Empire State Building, New York, New York
“This just utterly sucks Charles.”
They shared a roak of Grenadian Schmiee. We were on the Observation Deck, 86th Floor of the Empire State Building.
“What’s that, man.”
“Listen, our era sucks. What do we have? We don’t have a war. We don’t have industry. Look at this post industrial disaster. If I was you, I’d go back to St. Kitts, go to college and become Prime Minister or something. All we have is Son of Sam, Punk Rock, unemployment, graffiti, drugs, rampant crime… it sounds cool to outsiders, but it sucks to be a New Yorker.”
“You right man. That was a good Spliff of Roak Ganja my friend. I will be go back to St. Kitts and I ain’t neve’, neve’, comin’ back here man. I got a premonition that you need to get out of The City too or you gonna die here man. I seen it in a dream.”
Charles flicked the rrrroach off the building into the stark melange of spotlights and darkness. Buddy could feel the 1,000 foot gap in space.
“I know I have to get out of here. I’m worried. Circumstances are taking control of events. I have this theory that I gleaned from Peters. He believes that once you lose control of little things in your mind, it drifts into everything you do and then like Achebe said: ‘things fall apart'”.
Said Buddy, peering out into the gloaming. The City was beautiful with the fog drifting in and out. He thought about the old days of Puttin’ on the Ritz, Broadway, the Harlem Renaissance. But now, it was just crime and decay. He looked up north towards his job. He thought about the girl again. It was peaceful up there. But it was just a moment.
Far down below, a little blonde lady in her mid-50’s with a backpack got off a Bluehound Bus. She headed for the hostel.
San Francisco, December 24th, 2018
“Welcome to the 1st Church of the Living Christ. He is risen! He is alive! I am the reverend Josiah Walker! I have good news! Good news! Christ is Risen!”
”Dig this place old dude, I never thought I was hip to God, but this Walker dude, he’s got me turning to Jesus. Even Mona’s digging on J.C.”
”It is written in the Bible that God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son such that whosoever would believeth in Him, though he be a sinner should never perish but have Life everlasting.”
”Amen, right on!”
Mona had her hands in the air. The hippie and his girls stood up Monroe stood up. A strange tall blonde man in the pew in front of them stood up.
”I am from Purlington, Mississippi. My daddy was a sharecropper. My grandfather was born a slave. I hated the white man. Hated the white man and everything he stood for. I wanted to be a preacher, but I did not know the Gospel. You cannot love Christ and not love the teaching of Christ. The teaching of Christ! And when I truly accepted the teaching of Christ I forgave all trespasses. I loved my enemies. Every man of every color became my brother. What does the Gospel mean in one word? One word! Help me people.”
”Love.” Said Mona quietly.
”Love!” She said more loudly.
”Love!” She screamed. And all her pain was gone.
”Let me speak!” She yelled.
”Testify! Get up here and testify! Be free!”
Mona walked up. The strange man followed. Monroe and the hippie and his girl followed. They climbed the stage.
”My soul has been in prison! You see me, some blonde old hippie chick with a British accent.”
She held up her arm. There was a number tattooed on it.
”I am not Jewish. I am British and Christian. My Island was occupied by the Nazis and I spent five years in a Concentration Camp. I was beaten, starved and I became sterile from an untreated infection. I bore the worst kind of hatred in my heart, until just a minute ago. Christ commands us to do only one thing. To love. To love thy brother and to love thy enemies.”
”Tell it, sister! Tell the people! Give the Word! I can feel it!”
”A man has been following me for months. He was a Nazi Guard at Bergen-Belsen when I was there. He talks to me in the Park and he tells me that he has become a Christian. He asks my forgiveness. I refuse every time. But is this the teaching of Christ? Love thy enemy? If Christ lives, I must forgive. If Christ live I must forgive.”
”Everyone in the stage kneel! Are you ready? Are you ready!”
They all knelt, closed their eyes and felt the spirit: the hippie, his girl, the soldier, the Nazi and Mona.
”Repeat after me!
I am a sinner
I have sinned
I know that God sent his only son, Jesus Christ to die on the Cross for my sins
I know that Jesus rose from the dead and he is alive
I accept Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior
I know that Jesus Christ shall wash away my sins
I know that Jesus will carry my burdens
I know that Jesus had set me free
My sinner has died and I am born again in Christ
Christ is love!
And Mona forgave the Guard in front of the flock. And he wept.
The two New Yorkers, Monroe and the hippie joined hands and were saved together.
And the Guard went directly from the church to go on a mission of spreading the Gospel by serving the poor.
And they were all set free.
And at that moment Mona became a preacher of the Gospel.
Monroe died in Hue City about ten weeks later and Buddy was set adrift into the world.
Flatlands Avenue, Brooklyn, East New York
The far Southeast end of Brooklyn might as well be the end of the earth. East New York was an apocalyptic vision. Failed housing projects in the throes of demolition on one side swamp and eerie smoky landfill on the other and the harshest neighborhood in the city on the other side.
Most weekdays were the same. Buddy would walk down Flatlands Avenue past the former projects, dodge the roving gangs, avoid the crazed addicts and spaced-out hookers. It was awful and exhilarating at the same time. Every day was an adventure.
In the evening, three days a week he would take the train after school to Manhattan for his after-school job. The other two days he would take the train to Brighton Beach to work out in a friend’s garage.
On weekends he would either go to the Bronx to hang out with his rich friends on Netherlands Avenue in Riverdale or maybe walk the Atlantic beaches, especially in the rain when the storms would roll in off the Atlantic. Riverdale felt comfortable to Buddy. He sensed that he really belonged there. He would often make a pilgrimage to his father’s grave. All his ancestors were there. It was calming to be amongst them. He felt a need to re-establish their legacy… somehow, some day. Maybe never.
Buddy would walk the youngest of Pete’s girls, Keisha, to the bus stop first. He was protective of her since he lost his girlfriend to a devastating pedestrian accident. He held Keisha’s hand very tight when they crossed the street. Keisha would always complain, but never let go.
Today was Friday, so it was workout day after school. The air from the ocean blew a relentless cold breeze. He could smell the ocean today instead of the stink of a thousand apartment incinerators. He wondered what the City was like in its heyday.
School was insane. 6,500 students. If you had a best friend you would see him in the halls maybe one day a week.
People at school were hostile or indifferent. Same with the burned-out teachers. Some of them reached out to Buddy. He seemed like a kindred spirit. It was unstated, yet mutually understood that he was one of them. Out of place.
Pete and Buddy has gone running that morning as they did twice a week. The streets were the same as always.
Pete: “How’s it all going Buddy?”
Buddy: “Same as always I suppose.”
Pete: “What about that girl? You know what I’m saying?”
Buddy: “It’s all the same. My boss and I have her a ride home. I got her number, but it just rings. They have no answering machine.”
Pete: “Hard to tell. Could be no one picks that phone up but her, you know what I’m saying? There no reason for her to jive you out. Unless she was just tricking on you to get a ride. Girls are tricky man, they have to use their wiles to navigate a world of menfolk. If you don’t measure up you get suckered in and you get played like a big dummy. Leave you looking stupid. I hope that’s not it.”
Buddy: “I’m not big in hopeless gestures. It either is or it it isn’t. It was just a moment. I’m not worried about it. Gave me something to think about for a while. Now I just need to get geared up for Christmas. Tempis fugit.”
Pete: “I’m going to hate it when you go. No one to run with. No man conversation. Just me and four broads be jiving my tired old hide out all the time. Girls will miss their brother. You the onliest brother they ever knowed. You took a lot of beating to watch over the girls, man. I felt bad for you, but you know the rule of the street: get bad or get beat.”
They did three miles that morning. They stopped for a coffee as usual at Alma’s West African Bodega on Pennsylvania.
Buddy caught up with his friend on the walk to school.
Blee: “You missed the party, Blay. N@&$&” was roaking the Schmiee, getting bent. Jacy and Beanie was smokin’ that ‘erb, man. Shabb-Z was rocking the turntable, roaking that skunk weed from Trinidad, Blay. Them girlies was axing for you. That thick b@&$h from The Grenadines man, she dig you. She call you White Devil, man. She say where my devil at? Rumor has it that Mr. Big was looking for you, said you kept the heat off him. He wants to thank you. You better find that trill-azz n@&$@#.
Buddy: “I got back too late from the City. I wanted to be there.”