(Read the previous chapters here.)
Though I never got to talk to Kehinde about the case, at least I owed one less person. Besides, I knew what I was going to do about the Minnesotans. I’d ignore them. Like the slight sensitivity I felt in my back tooth whenever I swallowed something icy, the Minnesotans were something better relegated to the Oh, yeah, I’m being sued file. For the time being, I had been given yet another reprieve. Dyson promised to give me enough money to cover two mortgage payments, assuring me over the phone, “No, Brenda’s not giving me grief over this. You’re my sister and if you need a little help, guess what? The money’s yours.” I knew my brother. I knew he’d rather make nice than get into a major hassle with anyone, including Glory, and especially Brenda, so this meant neither woman knew about the loan.
“Thanks, I’ll pay you back as soon as I can.”
“Don’t worry, this is not a loan. Like I said, I have faith in you – it’s an investment. So, there’s no pressure. Do your thing, sis.” I thanked my little brother again, quickly hanging up before tears made yet another appearance.
I was just about to run out the door to pick up a few of the items that the home inspector said I needed: child safety locks, first aid kit with EpiPen, along with a safety gate in case I ended up getting a toddler, when the phone rang.
“Hello. How are you this morning?”
“Fine and yourself? Seems like forever since we last spoke.”
“Well, considering last night, I wasn’t sure if I should call so soon.”
I listened closely; the voice had a familiar timbre, though it wasn’t cool, collected or continental. It wasn’t Taiwo, either. “Oh, so how are you, Kehinde? I see you got home fine.”
“No need to be so formal, Estella. And, yes, somehow I was able to make it back to my side of the world in one piece. I called to make sure you are as well as when I dropped you off last night.”
I didn’t have time, nor did I want to make time for this man. I knew from what little contact we had endured so far, Kehinde wasn’t a man I’d consider spending one additional precious minute of life with. “Well, thank you for dinner. I appreciate the efforts Hervey put into pulling everything together. Really, wonderful.”
“Oh, well, yes, your efforts too, Kehinde. Most definitely, thank you.” Yes, I thought: Thank you for making me wait until close to midnight to eat; thanks for driving almost an hour to someplace you’d only see on the late evening news, and last but not least, thanks so much for wasting my time with this stupid conversation, seeing how it’s now straight up ten o’clock, and I probably missed the 9:58 Circulator. Yes, Kehinde, thanks.
“You’re welcome, and call me Ken. Please.”
“Well, Ken, please, I need to be going. I’ve got a lot of things to see to today. So, have a wonderful day.”
“Yes, Estella, what do you have to urgently see to?”
“Well, if you must know —”
“Yes, I must.”
“I need to pick up some items for the foster child I will be getting.” I ran down the list, sure that this would cool his jets. The idea of some rugrat running around, a house riddled with toys, multicolored Fruit Loops tucked in between the cushions…
“When do you need these things?”
“I was leaving to pick up everything when the phone rang.”
“Well, then give me twenty minutes.”
“Kehinde, this isn’t the day for long talks, really. I should have been out the door way earlier this morning. Perhaps we can get together…,” even as I said these words, they caught in my throat, “…later in the week.”
“Well, sure, Estella. This is understandable, you wanting to get on with your day. I had thought to come by to discuss ways in which you could be rid of your Minnesotans – their suit.”
I wanted to throw the phone across the room. Hadn’t we just spent close to twenty minutes on the phone, not to mention the three to four hours spent together only last night? “Well, Kehinde—”
“Right, Ken, well, since we’re on the phone, can’t you break it down, seeing how you now have my attention?”
“Why not?” I said.
“Because, I want to see your face when I tell you what I have to say.”
I sighed. “Let me run this errand. We can meet some time this afternoon. All right?”
“No. I have business to see to later. I’ll be at your place within the hour, no later.”
“Fine, Kehinde – Ken, whatever, it’s now 10:17, if you’re not here in an hour, I won’t be.”
He laughed. “That sounds like a threat.”
“It’s not a threat – it’s a fact.” I hung up the phone, punching myself in the arm for having picked it up in the first place, and, of course, for not having Caller ID.
Since I had the time, I went upstairs to look over the rooms, and to figure out what would be best for my foster child. I had thought about the room closest to my own. This seemed like the most parental of choices. Then if she needed anything my foster child would only have to call out, not even shout, with the rooms being separated by a single wall. Even so, I decided to put my little girl not in the room next to my own, the James Baldwin suite as it is listed on the website, but further down the hall in Nella Larsen, with its ecru walls and sea foam chair railings, which seemed right, comforting for a little girl.
I was just about to pull back the bedspread and put fresh sheets on the bed, when I heard the thump.
The bombardier hadn’t made his presence known in several days, and other than the Minnesotans and the overdue second mortgage payment weighing heavy on my mind, I had somehow lulled myself into believing that mine was a somewhat normal existence.
Though I didn’t want to, I forced myself to mount the narrow spiral stairs leading to the roof. As I opened the door, I smelled them immediately. Pumpkin. I wanted to gag. Whether it was the gall of the Minnesotans thinking they could sue, or Kehinde pressing in on me, making me feel totally subjected to his will, I now felt queasy. I took a big choking breath filled with pumpkin and newly poured tar from a roof across the alley, and stepped onto the roof even as the voice in my head begged me to think twice.
“Hello?” There was no answer, just the hollow echo as the door on the bombardier’s adjacent roof was slammed shut.
“Hello?” I let out again. This time I didn’t stand there, nor did I merely lean over the ledge separating the two buildings, to peek through the trellis with its overgrowth of vines. This time, I actually stepped up onto the low ledge separating the two houses and hopped over onto the bombardier’s roof. It was as if I had set sail, and had landed in Lilliput. There were pumpkins. But they weren’t average size gourds, an arsenal of projectiles light enough to be deployed at a moment’s aggravation. These were tiny gourds. The whole of the roof’s surface were covered with hundreds upon hundreds of Lilliputian sized gourds. And scattered among them were their Gulliver overlords, gigantic pumpkins of every color and variety. I had never seen auburn pumpkins, and if I had – and I hadn’t – they certainly weren’t as big as bean bags.
Tiptoeing, fearful of disrupting the bombardier’s diverse and colorful fiefdom, I bent down to pick up one of the smaller pumpkins, cradling it in my hands. I was ready to kidnap another, when I heard heavy footsteps. Scared, I clutched my tiny pumpkin, hightailing it back onto my own roof, back down the stairs. I had just locked the door, when the doorbell chimed. I looked out the window. Among the bits and pieces of pumpkin now littering the street, there was the Dodge Charger, green and gleaming. Standing steps away from the house, staring up at the window I was now looking out was Kehinde, the sun reflected off his glasses, gazing up at me, not smiling, practically blinding me with the glint of his unwavering stare. I looked at the wall clock. It was 11:20. I was late.
to be continued…
Willett Thomas is the president of Write of Passage, Inc. She earned her MA in writing from Johns Hopkins. She has received artist fellowships from Blue Mountain Center and the Millay Colony. She was selected as a Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation fellow for the District of Columbia, and is the recipient of the 2008 Maureen Egen Writers Exchange award for fiction.