November 29, 2010

blessed, alive, that order

"Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?"-The Shadow

To say that my Thanksgiving morning started out like any other would be far from the truth.  In fact, it would be an outright lie.  I awoke to a day that was mixed with turmoil, stirred by animosity and bubbling with potential violence.  Needless to say, I tried my best to carry on with the day as though none of these factors bore any weight.  So foolish of me to ignore the omens.

I was up before the sun and made my way to the basement laundry room of my building. My thought was- it's a holiday and not yet 6 a.m. so no one should be down there.  I'll be in and out in no time.  I opted for the closeness of my building rather than lug three heavy bags across the courtyard to my car and a nearby laundromat.  When I got there- it was dead silent. An eerie, early morning quiet that makes you feel you're the only one in the world who's up and about.  No machines going. No dryers tumbling.  Deserted.

Then I saw him. Scruffy and unshaven.  A nest of matted dirty blond hair topped his head.  His hands looked meaty and swollen.  He said, "Hey. How's it going?"  I reply, "Good Morning."  I began loading the machines when it struck me that he was down there but  not using the laundry facilities.  I engage him.  "Are you waiting for the machines?"  He looked skittish.  "No, I'm waiting for him to pick me up for work. It's cold out there, you know?" Immediately I analyze his words.  Why would he say 'him' like I'm supposed to know who he's talking about?  And if he lived in the building, there would be no need for him to wait outside in the cold.  I nod. I didn't want to be rude.  Just because someone looks unkempt doesn't necessarily mean they're up to no good.  He asks me for a light. I don't usually carry matches but I had them.  I don't usually carry a screwdriver either, but I had one that morning. I hand him the book of matches. He lights up under the No Smoking sign.  As bold as I am, it's something I've never done in that basement.  It rubs me the wrong way. I leave. 

Forty minutes after the wash cycle, I make my way back downstairs.  Thankfully, the sun is up.  At first glance, it feels like I'm alone.  As I step in a little further, I see a figure crouching behind the huge dryer closest to the wall. He peeks out at me then walks out into the open.  Asks me for another light.  Says he can't believe he lost the one I gave him.  At this point, all friendliness is out the window. I tell him no.  Sternly.  All the while I'm wondering what the hell he was doing hiding behind the dryer, but I say nothing.  He leaves through a back door that locks automatically once closed.  As I'm pulling clothes from the washing machine I hear a knock at the same door two minutes later.  I ignore it because anyone who's allowed to come through there- more than likely has a key.  Deep down, I know it's him again.  I pretend not to hear the knocking but he walks to the window across from where I'm standing and points to the door. 

I hold up one finger as if to say 'Gimme a second'.  He saunters back over to the door.  I take the screwdriver from my bag and slide it into the back pocket of my jeans.  Against my better judgment I walk over and crack the door slightly with my left hand; my right hand firmly gripping the handle of the Philips behind me.  Oddly enough, I'm cool as a water fountain but ready to jab seven inches of metal repeatedly through his neck at the first sign of foul play.  He starts out by saying that he's staying with his mother right now.  (In my mind I'm saying God bless him if a man this beat up still has a living mother somewhere) Then he proceeds to hold a wallet out towards me.  He claims that I'm welcome to hold on to it to ensure he returns- if I can help him out with seven dollars.  Again, I internally dissect his words.  He didn't ask for $1.  He didn't ask for $5. Such a peculiar and specific dollar amount.  Drugs perhaps? Now, it's been said that I got most of my education by watching movies.  And I've always playfully disputed that.  But, if not for Catch Me If You Can with Leonardo DiCaprio, I might have fallen for this wallet trick that is supposed to instantly gain your trust.  I mean, who's going to leave their wallet with you and not come back, right?  Wrong.  That can be anyone's wallet.  A dead man's wallet for all I know. "I have no cash." I say it brusquely while closing the door on his face.

Through the window, I watch him walk by to the front of the building.  I can only see from his torso to just below his knees.  He does something strange.  He splays his fingers wide apart and then clenches them into a fist. Repeating the move until he's out of my sight.  I find the entire episode unnerving but I'm not shaken for some reason.  When I'm sure that he's gone, I return to loading my wet clothes into the two dryers. I load up the second one, the one I saw him stooping behind and shut the huge circular door.  With it comes the loudest clamour. It's heart-stopping and for the first time that morning, I'm startled.

I look to the right of the dryer where the noise came from and see the biggest pipe wrench I've ever seen in my life.  Over 18 inches long.  I pick it up and it seems to weigh at least twenty pounds.  I drop it.  Replay the scene in my head as I realize his hands were on that wrench just ten minutes ago.  My hands start to shake at the thoughts of how it could have gone.  My skull split by one blow with his weapon of choice.  Blood. Everywhere. Bludgeoned to death the same way my aunt was in our native Trinidad a few years back.  No one knew I was down there.  No one could have known.  Even though I was ready to fight for my life or even take his if need be, I still shuddered at what could have been.

Right then and there, on that day...I truly gave thanks.  No, not an ordinary Thanksgiving at all.  Not in the least.

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