I hurried to the mailbox and back and handed the letters to my mother.
“Bills, bills, and more bills,” she sighed as she tossed them one by one on the counter top in the kitchen after glancing at the front of each envelope. She reached over to stir the stew. I drew in a deep breath as I took in the tantalizing smell of the biscuits baking in the oven. Nothing like hot vegetable stew and buttered biscuits on a chilly November evening.
I stood next to my mother as she took a second glance at the last envelope she almost tossed on the counter. She eagerly tore the envelope open. I could see her eyes darting from left to right over the words on the paper. Her eyes brightened as a smile crossed her lips. I smiled because she smiled. It must contain some good news, I thought. I stood on my toes and peered over to read the letter.
“I got it! I got it!” she said hugging me. “I got the job. I have to call Nana.”
Katherine Wilson, my mother, was a single mother of just one child—me, Keon Graham. I often wondered why we had different last names. Nana told me I was named after my father even though I never knew him. I asked my mother more than once who my father was. “I don’t want to talk about him and you shouldn’t either.” She said those words so vehemently, I wondered what my father had done for her to respond that way. But she would never give me an answer. All she would say after that was that I was an accident.
“How can I be an accident?” I asked Nana.
“You’re not an accident,” Nana said as she hugged me. “You were placed in our lives to bring cheer to our spirits and to teach us to be thankful for each day that we have you. Too bad your mother does not see you that way. It’s easy to get bitter at the words people throw at us especially when it comes from those we love.”
I appreciate Nana because she has never tried to hide anything from me. I found out from Nana that my father left my mother after he found out she was pregnant with me. They never planned on having me, and neither of them were prepared to take care of me. In fact, they were not married when I was conceived. By the way, Nana is my mother’s mother, my grandmother. And she is a real grandmother. Loving and kind hearted.
“Your mother has carried on without your father as best she could. She spent almost two years tracking him down, trying to get him to man-up and do the responsible thing and take care of you. The last we heard was that he had married someone else. As you can imagine she was crushed. She hurts even to this day,” Nana said.
How can she still hurt after eight years? I wonder. But then like Nana said, ‘Love is a strange thing.’
“Sometimes I feel as though she does not love me and as though she wishes I was not there,” I complained to Nana one day after Mother shouted at me because I dropped a plate. “It was an accident.”
“It’s not easy being a single mother,” Nana said. “She has a lot on her providing for you, trying to keep a decent job. On top of that, she has a lot of hurt deep within her heart and a lot of regrets. Just be patient with her.”
“I will,” I promise Nana.
I watched my mother as she made the phone call to Nana. I was happy that she was happy. Some nights I would wake up to hear her crying quietly. We lived in a one bedroom apartment so we shared the bedroom although I had my own bed. Sometimes she wore a sad expression on her face but would put on a smile when she faced me. Even though she was smiling, her eyes were sad and did not have that sparkle to them. Today, however, there was a brightness in her eyes as she spoke with Nana.
“Hello, Nana. Great news. I got the job. I got the promotion. So California, here I come.”
California. What did that mean? I wondered.
Mother worked as a computer programmer for Microsoft. It took her a while to get that job. She put in application after application all over New York City and was willing to relocate. But it seemed no one wanted to hire her.
“Why wouldn’t they hire her?” I had asked Nana one day.
“Because she was just starting out and because it was a man’s world,” Nana said with a chuckle. “But I told her just to keep on trying until she got what she wanted.”
“She did. She started working at a department store as a cashier. She then moved up as floor manager. She worked there for seven years. Then frustration set in and she became depressed for almost a year. That was when you came to live with me for a while. Anyway, she landed a job with McKenon and Parker. They were two gentlemen who left Microsoft and started their own company. They came across her application and asked her to join them.”
“It seems to me she’ll be happier now,” I told Nana.
“That’s something I’ve tried to instill within your mother ever since she’s been a child and that is that things don’t make you happy. Things put you on an emotional roller-coaster ride. Up and down. In and out. Things come and things go. Things get worn out. Don’t ever put your faith in things.”
Well, I was glad to see Mother smiling and laughing as she talked with Nana. Smiling and laughing because Microsoft was calling her to California.
]I was seven years old when Mom received the letter regarding her job promotion needing her to move to California. She had three months to prepare for that move. Mom had the option of either flying or driving. Either way, McKenon & Parker would take care of her travel expenses.
“What’s California like?” I asked her after she got off the phone with Nana. “Have we ever been there?”
“No. But we can find out all you want to know about California by surfing the web,” Mom said.
She set me on her lap, which was a rare thing for her to do. As I thought about it, I was probably five years old when I last sat on her lap. “You’re getting too big to be sitting on my lap,” she said one day as she set me beside her on the couch after I asked her to read a book with me. That was the last day I remember sitting on her lap. I don’t know why I remember that incident so vividly. Maybe it’s because I wanted her to hold me close to her so I could cuddle up to her which I loved to do.
We sat in front her computer—the desktop which she allowed me to use. She said I was an expert in the use of the computer. Maybe I acquired that skill from her. Many times while sitting next to her around the table coloring or drawing, I would watch her fingers move swiftly over the keyboard. “I hope I can operate the computer as quickly as you do,” I told her more than once.
“Don’t you worry. You will. I’ll teach you all that I know.” And she did. Almost every evening she showed me something new on the computer. She let me search around as I expanded my mind, learning new things. I read just about everything I ran across on the Internet. Mom would help me with the big words. She said when I was much younger she would hold me on her lap while she typed on the keyboard.
“You were always fascinated with the brightness of the screen. And you would always try to catch my fingers as I moved across the keyboard. That was when I knew you would be a computer whiz,” she told me.
It’s funny how she figured that out. And even though I don’t remember that, I believed her because I love being on the computer.
As I sat on her lap, I cuddled up to her for a few seconds and deeply inhaled her familiar smell. She then let me operate the computer, guiding me as to which buttons to click. We took turns reading.
I found out that California was at the end of America right next to the Pacific Ocean. We read about the Gold Rush. I learned that California has warm weather all year round.
“That’s good because I hate winter time in New York,” I said. “The only things I like about New York are White Castle hamburgers and Junior’s cheesecake.”
Mom laughed. “A boy after my own heart,” she said.
I love to see Mom laugh. She seemed much happier and was laughing more since she got the good news about her job.
“The best thing about California is that it is the place where they make movies,” she said.
“Yeah! California, here I come,” I said. I threw my arms around Mom’s neck and squeezed her. “I love you, Mom,” I said.
She did not answer me immediately. For a few seconds, she had a strange look on her face. Her eyes darted away from mine. When she looked back at me, the sparkle in her eyes had dimmed. Her smile was not as wide as before. I pulled my arms from around her neck thinking I had hugged her too tightly.
“Are you alright, Mom? Did I hug you too tight?” I asked.
“No. You hugged me just right, Keon. I love you, too.”
She hugged me, but it was not quite as tight as mine. How could I remember the slight changes in her facial expression, the dimness in her eyes, or her loose hug? It seemed insignificant back then. Maybe because I was excited about going to California.
“Maybe I can be a movie star,” I said.
“Maybe,” Mom said. “But you may want to use your computer skills instead to make movies for little boys like yourself to watch while munching away at a big bowl of buttered popcorn.”
“Yes. That would be more fun,” I said. “Is Nana coming with us?”
“No. I’m afraid not.”
“Oh,” I said. A sudden sadness crept upon me. I was going to miss Nana. She was my best friend and still is. She talked to me as though I was just as old as she was. I didn’t understand everything she said to me about life, but as she told me, “You’ll understand it by and by. Just think upon my words and pray for wisdom each day. And another thing is, be thankful for every day that you see. Find something to be thankful for in each day.”
“Yes, Nana. I will,” I had said. I didn’t do it every day. But that day, I thanked God for Mom and for us going to California.
Mom scooted me off her lap on to the chair. “You can play a few games. I’m going to call Nana again.”
“Okay.” I went to PBS.org and clicked on Word Girl. It’s about this super hero girl who solves mysteries and introduces you to different words. I’m a word person so I am always reading a book or playing some kind of word game.
After about twenty minutes, Mom was still talking to Nana over the phone. I was getting hungry so I closed the computer down and quietly walked out of the bedroom and headed for the kitchen. I was not trying to eavesdrop on their conversation, but I stopped in the hallway after overhearing Mom say these words:
“No, Nana. I have not told him yet. I know I need to tell him soon, but I just can’t bring myself to do so . . . That’s what I fear . . . It’s going to break his heart when I tell him I cannot take him with me—not yet anyway.”
Mom listened to Nana for a while. Feeling guilty because I was listening to her conversation with Nana, I walked into the kitchen wondering who the “him” was that Mom was talking about and why she couldn’t take him with her.
“Mom, I’m hungry,” I said as I walked into the kitchen. “May I please have a sandwich?”
Mom spun around with a surprised look on her face. I didn’t know why she would look surprised. After all, it was just me and her in the house.
“Yes. Sure. . . Bye, Nana. I’m going to make lunch. . . Yes, we’ll stop by on Saturday.”
I looked around cautiously before stepping from among the trees exiting the grassy pathway behind Hill Chapel Church—the pathway that I had created for myself so that I could get on and off the church property without being seen. I hugged my laptop, the only thing that reminded me of my mom and that gave me hope of seeing her again even though it’s been almost five years since I last saw her. I hurried towards the building which stood about three yards from the pathway. Trees ran the full length of the back of the building and extended beyond the left side to the church’s parking lot which extended to the front of the church. There were probably enough parking spaces for about three hundred and fifty cars. How do I know? I had set about the task of counting them one day when I ran out of things to do. But I stopped counting when the custodian stopped me and asked what I was doing in the parking lot when I should be in school.
Even though it was late in the evening, I could hear the lawn mower in the distance. I did not need to look, but I took a glance anyway to my right. I could barely make out the custodian riding the lawn mower over the grass. Someday, maybe I would muster up the courage and ask him to give me a ride on the lawn mower.
I carefully raised the window next to the back door and climbed into the basement of the church. I locked the latch on the window once I got in. Walking softly but quickly across the floor I stopped at the water fountain to get a drink. I was thirsty after not drinking anything all day. Folding chairs stood off to one side of the basement. Two long tables were on the other side. Moving quietly along, I crept up the stairs and cautiously made my way to ‘my room,’ the ‘clothes room.’ Once inside I shut the door and made my way to my corner. My corner was set alongside the back wall farthest from the door. I call that room the ‘clothes room’ as it was almost full of clothes of all make and sizes hanging from racks. Some were still in boxes. Others were neatly folded on shelves that lined one of the walls. It was from this that I was able to have a change of clothing as often as I felt the need to.
I unrolled my sleeping bag. The flashlight that I had borrowed from the custodian’s closet rolled out. My trusted friend, I thought as I picked it up. You’ve kept my company many nights. I unfolded the thick quilt and blanket that I had found while rummaging in the boxes when I had first taken up residence in the church. I made a neat pallet on the carpeted floor. I sat down and opened up my laptop. It would serve as my light as I dared not turn the ceiling light on lest someone, mainly the custodian, came to investigate. I did not want to give him or anyone a reason to come into my room. Even though my stomach rumbled from hunger, I would have to wait until it got darker and I was sure everyone had left before I could get something to eat. That was normally around six.
You can always find refuge in the church. Those were Nana’s words to me when she fell ill and was preparing me for her death. But that’s another event in my life that I will share with you after I get something to eat. I don’t like to talk much with an empty stomach. Anyway, I did find refuge in the church—the Hill Chapel Church. You might be wondering why was I sneaking through the basement window of the Hill Chapel Church and hiding in it’s ‘clothes room.’ As I just told you, I’ll tell you my story after I get something to eat, that is, if you have the patience to hang around.
Using the light from my computer screen, I read some pages from one of the books I borrowed from the church’s library. The clock on my computer eventually registered 6:35 PM. Good. Now I can go get me something to eat. I listened for any footsteps or other noises as I got up from my pallet. With flashlight in hand and my little box, I made my way to the kitchen where I helped myself to whatever was there. This evening I got a can of corn, a few slices of bread, three hot dogs, sweet pickle wedges, two cans of orange soda, a box of pop tarts, and a box of cereal. I also helped myself to a couple of oranges. As I was feeling more comfortable in my new dwelling, I warmed up the hotdogs on the stove. After placing the food in my little box, I headed back to my room. Two hotdogs, half a can of corn and a couple pickle wedges followed by a pop tart and a can of soda filled me up fast. I left the third hotdog and the rest of the food for my late night snack.
I stashed the rest of the food in a medium sized box that I had emptied of the clothes that were in it. I thought about Nana as I got ready to eat. My eyes filled with tears. I wish I was sitting around the table with her in her kitchen taking in the tantalizing smell of cookies baking in her oven or biting into a piece of her fried chicken and listening to her share words of wisdom with me. Some of her words came to me just as clearly as if she was sitting next to me—words she said to me almost every time we got ready to eat.
“I want you to find something to thank God for everyday. And thank people whenever they do something for you no matter how small you may think it is. And thank God for your mother as well.”
Remembering Nana’s words I bowed my head.
“Dear God, thank You for keeping me safe. Thank You for this food. And thank You for my room. I thank you also for my mom. Please keep her safe.”
After eating, I read some more pages in my book then I watched a movie on my laptop. I must have fallen off to sleep because the next thing I remember was being awakened by someone shaking me.
“Let’s make this quick,” Mike Anderson said to his wife, Ginny. “I don’t know why you waited until the last minute to drop the boxes off.” He parked their station wagon as close as he could to the side door leading into Hill Chapel Church.
“I didn’t know Ann’s performance was going to take this long. I wish you could have come. You would have been proud of her,” Ginny said. “I told Francine I would drop off these clothes and food for tomorrow’s Wednesday night dinner. I have to do it today because tomorrow is Ann’s class trip and I volunteered as one of the chaperones. We’ll be gone all day so I won’t have time to do it tomorrow.”
“Oh, yeah! I had forgotten all about that,” Mike said as they climbed out of the station wagon. He opened the trunk of the car and took out the boxes while his wife held the door open for him. Ginny locked the church door.
Mike and Ginny were in their early thirties and were members of the Hill Chapel Church. Mike worked for Nationwide and Ginny had a home sewing business. Not only were they both active members at Hill Chapel, Ginny also helped out as a volunteer at various school activities and was a member of the PTA Club at the junior high and high school where their sixteen-year-old daughter, Ann, was a student.
“Okay, where do we take them?” Mike asked.
“These two boxes go to the kitchen. And this one I’ll set by the secretary’s door. And the rest go to the Charity Room,” Ginny said.
“Help me set them over here against the back wall,” Ginny said, as they carried the last of the boxes into the Charity Room. “Francine wants to go through them herself.”
As Ginny set the final box against the wall, a movement to her left caught her eyes. “Mike,” she called out to her husband who was already heading for the door.
“Look at this.”
Mike came to where his wife was standing and looked to where she was pointing. He looked back at his wife in surprise then turned his attention back to the small boy asleep on a pallet with a sleeping bag pulled up to his neck. A laptop lay open on his legs. Mike picked up the laptop and looked at the screen. It had a children’s game on it. He handed it to his wife.
“Who is he?” Ginny asked.
Mike shrugged his shoulders. “He doesn’t look familiar to me.”
“How . . . What is he doing asleep in here?” Ginny asked.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” Mike said. “There’s only one way to find out.” He stooped down and started to shake the sleeping boy. “Hey, wake up, buddy.”
I opened my eyes to see a man looking down at me. I sat up quickly, scooting against the wall, all the time eyeing him suspiciously.
“Who are you? What are you doing in here?” he asked.
I pulled my sleeping bag closer to me as if that would offer me some protection against this intruder who had wandered into my territory.
“Maybe I should start at the beginning,” the gentleman said. “Hi. My name is Mike. Mike Anderson. What’s your name?” Mike Anderson extended his hand, but I only pulled my sleeping bag tighter around me.
You don’t have to be mean, but don’t trust a stranger. Those were some of Nana’s words from one of our talks. Right now, I did not trust Mike even if he had friendly brown eyes and warmth in his voice.
“This is my wife, Ginny,” Mike said. “She’s way nicer than I am.”
My eyes met Ginny’s as she knelt down beside her husband. She had an inviting smile, bright eyes, and rosy cheeks. Not only did I like her immediately, but she looked familiar. My eyes darted back to Mike as I tried to figure out where I had seen Ginny before.
“Well, are you going to tell us your name and how you got in here?” Mike said.
I did not answer him.
“We’re not going to hurt you. You can trust us,” Ginny said with a soft voice.
I still kept my eyes on Mike as I tried to figure out how to get away from them. I could make a quick dash for the door. Or, I could just sit here and quietly wait it out. But then there’s no telling how long that would take, that is, if they would leave without me. I made my decision.
“Please don’t hurt me. Leave me alone,” I cried out as I jumped off the bed and sprinted for the door. Mike grabbed my arm. I kicked at him, but he only held on tighter.
“Whoa! I’m not going to hurt you. Just calm down and be still,” he said.
“Leave me alone! Let me go!” I cried as I struggled to break free.
“Just stay calm and I’ll let you go. But you have to promise me that you’ll not try to make a run for it,” Mike said.
I struggled for a bit longer but soon gave up as my strength was no match for Mike’s. Mike gradually loosened his hold on me after I settled down. I looked across at his wife hoping she would tell him to let me go.
“Hey, that’s my computer. Give it back!” I said.
Ginny handed me the computer. I hugged it close to my chest still staring at them and still trying to figure out how to get away.
“Don’t be afraid,” Mike said. “I promise we won’t hurt you. We want to help you, but we can’t if you won’t let us.” He glanced around my living quarters. “This is a cozy room to get some sleep in. Don’t you think so, Ginny?”
“It sure is. Why don’t we spend the night camping out here so our new friend won’t be lonely? I’m sure we could find some extra blankets around here. What did you say your name was again?”
“I didn’t tell you my name,” I said.
“It certainly would be nice if you told us your name, honey. We told you our names,” Ginny said.
I didn’t answer her, but I remembered where I had seen her. I saw her singing in the church choir and I also remember stumbling in on her Sunday school class as I was trying to find the class with children my age. Well, at least she likes children, I thought. That set me at ease, but I still did not answer them.
“Well,” Mike said sitting down on the carpeted floor, “I guess we’d better make ourselves comfortable. I believe we’re in for a long night.”
Ginny sat down beside her husband. They both were facing me.
“Let me give Ann a call to let her know what’s taken place and that we’ll probably not make it home tonight,” Ginny said taking her cell phone out of her skirt pocket.
“Hello, Ann. This is Mom. Just calling to check on you.”
I listened, but never once took my eyes off Mike who had his eyes on me.
“How’s everything?” Ginny asked Ann. “We’re still here at the church. Something came up. Maybe I should say someone came up.” Ginny looked at me with a smile. “I don’t know how long he’s going to delay us… No, it’s nothing serious. We just ran across a little boy who fell asleep in the church… He looks about ten years old… You don’t have to wait up for us. Remember you have a long day tomorrow . . . Yes, I’ll still make it tomorrow. Good night. Love you.”
Ginny placed her cell phone back in her pocket. I’d always wanted one of those. All three of us sat there in silence exchanging glances. Mike stretched out on his side on the floor propping his head up with his hand. “I don’t know about you, Ginny, but this floor is kind of hard. I’d much rather be in my warm comfortable bed. How about you?” he said.
“I would, too,” Ginny said.
“Only one thing,” Mike said with a yawn which seemed forced, “We can’t go until this little fellow tells us who he is and who his parents are and how he got in here. How old do you think he is?”
“I would say about ten,” Ginny said.
“I’m not ten. I’m twelve,” I blurted out.
“Well, that’s a start,” Mike said with a smile. “Wouldn’t you like to be in a nice bed right now?”
“I’m quite comfortable right here,” I lied. The thought of sleeping in a soft bed was very inviting, but I was not going to let them know that.
“How about you tell us your name? It’s only fair that you tell us your name so we won’t have to refer to you as ‘little boy’,” Mike said.
I didn’t respond.
“Hon, I don’t think he wants to talk so we’d better get as comfortable as we can,” Ginny said.
Mike stretched out on his back and folded his arms across his chest. “What should we do with him?” he said.
“I don’t know for sure. We could call Pastor Harris and let him come and get him,” Ginny suggested.
That would be fine with me. I liked Pastor Harris. He told lots of funny jokes when he preached. I’d sat in on some of his preaching since I took up refuge at the church. I had even shaken his hand once. But I wasn’t sure how kindly he would take to me hiding away inside his church and helping myself to their food and books uninvited.
“It’s after twelve,” Mike said glancing at his watch. “It would be thoughtless of us to disturb him at this late hour especially since it’s not an emergency.”
After some silence Ginny said, “We could call the police. What do you think they would do with him?”
My eyes widened and I held my breath.
“Mmm. A twelve year old breaking and entering a church –” Mike said.
“I didn’t break in! I walked in. The door was unlocked,” I said desperation rising inside of me.
“Entering without permission and over-staying,” Mike continued.
“Hiding away and refusing to cooperate when questioned, not to mention stealing the church’s food” Ginny said. “Those are serious crimes for a twelve-year-old. Wouldn’t you say so?”
“Yeah. How many years do you think the judge would place him in jail for?” Mike asked.
“Mmm. Maybe five years,” Ginny said shaking her head. “He would be seventeen years old when he comes out, if he ever comes out. What a waste of one’s life. All his teen years in jail when all he has to do is answer our questions.”
A shiver ran up my spine as I listened to Mike and Ginny discuss my possible doom. Jail? Anything but jail.
“Where did you get that laptop? I hope you didn’t steal it. That would increase your years in jail for sure,” Mike said still looking up at the ceiling.
“I didn’t steal it! My mom gave it to me,” I said
“I hope you’re not lying because that would add more years to your time in jail,” Mike continued.
“Honest. I didn’t steal it.” I said this as forcefully as I could.
Mike and Ginny looked at each other.
“What do you think?” Mike asked. “Should we believe him?”
Ginny looked at me. This time her smile was not there. I looked back at her wide-eyed and too scared to cry—even though I felt like crying. Oh, Nana, I wish you were here.
I pulled my knees up under my chin wondering what I should do. I did not have to wonder for too long. Thank God for every situation you are in be it good or bad, and learn what you can from it. I glanced around the room. Those words were so clear I thought Nana was in the room giving me one of her wisdom talks.
This is nothing to thank God for and there is nothing to learn from it, I thought. All I know is I’m in big trouble especially if they call the police.
I swallowed hard and blinked back the tears that were beginning to form in my eyes. I’ll show them. I will not cry, I thought.
Ginny took out her cell phone and punched in a number.
“Who are you calling?” Mike asked.
“The police,” Ginny said.
“No! No! Please don’t call the police,” I said. “Please. I’ll tell you my name. It’s Keon. Don’t call the police!”
“That’s a start,” Ginny said still holding her phone in her hand with index finger poised to punch in another number. “What’s your last name, Keon?”
“It’s Graham. Keon Graham. And I’m twelve years old,” I said.
Ginny continued punching in things on her cellphone.
“What’s your mother’s name?” she asked.
“Okay. And what’s your father’s name?”
“I don’t have a father.”
Ginny looked at me askance. “You don’t have a father?”
“No. I mean, I don’t know him. He left before I was born.”
“Where is your mother?”
“She’s in California.”
Ginny looked at her husband. “A likely story, don’t you think, Mike?”
“I’m not lying,” I said out of desperation.
“If you’re not lying, why are you here in New York and your mother’s in California?” Mike asked.
I could not contain myself any longer. I let the tears fall. I’d do anything to have Nana to hug me right then. But I had to settle for a comforting hand from Ginny. She patted my arm. Putting her cellphone back in her skirt pocket she asked, “If your mother is in California, who are you staying with here in New York?”
“Nana. She’s my grandmother,” I said. I did not mean to and I did not want to, but I started crying again. This time Ginny hugged me.
“You poor thing,” she said to me. “I think we should take him home with us until we find out who his relatives are,” she said to Mike once my sobbing subsided into sniffles.
“Okay. Let’s go because I’m ready for bed myself,” Mike said as he stood to his feet.
“I know the laptop belongs to you. Do you have anything else you want to take with you?” Ginny asked.
I nodded. I placed the flashlight in my sleeping bag. I thought of leaving it as I rolled my sleeping bag up but I changed my mind as I might be needing it in the future. I pulled my cap out from under the edge of my pallet and placed it on my head. I then took it off and placed it on the pallet. I looked up sheepishly at Ginny. “It’s not mine. I took it out of one of the boxes,” I said.
“You can take it. These clothes are for anyone who wants them,” Ginny said picking the cap up and placing it on my head.
I folded up the quilt and blanket and placed them up against the wall. I then picked up my sleeping bag and my laptop and looked up first at Ginny then at Mike. I was ready to go.
“All set?” Ginny asked.
I took two steps toward the door then stopped. I looked back toward my food box at the back corner. Ginny’s eyes followed my eyes.
“Did you forget something?” she asked.
“Um, just one thing,” I said. I walked toward the box and placed my laptop and my sleeping bag inside and folded the flaps.
“I’ll get that for you,” Mike said reaching for the box.
“No, it’s mine,” I said quickly picking up the box.
“Whatever you have in there must be something special,” he said.
“It’s just stuff,” I said.
“What kind of stuff?” Mike asked.
I looked at Ginny. She had that reassuring smile that everything would be okay. Plus, I did not want them to call the police. I lifted the flaps. They both peered in.
“I guess a little boy does get hungry, huh?” Mike said. “You can take it with you.”
I remained quiet as I clung to my box expecting them to ask where did I get the food from. I guess they figured it out.
“All set?” Ginny asked with a smile.
I smiled back. I liked Ginny. I’m still wasn’t so sure about Mike.
Mike held the door open and Ginny and I walked through into a future that marked a turning point in my life—in all three of our lives.
We rode the fifteen minutes to their house in silence. I kept looking around to see if I recognized where I was and just in case I needed to secretly leave once we got to their place. I recognized the public library. I spent my early days there after I left my foster home until the librarian started asking me why I was not in school. I also recognized a pizzeria. I went in there once and the kind man gave me some bread sticks.
Mike turned on to a dark road that I did not recognize. He then made another sharp turn and, as if out of nowhere, a well lit entrance to a series of houses stood before us. The sign read “Deer Crossing Community.” A wall about my height surrounded the community. Mike stopped at the gate and punched in the entrance code. The gate slid open and he drove through. It closed behind us.
Wow! I thought as I looked around. The houses were large. All was quiet as Mike pulled up into the driveway of a house that was a mansion. He parked in the two-car garage. There was another car parked in the garage. I assumed it belonged to Ginny. I waited anxiously in the back seat clinging to my only possession—my box—not knowing what laid ahead of me. I watched Mike as he got out of the car and unlocked the door leading into the house. Ginny got out as well. She opened the back door of the car.
“Welcome to our home, Keon,” she said with a smile.
I wanted to smile back but I couldn’t, at least not until I saw what awaited me on the inside. I scooted out of the car and with box in hand I followed Ginny inside. She led me through a short hallway that was lit up by a nightlight. We went up a short flight of steps and passed what seemed to be the living room. We then entered the kitchen. There was a light above the sink.
“Would you like a glass of milk with a sandwich or a bowl of cereal?” Ginny asked.
I nodded as I glanced around the kitchen. There was a serenity about that kitchen, maybe because it reminded me of Nana’s kitchen. I had found much comfort in Nana’s kitchen. It was in her kitchen that she dried up many of my tears often with one of her comfort meals. It was in her kitchen that we had many of our wisdom talks.
Ginny served me a glass of milk with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with thinly sliced apples in between the jelly and the peanut butter. She made it just the way I liked it: heavy on the peanut butter. I gobbled it up, not that I was super hungry, but because I had not had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for some months now. I didn’t realize how much I missed it. Ginny and Mike each had a glass of juice.
“Ginny, you can handle it from here. I’m going to get me some sleep,” Mike said, taking his glass of juice with him as he headed toward the door. “Keon, I’ll see you in a few hours. Good night.”
“Good night,” I said.
After I finished eating, Ginny took me to what was to be my bedroom for the night. It was much bigger than my room at Nana’s house. The clock on the side table read 1:05. I lay in the comfortable bed under the warm blanket wondering what would become of me when daylight appeared.
* * * * *
After making sure Keon was safely in bed, Ginny checked in on Ann and then joined her husband in bed.
“Mike,” she said shaking him. “Mike, wake up.”
“Yeah. What’s up,” Mike said turning toward his wife.
“How are we going to work things out today with Keon? Remember I have to chaperone all day on Ann’s class trip. It’s too late to cancel, and I don’t want to leave him with anyone.”
“Yeah. And I have to work all day. We’ll think of something. Don’t forget to set the alarm,” Mike said rolling over and going back to sleep.
“Have you figured out something yet?” Mike asked Ginny upon awaking later that morning.
“Yes. I’m going to call Mrs. Evans at the school and explain the situation to her and see if he can come with us. I’m sure he would love that,” Ginny said.
“That sounds like a winner,” Mike said. “You do that while I get ready.”
“All set,” Ginny said after she said goodbye to Mrs. Evans. “As long as he stays with me he can come with us.”
* * * * *
On the way to the school, Ginny stopped by the department store and bought me a couple of outfits. She also picked up some books for me to read as we traveled. Ann allowed me to use her Kindle to help occupy myself.
I enjoyed myself tremendously. We visited the Smithsonian Institute. We also visited a hotel. The friendly lady at the desk took us on a tour. We sat in one of the conference rooms as she shared with us how to run a hotel. I think I might own some hotels one day and call my chain of hotels Nana’s Place.
Our last stop was at the Reagan National Airport where we went up into the control tower. The man in charge, Mr. Larkin, explained to us how from that small tower they controlled the arrival and departure of hundreds of planes coming and going from all over the world. I was fascinated as I listened to the information he shared with us. He took us to an empty plane parked in the hangar. Each student sat in a seat waiting for the pilot to call our names over the intercom for us to visit the cockpit. We went in groups of three.
I think in addition to owning Nana’s Place, I’d like to be a pilot. I imagined myself flying my own plane as I rested my head against the back of my seat waiting for the rest of the class to have their turn visiting the cockpit. The stewardess served us nuts and juice. I had a great time. When we got home, I shared my experience with Mike.
A New Home?
Ginny made us all a fruit bowl, topped with cool whip, raisins, and granola. After we ate, Mike walked me to my room so I could get ready for bed. There were three sets of pajamas and a set of National Geographic books on my bed.
“Thank you so much,” I said to Mike.
“You’re more than welcome. You don’t have to worry about getting up early tomorrow. Ginny will be home all day so you can sleep in. Okay? Goodnight.”
After Mike closed my door I looked around my room. “Thank You, God, for a great day,” I prayed.
Why did they buy me clothes? How long are they going to allow me to stay here? Where will I go once I leave? Have they told anyone about me? I fell asleep with a lot of questions on my mind.
* * *
“How did everything go?” Mike asked Ginny in the privacy of their bedroom.
“Great. Keon thoroughly enjoyed himself,” Ginny said.
“He seems to be a good kid. Has he said anything about his family or how he happened to be in the church?” Mike asked.
“No. And I think we should give him a few days before asking about his family. He seems to be warming up to us. He’ll trust us enough to tell us his story,” Ginny said.
“That’s what I was thinking,” Mike said. “I wanted to take him to work with me tomorrow, but I think he needs to sleep in. I don’t want to overload him, especially since he might be experiencing some stress.”
“I don’t have any appointments for the rest of the week so he can hang with me,” Ginny said. “And I’m sure he won’t mind running a few errands with me.”
“In the meantime, I’ll see what I can find out about his mother,” Mike said. “I think he said her name was Katherine Wilson, right?”
Ginny reached for her phone and looked at the notes she had taken. “Yes, that’s her name. He said his grandmother died. His last name is Graham.”
“I’ll see what I can find out,” Mike said, reaching over to turn the light out.
* * *
I awakened the following morning to sunlight streaming through my window. Someone had opened the blinds. I lay in bed wondering whether or not to get up. I heard a whirring sound coming from downstairs. Feeling hungry, I decided to get up. There was a towel, a face cloth, a toothbrush, and a comb and hairbrush on the dresser.
I gathered up the items and headed for the bathroom. Ginny must have heard me returning to my room to get dressed because she appeared in the hallway.
“Good morning, Keon. How are you feeling?” Ginny said.
“Good morning. I feel fine,” I said.
“Do you feel rested?” she asked.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Come down to the kitchen. I’ll have your breakfast ready for you. Okay?”
“Okay,” I said.
Ginny had prepared sausage biscuits, scrambled eggs with cheese, buttered toast with jam, orange juice, and danishes. We talked about the trip among other things while we ate.
“Mike’s already left for work and Ann has already left for school, so it’s just you and me,” Ginny said. “Is there anything you would like to do?”
I thought a little. “I’ll work on my laptop and read the books Mike gave me,” I said.
“Do you have any brothers or sisters?” Ginny asked.
“What school do you go to?”
I swallowed. “Well, I don’t go to school anymore. I haven’t gone since my Nana died.”
“You must miss her,” Ginny said.
“As soon as you’re done eating, we can go to my sewing room. I have a sewing business so I spend most of my days at home,” Ginny said.
I helped her clear the table and stood by the sink while she washed the dishes.
I swung round to where I heard the sound. A clock was hanging on the wall. A bird slid in and out of the tiny door saying, “Cuckoo! Cuckoo!” I was fascinated with it. I had never seen anything like that before. Ginny waited with me until the bird finished all ten cuckoos. We walked to her sewing room, then I left to get my laptop and books. I sat at one end of her cutting table and surveyed the large room. The sewing machine appeared to be bolted onto the table where Ginny sat. The table had one cabinet that stood open, exposing trays and spools of thread. There were drawers on the other side.
The closet door stood open and there were dresses hanging inside. There was a clothes rack standing against one wall. A half mannequin stood on the other end of the sewing table. There was a tiny bed pushed up to one corner.
“Did you sew those?” I asked, pointing at the clothes.
“Yes,” Ginny said. For the most part, we worked in silence. By the time she ended her day, I presented her with a picture I drew on my laptop of her sitting at her sewing machine.
“Oh, thank you. It’s beautiful,” Ginny said giving me a hug. “We have to get it printed. You have wonderful talent.”
“Thank you,” I said. Then I whispered, “Thank You, God, for Ginny,” remembering the promise I made to Nana to be thankful for the good people I met.
It was Wednesday, my second day with Mike and Ginny Anderson. Even though I had enjoyed my two days with them, my heart was still anxious. I had not heard them say anything about what they planned to do with me. Were they trying to gain my trust only to turn their backs on me? Were they planning on turning me over to the police? Would I end up back in foster care? Had they said anything to Pastor Harris?
“Keon, Keon. Are you all right?” Ginny asked, shaking my arm.
“Oh, me? Yes,” I said, picking up my fork again.
We were all sitting at the table in the kitchen, eating our Wednesday evening meal before going to church for the mid-week prayer meeting and Bible study hour. I glanced at the cuckoo clock; it was 4:30. Mike and Ginny’s daughter, Anne, was sitting beside me.
“You seem a hundred miles away,” Ginny said. “Is something wrong?”
“No,” I said, taking a bite of my garlic bread. “I was just thinking.”
“Well, eat up. We must get going. I have choir rehearsal from five until six fifteen. You can join the others in the fellowship hall, and if you feel like eating again, you can eat with them. Tonight they’re serving chicken nuggets and salad.”
I nodded, too busy chewing my food to answer. Little did they know, I was already familiar with their Wednesday evening dinner, having joined a few of them and somehow, on two occasions, managed to take my plate of food back to the charity room when no one was looking.
“You can stay with me while Ginny rehearses, or you could hang out with the teenagers,” Mike said.
I chose to stay with Mike. He and Ginny did not introduce me as the runaway kid hiding in the church’s charity room. Instead, they told others how my grandmother had died and I was spending a few days with them. I looked up at them with grateful eyes. Ginny smiled at me. I rewarded her with a smile of my own. She understood.
“You made it seem like you knew my grandmother,” I said to Ginny and Mike on our way back home from church.
“Well, I don’t need to know all the details. It’s our secret. Is that all right with you?” Ginny asked.
“Yes,” I said smiling.
“By the way, Keon,” Mike said. “What school were you going to? I’m sure you would like to continue going to your school. Or we may need to transfer you to another school closer to us. We’ll need to get your records.”
“Hillsdale Middle School,” I said. I loved going to school. If they are talking of putting me in school, then maybe they have plans for me staying with them, I thought.
“Tomorrow we’ll go to the bookstore and pick up a few workbooks for you,” Ginny said.
“Mom, you can sign him up with a tutoring service online. Remember you had me sign up with one when I was having problems with my math,” Ann said. She had been sitting beside me quietly reading her Kindle.
“We sure can. Now why didn’t I think of that?” Ginny asked.
“That sounds good!” I said excitedly.
The following morning, after Ginny and I returned from the bookstore and had settled down in her sewing room, I eagerly tackled my school books.
Over a late lunch, Ginny asked me the one question I was hoping they would not ask. “Keon, tell me how you ended up in our charity room. I promise no one will know except Mike and myself.”
I swallowed as I gathered my thoughts, not knowing where to begin. Ginny, who had joined me at the cutting table, was doing some embroidery work on a couple of pillowcases she was sewing for one of her customers. It was to be a wedding gift.
The silky white material shimmered in the light. Ginny’s hand skillfully started moving the needle with the silver embroidery thread in and out of the material. One pillowcase was already done. It had the word ‘HERS’ in big letters, the date of the wedding, and the words “until death do us part.” She was working on the word ‘HIS’ on the second pillowcase.
I told Ginny about the day my mother received the letter from McKenon & Parker offering her a job.
“I had never seen her so happy. She was much nicer to me after that. I was happy because she was happy.”
“Was she not always a happy person?” Ginny asked.
“Not always. Before then, I remember her being sad.”
“Did you both live with your grandmother?” Ginny asked.
“At first we did. Then she and Nana had a serious argument. I don’t quite remember all of it as I was only five years old. But I remember it made me sad because we had to leave Nana’s house.”
“Katherine, like I’ve been telling you ever since you were a teenager, you have always been a flighty person — in your thoughts, words, and actions. Your spirit is unsettled. You always want to jump up and move to something new,” Nana said.
“Kathy. Please call me Kathy. I hate the name Katherine,” Mom said.
“Yes, Kathy. Thanks for reminding me,” Nana said. “You need to ask God to have His quietness and peace to dwell within you.”
“Mama, I’m just asking you to do me one favor. Please. I’ll only be gone for a week. Can’t you watch him for me, just for one week? I mean, he is your grandson.”
“And he is your son — your only son. Is it too much for you to sacrifice a week with your friends to be with your five-year-old son who is quietly crying out for your attention?”
“Mama, how can you say that when I’m here with him every day?”
“You’re here in body, but your mind is not here. It has not been here since you gave birth to him,” Nana snapped. “Like I warned you when you started playing around with Devon, you were playing with someone who did not take life seriously. But, oh no, you wouldn’t listen. You were consumed with the idea of marriage and having a baby and being a mother. Well, you had the baby and now you are a mother! You better wake up and accept your reality.”
Nana and Mom eyed each other for what seemed like an eternity. I believe they forgot I was sitting on the floor pushing my trucks and cars around, listening to them.
“You know what?” Mom finally said in a trembling voice. “Maybe it is time for me to leave and move into my own place.”
“Maybe it is,” Nana said calmly.
Mom’s eyes widened. I guess she expected Nana to beg her to stay.
“I’ve had nothing but five years of stress since we’ve come to live with you. So, yes, maybe it is time for me to find my own place,” Mom said.
Somehow, she didn’t sound very convincing to me.
“No, you haven’t had stress from living with me,” Nana said. “You have experienced stress because you are still upset and hurt because things did not work out between you and Devon. I saw you the other night on the day bed curled up in a fetal position crying. You are mad at yourself. You are mad at Devon. And you are taking it out on your son.”
“That’s not true,” Mom said.
“Oh, really? You have not been the same since Devon left you. You have been withdrawn and you’re still experiencing depression. Do you know why you’re depressed? You’re depressed because you have not accepted that you and Devon are not going to be a couple like you wanted,” Nana said.
“Yes, I have,” Mom said.
“Then why do I still hear you crying at night when you think everybody’s asleep? Why do you still sit staring into space sometimes? Why aren’t you happy like you used to be? Katherine, it’s been five years. How long are you going to carry that hurt around? You have to let Devon go. It’s useless trying to hold on to someone who has already left.”
Mom remained silent.
“Look at me,” Nana said in a softer tone. “You have to face reality. Devon is not coming back. Keon may never know his father. If you don’t accept this reality you are going to be miserable forever, and you will never be the good mother you should be to Keon. And that would not be fair to him. He needs at least a mother. You need to stop being selfish.”
“Mama, please! Let me decide what my own reality will be. Okay?” Mom said abruptly. “I’ll begin looking for a new place tomorrow.”
Nana opened her mouth but quickly closed it.
Mom and I moved into an apartment next to a friend of hers. On the day we left her home, Nana hugged me tight.
“Don’t worry, Keon,” she said. “Always remember that I love you. I’m allowing this so your mother will grow up and begin acting responsible. You can call me any time. And always be thankful no matter what.”
I missed staying with Nana and it wasn’t long before I started giving Mom a hard time about it.
“Mom, why can’t I stay with Nana? We don’t visit her anymore,” I asked one evening after talking with Nana on the phone. “I don’t want to go to day care after school. I’d rather go to Nana’s.”
“Will you stop pestering me about your grandmother? Be happy you can talk with her over the phone because you may not see her much anymore,” Mom said. “She’s the one who told us to leave. And do you know why? Because I’m not being responsible. Well, I’ll show her how responsible I am. I’m here with you right now, aren’t I?”
“Well, Nana said something about your mind not being here,” I said.
“And what do you suppose she meant by that?” Mom asked.
“Well, you don’t color with me. You don’t read to me. Nana reads to me all the time. She read to me The Little Engine That Could over the phone yesterday. That’s my favorite book. And she told me I could do anything I set my mind to just like the little engine.”
“Like talking back to me,” Mom said.
“I don’t think that’s what she meant. She tells me not to smart-mouth you,” I said.
“Well, that’s what you’re doing when you question what I do,” Mom said.
“But Nana tells me to ask questions if I have a question to ask,” I said.
Mom looked at me. “Nana has nothing else to do,” she finally said. “I have to work from morning until evening so you can have this place to stay and so you can have food to eat including the McDonald’s happy meal which you did not thank me for.”
“Thank you. But I’d rather have Nana’s chicken,” I mumbled.
“If you don’t stop talking back to me you won’t get another happy meal and I won’t let you talk with Nana on the phone,” Mom said.
“Nana will buy me a happy meal,” I said, “and she’ll call to find out why I can’t talk with her anymore.”
“You’re being a pain in the neck. Go and read your books or watch TV,” Mom said.
As soon as she found the right channel and made sure I was watching it she got on the phone with her friend.
I told Nana about it later. “She talked until late into the night,” I said. “I had to get ready for bed myself. Nana, can I please come and stay with you?”
“Put your mother on the phone,” Nana said.
Chapter 11: Threatened
One Friday after Mom dropped me off at Nana’s, I shared with Nana something that Mom did. I didn’t mean any harm.
“Mom put me to bed and told me to stay there and not to move until she came back. She said she was going next door to a party her friend had invited her to,” I said.
“I cannot believe this!” Nana said. “Do you mean to tell me that she left you in the apartment by yourself?”
“Yes, she said I was old enough to start looking after myself.”
“That girl is losing her mind. Anything could have happened to you,” Nana said.
When Mom came to pick me up on Sunday evening Nana gave her a tongue lashing. I had never seen Nana so upset.
“Are you crazy leaving your child by himself while you go party all night?” Nana asked Mom, going into the living room. I put the book I was reading down and listened at the doorway.
“It was not all night,” Mom said, defensively.
“All right then, half a night. It does not matter, you do not leave a six-year-old by himself for any length of time. Why couldn’t you have taken him with you and let him sleep at your friend’s house? Better still, why couldn’t you have brought him over here?” Nana asked. “We may not be on good terms right now, but we don’t have to act irrational when it comes to Keon. I have a great mind to call Children and Family Services and have them place him with a mother and father who will love him and spend time with him.”
A new fear rose inside me — a fear that visited me every time Mom did something that did not seem right to me. A fear that intensified whenever I heard Nana arguing with her about something. That fear did not leave until I asked Nana about Children and Family Services.
“Nana, would you really call Family Services to come and put me with another family?”
Nana chuckled and gave me one of her big, warm hugs. “Of course not,” she said. “I couldn’t do such a thing, so you don’t have to worry your little head about anything. I’d rather you come and live with me again.”
I sighed with relief and smiled. “Then why did you tell Mom that?”
“Oh, I was just trying to put some sense into her to let her see how irresponsible she’s acting,” Nana said. “If the police or Family Services knew she left you in the house by yourself they would charge her with negligence and child endangerment.”
I swallowed. Mom had done it before. She would set me in front of the television and tell me not to get up until she got back. She said she would bring me back a candy bar if I stayed put. I dared not tell Nana as I did not want to be taken away from Mom. I still loved her even though she did not always act responsible.
I believe Nana’s threat did put some sense into Mom, at least for a while. She started reading to me more even though she did not act out the story characters as Nana did. She took me to the library once. She even showed me how to play some games on her laptop.
“You’re a natural,” she said. “You catch on fast. How would you like your own computer?”
About a week later, I had my own computer. Maybe I should have told her I did not want my own computer because she left me many evenings to play on it by myself while she talked on the phone. I wonder if it was my fault that she did that because one evening I blurted out, “You don’t read like Nana does. She acts the stories out.”
Mom looked at me sharply. “Is that what this is about? Comparing me with Nana? All I ever hear from you is Nana this and Nana that. Do you want to go live with her? Because we can arrange it.”
My eyes filled with tears. I did not mean any harm. Why would she respond so harshly?
“Nana, all I wanted her to do was to act out the story like you do. Can I come live with you?” I said.
Nana hugged me. “We’ll see, baby. We’ll see.”
“She doesn’t talk to me like you. She’s always telling me to be quiet. And, Nana, I don’t like going to the daycare after school,” I told her.
Although Nana had a two-bedroom house where I could have my own room, I would sometimes camp out on her bedroom floor under a tent made with my sheets and the couch cushions. On one particular night, I awakened to hear Nana harshly talking to Mom.
“Katherine, you have to get your act together. You are hurting Keon and you don’t even know it.”
“What do you mean I’m hurting him?”
“Why would a six-year-old ask his grandmother can he come and live with her? Is it killing you to spend five mornings and evenings with him? He’s in school all day and he’s asleep at nights, and I have him on the weekends and he is no problem at all.”
“Mama, Keon, like any other child, exaggerates because I won’t let him have his way,” Mom said. “And have you forgotten, I’m a single parent who has to work so I can provide for him?”
“There’s more to taking care of a child than providing material things,” Nana said. “You have always been a selfish person. You have to learn to get out of your world and get into his world.”
“How can you say I’m selfish? I’m here with him every day, aren’t I? I don’t know what Keon’s been telling you, and I don’t see how you can take the word of a six-year-old over his mother’s words.”
“Easily. Children have pure hearts and they tell it as it is,” Nana said. “Did you know he does not like going to after-school or daycare?”
“Mama, I can’t be worried about whether or not Keon likes after-school. Where else is he going to stay after school lets out? I’m still at work,” Mom said.
Nana chuckled. “Your pride just won’t let you ask me to watch him for you, now will it? It would be so much easier and less stress on you if I picked him up from school, now wouldn’t it? Don’t let your pride stand in the way of doing something good for Keon’s sake, Katherine. Think about it. Good night.”
Chapter 12: My Father
Nana’s words must have hit home because Nana started picking me up from school. Eventually, I was sleeping over at her house during the week and only spending one or two nights with Mom which was fine with me.
“Why doesn’t Mom come and live with us like she used to?” I asked Nana.
“She’s more than welcome to live with us, but she has issues she’s dealing with. Plus, I do not want you caught up in the middle of her mess,” Nana said.
“What kind of issues?”
“Apart from issues concerning your father she is now beating up on herself for not finishing college. She was in her last year when you were born. She’s been trying to find a job with a software company. She has her heart set on Microsoft but nothing has opened up for her so far. I told her if she were to finish school there’s a higher possibility that something might open up. That’s another reason I am keeping you – so she can focus on her studies.”
After Nana explained things to me, I settled down at her place without thinking of spending time with Mom. Mom spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with us. She also came to the Christmas play at Nana’s church. I acted as one of the shepherds who went to see Baby Jesus at the end of the play. We sang the words:
The virgin Mary had a Baby Boy
The Virgin Mary had a Baby Boy,
The Virgin Mary had a Baby Boy,
And they say that His Name is Jesus.
I sang very loud so Nana and Mom could hear me. Nana laughed. Mom smiled. She gave me a big hug when it was all over.
“You did great,” Mom said.
“Next year I’m going to be one of the wise men,” I said returning her hug. I was surprised she hugged me because she’s not the hugging type. Well, she used to hug me when I was little, but she stopped. I didn’t notice until one day I asked her if I could sit on her lap while she read to me.
“You’re way too big to sit on my lap,” she said.
I was only four then. I remember her telling me the same thing when I was three.
“I’m not too big,” I said.
Mom sighed. “Let’s just read.”
After we read, Mom went to take her shower. I needed a pen or pencil so I could draw a picture for her. I went inside her bedroom and searched in her computer desk drawer. I did find some pens and pencils, but I also found a picture of mom and a man. They both had their arms around each other’s neck and were laughing. I was so intent on the picture I did not hear Mom come into the room.
“What are you doing in here?” she said.
“I just came to see if you had a pen or pencil so I could draw–”
Mom cut me off. “I have told you never to go searching in my drawer.”
“I just wanted to draw you a picture,” I said.
“And I see you also found a picture. Put it back and, next time, you ask before you go searching in my things.”
I put the picture back and hurried out of the room.
“Who was that man in the picture with you?” I asked Mom when I gave her the picture I drew for her.
“That’s your father,” she said quietly.
My father. The man who causes my mother to cry at night. That’s strange. He does not seem to be that kind of man.
“Was he nice?” I asked.
“Yes. Until something happened that did not fit into his plans,” Mom said. “Anyway, I don’t want to talk about him right now or at all. Okay?”
“Okay. Do you like my picture?”
“Picture? Oh, yes, I do,” Mom said, glancing down at the picture I had drawn her.
“Your voice sounds funny,” I said with a laugh.
She turned her head and wiped at her eyes. I went to my room thinking about what Mom had said about my father, “until something happened that did not fit into his plans.” I decided to ask Nana about it the next evening when she picked me up from school.
“Am I that something that did not fit into my father’s plans?” I asked her.
Nana sighed and seemed to search for the right words.
“Keon, what I’m going to tell you may hurt, but it is best you know it now while you’re young,” she said. “Yes, you did not fit into your father’s plans. He wanted to play around with your mother. Well, they both played around and your mother got pregnant. Of course, you were not in either of their plans, but rather than facing up to the responsibility, he left your mother. We have not seen or heard from him since.”
I remained quiet.
“But don’t you let that bother you. God has a great plan for you. You thank God every day that you were born healthy and that you have a mother and a grandmother who love you. Many children do not have a mother or a father or a grandmother for that matter. But most of all, thank God that He is your Heavenly Father.”
“I will,” I said.
“God told Jeremiah, ‘Before I formed you in the belly, I knew you; I set you apart to do great things.’ Remind me to read it to you when we get home because God knew all about you before you were born,” Nana said.
“I will,” I said thoughtfully.
Nana mussed my hair. “You look like your father, especially when you twist your mouth like that. In fact, you were named after him. His name is Kevin Devon, and your name is Keon.”
“Do you think that’s why my mom does not smile or talk with me much because I remind her of my father?” I asked.
“Hmm. That’s very insightful for a six-year-old,” Nana said. “I never thought about that. If that is the case, don’t get an attitude towards your mother. Thank God for her no matter what because she could have aborted you or put you up for adoption, then I would have never known you.”
I looked across at Nana as I wondered what life would be like without her. That was a sad thought so I quietly thanked God for my mother and grandmother.
Later that evening, Nana told Mom what I had told her. “Is that true, Katherine?”
I did not hear what Mom said but Nana told me after she got off the phone.
“Yes, Mama. Every time I look at Keon it’s like I’m looking Devon in the face. They have the same facial expressions and mannerisms, and I can’t handle it day in and day out.”
“So you’re going to allow that to affect your relationship with Keon? Don’t take your bitterness towards Devon out on Keon,” Grandma said gently. “Learn to forgive, Katherine. Forgive Devon and forgive yourself so that you can enjoy your son and enjoy your life. Don’t focus on the negative; focus on the positive. Learn to be thankful for the good that you do have in your life.”
Chapter 13: Graduation
With that new revelation, I settled down at Nana’s house quite content to stay with her. At Nana’s suggestion, I called Mom twice each week. After telling her what I did at school and what I learned at Sunday school, there was not much else to talk about. Apart from her saying ‘hello’ and asking me how I was doing and if I was behaving, we didn’t make much conversation. Sometimes she would speak with Nana, other times she would tell me to tell Nana ‘hello’ for her.
“You tell her you love her after every phone call,” Nana said to me. “Is that too much to say two days out of the week?”
“I don’t think she wants to hear it,” I said. “Besides, she already knows I love her.”
“Whether she wants to hear it or not, you should still say it. Don’t you love her?”
“Well, tell her so,” Nana said. “Don’t you love for me to hug you and tell you I love you when you feel sad?”
“Yes,” I said. I did not understand why Nana insisted on me telling Mom I loved her every time. Maybe it is one of those things you don’t understand until you get older.
“I love you,” I told Mom the next time I spoke with her.
She hesitated for what seemed like a long time. “I love you too,” she said quietly, her voice trembling a bit.
I spent an entire year living with Nana and only seeing Mom on those weekends when she would stop by to visit as she finished her last year of studies. As a graduation gift, Nana took the three of us to a fancy restaurant.
“Thanks so much, Mama. I really appreciate you helping me out with school this year,” Mom said.
“I’m glad I could do it. What are your plans going forward?” Nana asked.
“I plan on pursuing my career as a computer programmer. Hopefully, I’ll land a job with Microsoft. As you know, that has always been my dream,” Mom said.
“Keep applying. You’ll land a good job. Just have faith in God,” Nana said.
I listened to them talk as I ate. Nothing was said about my going back to live with Mom. I’ll ask Nana later, I thought.
“What I can’t understand is that I’ve submitted about fifteen applications, but I haven’t received a response yet.” Mom sounded frustrated. “I’m ready to move on.”
Are you going to move on with your life without me? I wondered.
“Maybe something will open up now that you can add a completed degree to your resume,” Nana said.
“I sure hope so,” Mom sighed.
We finished our meal and were eating our dessert when Mom glanced at her phone and said, “Mama, I don’t mean to rush out on you, but I promised a couple of girls in my class that I would join them for a celebration meal.”
“A celebration meal? We just ate. Where are you going?” Nana asked.
“Their apartment,” Mom answered.
“And then?” Nana said with an I-already-know smile.
Mom giggled. “We’ll be meeting up with some other students.”
“Where at?” Nana was still smiling.
“Do I have to answer that? We’re just going to party a little.”
I was hoping Mom would have said she wanted to spend the rest of the evening with me.
“I hope that’s all you do: party a little,” Nana said. “Just don’t do anything stupid.” This time Nana was not smiling.
We drove to Mom’s apartment so she could get her car. She seemed so happy. I guess finishing college will make you happy—so happy you forget to hug your six-year-old son.
“Nana,” I said once we got home and were sitting on the couch watching television.
“Am I going to have to go back and live with Mom now that’s she’s finished with school?”
Nana placed her arm around my shoulders and pulled me in for a hug. “To tell you the truth, I don’t know what your mother plans on doing.”
“Do you want me to stay with you, Nana? Because I don’t want to leave you,” I said.
“Of course, I want you to stay; I’d hate to see you go. You’ve been great company for me, but that has to be your mother’s decision.”
“Can you talk her into coming and living with us?” I asked.
Nana hugged me tighter. It was a hug that said more than any words could.
“I’ll talk to your mother tomorrow. She should be stopping by if she doesn’t party too much.”
I looked at Nana, puzzled. She chuckled. “It’s a thing these college graduates do when they finish their studies. They party all night then sleep all morning—sometimes all day. So we may see your mother tomorrow, then again, we may not. In the meantime, promise me you’ll pray with me about it,” Nana said.
“We could pray right now.”
“That’s not a bad idea,” Nana said.
After Nana prayed, I prayed.
“Dear God, thank You that Mom graduated today. It was good to see her laughing and smiling so much. I pray that You would give her a job at Microsoft. She says that is where she would like to work. And I pray that she would come and live with me and Nana. Amen.”
“Amen,” Nana said.
I curled up on the couch, resting my head on Nana’s arm.
“While you and Mom were talking at the restaurant she never once said anything about moving on with me when she said she was ready to move on with her life. Do you think she meant without me?”
Nana enveloped one of my hands in her warm hands. It sent a comforting feeling through my whole body.
“We’ll just pray about it,” she said.
Nana did talk to Mom about her plans for me when Mom stopped by late the next evening. I guess she partied until late because she had bags under her eyes. Nana kidded with her about partying all night.
“Katherine, what are your plans for Keon now that you’re finished with your studies?” Nana asked.
Mom’s expression seemed to say ‘how can you say something like that?’
“Well, since it’s summer, I was hoping he would continue staying with you; you know, we’d leave things as they are,” Mom said.
Yes! I thought with glee.
“Remember, I still have that secretarial job at the business office off Broad Street. They promised me longer hours once I graduated, so I’ll still be working during the daytime. Keon will need someone to watch him then. Are you getting tired of watching him?”
I could have answered that question for her.
Nana chuckled. “That’s not a question I need to answer. I was just thinking now that you’re out of school you could spend more time with your son. Maybe pick him up every evening and spend that time with him. He’d love that.”
I sensed Mom looking at me, but I pretended to be occupied with my book.
“I thought he was happy staying here,” she finally said.
“Don’t get me wrong. He is very happy staying here. You mentioned that you were ready to move on with your life. Do your plans for moving on include Keon?” Nana was serious.
I sensed the hesitancy in Mom’s voice as though she was carefully choosing her words. “Of course, Mama. My plans for moving on include Keon,” she said brusquely. Then she added, “He’s my son.”
Somehow her words did not sound sincere. I felt like she was trying to convince herself more than she was trying to convince Nana.
“I was hoping you’d continue keeping him during the daytime.”
“That’s no problem,” Nana said.
“I can pick him up in the evenings,” Mom said.
I thought I heard her sigh when she said those words.
“What about on the weekends? I was wondering could…could you still keep him?” Mom said.
“Why?” Nana asked.
“Well, I may be working on Saturdays as well, and I’ll need Sundays to rest up for the next week,” Mom said matter-of-factly.
Nana seemed to think about it. “Yes. I’ll keep him on weekends. I wouldn’t want him to miss church. You need to start coming back to church yourself. That would help stabilize your life and provide the direction you need.”
“Mama, I haven’t forgotten God. I just…” Mom trailed off.
Nana and I waited for Mom to continue, but she never finished what she was about to say. Instead, she glanced at her watch and stood up.
“Mama, I need to be going. I need to get some more rest so I’ll be ready to go on Monday.”
“Are you going to be in church tomorrow?” Nana asked.
“I’ll be there,” Mom said not too enthusiastically.
Mom came to church. She had dinner with us. I believe she stayed longer than she wanted to because three ladies from the church came over and she didn’t want to seem impolite. As soon as they left she said goodnight.
Mom graduated in May. She received a letter from McKenon & Parker in August. My birthday was on October first. It was the biggest one I had yet. In fact, I had two parties. Nana gave me one with my Sunday school class, which she did every year. Mom gave me one with my classmates from school. This was Mom’s first time giving me a birthday party. I concluded later that she may have done it because of guilt. Not only had McKenon & Parker hired her, but if she accepted the position she would have to move all the way to California. Why should she feel guilty about that? Once again, I wasn’t eavesdropping. Honest. I just happened to overhear her and Nana talking, and…well…I listened.
I awakened from my nap, and feeling hungry, I headed for the kitchen. Nana was baking cookies. I stopped in the hallway when I overheard Nana arguing with Mom.
“When are you going to tell him? The longer you put it off the harder it’s going to be.”
“Mama, I just don’t know how to tell him I can’t take him with me out to California.”
“Tell him like you do everything else!” Nana sounded angry. “‘Be quiet, Sit down, Leave me alone’,” she said sarcastically.
“Mama!” Mom began.
“Don’t ‘Mama’ me. I still don’t see why you can’t take him with you.”
“That’s because I’ll be staying in a hotel for the first month until an apartment opens up,” Mom said.
Seems to me they would have an apartment ready for you if they need you so badly,” Nana said.
“That’s not all. I have to find a babysitter or daycare and I have to enroll him in school, and–”
“And it seems to me you would have all that squared away before you accept the job,” Nana said. “But like I’ve always told you, you up and do things on the spur of the moment without thinking ahead. How about McKenon & Parker? Do they have a place to stay? Do they have their families with them?”
“Mama, they are my bosses. I don’t ask them personal questions. All I need is for you to watch Keon for me for one month. That should give me time to get a place and stuff. Please, Mama you know it’s been my dream to work at a place like this,” Mom pleaded.
“Yes. But I didn’t know you would end up in California. Picture this: a young, attractive, single lady, who has not recovered from a broken relationship, leaves New York for California, where she knows no one, to pursue her career. My spirit is unsettled about this. Even if you did not have Keon I would still be concerned. You’re leaving yourself vulnerable to anything.”
“Oh, Mama, you worry too much. I’ll be all right. Haven’t I always taken care of myself?” Mom asked.
“I don’t know. Have you?” Nana said. “When will you be leaving again?”
“The Monday before Thanksgiving,” Mom said.
“No. You’re not leaving the Monday before Thanksgiving. You’re not going to mess Keon’s Thanksgiving up. You’re going to tell whoever hired you that you are going to spend Thanksgiving with your family. I thought we had already settled that. And something is wrong with your thinking if you don’t see anything wrong with that,” Nana said with finality.
Mom opened her mouth to protest.
“I don’t want to hear it. You tell your boss you won’t be able to fly in or drive in or however you plan on getting there, until the Monday after Thanksgiving,” Nana said firmly.
I walked into the kitchen.
Chapter 15: Leaving It Behind
Mom’s indecision plagued me over the next two weeks. Yes, Nana was right: something was wrong with that picture. Even as a seven-year-old, I could figure that out. As Thanksgiving drew closer, I became more and more anxious. I did see some things pointing to Mom moving. New suitcases. New clothes for Mom. New hairstyle. New shoes. Somehow, I did not feel as good about this new job of her’s like I had before. I began to wish McKenon & Parker hadn’t hired her.
I went to bed Sunday night with an anxious heart. Was Mom going to be here on Monday? Or, would she be in California when I woke up? I must have been having a nightmare because Nana woke me up.
“Keon! Keon! Wake up. You’re having a bad dream. What’s bothering you?”
“I was dreaming that Mom went to California without me and I never saw her again. Is she leaving today?”
“Come here, baby,” Nana said hugging me. “Who told you she was leaving today?”
“I’ve known for over a month. I woke up and heard you and her talking. Tell me she’s not leaving today, Nana. And she hasn’t said anything to me about when she’s leaving. Why is she keeping it a secret?” I was nearly in tears.
Nana hugged me tighter. “No, she’s not leaving today. At least, that’s what she told me.”
“Do you think she would lie?” I asked. The tears were beginning to fall now.
“I hope not. But I do believe she is waiting until the last minute to tell you,” Nana said. “I told her not to do that.”
“Why would she?”
“My guess is guilt. I believe, deep down, she knows she should not go all the way to California and leave you behind,” Nana said. “It’s okay to cry, but while you cry, ask the Lord God about it. He always knows best.”
I did not want to pray then, so Nana prayed for both of us. I began to feel angry at Mom for not wanting me to go with her. She could have looked for an apartment and signed me up for school before we left. I told Nana that.
At first Nana did not respond. She only hugged me. “Now, now, put that anger back where it came from and be thankful even for this. Paul says, ‘In everything be thankful as this is the will of God for you at this time,’” she said.
“I don’t see why God would want Mom to leave me behind!” I blurted out.
“Now, now, let’s see,” Nana said. “Try to look for something good out of what you see as a bad situation. Always do that.”
“The only good thing out of this is that Mom got herself a bunch of new stuff,” I said.
Nana chuckled. “Let’s see. You could thank God you’re still alive because you could be dead. You could thank God your mother is also alive because she could be dead. Do you know how many children do not have a mother? You could thank God that tomorrow you’re going with me to buy the biggest turkey there is in the store. Come on, thank the Lord for something.”
Before long, Nana and I were taking turns thanking God for different things. I must admit, I felt better. Giving thanks does work. Nana fixed us both some warm milk, sweetened with honey and buttered toast.
“Do you think this will be our last Thanksgiving together?” I asked.
“Not while I’m alive,” Nana said. “I’ll fly out to California, if I have to, to spend Thanksgiving with my favorite grandson.”
“And I’ll fly back to New York, if I have to, to spend Thanksgiving with my favorite Nana,” I said drinking down the rest of my milk.
Nana tucked me in and gave me a kiss on the forehead. “Now don’t you worry ‘bout a thing. God has it all under His control.”
“Okay,” I said. “Nana, do you think Mom’s going to come home and get me after a month is over?”
Nana hesitated. “I just told you not to worry. The Lord God is in control,” she said quietly.
“Just pray,” we both said together.
Nana and I were so busy picking up our Thanksgiving food over the next few days I forgot all about Mom leaving. That week I slept over at Nana’s. On Wednesday, we went to a Thanksgiving service at the church. My friend, Marlon, and I talked about who had the biggest turkey. He and his family would be spending Thanksgiving with his grandmother in another part of New York. They had spent Thanksgiving with us last year.
“Are we having anyone over for Thanksgiving?” I asked Nana on the way home from church.
“No. I think it’s best to have just you, me, and your mother this year,” Nana said.
When we got home, Mom was waiting for us. She had hot cocoa, marshmallows, and cookies for us. It was just what I needed on that chilly Thanksgiving Eve. After I finished my snack Nana told me to get ready for bed as she and Mom would be up late getting things ready for the next day. When I came to say ‘good night’ I once again overheard them talking. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop. Honest. I couldn’t help it.
“Kathy, it seems to me you’re running away from something here,” Nana said. “Going all the way to California won’t change the hurt of the past.”
“What are you talking about? I’m not trying to run away from anything,” Mom said. “And will you stop telling me what I’m feeling and what to do? I’m a grown woman.”
“Yes, you are,” Nana said. “You’ve been trying to run away from anything to do with Devon. But changing your location won’t get rid of the memories. You need to face it: Obviously, Devon did not care for you, you need to accept it, pray about it, and move on with your life. You can’t act as though it never happened because it will keep resurfacing, and each time it resurfaces, it will cause more pain,” she said.
“Mama, I have accepted it.”
“No, you haven’t. If you did you wouldn’t be acting the way you’ve been acting. You wouldn’t be so sensitive whenever I bring it up. And you would have done all you needed to do to take Keon with you to California. How are you going to get out there anyway?”
“I decided to fly out,” Mom replied.
“Good. I’m glad you took my advice because you don’t need to drive all the way out there by yourself. You must have been drunk when you told me that,” Nana said. “Here, help me lift this turkey up so I can put my seasoning underneath.”
“You’re not cooking it now are you?” Mom asked.
“No. I’m leaving it overnight in the fridge to marinate,” Nana said. “Promise me you’re going to send for Keon in one month’s time.”
I strained to hear Mom’s answer.
“Why wouldn’t I?” Mom asked.
“I don’t know. Why wouldn’t you?” Nana said.
I didn’t wait around to hear Mom’s response. I quietly went to my room.
Chapter 16: Thanksgiving Day
For Nana to ask Mom to make a promise like that left me with many questions: Why would Nana tell her to promise that she would come and get me? Did Nana know something I didn’t know? Why didn’t Mom just say, ‘I promise’? Did she intend not to come back for me?
“Can’t you promise an important thing like that?” Nana asked.
“It’s not that I can’t promise. It’s just that . . . What if things don’t work out? What if it takes me longer to find a place and to get settled in?”
“What if it doesn’t? What if things do work out?” Nana asked.
I peeked around the door to see what was happening as I did not hear Mom’s response. Nana and Mom were standing by the counter staring at each other.
“I’ve always taught you if you’re going to be involved in something, be positive about it. Strive to make it a success. You were positive and excited about this new venture, but now you’re expressing doubt. If you’re having doubts you may need to reconsider.”
“My mind’s made up. I’m going to California to work for McKenon & Parker,” Mom said hastily.
“Okay. Be prepared to talk with Keon. Children can understand a lot more than we think they can,” Nana said.
“I’m ready for bed,” I said, walking into the kitchen.
“Good night, baby,” Nana said, giving me a hug. “Sweet dreams.”
“Good night, Nana. Good night, Mom,” I said giving Mom a hug.
“You can go tuck him in,” Nana said to Mom. “I’ll be in there to read to you as soon as I stick this turkey in the oven,” she told me.
After Mom tucked me in, I gave her the book I had picked out for Nana to read to me, The Little Engine That Could.
“Would you please read this to me?”
“Sure,” Mom said.
When Nana came in, she stood quietly by the foot of my bed while Mom finished reading. “Remember, you can do anything you set your mind to,” Nana said when Mom was done reading. Nana then read some verses from the Book of Psalms. I fell asleep thinking of turkey, cranberries, macaroni and cheese, and dinner rolls dripping with butter.
No one had to wake me up the next morning. Apart from Christmas with its bright lights and snow, Thanksgiving was my next favorite holiday. Apart from all the great Thanksgiving food, putting up the Christmas tree was my next favorite part of the Thanksgiving Day celebration.
I felt like a stuffed turkey as I got up from the dinner table and wobbled into the living room where I made myself comfortable on the floor on my sleeping bag. Nana and Mom cleaned up and made it just in time to see some of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. I believe all three of us fell asleep. When Nana woke me up, she had all the boxes with the Christmas ornaments sitting next to me. I helped her and Mom drag the Christmas tree in from her basement. We had fun stringing the ornaments on the tree.
Mom took pictures with her iPhone and sent them to my laptop. I called my friend, Marlon, and we talked for over an hour. For our last meal Nana made turkey sandwiches. They were good. Mom made hot chocolate with marshmallows.
“Keon, your mother has something very important to say to you,” Nana said as we sipped our hot chocolate.
I wanted to blurt out, ‘I already know,’ but Nana had instructed me before to listen to her respectfully and not get smart about it.
“Keon, I don’t know how to tell you this,” Mom said.
Just tell me, I thought. There is nothing hard about it.
“I will be flying out to California early Monday morning . . . and . . . I am sorry, but I won’t be taking you with me. I will probably send for you right after Christmas but definitely in the beginning of the New Year.”
“Okay,” I said and took a sip of my hot chocolate.
Mom glanced at Nana with raised eyebrows. I guess she was expecting me to ask her why, throw a tantrum, and beg her to take me with her.
“Keon, did you hear what I just said?” Mom said slowly as if counting her words.
“Yes, Mom, I heard. I’ll pray for you to have a safe journey. I’ll keep Nana company until you come back.”
I glanced at Nana. She was wearing her smile of approval.
“I can’t take you with me now because I have to find us a place to stay, get you signed up for school, possibly find a babysitter for you after school.”
“Nana could come live with us and she could watch me after school,” I said.
“Hey, that’s a thought. Now why didn’t I think of that,” Mom said looking at Nana.
“I’ll have to pray about this one,” Nana said.
“I’ll write you every day and give you my address so you can write back. And I’ll send pictures too,” Mom said.
“Okay. Nana, I think I’m ready for bed,” I said. “May I please sleep in my sleeping bag here by the Christmas tree?”
“Sure. We’ll help you get everything set up,” Nana said.
When we returned to the living room, Mom helped me spread my sleeping bag out. Nana provided one of her thick quilts for extra padding. She prayed. Then I prayed, thanking God for Mom and praying that she would have a safe trip to California. When I finished praying, Mom was wiping at one of her eyes as if she was removing an eyelash. But I knew better.
“Good night, Mom. I love you. I love you too, Nana,” I said.
“Good night, Keon. We love you,” they both said.
I closed my eyes thinking of Christmas and what presents I would like to get this year. The last I heard of Nana and Mom was Mom saying to Nana, “He didn’t seem surprised when I told him I could not take him with me. That’s not how I was expecting him to respond.”
“How did you expect him to respond? With tears? Whining and begging you to take him? I’ve been teaching him to pray about everything, to strive to be in a thanksgiving state of mind, and to respond as he thinks Jesus would respond in any situation,” Nana said. “I’m glad he’s taking heed to my advice—something you refuse to do even to this day.”
Chapter 17: Farewell
I didn’t see Mom much the weekend after Thanksgiving, but I did hear Nana talking with her over the phone.
“I’ll have some of the men of the church to help move all your stuff,” Nana said. “I’ll bring all of Keon’s things over here and fit whatever furniture I can in the house. The rest will have to go into storage. Will you be sending for them later? If not, I can have a yard sale, see what we can get for them, and send you the money. . . . Okay, I’ll just put them in storage until I hear from you.”
It was five o’clock Monday morning when Nana woke me up.
“Keon, we have to take your mother to the airport. Her plane leaves at 7:30.”
It did not take me long to get dressed as I looked forward to watching the planes take off and land. Nana had promised me that if I carried myself like a gentleman we could take a tour of the airport. That sounded good to me. Mom had five suitcases. Why she would need five suitcases of clothes was beyond me. We made it to the airport on time.
Nana and I hugged Mom when it was time for her to board the plane. Even though Nana had prepared me for this time, tears still came to my eyes as I said goodbye to my mother. Somehow, I did not feel good about her moving to California by herself. But as Nana said, “It’s her decision. She’s been given the pros and cons. All we can do is pray for her.”
I wanted to hug her longer, but Mom made it quick. I believe she was getting ready to cry because her voice trembled as she said ‘goodbye’ and she did not look me in the eyes for very long. Even though her back was turned, I saw her reach her hand up to her face. Yes, she was crying. As strange as this may sound, that made me feel warm inside as it told me that she loved me.
Nana and I watched a few planes take off and land. She bought me a book from the bookstore and a donut from the bakery.
Nana gave me the option of staying home or going to school that day. I decided to go to school. When I got home I crossed out Monday the 29th day of November on the calendar that was hanging in the kitchen. That day started my countdown to December 31 or January 1, the day I’d be boarding the plane to fly out to California to be with my mother..
* * * * *
“Station break,” Ginny said. As she set her sewing down on the table. “I hate to interrupt this interesting story but I have to go prepare dinner if we want to eat later.”
“Okay,” I said.
“You can stay here and continue working, watch television, or join me in the kitchen.”
“I’ll sit with you in the kitchen while I read,” I said.
“Let me put everything away. I think I am done for the day,” Ginny said as she cleared the cutting table of her sewing items.
We walked into the kitchen.
“We’ll be having baked chicken, macaroni-and-cheese, and a vegetable medley,” she said as she pulled the tray with the already seasoned chicken out of the refrigerator and placed it in the oven.
“What time will Mike be back?” I asked glancing at the clock.
“He works a little bit late on Thursdays. He’ll be picking Ann up from school on his way home. She has drama rehearsal on Thursdays, Fridays, and Mondays. Were you involved in any after-school activities?”
“Yes. I was part of the Whiz Kids Computer Club. We met on Tuesdays and Thursdays for two hours after school.”
“Oh, really? I noticed how fast you moved on your laptop,” Ginny said.
“Nana said I could whiz my way through a computer,” I said.
“Do you miss your Nana?” Ginny asked.
“Yes. I wish she was still alive. Sometimes I wonder why God took her when she was all I had.” My voice trembled and I got choked up as Nana’s image came to mind. “Her face had a glow and she always wore a smile—a smile that gave me constant assurance that everything would be okay. She spoke to me like I was an adult, like I was important.”
Ginny handed me some Kleenex. I did not mean to cry, but somehow, I couldn’t help it. Ginny placed a hand on my shoulders. “It’s all going to work out,” she said. “Nothing happens without God knowing.”
It’s strange how Ginny reminded me of Nana and I told her so.
“You’re welcome to take a walk outside until it’s time to eat. There’s a box in the garage with some sports stuff and some of Mike’s other toys,” Ginny said with a chuckle.
I took her up on her offer. It felt good being in the sun. Except for a school bus dropping some children off, all was quiet.
Always thank God for someone. And thank Him everyday for your mother. I looked around. Nana? I felt like she was standing next to me. “Thank You, God, for Mike and Ginny. And thank You also for Mom. I pray that all is well with her.”
I walked around to the backyard where I spent some time hitting the ball with the bat.
“Hey, Keon!” Mike said as he joined me in the backyard some time later. “Need somebody to toss you the ball?”
“Yes,” I said as I handed him the ball.
We played baseball for about fifteen minutes longer.
“Okay, slugger,” he said. “Time to go in and eat. We don’t want to keep Ginny waiting any longer. Plus, I’m hungry.”
So this is what my father and I would be doing: playing baseball. If only he had stayed. That thought saddened me and left me feeling angry.
Chapter 18: Nana’s House
“Mike,” Ginny said as they lay in bed that night, “Keon’s really hurting. He’s trying to be grown-up about things. I think he has buried his feelings for so long that some of them just started spilling over tonight.”
“We’ll give him time to get it all out,” Mike said.
Ginny told her husband all that Keon had shared with her about his first seven years of life up until when his mother left for California. “His grandmother holds a special place in his heart,” she said. “He now believes his mother lied to him when she told him she would send for him. Have you tried to trace her whereabouts yet?”
“No. I wasn’t able to do anything today,” Mike said. “I think we should stop by his grandmother’s old house and speak with the neighbors and even stop by his mother’s apartment and speak with the friend who lives next door. Maybe they have heard something.”
“That sounds like a good place to start. Maybe we can get in touch with the pastor of the church his grandmother used to attend. He may know something too,” Ginny suggested.
“Yes. He’s definitely someone we need to speak with,” Mike said.
“It’s sad what’s happening to him. He’s a good kid. Can he stay with us while we help him through this?” Ginny said. “I think he needs a stable place right now, and the boys’ home is not it.”
“Sure. Let’s plan on visiting his grandmother’s neighborhood on Saturday to find out what we can,” Mike said. “Do you think he’ll be up to coming with us?”
“I’m sure he’ll want to come, but I’ll ask him just in case. Good night.”
“Hey, how much time did he spend on his laptop today?” Mike asked. “He may still be trying to get in touch with his mother. He said, starting out, she did keep in touch through email. We may be able to trace her whereabouts from there.”
“He spent some time on his laptop, but I didn’t see where he went,” Ginny said. “Of course, we spent most of the day talking. A lot could have happened to his mother. After all, it’s been a little over five years. I wonder if she knows his grandmother died?”
“Your guess is as good as mine. Good night,” Mike said.
“Good night,” Ginny said giving her husband a kiss on the cheek. “Oh, by the way, I almost forgot. My sewing club meets tomorrow after lunch. I don’t think Keon would want to be around a bunch of women, and I can’t leave him here by himself.”
“You can drop him off at my job. I’m sure he won’t mind hanging around an old man like me for half a day,” Mike said yawning.
* * * * *
I was excited when Mike, Ginny and I pulled out of their driveway on Saturday heading for Nana’s house. I pointed out my school, Nana’s church—New Bethel Baptist Church, my favorite hamburger restaurant—White Castle, and the street on which my best friend Marlon lived.
“How did you get all the way across town to Hill Chapel?” Ginny asked.
“I walked,” I said. “There’s the movie theater where Nana took me to see lots of movies,” I said. “They have the best popcorn.”
“We can go there some time,” Mike said. “By the way, unless something happens, you’ll be staying with us for a while. How would you like that?”
“Do you really mean that?” I said.
“Yes. Unless your mother turns up and wants you to come live with her.” Mike glanced at me in the rear-view mirror.
I fell silent.
When we got to Nana’s house, the doors were locked. I eagerly pointed out my bedroom as I strained to look through the window between the curtains. “My bed’s still there,” I said. “And I can barely make out my tent in the far corner. Sometimes I would camp out on my bedroom floor.”
Mike and Ginny peeked in.
We made our way toward the back of the house.
“Look! The window is still broken.” I pointed to the kitchen window which now had slabs of wood nailed across it. “I broke it so I could hide here when I ran away from the boys’ home and to get my cell phone.”
“Where’s your cell phone?” Ginny asked.
“I went to the library one day and I had to leave in a hurry and forgot it. When I went back to get it someone had stolen it,” I said sheepishly.
Mike chuckled. “I guess you were at the library when you should have been in school.”
I laughed. “Yes. When I ran away from the boys’ home, I spent the next few days hiding out at the library.”
“Even at night?” Ginny asked.
“Yes,” I said with a grin. “The librarian started to ask why I wasn’t in school. After she asked me the third day, I got scared and decided to stay away. I left in a hurry lest she called the police and I got sent back to the boys’ home.”
I carefully reached through the slabs of wood and pulled the curtain to the side. I looked in. “Everything is just as I left it. I could break the other window and climb through and unlock the door so you can get in?”
Mike chuckled. “No. That would be breaking and entering. We don’t want to give the neighbors a reason to call the police. I’m going to ask them whether or not your mother may have stopped by—you know, maybe visiting from California,” he said.
Mrs. Watkins in the house to the left had not seen or heard anything about Mom. “But,” she said, “a Mrs. Faraday from Family and Children Services was asking about Keon’s whereabouts. She said he ran away from the boys’ home across town. Where have you been, Keon?”
“He’s been staying with us,” Mike said.
“Oh, okay,” Mrs. Watkins said, studying Mike for a moment. “She left her card for me to give her a call in case I happened to hear anything. Do you mind if I get your name and number so I can pass it on to her?”
“Why don’t you give us her information and we’ll get in touch with her,” Mike said.
Mrs. Watkins seemed to quickly assess the situation then said, “Sure. He seems to be in good hands. Let me get her card.”
She came back with Mrs. Faraday’s card which she handed to Mike. “I’m glad you’re safe,” she said to me. “I’ve been praying for your safety. The pastor from your grandmother’s church stopped by too. Of course, they asked about you. He mentioned something about your grandmother asking him to take care of you and her house until your mother returned. He also mentioned something about her leaving him a copy of her will which he was not to open until either your mother returned or you turned eighteen—whichever happened first.”
“I guess we need to talk with your pastor, then,” Mike said to Keon. “Thank you, Mrs. Watkins. Have a good day now.”
“A good day to you too,” Mrs. Watkins said. She reached out and gave me a hug. “I’m happy all is well with you, Keon. Your grandmother was, indeed, a blessed woman.”
When we returned to the car, I pleaded with Mike and Ginny, “Please do not tell the people at Family and Children Services where I am. Please do not let them send me back to the boys’ home. I do not like it there.”
“You don’t have to worry about that,” Mike said. “You’ll be staying with us as I told you earlier.”
I breathed a sigh of relief.
“What was it like staying at the boys’ home?” Ginny asked.
“It’s not all that bad, I guess. It’s certainly not as bad as the orphan home Oliver Twist was in.”
Chapter 19: Nana’s Death
I remember the day I first entered the boys’ home as though it happened yesterday.
Nana let me ride the school bus home every Friday as a treat. When I got home that Friday, I found her laying on the floor.
“Nana! Nana! Open your eyes. It’s me, Keon!” I cried out as I shook her. When she did not respond, I reached for the phone and called 9-1-1.
“Please send an ambulance. I came in from school and found my grandmother laying on her bedroom floor. She’s not answering me.”
“Is she breathing? See if her chest is rising up and down,” the operator said.
“No. Her chest is not moving,” I said.
“Okay. Give me your address. The ambulance is on its way. Stay on the phone with me until they get there,” the operator said.
She asked for my full name and age, Nana’s full name and age, and whether her skin felt cold. I told her Nana’s lips looked pale and her hands were cold. The ambulance was there in about four minutes accompanied by two police officers.
I stood beside the bed and watched as the EMTs tried to bring Nana back to life. They were unable to. I watched as they placed her on the stretcher, covered her with a sheet, strapped her down, then wheeled her outside and into the ambulance. I hurried behind them thinking they would take me with them. One of the EMTs placed a firm hand on my shoulder.
“I’m sorry, son,” he said, “but you won’t be able to ride with us. Officer Neumann will tell you why. Right now we must get your grandmother to the hospital.” He climbed into the back of the ambulance and they sped off to the hospital. I watched as the ambulance disappeared around the corner, its flashing lights getting dim, its siren more difficult to hear.
Our neighbour, Mrs. Watkins who had arrived home from work when the ambulance was driving off came over to see what was going on.
“He came home from school and found his grandmother unconscious,” Officer Neumann said to her. “The EMTs were unable to revive her. They fear she may be –”
“Sssh,” Mrs. Watkins said flicking her head in my direction.
“Do you know if he has any relatives who we can get in touch with? A mother? A father?” Officer Neumann asked.
“I only know of his mother. But from what I understand, they have not seen or heard from her in a while,” Mrs. Watkins said. “I wish I could be of more help. What will happen to him now?”
“We’ll keep him with us until we get in touch with Family and Children Services. They’ll take it from there,” Officer Neumann said.
I shuddered at those words as I remembered Nana threatening to have them come and get me if Mom did not get her act together.
“I wish I could take him in, but my husband’s an invalid, and well, you know how that is,” Mrs. Watkins said.
“I understand,” Officer Neumann said. “If you hear of any relatives, please give us a call at the station. Here’s my card. Just ask for me, Officer Ricky Neumann. You have a great day.”
“You do the same. Good bye, Keon. I wish you all the best,” Mrs. Watkins said before returning to her house.
I was in a daze as the officers led me back into the house. When I had said goodbye to Nana that morning she was healthy, smiling, and full of life. What happened? Had she been ill all along?
“Is she going to be all right? Can you take me to the hospital to see her? Did someone hurt her?” I asked the police officers.
“I don’t know about taking you to the hospital right now,” the other officer, Officer Lederer, said. “And, no, it doesn’t look like anyone has hurt your grandmother. As far as her being all right, we’ll just have to wait until we hear from the doctor.”
Officer Lederer glanced at Officer Neumann who was looking down. Something didn’t feel right.
“You’re not telling me the truth, are you?” I blurted out. “Nana’s not going to be all right, is she? She was not breathing. I saw them put the mask over her nose and mouth. Why couldn’t I go with her?”
Officer Neumann placed his hand on my shoulder. “Sit down, Keon,” he said. “The truth is, your grandmother may not return home. The EMTs tried to bring her back to consciousness, but they couldn’t. One of them told me she was gone. But sometimes they are able to get a patient breathing again. They couldn’t let you ride with her to the hospital because you are under-aged, and they couldn’t leave you there by yourself. You have to have an adult with you.”
“Can you take me to see her? Please? She’s all I have. I’m all she has,” I pleaded.
“I’m sorry, but we can’t take you to the hospital right now. We can take you down to the station and see where to go from there unless you know of a relative we can get in touch with,” Officer Neumann said.
I gave them the latest information I had on Mom. “We haven’t heard from her for some years now. I don’t know of anyone else.”
“I guess you’ll have to come down to the station with us then,” Officer Neumann said.
Officer Lederer placed his police hat on my head and walked into the kitchen. When he returned, he had a bag in his hand which he handed to me. “Here you go. I thought you might want a little something to munch on while we’re getting you squared away.”
Inside the bag were two apples, a banana, and a few of Nana’s cookies. I nodded my head in appreciation. I should have enjoyed my ride in the police car. But my mind was on Nana and the thought that I may never see her again saddened me.
Just pray when it seems things are not going well. Those words came to me so clearly as I walked with Officer Neumann and Officer Lederer into the police station. I glanced over my shoulder thinking Nana was walking behind us speaking to me. I was disappointed to see she was not there. I prayed anyway.
Dear God, please let Nana be well. Please let me go to the hospital to find her sitting up in bed smiling. She’s all I have.
“Here you go,” Officer Lederer said swinging a swivel chair around. “You can have a seat right here while we make a couple phone calls and get you squared away.” He ruffled my hair and gave me a reassuring smile. It didn’t comfort me any, but I appreciated it.
I overheard both officers talking with Officer Melissa Cummings about my situation.
“That would be Mrs. Faraday at Family and Children Services,” she said. “Let me get her number.” She returned with Mrs. Faraday’s number in less than a minute.
“Good news,” Officer Neumann said to me after he got off the phone. “We have a place for you to stay with about twenty other boys. Won’t that be fun?”
“When will I get to go to the hospital? I want to be with Nana,” I said.
“Officer Lederer is talking to the people at the hospital to get an update. We’ll talk with Mrs. Faraday about you visiting your grandmother,” Officer Neumann said.
When Officer Lederer returned he stood off to the side with Officer Neumann. They spoke in low tones. Officer Lederer had a grim look on his face. He cast a quick glance in my direction. They both approached me. My eyes filled with tears before either of them spoke. Nana was dead.
Chapter 20 — The Boys’ Home
Mrs. Faraday was a petite lady with a bright smile, rosy cheeks, and sunshiny eyes. Her black hair, which was fixed in a bun at the nape of her head, had streaks of white throughout. I took an immediate liking to her.
“I’m pleased to make your acquaintance,” Mrs. Faraday said in a sing-song voice as she shook my hand.
“Mrs. Faraday will take good care of you,” Officer Neumann said.
“Well, let’s get you to a nice warm shelter around some lads your age who you’ll just love playing with and talking to and some women who will just love on you. Does that sound good?” Mrs. Faraday said. “Follow me.”
I said goodbye to the two officers and followed Mrs. Faraday to her car. Once seated in the front passenger seat she told me to put my seat belt on. “We don’t want to have to go back to the police station, now do we?” she said with a smile.
I quietly snapped my seat belt into place.
“I’m sorry to hear about your grandmother,” Mrs. Faraday said. “She must have been a special person.”
I nodded my head. “When can I go and see her?” I asked.
“Keon, didn’t Officer Neumann tell you? Your grandmother died.”
“They did. But I still want to see her. Can you please take me to see her tomorrow?” I asked.
“You want to see her dead body? I don’t know if they will allow that especially since you’re so young. I can take you to see her, but it will not be tomorrow. The doctors have to examine her body to find out the cause of her death. Has she been sick?”
“No, ma’am. She has been healthy and showed no signs of illness—at least not when she has been around me,” I said.
“Well, if you’re sure you want to go see her I’ll be willing to take you,” Mrs. Faraday said.
She pulled up into a KFC drive-thru. “I’m sure you’re hungry. Let me get you something to eat. Dinner has already been served at the boys’ home.”
“I’m not really hungry. Plus, I have something to eat,” I said holding up my bag.
“What do you have in there?”
“Two apples, a banana, and some cookies,” I said.
“That’s a snack for after you eat your main meal. I’m talking about some real food,” Mrs. Faraday said. She ordered a two-piece chicken meal. “I know you don’t feel like eating, but you will need to eat to keep your energy up. Plus, food has a way of comforting you,” she said.
“Thank you,” I said. I bowed my head and thanked God for the food. “Would you like a piece of my chicken?”
“No, thank you. I bought it for you. It hasn’t been long since I ate supper.”
We didn’t talk much while I ate.
“Would you like one of my cookies?” I asked after I finished my meal. “It’s chocolate chip with crushed nuts. Nana made them. She was always baking something.”
“Now, that, I would like to have,” Mrs. Faraday said.
We quietly munched on our cookies.
“These cookies are very delicious. Thank you for sharing them with me,” Mrs. Faraday said. “And here we are.”
She turned into the wide driveway of a two-story mansion. Colored light stakes lined the driveway and the edge of the front yard. The two lights on the long veranda beamed brightly. Mrs. Faraday rang the doorbell twice. A heavy-set woman with reddish hair answered the door.
“Good evening, Mrs. Faraday. Come on in,” she said. “And you must be Keon. Nice to make your acquaintance. I’m Mrs. Manniker Come this way.”
She led us to an office where she took her place behind the desk. Mrs. Faraday sat in one of the chairs facing the desk.
“Have a seat, Keon,” Mrs. Manniker said pointing to the chair next to Mrs. Faraday. “I’m sorry to hear about your grandmother. I know we won’t be able to replace her, but I hope you’ll be able to call this your home while you are here.”
“Thank you,” I said. I listened while they talked.
It took them about thirty minutes to ‘get me into the system’ as Mrs. Manniker called it. “Did you bring anything with you, Keon?” she asked.
“No, ma’am,” I said. “Everything is at Nana’s.”
“We’ll stop by and pick some things up tomorrow,” Mrs. Faraday said. “I’m sure there are some personal things you would like to have.”
Mrs. Manniker agreed, then she turned to me. “Well, are you ready to see your room and to meet some of the other boys?” she asked.
“Yes, ma’am,” I said even though I was not up to meeting anyone then, especially other boys. I wanted quietness so I could think about Nana.
I said goodbye to Mrs. Faraday and followed Mrs. Manniker to my room. I was to share it with seven other boys. The room was sparsely furnished. There were eight beds, four on each side of the room; eight bedside tables with two drawers each; two dresser drawers; and a long table in the center of the room with eight folding chairs. Seven boys about my age were seated around the table with books open before them. After brief introductions were made and I took my seat, the lady in-charge, Mrs. Bruce, handed me a history book. The boys and I eyed each other until it was time to go down for our night snack.
“And no talking or playing around,” Mrs. Bruce reminded them. Mrs. Bruce had a deep voice and a hard face. She never smiled once while we were in that room. She walked with a limp and favored her left side. I found out later from Alex, the informant within the group, that she had been caught in the cross fire of a shooting. A bullet had pierced her skull and lodged in her head next to her brain. It left the right side of her body partially paralyzed.
“During the winter we get away with a lot of stuff because she’s in too much pain to pay us much attention,” Alex informed me with glee.
I found out Alex had been living at the boys’ home for about five years. “I’ll show you the ropes,” he whispered in my ear as we hurried to the lunch room. “Follow me and you’ll be all right.”
After our night snack of graham crackers with peanut butter and a glass of milk we washed up and got ready for bed. Mrs. Manniker had left a pair of pajamas on my bed along with a toothbrush and a face cloth. I quickly dressed and climbed into bed. I pulled the sheet and blanket over my shoulders, closed my eyes, and listened to the others joke with each other until Mrs. Bruce pounded on the door. This sent them scurrying to their beds. Mrs. Bruce pushed the door open. She stood just inside the open door and surveyed the room as its occupants were still settling down.
“Joel, get in the bed now. Always the last to get in bed and the last one to get up.”
“Ian, are you hiding a flashlight under your pillow?” She held out her hand to Ian and he handed her a small red flashlight.
“Carlton, give me that book. You read when it’s time to read, not when it’s time to go to sleep. Be like Keon: lay still, close your eyes, and count pennies until you fall asleep.”
“Aww, he’s just faking,” Alex said.
“Quiet, Alex. Lights out. Remember, I’ll be checking on you throughout the night,” Mrs. Bruce said. She closed the door.
All was quiet. All was dark, except for the night light close to the door.
Chapter 21 — Alex and Ronny
I lay in my bed listening to the quiet breathing of the boys in the room and wondering what was to become of me. How long would I have to stay at the boys’ home? Who would take care of Nana’s body? Would she have a funeral and would I be able to go? I made a mental note to ask Mrs. Faraday when I saw her the next time. I fell asleep thinking about Nana’s words telling me to be thankful in every situation. I don’t see how it could be God’s will for a thirteen-year-old to be deprived of his only relative and left an orphan, so it was hard for me to thank God that night. But I did ask Him to show me what to be thankful for.
I awakened to whispering coming from somewhere across the room. I opened my eyes to see Alex and another chubby boy, Ronny, by Mrs. Bruce’s desk. A drawer in her desk was open.
“Did you get it?”
“Yes,” Alex said holding up a small bottle.
“Good. Let’s get it over with. I’m ready to get back in bed.”
I couldn’t tell what they were up to, but I knew it wasn’t good.
“Who wants to do school work on a Saturday? We’ll show her,” Alex said as he closed the drawer.
They climbed back into their beds.
At seven-thirty the following morning, Mrs. Bruce came marching into the room, and even though an alarm was sounding throughout the building, she was blowing a whistle that hung from a chain around her neck.
“Everybody up! This is a new day. We have a schedule to follow. One minute late throws the whole day in disarray. I’ll be back in thirty minutes to take you down for breakfast.”
Mrs. Bruce blew the whistle again.
The boys moved quicker than a rabbit being chased by a fox. They threw their covers off, bounded out of bed, put on their clothes, grabbed their toothbrushes and hairbrushes, and headed straight to the bathroom.
“Hurry, Keon, if you want breakfast,” Alex called out to me.
I quickly followed them. Thank God there was more than one sink and stall. The last boy was stepping back into the room when Mrs. Bruce stepped in behind him with a stopwatch in her hand. It was attached to a chain that hung around her neck. Each boy stood beside his bed. I did the same.
“Okay. Make your beds perfectly and quickly,” Mrs. Bruce said.
“Straighten the top of your bedside table.”
We stood by our beds as she strolled down the center of the room casting a glance at each bed and boy.
“Stand still and stop the fidgeting,” she said.
“Ronny, why do I always have to go behind you and fix your bed. Do it right the first time,” she said, tucking Ronny’s sheet under the mattress and straightening his blanket.
“That’s because you my mama and I want you to do it for me,” Ronny said in a baby voice.
The boys laughed. I smiled. Mrs. Bruce held a straight face.
“Smiles, did you even comb your hair? And don’t lie,” Mrs. Bruce said.
“I passed the comb through my hair,” Smiles said.
“You passed the comb over your hair but not through it,” Mrs. Bruce said. “Comb it now if you plan on having any breakfast.”
The boys laughed. This time I laughed with them.
Smiles did as he was instructed.
Breakfast consisted of oatmeal with a pat of butter and sugar, a fruit bowl, and a glass of milk. We ate quickly then we took our bowls and eating utensils to a cart that stood by a window that opened into the kitchen. Mrs. Manniker came to get me after breakfast. Mrs. Faraday was waiting in her office with news.
“I managed to get in touch with your pastor and gave him the news of your grandmother’s death. He says not to worry and that the church will take care of the funeral arrangements and see that your grandmother gets the burial she deserves. I came to get you as he’ll be meeting with us at your grandmother’s house. You can retrieve whatever belongings you may want to keep with you.”
While Mrs. Faraday and Pastor Mulligan talked, I packed what I could in one of Nana’s travel bags. I placed some books and my laptop in my school bag. I stopped by Nana’s bedroom expecting to see her resting in her bed and hoping that this was all a dream.
“Thank You, God, for Nana. We had a lot of good times,” I prayed quietly as tears filled my eyes. I wiped them away quickly as I did not want Mrs. Faraday or Pastor Mulligan to see me crying.
I quietly closed her bedroom door, and after placing both bags on the living room floor, I went into the kitchen and helped myself to the jar containing her chocolate chip cookies—the last batch she would ever bake. I thought of something I could take to remind me of her and hurried back to her bedroom where I picked up a picture off her bedside table. We had taken that picture our last Christmas together. We had sent one to Mom but neither of us knew whether she received it.
“Don’t worry about a thing,” Pastor Mulligan said as we got ready to leave. “We’ll take care of your grandmother. She’s in Heaven watching over you, and don’t you forget that. Since Mrs. Faraday already has you in a safe place, we’ll let you stay there. I’m sure you’d rather be around a group of boys than around two old people like me and my wife.”
I offered Mrs. Faraday some of the cookies on the way back to the boys’ home. I planned on sharing them with the other boys.
“Will I be able to go to the funeral?” I asked her.
“I’ll take you if you want to go,” she said.
When I got back to the boys’ home they were all taking their showers. We ate dinner and then returned to our rooms to do homework. Mrs. Bruce pulled out the drawer of her desk and took out two of her teaching books.
“Who is responsible for this?” she said as she tried to pry the pages of each book apart but without success.
She studied each of our faces. I glanced at Alex and Ronny who were sitting across from me. They both looked as though they were about to burst out laughing.
So, that’s what they were up to, I thought.
“Does that mean we won’t be doing any school work today?” Alex asked trying to look serious.
“Do you know anything about this?” Mrs. Bruce asked him.
“No,” Alex said. “All I know is I was asleep all night.”
“Me, too,” Ronny lied.
The other boys answered likewise. I looked Alex directly in his eyes. He glanced at me then quickly looked away. I shifted my gaze to Ronny.
“So no one is going to own up to this, huh?” Mrs. Bruce said. “The good sometimes have to suffer for the bad. So instead of going downstairs for snacks tonight, you’ll all stay here and do extra reading which I know you’ll love. And guess what?” she said pointing to her head. “The lesson is up here in my head. Too bad you did not glue my brain shut.”
The boys moaned.
“Whoever did it better own up because I want my snacks,” Gerald said.
Alex and Ronny looked at each other with lopsided smiles.
Chapter 22 – The Lie
Things were more relaxed on Sundays. We were given the luxury of sleeping in an extra hour. We also had an hour to get cleaned up and an hour for breakfast.
“Are we going to church this morning?” I asked Smiles who was the most friendly of the boys in my group.
“No. We only go to church two Sundays out of the month except for special things like Christmas or Easter when the church has an Easter egg hunt or anything special that children can go to. This morning Brother Ulster and one or two other people from First Baptist Church will be coming here to teach us from the Bible. We sing songs and memorize Bible verses,” Smiles said. He then laughed. “Not that it’s helping some of us.”
I felt weird not being in church with Nana, but I will admit I enjoyed the mini-church we had at the Boys’ home every Sunday morning. Not only did Brother Ulster preach to us, but he played Bible games with us as well.
“Next Sunday, we’ll ride the church bus to services at First Baptist Church. It’s the biggest church I’ve ever seen,” Smiles informed me as we said goodbye to Brother Ulster and his assistants. “Also on Sundays, a restaurant caters our lunch for us, so you had better eat all that you can.” He laughed. “Sometimes I sneak the dinner rolls up to my room. Once I tried to sneak a fried chicken leg up to my room but Mrs. Bruce caught me. She’s good at catching you doing things, so be careful around her. I believe she has eyes in the back of her head.”
As the evening drew to a close we were summoned one by one to Mrs. Manniker’s office. I did not think anything of it at first, but soon found out it was not routine.
“Keon, do you know who glued the pages of Mrs. Bruce’s textbooks together?” Mrs. Manniker asked me after I was called to her office.
I furrowed my eyebrows wondering whether or not to tell her what I saw and heard.
“I was giving you a chance to tell me the truth, but since you’re not going to answer, I’ll answer for you. One of the boys told me he saw you doing it. He said you got up after everyone had fallen off to sleep and glued the pages together,” Mrs. Manniker said. “You may as well tell me the truth.”
She spoke with such a soft, kind voice I did not believe she believed what the boy told her.
“I didn’t do it. Honest. I just got here. I don’t even know where anything is especially a bottle of glue,” I said. What a way to begin your second day.
“I believe you,” Mrs. Mannniker finally said with a reassuring smile after staring at me for some seconds. “But to be fair I had to question you as I did the other boys. Do you think you’ll like it here?”
“I don’t know,” I said shrugging my shoulders while clutching my laptop. “I don’t think I’ll like staying in a place where someone lies on me.”
“Don’t worry. We’ll get to the bottom of this. This is not the first time something like this has happened,” Mrs. Manniker said thoughtfully.
After she gave me permission to leave, I closed her office door softly and walked slowly up the stairs to my room wishing I had a room of my own and wishing Nana was there. She’d get to the bottom of it. Who would lie on me like that? I should have told Mrs. Manniker what I saw. But then, it’s none of my business. I’m just a newcomer. I don’t want to stir up any trouble.
When I walked into the room, I looked Alex in the eyes. He looked troubled. “The eyes tell it all, so you look people in the eyes,” Nana often said. Guilty people don’t like to look you in the eyes especially when you confront them. Alex diverted his eyes. I did not have to ask who told that lie to Mrs. Manniker. The boys crowded around me once again eagerly awaiting their turn on my laptop. I had been showing them some fun things to do on it that Sunday evening.
“What did Mrs. Manniker call you in her office for?” Alex quietly asked me.
“The same thing she called you in there for,” I said without looking up at him.
“Well, do you know who did it?”
“Who did what?” I asked.
“Who glued Mrs. Bruce’s book pages together.”
“Your guess is as good as mine,” I said turning my attention back to what I was showing the boys on the laptop.
I slept with my laptop under my pillow. Anyone who would lie on me my second night there about a wrong that they did, in my opinion, could not be trusted. I lay awake most of the night feeling guilty knowing I should have told Mrs. Manniker what I saw and heard. I tossed and turned most of the night as Nana’s words came to me intermittently: “If you see someone do something wrong and you don’t report it to the authority figure, you are just as guilty as that person; you are an accomplice to the crime.”
“Oooh!” I moaned.
On Monday most of the boys went to school. Mrs. Bruce and Mr. and Mrs. Willard taught those who were left behind—six total, not counting myself. I could have gone to school. Mrs. Manniker could have taken me, but my school was in a different city. They were going to transfer me to one that was closer. Until then, Mr. and Mrs. Willard would be my teachers. I tried to do my work on my laptop but guilt kept breaking my concentration. After lunch I asked to see Mrs. Manniker.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you yesterday,” I said.
“I’m curious. What made you decide to tell me?” she asked.
“My grandmother told me if I didn’t tell when someone did something wrong then I was just as guilty. Plus, I’ve been feeling bad all night and all morning because I lied to you when I did not tell you what I saw and heard.”
“Bless you, my child. I believe you,” Mrs. Manniker said. “I never for one minute believed the boy who told me you did it.”
“Um, who told you I did it?” I asked.
“Let’s not worry about who told me. I assure you that he will be dealt with. Just let me know if anyone causes any problems for you. Okay?”
I felt relieved as I walked back to the classroom. That guilty feeling was gone. I felt sorry for Alex. What a way to live. I just knew he was having a miserable time at school.
When the school bus dropped them off and they finally came up to the room after Mrs. Manniker got a report from them, Alex did not respond to my greeting. Ronny did. All the other boys were talking about their day at school as they settled down around the table to do their homework before dinner. I listened with envy. I could not wait to go back to school.
Alex and Ronny were off in the corner whispering. They kept glancing at me. I wondered if Mrs. Manniker told them what I told her. That could be the only reason that Alex was ignoring me, I concluded by the time we got ready for bed. He stuck his legs out causing me to almost fall. He shoved me out of the way when we went to the restroom to wash up for dinner. He even started to say I stole his face cloth when he couldn’t find his. “It’s right there on the floor,” Ronny said pointing to the face cloth on the ground next to the sink where Alex had just finished washing his face. I believe he dropped it on purpose. He ‘accidentally’ caused my glass of juice to spill. On top of that, I couldn’t find my toothbrush when it was time to brush our teeth before bed. Ronny did not cause me any problems. I heard him say to Alex to ‘leave him alone.’
That night I slipped my laptop into my pillowcase as I climbed into bed. I sensed Alex watching me and I threw a quick glance in his direction. He quickly turned his head. I glanced at Ronny, but he was too busy having a pillow fight with Kevin; that is, until Mrs. Bruce knocked on the door. The two boys and those egging them on dived under their covers. I made a mental note to ask Mrs. Manniker to keep it in her office at night as I did not trust Alex.
I had planned on staying awake to watch Alex, but I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I knew, there was movement near my head. I opened one eye just a slit to see Alex kneeling by my bed and sliding his hand under my pillow.
Chapter 23 – The Fight
My heart beat increased as I felt my laptop sliding from under my head.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” I said opening my eyes and fixing my gaze on Alex’s face.
“Huh!” Alex said freezing in his position.
“Leave it alone!” I said grabbing his wrist.
As he struggled to free his hand, he yanked my laptop from under my pillow with his free hand. I threw the covers off me as I sprang out of the bed still holding on to his wrist.
“If you know what’s good for you you’d better let me go,” Alex said.
“Not till you put my laptop back,” I said tightening the grip I had on his wrist and twisting it some.
“Ow! You snitcher! You told Mrs. Manniker a lie that I poured glue on the school books,” Alex said out loud.
“That was not a lie. I woke up and saw you and Ronny at her desk pouring glue on the book pages. I know what I saw. And if you don’t give me my computer back, I’m going to whip your behind.” I grabbed for my computer with my free hand.
With all the strength he could muster up while trying to keep me at arm’s length, Alex tossed my laptop across the room. It hit the edge of one of the chairs and landed on the floor with a crash. I pushed him with all my might and sent him sprawling backwards on the bed next to mine. He fell on top of Gary who immediately woke up with a jolt. I jumped on top of him and punched him right in his chest. Gary jumped out of the bed and turned on the light.
“Leave me alone!” Alex said. “Get him off of me!”
In less than a minute, thanks to Gary, all the boys had awakened and were egging us on. Alex got in a couple successful punches, but mine came in hard and fast. I held tight to his shirt with my left hand and hit him with my right hand. We rolled off the bed on to the floor.
“Break it up! Break it up!” Mrs. Bruce’s deep voice came across loud and clear.
Mr. Willard burst into the room. “Enough!” he shouted as he struggled to pull us a part. “There had better be a good explanation for this. Go sit on your beds. All of you.”
I went and picked up my laptop from off the floor and immediately checked to see if it was working. I was oblivious to what was being said around me. Whew! Even though there was a line on my screen, it was working.
“Keon? Keon, is that true?” Mr. Willard was saying.
“Huh?” I said.
“Alex said you hit him for no reason and that you stole something out of his drawer and he was trying to get it back,” Mr. Willard said.
“That’s a lie! He tried to steal my laptop from under my pillow and when I tried to take it from him he threw it on the floor and now the screen’s messed up,” I said.
“That’s not true! He threw it himself,” Alex said.
“Why would I throw my own computer on the floor?” I shouted. “You’re just mad because I told on you. Mrs. Bruce, he is the one who glued the pages of your books. I saw him do it with Ronny.”
“I know,” Mrs. Bruce said. “Thanks for telling the truth, Keon.”
“Did any of you see what happened?” Mr. Willard asked the other boys.
“All I know is Alex fell on top of me while I was still asleep,” Gary said with a chuckle. “You should have seen Keon hit him a few times.”
“Yeah!” the other boys said and they began chattering again.
“Enough!” Mr. Willard said. “Everyone back to bed. Alex, you come with me.”
“Me? Why can’t you take him?” he said pointing at me. “He started it.”
“Do as I say,” Mr. Willard said. He took a look at my laptop before leaving the room. “Don’t worry. We’ll get it fixed,” he said to me. “Do you want me to keep it for you?”
“No. I think it will be safe with me tonight,” I said looking at Alex. I closed it down and slid it back into my pillowcase.
Mr. Willard and Mrs. Bruce left with Alex after everyone had settled down. The boys started whispering, but I was thinking. If I’m going to have fights with them I don’t think I’m going to like it here. I fell asleep thanking God for giving me the courage to tell the truth and thinking how proud Nana would have been of me.
* * * * *
“That was when I started looking for a way to leave the boys’ home,” I said to Ginny and Mike.
“Did you have any more run-ins with the boys?” Ginny asked.
“A few more,” I said.
“I don’t see why anyone would not like you,” Mike said. “You’re a nice kid.”
“I try to be nice to everyone. But like Nana said, when you stand for truth those who want to do evil will not like you.”
“That’s true,” Mike said.
“She also said as long as I stand for truth there will be times when I will have to stand alone,” I said.
“Did you make any friends while you were there?” Ginny asked.
“Smiles and I talked often. He told me he was supposed to be going to live with his grandmother but he’s still waiting,” I said. “I do miss talking with him.”
“We can take you to see him,” Ginny said.
“I don’t know about that. They may try to take me away from you,” I said.
“What happened to Alex? Did you all ever become friends?” Mike asked.
“No. He only spoke kindly to me when he wanted to use my laptop. But I never let him. He caused a lot of problems when I was there. He even picked on the little boys. I think they are afraid of him. Although they laughed at his silliness, to me, he seemed kind of unhappy especially when he was by himself.”
“It’s amazing that you noticed that,” Mike said. “Many times children and even adults misbehave to get someone to pay them attention.” Turning to Ginny, Mike said, “I don’t know what you have planned for dinner, but right now I have a taste for pizza and salad and breadsticks. How about we stop off at Pizza Hut for lunch?”
“Sounds good to me,” Ginny said. “How does that sound to you, Keon?”
“I love pizza,” I said with a big smile.
I savored every bite of my food as I listened to Mike and Ginny talk.
“I think it’s best to let Keon finish off the school year at his old school rather than transfer him in the middle of the year,” Mike said.
“That would be fine except for one thing,” Ginny said.
“What’s that?” Mike asked.
“He ran away from the boys’ home. More than likely they are searching for him. The Social Services department has probably notified the school of his disappearance. They will want the school to contact them should he turn up,” Ginny said.
“Yeah. I wasn’t thinking,” Mike said. Looking at me he said, “I guess Ginny is now officially your teacher and you can continue living as a stowaway at our house. In the meanwhile, I’ll get in touch with Mrs. Faraday at Family and Children Services and make arrangements for you to stay with us.”
“Yeah!” I said with a grin.
Chapter 24 – Free at Last!
True to his word, Mike contacted Mrs Faraday. He, Ginny and I met with her in her office at the Family and Children’s Services building. As you can imagine, I was nervous. Even though Nana had taught me to pray for and about everything, I kept my fingers crossed hoping, probably against all hope, that Mrs Faraday would not send me back to the boys’ home.
“We have been wondering where you took off to,” Mrs. Faraday said to me once we were seated in her office. “I’m just glad you are okay.”
I looked down each time she glanced at me while Mike told her how they found me.
“What did you do up until the time Mr. and Mrs. Anderson found you?” she asked. “I want to know everything beginning from the time you left the boys’ home. Why did you leave? I thought you would be happy staying with all those boys.”
“I left because one of the boys lied on me, and after I told the truth on something he did wrong, he started picking on me and started calling me all kinds of names. Plus, I wanted to find my mother.”
“Why didn’t you tell Mrs. Manniker?”
“I don’t know,” I said, shrugging my shoulders. “I can handle myself.”
Mrs. Faraday smiled. “How long have you been taking care of yourself? For a little over a month now?” Mrs. Faraday asked.
I thought for a few minutes wondering where to begin. So much had happened in such a short time.
“One day, when most of the boys were in school, I pretended I was going to the rest room. Well, I did go to the restroom; I just did not return to the school room. I went and got my computer and packed it along with some of my clothes in my book bag, and I walked out the door. Once I got outside the gate, I ran as fast as I could up the main road towards town. I remember passing a library that evening you took me to the boys’ home, so I went to the library. I stayed there the rest of the day and read and worked on my laptop.”
“Didn’t the librarian say anything to you?” Mrs. Faraday asked. “I mean you were there by yourself during school hours and for a long time.”
“She did walk around to where I was sitting a couple times and looked at me. I felt uncomfortable, but I pretended I did not see her. The third time she asked me shouldn’t I be in school. I got scared, but I told her I was working on a project.”
“Was that the truth?” Mrs. Faraday asked.
I hung my head. “Well, I didn’t see it as a lie then because I was trying to figure out the shortest route to get to Nana’s house, so in a sense, I was working on a project.” I looked back up at Mrs. Faraday. Her eyebrows were raised and I could tell she was trying to smother a smile.
“Continue,” she said clearing her throat.
* * * * *
“Maybe I can help you,” the librarian said. “What kind of project is it?”
Putting my brain on fast-forward, I said, “I want to map out the shortest route from the library to this address, and also to this address.” I gave her the address to Nana’s house. I also gave her the name of Nana’s church, New Bethel Baptist Church, where Pastor Mulligan is the pastor, just to throw her off. Even though I had already learned from my Whiz Kids Computer class how to find addresses and how to read the Google map, I pretended I did not know how to. “I have to highlight anything significant along the way like a place of business or anything that stands out, including how long it would take me if I were to walk, ride a bicycle, or drive a car from here to these two places.”
“Nice laptop,” the librarian said as she pressed a few keys to help me in my search.
“My mom gave it to me as a gift,” I quickly said, afraid she might be thinking I stole it and call the police.
After she showed me how to pull up Google Maps, how to key in the addresses to find the shortest route, and how to locate the address of New Bethel Baptist Church, she gave me a few sheets of paper and a pencil to jot down prominent places of business along the route. I was tense the entire time she was hovering over me, but breathed a sigh of relief when her suspicion was alleviated, her curiosity satisfied, and she left to tend to her business at the front desk.
I carefully studied my roughly drawn map and the buildings I would pass along the way en route to Nana’s house. It would take me forty-five minutes to walk to Nana’s house, but I was determined to spend that first night away from the boys’ home at Nana’s house at any cost. I shut my laptop down and tucked it into my book bag, quickly folded the sheet of paper and tucked it in my pants pocket as a noisy group of school children flooded the children’s section where I was. I grabbed a few books from off the cart that was close by and disappeared into one of the booths. I buried my head into the books and went on a marathon read. Even though my eyes and part of my brain were busy taking in the words on the pages, my ears and the other part of my brain were busy listening lest anyone should recognize me. After a while, coupled with my state of nervousness, my stomach started to mercilessly rumble so much I was unable to focus on what I was reading. In my attempt to remain unnoticed, I had not thought about food. As the rumbling in my stomach increased, I began to wonder where I could get something to satisfy my hunger.
After the noise died down and I thought it safe, I slung my backpack over my shoulder and hurried out of the library. I pulled the sheet of paper out of my pocket and started on my trek home. Free at last, I thought. Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last.