericho sighed. “What choice do I have. I gotta pledge, man. I can’t quit now.”

  Kofi looked at him quietly. “Hey, Jericho, remember when I told you the doctor told me to come back and see him for some tests?

  “Yeah, what happened?”

  “Well, he ran the tests and he said I had a slight heart murmur or something.”

  Jericho looked up in surprise. “For real? What does that mean?”

  Kofi shrugged. “Well, there goes my chances with the NBA!”

  “You couldn’t shoot a hoop straight to save your life anyway! You’re lucky the NBA lets you buy tickets to their games!”

  “Yeah, I know. I never did like sports much. I just played ball with you all ’cause that’s what dudes are s’posed to do, I guess. I’m more into computers and video stuff anyway.”

  “Did your doctor sign your Warrior medical form?” asked Jericho.

  “Yeah, he signed it, with a note about my ’heart condition,’ as he called it. He said as long as I don’t decide to run a marathon or something, I’ll be okay.” Kofi chuckled. “No danger of that! He said takin’ toys to little kids was cool and wasn’t stressful, and he wished me good luck in the club.”

  “Well, that’s good to know. What did your parents say?”

  “Nothing. I don’t think they got the message on their machine yet. It usually erases itself before they bother to check it.”

  “You gonna tell them?”

  “Maybe. They won’t think it’s a big deal.”

  “Why you say that?” Jericho asked.

  “To them, nothing is a big deal, except hangin’ out. They party with their friends all night long, then sleep it off the next day wherever they end up. Life is just one big high for them.” He drummed his fingers on the wooden bench.

  “That’s some deep stuff. I know they’re hardly ever home when I stop by there,” Jericho replied.

  Kofi grunted. “I live there, and I never see them either. Sometimes I feel like I’m the grown-up in the house. It’s been like that since I was little. I grew up on words like ’maybe later’ and ’I don’t care.’”

  “I know they’re glad you’re around, Kofi. Maybe they’ll change,” Jericho suggested. “Ever think about that?”

  “All the time. But for now, I just hope they remember to leave a couple of dollars for lunch and bus fare,” Kofi admitted. He picked up his book bag.

  “You need a ride?” Jericho offered.

  “No, but thanks. I’m taking the bus downtown. I have to do a report for English and I have to use a real book, not something I downloaded.” Kofi slung his backpack onto his shoulder. “Old-fashioned teachers,” he muttered as he headed out into the cold January air.

  “You take it easy, now,” Jericho called as Kofi left. He noticed Mr. Boston, with his coat and briefcase, walking purposefully toward where Jericho sat. “I’m sorry about all the noise, Mr. Boston,” Jericho began.

  “Oh, that’s okay, Jericho. Actually, I understand. I feel sorry for Eric. If screaming is all he needs to do to vent his frustrations, then let him scream once in awhile.”

  Mr. Boston sat down and Jericho tried not to groan. Why couldn’t this dude just go home? Why did he feel like he had to talk to him? Out loud he said, “Why do you always stay at school so late, Mr. Boston?”

  “Grading papers. Preparing for tomorrow. I like the silence and the solitude of an empty classroom.”

  “Hey, we can make that happen for you. Just say the word and you can have a solitary classroom every day! We’ll just disappear.”

  “Thank you for your kind offer, but nothing that drastic will be necessary,” Mr. Boston replied, rolling his eyes. “I also like the noisy activity of a busy classroom. I just like school.”

  “Is there a pill you can take to cure that?” Jericho asked.

  “Retirement, I guess,” he replied with a laugh. Then he cleared his throat and said, “I hear you’re on the list of pledges for the Warriors of Distinction.”

  Jericho nodded. “Even teachers know?”

  “Everybody knows.”

  “That’s cool,” Jericho said with a shrug.

  “We’ve heard about Dana Wolfe as well—the first girl to try it.”

  Jericho sighed. “Well, she’s gonna make it interesting at least. Nobody’s sure how it’s gonna turn out.”

  “You look out for her, Jericho,” Mr. Boston said sharply.

  “Me? How come?”

  “A young man of true distinction would do that.”

  Jericho said nothing for a moment. Then he asked, “Were you a Warrior when you were in high school, Mr. Boston?”

  “I didn’t go to Douglass. I’m from Oklahoma. Believe it or not, I was
on the football team in high school.”

  “For real? You don’t look big enough,” Jericho said in amazement.

  Mr. Boston laughed. “I wasn’t the best kid on the team, and I only played for a year. I quit in my sophomore year.”

  “Too much competition?” Jericho asked.

  Mr. Boston inhaled and replied, “No, I quit because of the initiation activities the team practiced every year.”

  “What kind of initiation? Don’t you just make the team because you’re good enough?”

  “Yes and no. After you make the team, the returning players put the new kids through hazing rituals.”

  “How can that happen? Wouldn’t the coach stop anything bad?”

  Mr. Boston looked at the ceiling. “The coach turned his head and pretended it didn’t happen—he’d been doing that for years.”

  “Then it couldn’t have been that bad,” Jericho reasoned.

  “I remember the coach saying that the initiation activities built team spirit and such. But it was horrible.”

  “So what did they do?” Jericho was fascinated.

  “After our first practice, while we freshmen were in the shower, the upperclassmen took our clothes, so we were left there, nude, in the locker room.”

  “No big deal. We’re naked in the locker room all the time,” Jericho countered.

  “Yes, but then we were blindfolded and marched, without our clothes, onto the football field, where the cheerleaders, the marching band, and the drill team were practicing. We had to stand there, naked and blindfolded, while kids took pictures and called us names. It was only seconds, but it seemed like hours. Everybody laughed and thought it was great fun, but I was embarrassed and humiliated.” Mr. Boston picked at the latch of his briefcase.

  “So you quit?”

  “No, I was also too embarrassed to complain to anybody, so I played that one year. The next year, when I heard them making the same plans for the new kids, I just quit. I didn’t want to be a part of the hazing, but I didn’t have guts enough to stop it.”

  “Are they still doing it at that high school?” Jericho asked.

  “No, someone with more guts than I had finally told the authorities. The coach was fired, and the practice was stopped.”

 
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