Words Have Power, They Are Magic pt 20
Life for me came down to sitting on the park bench during the day, rain, shine, cold, hot, it did not matter. My bench was my place. I was their every day, all day. It became my palace, my refuge. There I could sit and look out on the world, well a little slice of that world. A nice slice at that, the slice that was the corner piece, the one with all the frosting.
Behind me was the city. The tenements, the gray dusty aging buildings that looked as if one little tremor or high wind from other nature and they would topple like dominoes to the ground. Or if mankind were gone, eliminated by some alien race, those buildings would be first to go, laying down on the earth in submission of its new masters.
The rhythm of the city flowed behind me. The ebb and flow of those scurrying to work, by foot by cab braving the traffic by driving their own vehicle. The evening rush back . Housewives doing their daily chore and errands, kids coming to and from school playing on the street and the teenagers claiming the steps in front of a building as their own territory.
The whole city pulsated behind me. In front of me though was my park. My oasis of sunshiny green and fresh air. The park slowed everything down. One could breathe in the park, could see that not all of life was rushing here or there. I could sit all day and just be. Some days, it was all I could do, was sit that was. I had gotten old. The joints didn’t always want to work when asked. Sometimes they just wanted to sit, in the sun. So I did.
My son would come every other day and on Fridays, he would bring me an envelope of cash. I never really paid any attention to how much was in the envelope, because I usually took out a 20 or so and then the rest I bring to the shelter. I originally out it all in the donation box at the church, at least until the façade that was ruined by the explosion was repaired. After that, I gave it to the shelter. Anonymously, of course. I think the Priest knew though. Since the day of the explosion when he saw me, he gave me a funny look. Never smiling, not frowning, just , well contemplative I guess. Like he knew but wasn’t totally sure
My money did help the shelter. There was a heater in the men’s sleeping area now and I heard the same was true for the women’s section. There were a few more cots and blankets were no longer a rare thing. The table with the donated clothes that you could get a jacket or a shirt from was always full and there were even new clothes with the tags on, socks in unopened bags. The kitchen served up breakfast lunch and dinner now, instead of just pastries in the morning and dinner. You could live like a king at the shelter.
I was only there to drop off money, maybe get some socks or in the winter when the cold tortured my joints. The shelter was for people who needed it, people who were homeless and helpless. I was not helpless, never was never will be. I don’t care if the others keep calling me old or the kids referred to me as some ancient mystic man. I was not helpless nor would I ever become helpless. I had plans for that day.
My son worried about me. He told me every time he came to see me. He would pick up the little recorder he put in my pockets and drop off money, scolding me the whole time. Well not really scolding, more like pleading me to come live with him or even live in the apartment he had bought me. It was a lovely apartment for sure, but I did not tell him that I let the church use it as a halfway house for single moms. I think he would have a fit if he knew. It was a “nice” address he had told me, a place that I could comfortably live out my days. Like a retired racehorse or something. No thank you. Not for me. Buildings made me nervous anyway, even the shelter sometimes felt closed in and choking.
So he would come on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, rarely on weekends. On weekends, he was out in the suburbs with his family and my clever grandson. He showed me pictures of that boy who was tall and handsome, like his grandpa. He mother would not let him come to the city even to see his grandpa, whom she felt was crazy.
“Why last time he was here he filled the boys head with stuff about magic powerful words”.
Therefore, I saw him only in pictures and video on my son’s phone. I was ok. It was enough.
He would give me the money and I gave him the stories I told the kids. I never could figure out how to turn the thing off so it was voice activated. I always wondered what he heard when he played it back. Did he hear the conversations among us park dwellers? We could get into some interesting debates. The other day we talked about what would happen if a speck of dust with a speck of DNA on it came to earth. English, the guy who says he was from Scotland but we thought he was English, ad a PhD in physics talked about how it couldn’t happen, acceleration, earth’s gravity and such. They rest of us fancied the argument that it started out big but came down but ended up just a dust particle.
The conversations we got into, Us drunks, drug addicts, homeless obviously crazy people. Did my son her that stuff? Wasn’t sure, I tried to put the recorder deep into my pocket when talking to the others. It seemed wrong to record them somehow, like a violation of their trust, the conversations only for us not for the rest of the people. They would not understand.
Lately, however, the park people had to be a little careful at night. Things had changed and there was a new element, which flooded the park. It was not the same as before. The hookers, their pimps, the drug dealers, and the general criminal element were no longer respectful of the old rules. The ones that said you don’t hurt the old, homeless people, that the park was a place of amnesty where the hookers could sit for a minute, the addict could take a journey, not a place for the wars and maneuverings among the underbelly of the city. They no longer respected the day and night rules. More and more of the drunks, the homeless where being beat up and robbed for the little they had. Not because someone needed your coat more then you but because you were, weak and they could take it.
It was one of those young punks who wanted to be a big man a honcho in his little gang that started to watch my son and me. He would come out to the park during the day, him, and his crew, his friends. They called him Ruthless. I ignored him. Most of his type were punks, that as all. Kids, who didn’t want to go to school, didn’t want to work but wanted to be respected and important. Most of them would be shot to death before they made age 18.
I should have paid attention to ruthless. He paid attention to me. He noticed the envelopes of money, my three time weekly trips to the shelter, sometimes coming right back to my bench and not staying. He saw me give my son the recorder from my pocket. I guess he thought that I was giving out drugs and being paid. That bothered Mister Wanna Be Kingpin, big time drug dealer. That someone might be selling a commodity in HIS self-proclaimed territory.
So on a day that had been a beautiful spring day and after my son had come and gone, Ruthless came to me.
“What you got in that envelope? What you got in your pocket? You can’t sit here and sell stuff, this is my park, you wanna sell here you have to give me my part. You understand old man.”
He talked so fast and sounded like he had a mouthful of jelly beans it took me a bit before I did understand. I started to laugh. It was funny to me. He thought I was selling drugs and he wanted apart of it. These kids, no school , no critical thinking skills. They truly believed that if they say it is so , it is so. They believed that the strongest survived. No smarts, just strongest.
He didn’t like my laugh and told me so. I laughed some more. I was about to show him the recorder when he produced a small caliber handgun. Well, now it was bit more serious. I have not had a gun pointed at me since Vietnam. Even then, it was not such a small gun. I wondered if it was loaded. I stared at the gun. I knew it was the way out. I don’t know how I knew that but I knew it to be so.
I wasn’t paying attention and he had been shouting at me. He wanted my drugs and money. And something about me not respecting him. I decided to give him the recorder, but the money was for the shelter. I was not going to give that up too easily. I put my hand in my pocket and started to pull out the tiny recorder. Guess that made Mr. Ruthless a little upset. I was supposed to have drug and a little electronic bit made him look like a fool. His friends had gathered round by then and he had to save face I guess.
He yelled at me to give him the drugs. I had had enough. I stood up; he jumped back and shoved the gun out in front of him, sideways. I looked at the gun and his stance, I laughed, and I start to amble away. I made it almost to the underpass that hid my place when I felt a sharp pain in my lower back. The punk had shot me.
It felt like slow motion as I sank to the ground. Ruthless came up to me and pulled the envelope of cash from my pocket.
“Stupid fool old man” he said, “you should have not disrespected me.”
His gang was shouting his name, calling him to come on before the police came.
He looked at me, and pointing the gun at me again, said
“Never disrespect Ruthless” and shot me again this time he hit me in my side.
I felt the bullet go into my gut. Damn that hurt. A lot. I crawled the foot to the underpass and then up to my piece of cardboard, leaving a trail of blood. As I lay there, I started to see my whole life. It really does pass before your eyes when you are dying. I thought that was kind of funny. I laughed but it hurt too much. I closed my eyes. And there was Renee, my love. My wife. He smiled and said to me
“It is your choice. Your choice love.”
“My choice.” I smiled. “My choice”
I repeated. For once it was my choice.
I had rolled over on my stomach and opened my eyes. There was a piece of chalk in front of my eyes. I smiled. I grabbed it and scribbled on the cardboard. I closed my eyes again ad there was my Renee again. .
“Renee, It was the words.”
She smiled, “Yes The words have power, they are magic”