Gabe wondered about what kind of sermon he’d concoct today. His slim body loomed over the sink as he stared at his reflection in the mirror, thoughts lingering inside of his head. His skinny fingers caressed his short hair, and small muscles flexed as he bent his arm. He was thin, but his body was strong. Stronger still were his convictions. Gabe’s eyes stared beyond himself, in search of something more. Currently, his mental state was a shipwreck, and his thoughts were flotsam, drifting around aimlessly; he tried to piece it together, to create something cohesive.
A fiend is merely one with an addiction/ One who has an aspect of their life missin’
He felt good about that line; he wanted to expand on it. His brain grew excited of his thoughts, which were coming together to create something. What else could he use for his sermon? A quick look around only gave him overused settings. The pale, dilapidated yellow walls of his bathroom were in a sad condition; he could peel off all the paint with a scrape of his fingernail. It was depressing and empty, like the rest of his apartment. Grime-encrusted pipes contaminated the tap water he had just washed his face with, and the smog of the city skyline cast a pale light into the cramped bathroom that made his reflection seem ghostly. The smell of poverty, of the ghetto hung in the air, a daunting presence that hung over even the high-rise apartments in the area. It pervaded everything, every single secondhand item they owned. He began to piece things together,
Drugs don’t love anybody.
His mind darted back to the incident a couple years ago. He had walked home the grocery store, and saw his neighbor sprawled on the cold concrete. Old man Johnson. He gave him candy as a kid. Here, he was on the ground, gravel in the grey whiskers on his chin. Next to him was a broken syringe, its silver needle gleaming in the moonlight. Gabriel’s mind was a fluster, and he was at a loss for what to do. Here was a role model of his, his beaming moon of a face greeting him as he stepped out of his apartment door to go to school, now down on street. He was supposed to be infallible, but now he was on the ground, his eyes convulsing, rolling into his skull.
So why do you put them in your body?/ The rejection of vices in your veins/ Only devices that cause mental strains/And all-
“Gabe! Get down here now, breakfast is getting cold!”
The thoughts were wrested away from him as he ran out of the bathroom. His father had his back turned to him, his strong hands finishing preparing their meager breakfasts. Three dingy plates were seated on the rickety table, and Gabe took his seat while he watched his father. His name is Jordan.
“Where’s your brother?” Jordan said amidst the crackling of the frying pan.
“I think he got back late last night.”
“Well, get him up, this is breakfast for the family.”
dad you know it’s a pain in the butt to try to get him up.”
“There are worse things in life, Gabe. Now go.” Gabe’s father waved his muscular arm in the air, and Gabe walked over to his brother’s room.
Gabe approached his brother’s door with trepidation. The faint smell of sweat hung in a cloud over his head. Gently, so as not to cause noise, he opened the door.
“Mike, Mike. Wake up, it’s time for breakfast.”
“Gabe man, come over here, little bro, come here,” Mike said drowsily, his voice piercing the gloom of the room. The curtains were drawn, and everything was entrenched in shadows.
God, not this again…”
Gabe’s mind once again found itself preoccupied with that particular night. Why was it today that it kept striking his memory?
Old man Johnson had creaked his head up, with glassy eyes he stared at Gabe. In the pale moonlight, he looked like a monster that had risen furtively from the blacktop, his malicious intentions directed at Gabe. A frail hand then reached out towards Gabe’s, and a weak groan of a voice slipped out of his mouth.
“Gabe, Gabe, c’mere c’mon.”
Gabe was still young back then, a mere ten years old. His small knees began to tremble.
“C’mon man just come here. Look where you goin’? Can you spare some change Gabe? Little Gabe? C’mon.” Johnson’s voice wheezed on, his erratic gasps sounding like sandpaper rubbed together. It was rough and abrasive to him.
“Gabe,” it rasped. And then his little legs ran.
“Hey. Gabe. Gabe. Little brother are you all there man? Hey, hey!” Mike’s voice brought Gabe back from the world of dreamy memories.
“What? Ah, sorry, what were you saying?” Gabe remarked.
ever since you begun your ‘sermons’ again you’ve just been out of it. Anyway
man, I got this idea for you. Look man, the world’s an unfair place, you know?”
“Every time you do a successful deal, you try to lecture me.”
“You shut up. Anyway, man, you know what it takes to succeed in this world right?” Mike sleepily rose a finger in the air, as if proclaiming the words straight from God’s mouth.
“No no man, you can’t rely on anyone but you. Don’t put your faith in things like that, the world is completely arbitrary.” Mike arose from the bed and sat next to Gabe, giving off an air of erudition.
“Hey you learned a new word. Multiple syllables too.”
up. All you have is your pride man, words are just… things. That don’t really
mean anything. All you have is yourself, you’re the only one that can really do
anything for your life. You know?”
“Man why’re you always so thoughtful after a-“
“Get down here and eat before it gets cold!” shouted their father.
Gabe and Mike rushed out of the room, eager not to anger their father. They took hurried seats at the table, staring at the breakfast before them. They swallowed it, grateful it wasn’t cold, because recently they had lived without no heat and no electric, had to swallow their pride after feeling so pathetic. The dim rays of a Saturday sun attempted to break through the smoggy clouds, soaking everything in a grey, poor light. It wearily reflected over the rusted pots, dull utensils, and sad dishware in the kitchen.
The clatter of forks and knives replaced the silence of conversation at the table. They chewed their food thoroughly, not wasting a bite. The taste of their uneventful scrambled eggs was forgotten in seconds; it wasn’t special, but it was food.
“So, what’re you boys doing today?” their dad asked.
“Hanging out,” Mike said.
“I don’t know. I thought I’d read up a little, go down to the block. See what they’re up to.” Gabe said.
can’t you read more like your brother, Mike? He always has his nose in a book,
his mind’s sharp” said Jordan.
Gabe smiled a little at his dad’s comment.
“And you Gabe, look at how skinny you are! It’s no good sitting around all the time, you need to go outside more, grow up strong like your brother.”
Mike nudged his brother in the ribcage.
don’t know how you guys ended up so differently,” said Jordan. “If only your
moms was here.”
Mike’s cell phone suddenly rang.
“Wait what, yeah yeah, I’ll be down there right now. Right, okay, bye. Sorry guys, I’m going to have to excuse myself. Work needs to be done. Later,” said Mike.
Mike left the table, and his absence felt ghostly. Gabe felt uneasy as the countenance of his father suddenly felt heavier, and attempted to excuse himself, but was rejected by a stern hand from his father, who sat him back down again.
Gabe swallowed uneasily.
“We need to have a talk”
“I heard what you’ve been doing from Ms. Swanson down the hall.” Gabe’s knees began to tremble.
“Oh, it’s just a speaking exercise for school. I uh, joined the speech club, and uh I thought it’d help to practice in front of people!”
“Don’t lie to me Gabe.”
Gabe swallowed apprehensively, fully expecting the blow of his father’s words, ready to shoot him down like Clint Eastwood reborn, leaving his composure with more holes than a dartboard.
“Uh… I just do a lecture down-“
“They say you’re doing ‘sermons’ again Gabe,” Jordan interrupted.
only a speech-“
“I told you to stop those, didn’t I?” Jordan’s eyes focused in on Gabe, making Gabe feel even smaller. He wriggled in his chair, staring at the dusty clock to the right of his father’s shoulder for any kind of answer, but didn’t get any. He wanted to disappear at that point, to scatter himself like the dust hanging in the air.
“Look Dad…” Gabe struggled with his words. He could feel his father’s piercing glare upon him, the very same glare he had experienced the first time Jordan had found out about his sermons. He had seen his son surrounded by a congregation of misfits, dregs, and other unfortunate souls society had turned their backs on. First, at the forefront, were children from the local school, admiring peers of Gabe from various classes that had appreciated his outspokenness. However, their revelry attracted the attention from people around the area, lost men who grew angered at the cheeriness of the group. But, as they approached the group to break it up, they were drawn by Gabe’s words, words that extolled the virtues of work. Soon, men from all around encircled Gabe, sad men, angry men, dirty men, men without hope, as Gabe spoke on top of the soapbox, his voice reverberating in the hearts of everyone around. Gabe passionately spoke out, of dreams for the future, about the happiness they were capable of, of potential. But before they could begin to realize this potential, they had to realize what mattered in life. The words leapt over the heads of his young classmates, but they were pounded into the skulls of the poor men. Jordan watched as their faces changed, as the cataclysmic oceans of their lives were quelled for one second by Gabe’s words. The men had a glint in their eyes that had been absent for years: hope.
Jordan stared at the men in the crowd, and recognized the ones he grew up with. He saw in them the same hopeless men he had tried to help years ago, the same ones without any aspirations, any drive. This was the same routine as before. Jordan had stood in front of them, appealed to them, with handfuls of job applications, service forms, and opportunities to improve themselves, and their community. They crowded around him, shook hands with him, and took the forms for employment in local businesses around the area. But nothing changed; it all remained the same. Within weeks Jordan had seen flyers littered throughout the street. He talked to men individually, in the attempt towards getting them to work towards anything, but to no avail. The only thing they saw, it seemed to Jordan, were disparate illusions, mere fantasies they could saw themselves in at that particular moment of time to warm themselves for that brief instant, before the harsh cold of their ineptitude and laziness struck them down. Before they remembered who they really were: bums. The lot of them, bums that siphoned money from their ailing mothers, bums that needed welfare like oxygen, bums that had kids all around the state, future statistics for runaways. And like a cruel circle of fate, they now surrounded Jordan.
“Before long, the young man got surrounded/ Those grabbed the guns, so goes the glory/And that is the way I got to end this story/ He was out chasin' cream and the American dream/ Tryin' to pretend the ends justify the means/ This ain't funny so don't you dare laugh/ It's just what comes to pass when you sell your ass/ Life is more than what your hands can grasp.” Gabe’s eyes were fierce; everyone was entranced by his intensity, like moths drawn into a flame. A faint sense of the recognition of what Gabe was trying to convey began to appear in the mind of the men around. But just as suddenly, Jordan’s hands grabbed Gabe by the shoulders and dragged him home. Gabe had never known why.
“Dad, I mean like, I’m good at this. I can make a career out of this, I’ve been joking around with the guys in band class to release a record or something.”
“It’s a dumb idea. You should drop it while you’re young.”
“I… don’t really want to though.” Gabe suddenly questioned, feeling his trepidation dropping. This was important to him. Really important to him.
“You can’t make anything out of it.”
“Why?” Gabe’s courage was rising. Gabe felt that his sermons were significant. That there was a point.
“Because, all people like that do is talk all the time!”
“There’s nothing wrong with that!”
“Yes, there IS Gabe! You’re young, you don’t know yet. People only talk all the time, and don’t do anything. The only thing that can be measured are actions! You need to be able to work, you need to be able to work with your hands, or else you’re going to end up on the street just like the guys you preach to, the guys you give empty hopes to!”
“You’re just mad that you didn’t try hard enough with them! That’s the only reason why!” Suddenly Gabe felt lightning on his cheek.
Gabe recoiled from the blow of his father’s hand; it felt like the sky falling down on him. He was sideswiped from across the table, and he fell in a crumpled heap, knocking down his chair. His cheek stung, and his eyes began to grow bleary, but even blind, he knew his father’s glare was fixated on him, stronger than he ever felt. Despite the words, the strict nature, the temperament more volatile than nitroglycerin, his father had never hit him. This fact hit him harder than even his father’s fist, it caused his head to swell and burst with pain, and Gabe did the only thing he could do when he was in that situation: he ran.
Gabe hurtled out the door. Three floors up from the ground floor, he bolted for the staircase. A neighbor passing through the hall thought he was a blur. He jumped off one stair, two stairs, ten stairs, landed, stumbled, tripped down another twelve. His body numbed, he pushed himself off the ground, one floor cleared. His legs pounded against the ground, another floor, another floor, and then the entranceway into the sunshine, illuminating nothing. He continued in a straight line, running across traffic, amidst crowds, kept running towards only God knows what at this point.
His legs had felt this weight before. The last time he had ran like that was when he had run away from Mr. Johnson. He didn’t know where he was going, but he kept going in a straight line, as if expecting something. When his legs felt like glass about to collapse, he threw himself into a phone booth. It was an empty street, a single light post spreading a pale radius of light. The phone booth was sprawled with graffiti, and Gabe ran one finger along the message “Abandon hope all who enter.” He reached in for a quarter, who to call, dad or the police, dad or the police, fuck the police that’s how to treat them, we can buy our way out of jail but we can’t buy freedom. It was something from Mike’s new cd.
was all Gabe was thinking about, home. He was about to dial when something
caught his attention outside. Mr. Walker! Mr. Walker was a kind, middle-aged
man who was always around when Gabe needed someone to watch him practice his
basketball dribbling. Gabe didn’t bother wondering what he was doing all the
way out here, what mattered was that this man was his neighbor, someone from
home. He could take him home. Gabe was about to go to Mr. Walker when he
noticed approaching shadows. Curious, he watched from the phone booth. He
didn’t understand what was happening back then, but with the wisdom of age he
knew. Back then it seemed like gibberish to him: look man, look, I can get the
money, no, no, I have a better bet this time, honestly I thought, no I was so sure, that that horse was going to pull through,
honest to God, I’ll pay back double I’m good for my word just give me the cash
please please please, wait no what are you doing, put that down. As Mr.
Walker’s voice grew more urgent, Gabe grew more fearful. The shadows had picked
up a crowbar, a pipe, a blunt object with the intention of hurt, and what Gabe
heard next hurt his skull. A cacophony of frightful, animal noises from Mr.
Walker, recoiling in pain. With each deafening thud, Mr. Walker responded with
an equally terrifying yelp, until Gabe was so scared that he began to run
again, wanting to get even farther away from it all.
Gabe’s exhausted legs had taken him out three, four miles away from him his home. The sun was now at its apogee, slowing everything down in its humidity, as it loomed high in the sky. His father’s hand still ached on his cheek, leaving a red mark on his tan skin. He observed his new surroundings, catching sight of immensely tall buildings scraping the skyline, as far as the eye could see, continuing past the horizon. He was now downtown, and these were unfamiliar surroundings; he had only gone here once, with his father, to fill in a cavity, as he was the only dentist close to them. It was different in Gabe’s memory, however; he looked at everything intimidated.
“What am I going to do?” he thought.
Suddenly, his legs began to ache, and he went to go sit down. He had run harder than he had ever had in his life, harder than that traumatic night, and the strain was felt on his legs. He sat on a bench, rubbing his calves. While he rested, he began to reassess his actions. I’m away from home. There’s nothing for me here. Maybe this is what it means to be dead, nothing to go back to. I don’t know anyone out this far; the only family I’ve got is my brother and father. There is twenty dollars in my wallet, I’m only seventeen, I have no job skills, and I’m a senior in high school. I think I’m screwed. Shit. Shit. Shit shit shit.
Gabe was at a complete loss, and he planted his body on the bench, stretching out his limbs. He made note of the strewn newspaper, the trash surrounding the bench, feeling exactly like them. I have no purpose; I should just cast myself off to the side like everything here on this bench. The pungent smell of alcohol and cigarettes bombarded his nose, causing him to bolt up. He made eye contact with a homeless man, his brow furrowed in anger.
“What do you think you’re doin’ boy, this is MY bench!” said the homeless man, clenching his fists.
“What do you mean, man? You can’t claim a bench.” Gabe said wearily, but then immediately regretting it. This is a homeless man. He will not hesitate to kill me.
“Get off get off get off get off GET OFF!” the homeless man said, rising up. His tattered coat and shredded blue jeans made him seem terrifying to Gabe, causing Gabe to tremble. He ran, his legs on the brink of collapse; they seared in pain, wishing only for the slightest bit of rest. A couple meters later, Gabe fell down, his face on the gravel. Is this how Mr. Johnson felt? Is this what it means to live without purpose? What’s the point to anything? And then, a loud voice caught Gabe’s attention.
Admist the echo of a snare drum, a rich timbre filled Gabe’s ears, appealing for everyone around to come, come, come witness a once in a lifetime event. Gabe was still lying in the sidewalk, and sat upright. He couldn’t see the owner of the voice, but made note of its influence. People gathered around, obscuring the man, but they seemed enraptured. I’m jealous. Whoops and cheers mingled with claps began to fill the air, and the man fell into his zone, rapping:
“The most important time in history is, NOW, the present/ So count your blessings cause time can't define the essence/ But you stressin over time and you follow the Roman calendar/ These people enter Cona like Gattaca, you can bet/ they tryin to lock you down like Attica, the African Diaspora/ represents strength in numbers, a giant can't slumber forever/ I know you gotta get that cheddar whatever/ Aiyyo I heard you twice the first time money, get it together/ You must be History, you repeatin yourself out of the pages/ You keepin yourself depleting your spiritual wealth/ That quick cash'll get your ass quick fast in houses of detention/ Inner-city concentration camps where no one pays attention/ or mentions the ascension of death, til nothing's left/ The young, gifted and Black are sprung addicted to crack/ All my people where y'all at cause, y'all ain't here/ And your hero's using your mind as a canvas to paint fear/ With, broad brush strokes and tales of incarceration/ You get out of jail with that Knowledge of Self determination/ Stand in ovation, cause you put the Hue in Human/ Cause and effect, effect everything you do/ and that's why I got love in the face of hate/ Hands steady so the lines in the mental illustration is straight/ The thought you had don't even contemplate/ Infinite like figure eight there's no escape.”
The words caught Gabe, and he pushed his troubles to the back of his mind. Déjà vu. He felt this way before; his mind ran back to that night. After he had sprinted away from the phone book, he grew desperate. He found himself in a completely new place, neon signs and drinks painted on wooden bars. It was a street reminiscent of Amsterdam, but to Gabe it might as well have been an alien world. He didn’t know what to do, he clung close to a brick wall, making sure to stick close to a tipsy couple canoodling in the street. Gabe heard a calming sound, the gentle clinks of a piano, and went inside the bar to listen. Inside contrasted with outside; instead of gaudy décor, it was a classier setting, plush leather couches, soft lighting, a homely setting. A waitress noticed Gabe, omigod are you lost little boy, let’s call your daddy, can I have his number, thank you thank you sit here please, do you want anything to drink? No? Okay I’ll get your dad soon, don’t worry. Gabe rested his head on the couch, and watched the pianist. Suddenly, a man came up on stage, and with the aide of the piano, began to speak in tune with the rhythm. It was amazing. His words flowed out, it felt like he was breathing life. Gabe didn’t know what he was saying, but it calmed him down, it made him feel okay, it made him hopeful. The night began to fade away for some reason and maybe he was just feeling tired. Jordan rushed to the bar, and Gabe fell asleep in his arms.
There was a reason why he could feel this way a second time, despite the fact that everything was as low as it was before. There was a reason to this, cause and effect affects everything he does. His father, his brother, his loss of a home, all of these faded into the periphery as he listened to the man. Money doesn’t mean anything, but then what did? The power of words made everything seem so insignificant, so small. Maybe that’s the only thing that matters, intention. No, not intention, conviction. Everything he respected in people was brought about by respect, the upholding of their own beliefs. We can be inspired, we can inspire, as long as our hearts are into it. As long as we can believe. When you do give up, you merely end up a hollow shell of a person on a street, looking for something to fill up that void. Drugs, money, worthless physical things that were merely fleeting; there’s something more, something divine, that people needed to keep their eyes to. And Gabe’s job was to convey that divine thing. The realization of this made Gabe want to go up there.
He wanted to speak; he wanted to shout this out. Ignoring his legs, he got up, and walked towards the crowd. As he approached the soapbox, he noticed that this was the exact same man as he was before. Gabe had finally come up with a name for him: “The Sermonizer.” He felt a reverential awe as he went up, shook his hand, introduced himself; the Sermonizer recognized him from a local news story, obliged and gave him the podium. Gabe had begun to speak, when just as suddenly, he heard a shout from the crowd.
“Yo man that be the guy from last night!” said a hoodlum.
“No way man, lookit him, lookit the guy, can’t be the same, he’s skinnier.”
“No no man, they’re family,” said a third. They all sported black hoodies, a distinctive tattoo marking their face, a tribal sign. Gabe recognized them as gang members, but was confused as to how they knew his brother.
“Yeah that’s the skinny bitch that talks all the time.”
“Hmm. What do you think we should do man?”
“Well his brother Mike messed up our plans big time, stole our whole cartel. Sold all of it.”
He what? Oh God I thought he was just bootlegging mixtapes Why is he in drugs now? Gabe’s mind began to panic again.
“Let’s see what would happen if we messed him up…”
three pushed the crowd to the side, their wide shoulders clearing a path. Gabe
didn’t know what to do, he tried to run, but was pushed back by the crowd. The
biggest of them tried to throw his hands on Gabe, but was blocked by the
“Man, what the hell are you doing?” said the Sermonizer.
“Don’t get in our way man, don’t even fucking think of it. Look man we have business, just get out.”
“No man, let this guy speak, let him-“
One of the men grew erratic, reached into his coat pocket. “Fuck man you don’t know what this little bitch did! His father, fronts around all the time, like some kind of fucking leader, makes my dad feel like a nothing. His fucking brother, his takes our hard-earned shit and sells it, fucked up. For all I know this family can fucking die.”
He pulled out something, a gun? At this point Gabe’s vision began to blur, he felt dizzy. His body began to feel the toll, of so much emotional distance, of so much physical weakness. His body only had its limits, his mind seemed so separated from everything happening to his body; he didn’t even know his own brother anymore, his father seemed so distant. He heard a blam, watched the Sermonizer fall down. Shit. Oh God why are you letting this happen, shit shit shit, and Gabe, overwhelmed with stress, blacked out, seeing the city skyline, watching the sun descend into the arches.
He woke up at a nearby police station. Gabe didn’t know what to make of anything. He loved and hated his father, felt the same about his brother, felt the same about humanity. The best and worst, he kept experiencing both.
“Are you okay kid?” a policeman asked. “Look we found you at a nearby murder scene, it’s messed up, this guy just went down… Did you know him? Oh shit, wait, before I ask you, let me get you some coffee, you look like shit.”
But Gabe didn’t really feel like it. He knew what was demanded of him. He needed to get that middle path for people; he needed to be that bridge, connecting the two extremes, sin and virtue together. He needed to be the balance, the support, for everyone like him, who suffered. He needed to speak out. He needed this. Until he did nothing would be resolved.