BellaOnline Literary Review
Death of Salome by Kristina Gehrmann

Non Fiction
The Long Way Home

Parfait Gasana

I remember watching a 1994 anti-drug PSA. It was of an African American boy about 13 who was running through back lots, alleyways, and over fences in his hometown of Oakland, California on his way home from school to avoid the drug dealers on the main streets. We hear his thoughts come in as a voice-over:

“My teacher tells us to just say no. And the other day a policeman came to our class and told us to say no too. But they don’t have to walk home through this neighborhood. Maybe the drug dealers are afraid of the police, but they aren’t afraid of me. And they don’t take ‘no’ for answer.”

Then, an older mentor’s voice enters saying, “To Kevin Scott, and all the other kids who take the long way home, we hear you. Don’t give up.”

Fast-forward the PSA to 2007 and you’ll see me, a different African American young man about age 20, waiting at corner bus stops at night and in the cold for unreliable public transportation in a small college town of Chapel Hill, North Carolina on his way home from campus. However, this time it isn’t to avoid drug dealers but to get home to four, lonely white walls and study hard for career prospects that can reverse his asset-poor status. He has to avoid the thousands of college students hanging out in dorm rooms and apartments, clubbing and partying on weekends, and dining out nightly. His end destination is not just to arrive safely home from the mean streets but to work for a suitable GPA, so he can keep his financial aid package. Heavy backpack strapped over the shoulder, a hooded sweater to cut through the wind, the young man must huddle with others of the city’s derelicts who share his dark-skinned, gendered demographic.

Even though the grim streets of an inner city ghetto are replaced by the empty sidewalks and car-congested lanes of a small college town, the same running and waiting is going on. In both scenarios is the same story: a dispossessed student suffering spatial isolation of city blocks and life’s inconveniences. Though the 13-year old must contend with poverty, crime and delinquency, the 20-year old must contend with subtler woes: paying rent with depleting bank funds, watching two hefty student loans capitalize interest every quarter period, and juggling textbooks with groceries for a mile-and-half walk home. We hear the 20-year olds thoughts come in as a voice-over:

“Friends tell me to get a social life, hang out with them more often, and stop keeping to myself. Roommates think the same thing. But they don’t have to live on bus schedules, expensive taxicab rides, and three mile walks uphill to campus. Maybe my college peers do sleep cozily and warm in their beds but they don’t endure the rainy and cold inconveniences that come with not affording a
car. And they don’t know the loneliness that comes with a high GPA, double major, and being stripped of your pride to always ask for a lift.”

Then, a comforting voice from the skies enters saying, “To Parfait Gasana and all the other youths who take the long way home. We hear you. Don’t give up.”

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