11 Aug Capture
“Look at them niggers over there, they make me sick. Always standing on the damn corner causing trouble.” Billy Caldwell said, as he drove through North Memphis, heading back to Olive Branch, MS.
“When I grew up and Memphis, things sure and the hell were different. Now, every damn time I turn on the TV you see them sonna bitches shooting and robbing. I’m fed up with this shit, things need to go back to the olden days, back then, them nigglins would be dead. Well, I guess they gone kill each other anyways.”
“Billy, things have changed, honey, that was 50 years ago. And the coloreds are doing some good in the country. I mean we did have a colored president.” Betty Caldwell said looking at her husband of 42 years. Billy and Betty married in 1976, 22 years after the Brown vs. The Board of Education historic decision. This allowed African Americans to be integrated into the public school system.
“That damn Muslim terrorist didn’t do nothing but put my country in a hole. Good we got President Trump in office. At least now things are looking up.” Billy said angrily in a loud voice. Since the election of President Trump, racial tension was on the rise across the country.
“I don’t like that Trump character, although anyone would be better than that Barack Hussein Obama.” Betty said, laughing and looking at her husband. “I sure wish we would’ve had a strong republican lady candidate. You men always gotta be messing things up, so dog gone competitive.”
The Caldwells jumped on the expressway, interstate 55 south, and headed back to Mississippi. They moved to Olive Branch after getting married. Prior to moving to Olive Branch, Betty and Billy both lived in Senatobia, MS, where they met and attended high school together. They were high school sweethearts. A rather boring couple, now retired, they spent their time shopping at the local Walmart, playing bingo at the local community center, and going to church.
Two years into their marriage, Betty became pregnant, only to lose the child in the 3 months of her pregnancy. They tried several times afterwards, four in total, but each time, they lost the child. For many years Betty suffered from depression because of the lost pregnancies, but later, after what she called conversations with God, Christ Jesus, she was confident God had a plan. Unfortunately, she never really understood His plan. Billy on the other hand, blamed himself, and believed he was just a man with bad luck, because apparently, all his life bad things had happened. The only good thing in his life, per him, was his lovely wife, whom he loved and worshiped the ground she stood on. Both their parents had passed away years ago, and they didn’t have any siblings.
“I thought you were going to stop at Walmart, honey.”
“Betty, please, please, we been shopping all day, I wanna go home and start on the yard.”
“You can start on the darn yard when we get home. It’s 2 pm on a Saturday afternoon. There’s plenty of daylight.”
“Alright, alright. Just try to make it fast.”
After 3 hours of shopping, Betty was finally ready to checkout.
“Everytime I look, them boarder jumpers are talking mexican to one another. Dammit, ain’t this America?” Billy said, as he stood in line with his wife. In front of them was a hispanic family checking out. A rather large family, with several young children. The youngest looking child, a female, who looked to be around 6 years old, was translating for her mother.
“Mama, mama, la senora dijo $55.36.” The mom handed the money to the cashier. Billy stared at the family with a frown on his face. But the girl, who continued to translate for her mother, looked at Mr. Caldwell with a smile and said “Thank you for being patient, I hope you have a blessed day!”
Billy looked surprised and said “Yeah, you too.”
Billy finally got home, got on his mower, and begin cutting the grass. This was something that brought him joy. The Caldwells owned a 3-bedroom two-story house, with a large attic, sitting on 6 acres. The Sun, as it began to set, made for the perfect scene, along with the well manicured Caldwell lawn.
“Come on in, honey, dinner gone be cold, and I made your favorite, smothered pork chops, green beans, mashed potatoes, and cornbread.”
“Well, dog gone, let me hurry and clean myself up!”
Billy parked his riding mower in the garage, entered the house, washed up, and went to the dinner table.
“Now, I put a lot on your plate, but don’t eat yourself sick. I don’t wanna hear you moaning all night in bed.”
Betty set the table. Billy grabbed her hand and begin to pray “Dear Lord, thank you for allowing us to have a place to eat and enjoy this food for the nourishment of our bodies. I pray you watch over us tonight while we rest and prepare for another day in your kingdom. Amen.”
“Amen.” Betty said, as she smiled at her husband. “I hope it taste as good as you make me feel. I love you, honey.”
“I love you too.”
After dinner the couple with to their room where Betty pulled out her Bible and began to read, the time was 9:48 pm. Billy flipped through the television channels searching for an old western movie. Billy loved to watch western movies and Betty enjoyed reading the Bible.
While flipping through the channels, Billy landed on the local news, “And there it is, another nigger killing. That’s all them blacks are good for, violence. I ain’t met one good nigger yet, they all bad!”
“I don’t know why you watch the news, honey, all it does it get you all riled up. Turn that tv off and go to sleep, and read your Bible. Put something good in your head before bed.”
“I don’t need to read no Bible. Hell, I know what the problem is, the damn blacks!”
30 minutes later, Betty fell into a hard sleep. Betty always slept with an ice pack over her eyes and large noise canceling earphones covering her ears. She had done this since middle school, it helped her clear her mind and rest. Billy found him an old western and enjoyed the movie.
Suddenly, Billy heard what he thought was someone trying to pry open the back door.
“What the hell.” Billy said softly, under his breath.
Then he heard it again. Billy jumped out of bed, ran to the closet, pulled out his shotgun and loaded up. He then ran to the back door.
“Don’t move, nigger, or I’ll blow your damn head off!”
“You picked the wrong house, blacky! Get on the ground and don’t you dare move!”
The black male, who appeared to look like a teenager, maybe 16 or 17 years of age, did not appear to be scared. But Billy’s heart was pumping fast and his hands shook while holding the shotgun to the young man’s head.
“Just what in the hell do you think you doing, trying to break in my damn house? I’m gonna teach your black ass a lesson today, tomorrow, and all next week. I’m gonna tie yo monkey ass up! You gone wish you was dead when I finish with you, dead!”
Billy reached in the kitchen drawer and grabbed a handful of zip ties.
“Now, I’m warning you, don’t move a damn inch, or I’m blasting!”
Mr. Caldwell begin tying his hands behind his back and then moving to the boys feet, where he zip tied his feet together next. Strangely, the intruder didn’t resist. He remained calm and appeared unfazed by the shotgun barrel pointing at his head.
Billy then put the gun down and search of duct tape.
“Found it.” Billy said quietly.
“I wanna make sure you don’t open that loud trap of yours.”
Billy begin to tape the boys mouth, but before he did, Billy asked “What’s your name boy?”
The young man didn’t respond.
“Nigger, I’m gone ask you one more time, what’s your damn name!”
Suddenly, the boy lifted his head and said “Malachi, my name is Malachi, sir.”
Billy, before grabbing the intruder, went to check on his wife Betty. As he entered the bedroom, he saw his wife peacefully sleeping. He then made his way back to the kitchen.
“Come on, here! You going to my attic. I promise you, when I get finish with you, you’ll never think about going into someone’s house without a welcome!”
Billy proceeded to drag the boy upstairs. Lucky, for him, the young man didn’t weigh over 120 lbs. This made it easy for the old man, with old bones, and weak muscles.
“Now the tricky part, I gotta get yo butt up into the attic. I tell you what I’m gonna do, I’m going to untie you, put this shotgun to your head, and you are going to climb this here ladder and get up in my attic. I got this gun to your head and I’m right behind you. Don’t you dare think I want blow your damn head off, I’ve always wanted to kill a nigger, especially a crooked nigger.”
Billy untied Malachi and Malachi begin to climb the ladder leading to the attic. Billy followed cautiously and directly behind him, gun to head.
“Slow down, nigger.”
Malachi did not appear afraid. He seemed at ease. After entering the attic, Malachi waited for Billy to join.
“Get your black butt over in that chair.”
Malachi walked to the chair and took a seat.
“Now, I’m tying you to this chair, put your arms down on the arm rest, NOW!” Billy screamed. Billy tied both arms, with several zip ties he pulled from his pocket.
“Now, I’m going to tie them there legs of yours to the chair with this here cow rope, I call it. You want be breaking free from me!”
The cow rope was thick and long. Billy knew how to tie it tight because his dad, when he was younger showed him.
“Keep your legs straight, don’t move! I don’t give a damn if it hurts. I want you to hurt for the next two weeks. Yep, that’s how long I’m holding you hostage. Two long weeks with me, Billy, you can call me Billy the Kid! You know who that is don’t you?”
Malachi looked right at him and said “Yes, he was a sinner. A sinner. A sinner. Billy the kid was a sinner.”
“Just like your sinning ass!”
“I told you my name, why won’t you call me Malachi?”
“How bout I call you dumb, dumb ass nigger? Because that’s what you are Malachi, one dumb ass nigger!”
“Wrong, my name is Malachi. And Malachi means messenger.”
“Yeah, you will definitely be a messenger when I finish with you. And the message you gonna send is this, don’t bring your black ass to the Caldwell house, Billy, aka, Billy the Kid, will tie your monkey ass up, starve you, torture you, and release you back into the jungle where you belong.”
Billy made his way back into the kitchen, turned the water faucet, put his hands into the water and splashed his face.
“My God, what am I doing? What am I doing?”
Before retiring for the night, he rechecked the attic door, ensuring that it was shut and locked. He tried to listen to hear if Malachi was making any noise. To his surprise, Malachi, tied to a chair, mouth duct taped, wasn’t making a sound. Mr. Caldwell begin thinking to himself; why didn’t he put up fight? Why didn’t he scream or yell? Why was the young man so calm? And why, after breaking into someone’s house, why isn’t he trying to escape? I mean the guy obviously is bold and brave, right?
He laid in the bed, listening for a sound, any sound from Malachi, but nothing. Silence.
Turning over to his wife, he whispered in her ear, “Sweet dreams my love. I love you.”
The old ford pickup truck sped down Summer Ave. in Memphis, TN.
“I can’t believe they allowed them niggers to enter the store and buy from the same hardware place I been shopping at for 20 years.” Billy’s father, Johnnie Caldwell said, speeding down the street.
“Dad, what’s a nigger?” Young Billy Caldwell asked.
“Well, a nigger is just what is, if your skin is black, you’re a nigger. Simple as that”
“Are black people bad?”
“Yes, all of them are! They should’ve remain slaves. That Abraham Lincoln messed it all up.”
In 1863 President Lincoln issued his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which started in the beginning of 1863, Lincoln used his war powers to free all slaves.
“But dad they can’t help they black. I mean, I didn’t ask to be white, it’s just God made me this way.” Little Billy said, while looking out the window of the truck.
“Look here boy, them blacks are not like us, they come from the jungle. I mean, they aint human. They like monkeys. And it’s up to us to tame ‘em.”
“But dad they can do everything we can do. They even look like us; eyes, nose, lips, two arms, and two legs. And they talk. Monkeys don’t talk, daddy.”
Johnnie Caldwell pulled over and stopped the truck.
“Now you listen here, son. They is bad. Bad. Bad. They aint like us, and never will be. You better remember that. You ain’t gone never see a good black. They all is bad!”
And with that little Billy didn’t say a word. He was speechless.
“Good morning, honey.” Betty said, standing next to their bed where Billy was sleeping.
Billy jumped out of bed, ran up stairs, and checked the entry way, on the ceiling, to the attic.
“What and the hell is going on, Billy?”
“Ahh, nothing, sweetheart. I think I was having a bad dream. Can you do me a favor and make us some coffee?”
“Of course, it’ll be ready shortly.”
As Betty left the bottom of the stairway and headed to the kitchen, Billy cautiously opened the door leading to the attic. He pulled down the stairway and climbed up the ladder. Sitting still, awake, in the chair, Malachi made eye contact with Billy.
“Hey boy, bet you regretting coming in this damn house?”
Malachi, tied to the chair, mouth duct taped, didn’t budge or make a sound.
“Now, I’m going to take the tape off your mouth. If you make a sound, I’ll slap your ass through the roof.”
Billy slowly removed the tape, fearful, his hostage would make a sound.
“There. Now, I bet your butt is hungry, but guess what, nigger, you ain’t eating or drinking.”
After thinking to himself, Billy was shocked that the young boy was still calm and peaceful. Also, he thought it was rather odd that the kid didn’t use the bathroom on himself.
“These next two weeks gone stink up my damn attic, with you pissing and dumping all over yourself. I’ll have to go to the store and get some supplies to prevent the nigger smell. You see boy, you costing me money, but it’s gon be worth it, cause imma make sure I teach your ass a lesson.”
Suddenly, Malachi spoke, “Why can’t you call me by my name, sir?”
“I’ll call you whatever the hell I want! Shut the hell, Mala boy!”
“Well sir, Mala boy is a start.” Malachi said sarcastically.
“Billy, what are you doing in the attic? Your coffee is getting cold. Come on down from there. We gotta get ready for church.”
After duct taping Malachi’s mouth again, Billy left the attic and headed towards the kitchen.
“What were you doing up there, honey?”
Billy didn’t know what to say.
“Darling, I got a surprise in the attic I’m working on for you, don’t go up there. I can’t wait until it’s complete.” Billy said, stuttering and looking out of the kitchen window.
“And you know I love my surprises, especially from you.” She smiled, sipping on her cup of coffee.
“By the way, I’m going to skip church today. I mean, I got stuff to do around here and I wanna finish your surprise, and it’s easier for me to get finish with it if you ain’t here.”
“Honey, Barbara and Tom are supposed to take us to lunch afterwards.”
“Well, they just gone have to wait. I gotta get this done.”
“This must be a special surprise, honey. My goodness. Anyways, let me go get dressed. Love you.”
“Love you too.”
Betty made her way to the bedroom to get dressed and ready for service. Billy sat at the table, thinking to himself; what’s my next move? I wonder if someone reported him missing? I hope I don’t go to jail.
Betty pulled into the church parking lot. The church, in Senatobia, MS, was a Baptist all white church congregation. Not a single non-white person in site.
Historically, across the country, Sunday’s at church, was the most segregated day in America. And, because of this holy day, one would think, this would be the one day, all folks would praise, worship, and fellowship together.
“Hey girl, how are you?” Betty’s friend Barbara asked, with a huge smile.
“I’m blessed my friend. I’m blessed.”
“Where is Billy?”
“He’s at home preparing some big surprise for me!”
“That man worships the ground you walk on, girl. He’s been that way since we were in high school. You so lucky.”
“Yes, I am. Yes, I am. And you got a good one too. Where is he?”
“Tom is somewhere around here, talking and running that mouth of his. He loves to talk.” Barbara said, laughing.
Billy climbed the ladder to the attic.
“Now, you tell me what and the hell where you doing breaking in my house?” Malachi couldn’t speak because is mouth was still taped. Billy approaches Malachi and rips off the tape. Malachi makes a loud cough.
“Sir, I’m here, I’m here because I was told to. I was told to come to your house.”
“Who and God’s name told you come to my house? I don’t know you and I don’t associate with your kind!”
“He told me to come, and that is what I did.”
“Who the hell is he?!” Yelled Billy.
“He is my father. My father whom I love.”
“In Luke 15:10, he tells us; In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence
of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
“Luke writes, that when a sinner repents, the angels in heaven rejoice. This means that God and His angels want to see us win, they want see us repent, they want to see us with them, with Him, in heaven. But my dear brothers and sisters, this is not easy. We live in a hard, cold, sinful world. We must help our dear brethren during his or her many trials and tribulations. We must show them the way. The truth. And the light. For He, Jesus Christ, is the way. He is the truth. He is the light. Let the church say Amen!”
The church members stood on their feet and yelled, “Amen! Amen! Amen!”
“What a beautiful service and message today Pastor Blake. So, so, amazing. I sure hate Billy didn’t hear it.” Betty Caldwell said, holding the pastors hand.
“Where is brother Billy today?”
“He had some things around the house to do today.”
“Well, considering you two have been loyal members for 25 years, I want be mad at him.” Pastor Blake said, laughing.
“What kind of a father sends his son out to break in someones house? I tell you, I’ll never understand you blacks.” Billy said, shaking his head.
Billy walked closer to Malachi, made eye contact and slapped him so hard is mouth begin to bleed.
“That’s for your damn dad!” The smack against is face was hard and fierce. Billy was filled with rage. And then Billy raised back again, smacking Malachi so hard he fell to the floor.
“And that one is for you, dummy! For listening to that dumb nigger dad of yours!”
This time the slap was so hard, the intruder, now hostage, fell to the floor, still tied to the chair. Billy stood over him and yelled, “I should kill your black ass! You think you can come in my house and try to harm me and my wife? What the hell is this, some gang initiation stuff? Well, when you get back, if your still alive, you can tell them how I initiated your ass!”
Billy headed to his room, thinking; Why did the gang pick me? And, if I let him go, will they come back in retaliate? Should I just kill him, now, and call the police and say an intruder entered and I shot? I mean, I better figure this out quick. Apparently, his father and the gang know he’s here.
“I just love the food here. They always serve fresh vegetables.” Betty said while smacking loud. “I heard they were closing down. My God, where will we go for lunch after service if they close?”
“Girl, you don’t have to worry, if there’s one thing about the south, there is always a place to eat good ole southern food. You know, Lee and his wife just open up a new restaurant on Main street.” Her friend Barbara said, after sipping sweet tea.
“Yeah, I heard, but Billy ain’t gonna go to know place owned by coloreds. You know how he feels about that.”
“But Billy don’t mind eating food prepared by blacks. I find that weird. And anyways, why does it matter? Girl, we are living in 2017, has he forgot?” Barbara looked rather disgusted with what Betty said. “I mean come on, Betty, don’t you get fed up with that nonsense?”
“No, first, he’s my husband and I love him. He can’t say anything wrong. Second, you have to admit, if the blacks keep opening up businesses in these parts, they’re likely to run us all off.”
“Girl please. You been watching to many movies or your husband is brainwashing you. They have just as much right to own and establish a business in this community.”
“I don’t know Barbara. I don’t know. They just scare me. They really do.”
Barbara gently grabbed Betty’s right hand and said “We are Christians. The Bible tells us to love one another. Respect one another. And pray for one another. We have a duty, Betty. We have a duty. A duty to spread His message. There is no divide between His children. We are all in this together. Talk to Billy. Help him change his ways. Because I want to see both of you, in Heaven, with me, if I’m so honored. Can you do that for me, sister?”
“I’ll try. It’s just so hard to talk him about this kinda stuff. He so dog on stubborn like his father was. But I promise you, I’ll try.”
The two resumed their lunch while talking about the service and God’s Word.
“Mr. Billy! Mr. Billy! Mr. Billy!” Yelled Malachi.
Billy ran up stairs. He forgot to duct tape the boys mouth.
“Mr. Billy! Mr. Billy! Mr. Billy!
Billy opened the attic and screamed, “This better be good, if not, I’m slapping your ass around again!” He climbed the attic ladder. Walked towards Malachi. Malachi looked at him and said in a strong firm voice, “Confess your sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. These are the words of John.”
“Time for bed, Billy.” Young Billy’s mother, Martha, said has she peeked in his bedroom.
“But mom, I can’t sleep.”
“Why not, son. What’s keeping you up?”
“Today, dad said something I just don’t understand. He said all blacks are bad. Is that true?”
“Your daddy’s a smart man. He’s lived a long life. He’s seen a lot. A lot more than you and I. I don’t think he really meant that all blacks are bad, I think he meant some, just like some white people are bad.”
“No mom, that’s not what he said. He got so mad, he stopped the car and yelled at me.”
“Billy, daddy is under a lot a stress with work in all. He loves you dearly. I love you dearly. Sometimes we say things we really don’t mean. I want you to grow up and love everybody. I want you to grow up and be a loving Christian man. I want you to be better than your dad.
“How can I be better than dad?”
“By reading your Bible and asking God for strength. But in order to do that you must have a pure heart, a heart with no hate. There are so many things wrong with this world, and man, unfortunately, can not solve the problems of the world on his own. Man must seek God for help. Seek God for help, Billy. Promise me you will do that. Promise me.”
“I promise, momma. I promise.”
Momma Martha, picked up the Bible laying on Billy’s nightstand and begin to read from the book of Luke. 15 minutes later, Billy was out. His mother kissed his forehead, turned the lights off, and quietly closed the door.
“Just who the hell do you think you are, quoting the Bible. You break into someone’s house, you dirty nigger, and you want to quote the Bible? How dare you!” Billy said with rage, directly in front of Malachi’s face.
“I know the Bible more than your black ass will ever know, hell, I grew up reading the Bible and listening to my mom read it to me every night before I fell asleep.”
“Your mother sounds like a lovely lady.” Malachi said.
“Nigger, keep my mother out of your mouth. It was three drunk niggers like you that killed her! My momma didn’t deserve to die like that! She was good lady. She was my MOMMA! And you black bastards killed her because you sons of bitches want party, drink, and drive! I ought to kill you right now!”
Billy picked up an old lamp and threw it right at Malachi’s head. The contact from the lamp left a huge gash on his forehead. Blood begin pouring down the side of his face. Malachi didn’t say a word. Billy fell to his knees and begin to cry. While the tears were flowing down his face, Billy yelled, “Why God? Why God?!”
Betty drove into the garage. Billy heard the garage door and rushed out of the attic and down stairs to greet his wife. He painically wiped the tears from his face and attempted to smile as he opened the door. “Hey, dear. How was service?”
“Oh, Pastor Blake gave a beautiful sermon about living righteous. He told me tell you hi. And so did Barbara.”
“Well, I’m glad you enjoyed your day.” Billy said, trying to not show his face close up because he was still a bit teary eyed.
“Did you get much done today?”
“Not really. After you left I got to feeling bad.”
“I’m sorry, honey. Let me make you some lunch. You gotta be starving. Maybe after you eat you’ll feel better.” Betty with into their room, showered and went to the kitchen to make her husband lunch. Billy went outside, set on the porch and thought about his mom.
Billy was age 10 when his mom, Martha Caldwell, was killed by a drunk driver. The driver, and the other two passengers, apparently had just left a bar that night. Martha had just recently got a night job as a waitress to help her husband with the bills. Around 10:20 pm on a Friday night, Mrs Caldwell was traveling north on Airways and Lamar when a Chevy Caprice ran the light, hitting the minivan, and Martha died instantly. Martha was 33 years young.
Billy cried on the porch of his home, angry and filled with range. He could not get, out of his mind, the three black males, who killed his mom, faces in the courtroom. The verdict for all three was life in prison without the possibility of parole. But since that day, Billy was never satisfied. He wanted them dead.
“Come on in and eat, Honey. I made you a sandwich.”
Billy wiped his face and made his way to the kitchen, where is food set, at the table, ready for him to eat.
Billy and Betty laid in bed after a nice dinner. Betty prepared steak and potatoes and their belly’s were stuffed. And as always, Billy ate to much.
“There you go over there moaning. I told you to stop eating. Why you gotta be so stubborn, honey? Why you gotta eat until you get sick?”
“Well, you gave it to me.”
“Of course I did. I can’t say no because then you’ll just get up and get more.” Betty said with a grin.
“I guess you’re right. But it’s just so darn good. Baby, I love your cooking.”
“Honey, before we go to sleep, I wanted to talk to you about something.”
“Sure, my love, what is it?”
“Billy, we ain’t getting no younger.”
“Yeah, this I know. What are you saying?”
“Just listen. We are going to die one day, rather it be in ten years, next year, next month, or tomorrow morning. We can’t escape death.”
“Baby, where are you going with this?”
“Will you just shut up and listen?”
“We both need to make our peace with God before it’s to late. I mean, when we die, I want to see you, I want to live with you for eternity, just like the Bible says.”
“I’m a good man. I’m going to Heaven. I ain’t done nothing wrong to nobody. Hell, I don’t go out. I don’t do nothing but go shopping with you, play bingo, and go to church. I know I’m going to Heaven.” Billy said, crossing his arms and looking at the ceiling.
“Do you really know? I mean seriously Billy, I love you so much, but you have this hatred in your heart. And you know I’m right. You know it.”
Billy remained silent.
“In the book of Isaiah he writes; “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”
“Honey, I want to be in Heaven with you, forever. Please allow God to soften your heart. If you love me like you say, you’ll do it.”
Billy remained silent.
“I guess you don’t care about my feelings. Goodnight, honey. I love you.”
Billy remained silent.
30 minutes later, Betty was sound asleep. Billy got out of bed, put on his house shoes and tip toed out of the bedroom. He made his way to the attic.
He climbed the attic ladder. Malachi, still there in one piece, wide awake.
“Hey, since you know so much about the Bible, tell me you think I’m going to Heaven.” Billy couldn’t believe he was asking the intruder, the crook, the trespasser, the black kid, his opinion on him going to Heaven. Billy just needed someone other than his wife to talk to.
“Before I answer your question, can we pray together?”
“Hell, I guess.”
They both bowed their heads and Malachi begins to pray.
They start a long conversation about life, God’s Word, and what steps each of them were taking to secure a spot in Heaven. Minutes turned into hours and the conversation only got better.
Family and friends gathered in the Caldwell home after the funeral services for Billy’s mother, Martha Caldwell. She was 33 years young. Martha’s side of the family was large. They filled the tiny two bedroom house. Billy stayed in his room staring at the ceiling, tears rolling down his face. The weather outside, cold and wet. The dark cloud and the rain made the day worst. As the rain hit Billy’s window, he hears a knock on the door.
“Come in.” Billy said.
It was Billy’s father, Johnnie Caldwell. “How you holding up, son.”
“Dad, I’m so angry. I’m so mad.” Billy said, with his eyes blood red from crying.
“It’s ok to be angry. I’m angry too. I just wanna go down to that jail and hang them boys. I told you all blacks were bad. Now, these assholes than took my wife and robbed my boy of a mom.” Johnnie grabbed Billy and gave him a big hug. They both cried.
Billy, hugging his father tight, whispered in his ear, “I hate all black people. I hate niggers.”
Billy’s father hugged him tighter, and replied back, “Me too, son. I hate ‘em too.”
Two years later, Johnnie and his son moved to Senatobia, MS. The two just couldn’t stay at the home anymore. The memories of Martha were to much to handle.
Billy jumped up off the floor, “My God, what time is it?”
“I wouldn’t know, sir. You fell asleep shortly after I started talking about the readings from the book of John.” Malachi said, with a slight smile on his face.
“I gotta go check on my wife!” Billy climbed down from the attic and ran into the bedroom. No Betty. He ran to the kitchen. No Betty. He stormed outside. There she was tending to the flower bed.
“Hey, honey. I didn’t want to bother you. I don’t want to give my surprise up.” She said, on her hands and knees pulling the weeds from the bed. “Why don’t you come join me, honey?”
“Ok, let me go inside and brush my teeth. I’d love to join you.”
Billy looked at himself in the bathroom mirror. He couldn’t believe that the intruder, a black man, made him feel like his mother did when he was young, reading the Bible, relaxing him, and eventually, falling asleep. He starts to brush his teeth. He makes his way back outside. He kneels down next to his wife, “You know, I was thinking, this morning in the attic a lot about what you said last night.”
“And?” said Betty.
“And, I think you’re right. I think it’s time for me to try to change. I wanna go Heaven. I wanna be with you and Heaven. But baby, I’m scared. I don’t know if I can change. I have so much hate in my heart. I mean, I don’t know if I can do this.” Billy starts to cry.
“God will make things right, come here.” Betty extended her arms, and reached for her husband. She whispered in his ear, “He will make things right. I know it. I know it. I love you so so much. Both of us will take the steps necessary to cleanse our hearts and our souls. I wanna go to Heaven, Billy. I wanna be in Heaven with you. Heck, I’ve known you my entire life. I can’t see myself spending eternity without you. I love you.” They continued to hug each other tightly. The sun shined over them both. The butterflies circled them. The birds chirped directly above the tree.
“I love you more, Betty Caldwell. I love you more.”
As the day came to and end, Betty asleep next to her husband, after a long Bible study, followed by prayer. Billy decided to go check on his hostage.
“Malachi, you know, I’m trying to change the way a feel about a lot of things, including the way I feel about you.” Malachi was shocked listening to Billy. Not only was he shocked by what he was saying, but also because this was the first time Mr. Caldwell called him by his name.
“I’m glad to hear that. What can I do, sir?”
“Well, the most important thing right now is releasing you, son.”
“Sir, with all do respect, maybe I should stay here with you and help you. Rather we could help each other.”
“No, my wife would never approve. And, on top of that your still an intruder, gang member whatever the heck you are. And, a rather strange one at that.” Billy laughed.
“Look sir, to be honest, I’m just a kid, a kid without a place to stay. I could stay up here. You can keep the attic door locked. Just untie me, so I can rest.” Malachi laughed.
“I don’t know. This is just strange. Strange.” Billy said, shaking his head.
“No, what’s strange is you tying me to a chair for last 3 days.”
“And, I guess it’s strange that you think you can break into someone’s house?”
“Look, we’re moving to fast. I’m keeping you tied up, I’m sorry. But I’ll no longer use the duct tape for your mouth.”
“Fair enough, sir. I think that’s fair.” Malachi said with a grin.
“Hey, Malachi, it’s getting late. How bout you finish off where you left off last night with the book of John. I think it’s pretty cool how you know the entire Bible so well. And, oddly, how you make feel. It’s like listening to mother, God rest her soul.”
“Ok, we left off on book John. Let’s move to Second John.”
Malachi begins to read, and just like last time, 30 minutes in, Billy falls asleep. Malachi, still reading, and still tied to a chair.
“Mrs. Barksdale, could you please send Billy Caldwell down to office?” The assistant principal speaking over the intercom at Senatobia High School. It was young Billy’s freshman year. Billy proceeded to make his way downstairs to the principal’s office. Billy, a quiet kid, who never got in trouble, couldn’t imagine what he had done wrong. He stepped in the office, a police officer, a priest, and his neighbor all in the room.
“Billy sit down, please.” The principal said, touching his shoulder. “There’s been an accident at your dad’s job.”
“Is he ok?” Billy said, nervously.
The principle looks at the priest, the priest steps around, faces Billy, “Billy, I’m so sorry to tell you this, your father was accidently killed today at the lumber yard.”
Billy, speechless, falls to the floor on his knees, crying and pounding on the floor. “No! No! No! No! This must be a mistake! No! No! No! No! Not my daddy!” The officer, the principle, the neighbor, and the priest, try to console him. But Billy, angry, continues to pound the floor.
“Not my papa! Not my papa! No! No!”
Later that week it was revealed to Billy, now without a mother and a father, that his father was killed by the negligence of a worker at the lumber yard. The employee, a black male, mistakenly dropped a log on Billy’s father, killing him instantly.
Billy set at the lunch table with his friends.
“Hey Billy, there she is Betty Willett.” Said Billy’s friend, Paul. “Man, that is one pretty girl. Billy, you don’t have a chance in hell getting her. I mean, she’s like the prettiest girl in the damn school.”
“Yeah, you’re probably freaking right. Hell, with my luck I’ll never have a girl.”
“Now, don’t go that far, bud. You can get a girl. I’m just not so sure you can get Betty Willett. That girl is smoking!” Paul, trying to make the best of Billy’s negativity, despite having a crush on Betty also. “Go over there in ask her out. I mean it can’t hurt anything, right?”
“I guess not.” Said Billy. Billy makes his way over to her table. “Hey, my name is Billy Caldwell. Would you like to go with me to the football game tonight?” Billy said, sweating, with a coke in hand.
“Nice to meet you, Billy Caldwell. I would like that. I would like that, very much.”
Billy set at the kitchen table. His wife preparing a meal for breakfast. Billy begins to think; I slept in the attic again with an intruder. A black boy who I’m holding hostage. It’s been 4 days. What am I going to do? There is something about that kid. Something that brings me peace. Peace, that’s a strong word. But, he makes me feel peaceful listening to his voice. I feel at peace with myself. I don’t want him to leave. Is there something wrong with me? I mean what am I to do?
“Alrighty, honey, toast, eggs and bacon. Let’s eat. Betty set at the table in front of husband, “You know whatever you got going on for me in that attic must be special. I can’t wait. I just can’t wait.” Billy didn’t say a word about the surprise, or rather the hostage he was holding in the attic. Instead, he quickly changed the subject. “Hey baby, how about we do something different today?”
“Like what?” Beatty asked.
“Hmmm… how about we go in volunteer at that community center across from my old house in Memphis? They are always needing help with the kids.”
“Honey, are you sure you’re ready to be around all those black kids? I know we trying to change in all, but that’s a big jump.”
“Betty, you said it yourself, we can go at any time, next year, next month, or tomorrow. I say it’s time we make things right.”
“Ok, honey, I’m with ya! Do you still have the contact’s name we can call?”
“I sure do. We get mail at my old house all the time about them needing help. I’ll call here after breakfast.”
The drive to North Memphis, to the community center, Harmony Community Center, gave the couple, Betty and Billy time to talk about what they would do at the center.
“You know, I’m not sure I’m ready for this, honey.”
“Betty, you’re the one who is calm and sweet, I’m the bad one. This will be hard for me, considering my past experiences with African Americans. I just pray I don’t say the wrong thing, or act weird!” Billy said, laughing out loud.
“I know we need to change the way we think, but this might be to much. I mean, we have nothing to relate too. How are we supposed to talk to them? What are we supposed to do? Maybe we should just turn around, honey. I’m really nervous about this.”
Billy grabbed Betty’s hand and said, “No, we are not turning around. We are going to the center. The only thing we are turning around, is our lives.”
They pull into the center. Parked the car and proceed to the front door. Outside the center, kids are play basketball on the outside the courts. Kids are playing football on the field. On the sidewalk, some kids, with adults are shooting dice, and arguing about the play.
“Hey my nigga, you either give me my money or it’s going to be a problem. Real talk,” the young man says, standing up with his fist balled up.
Billy, saying to himself, “they call each other the N word.”
Betty grips Billy hand tightly as they continue walking towards the front door. They walk in, and they are immediately greeted by the center’s director, Micah Branch.
“And you must be Billy and Betty Caldwell?”
“Yes sir, that’s us!” Billy said.
“Nice to meet you two. How was the drive?”
“Well, you know, Olive Branch isn’t far. We enjoy the drive to Memphis. You know, I grew up right around the corner.”
“Oh really?” Micah said with a confused look.
“Yeah, but that was 50 years ago. And things have sure changed since then.”
“True,” Micah said, while shaking his head. “Yes, things are different. I also grew up in this neighborhood and I saw firsthand how my community slowly started falling apart. Lack of jobs, poor school systems, and drugs, have made this area a warzone. The drug dealers and gangs control the neighborhood. And our kids are fighting to survive. It’s sad, but I remain hopeful.”
“How long have you worked here at the center?,” Betty said, still holding her husband hand tightly. Betty, nervous, palms were sweating so bad, Billy had to let go of her hand every so often, just to dry his hand off.
“This will be my fifth year. I told myself, after my uncle Larry was killed, when I was 12, that I would educate myself, come back home, and try to make a difference. So, after I left the University of Mississippi, Ole miss, that’s what I did. I came back to help.”
“Good for you, young man. Good for you. So, tell us, what do you need help with today?”
“Well, Mr. Caldwell, we need help preparing lunches for the kids. Basically, just putting the food on trays before the kids come into the dining area. After that, we can definitely find you something else to do. Hopefully, you two can help us all day. We close at 6pm.”
“Sounds good. Take us to the kitchen.”
Billy, Betty, and Micah, make their way to the kitchen. Along the way, the couple notice all the maintenance issues with the building; roof leaks, flooring issues, holes in walls, broken window panes, etc.
“You skipped me, move, get out my way,” one kid screamed, as the kids stand in line waiting to get served in the dining area.
There are over one hundred kids in the dining area waiting for food. Betty and Billy both, serving food, begin to wonder how they will have enough.
“Micah, what happens when you run out of food and you don’t have enough for all the kids,” Betty said, while she made peanut butter sandwiches.
“When we run out, we simply have no choice but to turn down the kids away. That’s unfortunate, but that’s the reality of it. We get funding from the city, but it’s a small amount. I’m grateful and all, and so are the parents, but I just wish someone would step in donate to the center. We really need it.”
As the final kids come through the line, Billy goes over to his wife and says, “Hey, let’s go sit and talk with some of the kids while they eat.”
“Honey, I don’t think that’s a good idea. I wouldn’t know what to say.”
“Don’t worry, let me do the talking.”
“Ok, let me clean my area first,” said Betty, while starting to clean the kitchen.
Together, they walk around the dining area, looking for a spot for two, “There’s a spot. Let’s sit here.”
Billy and Betty sit next to several kids talking about sports and playing after lunch.
“Who you are you?” A young kid asked.
“My name is Billy and this is my wife Betty. What’s your name?”
“My name is Jovontae.”
“Nice to meet you, Jovontae. So, tell me a little about yourself.”
“Not much to tell. I’m 12. I like football and basketball and I want to grow up and be like my brother.”
“I like football and basketball a lot. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the talent to play either in school. I was lucky if the kids picked me at recess to play with them”, Billy said laughing out loud. “So tell me about your brother.”
“His name was Rico.”
“Was,” said Billy.
“He was killed playing basketball outside, four years ago.”
“Killed?” asked Billy.
“Yep. Some dudes was arguing about something, and then, one of them pulled out a gun and just started shooting. He was just shooting all over, and my brother got hit in the neck. My momma says, a bullet ain’t got no name on it. My brother was a star basketball and football player at West High school. He was bout to go to Kentucky to play both, and then that mess had to happen. I’m mad, but ain’t worried, my cousin got the fool that shot my brother, killed him. He in jail now, but at least that man got it.”
“So you lost your brother and your cousin is in jail for killing the guy shot your brother?”
“And how does that make you feel?,” asked Billy.
“Man, I don’t feel nothing. This stuff happens all the time around here. We lose people all the time over violence, and don’t nobody care about us over here in the hood,” Jovontae said, bagging on the table making a beat.
“Why do y’all shoot and kill each other so much?”, Billy asked.
“Billy, don’t ask him that. He don’t know,” Betty said, pulling the shoulder of her husband.
“Naw, it’s ok, and I do know. Maam, there ain’t no jobs. None. Most of the people in my neighborhood want to work, but can’t get a job. They got to live too. They just trying to survive, lady. When they can’t get a job, they start stealing or selling drugs. Then they get caught up.”
“Caught up?,” Betty asked.
“Yeah, either locked up or murdered. And when they go to jail, they can’t get a job at all, because they are now considered felons. Both have an affect on their kids. Most of the time, the kids follow suit.”
“Why not go to school, get a career, or start a business?”
“Lady, that sounds good, but when your teachers don’t care, the schools are crap, you ain’t getting no education, period. When you get out of high school, you just as dumb as when you started. Me and the kids in this community are born with our backs against the wall, challenge after challenge. I don’t have a father in my life and my mom had to drop out of school to take care of me and my four brothers. Yeah, she made some bad choices in life, but we had no control of that shit. We didn’t ask to be brought into hell. We had no damn choice.”
“Hell?,” Billy said, shaking his head.
“Yes, hell, that’s what it feels like we living in.”
“Son, I hate to hear this. Do you have any solutions to the problem?”
“Yeah, pray to God to hurry up and take me out.”
Billy and Betty were speechless.
As the day began to wind down, the couple from Olive Branch, MS, began cleaning up the center. The time was 5:30 pm, and the center would be closing soon.
“I really appreciate you both coming today. I’m sure the kids also enjoyed your company. You two should be leaving soon, you don’t want to be hanging around after dark.” Micah walked them to their car.
“Honey, good night. We did a good thing today. I love you.”
“If you say so,” Billy said, looking at the wall. “If you say so.”
Betty fell asleep and Billy made his way to the attic to check on his hostage, or rather his new talking buddy, Malachi.
Billy enters the attic, Malachi, awake and happy to see Billy. Malachi, glowing says, “Hello, friend. Peace be with you. I trust the Lord is showing you the way.”
“Do you Betty Willett, take Billy Caldwell to be your lawfully wedded husband?”