Two sides to every story
One man’s gloom is another man’s glory
Sun to a shadow, rose to a thorn
There ain’t no fury like a woman scorned
Prince – “Fury”
Mama was awake.
The skies over Detroit were ominously purple clouds that gurgled and rumbled threatening a downpour but never producing water. A single drop splashes off of Mama’s hospital window and dislodges a nearby leaf off of a White Birch. The leaf floats between the clouds and random drips. From the underside of the leaf a worm appears scrambling to stay afloat. A dove appears, snatches up the leaf and worm.
Rummaging through the ruins of Zeke’s Kitchen, Silvia looks in awe as the kitchen portion still stands. The up to date appliances and equipment her father worked so hard to install were barely touched by the fire. As for the rest, nothing but charred remains of ash and mud. Was completely surreal.
Freddy, Pooky, Tyrone, Akee and Bama with a group of volunteers sift through the ash. Maureen pulls out a picture of her father and civil rights protesters and cries. Akee pats her back, “Miss Woods, so sorry I am.”
Maureen sobs, grips his elbow. Nods as he whips her tears. In her half closed eyes she blinks, looks above her, squints. The majestic dove is circling above them, soaring gracefully, symbolic. She locks eyes with Silvia who spots the bird also. They have a moment as the clouds open up, sun shines through the ominous purple clouds.
Maureen screams as the bird coos and craps on her eye. Akee has to help her watch her footing as she full fledged freaks out, shaking her hands, swatting her face. The men start snickering before laughing hysterically.
Silvia tilts her head sideways, “What the heck?” Her cell is buzzing incessantly. She fumbles for it in the mayhem of her sister freaking out.
“Help me! Somebody get hot water and soap! Get me some vinegar! Medic! Doctor! Somebody!”
Silvia reads the text as she takes a moment to comprehend, she gasps, checks the voicemail, screams herself.
“What the Sam hill now?” Pooky groans
“Mama is awake! Mama is awake!! Seriously? Stop messing around Mo! Let’s go!!”
“Mama? What the what! I call shotgun!” Tyrone yells.
“Lord have mercy, oh happy day. I’ll get my car also, some of you can ride with me.” Freddy starts sauntering towards the street.
Pooky laughs, “I’m good, that ol’ ‘86 Continental with no shooks, dang death trap. I’ll ride with Silvia.”
“Guys, it says she’s cooking for everyone? Um we gotta go.”
“Cooking? I can finally get my eggs and bacon! Whoo hoo!” Tyrone does a gig.
“Serious? Lord Jesus what is your mother up too now? We need to go! Can you keep up with me in that eco-boost thing?”
Silvia snickers, “Will see, let’s hope your back shocks don’t give out and you disappear into a pothole.”
Maureen is on her knees trying to get to Silvia’s car, “My eye, my eye, I can’t see, I can’t see. Wait, wait!”
Silvia huffs, her sister doing too much, taking this bird poo to the extreme as she gets out to help her. Odd, she pondered looking up at the circling birds and stain colored clouds, this entire day seemed quite ominous with a sprinkle of hope. She lets out a heavy sigh and helps her traumatized sister into her car.
Elsewhere in Detroit
Ezekiel sits in his BMW outside of his office, dribbles of rain blur his image inside. He wipes his brow deep in concentration. For once, he is unsure of himself.
His cell buzzes incessantly, he picks it up, stares at it a moment contemplating, ends up throwing it to the side. Gathering his courage he gathers his briefcase and exits the vehicle, pausing to gaze directly into the drizzling rain before heading into the office.
The lights are dim as the business is only working with a skeleton crew. His partners Marty and Theodore Simon are in the meeting room along with their accountant Aspen Jobson.
“Ez E is finally in the house, come in my boy and let’s celebrate!” Marty is red nose busted already pouring some Vodka at the private bar. “Shots, shots, shots!” Theodore and Aspen shake their head. Ezekiel rolls his eyes, sighs, walks over and takes the glass.
“You’re late Woods, don’t even know how you made partner with all of your trivial indiscretions distracting you. Can we get this show on the road finally?” Theodore grumbles.
“Good to see you too Theo” Ezekiel snickers.
Aspen casually walks over to him hands him a folder of documents. He looks over her long legs accented by her 5 inch heels. She follows his gaze and shakes her head. “Please look over your documents, if everything is in order you can sign over your portion of the insurance policy.”
“Everybody else will fall in line, not like anything is left. Amazing coincidence don’t you think.” Theodore quips. Ezekiel huffs, looks begrudgingly over the papers.
“Ezekiel my boy, don’t sweat it. Your father would have been okay with this, every story has an ending and he would have understood the time has come. Change is always for certain.”
“Not like this, something don’t feel right.”
“Really get cold feet Jr? You was the one that even suggested we go this route. Wanted to better the community, improve the neighborhood, make it better than when you was be a kid. How ironic indeed, all that talk for nothing.” Theodore huffs.
Marty pours another drink, “Zeke, listen gentrification doesn’t necessarily have to be a dirty word!” He takes a shot and burps, follows with a chaser.
“And don’t forget this carries a 1.2 million dollar purse for brokering this deal Mr. Woods.” Aspen adds in not even looking up from her calculations.
Theodore lights a cigar, “You know lil Zeke, piecing together all of these parcels gives us a demanding portion on the west side. Redeveloping this is not only smart for us, it’s definitely smart for Detroit!” He checks his messages. “Looks like our primary funder wants to join the party and meet everyone. He’s here.”
“Really? This should be interesting. Person has been a mystery. Like to see which devil I’m dancing with.”
Ezekiel reads over the contract as an entourage enters. He is caught up dissecting it when he notices the decorated distinct cane. It’s Lydell Winkleman. Ezekiel leans back, everything becomes clear, he feels his stomach flip, this isn’t right.
“Ezekiel my boy, so good to see you. Glad we’re finally doing business together.”
“Excuse my candor, but Simon brothers this that bull…”
“Ezekiel, my ol’ friend, you set this in motion yourself so many years ago. This is the direct results of your transgressions those many years ago. Against my family, me keeping your secret. Your eventual payback. I gave you ample opportunity to make amends – and you failed to do so.” Winkleman quips smugly.
Ezekiel stands, brushes the papers off of the desk. The lawyers look at him in confusion. Lydell smirks at him, stands his ground as they glare at each other.
“Mr. Woods, Mr. Winkleman is correct in the regards you did set this in motion, drew up the plans, even suggested the location…”
Ezekiel cuts off Aspen, “And my initial plan was not a total gentrification of my old neighborhood! These current plans will destroy the neighborhood! That was NOT the plan!” She sucks her lips and sits back glaring over at Theodore. He starts to react but his brother interrupts.
“Gentrification doesn’t have to be a bad word my boy! Everything is coming into place Ezekiel, roll with it!” Marty laughs and takes a shot.
“Not acceptable! I am not signing a deal with the devil! You guys purposely withheld this information. You know that’s grounds for a lawsuit right? I am about to sue all of you and walk in and work with you afterwards.”
“The devil comes in different forms don’t it little Zeke?” Lydell leans in.
“Lloyd don’t play with me!”
“Ezekiel cut the crap! You know you did it!” Marty guffaws spilling alcohol. Ezekiel looks at him surprised before he makes eyes with Lydell. Lydell smirks.
“Ah contraire, information was shared with you via your partner which is very legal. As far as we know you was aware of everyone’s involvement with this project. Everybody here had access to the same information.” Theodore looks deadpan at Ezekiel.
“Partner? Which partner shared this with me? This is ridiculous. I don’t have to stand for this, see you guys in court and I can erase the Simon name from the title!” Ezekiel is slamming stuff into his attache. The door slams.
Lydell looks down the hallway, “Well well, looks like your silent partner is here. Amazing you didn’t see this coming.”
Ezekiel frowns, “Excuse me?” He looks around the corner, his mouth opens in shock, instant sweat on his face. He wipes his face and stands up straight discombobulated.
“What’s the matter hubby? Looks like you’ve seen a ghost.” Kayla stands above him, dressed sharply in a suit, heels, her hair done. She smirks and sits down near Lloyd. He attempts to touch her shoulder and she moves away. He grimaces.
“Seriously? This is my so called partner? Don’t make me laugh! This has to be a joke, what grounds do you have to pull this coup?”
“Coup? This is not a coup, this is a takeover honey. For better or for worse right? Kept me hock’ed up on those magic lil blue pills, messing around with your slutty secretary…”
“Excuse me, I don’t think so! Complete ridiculousness! You don’t know…”
“Shut it pinhead, your lies are complete ridiculousness! I’m tired of hearing your bloated ego-maniacal narcissistic drivel, go cry me a river Lil Zekey, lil Zeke is about right.”
“How dare you! You really think you have me backed into a corner? You coming in here with crooked Lydell of all people! LIE – dell – seriously?”
“Excuse me?” Lydell arches his eyebrow.
“Two words my dear hubby, Ria Vergeman.” Ezekiel stops in his tracks, his jaw drops in shock. “You’ve been a naughty boy you jerk. Now I have to provide papers.” Everybody quietly looks in suspense as she produces two packets. “One; paternity results. Two; divorce papers.” She slaps them on his lap as Ezekiel for once is speechless. “Checkmate”.
The room is quiet as Kayla relishes in finally having her day above her husband. As he looks aghast over the papers a single tear drop splats on the paper. He lifts his head and she hides glassy eyes, wipes her face before throwing a cell phone onto the table. “By the way, your mother is awake, she asked about you. She’s cooking or something. Oh yeah, Kwame is there. Might want to go.” She yanks off her wedding ring and throws it on the floor by his feet as he looks discombobulated. She grabs her Sninola watch also.
Marty gasps, “That’s Detroit’s finest! Don’t do it Kay!” She rethinks the watch.
Ezekiel is beside himself, “Wait, what…”
“Go fool, we’ll wrap this up later.” Kayla puts her self together and tells Lydell, “Let’s go.”
“KAYLA! This isn’t over! Where are you going?”
“Don’t worry, I’m not getting dirty with this man like you did with skank, just business wise. Don’t worry where I’m going. You need to get to your mother.”
She strolls out of the offices with Lydell’s entourage behind, Lydell looks at him and smirks. Ezekiel mouths out a curse word to him as Lydell drops his handkerchief in disrespect.
“KAYLA! Come back! This isn’t over! KAYLA!” Weakened, Ezekiel crumbles into the chair as his partners watch in silence.
“Well, that was enough entertainment for tonight, believe I will excuse myself. Will expect these signed papers in the morning Mr. Woods.” Aspen lays the papers on the table and exits. Ezekiel trembles staring at the documents, he wipes them off the table.
Marty takes another shot as Theodore shakes his head and disappears into the private restroom over his office.
In a quiet corner of the hospital parking garage Ezekiel’s BMW sits idling. The sun outside sparkles high illuminating even the darkest corners. A sharp glare conceals the driver inside sitting in the desolate corner of the garage. Ezekiel’s knuckles grip the steering wheel hard, he leans forward his face fifty shades lighter, he is sobbing. Detroit darling Eryn Allen Kane plays softly between his sobs…
Sinking down under the water, slipping down under
Drifting out into the water, missing down under
Sinking down under the water, slipping down under
Drifting out into the water, missing down under
Have mercy, have mercy, have mercy, have mercy
Have mercy on us all (Repeat)
Have Mercy – “Eryn Allen Kane”
Fourth floor Hospital
The hospital cafeteria is unusually packed on weekday afternoon. Crisp shafts of light shines through the large windows casting long shadows across the room as it’s standing room only. The Vergeman sisters are chatting it up with nurses near the soda pop machines. Tyrone is deeply emotional with his plate of deep fried fish, macaroni and cheese, okra, potatoes and gravy. Taking each bite with such an emotional transgression that his mind shuts down while his soul is lifted to higher elevations.
Ackee and Bama are talking politics with Pastor Ceopha Clements. Pooky leads his kitchen team staff of Sugar, Tanya and Moco serving trays of steaming hot food to the packed room full of Zeke’s Kitchen fans and hospital staff. Dr. Sharon is conversing with Kylie about what it means to be a doctor as the young Kevin Jr. is getting to know his cousin Matador and Gentry running among the crowd.
“Hi Daddy!” His son hugs him as Matador seems to be the only one happy to see him as Kylie looks away from her father.
A wisp of blonde hair pops out of the crowd, Sasha scrunches her nose and elbows her bestie Utopia who looks up at the disgraced Ezekiel with contempt. He feels her stare rush through him as she sits between the blonde and an Indian woman he comes to find is his nephew’s mother Ponyi. Quinton, Zach, and Jaquan are all chopping it up deep in a conversation about the Pistons and Cavaliers. They drop quiet seeing Ezekiel, Big Moe stands up towering over him, shaking his head, sullen. Ezekiel loosens up his collar.
The room drops to a whisper as he approaches the front. A dreaded man hangs close to his mother who seems oblivious to all of the tension. She is in her own little world jolly, giggling like a schoolgirl between this man and Freddy Styles all over her. Freddy gives him a confident wink that disturbs him too his core. His mother and him are in their seventies but the obvious flirtation still bothers him. Heck, this is his mother.
Hearing a tapping noise on the floor he knows immediately baby sis Mo is on his left laying in on her high heel. He glances over, her face puffy, eyes narrowed at him, her wife Bailey is here, holding her hand, showing support. “Mo” he chokes a bit.
“Ezekiel” She growls.
Silvia arrives with drinks sharing them with her mother, Freddy and this dreaded man. She smiles at him “Hey man, bout time you arrived! Where’s Kayla?”
“Sis” Mo hisses.
“What? What? What did I miss?” Silvia asks innocently.
“Son! Come here!” Mama notices him. He goes and hugs her hard. “I love you son.”
“Mama, don’t scare us like that. Are you okay?” He’s fighting back tears.
“No, but everything will be okay.”
“Why are you cooking today? You need to be resting.” He keeps wondering why this dreaded man is rubbing her shoulders and Silvia is fawning all over him.
“Son, you do your lawyering. I cook. It’s who I am and I’m proud of it. Everybody here can attest to that!” The room claps in response. She continues “Be proud of what you do and you’ll make it right” She looks deep into his eyes. He gulps, loosens his collar more, she must of heard of his blunders, crap.
“I love you mother, so much.” He hugs her hard tearing up.
“I love you too son, so happy to have you both here with me. I feel complete.”
His mother clasped his ears, a throwback to what used to do when he was a boy choking him up. This was getting very uncomfortable. This dreaded man was looking at him and grinning. He was ready to pounce.
“Do you have a problem man?”
He claps, “Never ever seen the mighty Ezekiel flustered, was worth coming for this!” The dreaded man snickers.
Ezekiel almost passes out, he recognized his brothers voice anywhere. “Wait, what? You just said both here? Kevin?” He looks on flabbergasted.
“Seriously? Was this too much for you brother? And by the way, it’s Kwame brother, Kwame!” He points to his Jamaican style and laughs.
“Yes, I, I…!” Ezekiel stutters, flabbergasted. Kwame laughs and reaches out for his brother. Ezekiel blinks in shock before finally submitting and hugging Kevin. The watching, eerily quiet room erupts in applause.
“About time!” Slivia joins in the embrace tearing up. Mama looks on satisfied.
“I’m sorry bro, really I am.” Ezekiel musters.
“It’s all love here brother.”
A hard fingernail jabs him in his side. Ezekiel turns around and gets a slap across his face. Flabbergasted he expects to see Kayla.
“Maureen Patricia Woods!” Mama gasps.
Ezekiel winces before eying Maureen glaring at him. “Glad you two found some bro love in the midst of Mama’s comeback but you still have some unfinished business here.”
“How dare you! I know we have our diff…”
“Shut it Lil Zeke! Let me finish!”
“Mo! Now is not the time to iron this…”
“Hey! Let her speak jerk or I’ll lay your boogie ass to sleep.” Bailey springs into action, fist raised, ready to protect her girl.”
“Oh Miss let me put your lil dyke…”
“Ezekiel Quinzell Woods! Let your sister speak!” Mama practically stands up, Kwame and Freddy assist her to sit back down as Dr. Sharon rushes over to check her vitals. Mama’s watery eyes speak to him as he realizes he’s in the wrong. “Your father would be very ashamed of you right now Zekey. You need to make things right, starting with that lil girl right there.”
“Wait, what? Mo and I been beefing since we was kids, about that time she was discovering herself.”
“And you violated that little girl. Ezekiel, we raised you better than that, you supposed to be my shining star, how could you?”
“Mama, what are you talking about?” The desperation in his voice is enhanced by the circle around him growing smaller. Ezekiel looks nervously about as Moe, Jaquan, Pooky, Moco, Sugar, Ackee, Zach, Tawnya, Tyrone, Bama are all breathing down his neck, seemingly ready to attack. The elder Vergemen Sisters are practically seething. Pastor Ceopha merely opens up his bible to pray! Ezekiel gulps as he sees Ponya usher out his Matador with Gentry and Kevin Jr.
“Son… you need to make things right. This lil girl needs her father.”
Ezekiel looks over at his mother, dumbfounded. Maureen sobs in front of him as Bailey holds her. Ezekiel realizes this wasn’t just about her. He spots Kylie, she shakes her head no. Her eyes pleads with his as she grips Utopia’s hand. He looks into Utopia’s eyes confused. She has been crying. Sasha is by her side, eyes narrowed glaring at him. She passes Utopia a faded Polaroid picture. Utopia rubs the picture and then holds it up for him to see. It’s Ria Vergeman.
“Son…you need to make things right.”
Utopia puts the picture in his shaking hand. She wipes away tears. “You remember her don’t you. My mother.”
Ezekiel mouths out “Your mother?’ She shakes her head yes in response.
“And you’re saying that, that…” He can’t even say it. Instinctively he glances over at Dr. Sharon who shakes her head that it was true.
“Trust, we had a sample jerk.” Sasha sneers as Utopia elbows her. “What?”
Maureen jabs him again, “Yes Zekey your pee pee made a baby! She’s yours brother! The consequences of your idiotic actions! Why you think we never made up duh! Do something, dang. That’s what I’m talking about.” She pushes him as he stumbles forward weak.
The surrounding circle of people seem to merge into a blurry glob. The air about him is stifled as anxiety snakes up his body. He feels faint, things are going black.
“Dad, make it right like G Mama said.” Kylie’s whisper breaks through the darkness as she grips his hand.
Ezekiel exhales, defeated, accepting. “I, I, I’m so sorry. Please, I beg for your forgiveness.” Shaking he takes Utopia’s hands. She breaks out crying and they embrace. He hugs her and Kylie tightly as the group erupts in applause.
Mama shakes her head behind the jovial room, “Thank you God for my family.”
In the corner of the room a silent observer watches over the reunion. He smiles and shakes his head satisfied. He looks over at the lil imp in the opposite corner. Shaking his head no he sends the Nain Rouge on his way. The children arriving back into the room, the next generation of Woods spots their grandfather hoovering in the corner. They smile and wave as he smiles back before dissipating in the corner.
Mama went home to join Ezekiel Sr. in the morning. Her brief return coinceded to bring her family back together. Her job was complete.
Her famous recipes were revealed in her last will and testament. To be shared amongst her children and their descendants as long as the family business stayed intact.
Kwame made things right, marrying Ponyi and taking her and Kevin Jr. on the road with him and his band The Komandoz. His boys often follow him on tour.
Kayla took her portion of the divorce settlement and her share of the company to move back to Ohio. She stays in nearby Toledo so that Matador and Kylie can be in driving distance from their father.
Maureen and Bailey were married among the ruins of Edgewater park. They said it gave them an edge at the abandoned amusement park. Maureen moved her advertising and marketing firm to Detroit. She joined with the movement of ‘Detroit Patented’ to help bring the city back.
Silvia earns her degree in business and economics and uses their settlement money to purchase a Food Truck. Zeke’s lives on, rolling on wheels serving the core business it was built on, the manufacturing core and remaining inner city neighborhoods of Detroit. Bailey joins the staff of Zeke’s Kitchen as the head cook. Even for a petite tatted up lil white girl from Illinois she can throw down with healthy ‘Soul Food’. Pooky drives the truck while Tanya, Sugar and Moco stay on to serve customers. Jaquan is finally hired in as they help him with a scholarship to attend Michigan University.
After some serious soul searching and getting to re-know Utopia in another light, Ezekiel takes accountability for his actions and serves a neighborhood battered woman group his time and energy. He takes time to actually help paint and spruce up their meeting room at the community center under the guise of Freddy Styles. Freddy laments in an anonymous donation to the center which puts them in the financial black.
After Utopia leaves for school at Wilberforce University, Ezekiel reclaims his portion of Simon Woods Simon by suing his former partners for malpractice. He revamps the gentrification project for his old neighborhood running Winkleman out of the equation. Instead of high priced condominiums, he brings back affordable single family homes to rebuild his old stomping grounds.
In the midst of all of the activity, the original Zeke’s Kitchen slowly gets rebuilt.
Under doctor’s orders Tyrone was forced to give up his favorite ‘Soul Food’ meal. He is fit to be tied.
Tyla and Ezekiel Woods Sr. look over their family and nod their heads in approval.