I responded to Queen’s text immediately:
Me: Not as much as you miss me.
Queen: LOL, see you in a few hours.
I wanted to write more, but the sun was rising and the early morning hours brought new challenges. Commuters were making their way to work, and they drove like fighter pilots with a week’s worth of training. This made no sense to me, because they were risking their lives to reach the jobs that most of them hated. Not to mention, I was tired from my long night and ready for bed, but I remained energized. I’d see Queen in a couple of hours, and I had a lot to ask her about her decision to sign a record deal.
I got my next blip. The passenger was 15 minutes away, but the drive was just what I needed to clear my head. He was black like me, had a short scruffy beard, wore a pair of blue coveralls, and was carrying a large bag of tools. When he got in and settled, I had to open a window to vent the smell of marijuana that emanated from him. If it’s not cigarettes and alcohol, it’s weed, I thought.
Without prompting he started talking, “Sorry about that smell. I ain’t gon’ lie. I just smoked a whole bunch of weed. This job I’m going to is hell, sometimes you gotta ease yo’ mind in the morning. You smoke?”
“No,” I told him.
“Good,” he said. “It’s not good for you. Everybody I know says, ‘Weed is good for you,’ but they just say that to make themselves feel good about their habit. I can’t stop. I got anxiety. I admit it.”
I really didn’t want to talk. I was all talked out from the night. It was like my mind was telling me it was time to go home, but I knew I had to finish my shift to earn as much as possible.
“At least you can admit your faults,” I said, “and the old ganja man always said, ‘herb’ is the healing of the earth. They finally believed him when they ran their scientific tests. Now, they’ve got this mutant weed that lacks the benefits of the old stuff, it’s just THC, no CBD.” All smokers know this, I thought, but nothing was going to keep them from what they love.
“You get it then. That’s cool, homie. You from here?” he asked.
“I grew up on the southside.”
“Then you know all about the city, then. This s*** is changin’. It ain’t the same. We all gettin’ gentrified.”
“Yeah…they’re a lot of new people moving here everyday.”
“Some of it’s good and some of it’s bad, this city ain’t built for all this new s***. It’s gon’ break one day.”
“Or become something unrecognizable to the people who grew up here. It’s like waking up and realizing the world isn’t made for you anymore.”
“I see what you’re saying. It’s good to be prepared, but check me out on this, have you ever had somebody put a check in your account?”
I thought about all the bank scammers I met while driving. “No,” I said.
“That’s good. I used to do that before I got a charge.”
“You got a case for that?”
“Yeah man, it was a fed charge, because it happened in two different states. You don’t ever want the Feds lookin’ for you, They showed up at my job. They asked me all these questions. They only ask questions when they already know the answer to. They tried to give me for 20 years for each count. I had 5 counts, but that s*** didn’t stick. I might smoke a lil herb, but now, I do tile for showers, bathrooms, kitchens, floors, all that. If you need any work done. I got you.” He placed a card on my center console. It read:
Tyreek’s Tile and Flooring
Tile for Showers, Bathrooms, Kitchens, and Floors, I got you!
Licensed and Bonded
I grabbed it out of habit and placed it in my pocket.
“They messed up when I found out how to do that s***. Most tile guys is trash with schedules and keeping their word, that’s how I keep the business going.” His phone chimed three times.
“So, you got it figured out?”
“Nah, I just figured out what I needed to do to keep it legit. When I left prison, the world was different. Nobody talked the same, nobody wanted the same things, the clothes were different, the moves were different. It’s like things came in trends and I didn’t know what was going on. The worst part was, I didn’t have a job, and I couldn’t even buy my son a hamburger at a restaurant. I been through some s***, but the worst s*** I ever been through was feeling worthless. What’s crazy is how one of these drivers had helped me out.
I was in an uber going to my girl’s house. I had just enough to make it to her house, but she didn’t have no food for her and my baby. I was going to hustle up some money, because I knew somebody who could front me some work, but I just asked the driver, because I didn’t want to go back to the life. I just asked if he could front me a couple dollars to get some food. He thought about it, turned the app off, gave me some money, and took me to the store. He even bought me a transit card for a month to get around. That’s when I was taking those classes on tile installation from this program, and I used that card to get back and forth for the rest of the month. I ain’t trying to be no simp out here, but that s*** changed everything.”
His phone rang this time, “Hold on a second,” he said to me as he answered the call.
I heard incoherent yelling.
“Keep her on ice until I get there.” He repeated, “Keep her on ice. The tile shipment is on the way. My truck wouldn’t start, so I’m in this UB3R.You gotta keep her cool ‘til I get there. The tile is on the way. I’ll be there in 5 minutes.” The voice on the phone made one incoherent sound then Tyreek ended the call. “It’s hard to find people who can stick with a problem until they solve it. Most people run away when s*** gets hard.” He placed his phone in his pocket. And I turned up the radio. The air was heavy with clarity and we both relaxed on our journey.
We didn’t talk much after he said that. Sometimes both members of a conversation know when enough is said, and there is nothing left but an impasse. When I arrived at his destination, I saw a man standing with a woman. She was wearing a robe and had rollers in her hair. She was waving her hand at the man and gesturing like he had committed a crime against her person.
“Ha, ha, man, look at my boy up there. I told you that lady was hell. My Bro is gettin’ it. Glad that ain’t me and glad you drove me here. She’d been done killed my homie by now, if we just didn’t get here.”
I watched the woman as we approached in the car. Her eyes looked like two gun barrels searching for targets. “I don’t know how you deal with that. I would’ve stayed home.” I said as I pulled to a stop in front of the woman.
“It’s easy. The tile truck is pulling up, now, and I’ll have her job done before the end of the day. I’ll turn her frown upside down. I appreciate you, Bro. And I got to tell you, thanks for picking me. I’ll give your 5 stars and a tip on the app, because you’re cool.”
He grabbed his things and got out of the car quickly. “Ms. Perkins, whatever you need. You know I got you…” he said as he exited.
After he closed the door and said thanks, one last time, I started my journey to see Queen. I had convinced her that we should talk over breakfast. I knew a place that had a good vegan omelette. It was a good place to talk, and an even better place to listen.
Posted in: short fiction