It's hard to get lost when you're coming home from work. When you have a job, and a paycheck, the road is set right out in front of you: a paved highway with no exits except yours. There's the parking lot, the grocery store, the kids' school, the cleaner's, the gas station, and then your front door.
But I hadn't had a regular job in a year and here it was two in the afternoon and I was pulling into my driveway wondering what I was doing there. I cut off the engine and then shuddered, trying to fit inside the sudden stillness.
All morning I had been thinking about Bonnie and what I'd lost when I sent her away. She'd saved my adopted daughter's life, and I had repaid her by making her leave our home.
In order to get little Feather into a Swiss clinic, Bonnie had reacquainted herself with Joguye Cham, a West African prince she had met in her work as a flight attendant for Air France. He made a temporary home for Feather, and Bonnie stayed there with her and him.
I threw open the car door but didn't get out. Part of my lethargy was exhaustion from being up for the past twenty-four hours.
I didn't have a regular job, but I worked like a dog.
Martel Johnson had hired me to find his runaway sixteen-year-old daughter, Chevette. He'd gone to the police and they had taken down her information, but two weeks had gone by and they hadn't turned up a thing. I told Martel that I'd do the footwork for three hundred dollars. On any other transaction he would have tried to dicker with me, giving me a down payment and promising the balance when and if I did the job. But when a man loves his child he will do anything to have her safely home.
I pocketed the money, spoke to a dozen of Chevette's high school friends, and then made the rounds of various alleys in the general vicinity of Watts.
MOST OF THE TIME I was thinking about Bonnie, about calling her and asking her to come home to me. I missed her milky breath and the spiced teas she brewed. I missed her mild Guyanese accent and our long talks about freedom. I missed everything about her and me, but I couldn't make myself stop at a pay phone.
Where I came from Fifth Ward, Houston, Texas another man sleeping with your woman was more than reason enough for justifiable double homicide. Every time I thought of her in his arms my vision sputtered and I had to close my eyes.
My adoptive daughter still saw Bonnie at least once a week. The boy I raised as my son, Jesus, and his common-law wife, Benita Flagg, treated Bonnie as the grandmother of their newborn daughter, Essie.
I loved them all and in turning my back on Bonnie I had lost them.
And so, at 1:30 in the morning, at the mouth of an alley off Avalon, when a buxom young thing in a miniskirt and halter top had come up to my window, I rolled down the glass and asked, "How much to suck my dick?"
"Fifteen dollars, daddy," she said in a voice both sweet and high.
"Um," I stalled. "Up front or after?"
She sucked a tooth and stuck out a hand. I put three new five-dollar bills across her palm, and she hurried around to the passenger side of my late-model Ford. She had dark skin and full cheeks ready to smile for the man with the money.
When I turned toward her I detected a momentary shyness in her eyes, but then she put on a brazen look and said, "Let's see what you got."
"Can I ask you somethin' first?"
"You paid for ten minutes; you can do whatever you want with it."
"Are you happy doing this, Chevette?"
Her years went from thirty to sixteen in one second flat. She reached for the door, but I grabbed her wrist.
"I'm not tryin' to stop you, girl," I said.
"Then let me go."
"You got my money. All I'm askin' is my ten minutes," I said, letting her wrist go.
Copyright © 2007 by Walter Mosley
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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