As I was traveling through the States last year, I happened to pass through Trenton, New Jersey a few times. One afternoon, while in the car going back to Pennsylvania, I was inspired to write the following short piece. Enjoy.
I walk a little quicker and resist the urge to look behind me. The people here are rough, and they won’t hesitate to stir up trouble. I’m pretty sure that they could rob me right out there in the open and everyone would just watch. That’s why I carry mace with me.
A shirtless guy whizzes by me on his bike, pants sagging and talking on the phone. I sigh. Two more blocks to reach home. I stand at the crosswalk, a mother wearing a revealing outfit and yelling at her two kids next to me. The stop light is green but there are no cars, so I cross. They follow, but the littlest one trips and starts screaming. She picks him up, swears. A car arrives and blows the horn. I shake my head and turn left.
There’s a gang of thugs talking, laughing. They’re smoking and drinking. As I pass, they look at me. I may be black, but somehow they sense I don’t fit in. I don’t get in trouble like they do, and they must know it. I pass by them and they resume their activities.
The houses are rundown, dilapidated. Some of them look deserted, but I know better. People who can’t afford any more live there, often with more than one family. Moss grows on the walls, and green, stagnant water is everywhere. Garbage cans overflow, the smell overpowering. I try not to breathe. The lights are on in some houses; in others, people sit outside. An old man dozing. A teenage girl texting. A couple making out.
I pass by Mr. Forester’s place. He’s sitting outside and I say hi. He smiles, nods. He points to a seat, but I shake my head. He likes to talk about the battles he was in, but I want to go home now. I’ve been working since morning at the gas station and I’m exhausted.
A middle aged man with several earrings and multiple tattoos passes me and looks me over. He whistles appreciatively. I flinch and, for a brief moment, am tempted to give him the finger. I know I shouldn’t, so I speed up. He laughs. I hear the echo.
38. That’s my house number. I’m home. I fish out my key, unlock the door. The outside noises are muffled as I close the door, and I breathe in and out for a full minute.
Once the pounding in my ears subsides, I hear the clock ticking, the refrigerator running, and the dog running over to me. A smile breaks out on my face and I bend down to pat Emil. He licks me, and I laugh. In the kitchen, I heat up some leftovers and go to the sitting room. I open the blinds and look outside. In my little haven, I feel safe, secure. Away from the rough going-ons out there. I breathe in, breathe out. I am thankful to be alive, and I relish in the peace.
Night falls on Trenton.
Less than three,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:43-44