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Authors: Sherryle Kiser Jackson

Soon After (14 page)

BOOK: Soon After
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“I just assumed you were pre-menopausal when you told me that Aunt Flo didn't visit you anymore . . .”
“Hysterectomy,” Pat said, cutting her off. “I had cysts and fibroids popping up all the time, having their own party in there.”
“So they took it out completely?” Vanessa asked.
“Might as well; I was done having kids after Ridell. After all the ups and downs that boy put me through from the terrible twos up until his teenage years, I prayed to God to close down the shop. Girl, that boy guaranteed he wasn't having a sister or brother,” Pat said, laughing at the memories now that had her calling for intercessory prayer in the past. “Seriously, my doctor made the recommendation to take out my uterus before the growths began mutating, and then I'd have another thing on my hands. But that's me, what's all this talk about? You can't possibly think you are going through the change.”
“I don't know, girl. I've been feeling crazy lately.”
“Are you experiencing your own personal summer?” Pat asked.
“Only when I'm nauseated,” Vanessa said.
“Nauseated?” Pat asked with great concern in her voice.
Vanessa began filling her in on the waves of nausea that swooped down on her in the pulpit and this morning. She told her how she took to carrying crackers in her purse because the salt seemed to calm her stomach. She also shared her plans to investigate these symptoms with her doctor as early as that morning if she could get a last minute appointment.
“Nausea, mood swings, and exhaustion,” Pat confirmed the list of ailments.
Vanessa felt her stomach drop with each item on the list like she was on a ride at an amusement park experiencing each small drop before the big fall. She hadn't mentioned the bloating.
“Well, I'd say you could spend your time, money and energy going to your doctor and running a battery of tests, or you could go to the corner drug store and pick up your own pregnancy test. If it ain't pregnancy, I don't know what it is.”
Although Vanessa sat straight up in the bed, she felt as if she were free falling.
Chapter 12
The Rightful Renegade
Willie set up a private viewing party for him and Vanessa to watch the
Inside 7
segment. She had been rather indifferent toward him since his return from Lincoln and Division Avenue where he watched Alexis and her crew tape the footage that would be part of the program. Willie was thankful that she was no longer angry enough to throw tantrums and barricade herself behind bathroom doors. Surely, her attitude would come around after she watched Roy's amazing story, Willie thought. He felt like they were on a date as he tossed around their giant decorative pillows and other throw pillows to create a cozy effect. He was hopeful that this quality time could revive their scheduled date night idea that they both had been too busy to initiate and follow through on. He picked up Chinese food that they could eat in containers on the floor in front of the television.
After insisting they leave work early, Willie put on an old polo and jeans. Vanessa also changed to a soft yellow scoop neck tee and gray nylon sweatpants with yellow stripes up the side that made her look quite youthful and beautiful. They couldn't resist the aroma of their carry-out and began eating before the program began. Vanessa asked for one of his fried chicken wings and then shortly after reached for another.
“No.” Willie moved his cartoon out of her reach.
“C'mon, honey, love is about sharing,” Vanessa reminded him.
“Love is understanding that tonight your husband is hungry and wants all of his food. I got you combination rice because that's what you always get. You've told me many times in the past that Lucky Starr and other such carry-outs should leave fried chicken to church ladies and KFC.”
“Humph,” Vanessa resigned.
The credits were rolling for
The World Report
. Willie, watching Vanessa struggle to stand from her position atop a jumbo pillow, reached out to assist her before she and the combination rice toppled over.
“I can get up,” was her curt response.
“Where are you going, the program is about to come on?” Willie could not believe his wife was being this petty. “Here, you spoiled brat, you can have another wing,” Willie compromised.
“I'm not worried about your chicken wing. I'm calling Keisha to remind her to watch the program. Besides, I got a Jamaican beef patty in the freezer with my name on it,” Vanessa said, traipsing off to the kitchen.
Willie certainly wasn't going to miss a minute of this report. He hadn't had time to think since yesterday's taping, let alone tell people to watch. Willie thought about Charley and wondered if the
Inside 7
segment was in his evening line-up of television programs. Now that was someone he wanted to call. Charley never understood why Willie wasted time on what he considered a homeless bum who didn't want anything better for himself. Willie knew this program was set to change many people's perception of homeless men and women.
“In our continuing story of the Easter Church Inferno at the Harvest Baptist Church, we discovered a man that used to take refuge on the streets just outside the church; a man that is now conquering these very streets in his own unique way. Roy Jones, former telephone technician and drug addict, knows Lincoln Avenue and this corridor of the city very well. It was the same street that fed his addiction to heroin and the same street he has lived on since his addictions stripped away his old life. What I found when I talked to Roy Jones was not a man guilt-ridden and tormented by his past, but rather a man very focused and determined to make a difference in the lives of people who are just like him,” came Alexis's voice.
Willie was enthralled by the introduction that must have been taped some time after they gathered live footage. Alexis was in a swivel chair opposite the show's host with a huge framed shot of Roy simulated on the green screen behind them. Vanessa returned with a beef patty inside the lid of her combination rice. Without looking up, Willie extended his hand to help her back to the floor beside him. She ignored his hand, and he ignored her inquiries of what she had missed.
Willie smiled broadly and he sat up a little straighter as the scene changed to the taped interview he had experienced firsthand. Roy told a tale of inconsistencies that made him lose his job and the damage his addiction inflicted on his family, leaving him with nothing to salvage there either. His only resort at the time was the streets. His only resort had now become his life's calling.
“We went with Roy to a courtyard between a lot of dilapidated and abandoned apartment buildings. This was a place known as the terrace, code word for a place where he would score illegal drugs. Even after his own spiritual awakening, it has become a routine of his to return here daily to see who he can influence to trade off their drug of choice for a sermon and a substitute. He's a threat to the dealers, and some who realize that shy away from him. Still, there are others who gather and wait on his message of inspiration.”
The same happened when Alexis and her crew set up the scene in the midst of a gathering either waiting on him or waiting on a fix. The thought of being on camera was either frightening or fascinating. Willie explained to Vanessa that the sparse crowd of no more than ten dwindled down to three. They were told their faces would be bubbled out, but if they chose to talk in the footage, Alexis would need a release form. Willie and the crew, not essential for the shot, stepped back about ten feet, leaving only Alexis and Danny, the cameraman to simulate a more authentic experience.
“Hey, Roy, are you preaching today to get your own TV show?” someone taunted from outside the frame.
“I'm just an ex-junkie talking real talk. You better come over and get you some,” Roy called out, positioning his bag on the ramshackle bench. He sat it down next to the same woman they saw Roy with the first day. She had brought a friend who appeared weak and jittery from his infirmities. Both Willie and Alexis didn't think it would be wise to show or offer one of his self-serving cups from the clinic on camera, but rather wait until they were off camera or onto the next scene outside the clinic. They prayed the man could make it that long.
Willie could envision where he was standing outside the periphery of the shoot and thought about those behind the scenes moments as he watched. He remembered praying as he did when he sat in the pulpit as other ministers approached the sacred desk. He prayed for the saving power of the message and messenger.
“I have something I always carry with me,” Roy said, withdrawing an old photograph from his bag. Willie noticed that the picture of his children now had their faces hidden from view like the blurred faces and brand name logos of his congregants standing around him.
“These are my kids. I look at this picture every day.” Roy measured his words. “If they were to see me, they would see a shadow though. I'm scary to my own kids because I wasn't there for over five years of their lives, and it haunts them. It haunts me.”
Willie recalled Roy's wife telling him when she remarried that it was best to have her new husband raise the kids as his own, that she would leave it up to his son and daughter when they get older to decide if they want to make contact again. That was a dark period for Roy when Willie wouldn't see him for weeks on end. It was also the time his then alcoholism opened up the gateway to his drug addiction.
“You ever thought you were fooling someone; your family or your co-workers? Come to find out you had remnants of your hit on your upper lip? You all saw me. You know how out there I was—chalky white skin, smoky gray lips, big bug eyes,” Roy said.
“And tube socks,” came Roy's heckler who Willie noticed had crept closer but was still off camera. They all laughed. Little did they know he was preaching already, Willie thought.
“I was a ghost, for real. A ghost in high-waters and tube socks until I gave it up. I gave up the ghost. Now, that's a biblical term, y'all. I read the Bible in the shelters at night. It helped me in some really difficult times. 'Cause ghosts are cool only in movies. So like when they talk about giving up the ghost in the Bible, they mean dying. Even Jesus Himself said in John, ‘It is finished,' before He died and gave up the ghost. In His case He fulfilled His purpose.”
“None of us are meant to be a slave to this stuff that is killing our bodies and brain cells at the same time, or lose everything and be sketched out in a chalk outline on these streets when we die a violent death. Give up the ghost, for God's sake.”
There was a lone ‘Amen' shouted in the midst of silent head nods. A few more could be seen now when the focus of the camera's lens shifted from Roy to the back of the crowd. The man on the bench was rocking back and forth. Willie did not know if it were from withdrawal or something Roy said that had struck a nerve.
Roy knelt in front of the man. “Give up the ghost, man. Even if you say you don't believe in God, He believes in you, and you used to believe in yourself also. That habit of yours has got to die or you will. Talk to me after. For real, I can show you how I did it.”
“When we return, we learn more about what Roy Jones calls his Tube-socks Theology, and why he thinks more drug treatment programs should take their services to the street. When the
Inside 7
segment continues,” came the voice over.
Willie turned from the television to Vanessa. Her hand was over her mouth as if she were trying to capture her voice before it left her body. She appeared speechless. Willie nodded his head sideways toward the screen as if to say, what did you think?
“There is a voice crying out in the wilderness,” Vanessa said.
“Indeed,” Willie replied.
“Did he just take a text and topic?”
“Yeah, he executed a sermon and hit the main point in under,” Willie consulted his watch, “ten minutes. He even got a convert. We had to take a fifty-minute break while he helped the man on the bench. He gave him one of his doses, and I drove them to the clinic instead of them walking. Roy convinced me to give him my spare Bible that was in the car. I think the man registered for the drug treatment program. And you thought I wanted to hang out with Alexis. I was in Roy's back pocket the whole time. I learned so much about true evangelism and meeting people where they are in these past two days.”
“Our missionaries need to be watching this,” Vanessa said. “My Lord, Jesus.”
Willie watched his wife draw her knees into her body and keep them there with her hands clasped tightly around her legs. She dropped her head like a turtle reverting into his shell. The piece was certainly praiseworthy, but he had never expected her to be so moved.
“Are you all right?” he questioned.
She tried to wave off his worry with her hand. They hadn't noticed the program had come back on. Roy was being interviewed in front of the drug treatment clinic. He described how the program works and shared that even in his own recovery he has on occasion given up his dose to get someone to the place where they could register themselves for treatment. Willie remembered this next part, but assumed it would hit the cutting room floor..
“Here is my mentor right here.” There was an awkward pause where the cameraman panned to find Willie in the crowd despite Alexis's frantic hand signals. “Willie Green was the Pastor of Harvest Baptist Church, right next to the alley where I used to sleep at night. He taught me that the true measure of God's love comes from how you treat bums like me—cast-offs or what the Bible calls, ‘the least of these.' ”
Roy came over and stood by Willie. The camera tightened in on that shoot, which was the last frame of the report. Alexis's voice track wrapped up this installment with something insightful. He was in shock.
Vanessa came out of her shell at the mention of his name. “I thought you were supposed to stay off the television.”
The phone rang, and they both looked at it, and then at each other. Willie felt for sure it was Chief Rich calling him to come down to the station like in one of those 1950's cop shows. He stretched to the fullest extent of his reach without getting up and tipped the telephone base with his fingertips. It was enough to cause the cordless mouthpiece to fall. He caught it and depressed the talk button.
“Hello,” he answered cautiously.
“Pastor Willie, I guess you saw yourself on TV,” Alexis said. She was winded as if she had finished a jog before making this call. “The producers thought we should leave that part in. Although Roy's story was compelling on its own, they felt that it should have some sort of tie in to the other part of the series.”
“I guess you all are not concerned about Chief Rich and his threats.”
“I brought all of that to my executive producer's attention. You were on camera for only sixty seconds. Plus, he talked about court orders, but never produced anything. I guess we are just calling his bluff.”
“I wonder if he'll go looking for Roy next.”
“Or if he'll take you along with him as an escort into the underworld,” Alexis emphasized like a movie trailer announcer.
Willie laughed and that's when he felt his wife's hot gaze boring a hole on his profile. “Forget Chief Rich. I am satisfied as long as I am no longer in the dog house with my wife.”
BOOK: Soon After
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