Sample Chapter Homecoming
The heat and stifling humidity offered little relief to the closing days of Summer 2019. Dark clouds teased overhead. Sand gnats swooped-in to the rhythm of each swatting hand. And Thomas, the newly hired knockabout, labored away in my fenced-in backyard. Born in Augusta, Deron Thomas is a 64-year-old homeless man not long removed from state prison. Word on the street is that he killed a white man. He tells the story of working for James Brown as a flunky back in the 1970’s. 5ft 10in, toothless, and barely 120 pounds, he’s been coming to my place practically every morning for the past several weeks—raking leaves, hauling trash, and brushing off the road dust in front of the house. He’s hooked on crack.
Yet his circumstances bely his natural intelligence, and his gift for the spoken word makes him an impressive conversationalist, an added plus. He credits his golden tongue to his fondness for reading—a passion he developed behind bars, he says.
But on this day, an intruder appeared: a dark-skinned, burly, tattered-up brother about 30. Though not a vagrant, neither was he a black Republican.
“My car broke down” he said, beneath a mop-handle of overflowing dreadlocks. “Can you help me get back to North Carolina?”
He and Thomas locked eyes briefly.
“So wa‘chu what from me?” I remarked in a curt, impatient tone.
“Could you buy me a bus ticket? I swear to God, I’ll pay you back. I need to get back to my daughter.”
“Dude, everybody in the streets is run’n game. “Your story don’t even add up.” .
“Please, sir! We can go to the bus station together; I’ll call your telephone so you will know how to reach me”. He mentioned the cable man down the street, a mutual acquaintance.
The “Cable Man” (real name unknown) is an older brother who fought in Vietnam. He rides sheepishly up and down the block on a war-torn bike he must’ve cobbled together. For a man in his eighties, he’s in relatively good shape. His moniker reflects his craft at installing cable television without the bother of a cable company. Similarly, he could set you up with free household electricity. That, and his resigned personality, makes him a favorite on the block.
I was torn about this fool calling himself “LeQuintin”. Is he legit? Or just another cornball in my driveway?
“Fuck it! This could be a chance to score a few points with the man upstairs.”
Together we drove to the bus depot less than two miles away. When we arrived, we found the ticket window shuttered beneath an ominous sign that read “Open at 4PM”—three hours later. We agreed to return, but I insisted that he find his way back to the terminal himself.
During the short ride back, he asked if I had a phone charger for which I said No. He then asked if he could use MY phone to call his baby momma who was waiting to hear about his travel arrangements. I handed him my phone and continued to drive.
“Pick up the phone baby, it's me. She doesn’t recognize this number. I’ll send her a text.” Before exiting the car, he thanked me for the one-hundredth time and left.
I drove into the carport behind the house. Thomas was still bagging leaves and getting set to cart them to the ally.
Bank alert: “Suspicious Activity” was the message. Mr LeQuintin, the benevolent vagrant, beggar, and the father-of-the-year pretender, managed to steal $800 from my CashAp account in a matter of seconds. My account has been disabled ever since; allegedly for fraud.
The incident left me rattled but it was not the money. It was the idea of being conned by a street hustler, something (I thought) I had outgrown years ago. I realized, too, that my willingness to take certain risks, especially in the hood, could easily have led to deadly consequences—like being kidnapped or even murdered. In America life is THAT cheap. Knowing who to trust can determine your destiny, even if it's a stranger just raking your leaves.
Thomas got picked up and went back to jail.