“Yes, yes,” my mother agreed, as she continued to ring the doorbell and call my grandmother and uncle.
She was worried, and I knew exactly what she was thinking.
“This boy done took my mother’s money again, gone out on a mission somewhere and left her alone, now something’s happened to her,” she mumbled to herself franticly as she paced back and forth on the front stoop with her cell phone pressed to her ear.
“I don’t have it,” Prince said, referring to his house key.
“I keep telling her not to let that boy back in her house….” my mother continued.
“Was grandma feeling ok today, Prince?” “Did you see your father today?”
“I don’t know,” he said. The wind was beginning to pick up again, and he clamped the broom down hard over the pile of leaves to prevent them from scattering.
“She didn’t want to listen…he’s her precious baby boy,” my mother mumbled, still pacing, calling, knocking, and ringing. “Her baby boy done made her have a heart attack in there or something…”
“Don’t say that,” I said. Suddenly, an idea came to me. I decided to try turning the knob on the door. Sure enough, the door was open, and without taking time to marvel at our previous futility, we rushed inside. Prince continued raking and didn’t even look up.
“Ma!!!” my mother screamed so loud that she overcame the passing L Train. “Where are you?” She rushed straight ahead into the living room and looked around worriedly.
Following several paces behind her into the house, I turned to look in the kitchen and screamed.
“What is it?” my mother asked, rushing to join me.
My grandmother was sitting at the kitchen table cradling my Uncle Emmanuel in her lap in a pose reminiscent of Michelangelo’s Pieta. She looked down at him, speaking softly as his head hung just over the edge of her arm. Her arm was extended as far as it could be away from the wooden chair in which she sat so that about half of his torso fit into her lap while his legs hung well over her knees and laid across the tile floor most of the remainder of the distance to the kitchen wall. Uncle Emmanuel looked as though he had just come back from a job, followed by a mission.
He wore an old pair of white Nike’s with dirty shoelaces, stone-washed jeans, and a black t-shirt with the word “Brooklyn” scribbled diagonally across the front of the shirt. He appeared to have a stab wound of some sort. The shirt was covered in blood with a hole in between the two “o’s” from which the blood appeared to have come. His body was still and limp, and a pool of blood had collected at my grandmother’s feet.
“Mommy!” my mother screamed in horror. “What happened?”
“Manny, I’m praying for you just like I always have…” my grandmother spoke to him, completely unaware of mine or my mother’s presence. “I prayed that the Lord would give you the strength to get right and stay that way…even though you wouldn’t pray for yourself.”
“Ma…” my mother whispered, walking closer to her. Still there was no response. Grandma continued to talk to him.
“ You always said you didn’t need God ‘cause you was God…you was the Sun,” she remembered. “Sun don’t shine always, I told you…ask them trees out there going bare.”
I tried glancing around the room to avoid looking at the scene in front of me.
“What you gonna do when the Sun don’t shine?” I always asked you, my grandmother continued. “I’ll pray for you in case you need Him then.”
“Go make sure that Prince doesn’t come back inside,” my mother said to me. “Take him to the corner store or something, ok?” She handed me a twenty dollar bill.
I looked quickly back at my grandmother and Uncle Emmanuel before going back outside. She was still cradling him and talking to him. When I looked out into the yard, I didn’t see Prince. Suddenly, I realized that in our haste to get inside the house my mother and I had left the door wide open. I worried that Prince might have heard the commotion and gotten upset. I stepped back out onto the stoop and closed the door behind me.
“Prince!” I ran down the steps and into the yard. “Prince!”
He didn’t answer me. A few seconds later I found him standing just near the crack in the cement that separated my grandmother’s red yard from her next door neighbor’s beige one. He was bent down behind the side of Uncle Emmanuel’s car and the broom was underneath it. I stood next to him and watched him attempt to pull the broom out from under the car.
“What are you doing?” I asked him.
“Trying to get the leaves,” he said.
I stood there staring at him. This was the most diligent that I had ever seen him be at anything in his entire life. Prince hated chores. He hated doing anything that he did not want to do, which usually included everything except playing video games or surfing the Internet.
Prince was only a teenage boy, but he didn’t see his father as a man. Uncle Emmanuel was never clean long enough to gain Prince’s respect, and it was clear that Prince didn’t view Uncle Emmanuel’s addiction as an excuse for his instability. They had fights and arguments all the time. He also resented the way that my grandmother always catered to my Uncle Emmanuel, but everyone knew that she took her job as a gardener very seriously. Even though her leaves changed colors, she was never willing to let them fall.
“What can Uncle Manny do to make things right with you?” I asked him once.
“Get a job,” he replied.
So, as he stood there trying to get leaves out from underneath his father’s car, I wondered how he was going to take the news of his death.
“Take a break,” I said. “Come to the store with me.”
“I have to finish raking,” he said, finally retrieving the broom, with a few less bristles and no leaves, out from underneath the car.
“Seriously?” “You’d rather rake then come to the store with me?”
“Grandma said,” he explained.
“Since when does that mean anything to you?” I thought.
“It’s ok. She won’t mind,” I said instead.
“You’re in college,” he snapped. “You don’t need me to walk you to the store.”
He returned to his leaf pile with the broom and pushed the pile back into the center of the yard. I looked back in the direction of the front door and wondered what my mother was doing with grandma and Uncle Manny. The wind picked up again, and a few more leaves fell from the tree just outside my grandmother’s gate and made their way into the front yard. Prince ran to catch them and add them to his pile before they got away. The broom lost a few more bristles in the chase.
He made his way back over to the leaf pile, and I looked towards the ground, following his movement with my eyes. As he tapped the broom against the top of the pile in an effort to remove some of the leaves that had gotten stuck, some leaves at the bottom of the pile drifted away and I noticed something metal with a pointy red tip sticking out from underneath. I realized that it was a knife and I looked up at Prince; he was looking back at me. He looked down at the knife sticking out from the bottom of the leaf pile and then back at me. Clenching the top of the broom tighter in his hands, he stood still over the leaf pile and gazed straight ahead towards the street.