Who knows? A gang thing? Some crazy random guy? A loner? Just one shot. That’s all it was. Hit Dyson right in the temple. He dropped like a sack. With the ball in his hand. Still tight in his grip as he lay on the ground.
When they told his grandmother, who’s raised him since he was a baby, she wailed. She howled and beat the sides of her head with her fists. How? How? She screamed. No, no, she cried. Why … why … a good Christian boy … please Jesus, Mother of God, please no.
It should never have happened. He wasn’t into handball. Basketball was his game. In fact, basketball was pretty much his life. It was only because Tyrone said that Marlene watched the boys play handball that he decided to join in. To show some skills. For he’d a real thing for Marlene, ever since third grade. To seal the deal he’d heard she’d broken with Jackson, what with his brother and the pending meth charge and her old man warning her off. So, maybe he’d be in with a chance. Maybe even lose his virginity before school breaks up for the summer. Now there was something to dream on. Almost as exciting as his basketball scholarship to Missouri that he’d be hearing about on the twenty-fifth of next month.
Sometimes, at night, he’d weigh up what he’d want more. His first real sex before the summer school break? Or the basketball scholarship? Both please, Jesus (and if it could be Marlene for one and Missouri for the other, that’d be just perfect).
Just before the bullet, just before it all came crashing down, Dyson played a great shot, looked up at Marlene and she gave him the look he’d been waiting for, waiting for all his short life.
Kids from his school pinned messages and ribbons, flowers and keepsakes to the fencing of the handball court. The following Saturday a rally took place along Surf Avenue to protest at all the violence in the area and to demand an end to the drug dealing.
No one was ever convicted of Dyson’s murder and no one responded to the call for witnesses. Maybe it was just a random act of violence in a world where violence is so often calculated and targeted. But it’s endlessly strange how life has a habit of turning out. Like Jose Mendes Junior, from Camden, New Jersey, who if events had turned out otherwise would have joined his uncle’s garage business and given up on his dreams. Instead he took up a basketball scholarship to Missouri, officially vacated by a boy who, “due to unforeseen circumstances was unable to enrol”.
The day before he left home, Jose's grandmother, with tears of joy in her eyes, baked a milk cake to celebrate the first Mendes ever to make it to college. Back on Coney Island, Dyson’s grandmother cried herself to sleep, just as she would do every night for the rest of her life.