Cloud and Jessica attend the heartwarming wake of KeNedra Thompson. Here, Cloud finally releases the floodgates of so much emotion. He receives comfort from KeNedra’s mother and in return…Cloud is able to give her something from KeNedra.
The Slave Quarters
Chapter 21 – Warmth
By Rock Kitaro
– Mika “Happy Ending”
There are things about African Americans that I can’t help but find truly endearing. For starters, there’s the gospel music, a genre that’s been stuck in my head for the past few days. I hope Miranda’s burning a CD for me when I get back.
But also…when it comes to church congregations, the unity, warmth and acceptance. It’s in times of tragedy or celebration that these people really know how to put aside their differences and treat one another as family. Everyone is a brother or sister, momma or pops. You feel loved. You feel supported. Even the few Caucasians are embraced and welcomed with warmth.
I wish this sentiment could carry on every day. I wish strangers, pedestrians, and passengers could see one another in the same light regardless the circumstance. I wish they’d put down their phones and look each other in the eye; say hello, smile and don’t be afraid to step out of their bubble. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself. Talk to someone. Learn something new. The world is too big to confine yourself to one ideal, one culture. As long as your faith is strong, there’s nothing to fear and you’ll never be offended.
Some people slight the south, calling it “the Bible Belt” as if that’s a bad thing. In my opinion, it’s the “Bible thumpers,” those who embrace the “God first” mentality, those are the people I’d want to surround myself with. These people have an optimism I severely lack. Theirs is a pure beauty that shines through my gloom and melancholy. They have an ability that, to me, seems almost superhuman in the sense that I find it impossible to ever emulate.
That ability…is forgiveness.
The wake of KeNedra Thompson takes place at the Goshen Heights Community Center. It’s a huge turnout. KeNedra’s classmates, friends, relatives, and various figures from the majorette community have come to bid farewell. The parking lot is packed with vehicles having to park curbside along the streets of the neighboring houses.
The golden lawn of browning grass is garnished with sprinkled red leaves. The maples themselves still have plenty of foliage in their vibrant crowns as the morning sun trickles through the canopy. It’s brisk but warm enough for people to leave their heavy coats in the car. Thus, everyone is donning their Sunday’s best, black if they had it.
Leanne elects to stay in the rental while Jessica accompanies me to the front entrance. We’re dressed corporate but don’t intend to stay long. Her beauty and my bruises draw unwanted attention yet, oddly enough, I’m not nervous. In fact, I’ve found that when I’m attending public events with a purpose that transcends the sole act of socializing, I function much better. My agoraphobia remains subdued. My heart remains stout. The bouquet of yellow roses in my arms serves as my olive branch.
The reception lobby’s loud and congested. It’s a wake, sure, but there are so many reunions going on. Jessica hooks onto my arm as I see “brothas” checking her out. I smirk and nod their way. They nod back as if to congratulate and say, “Aight, now. Gah head.”
Two girls wave at me. I reciprocate, marveling at their charm, their modest attire providing a glimpse of the mature women they’ll one day become. It’s Jacqui and Meghan, the two prominent members from KeNedra’s majorette team. They’re surrounded by friends from other teams, all high school students, glowing with blooming youth and promise.
Like the guys, the girls seem surprised to see Jessica with me. I know she’s out of my league, but I confess, my ego starts to swell as Jessica squints with a playful glare as if I’ve forgotten the majorettes are all minors. I whisper if she’s jealous. She responds by merely jutting her chin and batting those long lashes.
Nearing the banquet hall, I spot two familiar faces dressed in sharp purple vests over their black attire. They have to do a double-take to recognize me with the patch under my eye and the queen by my side. Immediately, the brothers erupt with laughter and disbelief as their friends stand puzzled.
“What in the hell happened to you?!”
“This man stay in trouble, boi. Shieet! Hahaha!”
“For real, though. Is there ever a fight you’re not involved in?”
“Straight up! Can’t take this dude nowhere.”
“You know what? Shut up, both of you,” I chuckle.
Jessica releases to let me embrace the brothers in that awkward hand-clap pull-hug technique that I never truly mastered.
“Bruh! You really need to learn how to fight or something!” says O’Shea.
“Forgive me, but I do seem to recall slinging one of you over a sofa set.”
Jamar laughs, clapping his hands as their young friends turn wide-eyed in shock. Apparently O’Shea is known for his prowess and the fact that this here white boy bested him is somewhat hilarious.
“Ah, man! I wasn’t even ready. You came out of nowhere with that kung fu shit. I got you back though! Look at his face. Hey! Look at his face.” O’Shea brags.
“Yeah. You got me back.”
“Anyways! Who dis?” Jamar asks.
“Yeah, Cloud. Who am I?” Jessica asks, flustered to just be standing there in awkward silence.
“I’m sorry. This is one of my best friends and colleagues, Agent Jessica Arroyo. Her expertise was pivotal in solving the case. She used to work for the FBI so, yeah. Best watch your back.”
“Okay! Okay! I’m Jamar Thompson aka JT Smooth. This my little brother O’Shea aka O’Sssh!”
O’Shea tries to give Jessica a hug but Jessica juts her hand like a spear, preventing him from coming too close. The disappointment on O’Shea’s face is priceless.
“You’ll have to excuse their profanity, Jessica. I assure you, I have been working with them about that.”
“Um. Profanity is just an expression by which we add emphasis. Can’t help it if society wants to demonize the practice.” Jamar explains.
“Well said.” Jessica compliments.
“No! Jessica, please. For the love of God do not encourage it.”