Ezekiel Evans looked out the front room window. A snow-buried Camry sat dormant under the streetlight. “Still there” Ezekiel said to the glass reflection of Tonya decorating the Christmas tree. He stood there another minute to reassure himself and then returned to his chair. “You never know what will happen next around this doggone place. The city’s gone to hell.”
“Don’t worry, Ez,” Tonya teased, “Chicago has an intersectional mayor. All you have to do is believe in her just like weez all spose to pretend to believe in Santa Claus.”
“I’ll believe in Santa Claus before I believe in her!” Ezekiel replied.
When they moved to the Chicago area several years before, Ezekiel and Tonya overlooked a lot of things. Coming from a Georgia farm, they saw the cosmopolitan city as an upgrade. It was a place to live independently and experience new things. They moved to the Roseland neighborhood on Chicago’s south side.
The five-bedroom brick bungalow on Wentworth Avenue was big enough for their growing family. It was something they could afford. What they couldn’t afford was a carjacking and what some hoodlums were doing in the neighborhood – robberies, burglaries, thefts, assaults, shootings and sex trafficking.
“We’ve got to get that garage door fixed so we can park the car inside. Then you can have some peace of mind Ez,” Tonya offered.
“Yeah, but my peace of mind needs to cover a lot of ground. The kids need food and clothes and shoes, doctor visits, and . . . a decent place to live.”
When they bought the place, it needed a lot of work. Ezekiel spent what extra money they had to fix the place. But the more things in the neighborhood became unsettling the more unsettled he became. His uncle’s Georgia farm, where he lived after his father died suddenly, was a touchstone that kept coming back to mind.
Uncle Abrams raised grass-fed and pasture-raised beef, lamb, goat, and pork. During his time with his uncle, Ezekiel learned animal husbandry and the ways of the Lord. His uncle was a godly man. But a time came when Ezekiel felt he had to find his own way and be his own man. He saw the farm as restraint holding him back.
After his marriage to Tonya, he headed north to the south side of Chicago. There he opened a butcher shop that sold meats from a local packer and from his uncle’s farm. The enterprise was fairly successful, but also a struggle. Maintaining a decent price for the quality being offered hindered sales. His cousin John drove the Georgia meat up to Chicago once a week. John had to be paid.
And there were substantial losses at one point. Around Christmas last winter the store was broken into. The meats on display were taken. A police report was filed but no suspects arrested. Insurance covered the loss and then raised rates six months later. Ezekiel didn’t like putting window grating on his store windows – the cost and the eyesore -but he did what he had to do to maintain business.
Andre was asleep in his crib. Alana was carried to bed by her father. After a retelling of the Christmas story – the one about shepherds and the stable and of Joseph and Mary and the baby – four-year old Alana asked, “Did baby Jesus cry like baby Andre?”
“The story doesn’t say, Alana,” her father replied. “Babies don’t have words yet to say what they want like you and me. Baby Andre fusses and cries when he is hungry and uncomfortable.”
Alana thought for a moment. “I think baby Jesus cried. But then his mama fed him like mama feeds baby Andre.”
“I think you are right.” Dad gave Alana a kiss on the head and tucked the covers around her.
“I’ll leave the hall light on for you. Mom and I will be right here in the next room.”
Ezekiel and Tonya sat in their kitchen listening to the radio. A local station played Christmas carols. Ezekiel looked through the bills and Tonya her grocery list.
“Do you think your uncle will send us another roast for Christmas?” Tonya asked.
“Maybe. I don’t know Tonya.” Ezekiel replied
“Ask him. He’s a good man, a man of faith.” Tonya pushed.
“Yeah, he is a good man. I’m not so sure I’m a good man for taking off and leaving the way I did.”
“I thought you two had worked that out.”
“I worked out that I wanted to go my own way. And when I told my uncle he offered me my choice of acreage on the farm . . . “to build your own future” he said. Uncle Abrams had no problem offering me the better pastures. I guess he figured that God would keep blessing him. He often talked about following God’s leading. I’ve been thinking ‘bout that for a while now.”
“I’m sure he’d like to hear from you other than about another order,” Tonya urged. “Call him tomorrow.”
Ezekiel got up from his chair and headed to the front room window to check on the car. He looked out and saw the car. And some trouble heading his way.
There was a sudden frantic pounding on the front door. “What the . . .!”
Looking out onto the lighted porch he saw two terrified young men. When they saw Ezekiel, they screamed louder. Ezekiel opened the door.
“Help us mister! They’re coming!”
“Who is coming?” Ezekiel shouted through the storm door.
“Those men!” One of the boys pointed. “Let us in mister please!”
Ezekiel hesitated, not sure if it was a ruse. Then he saw four men running down the sidewalk towards the house. Something didn’t seem right. The boys were only wearing sweatshirts, sweat pants and dirty socks.
“Come in. Let me find out what this is all about.” Ezekiel opened the storm door and the two teenagers bounded in behind Ezekiel. Tonya grabbed some blankets from the hallway closet and handed them to the boys.
“What’s this all about?” Ezekiel looked at the boys and then at the approaching men.
The shorter boy started, speaking as fast as he could. “Those men took us off the street. They said they had plans for us.” He stopped to catch his breath. “We escaped the van when it got stuck in the snow . . . we saw you looking through the window . . .”
The taller boy spoke. “Something about service jobs for me and him,” he pointed to the other boy chattering his teeth, “we’ve been friends for a while . . . we want nothing to do with them.”
“Where do you live?”
“Mister, we have no home. The street’s our home. These guys came up to us and said we could be warm and have food if we came with them. We thought it would be OK. One of them looked like he was a priest.”
“Go on,” Ezekiel pressed. But now the men were on the front porch. One of them was rattling the storm door by its handle.
“Where are those boys? Bring them out to us so that we can talk to them.”
Ezekiel opened the storm door and the men backed up. He came out and folded his arms. “I’ll do their talking. What do you want with them?”
A large bald man stood in front. Behind and to the left of him stood a squirrelly-looking man with a pockmarked face. He kept looking around. Next to him, on the other side of the bald man, stood a thin goateed man making a solemn look The other man who was out of view down on the sidewalk. The bald man spoke.
“Mister we just want to talk to them. We saw them on the street and they looked like they needed shelter and food. We don’t know why they ran . . . these two young boys need our help. We do this all the time – help homeless kids”
“I see. You need their help in a service industry?”
“We wanted to give them jobs . . . you know, . . . helping . . . serving people.”
“I see. Well, these boys want no part of it.”
“Listen mister . . . “, the bald man growled and grabbed Ezekiel by his shirt to pull him away from the door.
At that moment Ezekiel thought he made out the face of his lawyer friend. “Ken . . . Ken! . . . is that you?”
The man on the sidewalk turned and walked away.
The large bald man began to pull harder on Ezekiel. “Listen mister . . . it’s none of your affair.” The two other men tried to open the storm door behind Ezekiel.
The two boys saw this and pulled Ezekiel inside. Ezekiel locked the door. Through the glass he shouted “My wife has called the neighbors. You better not come back here lookin’ for what ain’t yours!”
The men turned and saw porch lights turning on. Neighbors came out to see what was happening.
“Get back in your van and get the hell outta here! NOW!” Ezekiel eyes blazed.
The four men took off down the sidewalk, hiding their faces in their collars as they ran.
Ezekiel watched the van drive off. He stood there for a long time to reassure himself that it was gone.
Tonya had the boys settled at the kitchen table. While talking with the neighbors on the phone Tonya made hot cocoa and oatmeal for the boys. They still shook from the cold under the blankets and their eyes remained wide open.
One of the boys asked “You didn’t call the police?” Tonya stopped what she was doing and replied.
“Even if those four predators were caught and arrested, they would be released without bail. That’s how things go around here. Criminals run free and good people are supposed to put up with it.”
Ezekiel walked into the kitchen for a moment and then turned and walked down the hallway. He returned ten minutes later.
“I’ve made up some bedding for you two in the back room. You don’t go anywhere tonight.”
The boys looked at each other. “Thank you, . . . mister?”
“Ezekiel, and this is my wife, Tonya. In the morning you’ll meet our two little ones.”
Baby Andre made the first sound in the morning. His cries woke Tonya. She got him up and nursed him. A while later Alana came into the kitchen rubbing her eyes.
“Alana, we have two guests in our house. They slept overnight in the back room.”
“Who are they mama?”
“Two young men who needed some food and a place to sleep.”
“Were they crying?”
“No Alana. We knew what they needed. I’ll make you oatmeal.”
Ezekiel walked in the front door. He’d been out clearing off the car. Tonya handed him a cup of coffee.
Ezekiel spoke in hushed tones. “Those two . . .,” he nodded to the back room, “let them sleep in. I’ll bring home some extra ground beef for dinner. Find out their names”
That evening Ezekiel, Tonya, Alana, baby Andre, Booker and Darius sat around the table eating a casserole and potato salad. After a blessing they talked about the day. Alana, who couldn’t hold back, started.
She told her father about building a snowman with the two boys. Tonya had given the boys some of Ez’s old coats and gloves and shoes and socks to wear. The boys each said that they had never built a snowman. And though still somewhat pensive about everything, they began to open up.
Each boy talked about living in the projects and taking care of their mother. They talked about people coming around. They talked about their mothers becoming drug addicts. They talked about their baby sisters being taken away. And of not knowing who their father was. And then Booker and Darius stopped talking. Alana began asking questions. Tonya assured Alana that she would tell her what she needed to know later.
Baby Andre’s day, per Tonya, consisted of wide-eyed wonder and giggling when the boys played peek-a-boo with her. The boys helped keep baby Andre occupied while she did what she had to do.
Tonya’s unreported day consisted of changing diapers, laundry, fixing lunch, and neighbor phone calls. After last night, neighbors wanted to know if the Evans family was OK. One neighbor brought over a meal to find out. “This cornbread chicken bake comes from the James family next door,” was Tonya’s update.
After the meal Ezekiel read Psalm 34. Then he repeated these words:
This poor soul cried and was heard by the Lord
and was saved from every trouble.
The angel of the Lord encamps
around those who fear him and delivers them.
The next morning, Christmas morning, it wasn’t the aroma of a grits and sausage casserole warming in the oven that brought the boys to the kitchen. They had something they wanted to get out. They walked back and forth nervously. Ezekiel had them sit down at the table across from him and Tonya.
With a terrified look Darius blurted out “We had a dream, mister Ezekiel, ma’am.”
“We both did,” Booker interjected.
Darius continued. “We both saw very bad things heading this way. We both heard “Leave this place!”
“What do you think it means Ez?” Tonya asked.
Ezekiel began rubbing his forehead. “It means . . . it means . . . it means we better leave.”
“What?! But my brother and his family live here . . . we can’t just pick up and leave!”
“We will warn them to leave.” Ezekiel came back.
“Ha, good luck with that!” Tonya snapped. She got up and put her hands on her hips.
“Ezekiel, a dream? We’re gonna pick up and leave based on a dream?! What about the store?”
“Tonya, if that isn’t a warning, Ezekiel replied, “nothing is. And look what happened to these boys. That was no dream.”
©Jennifer Ann Johnson, Kingdom Venturers, 2022, All Rights Reserved