Ball is Round by Nicole De Vera

Ball is Round

Damn cold air woke me up this morning. 

The wind blew so hard, my cardboard mat started flipping over. I only gots a wool blanket that I found abandoned by a dumpster a couple of months ago to keep me warm. One man’s trash, another man’s treasure, am I right? By the Lord’s grace, it came at just the right time. I coulda gotten pneumonia or freeze to death without it. 

I forget the last time I had a working watch, but it ain’t a big deal no more. I could go on with my days without knowing the time. I got used to it. I been without a roof over my head for far too long to notice when the days or nights grew longer, and how the air and the color of the leaves meant the seasons was changing. I lucked out on the thick blanket just before the temperature started to drop. The big guy up there still looking after me after all.

On this breezy morning, I saw this basketball rolling over by the pavement I slept on. Was this a sign? I picked it up and looked around to check if some brother accidentally lost it. But ain’t nobody came looking for it, which meant this ball was all mine. Last time I held a basketball, my Pops was still alive. It been a long time. This ball’s orange already faded, almost brown, but on my first dribble, it still got a good bounce. I dribbled once, twice, thrice. I dribbled between my legs — my muscle memory reminding me that I still got it. This ball got to be the most exciting thing that happened to me in a while.

I stuffed the blanket in my black backpack and left the cardboard on the pavement. Them people throw out a lot of those in the recycling bins anyway. Imma find another one to sleep on later. I straightened my worn out navy blue hoodie, pulled my hood up, slung my backpack on, and carried the ball with my left hand. This new toy got me hella excited to get on with my day, so here I was, dribbling while walking.

For the past few weeks, I spent most of my days walking along 10th, 11th, and 12th streets. At 10th street, there was the retirement homes, medical offices, and a hospital. I always been on the lookout for their discarded beddings. At 11th street, there was a supermarket. Its back lot was my go-to spot to scavenge for tossed out food. Sometimes the amount of food them people threw out was unbelievable, but nobody complaining. I got to benefit from them, free of charge, like my other brothers and sisters with no homes to go to. At 12th street, these fancy ass suburban houses lined the neighborhood. I had no business being there, but I liked the trees on the sidewalks. I run into these rich white people on my walks several times. They always did this small side step to distance themselves from me and they had this crinkle on their faces. Maybe it’s my stench. Maybe it’s the color of my skin. It don’t matter. As long as I initiate no contact, my presence shouldn’t ring no alarm bells. At least, that’s what I told myself.

I walked and dribbled my new ball along 12th street, hoping there were no peoples at the nearby outdoor basketball court on this chilly morning. My hunch was right — nobody out playing ball today. I guess this was my lucky day. I put down my backpack and started taking some shots. Layups and jump shots from all over the court. Man, it felt good to play ball again. Just as I sank a shot from the three-point line, I heard a car pull over and noticed them red and blue flashing lights that always make me sweat.

“Sir, we’ve received complaints of loitering from several residents. We need to ask you to leave,” the police officer said after stepping out of his car. There been another officer with him too.

“What was that, officer?” I asked, as the officers approached me.

“We need to ask you to leave. Now.”

“Why? Ain’t nobody here. Isn’t this public property?”

“The safety of our residents is of utmost importance, sir. We do our part to ensure that they feel safe in this neighborhood.”

“I ain’t doing nothing wrong. You sure you have the right guy?”

“Positive. Multiple reports of a black man in clothing like yours walking along these streets,” the other officer replied.

“But I don’t bother nobody.”

“Sir, please leave the premises now, or we will have to take you in.”

“Okay okay, Imma go. I don’t want no trouble,” I said, as I picked up my backpack and my ball in a hurry.

“Is that basketball yours, sir? You have to leave that on the court if it doesn’t belong to you.”

“This ball is mine,” I said, as I walked past them. Ain’t nobody taking my ball from me.

I looked back and saw that the police officers still had their eyes on me. Clearly, I ain’t gonna stay in this area no more. So, I started walking north. Imma need to find a new spot in a different place once again. Damn luck run out fast like she in a hurry.

I kept walking with my head down, the crowds avoiding me like Moses parting the Red Sea. I held the ball with both my hands and remembered what Pops used to say. “Ball is round, Junior.” 

I been down on life for so long. I looked up and wondered when time would come for the good Lord to pull me back up again.

Nicola de Vera (she / her) is a queer Filipino writer based in Los Angeles. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in New World Writing, A Thin Slice of Anxiety, Exist Otherwise, Corporeal, Writers Resist, and elsewhere. She holds a BA in Communication from Ateneo de Manila University and an MBA from Cornell University.

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