This is a book about a thirteen-year-old African American boy; his best friend, Enoch; and a man known as Mr. Snake. It is about becoming president of the United States.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.31(d)|
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I grew up in the inner-city of Memphis, a neighborhood called Binghampton. I was thirteen when I met my dad for the first time. Mom said I had to visit him. He lived in prison. He was dying. He wanted to see me. He had never seen me, and I had never seen him.
Mom and I took the express bus out to the edge of town where the prison stood like a giant fortress. All I could see were long rows of buildings with red metal roofs. It was Prison Row, but everyone I knew called it the Red Top Inn. The only people who rode the express bus were people visiting friends or family members who lived at the Red Top Inn. The bus was an old yellow school bus, referred to as the Yellow Express. Mom and I got on the Yellow Express at the Memphis downtown bus station. We got off the Yellow Express at the prison gate.
Everyone who rode the bus was searched: men, women, boys, girls, even babies. After being searched, we were taken to a large cold room with windows up too high to see out of, windows with iron bars not curtains. Everything inside the room was made of metal, old metal. The metal was chipped and worn from years of age, anger, lies, and regrets. The room echoed the whispered sounds of other visitors and was filled with the institutional smell of Clorox. The smell was a constant reminder of where you were, and where you were, wasn't home. Where you were, was Hell!
Mom and I sat at a large round table. A prison guard stood next to us, as if we needed protection. I sat quietly and waited for my dad. After a while, a man walked through the door at the far end of the room. He was tall, extremely thin and had short cut gray hair. And he was white, not just his hair, but his skin. He was a white man. His orange uniform hung over his stick-like frame as if it were the wrong size. He just stood there staring at me, as if he weren't sure about something. Then he slowly started moving in my direction. It took him forever to shuffle from where he stood to where we sat. With one hand he held a cane, and his other hand was used to hold up his pants. He slowly moved toward our table. He dragged his feet, wearing prison-issued orange flip-flops. When he got to our table, he just stood there. His eyes never left mine. They were red with both pain and sadness. He looked down at me, and then laughed, "Boy, your mom didn't tell you I was white, did she?"
I looked up from my seat and responded, "No sir."
Then he yelled at me, "DON'T EVER CALL ME SIR, BOY! I DON'T DESERVE IT!"
Instantly, a guard moved toward our table. Dad quickly got quiet, lowered his head, and stepped back a step or two. The guard stopped and pulled out his metal head basher. Dad, once again, began to laugh in a crazy kind of voice.
"Well, go figure," he said, and then just stared at me.
"You're beautiful. I know boys are not supposed to be beautiful, but you are. Thank you for coming to see me, I don't deserve it. Tell me the truth, did your mom make you come?"
"Are you O.K.?"
"You know I can't touch you; it's against the prison rules. Thirteen years and I can't touch my own son. Crazy, total craziness. Do you understand?"
"Did your mom tell you what I did?"
"I killed a man. I was drunk. I didn't know what I was doing. I was only twenty-one. I killed my best damn friend, my only friend!"
Then there was silence. I didn't know what to say.
Then Dad said it, "I'm dying of AIDs. Do you know what that is?"
"Boy, I had to see you. I was promised anything I wanted to eat before I died. I told the warden I wasn't hungry anymore. I told the warden all I wanted was to see you. He agreed. Now I can die."
I began to cry, I don't know why, but I did. Here is a man, my father, who never sent me a card or letter or anything. Here is a man I should have hated, but, instead of hate, I cried. I wasn't afraid, I was sad. I was confused. I was angry.
"Boy, always mind your mom. Hang with the right guys. Always be the best at whatever you do. Prove to the world that you are smart, and one day you could be President. Boy, look at me, prison is hell. BOY, LOOK AT ME. BOY, I TOLD YOU TO LOOK AT ME! Do you hear me?"
Then, like a poisonous snake, he lunged. He snatched me off my round metal seat. He forced me to his chest and held me tight. He held me so tight I couldn't breathe. I couldn't make a sound. It hurt. I thought he was going to kill me.
Then he kissed me. Instantly the guards started hitting him with their metal sticks. They bashed his head hard. They hit him over and over until he dropped to the floor. I fell to the floor with him. I kissed him. I kissed him goodbye. That was the first and last time I ever saw my dad.
Dad died the next day. When the phone rang it had a different sound. Somehow, I knew. I turned down the TV, so I could hear Mom talking on the phone. Mom was talking to the warden. I watched as Mom slowly sat down on the arm of the sofa. She stopped talking. The phone slipped out of her hand and hit the floor. She whispered, "He's dead."
"He's dead," she said. "He's dead. Your father is dead. The warden said he just gave up. Your dad told the warden he didn't want to live anymore. Then your dad said your name, Abraham. He said your name, not once, but over and over and over, until he died. The last thing he said was your name."
Then Mom quietly started crying. She cried until there were no more tears. Then she went to bed, exhausted. I joined her. I wrapped my arms around her. We lay there, together, until the crying stopped and a new day began. My dad was dead, and I never told him that I loved him, never, never. On that day I learned a valuable lesson about life. I learned that it ends, and we never know when. I will never go another day without telling Mom that I love her.
It was a sleepy Saturday morning. I slept late, as usual. When I finally got up, it was around ten o'clock. Mom was washing the dishes and yelled at me to feed myself! She said, "Young man, breakfast is served at eight o'clock, not ten."
I could tell by the sound of her words that she was not happy, maybe angry. So, I kept my distance and poured myself a bowl of cereal. I sat at the kitchen table and quietly ate my cereal while Mom finished the dishes. Something was wrong, I just didn't know what it was, and I wasn't going to ask. After Dad died, Mom would get this way from time to time, and I had learned to be quiet and leave her alone.
Mom finished and left the kitchen without a word. I sat there by myself eating my cereal. Then I heard something strange outside. I heard silence, total silence. On Saturday mornings I usually heard kids playing outside in the parking lot. I never noticed the sound until it wasn't there. Something was wrong. I was only wearing my boxers, but had to see what was going on. I walked over to the door and peeked out. There, in front of our apartment, sat a HUGE LONG black car. I stepped out onto the porch to get a better look. I saw kids running in all directions. They scattered inside their apartments, behind buildings, anywhere to get away from the car. Soon, the only thing left in the parking lot was the long black car.
Suddenly, I felt Mom's tight grip on my arm. She yanked me back inside. She yelled, "Abraham, run, hide in the back of your closet!" Then she locked all the locks on the front door. I hid in my closet under a pile of old dirty clothes. Then I heard Mom open the front door. I waited. Then I heard Mom's voice, "Little A, it's O.K. Get dressed and come out into the kitchen."
When I walked into the kitchen, I saw a black man sitting at the table. Mom had just pored him a cup of coffee. He stood up as I walked into the room. He was tall, real tall. He was heavy-set, wore a fancy wide-brim hat, and dressed like someone important. When he smiled, I saw a gold bridge, top and bottom. On the kitchen table sat a box, like a moving box, only different. Mom asked me to sit next to her. The man began to talk. His voice was deep and sounded like music. He told Mom and me that he shared a prison cell with my dad for two years. Then he began to tell me about my dad.
"Abraham," the man said, "your dad was a smart man, a good man, a very good man. He was the best teacher I ever had. Your dad taught me how to read, how to do Math, even how to talk. He also taught me how to walk like I was someone special. Your dad always pushed me to learn and taught me how to dream. He told me that everything starts with a dream. You have to have a dream. He told me that he was going to make a dreamer out of me. Your dad was in prison for life, and I was there for only two years. In just two years, your dad taught me enough for me to get my GED. After prison, he wrote letters, fancy letters, letters that got me into college. After graduating from college, I became what your dad called a Binghampton business man. Money never changed hands in Binghampton without me getting my share. All this was because of your dad. And I wasn't the only prisoner your dad helped. He taught hundreds of other prisoners how to dream. Your dad earned a street name in prison, the Professor. He was respected by everyone, even the guards. He was making more money, as a prisoner, than the prison guards were making. Your daddy called me after you went to visit him. He told me to look after you. So, that is what I'm going to do. That's why I am here. One day I will teach you what your dad taught me."
Then he looked over at Mom. "Ma'am, I lived over two years in the same cell with your husband. After two years of sharing the same cell, one gets to know a lot about the other person. But one night I learned something I never forgot."
"One night, after supper, some of us were sitting around telling lies to each other. That was when the Professor told us the pig story. We couldn't stop laughing. After lights out, there was a strict rule of total silence. However, on that night, I could hear men laughing in their cells all the way down the hall. We laughed all night, and the guards laughed along with us. It was the funniest damn story I'd ever heard."
I looked over at Mom, "What's the pig story?"
Mom looked over at the man and asked, "Would you please tell my son the pig story, please?" Then, in his powerful deep voice, he slowly began to tell me the pig story.
"Abraham," he said, speaking one word at a time as if he weren't quite sure of the next word, "Your mom and dad grew up in the deep south. It was a time in history when whites and blacks lived different lives. Your dad's dad owned a pig farm, and your dad worked on the family farm. One day he noticed that one pig was different from all the others. This one pig seemed to understand words. This one pig would listen to your dad, just like a person. Then one day your dad's dog got kicked in the head by a horse and died. When your dad buried his dog, he sat next to the grave and said a prayer. When he finished his prayer, he looked up and saw this damn pig sitting next to him. The pig looked at your dad, then bowed its head and said, "Amen." Your dad swore to all of us the pig said, "Amen." The damn pig bowed his head and said, 'Amen.'"
"So, your dad asked the pig if he wanted to be his new dog. And the pig said, "Sure, what does a dog have to do?" Your dad then told the damn pig how to act like a dog. From that day on the pig was called Dog. Dog went everywhere your dad went, just like a dog. He even slept on the floor next to your dad's bed."
Suddenly, the man telling me the pig story stopped talking and started laughing. He laughed uncontrollably. He almost couldn't continue. He fought to catch his breath. Mom brought him a glass of water. He paused, and then drank the entire glass in one gulp. Then he took a deep breath and continued. Mom was also laughing so hard her whole body was shaking like a bowl of Jello, and she had a lot of Jello to shake. She knew what was coming next and could hardly wait to hear the story one more time. I was the only one in the room who didn't know the pig story. But that was about to change.
The man continued, "Abraham, all the boys made fun of your dad's pig. But that didn't bother your dad. His damn pig was smarter than any dog in town. That damn pig was almost human. The pig and your dad talked to each other, at least your dad told us they did. One day the county fair came to town and held a contest to see which farmer had the best dog. Your dad entered Dog. Your dad taught Dog how to bark, sit, retrieve, and follow commands, just like a dog."
"The day before the competition all the farmers had to register their dogs. When they came to your dad and Dog, one judge disqualified Dog. The judge told your dad, "Boy, that's a pig, not a dog."
"Your dad was furious! He asked the judge what he considered to be a dog? The judge laughed at your dad and told him, "Well, boy, if pig of yours were brown and had a long tail I just might consider your pig a dog." Then all the judges laughed at your dad and Dog."
Once again, the man telling me the pig story started laughing. He looked over at Mom, who was now laughing so hard tears were running down her face. Then I also started laughing, because I knew what had to be coming next.
"Yes, Abraham, you know what your dad did, don't you." The man looked over at me and continued. "Yes sir, your dad went home and got some brown shoe polish, and polished that damn pig to a golden brown. Then he tied a long rope to his short little pig tail. Then your dad went back to the competition. This time the judge who disqualified Dog took one look, started laughing, and said to your dad, "Boy, that is one fine looking dog."
At this point, our kitchen exploded in laughter! It was so full of laughter you couldn't hear anything else, just laughter. There were no words, just laughter. We all laughed until we hurt. We all laughed until all the sadness we'd been feeling was gone. It was just Mom, me, the man, and the presence of my dad and Dog. All of us just held on to each other in laughter. When the laughter died down, and the room grew quiet, I looked over at the man and asked, "Well?"
"Well, what?" the man replied.
"Well, did Dog win the competition?"
"Damn right! Dog won, and your dad became famous in Macon Hill for his prize-winning dog."
Then the man stood up and started to leave. That was when I asked him what was in the box. He looked over at Mom and said, "Ma'am, your husband asked me to make sure you and Abraham got his ashes after he died."
Then he looked down at me and handed me his business card. "Abraham, if there's anything you need, call me. I promised your dad I'd look after you. And, one day, I'll teach you what your dad taught me."
We shook hands, like adults. I looked at his business card, and there was only one word printed on his card, Dreamer. I asked him, "Is your name, Dreamer?"
He smiled and said, "No, my name is Snake. When I left prison, Dreamer was the name your dad gave me. Your dad changed my life. Your dad taught me how to dream. I keep that card next to my bed. When I wake up every morning that is the first word I see, and the first word I say, Dreamer."
Then he turned and walked out the door and back to his long black car. I stepped out on the porch and gave him a thumbs-up. He turned around, faced me over the top of his car, and gave me two thumbs-up. Then he slid into his car, just like a snake crawls into a hole, and drove off.
When I went back inside, Mom was just sitting at the kitchen table staring at the box. Then she finally opened it and removed dad's ashes. His ashes were inside a large hand-carved wooden pig, a pig made in the prison woodshop. It was a large carved brown wooden pig with a long rope tied to its tail. It was signed by hundreds of prisoners, prisoners who all called my dad, the Professor.
Sometimes things happen in life that we don't understand, and we never will understand. This was one of those times. I have replayed this day over and over in my head a million times, and I still don't understand what happened. It was the strangest day, and the strangest person, I'd ever experienced. And when that day was over, it was over. It was like a dream, but it wasn't. It was real.
I was racing my friends home from school and accidentally ran into a young girl pushing a grocery cart. She looked to be about my age. Yet, something about her looked different. She was very pretty, had a short, boy-type haircut, and huge round dark eyes, but was dressed like a homeless person. She was pushing an old wobbly-wheeled grocery cart that was full of stuff, not groceries, stuff. I could see old doll babies, blankets, a water jug, old clothes, and a Bible.
Excerpted from "Little A"
Copyright © 2017 John Chipley.
Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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