Rasheed slowly approached the front porch of his mom’s house. It had been over two months since his release from the state penitentiary, but he still got a thrill to be at her house.
He paused on the stoop and turned to scan the South Memphis neighborhood. During his childhood, the neighborhood had been a virtual playground for kids. Everywhere you looked, you saw kids, walking, riding bicycles, or playing stick ball in the cul de sac. It was a time kids were protected from the cares of the world and were free to be kids. He heard the echoes of past laughter and smiled at the memory of his mama yelling at him from the porch, reminding him what would happen if he let the street lights beat him home.
It was an unfortunate sign of the times that the neighborhood had given up their children to be replaced by gang bangers and gang wannabes. The cul de sac was now the local pickup spot. The children were now mostly kept secured behind wrought iron bars on windows and doors.
Rasheed shook off the memories and let himself into his mother’s house. It was like taking a step back in time. He hadn’t lived there full time since he was eighteen years old and yet the memories housed here were more vivid than any others. This place offered a balm to his wounded spirit like no other.
He smiled as he passed the living room, with its plastic covered furniture, doily covered table tops. Mama still didn’t let anyone hang out there. The choices were the kitchen and the den. Period.
But Rasheed couldn’t help the room’s pull. The center piece of the room was the opposite wall. It was covered, almost floor to ceiling with family and individual portraits. The photos ranged from the formal black and white photographs featuring members of his grandmother’s generation and above, to the slightly yellowed casual, unposed shots of the 1960’s and 1970’s, through the more recent digitalized reproductions of his younger second and third cousins.
Rasheed moved closer and spotted his elementary and middle school pictures. His first grade picture showed a happily smiling innocent, missing his two front teeth but grinning the kind of grin that only the innocent could pull off. Rasheed followed his progression from wide-eyed innocence to the early birth of his cynicism. He paused at the 5th grade portrait. He searched his ten year old eyes and saw the first hint that the world was not truly a safe place. This picture would have been taken after enduring months of his aunt Sylvia’s sexual innuendoes and accidental touches on his genitals. It was also right before she raped him for the first time.
He continued down the line of pictures and paused again at his 10th grade portrait. His face had been shiny and peppered with tiny pimples across his forehead and cheeks. He wore oversized aviator glasses and a medium sized afro. The bright smile had been replaced by a fully cynical smirk. Rasheed remembered the black-fisted pick he always carried in his back pocket.
He met his sixteen year old eyes then. Probably no one but him could see the sadness and bitterness that had taken root there. At that point, he was his aunt’s regular sex slave who, from time to time, passed him along to her friends just for shits and giggles. He had also gotten his heart broken by the captain of the basketball team. What a year that was.
It would take Rasheed a few more years to learn to wrap that tender heart of his into a case of ice. But he did. Sex was easier that way. He avoided any emotional entanglements and the first sign he had that someone was getting tied to him, he was out.
And look how that turned out.
Rasheed heard his mother’s footsteps come towards him on the linoleum floor. “Rasheed? Is that you, baby?” When she caught sight of him, she wrapped him in her arms and held him close for several long seconds. She had been doing this since his return from the pen; it was almost as if she was trying to catch up on all the hugs she’d missed during his incarceration. Rasheed didn’t mind, if anything he looked forward to the only human physical contact he allowed himself in years.
“I thought I heard you come in.” Mrs. Geneva Harris leaned back and examined him closely. “What you doing out here in the living room. You hungry? Come on in the kitchen and I’ll fix you something to eat.”
His mother had been his staunchest supporter during his arrest, arraignment, conviction and finally transport to the state penitentiary. He tried to discourage her but she wouldn’t hear of it. However, her first visit to the penal farm was traumatic. He could read her humiliation and terror after having her purse and body searched as a requirement for visitation. She had looked around the open visitation area with other convicted criminals in dismay and he knew he could not put her through that again. He refused her phone calls and visitations. She was hurt by his rejection but he knew it would have destroyed her if he allowed her to continue her visits to him.
And yet, at his release, there was no other place he wanted to go but here. And she’d met him at the front door with open, loving arms.
He was finally able to relax and feel at peace again. Rasheed and his mother had set up a comfortable routine where she fussed and pampered him and he allowed it.
It worked for them.
“So, how did things go today? Did you have any luck with finding a job?”
“Actually, yes, I’ve got good news for a change. I have an interview set up with a man at State Tech. They have a training program for recently released offenders. He thinks he may be able to get me admitted into the fall quarter.”
“I suppose that’s all right. Does he know that you have a master’s degree in criminology?”
“Mom, we’ve already talked about this. As a convicted felon, my options are limited. I can’t go back there. My only hope now is to focus on moving into the future.”
“It just seems so unfair, son. You’d worked so hard to get to Chief of Detectives and to have all that taken away, well, it’s seems such a waste to me.”
“It was a waste, mom, a waste of the last five years of my life.”
“I know, baby and I’m sorry I even brought it up. Look, I’ve got some good news too.” She reached over and held his hands. “Our annual family reunion will be held in two weeks. I didn’t want to say anything before, at least, not until I was sure we could pull it off, but we did.” His mother was so pretty, and when she smiled, like now, her face could light up the world. He would do anything to keep her smiling.
“So, what is it, old woman? Stop holding out.”
“We are going to hold the reunion here, downtown at Martyrs Park this year, instead of in the country, like we usually do. Everyone was so excited about you coming home, that they changed reservations without hardly a whimper. Well, most of them, anyway. You know how your Aunt Bella is.”
Yes, he did. And for the next hour, as she heated up leftovers from last night’s dinner and then carefully watched him consume every bite, his mother filled him in on the details of the reunion. When they were done, she asked him to drive her to choir rehearsal.
“You don’t have to come back for me, I’ll get a ride from Carolyn.”
He looked around the parking lot of the Emanuel Baptist Church in annoyance. The church was an early voting sight and pollsters were gathered throughout the lot, stopping choir members and those going to bible study, filling their hands with voting materials.
Just about everywhere he looked the smiling, confident face of Andre Pierce beamed out at him.
He resisted the impulse to punch a hole through the posters.
Rasheed watched the steady flow of family pile into Martyrs Park, setting up tables, blankets, and umbrellas. His uncle Allen was nearly the first to arrive. He mumbled to himself throughout his entire ritual of setting up the grill and turning on the deep fryer for the fish. As family after family arrived, the men were loaded down with coolers and the women brought overflowing pots of food.
Rasheed had expected some awkwardness. Many of the family had not seen him since his return to town, but they welcomed him warmly. The party was well on the way. Some of the teenagers had set up a baseball game, while the elders avoided the heat gossiping under a canopy tent. Rasheed was sitting at a folding table with three of his cousins, playing dominoes. He was right in the middle of a score when they were distracted by a commotion near the grill.
Rasheed shaded his eyes and then locked gazes with Andre Pierce. Andre turned away from him and began to charm to small group of Rasheed’s family gathered around him. Everyone was pleased to have the local politician in their midst and gratefully accepted the election literature he passed out among them.
Rasheed was furious by the interruption. Many times over the past weeks, he picked up the phone to call and then rejected the idea. Too much had happened, too much time had passed. Besides, he’d been warned to stay away from Andre Pierce else risk a return to the penitentiary. But he had known he would run into him eventually, Memphis was too small and Andre’s circle of influence too wide to avoid each other for long. But not once had Rasheed expected that his first encounter with Andre would happen surrounded by his entire family in a public park.
Rasheed watched his mother preen under Andre’s flattery and attention. She was so tickled to have the local hot shot attorney at their family gathering, that she locked arms with him and dragged him around to meet and greet every member of his family.
His cousin Jason put to voice what each of them at the fold up table had been thinking, “I wonder what he’s doing here?”
“Campaigning, what else?” cousin Tim concluded. “You know politicians are just like roaches in a shit hole right before an election. They’re everywhere.” That cracked up the whole table as they continued to track Andre’s progress.
“Rasheed, you know him, right?” Curtis asked, “ I mean, ehem, before you left. Seems like I remember hearing that ya’ll were hanging out for awhile.”
“Not really.” Rasheed was quick to assert. “I mean, I knew of him, of course. As a cop, I caught the bad guys and as a defense lawyer, he arranged to set them free. But it was more work related.” Rasheed lied.
Rasheed fought the temptation to get up and leave. He also resisted the impulse to get up and punch the shit out of him. Why was he here? Rasheed remembered Andre’s earnest reassurances that he would not spend a moment in jail; that between Andre and his father, they would make his nightmare go away and provide the evidence of his innocence. But days, stretched into weeks and the evidence kept piling up against him, Rasheed began to lose hope. The final nail in his coffin so to speak, came in the form of the Pierce family attorney who explained how things would proceed.
Rasheed had been informed that there was evidence available that implicated Rasheed in the murder of two innocent civilians. If he shut and played along, no one would have to learn of it. He would serve the three to four years for the current drug charges and that would be the end of it. If he ever tried to contact Andre again or revealed to anyone the conversation with the lawyer, that additional trumped up evidence would go to the district attorney.
Rasheed had pleaded for an explanation but none was forthcoming. He never saw Andre again after that meeting.
Andre approached their table, still arm and arm with his mother. He wore his most charming smile, easily beguiling and charming everyone he was introduced to . Despite his best intentions, Rasheed felt the pull of that smile and honestly did not know whether to drop kick his ass into the Mississippi River or grab hold to him and never let go.
Because he wasn’t sure he had any mastery over either impulse, he lowered his head at their approach and concentrated on the tiles in front of him.
“Rasheed,” his mother called out to him when they stopped in front of the table. She still beamed. He knew she couldn’t wait to call all her friends and tell them who about “her special guest” showing up at the family picnic.
“Rasheed, Judge Pierce was telling me. . .”
Andre interrupted. “Ma’am, I’m not judge yet. Call me Andre.” His mother actually blushed.
“Of course. Rasheed, Andre,” she said his name with arch emphasis, “… tells me the two of you are old friends. I didn’t know you two worked together?”
“I wouldn’t say together, mom. We were usually standing on opposite sides of the bench whenever we met in court.”
Yes, but don’t they say the arches of rivals can make the best friends?”
If she only knew.
“Well, Andre,” mom giggled again at the privilege of addressing him on a first name basis. “Now you sit down here and make yourself comfortable. I’ll go fix you a plate.”
Rasheed waited until his mother was out of ear sight. “C’mon, Andre,” he spoke the name with a hard emphasis. “Let’s go take a walk.”
Rasheed knew his cousins were watching their every move and consciously focused on keeping his movements casual.
“What you doing here, Dre?”
Rasheed watched the charming mask on Andre’s face fade and something that resembled longing replaced it. “I came to see you.”
“What the . . .?” Rasheed ground the words through his teeth. Several family members looked towards them. He plastered on a smile and began again in a low guttural growl. “Stop fucking with me, Dre. This is my family, man. What the fuck are you doing here? ”
“I missed you.” Andre softly replied.
Rasheed knew when he was being played. He’d seen Andre’s moves in action far too often to fall for them now.
“Are you trying to get me sent back to prison? Do you hate me that much?”
“What? No, of course not.” Andre protested, his cool slipping just a bit.
“Then get out of here. Whatever it is you want, spit it out and then get away from me.”
“I don’t want anything from you, Rasheed. I just needed to see you. I know you’ve been back for awhile and I tried to stay away, but. . .” Andre risked a soulful look in his direction. “But you’re right, I shouldn’t ‘ve interrupted your time with your family. I know how important that is to you.” Andre turned back the way they came and scanned the gathered crowd. “Everybody seems so happy to have you back home.” He turned back to Rasheed. “So am I . I thought about you every day.”
“You make it sound like I was at a fucking spa, Dre. I have spent five years of my life in hell. Because of you.”
Andre continued speaking as if Rasheed never spoke a word. “I’m going to leave now, but only if you promise to have dinner with me later.”
“I’m not going anywhere with you, Dre. Your lawyer made it very clear to me what would happen if I started seeing you again.”
“No, at my house. No one will find out.”
“Good-bye, Dre.” Rasheed turned and started to walk away.
“I’m in trouble, ‘Sheed.
There it was. Rasheed knew this reunion hadn’t just been about reaching out to him.
“Can you give me one good reason why that should concern me?” He asked without turning back.
“Someone is trying to kill me.”
“Well it’s about damn time.”
“This is serious, ‘Sheed. They’ve already tried twice. “
“Why are you bringing this to me? There’s nothing I can do. I’m a convicted felon, remember? Talk to your daddy.”
“I can’t.” Andre inhaled deeply and Rasheed watched pain infuse his features. “I think my father may be involved. If not directly, he may know who’s behind it.”
“Damn. Ain’t that a bitch.”
Rasheed knew he was being callous and tried to wrestle up some compassion for this man who, at one time meant so much to him. But there was nothing there except a kind of bitter satisfaction.
“I still don’t see why you brought this to me? I’m a walking and talking example of what happens when you try to go up against your daddy.”
“I don’t know what to do or where to turn. I thought perhaps you could get one of your cop buddies involved, to protect me.”
“You’re kidding, right?” Surely Andre didn’t really think the brotherhood didn’t turn their collective backs on him the moment he was convicted? “Dre, there is nothing I can do for you. Just like you can’t replace the years I lost. For now, I just want to live out the rest of my days in peace. Please leave.”
“Come to my house tonight.” Andre’s words were urgent and insistent. He pushed a key ino Rasheed’s hand. “I’ve got a plan but I need your help. Please, baby, please come.”
Okay, I don’t know if y’all noticed, but I like Rasheed. He got a raw deal and is doing his best to come back from a shitty situation. But here’s Andre, trying to pull him back in.
Let me hear from you. The clues are nearly planted and I need help in deciding whodunit.
Speak up! 🙂