The Battle of Jericho by Sharon M. Draper


  “Feminine is powerful, and don’t you forget it!” she told him as she pretended to punch him on his arm.

  “You’re not likely to let us forget that!” Josh said with a laugh.

  Then, by the pencil sharpener, Kofi asked her seriously, “You okay, Dana?”

  “Yeah, I’m fine—ready for tonight,” she answered with quiet determination. She headed to her seat as the bell rang. “You know, Josh,” she teased, “if I looked as bad as you do in that shirt, I’d never say a word about anybody else. I didn’t think it was possible for you to make that shirt look any worse, but how did you manage to get black splotches all over it, along with the white spots from the other day?”

  “Skills!” he said simply. “Skills!”

  FRIDAY, JANUARY 30—AFTERNOON

  AFTER LUNCH JERICHO SAW ERIC BELL IN the distance, and he knew he should say something, but he was embarrassed. Still, he hurried over to him when he saw Eric struggling with a door that would not stay open long enough for him to get his wheelchair through.

  “Let me help you with that, man,” Jericho offered. He couldn’t look Eric directly in the face.

  “I can do it myself,” Eric said sullenly.

  “I know. Hey, Eric, I was a butt the other day.”

  “You got that right,” Eric agreed.

  “I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings,” Jericho told him.

  “My feelings get hurt all the time. I ought to be used to it, but it never gets any easier.”

  “I’m sorry, man,” Jericho said sincerely.

  Eric sighed. “You know what bothered me the most?”

  “What?”

  “You figured Arielle wouldn’t like me because I’m in a wheelchair.”

  Jericho was silent for a moment. “Actually, that wasn’t it—honestly. The wheelchair had nothing to do with it. I was just afraid she wanted to be with you and not with me. I got scared.”

  It was Eric’s turn to be quiet. “So what did Arielle say when you talked to her?”

  Jericho laughed. “She told me where I could stuff my opinions about who she talked to or who she associated with. She got me told real good!”

  Eric laughed with him this time. “Serves you right! I better get through this hallway before the bell rings. I’ll talk to you later, Jericho.”

  “Take it slow, Eric.”

  “Hey, Jericho,” Eric called as he rolled away.

  “Yeah?”

  “Good luck tonight with the Warriors of Distinction.”

  “Thanks, man,” he replied quietly. “Thanks.” He watched Eric roll down the hall and around the corner.

  “Why you got that funny expression on your face?” Arielle asked, walking up to Jericho.

  “Nothing,” Jericho said as he took a deep breath. “What’s up, Arielle? You look good today.”

  “Thanks. Aren’t you supposed to be running around the school doing good deeds for the Warriors?” she asked Jericho.

  “Not today. Tonight is the big whatever, so they’re letting us take it easy.”

  “You nervous?”

  “Of what? How bad can it be? Naw, I just want it to be over so on Monday we can come to school in our new silk jackets. You still goin’ to the celebration party with me tomorrow night?”

  “Me and Dana and November are going shopping after school to get outfits for the party. Does that give you a hint?”

  Jericho grinned. “There’s the bell—I gotta get to class. I won’t call you tonight because it will be too late, but I’ll call you first thing in the morning.”

  “And tell me all about it?” she teased.

  “All that I can,” he answered.

  “Whatever! Good luck, Jericho.” She hurried off in one direction to her class, and Jericho in the other direction to his.

  Jericho was tense with anticipation, but the day seemed to crawl by. The cold rain and dreary clouds and the muddy puddles on the brown and sodden grass didn’t help. Finally the last bell rang. Jericho saw Josh coming from his last class.

  “What’s up, my almost-Warrior cousin?” Josh called.

  “I wonder if they give a prize tonight for the ugliest pledge shirt,” Jericho told him as he gazed on Josh’s blotched, spotted, and now shrunken T-shirt.

  “Well, I wonder if they give a prize for the ugliest pledge!” Josh shot back at him. “You’d win face first!”

  “Don’t let me start talkin’ about your cookie-dough head!” Jericho laughed.

  “Aw, man, well at least I’m not mistaken for Godzilla when I walk down the street!”

  The two of them headed out into the rainy afternoon, laughing and punching each other. Jericho shivered. “We’re gonna freeze our butts off tonight.”

  “I got my love to keep me warm,” Josh boasted.

  “November won’t be anywhere near there—I heard they’re all going shopping together.”

  Josh pointed to his heart. “I got my girl here where it counts.” For a second he looked pensive and serious. Then, running around the parking lot and oblivious to the rain, he shouted to the sky, “Hey, world! This is Josh! Tonight I get my black jacket, and I’m gonna look goooood!”

  “Man, you losin’ it!” Jericho laughed as he watched Josh splash through all the puddles in the parking lot. Maybe he just needed to relax like Josh and get this week over with.

  Josh’s father pulled up in front of the school then. Josh, soaking wet and out of breath, opened the car door and greeted his dad. “Tonight’s the night, Dad, and I’m charged up!”

  “What you are is messed up, boy! You out here playing in the rain like a ten-year-old? Get a towel out of the trunk.” Uncle Brock wasn’t really angry, Jericho realized as he watched them tease each other. “Do you need a ride, Jericho?” Uncle Brock asked as Josh, still laughing, got in the car.

  “Thanks, Uncle Brock. I’m driving today.” Josh had rolled down the window and Jericho leaned inside to talk.

  “Be careful, Jericho. The roads are wet and slick from all this rain,” his uncle said.

  “I will.”

  “Are you two ready for tonight?” he asked.

  “Josh sure is!” Jericho replied.

  “It will be the most memorable night of your lives,” Mr. Prescott replied with a pleasant smile, as if he were thinking of fond memories. “It will make a man of you.”

  Josh rolled his eyes. “Sure, Dad. Does this mean I get a car like Jericho?”

  “It may make you a man, but it’s not going to make me a blockhead!”

  “He shut you up, man! Nice goin’, Uncle Brock,” Jericho teased as he punched Josh once more through the open car window.

  “See you tonight!” Josh called cheerfully as they left the parking lot.

  Jericho waved as they drove away.

  FRIDAY, JANUARY 30—8 P.M.

  WHEN JERICHO GOT TO THE WAREHOUSE, A little early, Dana was already waiting at the door. The night was cold but clear—filled with stars and promise.

  “You scared?” he asked her.

  “I can’t imagine anything worse than last night,” she whispered, shuddering a little.

  He nodded. This girl is, like, too tough, he thought. He didn’t think he could have accomplished what Dana had. They shivered nervously in the darkness, waiting for they knew not what. The rest of the pledges arrived a few minutes later, and at exactly eight P.M. Rick opened the door to the warehouse. “Good evening, Pledge Slime. Please come in.”

  The room was dark and shadowy. Fifteen chairs had been placed in a circle in the center of the room. A single candle flickered on a table in the middle of the circle. The silence was thick.

  “Remove your coats and be seated,” Rick said quietly. The pledges stacked their winter jackets on a table in the back of the room. There sat fifteen neat white boxes, unopened, the coveted black silk jackets waiting to be caressed and admired by the new members of the club. Jericho smiled with anticipation, then walked quickly back to the circle, ready for whatever might happen that night.

/>   The pledges found seats within the circle. They looked at each other hesitantly. Rick stood in the center by the table. The other pledge masters stood behind the pledges at various points around the circle.

  Jericho noticed, once his eyes had become accustomed to the dim light, that sitting on the table next to the candle was a mirror, a rusty brown brick, what appeared to be a whiskey bottle, and the gun they had found in the Dumpster. All of Jericho’s feelings of dread and foreboding flooded back.

  “Tonight,” Rick began, “is the final night of pledge activities. Soon you will join us as Warriors of Distinction. Tonight’s activities will be intense, perhaps overwhelming. So we will begin with a quiet reflection.”

  Rick’s quiet, serious tone made Jericho even more nervous about the final activities than ever. Rick picked up the brick from the table and passed it to Jericho.

  “This brick,” Rick said, “is a symbol of our brotherhood. Slowly pass it around the circle. Look at it. Feel its weight and its rough edges. Notice it is not perfect. All of us have rough edges and imperfections.” Jericho noticed that Rick stopped then and glanced at Eddie.

  Jericho felt the roughness in his hands. He’d never bothered to look at a brick up close before. It had little holes and ridges in it, but it was surprisingly heavy.

  “Jericho, pass the brick to the person sitting next to you. Hold it at eye level as you do. This is to remind you that you may not always see things eye to eye, but you should be man enough to confront each other and solve your problems face-to-face.”

  Jericho passed the brick to Josh.

  “Bricks can be found anywhere,” Rick continued. “They are strong and powerful, but are rarely noticed individually. Only when a brick is missing does a building look unusual. Together we have power.”

  Josh passed the brick to Luis, who passed it to Kofi, who passed it to Dana. It traveled slowly to all the pledges in the circle.

  “This brick is also a symbol of our unity,” Rick said. “It’s made of cement, rocks, sand, and water. Just like this brick that is made up of a combination of materials, the Warriors of Distinction are also a group with diverse cultural and social backgrounds, values, and experiences. Like the composition of the brick, that’s what makes us strong.”

  As Rick spoke, Jericho began to relax. The Warriors are off the hook, he kept telling himself. He was so lucky to be part of this. He thought about the faces of the people they’d helped through the toy drive, and the pride on Arielle’s face the night of the New Year’s Eve party.

  The brick had made it completely around the circle. Rick placed it back on the table, then picked up the small mirror and handed it to Jericho. “Next I want you to pass this mirror around the circle. What do you see?”

  Jericho saw a round brown face with slightly crooked teeth, fuzzy hair, and ears that stuck out too far. He didn’t like looking at himself in the mirror. He passed it quickly to Josh.

  “Your face is just one of many, but it is unique. No other face in the world is exactly like it, yet all human faces are basically the same. Remember that each of you is an individual, yet each of you is responsible for the other tonight. Very soon we will be proud to include your face with ours as a Warrior of Distinction.”

  Just as Jericho was ready to agree with him, Rick then picked up the gun. The room instantly grew so quiet and tense Jericho imagined he could hear the sound of the flame from the candle as it flickered in the darkness.

  “The gun,” Rick began, “symbolizes our power. It is cold and silent as you see it now, but it can become hot and deadly in an instant.”

  Jericho’s heart pounded as he considered what the presence of a gun could mean. For the first time since the pledging began, he was genuinely scared.

  Rick took the end of his shirt and carefully wiped a tiny speck from the barrel of the gun. “The gun also represents our strength and our silence. A gun never speaks unless it has to,” he said ominously. “As I pass it around, I want you to feel its power, its strength, as well as its silence. Touch it, explore it, learn its mysteries.” He gave it first to Jericho. “Don’t be afraid,” Rick told him. “Be brave enough to discover a new and powerful reality!”

  Jericho took the gun. His hands shook. He turned it over and gazed at it in the dim light with fear and foreboding. It was heavy and cold. He passed it quickly to Josh.

  Josh, his usual cheerful lightheartedness missing for once, took the gun carefully. He made no jokes as he held it for a few moments, then passed it on to Luis. The rest of the pledges all explored the gun silently and fearfully and it was quickly returned to Rick.

  “I want to reassure you,” Rick told the solemn group of pledges, “we have never used the gun.” He paused. “It has never been necessary,” he added without explanation.

  Eddie then took over the ceremony. The candle burned lower, the flame a wild and confused point of light as Eddie brushed close to it. Eddie picked up the bottle. In his other hand he held fifteen very small plastic cups—the type that comes on the top of a cough medicine bottle. “We began with reflection,” he said. “The next part of our ceremony is for relaxation.” He gave Jericho the plastic cups and told him to take one and pass the rest to the others.

  Eddie then opened the bottle. The strong smell that escaped the bottle instantly let them know that this was no whiskey bottle filled with tea to fool them. This was hard liquor. Eddie walked around the group of pledges and filled their cups.

  Jericho looked at the brownish liquid in his cup. He’d had beer before, but he didn’t like the taste of it, so he rarely drank, even when his friends decided to party more than he cared to. He had never even tasted whiskey or any other hard liquor before. And he had no desire to taste any tonight.

  “The purpose of this part of the ceremony,” Eddie explained, his voice syrupy and sinister, “is to release your inner strength, and to show your willingness to become one of us. It will also relax you for activities to come later tonight.”

  Jericho felt trapped. He knew he should leave, but there was no way he had the nerve to walk out now. After all, it was almost over. In just a few hours he’d be a Warrior! So he sat where he was.

  “Drink!” Eddie commanded.

  The pledges hesitated.

  “Drink!” Eddie yelled again. “If you want to be a part of this group, do it now and do it quickly!”

  Cleveland was the first to empty his cup. “Ahhhh!” he blurted loudly. Then he burped. The pledges giggled a little and some of the tension was eased. One by one the pledges drank the cup of whiskey.

  Dana swallowed hers quickly. Jericho saw her face squeeze into a grimace, but she didn’t choke or gag. Eddie walked around the group, making sure each cup was empty. He stopped in front of Jericho, who still held the cup of whiskey in his hand.

  In one swift movement, Jericho put the cup to his lips and swallowed it all at once. His throat burned like he had swallowed flaming branches. Seconds later he felt a heat in his stomach like nothing he had ever felt. It was as if a fiery tree had grown within him. It began in his gut and expanded to every part of his body. He felt like he was caught in a science fiction movie where the character’s guts get invaded and then explode. It was hard to breathe. Eddie laughed.

  Eddie then walked around and refilled the cups. Jericho couldn’t believe they had to do it again.

  “Drink!” Eddie commanded once more.

  Jericho noticed that for some reason the pledges drank the second cup much more quickly. Even he had very little difficulty the second time around. The liquid still burned like hot fire, but the shock and the hot reaction was softer and muted.

  “Again!” Eddie ordered as he refilled the little cups. Once more the pledges obediently swallowed the liquor. “You like this, don’t you?” Eddie taunted as he made them drink a fourth time. The rest of the Warriors, Jericho noticed through hazy observation, had their own bottles and were sipping from them periodically as they laughed at the pledges.

  By the fifth round o
f drinks, Jericho didn’t even care. He drank it sloppily, spilling a little in the process. For some reason, that struck him as incredibly funny. This ain’t so bad, he thought dimly. He noticed that the liquor bottle was now empty.

  Jericho watched with blurry vision as Eddie quietly opened another bottle and replaced the small plastic medicine cups with full-sized paper cups. “Let’s party!” he heard himself say. He tried to stand up, but fell to the floor in a heap. Josh laughed so hard he fell off his chair, and Luis rolled out of his seat as well. By this time the pledges were voluntarily passing the bottle around, some of them ignoring the paper cups and drinking straight out of the bottle. They laughed, they sang, they told dirty jokes. A couple of them ran to the bathroom where the night before they’d been forced to dip their heads, and vomited. Jericho looked for Dana, and saw she was sitting on Kofi’s lap, giggling hysterically at something he’d said.

  Jericho knew he was drunk, and he didn’t care. Any doubts or worries he’d had about the Warriors disappeared in the bottom of that paper cup.

  Eddie and Rick and the rest of the Warriors stood then and started chanting quietly, their voices almost a whisper:

  You don’t know what time it is—

  It’s time to get live!

  It’s time to represent!

  Warriors rock! Warriors rule!

  You don’t know what time it is—

  It’s time to get live!

  It’s time to represent!

  Warriors rock! Warriors rule!

  Gradually the chanting got louder and louder. Louder and louder they repeated the rhythmic words. Slowly, hesitantly, the pledges joined them in the chant. They stood shakily, joining arms and swaying together as they shouted drunkenly with the others the rhythmic beats:

  You don’t know what time it is—

  It’s time to get live!

  It’s time to represent!

  Warriors rock! Warriors rule!

  The chant gradually slowed and stopped, but Jericho felt excited and anxious to begin whatever awaited. His head seemed as though it was full of cotton wrapped in explosives. He wasn’t sure if he felt like curling into a ball and sleeping for a week, or exploding like a grenade and destroying something. All he knew was that whatever they asked him to do, he was ready to do it.

 
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