This post is fiction. It's not the kind of story that usually gets posted on Christmas... but it's been knocking on the inside of my brain for a few months, ever since a random prompt generator gave me the title, "Fog in the Ghetto." When I get bored or stressed, I write... and this story is the result.
I ran. I had no idea where I was going or what I would find when I got there; I just knew I had to get away. I stumbled over a crack in the uneven sidewalk and almost fell, before righting myself and plowing forward. The stiff, cold wind that was blowing brought tears to my eyes; my thin coat fluttered open, exposing the rip in my T-shirt.
“Tyrone!” My kid sister’s high-pitched wail broke into my thoughts. “Slow down, I can’t run so fast!” I jogged another half a block, hauling Jazmyn after me. I wasn’t stupid; I knew it wasn’t safe to stick around here. Finally I slowed to a fast walk, Jazmyn’s small hand clutching mine. I glanced down at her grimy pink sneakers and jean jacket; they wouldn’t keep her warm tonight. I had to think of something.
Too out of breath to keep running, I sank down on the filthy concrete steps of an abandoned brownstone building. Jazmyn nestled into my side and stuck her thumb in her mouth. Even at five years old, she kept doing that. It drove me nuts, but I wasn’t about to tell her off. I could already see a bruise forming on her dark chocolate skin and the swelling around her eye. Wasn’t the first time I’d seen that on her either.
Normally it wasn’t this bad. Sure, Mama’d slap us around a bit if we mouthed off or asked too many questions when one of her “boyfriends” was coming over, but we’d retreat into the back bedroom and I’d tell Jazmyn stories until she fell asleep. Then I’d sneak out and find something for both of us to eat. I hated leaving her in the tenement by herself, but we had to eat. Sometimes Mama wouldn’t come home till the next day or even two days later.
Sometimes, if Mama got too mad, I’d take Jazmyn outside until she and her man left for the night. Then we’d return to the one-room apartment. I didn’t like Jazmyn being around Mama’s boyfriends too much… I didn’t like the way they looked at her. She’s only my half-sister, but I kinda gotta look out for her. I’m her big brother after all.
This time, though, it was different. This time, we couldn’t go back.
I’d known for a long time that Mama was on crack. She knew that I knew, but she didn’t care much… as long as I kept my mouth shut and kept Jazmyn from bugging her, she pretty well left us alone. It’s like we weren’t even her kids. She told us often enough how much trouble we were, how her life would be better if she hadn’t had us. It used to bug me, but I tried not to think about it a lot. I didn’t care what she thought about me, didn’t care about her either.
For Jazmyn, though… this’s no life for a little kid like her. She’d never cry, even when Mama slapped her around. She knew better; if she cried, it’d hurt a lot more. I wish there was a way to get her out of here. Brooklyn ain’t exactly the best place for a kid to grow up.
I was yanked out of my thoughts when a cop car screamed by, siren on full blast. Jazmyn hardly flinched. The sound wasn’t new to her, having lived in New York for all of her short five years.
I shook my head and tried to formulate a plan. We could wander around for a while, but night would fall soon enough and I didn’t want her exposed to the horrors that lurked in these city streets. I shivered at the thought of a gun pointing at my baby sister, going off… or worse, pointed at me. If something happened to me, where would Jaz end up?
As the siren’s wail faded into the cacophony of city noise, I thought briefly about trying to find a cop. We could go to a police station… but I knew that idea was as dumb as it sounded. They’d probably put Jaz in a foster home or something where I’d never see her again. And I’d probably be headed for juvie. I had to think of something else.
“Tyrone.” I pushed the thought of juvie aside when Jaz’s hand tugged my coat. “Ty-ty, I’m hungry.” I swore, but only inside my head. Jazmyn heard enough of that at home… I didn’t want her hearing it from me.
“Okay, okay. Lemme think.” I put my head in my hands for a few seconds. If I could ditch Jazmyn somewhere, while I tried to scrounge up some lunch money… but then again, where would I leave a five-year-old in Brooklyn? It wasn’t like I could just abandon her somewhere. If only mama hadn’t brought that creep home with her, I wouldn’t be worried about this…
Flashback) “Nice girly. Pretty little thing, ain’t ya?” His big, tattooed hand reached towards my sister’s curls, letting his gaze rove over her. She backed away, her huge brown eyes even bigger than usual. I narrowed my eyes and tried not to gag at the stench of alcohol coming from him.
“Leave her alone.” I spat the words at him, daring him to lay a finger on her. Never mind that he was about four times my size.
“Shut up.” He sounded bored, but I knew I’d gotten him mad. “I’ve got a pretty little present for her if she’s good… you a good girl?” He directed these next words at my little sister, who continued backing away until she bumped into the worn couch.
“Marcus. Come on already baby. We’re gonna be late.” I glanced at mama, taking in her smudged lipstick and too-bold eye makeup. If she could just get the creep out through the door…
The dude she called Marcus winked at my little sister, and I felt cold shivers run down my spine. “…She part of the deal?” He asked.
I lost it then. No way was I letting this punk anywhere near Jazmyn. She was the only thing I had left… I sure as heck couldn’t count on mama to protect her. “I said, leave… her… alone!!” I hollered at the guy.
He moved so fast I didn’t see the blow coming. If he hadn’t been half-drunk, he probably would’ve knocked my lights out and then some. As it was, I couldn’t stop the pained tears from filling my eyes. I grabbed Jazmyn and shoved her towards the door. He grabbed at my t-shirt and caught it, but thankfully the cheap material tore as I jerked away. Jazmyn burst into wails as mama tried to pull her away from me.
Down the hall, I barely had time to notice a neighbor poking his head out of his door. I was too busy lunging back inside after Jazmyn. I wasn’t letting mama hand her over to that monster. Jaz’s screams grew shriller, until mama smacked her across the face. “Shut up! Shut up brat! You want the cops to come?”
The creep laughed then, taking in my fighting stance, hands balled into fists. He could kill me bare-handed, and he knew it. “Let her go. She ain’t worth it.”
He lowered his voice as I pushed past him and grabbed Jazmyn. Terrified, she clung to me as I hauled her towards the door.
We left the tenement with her laughter ringing in my ears. Mama’s laughter… high-pitched and forced, but still… she laughed as the man she called Marcus drove her children out. Maybe she was afraid not to...but still, she laughed. (End flashback.)
“Ty-ty?” I jumped a little. I’d almost forgotten where I was. It was getting steadily colder, sitting on the brownstone steps, and I knew Jazmyn couldn’t be out here much longer. I had to think of a place to take her and I had to do it soon.
A thought jumped into my mind. Actually it was more like a picture; a big yellow bus filled with laughing, singing kids. Inner-city kids like me. Some white guy had a church or something going on in this area. I’d never been inside a church in my life but from what I heard on the streets, his was pretty different. For one thing, it was a church for kids. And for another, they held it outside a lot of the time. The big yellow buses would come and park on the side of the street or in one of the abandoned lots, and pretty soon the whole place would be jam-packed with kids.
I stared across the street, trying to remember the guy’s name. Bill, that was it. Bill somebody. Pastor Bill, they called him. I wasn’t really sure what the pastor part was supposed to mean.
I’d stopped and listened a few times, trying to figure out what was going on. A couple times, I’d edged close enough to grab one of the free suckers they were passing out. Jaz got a kick out of me bringing her a little treat.
Pastor Bill talked a lot about this dude named Jesus, and how He was supposed to love everybody and make them good people. How we were supposed to pray and stuff. He said there was a better way to live than doing drugs and stuff. I figured any man that had the guts to come to Brooklyn and say that to a crowd of kids like us, must be either weird or else he knew something we didn’t.
I’d kept an ear open on the streets after that, and started hearing some other stuff about this pastor dude. How he really cared about kids and even went around and visited the tenements and everything. Some guys threw a brick at him one time from an upstairs window… coulda killed him from what I heard. But he was back at the same building the next day.
“Ty-ty, I said I’m hungry!” Jazmyn’s voice took on a whiny tone. She only whined with me… if she whined at mama, she’d get a smack. She knew it, too.
“Okay, okay. Think, Tyrone. You can’t sit out here all night. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to take a little walk and see if you can find that church place. They’re supposed to care about kids, right?”
For a minute, I wondered if I was nuts. Saving my sister from a total stranger, and then going looking for a total stranger to help us?
I got to my feet and pulled Jaz up after me. With her holding tightly to my hand, I tried to saunter as casually as I could down the street. Didn’t want anybody thinking I was up to no good.
“Pretty sure I seen the busses come from this direction… we’ll head down that way.
After almost an hour of walking, I still hadn’t seen anything familiar. Panic was starting to rise in my throat as I imagined me and Jazmyn sleeping outside. Wouldn’t be the first time I’d done it, but could I keep Jaz warm? She was so little.
And then, just as the streetlights started coming on, I saw it. A chain-link fence surrounding a lot of old yellow busses. The words, “Sunday School” were neatly lettered on the sides of most of them. I’d found it!
Walking around to the front of the building, I discovered that the doors were locked and the windows were dark. Had we come all this way for nothing? Maybe there was a back door.
Around to the rear, I noticed that the back of the building looked more like a warehouse than anything. I found a door and banged on it, crossing my fingers that someone was there.
There was only silence, except for Jaz’s sniffling as she wiped her nose on her sleeve. Frantically I banged on the door again, then drew back, panting.
What did I expect? It’s the middle of the week. Nobody got any cause to be at church this time of day anyways.
I was just turning away, my heart spiraling down towards my shoes, when the door suddenly creaked open. I whirled around and Jazmin ducked behind me. A white guy with kinda long gray hair and a gray sweat suit peered out.
It’s him! That pastor Bill dude!
He looked at us expectantly, a ghost of a smile in his sober brown eyes. “Can I help you?” His eyebrows went up when he saw Jazmyn peeking around me.
“Um, we…ahh…” I stuttered. I hadn’t thought much about what I’d say if I did find the guy.
“Well… are you that pastor Bill guy that drives the busses around?” It was a dumb question. We could all see the busses parked out back.
“Yes.” Pastor Bill crossed his arms and leaned on the doorframe. He didn’t look impatient, just curious.
“Well, umm…” I finally decided to tell it like it was. “I heard you talk about some Jesus guy, and how He loves kids. We’re kinda in trouble and we figured, well…”
Pastor Bill looked us up and down. Finally he motioned us inside.
Crowding in through the narrow metal door, I was surprised to see the “warehouse” was fixed up kind of like an apartment. It wasn’t fancy; this Bill guy wasn’t rich; but it was pretty clean and a lot nicer than what we had at home.
“Have a seat. Can I get you a soda or something?” Pastor Bill motioned us to the couch. I perched on the edge, a habit born from never knowing when I’d have to run. Jazmyn was too tired to care much by now, and she leaned wearily on my side. Remembering the offer of soda, I was about to say no when Jaz tugged on my coat. “Sure.” I corrected myself, “Yes, please.”
Less than a minute later, we both had cold sodas in hand. I popped the tab on Jazmyn’s and made sure she held the can with both hands so she wouldn’t spill before I took a swallow of my own. Pastor Bill took a seat opposite us and scuffed one brown shoe along the worn carpet.
“Well, you know my name, so how about you two introduce yourselves and tell me what I can do for you?”
It surprised me that I was so at ease, sitting in this comfy-but-strange living room with a strange guy. I prided myself on being a people-reader… it’s something you learn pretty quick, growing up around here. I could smell a skunk a mile off… and there was something about his man’s kind, sincere eyes that told me he was an okay guy.
“I’m Tyrone. And this’s my little sister, Jazmyn. We got no place to sleep tonight. Mama’s boyfriend run us out…” Pretty soon I had spilled the whole story. I could tell the dude was listening… he sat with his elbows planted on wide-spread knees and his chin in his hands, studying us with those eyes. I could tell he’d been around the block a few times… those eyes didn’t miss a thing.
After I finished spilling my guts, there was silence for several minutes. Pastor Bill leaned back in his chair and sighed. I guessed he was thinking pretty hard. “We can’t go to the cops,” I said yet again.
“They’d take Jaz and stick her in one of those places for kids with no parents, and probably send me right back to mama.”
Pastor Bill tapped his chin thoughtfully. “Well…” he said at last. “It’s too late to do anything tonight anyway. You two need a good meal and some sleep. We’ll sort this all out in the morning.”
I gave a sigh of relief that worked its way up from my toes. Pastor Bill smiled at that. “Come on,” he said, “This little one looks like she could use some supper. And so do you.”
We followed him into the tiny kitchenette. “I’m not much of a cook… I hope spaghetti’s okay.” I settled Jazmyn on a phone book so she could reach the table from her chair, and brought her unfinished soda from the living room while Pastor Bill boiled noodles and microwaved spaghetti sauce out of a can. We were almost ready to eat when…
“Ty-ty, I gotta go!” Jaz was pretty insistent. I gave pastor Bill a sheepish look. “Okay if I take her to the can?” Pastor Bill pointed around the corner. “Bathroom’s right through there.”
Once in the bathroom, I stared at myself in the mirror while Jazmin did her business. What was I gonna do with her, I wondered. Would the dude call the cops in the morning? Maybe we could just live here with him for a while. I couldn’t see that happening though. I wondered if it had been dumb to bring Jaz here and ask for help. All the same though, I couldn’t let her sleep on the streets, and I sure couldn’t bring her home.
As we re-entered the kitchen, Pastor Bill was laying paper plates on the table. “Tyrone, I’ve been thinking. I haven’t got another bed, but I’m sure you’ll be comfortable on the couch. I’ve slept on it many times. I’ve got some pillows we could lay on the floor and cover with a couple blankets for Jazmyn. From what you’ve told me, it’ll be a bit more comfortable than where she’s used to sleeping.”
Preoccupied, I didn’t answer until a gentle hand closed on my shoulder. “Ty,” the voice was as gentle as the hand. “Did you know I was a foster kid once?”
I looked at him in surprise as he released my shoulder and turned towards the stove to serve the spaghetti. “My mom left me when I was about your age. How old are you?”
“Twelve.” I replied.
“I was thirteen when my mom left. I actually slept in a church for a while… all the ladies in the church would take turns bringing my meals. There were no beds then either; I slept on the pews.”
I continued to listen as I cut up Jaz’s spaghetti for her.
“I had nobody. Except the guy that picked me up off the street corner where my mom left me. He was the only friend I had. That’s why I came to Brooklyn… to make sure that another kid like me got a chance to get off the street.”
“Dear Jesus…” I jumped in surprise when the tone of his voice shifted. I had hardly notice that he’d bowed his head. Was he praying or something?
“…Thank you for bring Tyrone and Jazmyn to my door. You sent them here for a reason. Help them to feel safe and comfortable here. Thank you from protecting them. Help them to feel loved here…” I sneaked a look at his bowed head and clasped hands. Love? What was that? We didn’t have that in our home.
“…And help us to find a good safe place for them to belong. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.”
I shifted again. There was that guy, that Jesus dude that they all talked about. Pastor Bill talked to Him like He was right there in the room. I squinted… maybe, just maybe, He was.
Pastor Bill caught my eye as he looked up and smiled. “Dig in,” He said simply. I nodded and forked a mouthful of food, before asking, “Can you tell us more about that Jesus guy you talk about?”
Pastor Bill smiled again, and I was pretty sure I saw his eyes get a little wet. “There’s plenty of time, Ty. This is only the beginning.”
As I swallowed the warm food and watched Jazmyn nodding off in her chair, I wondered if this was what love felt like… and if maybe that Jesus guy had something to do with it.
Tyrone and Jazmyn are the products of my imagination. Sadly, however, their story is played out in the inner city way too often. Pastor Bill is a real person, right down to the bricks being thrown at him and sleeping in a church. Although this event is fictional, Pastor Bill helps a lot of kids in New York and all around the world. You can find out more about him and his ministry here :Metro World Child