The setting sun casts shadows over the sparse business remaining open on the block as they prepare to close for the night. The front lights goes off in Zeke’s as the neon closed sign flicks on.
A strong breeze pushes trees sideways, in the darkening light it casts odd shadows over the back parking lot of Zeke’s Kitchen as Pooky navigates his way to the dumpster carrying trash bags. Pooky looks around to make sure he’s alone and slips out a rolled up cigarette. Fumbling with his lighter in the wind he ducks behind the fence around the dumpster to achieve lighting it. Inhaling, he breathes deeply reminiscing over the tribulations of the day.
He exhales, blowing smoke towards a partly burned out abandoned duplex directly behind the restaurant. Closing his eyes he remembers carrying food on a weekly basis to the poor families that used to live there. Freddy and Mama had paired up to help feed many of them living in the area and Pooky was often their delivery man.
There had been quite a few children living there and they blamed one of them for starting the fire by playing with a lighter. Never mind the fact that the lighter was discarded by a well known local drug head who frightened the children sleeping behind the storage shed. No one was exactly sure who dropped the lighter; but theorists including himself suspected foul play because of the fast burning nature of the fire. The duplex shot up like a timber box barely giving the residents time to escape. Weird burn patterns were labeled suspicious, but the arson investigation hit a roadblock when they could not identify an agreeable accelerator, the case ended up unresolved.
Mama’s brother, Leon Sullex, was visiting from Ohio at the restaurant. He threw down his fried chicken to race over to the building and was able to yank a trapped mother and her daughter out of a basement window. He was labeled a hero even though he suffered second degree burns over 55% of his body and inhaled nasty exhaust fumes. He was the real victim of the tragedy as many of the neighborhood residents had just stood and gawked, he put his life on the line.
Leon survived but suffered in recovery, preceding Ezekiel Sr. in death. A year later he passed away quietly in his sleep back home in Yellow Springs. As Detroit kept wrestling with the M.I.A owner to tear the place down, Mama suffered in silence with the daily reminder of her brothers demise sitting directly behind her parking lot.
“Boy bye! You know you busted! If Mama knew you was sneaking one!”
Pooky jumps as the waitress Moco appears behind him. He smiles; taking in her shapely figure, her light skin caramel features – sans the name – as the youngest and prettiest waitress employed at Zeke’s, Pooky couldn’t help having a crush despite her football playing boyfriend and being 15 years younger. “It’s all good, I need it for my stress. Keep this between you and me and I won’t tell what I know about you!”
“What, what you mean? What you know about me? You don’t know nothin’!’”
She calls his bluff, Pooky just had to throw a crooked smile, “I just saying sweetie, I may know a lil’ something, something.”
“Yeah right, I hear you Pook! You know you sneaking cause Mama’s not here! Anyways, those death sticks do nothing but enhance your stress. Thought you knew! Good night, enjoy!”
He enjoys her backside as she saunters away, “Hey wait, let me walk you!”
“Pook, I’m a big girl, I can take care of myself silly!”
“You know how rough these Motown streets are!”
“And you don’t think I’m not packing silly? Thought you knew! My daddy taught me well.”
“Yeah, city cops would be pro carry for protection huh.” Pooky says silently, feeling at a slight disadvantage.
They make it to her tricked out Mustang. She smiles, “Thanks anyway sweetie. Let’s pray for Mama okay?”
He nods, “Of course, be safe.” He waves as she revs up the Stang, bumping bass thumping R&B from Charles Carpenter before pulling out into the night traffic.
He sighs and pivots back to finish throwing the bags away and his cigarette. Something rustles in the swaying brush prompting Pooky to drop ash and gets burnt, “Ouch! Son of a!”
The dusk light patterns play with his eyesight as the moonlight emerging engages in a battles with them. An object moves in a broken out window, sending glass cascading onto ragged cement blocks. Startled, Pooky jumps and reaches for a crowbar behind the dumpster that they use to prop it up. The bush rustles again, he wipes sweat from his brow and yells, “Hey fool, don’t mess with me! I may be little, but I got hands of steel!”
He flicks the burning cigarette towards the bush, as the embers sparkle and make impact. A black cat suddenly leaps upwards yowling and hissing loudly before scurrying off quickly into the emerging night. Pooky yelps and swings the bar, “Holy crap! What the h…!”
He pants, feeling the hair on the back of his neck stand at alert, sending continuous goosebumps throughout his body. He relaxes, “Damn man, I’m out here acting like a little b…”
A stick crunches in the brush prompting him to step backwards. An unseen bird screeches above him as he flinches and follows its path into the moonlight. A cool breeze whips up debris, he lowers his head to catch what looks like a man standing between the bushes. He squints, peering closer at the odd silhouette when the figure suddenly walks briskly towards him. “Hey! What!”
He steps backwards and slips. A man wearing a turban makes cackling noises as he holds what looks like an in-scripted box, “A-ca, ca, ca, ca!” Pooky screams and heaves the remaining bag of trash directly at the mans face, it explodes on impact making him flip backwards. He kicks at the squirming, groaning man under trash and races off shrieking through the parking lot.
Lights engulf him as he skids to a halt in his tracks. He squints, blinded by the light. “Pooky, you screaming like a bitch!” He hears hands clapping followed by an uproar of laughter. Flabbergasted and exhausted he drops to his knees, as a group of people emerge in front of their car. “Way to go my man! Took down your attacker with a sack of litter! Showed him who’s boss!”
From the pavement, Pooky glares up clean pressed trendy jeans, to an even more primped polo shirt, right up Quentin Jones nostrils as the laughter continues.
“Good job Pooky, you took down a crazy terrorist with nasty leftovers! Didn’t see that one coming!” Pooky looks to see it’s Utopia Vergeman, the Vergeman sisters granddaughter with one of her girlfriends from college.
Rounding out the group is Big Moe and Zach, the funky Caucasian of the crew with his sagging skinny jeans and Coogi Jacket. Zach was often considered an Eminem wannabe, but vehemently denies that allegation, even though when he freestyles he sounds just like the famous rapper, plus lives in a trailer park.
Zach offers Pooky a hand as Big Moe swipes debris off of Akee Ackbar, the alleged trash terrorist before assisting him upright.
Akee mumbles as he wipes off something moist, “My head is throbbing, I believe I was blindsided by frozen fish! Pooky, my friend, why you club me with Tilapia?! I thought we was cool, best buddies!”
“Bro, don’t ever freak me out like that again, damn!”
“Pooky my friend, Que put me up to it. Que, you owe me fresh new Fila suit, this smells of fish and coffee grounds!” The girls groan as Akee attempts to wipe off filth, usually dressed to impress, the foreign man tries hard to fit in.
Que laughs, “In your dreams Pakistan! You went along with it!”
The store’s porch light comes on bathing them in light, the group squints to see Tyrone glaring at them from the kitchen door. He looks them all up and down before his eyes go big staring at Akee, “What the hell happened to you boy? You stink!”
Akee whines, “Pooky pelted me with filth!”
Tyrone cuts him off, “I don’t give a what – what! Boy, you bring the beer?!”
Que laughs and holds up a case, “Got it ol’ man, let us in!”
“That’s what I want to hear, you may enter!”
Pooky opens the door as he gives the boys a pound, “You guys did hear what happened to Mama right? The mood is a lil’off playa.” Quentin nods as Akee stumbles to the restroom.
Utopia gives Pooky a hug, “I know sweetie, I was up there earlier with my grannies. I’m so scared.”
Quentin cracks open a brew, “Hey, this is for Mama, we all love her!” He pours the drink into the bush, “She would want us to celebrate her life!”
Zach snickers, “Homie, she don’t even know we come here after hours!”
“You act like she’s already dead Que!” Pooky responds as he finishes cleaning the floor.
“Don’t waste all that fine drink young man!” Tyrone huffs as he cracks open a cold one.
“Pook, bro, you know we love Mama. She looked out for me since, I was what, yay high?” He extends his palm by his knee. “Mama and Uncle Zeke really helped keep a bro in check, I would have been doing some dumb junk you know what I mean? I didn’t appreciate it then how they would push me to be in school, and a dummy like me graduated! So look at me now, I’m getting paper!”
Pooky nods in agreement at the same time noticing another young man leaning up against the wall. The lights out in dining room, he is partially hidden in the shadows with a hoody on and sagging jeans over his Timbalands. He quietly fondles a pack of zigzags. Pooky squints, “Hey, you all messing with me again? Who’s that?”
Tyrone pops his beer down, “Aww snap, I’m bout to jack a young…”
“Pops chill, that’s my man Jaquan, he cool!” Que steps in their way as Jaquan looks on nonchalantly flipping his pack.
“Yo B, its cool, I’ll bounce.” Jaquan starts to leave.
“Wait, I knows you! That’s that young fool that almost popped Mama! I’mma bout to rock his world yo!” Tyrone grabs his cane.
Pooky moves further, “Oh my God, that is him! His picture was up on the wall! You got some nerve son, get stepping!” Big Moe and Zach come forward, not sure which side to support.
Quentin pleads, “Guy, guys, really, its cool, Mama would vouch for him, how you think he got out of jail?” Jaquan glares defiantly.
Utopia grabs Pooks arm and looks into his eyes, “It’s true Pook, Mama bailed him out after he tried to rob the restaurant. She’s known him since he was young, really its cool. She would want this.” Her eyes plead with his as he looks back to Jaquan, then her. Tyrone still tries to move forward as Quentin keeps in his way. Jaquan relaxes, shifts his feet and looks down at the floor. They eye each other for a moment as Pooky decides what to do.
Jaquan speaks up, “Look yo, Mama did bail a nig…”
Pooky cuts him off, “Hey, if you know Mama she don’t allow that negative word in her restaurant, respect.”
Jaquan looks at him puzzled as Tyrone fills him in, “The N word you dummy! Didn’t your mother ever teach you manners?”
“Look, Mama looked out for a uh, bro, I could have done some time but she came through ya’ knows? She knew life was screwed up for me man, maybe just need a lil’ mo’ time be like ol’ Q here, fo’sho.”
“Pooky, really, Mama, Freddy, Uncle Zeke, they really looked out for us here like people supposed to you know? I wouldn’t be here either, after having my baby boy in school, my Grannies were done with me. Mama insisted I stay in and helped me take care of little Milo, without her I wouldn’t have graduated and been starting college at Wilberforce University next year, yay! I’m in debt to her.” She bites her lip and gazes at Pooky.
Zach steps forward, “Shoot, I was just white trash at the trailer park, Que and Jaquan here beat my ass everyday, stole on a bro, you know! But Mama saw potential in my sketches, got me involved with an arts program at the community center, I’m about to show my work next month!”
Akee rejoins them washed up, Pooky eyes him oddly, “Hey, is that my shirt?”
“You slime me with trash Pook, I took shirt, you owe me!”
Pooky reaches for his shirt, “Hey, did you wear deodorant with that fool!”
Akee slides behind the girls, “Pook my friend, back off! You know Akee wears the good stuff!”
He bats Pooky’s hand off as the girls laugh and intervene. “Pook, I too was a reject in the hood when we arrive after 9.11 to open gas station in dying city, I know all of you had stereotypes and prejudices when me and my fam arrived, just like we had of you. Mama was the first to extend the fig leaf, cooked me and my brother good plates of greens, squash, succulent potatoes with spicy mac and cheese, juicy meat we wasn’t even supposed to eat. And yo kid, we was hooked! Once you go black you don’t go back! We are brothers, we found home here, we are proud to know Mama, her spirit is pure.” The girls clap their hands.
Moe licks his lips, “Akee make Moe hungry.” They look at him and roll their eyes, “Really, that sound good, you want confession? Mama save Moe with her cooking! Beefed big Moe up with the good stuff and then bulked up, look at me now, Moe plays football for minor league! Where’s the food Pook?!”
“You knows, that big idiot has a point, it’s time to eat and drink!” Tyrone grunts.
Utopia’s friend clears her throat as they take her in, not noticing her until now, a petite blonde standing out in a party dress, “Wow, I’m jealous I never had the privilege to know Mama like all of you, she sounds wonderful. Maybe that’s why Utopia really looked out for me at our school when I had some problems.”
“It’s in her blood miss.” Tyrone points out as Pooky nudges him.
“You can call me Sasha.” They all greet her warmly.
“Well, ladies and gents, it looks like the tribe has spoken. We’ve all been touched one way or another by Mama and the Woods love, she’s really shined bright on this hodgepodge family here and this neighborhood. She ok’d it, we’re okay with it, welcome Jaquan, Sasha, it’s all good here.” Pooky smiles and extends his hand to Jaquan. They eye him in suspense as he hesitates before taking it and they shake. Pooky does notice a burn scar on his wrist.
“Okay lets quit with the mushy stuff and get to this game and the drink! Lions are on damn it! They on a come back! We missing it!” Tyrone gruff’s, flicking on the big screen television. They laugh and grab the appetizers and beer. Moe swipes chicken right out of a startled Zach’s hand.
Detroit makes a good play as they raise their drinks, “To Mama!”