Queeta’s butt from behind was a threatening avalanche. It rumbled and shook and gave the impression that, at any moment, it could break and lay waste to all the villagers’ homes. Everything about Queeta was fat. She was made of soul food. Eyes magnified to ten times their size beneath Coke bottles. Her fatness was only overshadowed by her filthy mouth. Queeta learned how to swear before any of us. She used the f-word every chance she got. She could tell you to fuck off before you had the chance to insult her. She was psychic that way and could spot an insult brewing from a mile away, across the street, or spat out a car window. Before you could get the words fat or ugly or stank outta your mouth, she would turn on you like a rattlesnake with an acid “fuck you!” aimed straight for your eyes.
LaQuita Jenkins. Black ass girl. Black ass name. After school, she got to the bus before the rest of us and went to the very back and squatted there like a blowfly befouling the air with the stench of poverty. Queeta smelled like an unclean house. She smelled like laundry not done and cigarettes stubbed out midway through or burnt down to the nub between fingers that were passed out cold. She smelled like fried dirty diapers and was the personification of every stereotype that three hundred black middle school children despised. Gluttonous, but poor. Nappy headed and coal black, looking like every Mammy who ever cooned bug-eyed through a slave narrative.
In America, the darker you are, the uglier you are. So, I take every opportunity to point out Queeta’s dark blackness to take the shine off my own midnight complexion.
I board the bus just after she does and look down the aisle to see her sitting there alone, head down.
“Queeeeeeeta tha Creeeeeetchaaaaa!”
I taunt with the rhythmic style so typical of bullies. I hold my arms out wide and curve my hands upward by the wrists, miming like I’m carrying Queeta’s big ass with some difficulty. I’m bent at the knees like her load is breaking my back. I thrust my hips like I’m fucking her.
“Fuck you, Brian Broome! Fuck you right down to the ground!!”
Queeta sounds like such a pickaninny. The laughter from the other kids behind me has percolated to a fever pitch and I turn around to drink in their applause within spitting distance of her now and I turn around to do just that, but while my back was turned she’d stood up.
Towering over me.
My smile fades.
Queeta’s face is contorted in rage and I barely have time to take it in before the chubby fingers of one of her hands are clenched at my throat. Her other hand is granite landing blow after blow against my stomach as she pushes her heft against my body and we fall backward into the aisle. “Fuck you right down to the ground, Brian Broome!!” The fist pummeling my stomach has now changed targets and is landing blow after blow against my temple until all I can see is white hot pain and now her knee has found my testicles—which have done their best to flee up inside my body, too late. She lands a solid blow which sends my entire being into a tailspin. The hand clutched around my throat has found a new trick, and without releasing its grip is pounding the back of my head over and over against the floor of the bus. I am covered in the Queeta spittle flying in all directions. I know there is blood. I know that there is a fat lip growing from where she has split it against my teeth, and all I hear is the sound of my own screaming. My hand has found its way to her face in an attempt to scratch and ended up in her mouth where she bit down on the meat, clear through. Queeta left me crushed. Fetal position crying until the driver and two other big dudes pulled her off me, breathing heavily, eyes wild with tears. She ran.
Queeta the Creature.
The last we saw of her was through the rear bus window, thundering down the sidewalk, arms flailing, crying for rescue from being the hole that black children learned to pour their self-hatred into.
Brian Broome’s debut memoir, Punch Me Up to the Gods, was a New York Times Editors’ Choice and the winner of the 2021 Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction. He is a contributing columnist at the Washington Post. His work has also appeared in Esquire, Hippocampus Magazine, Poets & Writers, Medium, and more. Brian was a K. Leroy Irvis Fellow and an instructor in the Writing Program at the University of Pittsburgh. More at brianbroome.com.