for Freddie Carlos Kweku “Pepper” Gray
Wukuada 1989–Kwasiada 2015
Raheem tells the story best,
of how Freddie got his nickname.
It was after football practice
in the Pop Warner
peewee league. Freddie was the same
even back then, small as hell, quick too.
with his tongue.
During the last play of the scrimmage,
Freddie broke a 30-yard run, wiggled
through 3 tackles, and used
his signature spin-move
to sneak into the end-zone
for the score. He couldn’t stop
jawing at all the players he’d juked.
Especially, Chaz who froze
when Freddie put the spin on him.
Yo, Chaz, your uniform lookin’ extra wrinkled today.
When you get home be sure to ask yo mama
to put it through the spin-cycle. “Pepper.”
Cortez tells the story best of how Freddie
kept his nickname, “Pepper.” The dogdays of 2014
had hit West Baltimore hard, fleecing
the air with gummy gusts
from the Chesapeake. You could feel the brackish
mist tattooing your skin. Freddie had just
finished working on his van, nursing
the engine fan and coolant fluids.
He then heard the pied soundtrack of Mister Softee
‘round the corner, off of Lorraine and Greenmount.
Just like that, kids gushed from Gilmor porches
gunning to best their friends in line.
Freddie had had a good week. His van repairs, minimal. He
politely waded through the brimming line. Smiling at the
incredulous looks from kids ready to condemn his breach of
He smiled. Pulling a slim wad from his left pant-pocket. He
looked back to the eager patrons behind him and winked. He
whispered to the kid closest to him, what’s your favorite flavor?
Satisfied with the response of Banana Twist,
he countered, Aight, I’ll grab it for ya, first tell me a joke.
Then the next kid, and the next, and just like that
he purchased ice cream
for the whole block: “Pepper.”
From Saltwater Demands a Psalm by Kweku Abimbola. Copyright © 2023 by Kweku Abimbola. Reprinted by permission of Graywolf Press.