Jamella’s Jerk Chicken
Mama Lou groaned and spoke through gritted teeth. “Why does this woman still exist?”
“Shh.” said Ethel Mae, plastering a new smile to her lips.
Agnes Bradshaw rushed over, several times nearly twisting her ankle in the soft grass. Mama Lou hissed. “Why that old hag insists on wearing those $20 shoes at her age makes no sense to me.”
“Shhhh,” said Ethel Mae again.
Agnes shoved a covered platter of food in Mama Lou’s arms before she could say a word. “This is my daughter-in-law Jamella’s Jerk Chicken. She got the recipe from her Jamaican grandmother and I declare, if it ain’t the best thing you ever put in your mouth. Falling off the bone goodness!”
Mama Lou shoved the tray back into Agnes’ hands. “That’s wonderful. I can’t wait to try it. Why don’t you put it on the table with the rest of the potluck? We’ll be ready to start serving as soon as Pastor Griffin gets here.”
“I just thought you might want to come over and say hey to Jamella. I don’t think you’ve seen her since the wedding. For some reason, she asks about you all the time.”
Mama Lou opened her mouth and Ethel Mae braced herself for a sharp reply. But all that her friend said was, “I’ll be over in just a moment.”
“Louisa,” Ethel Mae praised. “I’m so proud of you.”
“Shoot,” said Mama Lou. “I’m just trying to get to heaven.”
The soft voice came from behind them. Ethel Mae was startled by her first glimpse of Charlotte, her bruised mouth and smeared mascara. Charlotte stood with her back was to most of the congregation. “I really need to speak to you now. You too, Ms. Ethel.”
“Baby, what’s going on?” Mama Lou reached out to embrace her but Charlotte shook her head.
“Not here,” she said, her eyes bright and pleading. “Please. I need your help. Things are about to get bad, Mama Lou and I don’t know how to stop it.”
“Well, sure honey.” Mama Lou scanned the grounds and then indicated a grouping of empty chairs just outside the tent. Centuries-old oak trees provided a shady escape from the heat as well as a small measure of privacy.
As their small group emerged from the tent, Ethel Mae spotted the kid she’d dubbed The Ice Cream Man. He’d settled himself beneath a tree, legs outstretched, head bowed low over a cell phone. Though his posture was relaxed, the energy he projected informed everyone to keep away.
“What is going on with you, Charlotte?” Mama reached out a rubbed away the smeared makeup. “Sweet child, you look a mess.”
“I’m sorry,” said Charlotte. “I kinda lost it for a moment. I must look terrible.”
“Don’t worry about that right now,” said Ethel Mae. “Just tell us what’s going on.”
Charlotte inhaled deeply. She accepted the handkerchief from Mama Lou and used it to dab under her eyes. She sniffed and then settled against the back of the lawn chair. “As you know, Pastor Griffin and I have been married for five years, not long after the death of his first wife, Maybelline. I know some folk turn their nose up at how quickly we got together but for me, meeting Pastor Griffin was a life changer. I’d been so lost, disconnected. I had no idea what I was looking for, didn’t even know I was lacking.”
Charlotte made a hesitant gesture towards Mama Lou, to reach for her hand but she seemed unsure of her reception. Mama Lou smiled gently and with a nod, encouraged her to continue.
“Well, anyway, I needed the Lord, Mama Lou, and Eddie introduced me to Him. Suddenly, my old life wasn’t enough. . . not the clothes, the men, or the drink. I only wanted the Lord . . . and Eddie.” She inhaled again then shrugged her shoulders. “I’ve been a good wife to him, Ms. Ethel, and I’ve worked hard to be the best First Lady I could. I’m no Maybelline but I am becoming the woman God called me to be. I turned away from my life in California without even one look back.” Charlotte heaved a long sigh, one lone tear streaked down her cheek. “Unfortunately, that world, my former life, hasn’t quite forgotten about me.”
Ethel Mae felt the hairs rise on the back of her neck. She glanced around to identify the source of her unease and discovered that The Ice Cream Man was staring in their direction. He appeared alert and though she knew it was impossible for him to hear them at that distance, he gave the impression that he was following every word. Ethel Mae shook off her unease and leaned in closer to Charlotte, gently squeezing her hand.
“Honey, the Lord has already forgiven you,” Mama Lou was saying. “If you let the sins of the past keep hold of you in the present, you’re giving in to the devil. Just let it go, baby. He has.”
“There’s a movie -”
The words were abrupt and startling in their simplicity. Ethel Mae suddenly knew exactly where this conversation was going.
Charlotte spoke into the silence. “I was drinking. A lot. I didn’t care about myself and nobody else. I was partying with a group of people . . . someone brought out a camera . . . well, I’ll spare you the details.” Her eyes suddenly hardened and Ethel Mae caught a glimpse of the young woman she used to be. “Though if you really want to know what happened next, I’m sure Jamella Bradshaw would be happy to download a copy for you.”
“Lord have mercy.” Mama Lou shielded her eyes, then lifted a hand to God. She whispered a quick prayer to which Ethel Mae added a resounding ‘AMEN.’
Jamella Bradshaw was married to Agnes Bradshaw’s middle son, James. She was a bitter, vindictive woman who reaped the benefits of her husband’s social connections but also took pleasure in destroying them too.
Now that the floodgates had been opened, Charlotte seemed unable to stop herself. “Her son Terrance somehow found it and was showing it around to his friends. Deacon Perry got wind of it through his son and confronted me. Before you get the wrong idea, he’s been trying to help, you know he’s a lawyer. He got YouTube to remove it from their site but by then it was too late. People had already downloaded and made copies . . . Now Jamella is threatening to expose it to the congregation.”
Charlotte scooted to the edge of her seat and glared in the direction of Agnes and Jamella Bradshaw.
“Mama Lou, Ms. Ethel, that evil hag, Deacon Kieran and Deacon Noble are trying to leverage my past to force Pastor Griffin out of the pulpit.”
UP NEXT: Kieran’s Kung Pao Chicken