“Yo, J, Got a light?” I pulled the convenient store lighter from my pocket with finger cutoff gloves. My nails were blackened from the shop, and all these cigarettes.
“Here, man.” I handed Win the lighter. I thought to myself, when did we start calling him Win? But then I remembered it was because he always won at any games we ever played, ever since we were kids.
“Thanks. So what does the day look like today?” I paused. I hadn’t thought about it. I was working until 6 that night. It was only 2:30.
“Man, I might go home and relax. It’s freezing in this shop, and I ain’t been able to feel my fingers since 6 o’clock this mornin’.” Win laughed, but I was dead serious.
“Do you know how hard it is to work on these cars when ya can barely move your fingers? Damn. It’s like tryin’ to thread a needle when there ain’t no hole up at the top.”
“I understand, man. Well, just text me sometime before you leave work, maybe we can at least do dinner?”
“Maybe, man. We’ll see.” Win started walking away. He had to get back to work. He only stopped by on his lunch break from the firm because he was doing some business on this side of town. This side of town was overrun with thieves, murderers, and drug addicts and dealers. But it was home. Used to be Win’s home too. Until he lost his dad in a gang fight, and gave up this life. He wanted to make more of himself. None of us could blame him. He still came around every once in a while. My phone started buzzing. My wife needed the car, so she would be walking over soon to get it because we didn’t live too far. We only had one car because it cut down on cost, and we got by with one car just fine. It was a piece of shit, but we got by.
“Hello? Sweetie, let me drive by and pick you up. I don’t want you walking in the cold. Huh? You’re almost here? Damn, Sey. I could’ve picked you up. I don’t want you to get sick…” I lost signal.
I went back inside to continue working and wait for Sey since she was almost to the shop. She needed to drive into town to get more formula. She said the corner store was out. She was on leave from the local school. She was the secretary, but it was a good job for her. Sey loved it. She loved the kids but she loved that she got time off to spend with our new baby the most.
Sey came strutting in with our baby Illy. She was 3 weeks old, and I about lost my mind knowing she had walked only just a few blocks with the baby in this cold weather.
“Baby, before you say anything…I’ve got her wrapped up so good. I promise she’s not cold.” I weakened. She was like a warm fire for my frozen hands, and every glance I stole of her was like the first.
“How’s she doin’ today?”
“She was fussin’ a bit this morning, but I got her calmed down.” I started making my way outside. “Stay in here and warm up. I’m going to start the car and let it get warm before you start driving. You’re frozen solid.” She smiled at me warmly and sat down in one of the chairs in the waiting room.
I walked outside and started the car, blasted the heat. I couldn’t leave my car alone out here in this neighborhood, so I’d have to wait for it to warm up and run and grab her real quick.
As I was standing there I felt the bite in the air. It had somehow gotten colder in the five minutes I was inside. A certain bitter feeling in the weight of the crisp air. It was almost looming over me like a dementor in Harry Potter. I shook my head. I always found a way to relate the nerdiest things into any situations.
The car finally seemed warm enough. I left the door slightly ajar and ran in to get Sey and Illy. She was waiting at the door, and began walking out. Illy was crying.
“I think she’s just hungry.” She rushed passed me and started getting her buckled into the car.
“Be careful, baby. It seems like it might get dicey out there, and soon.” It was winter in the Midwest after all.
She turned to me, “I will, sweetie. I just need to get there and back. It won’t take any time at all. I love you.” She started walking around the car. She looked up, “Oh, and what do you want to do for dinner?”
I remembered Win, but then also contemplated the night I could have staying in with Sey and Illy and said, “I can start cooking up some pasta when I get home.” She smiled.
“If I beat you there first then I’ll start the pasta, but in case I’m not home quite yet, I’ll leave it to you.”
“I love you too.” I smiled.
“See you in a bit, and stay warm.” She got in, waved, and then started driving away.
I walked back into the shop, and worked away my life for another hour before I stepped back out onto the sidewalk for a cigarette. It had started snowing, but the flakes were flurries, and I didn’t need to start panicking myself over Sey just yet. She could handle herself in the snow. So I silently blended my smoke with the falling snow and watched a woman walk down the street with a baby in her arms. She seemed to be an older woman. She had the baby wrapped in something lined with fur, and the only reason I could tell it was a baby was because it was crying. She turned left toward my house, but I didn’t recognize her. I don’t think she was a neighbor. I guess she was just visiting a friend.
I went back inside and began changing the tires on an old Chevy truck. A staple in this town. Another two hours went by and it was only about 5:30 when my boss Joe announced, “everybody go home. I’m tired of looking at your faces, and it’s too damn cold for this. I thought those heaters were enough, but I’ll get another one tonight, and maybe we’ll be able to breathe in here tomorrow. But don’t get used to this.” He grinned, and we all started hollering. We hadn’t been let go early in a long while. The last time was when old Joe’s mother was sick. He was a family man, but also knew how to run a business. He had patience as solid as a diamond.
I started walking out the front door after I collected my lunch bag, and extra coat. Sey hadn’t called yet, and she wasn’t here. She was about 30 minutes north on the other side of town because Illy could only digest a certain formula, and our corner store had been stocking it, but they had been out the past few weeks.
I called Sey. “Hey,” she answered. “I’m sorry I’m almost to the checkout counter. This store is packed. People are worried about the weather, and I can’t just leave because Illy needs…” I interrupted.
“I understand. Don’t panic. I just want you to be safe. Take your time and get home to me safely. That’s all I ask. I can walk home from here, and probably have dinner done and on the table by the time you get home.” I heard her sigh over the phone. She sniffled.
“Thanks, babe. I love you and I’ll be home as quick as I can, okay?”
“Okay, sweetie. No rush. Be safe. Kiss Illy for me.”
I began the trek home. This part of town was an anomaly. You could consistently hear the sound of sirens, but whenever anything went wrong. It took them upwards of 30 minutes to respond. I kept to myself when the cops crept through the streets in their menacing cars, and I did my duties as a citizen. Despite my upbringing. I had never been in trouble with the law. I just never made it out of this lifestyle. This neighborhood. Always thought I would, and maybe I still might.
I was walking slowly. The snow had picked up and the winds were fierce. Someone drove past me in a Honda and waved as they kept driving. The car looked familiar, but then again we worked on everyone’s cars in this neighborhood.
I waved back and then immediately putting my hand back into my pocket. First mistake.
I started trotting at a walk, sort of running pace, but every move I made just made me colder. My house was only two blocks away. I could make it. The house had warmth, food, and the damn couch where I can put my feet up for a minute.
That’s when I heard the gunshot followed by the curdling screams and cries of a baby. Gunshots weren’t uncommon, and oftentimes went unreported. Even if they were, it took the police 30 minutes to get here. They were never too concerned when a possible murder occurred in these parts. Symptom of the culture.
I stopped dead in my tracks. I turned to the origin of the noise, and I could vaguely outline a man or woman, someone running out the side door of one of the houses across the street. The baby grew louder.
I stood there long. I thought hard.
Before I could do anything or stop myself my feet were propelling me toward the house. Toward the cries. I couldn’t stop. A part of me didn’t want to stop. The sound of the cries became Illy’s in my head. I kept walking until I was in the house. The door was wide open. Furniture slung about.
I found the baby first. She was lying on the floor next to the torn, leather couch.
I scooped her up and turned around, but was stopped dead in my tracks.
The woman from the street was lying on the floor. Blood surrounding her lifeless body, but I couldn’t let the baby suffer here in the cold without something, someone helping her.
I knew what I would do.
I’d run the baby to the nearest police station, or find a stranger to take me there, and I’d explain everything. I would hand over the child in a warm environment and tell them that her mother was shot.
I turned around and walked out the front door.
Before I could make sense of the flashing lights and why I hadn’t heard the sirens in the background they started yelling, “Put your weapon on the ground! Put your hands in the air! Now! Do it now! Hands where I can see them! Now!”
I couldn’t think quick enough and I lunged forward to try and explain to give them the baby, to unwrap her for them to see, but then I heard the gunshot, and the baby was silent.
Faintly I could hear, as my eyes grew cloudy, “we’ve got an African American male here. He was carrying a suspicious package. We shot both him and the package, sir. He seems to still be slightly conscious, but he lunged at us aggressively.”
The baby wasn’t crying. I felt my heart slowing.
“Let’s get the dog over here to sniff the package.”
“Why is it whimpering? Guys, get the squad over here…”
“What on earth…? The package is leaking a red…”
“That’s blood, officer. Unwrap it now!”
“Oh, god! It’s a child! Fuck. What have you done…what have yo…”
The world fell silent.
Photo by Courtney Chestnut on Unsplash