I heard his rooster cry this morning. I saw him tonight when I got off the Ashland bus.
I was carrying a load of dry cleaning and walking slowly to stay within range of an older woman and a young boy as long as we were all walking in the same direction.
"Yup-yuup," he called softly. "I'm back. I'm rested and refreshed. How are you?"
"I'm busy, stressed and broke," I said with a mix of bravado and brusqueness. I was expecting to get hit up for money. I was wrong.
"Busy is good and stressed you can fix," he advised. Not bad advice, really.
Yup-yup was drunk, I think, not high, because he waxed philosophical. (I tried really hard not to get close enough to smell the alcohol, so I can't say for sure.) What is it about booze that brings out the armchair philosopher, especially in middle-aged men? It took a few minutes of him chatting at me for me to realize he was behaving like some other middle-aged drunks of my acquaintance, including my own father back in the day. He ranged from the bush in the traffic circle to reconnecting with family in Mississippi to roots and place.
"How can a person live in a place where he has no roots?" Yup-yup inquired. I thought I was supposed to take that personally and started to feel defensive, but as he kept going I decided I didn't have to. "My mother's spirit rests in that house," he said, pointing down the block. "My nephew's is in your house. My sister killed him."
"I know," I said. But I didn't know until that moment that it was Yup-yup's sister and not his sister-in-law who set the fire that killed her son.
I had just heard a couple days ago that he was in Mississippi, hiding out from the law over "something bad," sources said. I must say I was hoping he would stay down there longer. I had just started to enjoy the quiet.
He alluded to the "something bad" very obliquely. "This neighborhood is changing. People be taking down license plates and stuff. How can you live in a place where you have no roots?" he asked again.
But he didn't want an answer, and I didn't try to provide one. Another guy went by in the street, pushing a cart. "Tony, is that you?" I called out, hoping.
"No," Cart Guy said. But he hung around.
Yup-yup broke off talking with me and started asking Cart Guy for a sandwich. I tried to slip off unnoticed, but he looked back as I was locking my gate and said, "You keep that gate locked, Miss Maritza." He's been saying that to me since the not nice new kids on the block arrived, even though I think he squats with them at least some of the time.
"Yes, sir," I said.
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