Abeng Prison Short Story: Letting Go
copyright 2016 K. Omodele
He drags himself into the visitation booth and the girls are already standing there droopy-eyed, like a mother and her two puppies crunched up in a kennel-sized space.
Chassidy's the younger girl, the one with the puzzle-locked brows, eyes climbing them pus-colored, cinderblock walls. Realizing I'm on the other side of the Plexiglas, she slaps it. Her voice comes through the speak hole.
"Why you did'unt pick us up from school yesterday?"
He says nothing, just sits and locks his eyes tight for a second, willing himself onto their side of the glass.
Opens them and Chassidy catches his vibe.
"You was in there?"
She frowns, turns and gazes up at Stacy who bends and hugs his Goddaughter.
Stacy parts the two girls and takes a seat on the single stool.
When Chassidy spins back around to find him, a million and one pink-white-red barrettes dance like Tinkerbelles around her shoulders.
Stacy's daughter, Cam, pushes herself up to the glass. She's a few months older than Chass, but looks a full-year bigger, and they're sporting matching barrettes like the Williams sisters. Cam balls her mouth up in a pout.
"Miss Hunter was mad at you. She made us wait in her office for-" she looks at her fingers, counting."-hundred hours after school."
Stacy rolls her eyes. "She called me about 3:30. Had to up and leave work to go get them. You know the school don't like baby sitting."
Embarrassment swells and leaps into his throat and he can see them waiting, buses cleared out, teachers and other kids gone. Just the two of them, the last ones after school. Waiting for him.
Had been late a few times before; but ain't never been this late, though, not stuck-in-jail-outta-town-can't-get-back-to-Charlotte late. And after the third or fourth time, the principal Ms. Hunter kidnapped him in her office.
"You can't be late picking the girls up! If you can't pick them up by 3:00, enroll them in an afterschool program!"
He can see her now, pacing the sidewalk in the parking lot, checking her watch and straining her neck to see if he was pulling up. Then, she'd march the girls to the office then try my cell phone. After that, she'd call Stacy as last resort.
His whole face is blood-hot. Took a year for Chassidy to settle in, make friends at school, get use to living with Stacy and Cam. Her Daddy been locked up two years now, with over twelve more to go. Now, her Mama and Godfather behind bars, too, and they're 'bout to pull some time. The girl can't catch a break.
He sighs. I'm going through this bullshit, again??!
"Pupa-" Stacy pauses like she deciding what part of his head she can drop more problems. "They didn't want release the car so I got the lawyer to threaten them. He said the car wasn't part of nothing; they ain't find nothing in it, so they ain't had no right to confiscate it. So, they released it, but now it's in the pound and I gotta wait 'til tomorrow to get it. Five hundred dollars. For one night in the pound? AND, I gotta get Mommy to take off work to drive it back..."
He sits his head in his hands. Usually loves them soup-coolers she got; but right now, they keep yap-yap-yapping and all he can hear is the judge:
"Remand, without bail!"
Going through THIS bullshit, AGAIN??!
"Your Grandma called. I can't keep saying you outta town. Feel like I'm lying to the lady, Pupa."
She calls him Pupa, even though he's not her daughter's father. Hell, he ain't nobody's father; just been playing daddy, responsible for other people's children. Won't have a chance to have one of his own no time soon, either, the way shit looks now.
Stacy's eyes are bloodshot; lashes wet and pasty, like broken-down Tammy Baker. He touches the glass, wishing he could stroke the weariness from her face. Together, out there, they been like Menelik and Taytu warring against the Italians. But this isn't his first ride and he knows how this will end.
The girls jockey for space between Stacy's legs and it turns into a rumble.
Stacy hisses. "Girls, fucking settle down! NOW!!"
The two freeze like that red-light, green-light game. Stacy hauls each one onto a knee.
Chassidy whines. "When you coming home?"
Now Cam goes. "You gonna pick us up tomorrow?"
"Pupa, what the fuck? I gotta put them in afterschool, at least 'til you get bail."
He looks her straight, through and through.
"Probably ain't getting no bail," he says.
The corners of her eyes turn down and the light on their side of the glass dims. Now he know it for sure- she ain't gonna make it on her own.
He clears his throat. "Look here! We ain't from around here, so they say I'm a flight risk. I got another bond hearing in two days but they gonna want a secured bond like a house deed."
"So, give them the house, then."
"Ain't enough equity in it. If they do gimme a bond, probably gonna be sky-high. You just gotta be strong for the girls now. Reign in all that spending."
Together, the girls chant. "You gonna pick us up tomorrow?"
He leans forward on his stool, touches the glass and remembers a movie scene where someone in jail did the exact same thing. Three hands shoot to the spot where his hand rests. His eyes get a little more moist than a man in jail should let his eyes get, so he struggles and strains but feels like the little boy with his finger in the dyke.
Then, a single, silent drop leaks out. But before it can stream down his face, he wipes it quick. And smiles.
Too late! Now they're on the other side of the glass, shedding tears.
Enough of this shit. He commands. "Ey, hold up! Don't cry!"
But none of them stop.
He lets them go on for a few minutes. Then asks:
"Cam, you behave yourself in school today? You gotta behave now; Stacy can't be taking off work to meet with your teachers 'cause you ain't got no behavior, you hear me? You can't get into trouble, now, I ain't there to run down to school."
Cam sniffles and fights to compose herself. Nods yes, lips trembling.
"Good! Don't let me hear you messing up, now. You gotta help me." He turns to Chass. "And, You; you gotta feed Merciless and Castro for me, every day."
Chass releases, softly. "OK," with a fraudulent shyness, because he knows she's giddy inside. She loves feeding and bathing them Rottweiler pups. She sinks back into Stacy's buxom.
"When you gonna come home." Sticks her thumb in her mouth.
"I don't know yet."
Cam, wet-eyed, stares his jump suit up and down. "They not gunna let you come home?"
Chassidy removes her thumb with a smack. "No Cam. He's in jail. Like my Daddy." She sounds like Ms Hunter, the principal. Turns to me, thinks, then says, "You hafta tell them dat you gotta pick us up from school. Den they gunna hafta let you come home."
"Yeeeaaah." Cam co-signs like it's the best idea since mac and cheese for breakfast.
Stacy rolls her eyes and grins. For the first time today, there's a radiance lining the room.
But he knows this is the beginning of the end. He hears change rolling up rapidly like a prison-bound bus. He knows from experience that chances are slim, even if Stacy doesn't realize it herself. Things won't be the same as yesterday.
He's torn whether to tell her now or later. Was it too soon? Should he wait?
"Listen!" He feels a knife slicing through him, deeply and repeatedly. "Next time you come, don't bring the girls."
The girls whine. "Whyyyy??"
His heart drops but it's inevitable, the way this familiar dance ends. It's just a matter of time before he's left clutching a bag of memories.
"Stacy, I need to talk to you alone. Don't bring them next time!"
She looks confused.
He'll let them go, then.