Ernie

When Ernie accepted the assignment to work with Moses, the first Afro-American patrolman, he did not concern himself with what other White officers thought of him.  He knew there were officers who had refused but he felt, as one of the older officers, that he could lead by example.  Ernie imagined if Moses did well there would be other Afro-American patrolmen and he honestly felt that integration was the best thing for the entire police force.

But Ernie knew Moses long before they became partners.  Ernie used to see Moses at the station each morning before he went out.  When his veteran partner announced his retirement and Moses was promoted he honestly looked forward to getting to know someone of the opposite race.  He’d spoken to Afro-Americans before but with Moses as his partner he would have to place his life and his trust in Moses’s hand.

Ernie felt a bit at ease because he believed that Moses could handle any physical altercation he could handle.  From a physical perspective Moses and Ernie were equals.  Both were over six feet tall, two hundred pounds with thinning hair and a prominent nose.  

When they walked through East New York together people could tell they were partners from a far distance.  That’s why Ernie didn’t understand why so many of the Afro-Americans who lived in East New York questioned Moses’s authority.  He thought the people in the community would have been happy to have someone who looked like them in authority but the attitude he received while walking with Moses was much worse than the attitude he ever received when he was with his former White partner.

He picked up on the attitude after his first day walking the beat with Moses.  A couple of weeks had passed and he hadn’t said anything to Moses.  But as the mid-day August heat built up around Ernie and Moses making their uniforms feel a bit heavier shortly after searching two young Afro-American boys, one of whom had called Moses an Uncle Tom, Ernie knew they had to learn to communicate better.

They sat in the squad car eating their lunches – lunchmeat and biscuits for Moses and ham and cheese on wheat for Ernie.  Typically they sat in a comfortable silence but that day the tension filled the car like the heat coming in from the windows.  

“What do you think they did with the wallet?”  Moses turned his head to face Ernie and Ernie turned his head to the passenger side so that he could look Moses in the eye.

“I’m not quite sure.”  Moses turned away from Ernie’s gaze and looked in front of him.  “Maybe I didn’t see things right.  It might not have been a wallet.”  Ernie turned away and did not look at Moses, as he did not want to make Moses fell uncomfortable. 

“It’s ok.  I just want us to understand.  If you tell me you saw something I’ll believe ya and if you tell me ya might have made a mistake I’ll believe that too.  But let’s work on that – telling each other what we’re thinking.  I think that’ll make this easier.  Don’t you?”  Ernie wanted to reach a point when he didn’t have to wonder what Moses was thinking.  That was the point he was at with his old partner.  It would take time and trial and error but they had to think like a unit or one of them would definitely get hurt.

“I’d like that.”  Moses still didn’t look Ernie in the eye.  He didn’t want Ernie to see the desperation in his face.  He needed this partnership to work out because he did not want to go back to working behind a desk.  

“Why don’t you and Nessa come over to the house for dinner?  You’ve been in Manhattan right.”  This surprised Moses.  It was then that he knew Ernie wanted things to work out as well.  

“Yes, I’ve been in Manhattan.”  He knew he’d never been in the part of Manhattan where Ernie lived but he knew of it. The North was an acceptable place for Afro-Americans but it still wasn’t safe for Afro-Americans in some all White neighborhoods.  All he could think about was how not to embarrass himself but he knew Nessa would be perfect.  

“Candy will cook dinner.”  Candace, Ernie’s wife, wanted to meet Moses.  She said she’d feel less stressed if she looked Moses in the eye and knew that he would protect Ernie at all costs.

“When?”  Moses knew he would be there no matter what day he was told.

“Next Friday.  Can you make it?”  Candy would be happy he actually invited them because at first he said he didn’t think it was a good idea.

“We’ll be there.”  Moses knew Nessa would be nervous but excited to go into the city.

Both Ernie and Moses knew the dinner would make or break their relationship but it was necessary. 

They finished their food in silence, got out of the car, and began to walk their beat again.  In the week they would work together before their dinner Moses would be more hesitant about the things he mentioned to Ernie and Ernie would try to come up with small talk to keep them going while hoping their wives could fill in the silence during the dinner.

Farewell, My Gift

I knew I had you when I began to think on my own

You comforted me when I could not fall asleep

You pushed me up mountains I didn’t feel equipped to climb

But I didn’t know how much I needed you until you were gone.

Those years without you filled my mind with self-doubt 

I didn’t know I could bounce back from.

But bounce I did.

And you returned

Like a true love;

I knew you belonged to me.

But we must part again.

This time it is me walking away.

I know I can make it on my own now and be ok

You rest within my soul

Fueling my steps

As my new future awaits.

CINDY

It was 7:45pm and Candy only had 15 minutes before Nessa and Moses arrived.  She knew they wouldn’t dare be a minute late and thought maybe they might be about five minutes early.  She had brushed her red hair into long silky perfection.  It draped down her back and laid on her dark blue dress every strand moving in unison with the turns of her head.  Ernie was tying his black tie with his black suit while brushing what remained of his hair.  

Then at 7:49 the doorbell rang and Candy went to answer it herself.  She had sent all of the servants home.  Being that all of her servants were Afro-American she didn’t want Nessa or Moses to feel uncomfortable.

She told the children – Tim, 15, Edward, 12 and Mary, 16 – to sleep over at a friends’ house and come home on Saturday.  She didn’t want any distractions while she assessed Nessa and Moses.  

She decided to entertain them in her living room and not the sitting room.  Her living room was her oasis filled with her prized figurines, vases, and plants.  The carpet and furniture were all white but it was time for the rooms yearly cleaning, which she would do a few days after Nessa and Moses’s visit.

Candy was happy to see that Nessa dressed in all white.  She had the most beautiful white hat and Candy wondered how much Moses had spent on it and if they could really afford such a luxury.  Moses had on a simple brown suit.  Candy noticed his shoes were shiny as if just shined but there were still noticeable scuffs.  Once they were fully inside Ernie was beside her ushering them into the living room.

“Would you like some tea or coffee?  I know that usually comes after dinner but I figured we could have some now.”  Candy said this to ease the tension she felt in the air.  Moses and Nessa sat on the couch next to one another with barely an inch between them.  Candy saw Moses touch Nessa’s knee as if to settle her breathing.

“I’ll have some tea.”  Nessa said in the most high-pitched voice Candy had ever heard from an Afro-American woman.

“I’ll have some coffee.”  Moses chimed in it seemed only to be polite.

“Candy, you can bring me some coffee too?”  Ernie sat in the loveseat and watched Candy disappear into the kitchen.

“Nessa, it’s good to meet you.  I wish I could say I’ve heard a lot about you but Moses and I haven’t been talking about much besides work and sports.”

“Oh, well, I haven’t heard much about you either because Moses hardly ever talks about work.  He’s not a big talker.  More the silent type.”

“Oh, so it’s not just me?” 

At that point Candy came in carrying a tray with four cups.  She handed the tea to Nessa and the coffee to Moses, sat on the loveseat with two cups of coffee and handed one to Ernie.

“It’s not just you what, dear?”

“It’s not just me that Moses doesn’t speak to.  He’s not much of a talker.”

“I talk when I need to, speak when spoken to or of.”  He turned his face towards Nessa but she looked away from him at Candy.

“I’m so glad you let us come to your home.”  Nessa knew they would not have been invited if Candy did not want to see them.

“Well, I’m so glad you could come.  Did you find the place ok?”

“Yea, well, Moses can figure out how to get anywhere in New York.  That’s part of the reason he’s such a good cop.”

“Well, good.  I know he must be very good to have ended up with my Ernie as a partner.  When Ernie told me Moses would be his new partner I knew Moses had to be one of the best officers in the precinct.”

“I won’t argue with you Mrs. Avery.  I’m certain you speak the truth.”

Candy was delighted Moses accepted the compliment and agreed with her.  She thought he’d make a fine partner for her husband – agreeable.  People hiding ambition reject compliments.

Candy turned to Ernie and smiled.  “Well, how about we go into the dining room and I’ll bring the food out.  You can bring your tea and coffee in there.” 

Moses and Nessa took their cups into the dining room.  It was a long square table but there were two place settings on one side and two place settings on the direct opposite side.  Moses thought it strange that Candy and Ernie decided not to sit at the ends of the table.  Even Nessa thought it weird that they would sit facing one another like equals.  Candy brought out whole baked chicken legs, asparagus, and mashed potatoes.  

“You can serve yourselves.”  Candy took her spot next to Ernie right across from Nessa.

Moses placed a chicken leg on Nessa’s plate before placing one on his and Ernie did as he saw Moses do and placed a chicken leg on Candy’s plate.  Nessa put some mashed potatoes on her plate.  She was not sure what the long green stem looking thing was but she knew she had to try it.  She took three stems and placed it on her plate.  She thought three was enough to seem polite.  Moses did the exact same things she did and then she realized that Ernie and Candy had done the exact same things as her as well.

“So, Moses, now that you’ve been a patrolman for a bit how do you like it?  What is your most favorite thing about it?”  Candy wanted to get right into it.  She invited them to assess Moses intentions and she needed a bit more information to feel completely satisfied.

“Well, honestly Mrs. Avery, the best part about it is having a partner.  Ernie and I don’t talk much but I think we suit one another pretty well.”

“I think we’ll do just fine Moses.”  Candy knew that that was the last question she could ask Moses about work.  Ernie had decided he liked Moses as a partner and she was beginning to warm up to him as well.  She even had to admit that Nessa impressed her.  Candy thought Nessa looked like a well-kept woman and she could tell Nessa had never held a job.

The conversation turned to what Ernie and Moses often talked about – sports and weather.  Candy decided not to have a side chat with Nessa.  There was nothing they needed to discuss.  She thought about whether she would ever have them over to the house again and she couldn’t see why that would ever be necessary.  She was certain Moses was happy to have made it as far as he had and there was no desire to move any higher.  Candy said goodnight to Moses and Nessa and as they left she saw them growing old together as she would grow old with Ernie.

Alone But Not Lonely

Stop.  

Listen.

Hear the raindrops hit the pavement as the sun shines.

They say the devil is beating his wife but I never imagined a devil who would marry.

You better find someone before it’s too late, they say.

Are you sure it isn’t already too late?

And if it is too late should I buy a cat?

There must be others like me who watch YouTube cat videos to pass some of the time.

I sit and think.

Where do I find the man who is supposed to change my life?

Do I hunt for him or is he looking for me?

I’m afraid to admit I kind of don’t want to find him or for him to find me.

It will be the end of the beginning of the old and the new.

And I am afraid.

And I am most afraid of being afraid around others.

Will he frighten me?

The thought of him already does.

Will he be my devil?

Or will it only rain on cloudy days?

NESSA

In the darkness of the early morning Nessa heard the snores of her husband and children fill the house.  She had thirty minutes before Moses woke up and then only an additional fifteen minutes before all of the kids were stretching and heading towards the kitchen.  

She fried the bacon and sausage together in the large black iron skillet she inherited from her mother while she whipped half a dozen eggs with salt, pepper, and bit of milk in a medium sized glass bowl.  She’d put the dough together for the biscuits the night before so they sat in the oven waiting to become the perfect golden brown on top and bottom.  She still cut off pieces of bread from the loaf to be eaten with the meal so there would be biscuits left for the kids and her husband to carry for lunch.

Moses even liked to take a few strips of bacon with him to go after eating his full share of everything.  Richard, the oldest at 17, ate the second most but Edmond, 15, and Tyrone, 12, put in a good effort to beat him.  Naomi, the youngest girl, would only eat cereal and Bobbi, the oldest girl at 14, barely ate at all.  Nessa didn’t dare touch any food until after everyone else ate.  

When Moses sat in his chair at the head of the table all of the food was laid out on the table ready for his pickings.  The children soon followed and they engulfed the food while she started on the dishes.  Luckily she ate a bit as she cooked so by the time the frenzy started her belly full enough.

As she washed the dishes her mind began to drift to her trip into Manhattan a few days ago.  She went into the city to pick up material for her church to make new choir robes for the church’s 20th Anniversary.  They could have bought cheaper cloth in Brooklyn but a 20th Anniversary only happens once and the members agreed to work together to raise the money not only for new robes but also for decorations, food, and a small gift for the pastor.

She was looking forward to the Anniversary celebration because her church family was just an extension of her actual family.  She was an active member of the church ensuring that her children were there every Sunday and attended every Bible study course.  The only person she didn’t have a hold on was Moses.  He used his job as an excuse as often as possible but never chastised her for all the time she spent there.

As she washed the large black skillet she thought of the conversation she’d had with Moses the night after she came home from the city. Moses had the same routine for morning and evening so Nessa knew bringing something up shortly after he put on his pajamas caught Moses in his most relaxed state when he was most likely to agree to something.

“So I was in the city today.”  She wanted him to be aware of her comings and goings so she often told him exactly where she went everyday.

“Why?”  She didn’t often go into the city.  Brooklyn had just about everything the city had and they couldn’t really afford to buy anything in the city so he was always a bit suspicious when Nessa mentioned going there.

“I had to pick up the new cloth for the choir robes for the 20th Anniversary celebration.  You know the colors are white and gold.  We have all the decorations and the food will be taken care of.  So now that we have the material for the robes we’re just about set.”  She paused to see if he was really interested and his brown eyes were fixed on her lips so she knew he was.  

“I made my dress already.  It’s all white with a little lace on the trim at the bottom.  I didn’t have to spend any money on new cloth.  I had everything I needed right in my closet.”

“That’s good.”  He was thinking that she was going to ask for money for new cloth but before his relief was fully realized Nessa continued.

“The only thing is that I don’t have a white hat and you know I don’t know how to make hats.”

“How much is it?”

“What?”

“The hat.  How much is it.”  Moses already knew he was going to give her the money before he asked but he needed to know just how hard he needed to work to get it.

“It’s $2.  But it’s perfect – white with a bit of lace.  Being that I’m on the usher board I could were it every Sunday.  The money will not go to waste.”

“Let me think about it.”  Nessa knew that “I’ll think about it” probably meant he would give her the money but the only way to be certain was to never bring it up again.  He didn’t like feeling coerced.  The decision had to be his own.  

In the kitchen that morning Nessa was so engrossed in her own thoughts time passed by and she didn’t realize that all the food she’d made was gone.  Moses stood in front of her 

reached in his pocket, pulled out two dollars, cupped the money in his hand so the children wouldn’t see, took Nessa’s hand, kissed her goodbye and effortlessly transferred the money.

She didn’t have time to say thank you.  And she couldn’t show any change of expression that would attract the attention of the children.  

At 6:30am she sat in the living room and took a deep breath before starting the laundry.  She wondered how she could show Moses how much she appreciated him.  She felt his love knew no bounds and she had to do something more than prepare one of his favorite meals to assure him that she felt the same way. 

A Dream Realized

What happens to a dream realized?

Does it fade into the background 

Replaced by a longing for more?

Or does it linger in a life filled with joy?

Is it forgotten amidst a quest for survival?

Or held near to our hearts like a first love?

When our dreams become our reality

Do we appreciate the life we thought we would never have?

Or do we find fault in how it’s not precisely as we had hoped?

After all, a dream turned into a reality is 

A hope turned into a life.

Foreign Born ; New Home





5pm. Dark clouds held the sun hostage before the downpour, but he sat outside in the red chairs with his back arched as he savored his cigar and took long gulps of Evian. He checked his Cartier watch in-between glances of parents filling their phones with pictures of their children mimicking the fearless girl pose.

Knowing the child model was a young Hispanic girl he thought back on his own childhood growing up in Mexico. He arrived in America right at the start of middle school and quickly advanced to the top of his class. Stuyvesant for high school, Stanford for college, and Harvard for his MBA, placed him exactly where he always dreamed of being – the floor of the NY Stock Exchange.

Once he finished his cigar he took out the turkey sandwich and bag of chips he bought from the deli he ordered from every day. It was the lunch he never got to eat. He’d only taken two bites of his sandwich and eaten only a few potato chips when, he was hit by an aroma that he knew could only belong to a homeless person.

“Do you have a dollar you can spare?” It was a white man not much older than him.

“I don’t have any cash.” It was a lie. He always carried a few bucks because cash often came in handy, but he refused to give money to any of the homeless people Downtown. If he could make something of himself, he felt they should be able to as well. There were so many more opportunities to be successful in America than in Mexico. There were no reasons people in America should be homeless and begging for money unless they were drug addicts or alcoholics and he refused to support anyone’s habit.

“Could I have the rest of your potato chips? I haven’t eaten all day.” The homeless man locked eyes with the stockbroker in search of some semblance of pity.

“Neither have I.” The stockbroker did not avert his gaze. He could see the white man’s skin begin to turn a bright red as his eyes widened. He heard the sound of phlegm rising to the surface and in an instant he felt splatters of saliva on his face as the man spit on his sandwich.

“Spic!” The man turned and walked away slowly daring the stockbroker to come after him.

The stockbroker took the napkins out of his bag and wiped the splatter from his face. He wrapped up his soiled sandwich and chips and threw them in the bag as he watched the homeless man approach a young black woman and ask her for a dollar. Perhaps she saw what had happened to him. He couldn’t be sure, but she pulled out her wallet and gave him a dollar. The homeless man kept walking as if he never did what he did, and it wouldn’t matter if he did it again.

The stockbroker threw his tainted food in the trash and began his fifteen-minute walk home. As he walked he caught glimpses of his reflection in the Hermes window. His reflection began to speak to him.

Reflection – Is it worth it?

Stockbroker – What?

Reflection – The price.

Stockbroker – Of what?

Reflection – The price of life here?

Stockbroker – This is home.

Reflection – Even today?

Stockbroker – Nevertheless.

The stockbroker felt the first drops of rain on his cheek and headed to Hale and Hearty to pick up a salad.

MOSES

            On Monday morning, several weeks after beginning his new role as patrolman, Moses got up, brushed his teeth, washed his face, and looked in the mirror as he slicked back the few strands of hair that covered his head.  In the midst of his daily routine he took a moment to be thankful for how well his life was turning out.  He was born into slavery and walked from North Carolina to New York City.  He went from running from the law that would have taken him back into slavery to becoming the law in the North.  Initially the North was not the land of opportunity that others seemed to think it would be.  When he took the exam to become a police officer he did not know if they would actually accept him but when the letter came he could see his future clearly.  He would work as a police officer until he retired and enjoy his old age with his pension.  

            He worked hard to support his family and keep the small home he was able to purchase on his police salary.  It had three bedrooms, a living room, and a kitchen with enough room to put a table.  It housed the seven people in his household.  There were his three sons – Tyrone, Edmond, and Richard.  There were his two daughters – Bobbi and Naomi.  And there was his wife Nessa.  He’d met Nessa in the North and all of his children were born free.  His children would never know what it meant to be owned by man.  They would be their own people with their own rights and freedoms he had the authority to protect.  Moses was proud of the fact that his wife could remain at home to care for the children.  He knew that many other Afro-American women spent their time taking care of White children while the young Afro-American children sometimes were left to raise themselves.  Moses and Nessa were a team and the success of their children was their main goal.  

But this August morning in 1912, his first full year as a patrolman, he braced for a day that he hoped would be no different from the rest.  He worked for the 75th precinct that serviced the East New York area of Brooklyn.  He lived right on the outskirts of the neighborhood as Afro-Americans who were doing well did not live that far away from Afro-Americans who were struggling. 

East New York was one of the most dangerous parts of New York City but Moses was not easily intimated.  Each day was a bit of a battle but he trusted his partner, Ernie.  Moses never thought he would call a White person partner and he was certain Ernie had his own biases but they were still learning about one another, what to ask, what to expect, how much to trust.  Moses not only had to think of what Ernie’s biases could be he also had to recognize his own biases.  They both had been very respectful of one another while sticking to safe topics like sports and weather.  Many days over the past couple of weeks they spent in silence as Moses got the feel for the community and adjusted to having a partner.

            When it was time to park and walk the beat they made sure to stay close to one another but Moses often liked to find a moment to speak with the young Afro-American boys alone.  He didn’t want to have to arrest them but oftentimes they left him no choice.  He had to admit that the kids in East New York didn’t have a whole lot of options.  There were more opportunities to steal, lie, and hurt others than there were to help them find jobs or at least hold their attention to keep them out of trouble.

As he walked Moses down the block, looking ahead while Ernie scanned his periphery he saw something that looked like a wallet lying on the ground about 70 feet ahead of him.  He was headed in that direction when two young boys walked right up to the object, picked it up, and stood close together so Moses could not see what they did with it.  

Moses whispered to Ernie and pointed in the boy’s direction, “I think they just picked up a wallet.”

            Ernie’s eyebrows lifted and he turned towards the boys.  “You sure?”

            Now Moses wasn’t 100% certain but he made the decision to tell Ernie so he had already decided to catch up to the boys and find out.  “I’d like to find out.”

            The boys were happy with their find so they were not in a hurry to get where they were going so it was easy for Moses and Ernie to catch up with them.  Pretty soon they were walking right beside them.  Ernie was on the right side of one boy and Moses on the left side of the other.

            “Hey, did you two find something back there?”  Moses was careful not to call them boys.  Even though they were boys he knew they might have taken it in a negative way and he didn’t want to provoke them.  Either way he recognized the absolute shock in both of their faces when they looked into his brown eyes and thoroughly examined his mahogany skin that reminded them of a parent.  But Moses could see their expression change to a bit of disgust as they came to the realization that he was a police officer like the White man standing with him. 

“Are you a real cop?”  The boy beside him asked.  He already knew the answer but he wanted to express his disregard for his authority.

            At this point Ernie responded.  He knew that part of his role was to ensure that everyone respected Moses.  “We both are.  You heard him.  Answer his question.”

Moses could tell from the smile that crossed over the boy’s face that he was going to lie.  “I didn’t find anything.”  He turned to his friend and asked, “Did you find something?”

The boy had the same smile on his face as if he was hiding something no one would ever be able to find.  “I didn’t find anything.  What makes you think we found anything?”

“So you don’t mind if we search you?”  Ernie had read the sly smile as a lie just as Moses had.  

“What?  Right here?”  The boys knew nothing of their rights but they preferred being searched in public than taken back to a police station. 

Moses conducted the search.  He patted down their legs, arms, the back and front of their chests and emptied their pockets.  He found nothing. Things were exactly as they should have been.   They didn’t have one cent between the two of them.  Ernie and Moses let the boys go.  

Moses felt like his eyes must not have been as good as he thought but the boys had bent down to pick something up.  He had no idea where they could have hidden it but there was a stretch of time when he could not see what they were doing.  He wished he could have asked them what they did without having to arrest them.  The curiosity would plague him for weeks.

As the boys walked away the boy who had questioned his legitimacy as a police officer turned around when they were about 15 feet in front of Ernie and Moses, spit on the ground, and spoke loud enough for Moses to hear but not quite loud enough for everyone to hear, “Uncle Tom”.

            Moses did not flinch.  It was in that moment that Moses knew exactly what he had to face each day.  He’d made a new allegiance to the law and the people who looked like him no longer saw him as just another Negro.  His was a protector and a provider but in a class all of his own.

COVID

It came here to kill us.

Snuck in during the early morning hours as we lay in bed watching our favorite shows.

It came here to divide us.

Illustrating the differences between the haves and the have nots.

It came here to shake us.

Strip us to our core holding on to our faith the way we clung to our last paycheck before we were let go.

It came here to break us.

Tapping away at the strength of our minds as days turned into months.

But we live on

In the face of the death that surrounds us.

We keep our faith

As the money slips away.

We love

As if time were kind;

And death were forgiving.