Monday, September 7, 2020
By the time you read this, you’ll be twenty-one and I’ll be dead. And as I see you in the eye of my mind opening the envelope and looking at the metallic blue ribbon on the accompanying gift, I can only imagine what you’re thinking. ‘No one made him pull the trigger.’ That’s why I wanted you to read this as an adult. So reason could temper your emotions and pain would not overshadow your smile.
I once heard an old woman say, ‘Black people love their children with an abnormal fixation that's hard to explain.’ Since she was wearing a MAGA hat, there was a racist, undertone to her words. But everything changed the morning I touched your mother’s belly for the first time. I felt life radiate from within her, travel up my arm and embed itself in my heart. When I looked in her eyes, I saw you—the life I’d never meet. The purpose to which I’d never surrender. The cause of my abnormal fixation.
There’s so much I wish I could have shared with you in life. There are countless things I want to teach you because you will make mistakes. But when you have a slip-up, don't beat yourself up. You will need someone to lean on and while Peaches is strong, she’s your mom. It’s my prayer, in spite of all; you will endure that you will eternally feel my presence.
My son, remember in life, what you look for you will always see. What you see will determine your perspective and eventually your perspective on anything—will become your reality. If only I’d known this three months ago. But as I lay here today, I’m saddened. Sad because I will not be able to walk you to the bus stop on your first day of school. I will never change your stinky diaper or look at you in the mirror while I’m shaving and see the usta-be-me smiling back. It saddens me that you will grow up—as I did, being fatherless. So, to the degree to which I am responsible for this, I apologize.
Now, to the gift.
If you’ve not opened it (and something tells me you have), it’s a porcelain chess piece. I carried it with me every day of my life. The reason I chose the king is because the entire game is centered around him. So carrying it was my reminder of how God saw me. It should have also reminded me of how I should have treated your mom. Like that crowned gameboard piece, I can only strategically move one step at a time—yet God sacrificed it all so I might live. If only I could have taken my relationship with Peaches one step at a time—one day at a time—one emotion at a time. Nevertheless, I invite you to always carry The King (and now I mean God) with you.
When it comes to your mom—I’ll tell you something I’ve yet to tell her. The divorce was my fault. I never took the time to understand her to the core. I once owned a very nice BMW. Three years after I bought it, I noticed a little button on the dash I'd never seen before. It was there. I’d seen it a million times, but never noticed it. There was so many things about your mother I failed to notice even though it was right before my eyes. It took divorce papers and a bullet to see those things clearly.
As I close my son, nothing compares to the idea of holding you in my arms. Nothing can equate in my heart to how it would feel to teach you how to ride a bike, study the Word or shave. You’re the mirror that will project a part of me into the future and even if I am not there to direct that light—I'm at peace as I know it would be the will of God. So for now, I’ll end this letter in hopes that I will be able to write many more. But even if I’m not; just know you’re loved.
Rev. Dr. Lorenzo Hosea Richardson
P.S. Someone once said if you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you it’s yours forever. If not—it never was. Son, somebody lied. If you love something, hold on to it. Be honest with it. Fight for it. Take care and value it; and never give it reason to want to walk away. And lastly, remember with all your heart, it’s the words, between “I do,” and “death do us part,” that kill us.
Tuesday, June 23, 2020
After I preached the last sermon I’ll ever deliver, I sat in my neon green, Honda Accord, with my dad’s Bible in one hand and a Glock 17 in the other, contemplating how to get away with a robbery. Soon, this gun will make me money, send me to prison or kill me. A once perfect life, has now come to this.
When the sun began its tiptoe across the horizon, there was nothing that triggered within me that such a thought would cross my mind. It occurred to me that my immediate family were all gone. Friendships—gone. Wife—gone. Ministry—over. And after I reconciled the repercussions of what I did with this weapon a few days ago, little else mattered.
I delivered the shortest sermon I've ever preached. I’m sure the sixteen people in the storefront church appreciated it. Seventeen, if you counted the pregnant white girl twice. It’s hard to minister on fumes. When you’re worried about the here and now—it’s darn near impossible to expound about the hereafter. I’m full in spirit, but in every single other way, I'm empty.
What does abject hunger feel like?
When you’ve gone a week without a decent meal. When starvation trickles up your spine. When it plays tricks on your mind. You hallucinate. Bones appear in your face, in places you’ve never seen before. Instinct compels you to lick your lips for comfort from time-to-time, and before your tongue can settle in your mouth, your lips are dry and need to be re-licked. Then the cramps kick in. That's abject hunger.
You try to go to sleep. Because if you can just go to sleep, maybe you can find rest. You can find peace. You can awaken and things will be different. But you can’t.
After the church service, I did something my dad would’ve called a moral turpitude. I bought a four pack of wine coolers. I did so to escape—if only for the moment. All I know is this: When you’ve worked this hard to build a church, to be recognized for your endeavors nationally, it’s not supposed to end this way. I wasn’t supposed to be destitute at this point in my life. I wasn’t supposed to lose my congregation the way I lost them—and I wasn’t supposed to be contemplating the unthinkable in this hour.
The wind acts as an accelerant, which causes the clouds to roll. The taste of the earth floats on the air, and before I know it, soft sprinkles dot my skin. There’s a zing that teases my nostrils in the darkness of night, in a city bustling with activity—far from ready to fall asleep. An Über crammed with co-eds stops. They spill out. They’re laughing, half lit; enjoying the first vestiges of a new day.
From a window on the fifth floor, a man screeches a profanity at the top of his lungs to a group of young men sitting in their car blasting music.
“Turn that shit down! People gotta go to work.”
He’s ignored—and even if they heard him, they know he’d never come down. People never come down in neighborhoods like this. They scream, pout, and go back to bed.
If one painted a picture and dubbed it, Monday Night in Atlanta, this is what would be captured in the frame. From my viewpoint I see the best and worst of Black America. Morehouse men talking to dope boys. Pinstriped professionals stepping over vomit. Everything one could both love and loath is confined within three city blocks in a city that will let you call her ugly because she’s far too confident to care. If you closed your eyes in this part of town, you would feel so close to heaven you could hear the key of David being played, so close to hell you smell souls frying.
This is where I find myself tonight.
On one side of MLK, there’s a mural of Trayvon, George, Breonna and Ahmaud. The artist has added Rayshard’s smiling face, along with three additional blank spaces and the caption, “U Next?” beneath them. On the other side, twinkles of moonlight shine on crushed takeout cups, Colt 45 cans, and discarded Swisher Sweets wrappers. There’s a homeless man or woman sleeping at the bus stop, and the scent of vomit swings haltingly low to the ground.
I decide if I am going to do this—I need to game it out. In the age of corona everyone’s face is half-covered, so there’s no need for a ski mask. Check.
I have a Walmart bag for whatever is in the register or stashed behind the counter. Check.
Once I’m out the door, I’ll jump in the car. Then it occurs to me. My car is disabled as well. Plan B—dip into the night and deal with it later. Check.
I’m told that in neighborhoods like this, for insurance purposes, they can’t chase you. If you have a gun and get out the door, they have to let you run.
God, I pray that’s true.
I massage the back of my neck, bite the inside of my lip, reach between the center console of the car, and retrieve a keepsake from my youth. A king’s man from my first national chess tournament. I was ranked in the top two hundred chess players under thirteen. I hold it to reconnect. It takes me back to the southside. But on nights like tonight, I need it to calm my nerves. There’s something about the ridges of the crown and the smooth black finish of the base that centers me and forces me to think strategically. It binds the intellectual, spiritual, and emotional man within. Never have I needed this more.
My throat is bone dry in spite my beverage of choice. I glance at my watch, put the Bible in the back seat, and cover it with my hand.
“Father forgive me,” I murmur, “for what I’m about to do.”
I gaze across the street. My heartbeat settles. My breathing returns to normal. The king has done its job. I return the chessman to the console. Through clenched teeth I murmur, “It’s time.”
Across the street is the world-famous Busy Bee Café. Next to it, there’s a liquor store, followed by a pawn shop, liquor store, nail salon, comedy club, liquor store and strip club. All except for the Busy Bee are open for business. I know if I pull a gun out in a pawn shop, booty club, or liquor store, light will shine through my body before I hit the ground. That leaves two options: rob the comedy club or rob a nail salon.
I exit the car. In the same sweaty and unstable hand, I hold the Glock. To balance myself, I lean against my wet-from-the-rain Accord for support. It’s slippery, but it allows me to gain my composure and stop my spinning world. I’m a tad nauseous. Since I haven’t eaten, I dry heave. My body isn’t used to alcohol, even under normal conditions. Nevertheless, I wipe my mouth with my wrist and stick the gun in the pit of my back under my belt as if I were on a cop show. Maybe it’s my situation. Maybe it’s the alcohol, but I don’t have a clue as to where I’m going, even if I can get my feet on one accord.
I stagger across the street and see this athletic-looking woman, no more than thirty years old. I blink a couple of times to refocus. She has a high sense of style, making her stand out in the neighborhood this time of night. As she speaks, she moves her hands rapidly and snaps her fingertips from time to time to emphasize a point. Her shoulder-length hair is in what the kids call dookie braids, and she’s dressed in a white pantsuit with a white double-breasted vest and a leopard-patterned ascot and face mask.
The woman turns the street into a runway in Milan as she moves like a model in white stilettos. I watch her walk up to a black Audi, pull down the mask, and if my eyes aren’t deceiving me, they make an exchange. Newsflash: All drugstores haven’t been closed by COVID. She runs to the safety of her pearl-white Escalade, forearm over her head, to avoid getting too wet. Even though the vehicle is common in this part of Atlanta—there’s something eerily familiar about it as she gets behind the wheel and swiftly closes the door.
The comedy club, Laff-a-LotZ, is free. There’s a line to enter with a group, all wearing red Trap Music museum t-shirts and talking loudly about their visit to “The A.T.L..” If I rob the comedy club, I’ll keep it short and to the point. I’ll just tell him or her, “You know what time it is!” Then I’ll place the gun on the bar. Miss Glock can finish the conversation.
I join the line to enter. For as far as I can see down the street, trees line the road on both sides. For the most part, they’ve grown strong and healthy in the middle of this concrete jungle. I lean against one in front of the club to take shelter from the drizzling rain.
Once inside the small rectangular club, I notice the deep purple–colored walls are checkerboard with mirrors. People are talking loudly, most mouths covered with masks, trying to be heard over the thumping sound of the Mississippi Slide blasting from the speakers, which makes the walls throb. The dance floor is filled with the vibrant energy of line dancers moving as one as if they have practiced the synchronized moves before the club opened. A few people, for some reason, wear their protective masks under their noses, which makes no sense to me. I reach into my pocket and put on my KN-95 with the sound of bottles clicking and laughter all about, even before the comedian comes to the small octagonal stage off the dance floor.
It’s been months since I've been amongst this many people. Tonight, folks laugh a little louder and dance a little harder since it’s the first week A.T.L’ians have been allowed to mingle after the mandatory lock down. On top of that it seems folks are tired of the daily Trump foolishness, fake Evangelicals calling sins wins, Sou-sou money clubs, police killing black men, gaining weight, R. Kelly, COVID killing everyone, gaining weight, Karen’s going wild, Kevin’s protecting Karen’s, home schooling, missing family, sweat pants, seeing too much of family, zoom calls, looking for toilet paper, gaining even more weight and then going to sleep; and like Ground Hog Day II, having it happen the very next day.
I’m cold and damp from the rain, so I embrace myself, moving my hands up and down my biceps for warmth. I scope out the joint. That’s what they do on TV. If I make this lick and get to the door, I’ll be able to survive until I can sell another house. This has to work out.
In the murky, dimly lit back of the room, in front of a faded poster of Killer Mike, a woman is selling neon red, battery-powered roses. She moves from person to person and is rejected repeatedly. I watch her unmasked face mouth a few words, receive the rejection, and move doggedly to the next person, unfazed.
The bartender puts a stack of bills as thick as a woman’s fist in a bag. He has my attention. He tucks it in a spot behind the bar. That’s the stash house. Yeah, I used to watch The Wire.
When I move, I notice my reflection in the mirror and it’s jarring. One thing I miss about having a home is brushing my teeth in the morning. Odd, right? It’s not only about hygiene. I miss seeing my face. When your car has become your residence, there are times you forget how you look. Now my face is gaunt, and my clothes don’t fit. My eye is a little swollen, but not as bad as I thought it would look. Could have been a lot worse.
When we started the church, which my ex named Compassion Central, my light brown skin—the residue of my deceased Italian father—was smooth. Now it resembles a catcher’s mitt, and my dark brown curly COVID fro, is salt and pepper, in the spots where I’m not going bald. The soaking wet brown tweed, six-hundred-dollar Hugo Boss sport coat I’m wearing, brings to mind something homeless people would roll up to use as a pillow.
No wonder Bishop said he was praying for me after giving me a five dollar, “love token,” from the offering.
I look a decade older than my actual age. Screw forty-two, I look fifty-two, I whisper to myself with a wistful smile. My hazel eyes, which at one time would evoke the question from strangers like, “Are they real?” Are empty, sullen, and emit darkness. People used to ask me if I had work done on my teeth. I always replied, “I’m blessed.” Now the blessings are dingy and yellow, and when I scratch my beard, flakes of dandruff eject like an eight-track. If a person in this club knew me from when the church was open, they’d walk past without saying a word. That wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen tonight.
I find a stool at the bar, closer to my target—the stash house. A guy one seat over motions to the bartender with two fingers and a jerk of his head upward just like in the movies. Within a few minutes, the bartender, brings out two shimmering drinks. The woman selling neon roses is drawing closer. I haven’t noticed her make a sale, but she’s persistent.
The guy who ordered the drinks wears a red doo rag under a spearmint green derby and has a crooked smile that exposes teeth on only one side of his mouth. From time to time, he whispers into the ear of the woman perched between his legs then leans back to peep her expression. She appears to admire every word he’s speaking.
The woman with the roses comes up to him. I can hear her pitch. “Excuse me, kind sir. Rose for the lady?”
He flicks her away with the back of his tattooed hand. And then the woman positioned between his legs removes her mask to sip the drink when he suddenly shouts, “What the fuck!” He pushes her away in disgust as if he has seen her unmasked face for the first time.
“What?” she asks. The bartender drops another thick, rubber-banded stack of bills in the burgundy bank bag. He’s getting sloppy.
The patrons banter back and forth, and my mind is on one thing. Like a heavy-handed timpani player, my heart pounds in my chest as I bounce my fist against my knee. The fact that I’m here, in this situation and facing such a dilemma is abhorrent. Can’t dwell on that now. I'm down to my last—and I’ll do what I have to do.
Slowly I stand.
The bartender walks behind the shelf of drinks into a storage room behind him. I played basketball in high school. I could easily jump across the bar, grab the bag, and run out. There’s no way they’d fire a gun in a club this crowded. No flipping way.
I grasp the edge of the bar. I steady myself. And then the voice speaks to me again.
“Just because you don’t understand, this is what we’re going to do?”
I look back toward the door. The one bouncer is on the other side of the room and although crowded there is a path to get out of here.
I bend my knees.
The bartender walks around the corner. I remove my hand from the edge of the black lacquer bar, return to my stool, and blow my cheeks full of air as the couple beside me get into a heated discussion about who’s paying for the drink.”
What in the heck was I thinking? I exhale slow. I couldn’t even rob a lemonade stand. I remove myself from the drama and the temptation of the bar and relocate to the back of the club where it’s hot, dark, dank and Pine Sol’y, as if someone just sanitized the area. I locate the last vacant table in the room. The lady with the rose’s heads in my direction, and stops at my table. “Excuse me, sir?” I’m not buying anything I don’t want or need if I’m not eating in order to save money and at the same time—I don’t want to disrespect her. “Can I interest you in a rose to give to one of the beautiful ladies in here tonight?”
The music is banging, so I pretend I can’t understand her. I squint my eyes and lean my ear in her direction until I can think of a polite way to exit the conversation. She repeats. “Can I… interest you… in a rose to—”
I don’t let her finish. Since I'm wearing the KN-95, I tap my hand over my heart to non-verbally communicate to her, “I’m good.”
Her coffee-brown face is domestic abuse swollen. Having done more than my share of marriage counseling, I know the look. A silent prayer for her and whomever hit her goes up because I've never met a man who hit a woman, who didn’t hate himself.
And then my sin returns to me.
She says, “Thank you,” looks around, as if she’s seeking bodies she has not already approached in the club. Then she zips up her dirty Falcons jacket and heads toward the door.
I’m anchored with the guilt of not doing something but I've often been accused of having a savior’s complex. I try to restrain myself but cannot as the brash Irish comedian, wearing unlaced purple Air Jordan’s, jogs onto the stage and grabs the microphone stand as if he needs it to slow down. I glance at the rose salesman walking away. I didn’t ask her the price? I get up, swim through the crowd, and catch the woman before she gets to the exit. All around me people applaud the comedian’s entrance.
She turns and smiles. Though unattractive by most measures, there’s a light in her eyes. “Five.”
“Five-dollar footlong,” she says with heavy sarcasm.
Unlike before, this time her rancid breath breaches my KN 95. There’s an extended pause as I regather myself. She smiles. I hear my grandfather’s voice saying: giving is the most selfish thing you can ever do. So be as selfish as you can, and you’ll never be alone. I know I have a few dollars in the bank. I reach into my pocket and retrieve the crumpled five-dollar bill from the offering and tell her she can keep the rose.
When I return to my table, I plop down, and I listen as the only white face in the club goes to work.
“I’m tellin’ you. I joehst dahn’t get people. I dahn’t,” the FUBU–jacketed Irishman bellows as he runs his stubby fingers through his unruly clump of red hair. “But if I owned dis place, right. Let’s say I owned dis cloeb.”
“You won’t own this cloeb motherfucker!”
The side-splitting eruption of laughter indicates the comment came from the owner.
As the comedian and the man who appears to be the owner banter back and forth, much to the pleasure of the crowd, I watch things unfold behind the bar. A burly Puerto Rican Brinks security guard walks in from the back of the club and positions himself in front of the shelf of alcoholic beverages. He puts the deposit into a black bag as he makes small talk with the man in the green derby. The bartender had apparently left the bar unattended to open the rear entrance of the establishment for the security guard. Had I leapt across the bar; I would have surely been shot on the spot. Thank God.
In the small room, the laughter swells, as the comedian shows no fear, and I take note of those gathered. Most of the attendees are Gen Z, the people who I would’ve given my left arm to attract on Sunday morning. Sadly, it’s possible they feel they’ll get more truth here then they get in church. Who knows? I take another swig from the peach wine cooler. Swig. That’s something my mom would have said.
My dad was a life-long Chicagoan. My mother immigrated from Gonaïves, Haiti a few years before my birth. They met when he and a group of young, idealistic, on fire for God evangelist did mission work in the impoverished country..
An aunt told me, many years after my father’s death, that my dad had a night of indiscretion and as they say, ‘it only takes once.’ She was not a Christian. In fact, she practiced Voodoo before accepting Christ in her life. Rumor had it that she may have gotten a lock of my dad’s hair. I don't know. They married before I was born, and she immigrated to the U.S. before giving birth to me.
In seminary, I did my dissertation on Hosea, my saints name, because I wanted to understand his precarious dilemma. Why would a loving God make a minister marry a prostitute? Even after defending my thesis, the answer evaded me. Yes; I understood intellectually. I never wrapped my arms around it in practice. The question left me perplexed, until the question became my reality.
The comedian shouts, “Dahn’t even get me started on Orange Slice, I mean Orange Satan.” He pauses and then says, “Okay, I’m talking about Trump you guys!” Laughter erupts.
“Yo, pimp?” a baritone voice booms from above and behind me.
“Can’t bring outside beverages inside, bro.”
I’m a lean guy, less than average in height, so the bouncer, dressed head to toe in black, towers over me by a foot. Plus there’s a mist of spit spritzing from his lips because his mask is pulled under his chin. I decide not to argue. “My bad.”
“Can I get a spiked Arnold Palmer? But I don’t want it that spiked.”
The bouncer looks at me as if my drink order is an embarrassment to men everywhere. His lips form a grim line. “Cool. I’m gonna need that ten up front, Money.”
“You collect…y’all collect money for drinks before…”
The beet-faced comedian hit with another bomb, and the place explodes with laughter which drown me out. “Am I right, ahr am I right?”
A loud noise at the entrance gets the bouncers attention. His head bobbles back and forth between me and the crunk crowd creating a commotion. I haven’t been to many bars. It was never my thing, although I’ve watched enough TV to know paying upfront isn’t normal. “We don’t want you nigcas running out.” He squints at the guys in the doorway talking to the lady with the roses as he speaks to me. “Ten bucks, old-timer, ’fo the come-up.”
Old-timer? And just like that, I’m now seventy-two.
I can walk out or deal with my current financial situation and buy the drink. “That’s fine.” I can’t afford it, but for this one night… what the heck?
I reach for my wallet in my sport coat pocket. Hugo has decided to take the fifth. I feel the front of my pants. They too are holding their peace.
I can tell the wallet isn’t in my back pocket, and that’s when my heart stops. I clench and unclench my jaw. “Listen.” The laughter is louder than ever, so I shout. “I’m going to need…to get…my money…out the car.”
“Yeah, right. The money always in the car. You old, broke-dick nigcas kill me with that shit. Get da fuck outta here.”
I’m too nervous to be offended. Everything is in my wallet. My license. The code to my storage unit. The only physical picture of my dad and grandfather that I own, and my ATM card, with its access to the $212.84 in my account. Everything.
As I get to the door, I hear the comedian say, “Ears one. What’s de defference between a man arguing with his wife and a man with a lahttery ticket?” I leave before he can deliver the predictable punchline.
I rip off the KN 95, run and re-pat my jeans as I cross MLK, avoiding a woman on a bike. I run my hand inside my coat pocket again. Still silent. I get to my Accord, snatch the door open, and see it.
Shards of glass scattered about. Glove compartment snatched open. Receipts for car repairs, strewn everywhere. Center console broken off. Wallet gone. There’s a brick, on the passenger side seat.
They got me.
I’m dizzy and need to sit before I fall. But I’m not going to sit in the car. I can’t just yet. I stumble toward the bus stop, l’m half-drunk—half in shock. It’s raining, but everywhere I look, I see those dandelions floating by. And like clockwork the associated thoughts that always come with them pass through my mind as well.
They got me. They freaking got me. This is too much, God.
I reach under my shirt, into the pit of my back, and retrieve the Glock.
I put her barrel in my mouth. My teeth clench down on the cold steel. So many other pastors have done this, and I looked down on them in my heart. I considered them weak. Soft. Not strong enough to represent the kingdom of God. What I saw dimly, I now stand and see it face-to-face.
My lips encircle the squared black shaft. I slide my tongue around it and ponder if I pull the trigger quick. Will it end the hurt? If I pull it, will I open my eyes on the other side? If I could only gather the guts to pull the trigger, will God tell me why I was wrong to call the suicide solution a sin? I’m a thirty-second of an inch from an answer. Just that close to finding out for myself.
The Glock is empty. I leave the bus stop to return to my car with the bitter taste of pain on my lips. I bet they thought the car belonged to a slinger. The car that I bought just to fit into the community and catch more fish, has come back to haunt me. I glance at the broken passenger side window, reach in to the center console and retrieve three bullets and the Glock magazine.
I return to the metal bus seat and rest my back against a Channing Tatum poster. Ironically, the last movie I watched with Elizabeth was Magic Mike starring who else? I remove the magazine of the Glock and insert the bullets.
The sound is sudden and precise.
Click. It’s measured, clack and exact. And I know whatever I’m going to do—if it involves this gun, click-clack, there will be no tomorrow.
I don’t know what I’ll do about the broken window. I don’t know what I’ll do for money until I get my license. I don't know how I’ll get to the bank to get my bank card to make it to another day. I don’t even know how I can get to the DMV.
Out of other viable choices I decide that I could call a member, Minister Abiodun. He’s always come through for me in the past with words of wisdom, and despite all that has happened, he has remained constant. He called me two days ago, and I haven’t listened to the message. In my present state, it’d hurt to hear the voice of any of our members, but especially one as devoted as him.
I return to the crime scene, open the driver’s side door, and brush the broken glass onto the floorboard. My clothes are separated into two piles on the backseat—one pile dirty, the other funk-filthy. Both piles are wet and the humidity in the car causes an unpleasant smell to rise. I sit on the slippery seat and try with everything within me to block it all out. To mentally take myself to another place, but I’m unable to.
I decide to call Abiodun. I know I have to take this step despite my pride. The rain eases up as I scroll through my contacts to find his name. With the lump dissipating in my throat, I lower my thumb onto the green circular button and place the call.
It rings once. I hear a sing-song, stomach-churning, game show host voice saying, “Calls are recorded for quality assurance. Your wireless service has been temporarily suspended. To restore your service, please dial 611.”
I don’t hang up. I can’t hang up. I listen to the recording again. “Calls are recorded for quality assurance. Your wireless service has been temporarily suspended. To restore your service, please dial 611.”
I’m screwed. How can I get my license? I listen to the recording yet again. “Calls are recorded for quality assurance.”
I had no idea where the closest Citizens Trust would be. I disconnect the call and stare across the street at the comedy club. The air lodges itself in my torso. Laff-a-LotZ, I’m left with no other choice.
“I know you,” a female voice calls out. I don’t recognize it, so I refuse to turn toward her. The rain peters out, and I get out of the car. “Yo, yo!” The voice is close behind me. “I know you.”
It’s the lace-masked, vaguely familiar, drug dealing lady, who was driving the Escalade. Just what I need. She walks nearer, then stops. Her smile shows in her eyes. She continues, “You that dude. Pastor Richardson. You and your l’il pretty wife used to be on that billboard by the old Braves Stadium. Right? Y’all had a church… wait a minute. I'm being all rude and stuff. I'm Mo’Nique. Y’all had a church in that warehouse joint in the West End. Right?”
Embarrassed for her to see me in my present state, I give her a wry smile as she opens her purse. “Dig, I still got the calendar y’all was handed out in the parking lot when you opened.” She shows me the two-year-old plastic pocket token, with me and my ex on it smiling. “Peep this, I heard you y’all was …”
“Listen, sweetie, I don’t know you and...”
“I know you don’t. Y’all was handing these out in the parking lot when y’all opened. I came out the sneaker store. I’m a sneakerhead and had bought the new Kawhi joints… anyway, it was on a Saturday?” She pauses and searches my face for acknowledgment. I remain stoic. “Remember? My boo even saw you up in The Beautiful one day? Go by the name B-Short?” The moment she said that I knew where I’d previously seen her. “Told me to come in and holler. I was tired, yo. But yeah, I remember you very well. Very well. We watched you on IG Live a few days before he saw you up in the spot. I was getting ready to come to the church, but by the time I was ready, you guys bounced.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“It’s all good. “She walks closer and removes her mask revealing a gold tooth smile. Her eyes narrow, and she glances from side to side as if she’s going to tell me a secret. She bites her bottom lip in thought and then asks, “So, what happened to y’all’s church? I mean, on the real. I heard you y’all were in some Russian Mafia money laundering—”
“Oh.” Her eyebrows arch like the McDonald’s logo. “So, what’s really-real?”
“It’s nothing. People talk but that’s all it is. Just talk. The things people are saying aren’t true.”
“Word. Not even about the video? I heard your wife—”
“Listen,” I shout, “I don’t want to talk about it. Damn, can’t you just leave me the hell alone?”
Her demeanor goes from spring to winter on a razors edge. Her breathing stops. She looks at me like a sad theatrical mask. “You don’t want to what? To talk about it? Word? Leave you the hell alone? Y’all took all these people money,” she points indiscriminately “by selling them hope and shit, and you don’t want to talk about it? Leave you the hell alone? Ain’t that ’bout nothing.”
My body feels warm. My throat is sore. I try to apologize. As the rain returns with force, she continues without flinching. “My aunt and them came to your raggedy-assed church. They tried to get me to come after my man got his fucking cap pealed two streets over,” she points. “I told her I wasn’t on that. And now you don’t want to talk? The pastor,” she says with dark laugher in her voice, “saying leave me the hell alone? Word?”
“Listen, I’m sorry I yelled. I—”
“Fuck you, man! You out here doing God knows what on the sneak tip. Look like you been in a fight, posed’ to be a freaking pastor. What you did at CNN? Yo. Trying to kill dude? Yeah, you on blast, B. They tell me five-O looking fo’ your ass! Yes, I know you, my brother. This rat here, is why I don’t fuck with church. I’m fine with me just as I am. Why? Because,” she says, fingers spread over her heart, “people in these streets know me. I earned mine. That’s better than you skezzy ass motherfuckers. Fuck you and everything that resembles your monkey ass.”
She steps back two paces as her pupils swell with anger. “Ya fake mother…” And then this woman takes a long, snort that seems to summon mucus from her lower hips to the top of her throat before she pulls down her mask. And all I hear is the loud ptuh.
She spits on the ground, inches away from my foot.
It’s thick enough to jiggle.
She takes the calendar she’s holding and flicks it to the sidewalk, before running away in the rain.
A voice inside says, “DO HER! DO HER!”
“God, forgive me. I know I’m a sinner. I know I have transgressed your ways. Take me back.”
I reach into the pit of my back and pull out my friend. I hot potato the Glock back and forth as the woman gets into her Escalade. Back and forth, from hand to hand. I then put the gun to the center of my head, right between the eyes.
“I gave Elizabeth everything. I gave Compassion everything. My soul. My heart. And this? This is what it’s come to?”
The words spill out between spasmodic waves of pain and electric jolts of unadulterated rage. I squeeze my eyes as tight as I can. In the expanse of post-midnight Atlanta, the staccato drum beat of a street preachers voice echo’s in the distance. He’s preaching in the rain. The same dedication I once had. His words bounce off walls emanating from a bullhorn. “God’s got a plan for you…you…you…you.”
I smile and tap the Glock to my head like a man tapping his finger on a desk in court. “That’s the sign I get tonight? After all this, that’s my burning bush? Well, here I am God. Unable to call a soul but you. Here I am God! Vision dead. Cousin dead. Mom dead. Dad dead. Marriage over. Church dead. Here I am God! I'm all alone God. Just me. That’s all.”
“You don’t believe me?” I raise and straighten my arm slow. I point the Glock at a man across the street. The site of the gun squares up with the side of his head. It’s time. “If I go tonight, I'm not going alone.”
“Is this how it’s going to be?” Exhausted, I lower the gun immediately and tap it on my thigh. “All I wanted to do was to serve You and leave a legacy. To finish what my father started. Didn’t want the credit. Just to build something for You that said we were here. Now this?”
My hand shakes. The gun drops to the ground but doesn’t discharge. Torrential rains, pound the pavement. A bolt of fire cracks the northern skies. The young couple across the street scamper to get inside their vehicle. My drug dealing, blaspheming frenemy sits inside her SUV with her back to me. I refuse to run for cover from the rain.
“Okay, that’s how it’s going to be?” I retrieve the gun and squeeze the grip. “I’ll do it! I’ll do it on her frigging birthday too!” I slam the barrel to my temple and cut myself from the force. “I swear I’ll do it!”
Across the street, a man shouts, “Yo, that nigca got a gun!”
I slide the barrel under my chin. I taught people that this was a sin.
I place my thumb over the trigger. I preached this was unforgivable by God.
I clinch my teeth. I have nothing. Nothing to live for. This the only way of escape.
My eyes become two fists as I scream, “Fuck you, Atlanta!”
Everything fades to black.