The Battle of Jericho by Sharon M. Draper


  Jericho was just as comfortable here as he was in his own home, maybe even more. He envied the closeness of Josh and his aunt and uncle.

  He loved to play his trumpet in this room. Sometimes Josh would be downstairs playing video games, his aunt and uncle would be out, and he’d have this wonderful room to himself. The tones seemed to dance off the wall here, sounding fuller and more powerful somehow. He could play like that for hours, but he usually had only a few minutes before Josh interrupted him. Josh couldn’t seem to understand how serious the trumpet was to Jericho. Josh bounced from activity to activity, never really settling on anything for very long. But Jericho knew what he loved: his trumpet.

  Josh thundered down the steps two at a time, heading for the rec room in the basement. He stopped short when he saw Jericho sitting on the sofa. “When’d you get here, Cuz?” he asked.

  “Just a few minutes ago.”

  “Why you sittin’ in the living room like company?”

  “Just chillin’. I’ve always liked this room—makes me think back to when we were kids.”

  “Yeah, remember when we were playing movie monster and broke that Ethiopian mask Mom liked so much?”

  “Yeah,” Jericho said laughing. “She busted our butts for that one!”

  The doorbell rang then. Josh pulled open the door, letting in November, Dana, and a gust of cold air.

  “What you tryin’ to do, girl?” he said to November, who, as usual, was carrying her digital planner.

  “I figured if I bring the cold in with me, you’ll appreciate how warm I am!” she said teasingly. Jericho watched as Josh grinned. He looked like a puppy, performing for a treat from its master.

  “Don’t you ever go anyplace without that calendar?” Josh asked as he took her coat.

  “This is my life!” she replied cheerfully. “I’ve got everything in here*, my volunteer schedule with the kids at Children’s Hospital, the three second-graders I tutor in math, the parties I’ve been invited to—the works! Life gets complicated for a social butterfly like me if I don’t write it down.”

  Dana said nothing, but walked over to the fireplace, warming herself and looking carefully at each of the African artifacts on the mantle.

  “What’s up?” Jericho said to the girls. He looked out the front window, but there was no sign of Arielle.

  “Dana’s got the right idea,” November said as she joined her in front of the fire. “I don’t know how your mother stands it, living up there in Alaska all the time,” she said to Jericho.

  “I guess you get used to anything after awhile,” Jericho said with a shrug. He walked into the kitchen, got a soda from the refrigerator, and drank it down in a couple of gulps. He burped loudly just as November and Dana walked in.

  “Yuk!” said November. “Dudes are so gross!”

  “You’ve never burped?” Jericho asked with a grin.

  “Not like that!”

  He tossed her a can of cola, and said, “I dare you to chug it and then not burp!”

  She tossed it back and said, “Grow up!”

  “Here, help me take this case of colas downstairs,” Jericho said. “I’m gonna make you burp before this night is over!”

  November laughed, but she grabbed the sodas and headed down the stairs to Josh’s rec room. Dana followed them, carrying a couple of bags of chips. Josh’s father had remodeled the basement so that the boys and their friends could dance or play video games or just sit around and watch TV. It was even soundproofed so that their music, which they played as loud as the machine would go, wouldn’t bother the adults upstairs.

  Jericho heard the doorbell ring again. He hoped it was Arielle, but he didn’t have the nerve to go back up and open the door.

  “Hey, Cuz, Kofi’s here, and so is your girl Arielle!” Josh shouted down the basement steps.

  Jericho cringed. November and Dana hooted with laughter. Minutes later, Josh stomped down the steps, followed by Kofi in his heavy-footed army boots, and Arielle. As Jericho watched her come down the steps, she seemed to float, especially after all the noise that Josh and Kofi made.

  “Did you bring your CDs?” November asked.

  “Yeah, I got some new ones—check this out,” Arielle said as she showed the girls her collection. They put a couple in the player and as the music began, Jericho relaxed a little.

  “Who wants to order something from Pizza Hut?” Josh asked. “They got a pepperoni special this week.”

  “Order from LaRosa’s instead,” November suggested. “For every pizza you buy this month, they’re donating five dollars to the Free Store.”

  “How do you know all this stuff?” Josh asked.

  “I make it my business to be well informed about all sorts of serious stuff—from shoe sales to canned-goods drives to pizza specials. And you should too,” she added.

  “I got you to do that for me, my little pepperoni!” Josh said as he hugged her.

  “Some stuff you gotta do for yourself, Josh,” November told him seriously.

  “I’m a vegetarian,” Dana explained, as she nibbled on a corn chip. “Make mine just cheese.” Josh nodded as he called in the pizza order.

  “I thought you eat raw meat for breakfast!” Kofi teased.

  “Why you say that?” she asked.

  “’Cause you so bad, girl. I heard you wanted to be a Boy Scout instead of a Girl Scout when you were little. Is that true?”

  Dana laughed. “Sort of. I hated those ugly green Girl Scout uniforms—the boys’ uniforms looked so much better, and they didn’t have to sell those stupid cookies!”

  “Speak for yourself, girl,” Jericho joked. “Those cookies are sacred to me—they’re a whole new food group!”

  “That’s what I like about you, Dana,” Kofi continued. “You think for yourself—you’re a trendsetter. Have you noticed the little ninth-grade ’Dana clones’ who try to dress like you?”

  Dana shrugged. “I can’t help it if people copy me. I just do my own thing.”

  “How’s your dad?” Arielle asked her.

  Dana sighed. “He’s still in the Middle East someplace—he’s not allowed to tell us where—but it’s always dangerous over there. We don’t know when he’ll be home again.” Her father, an Air Force lieutenant, was a career military man. “He’s, like, my hero, you know. He’s always told me to be whatever I wanted to be, and encouraged me to try new things, not to let boundaries stand in my way. He taught me to fly a plane when I was just ten.”

  “You can fly a plane?” Kofi asked in amazement.

  “I’ve soloed in a single engine, and I could probably handle a bigger plane in an emergency if I had to,” she replied, her eyes shining. Josh looked at her with awe.

  Jericho didn’t care. He was just glad that Arielle was sitting with them, looking relaxed and comfortable. He wished he felt the same.

  The evening moved softly and easily, Jericho thought. Josh and November danced, caught up in their own little world, Kofi played video games, and Jericho marveled at every moment with Arielle. She laughed at Josh’s antics as he demonstrated, in hilarious detail, exactly what his parents looked like when they danced, but more importantly, she paid attention to Jericho, seemingly interested in his every word as he talked about school and made jokes about teachers. He was amazed. The pizza arrived, and Jericho, conscious of his weight and nervous around Arielle, found he had very little appetite. He ate only one small piece.

  “So what’s the big deal about the Warriors of Distinction?” Dana asked suddenly, jarring the easy conversation that had surrounded the music and food. “Why isn’t there a group called the Distinguished Women?”

  “Maybe there aren’t any distinguished women!” Kofi laughed at his own joke.

  “I’m serious,” Dana continued. “Why aren’t there girls in the group?”

  “Aw, Dana, quit trying to put salt in the milkshake! It’s the way the club has been for fifty years,” Josh complained.

  “So, in fifty years, nobody ever asked
the question? I think it’s about time somebody did!” she continued. Jericho noticed that Kofi was frowning.

  “It’s called the Warriors, Dana,” Kofi said as if talking to a child. “That doesn’t sound much like a club for girls!”

  “So there’s no such thing as women warriors? Don’t get me started, skinny boy!”

  Kofi’s lips grew tight with anger. He didn’t answer her.

  “Oh, let the boys have their little club, Dana,” Arielle said. “Unlike women, they need stuff like that to help them grow up!”

  “Besides,” November added, “the Warriors help so many people with that toy drive. Don’t mess with what works. I admire their social activism.”

  “You also admire their jammin’ social events,” Arielle reminded her.

  November grinned. “I gotta admit it. They look so good in those jackets, and they give those sweet formal dances, and Josh takes my breath away when he wears a tuxedo!” Josh grinned at her and took her hand.

  Arielle laughed and said, “You two are a mess!”

  “Well, I’m opposed to the idea of a club just for dudes,” Dana said again. “I just may have to do something about it!”

  “You think you’re gonna change a tradition that’s been around for fifty years?” Josh said with derision. “Some things girls just don’t need to be a part of!”

  “And who are you to tell me what girls can and cannot do? Who made you king of the world, Mr. Cornflake Head?” Dana’s anger was obvious and, judging by her tone of voice, growing stronger.

  “And who made you queen?” Kofi answered for him. “You can’t change a tradition just because it suits your mood! The world don’t work like that!”

  “I think she’s right!” November said. “People get taken to court for discrimination like that! Not that I want to be in a stupid club named ’Warriors’ of anything!”

  “If I did decide to join, I ought to be able to!” Dana cried. “The club is way outdated. Everything is integrated now, and I’m not talkin’ about racial fairness—I’m talkin’ male/female stuff.”

  Josh groaned. “Aw, girls always want what they can’t have!”

  November frowned at Josh. “I think Dana ought to have that right, if that’s what she wants,” she said quietly.

  Josh ignored her. “Every time we get something that’s just for us dudes, girls want a piece of it—like the lady sportscasters on ESPN runnin’ around the locker rooms after a game. You know they just want to see naked men in the shower!”

  Dana threw her shoe at him. Luckily he ducked. “Girls ought to be able to do anything they want and be in any club they want to be in,” she proclaimed. “Who made men the kings of the world?”

  “Other men, of course!” November replied without smiling. The room was filled with hot, tense anger.

  SATURDAY, DECEMBER 6—10 P.M.

  “HEY, ARIELLE,” JERICHO SHOUTED OVER the accelerating noise of the argument, “come upstairs and let me show you something!”

  “Good thinking,” she said as the discussion in the basement got louder and she hurried with him upstairs. “I wasn’t ready to dive into that.”

  “Me neither. I’m a lover, not a fighter,” Jericho said with a grin.

  “Is that what you called me up here for?” she asked, as she grinned and smoothed the wrinkles from her hip-hugger slacks.

  “No. I want you to meet my best friend.”

  Arielle looked confused. “I didn’t hear anyone else come in.”

  Jericho smiled again. “She’s right here, always waiting for me, always ready to take me to another place, a better place.”

  “She?” Arielle asked.

  Jericho was enjoying this. And he was enjoying the fact that somehow all his shyness had disappeared. “Yeah, my best girl. Zora.” He picked up the leather trumpet case and slowly unzipped it. He removed the trumpet with care, then carefully wiped its smooth, shiny bell with the soft cloth he kept just for that purpose. “Arielle, I want you to meet Zora.”

  Arielle smiled and reached out to touch it. The fire still flickered, and its reds and oranges reflected off the trumpet’s metallic body. “She’s beautiful, Jericho,” Arielle whispered.

  “Most people think I’m stupid to name my trumpet, but somehow I knew you’d understand.” He deftly tapped the finger buttons, listening with an experienced ear to the muffled sound of the valves inside the casing of the trumpet.

  “How long have you been playing?” she asked as he attached the mouthpiece.

  “Since third grade.”

  “I heard about you getting asked to play at the Bengals game. That must have been awesome.”

  “It was the most exciting thing I’ve ever done in my life. All those people. The lights. Just me and Zora. If I had been by myself I would have been nervous. But I’m never scared when I have my trumpet with me. She’s like my best friend. Does that sound stupid?” he asked suddenly.

  “Not at all. I know where you’re comin’ from. Did you love it like this from the very beginning—like love at first sight?” She giggled.

  “Actually, I didn’t like it at first. I wanted to play the violin. But I was late turning in my instrument money, all the other kids had picked the cool instruments, and all they had left was a trumpet.”

  “That’s really funny!” Arielle said.

  Jericho just smiled. “But as soon as I started playing it, I fell in love. It talks for me, speaks to me, sings my songs. I’m never completely alone or unhappy when I’m playing. It’s like part of me, part of who I am.”

  “That’s deep,” Arielle whispered. “Can you play something for me?”

  Jericho shrugged but then, placing his fingertips on the three pearl finger buttons, put the trumpet against his lips and let it speak the words he could never say to Arielle. He closed his eyes and the fireplace faded, then the walls, and finally the rest of the world became the golden notes he felt inside. Arielle sat on the sofa, listening breathlessly.

  “Zora is amazing,” she said when he finished. Then she blushed. “Where did you come up with that name?”

  “In sixth grade our teacher read us a story by Zora Neale Hurston. She’s one of my favorite writers now. But at the time I just thought she had a cool name.”

  “It fits,” Arielle said, “because your Zora-trumpet certainly tells a tale when you play her. It’s like I can imagine stuff while you’re playing.”

  Jericho felt his heart pounding—she understood! He picked up the trumpet and let Zora speak again. This time he played a quick tune with lots of trills and leaps and rapid repetitions. It was a tale of confusion and anger, and ended suddenly, in a minor key. ’That’s how I feel most of the time,” he told Arielle, “but not tonight. This has been different. I’m glad you decided to come.”

  “Me too,” she said quietly.

  “I’ve got a big trumpet competition comin’ up the last Thursday of January,” he told her suddenly. “Maybe you can come and give me good luck.” He was suddenly embarrassed. “But maybe you won’t want to sit through dozens of kids playing their instruments one at a time. It’s kinda boring sometimes—like a track meet—you wait for hours for your three minutes on the track.”

  “But I bet those three minutes that you’re up there playing are dynamite!” she told him. “Maybe I will come. Who knows? That’s not till next month.”

  Jericho couldn’t believe how nice she was. He felt like he didn’t deserve it for some reason. “I don’t hear them arguing downstairs anymore. We’d better go check and make sure everybody is still alive,” he suggested. He headed with Arielle toward the basement.

  “Nice playing down there, Jericho!” Josh’s mother yelled from an upstairs bedroom. “You must have some new inspiration with you tonight!”

  “Thanks, Aunt Marlene!” Jericho yelled back. He didn’t answer the second part.

  When they got downstairs, Josh and November were cuddled together on the sofa, obviously no longer angry with each other. Dana sat by the CD player in
one corner, earphones on her head, pointedly ignoring Kofi, who sat in the farthest corner of the basement, playing a video game with unnecessary fierceness.

  “I better get home, Dana,” Arielle said, tapping her on the shoulder. “Can you drop me off at my house?”

  “Yeah, let’s raise up out of here. I’ve had enough of these little boys.”

  “I had a good time,” Arielle said quietly, glancing at Jericho as she said it.

  Kofi never stopped playing the video game, never even acknowledged that anyone else was in the room. Dana continued to ignore him as well.

  After Dana and Arielle left, Jericho called his dad to pick him up, and asked if he could take Kofi and November home too. Then he went back upstairs and played a series of soft, sweet melodies on his trumpet in the living room while the fire died in the fireplace.

  MONDAY, DECEMBER 8

  THE SCHOOL DAY ON MONDAY SEEMED TO drag on forever. Jericho kept checking the time, hoping the loud clicking of the classroom clocks and droning voices of his teachers would move into fast forward. When the last bell finally rang at three o’clock, Jericho grabbed his book bag, hurried to where he knew Arielle’s locker was located, and grinned as she looked at him with pleasant expectation. They walked quickly to the warehouse, which was only a couple of blocks from the school.

  Jericho shivered a bit—partly from the excitement, partly from the weather, and partly because Arielle was walking so close to him. Jericho knocked and the door opened immediately. Michael Madison, one of the Warriors who had come to their table last week, smiled and offered his hand. No one ever called him Michael. He was called simply “Madison” by students and teachers alike, “Mad Madison” behind his back because he always looked angry. But he didn’t look angry now.

 
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