Happenings and Incidents
Robbie lost his wife four months ago and quit taking his medication after the funeral. It hadn’t occurred to him that he could just stop until one day he was about to take a pill and found himself flushing them down the toilet instead.
He was just going through the motions these days. Robert wasn’t complaining; he had lived a good life. He had lived it well and enjoyed it plenty. He tried to follow the teachings of his Lord even if he hated to go to that Baptist service he attended solely for his wife when she was alive. It wasn’t that he hated it exactly; he just felt sometimes they spoke nonsense. They found reasons too often to complain about the black man’s struggle in America. It wasn’t that he didn’t agree there was a struggle but he just felt some of the parishioners took it to an extreme. Black this and black that and he got tired and found some of his brothers were lazy and making excuses. Plus, he felt putting a spotlight on the ‘black man’s struggles’ was not progress in this age. Mable really believed it was important to never forget and sometimes they’d argue about whether or not it was doing a disservice to African Americans. Truth is, he wanted nothing more than to forget. He liked the gospel singing part of the service though and he joined right in until Mable left this world for the other. When he was young he had the voice of an angel and as the years went on he found himself choking on more gravel … now his voice was absent from the services.
He told his kids to be exceptional and they would have a good life. He told them to be exceptional people, students and employees and so they were. He hoped they’d never truly feel the extent of injustice even though he knew they would have a harder time than a white kid and wouldn’t leave the world completely unscathed … but no one does. Not even the white folk. He knew too many white musicians with plenty of problems and stories that would leave even his old ass choked up.
Imagine that! A musician and a school teacher’s humble beginnings spat out a doctor and a lawyer. I’ll be! He taught them to lend a helping hand to anyone in need and maybe that didn’t always pay off, but it didn’t mean they should stop doing it. He told them to be cautious but he believed in giving back to the community and following in the Good Lord’s footsteps. He was never fond of big religious productions, but just because he didn’t care for institutions don’t mean he doesn’t have faith. He thought Jesus would have loved the blues. He always felt like he was playing his harmonica and guitar to the heavens. His momma used to say, “Play like you’re playing for Jesus, son. Play like Jesus is listenin’ ’cause he is. He is!” He imagined Jesus would have his eyes closed tapping his fingers on a table to the music as he sat at the back of the House in a white robe-like attire and sandals but with jeans underneath. He could never tell if he was black or white in the image; that never became clear so he decided he’d be cafe ole and have rather indistinct features. He hoped that playing for the Lord gained him some points with the Big Guy because he thought of himself as a decent man but he was far from perfect. So many things he wished he had done better like spoiling that smile he woke up to every morning more than he had.
There was something else he loved about music. It was neither black nor white. That line disappeared when the music was playing. People who loved the blues loved the blues. Musicians only see musicians and the audience can only hear the music. They go blind just like Lazarus until the music stops, when some of them folk would get their sight back. That was the running joke between him and some of the men he played with.
After his morning coffee he followed the routine he had for nearly forty years. His favourite part was scrubbing his shoes with a little polish. It was rewarding and relaxing. For a few minutes he could forget Mable was gone. He would imagine her running up the stairs and appearing any moment saying “You still polishing ’em shoes. Hurry. I can’t be late.” It was the only time he hated the sound of her voice … it was both bossy and frantic. Now he’d do anything to hear it again.
Mable had been a wonderful partner, good mother and compassionate human being. He made her laugh and she fell in love with him. He loved her from the moment he saw her the night he played at Old Reddy’s Blues House. He was so sure of himself back then and she called him on it. He remembered the feeling of being surprised and impressed. The strangest thing about memory is the ability to remember a ‘feeling’. He fell deeper in love each day but that one encounter could only happen once; yet he could almost feel the intensity of that moment as if he was experiencing it for the first time. Memory is more than a reel of happenings and incidents.
His beautiful Mable was sweeter than sugar pie. She was a warm woman …never went cold on him the entire time they were together. He knew some women did because his friends would tell him. They, however, were right as rain with each other until the very end. Before she passed away, she said, “I’ll be waiting, sweetheart. I’ll be waiting but you take your time now.” Mable… who was prettier than that Billie Holiday. She was as pretty as Josey Baker but far more modest. He liked a modest woman unless she was alone with him and he got what he had hoped for in every way. Not once did he ever stray and better yet not once did he think about it. There had been opportunities but he loved his wife to the bitter end. Thinking about her tiny frame was too much pain for him to bear.
Yes, he had been lucky. He knew it, but now he wanted to go. He didn’t think the Lord would be upset if he checked out early. He thought He’d understand. His Lord didn’t want to see anyone in pain… especially when it was clear it wouldn’t go away for the rest of his short years. He was ready to go without regret. He had gotten everything in order that he could in the short time he had. He and Mable had been good about taking care of things in advance for the kids’ sake.
Now his son wouldn’t stop calling and he avoided answering because he didn’t want to tell him he had no intention of leaving. This would actually be easier on the kids. He was born in New Orleans and had said that he’d die in New Orleans and he meant it. It was his New Orleans and he had already lost the greatest love of his life. His mistress was the city and he didn’t want to be alive to see her body after she’d drowned. It would never be quite the same … it would be someone elses’s New Orleans now … mistress to a new breed of men. No, he was ready.