"Ms. Wagner, did they tell you what happened?" Mahmo asked me lowly, while I loaded my school computer and books into the trunk of my car in the parking lot at the Center.
"Yes, Mahmo. The superintendent emailed us. And....I saw it on the news."
"She was stabbed eight times....they said he was bipolar. Ms. Wagner! What is bipolar?" Mahmo screamed/asked, in his distinctive way.
"Issues. Means he has issues." Raaidah answered, authoritatively.
She had been on my mind since Sunday afternoon. The girl that had been murdered in the apartments. The apartments where I work after school, where I tutor. I remember moving to Atlanta in spring of 1982. A child murderer was ravaging the city. I questioned why, why, why my mom would move us to a place where a man was killing children. I didn't know or care that I didn't fit the demographic. Or that we lived a couple of miles outside of the city limits. It scared me.
"There's a vigil tonight," Mariama told me casually.
"A group of us from the Center are going."
I already knew about the vigil, and was flattered to be invited to go with the group of children.
She went to the school where I work. I think I remember her. I could only imagine her fear, her pain and the ridiculously unnecessary death. I pictured Miriama. I pictured Mahmo. Raaidah. I pictured all of them. And I felt like I couldn't speak. I could only imagine how they must feel, a child, murdered in the complex where they live. And the man was at large. The boogyman. I felt their fear. So much that my stomach felt like it was bleeding from the inside out.
I looked up crisis techniques. Don't bring it up, wait until they do, then listen. We went through two hours of tutoring until they circled my car, when I was leaving. I listened.
"I'll be there." I told Mariama, though I had already planned to.
I shot gunned two beers at a bar around the corner. And came back, parked my car at the Center and approached the area of the vigil. I stood, alone. I watched Miss Edith come in with children from the Center and waved her over, feeling like they deserved my preferential location more than I did. Mariama and another child, a child of the apartments, sat on the retaining wall that I leaned against, one on either side. Laddah was next to them, her eyes fixed and unwavering on the speakers. Their physical presence felt like a warm blanket, something cloaking me, though I wished I could do something to comfort them. Some of the worst behavioral problems my school has had in years approached, some of the middle-school aged, alone and without parents. The boys. They took a knee. And they stayed like that for forty minutes, without talking, without doing anything but listening.
We left an hour and a half later. Laddah was cautious, trying to keep her candle lit. Mumar, the wildest boy we have experienced in a while, ran at her, bull in a china shop, and put out her candle. She kicked him in the stomach, barely raising her long sleeves and skirt, not even ruffling the hijab. He raged at her. I put my hand on his stomach to hold him back, re-lit her candle and the candles of the other children, saving Mumar for last.
"Be careful," I asked and he was.
The following evening, I read over my students' "What Home Means to Me" project. I scanned Mowliid's, happy that his handwriting is legible.
"I can stay in a safe place," he wrote,
"where I can't get merdt..."