RETURN OF THE PRODIGAL CHILD
(by Jeffery Massey, Sr.)
Nirvanna Tyler, a young homeless former gang member
Jack 'Max' Tyler, Nirvanna's father and local patrolman.
Mary Tyler, Jack's ex-wife and local family therapist.
Hal David, Nirvanna's estranged boyfriend, a newspaper reporter.

Setting: Conference room in Mary's office building.
Time: The following day.
Situation: Nirvanna, the young bum, enters into the office of Mary Tyler, Family Therapist.

I remembered how I kept watching the sky, looking for a break in the dark storm clouds so I could see the bright spot of twinkling light that was Mars at its closest point to Earth. I had no idea, then, what it might be like to die on another planet. Especially when living on this one was a fate worse than death itself to me.

As the street lights in the alley slowly dim, I watched
a faintly glowing reddish ember appear within the dark entrance of my
cardboard menagerie. Drifting puffs of cigarette smoke rose from the entrance as muffled voices argued a stone's throw away. My bleary-eyes burned as I crouched like a tiger in the rain; the sole occupant of a forlorn cave, thumping my depleted butt into the wet alley. The still dawn was torn by agonizing shrieks of pain as my crooked index finger teasingly caressed the crimson-red stream of rainwater flowing away.
Peering in the direction from which the red tide flowed, the thump of a body hitting the ground and scurrying feet running away merged together, like some insane Miles Davis jazz crescendo.
My young bum's face emerged out of the darkness of my cardboard home. I focused my world-weary eyes just in time to look upon the horrifying image of his childhood friend's face, frozen in the contorted agony of violent death. As I warily staggered, still suffering from yet another night of cheap wine and no food, I drew nearer to my fallen comrade. Bursts of thunder rattled nearby garbage cans as bolts of lightening reflected off the bayonet buried in the back of the fallen corpse that was once my drinking buddy. Falling to my knees, like Belafonte begging Carmen for one last chance, my young bum's tears fell from my face in anguish. They washed my soot-blackened face as if anointing my grief and dripped onto a small, plastic-wrapped ledger. I, a young bum, tenderly closed my dead comrade's eyes. It was a fitting moment, I thought, for me to perform this last rite for Dropsy. We had both earned the right to fail miserably in escaping ghetto life and the alley life was our just reward. I picked up what the law-dogs would've called Doug's 'personal effects' and staggered down the narrow alley, clutching the shoe-box and the ledger. I entered the basement entrance of a small office building. The doorway seemed oh so tiny as my five-foot ten, 145 pound frame tried to pretend as if

it could masquerade for a healthy physique. Shit, I thought, what the hell do I do now? Looking up at the dark heaven, I couldn't hear any answer. Maybe, nobody was home. It didn't matter cause' the old adage was true. You can't go home anymore.
The sound of pouring rain mixed with flashes of electrical violence as if the mind of God was having a migraine form all the bullshit going on down here. What is it you would have me to do? Water dripped off the dilapidated brim of my 'Your Best Bet is to Hire a Vet' ball cap. My stomach was killing me but, I thought, it better just get in line with everything else trying to do me in.
The words from my lips, like notes from Coltrane's bittersweet horn. Always haunting me when I was about to fuck something up. Always there inside my head, watching and waiting like a pillar of the unnatural.
My reflection, cast by the shimmering puddle on the ground beneath my feet showed my rain-soaked, Indian-black hair pressed against my high cheekbones and partially hiding my blood-shot, caramel-colored eyes.

"Is this how it's all gonna' end..."
I knew no answer was coming. Only a fool expected a life of lies to tell the truth. A life that forces me to kow-tow in cartoon roles on life's stage as if I was adorned with a minstrel-like stereotype as my costume.
"But I'm refusing to go quietly into the night. I am not an animal. I am a human being."
Suddenly, the early morning action took its toll as I started to shake uncontrollably. I couldn't tell if it was the 'drunken shakes' or malnutrition. Doug's stabbing sure didn't help. They'll be looking for me real soon now. And here I am, in this God-forsaken alley, on the outskirts of a fresh, new millennium. Hungry, alone and afraid. "Yet, still I dream. You can't take that away from me."
"Why can't I, Nirvanna?" a voice inside me answered. What moves into that vacant apartment of my soul after life has served the eviction notice on my humanity?
For Doug and I it was creeping anger and desolate fear that took up residence in our hearts. Just like those of us who thrive in urban jungles of despair, still swinging to the distant beat of Zulu and Mau-Mau war drums. Senseless violence and fiendish cruelty; was it all that's left for me? I don't know whether caring matters anymore. It has no place in this hell on earth existence and yet, I still care what happens. I don't know why. I only feel that somewhere in my life, someone touched my mind and planted the seed of
dreams. A concept, idea or image that haunts the reality of who I am and where I'm at right now; sitting hungrily alone like a tiger in the rain, trying to explain the thunder, the lightening and the pain. My animal existence of kill or be killed burns away at my seed of dreams. Like an old Charley Parker piece, singing songs and hitting notes of anarchy. I whispered within myself, on the waves of the homeless life I led. I am sinking. With that thought still alive, I slithered into the office building of Mary Tyler, Family Therapist. "Ha! The gangs all here!" I hollered, startling all within the conference room.
"In the words of America's Michael Buffer, let's get ready
to r--u--m--b--l--e!" I paused, still displaying my best sardonic grin. "Here I am, in the company of three bonafide pillars of the black community. What's up? Are you all combining your 'superior' wisdom and insightful prudence to resolve the problem of coping with a menace to society like me?"
I saw Jack seated along the far end of the table, brooding and seething, before replying. "And here we are, honored with the presence of the
biggest screw-up since Jerry Lewis in the 'Disorderly Orderly."
Home-Boy, you've had more chances to straighten up and fly
right than a compulsive liar in a monastery. Still sending cash to
the cleaners instead of dirty laundry? Or does blood money
not bother too you much?"
I shrugged off the remarks with a disgusted look before
replying. "Well lookie' here! Seated to my left, the guardian-enforcer of law and order. You've got fifteen years experience at arm-twisting, rail-roading Gestapo tactics. Always inflicted on your fellow brothers in the vain hope of getting that elusive promotion. Eh, Sergeant Jack Tyler? How many night-shift nurses, on their way to work, did you strip search? How many housewives have you accused of loitering as prostitutes while they waited for a bus?"
Hal was looking preoccupied with his sculptured dreadlocks twirling around in his new weave. "I see time in the joint and stints at those luxurious homeless shelters haven't taught you a lick of manners, Nirvanna."
"On my right, the voluptuously beautiful and equally
deceitful embodiment of journalistic craft and integrity. Hal David, who wields the power of the press like a master butcher carving up her blue-plate special."
I laughed with that Louis Armstrong, guttural laugh that I knew she hated. Mary bolted upright and let loose. "If you had half a brain, you'd be dangerous. That's typical of your kind. Showing no grace, no etiquette and no appreciation for the finer things in life. It's those like you who'd like to burn intellectuals at the stake along with their books. The only thing you cozy up to is beating your chest in the middle of some third world banana republic where the law of the jungle rules.
"Last, but not least, at the head of the table we find the penultimate advocate of moral, social and behavioral academic standards, Mary. A consummate
professional who ironically claims to solve relationship conflicts for her paying customers. She lives the hypocrisy of her inability to resolve problems within her own family. The only thing more twisted than the client-families you
treat, is that you're treating them, Ma."

Mary hollered," Boy, you've got a lot of nerve
crashing in here and accusing everyone like this. Just look
at you, sitting there stinking, dripping wet and carrying a
damned gun. Your father and I have been looking for you for
weeks now, but who can find you. All you've done with your
life is turn out to be a low-life bum who hangs out with a
bunch of thug-loving, drug-dealing gang-bangers intent upon
destroying anything and everyone who contribute positive value
to the very neighborhoods you live in. We know your in deep
trouble but I'm at the end of my rope with you. I can't help
you if you don't listen to me."

Jack glared menacingly and said, "You're in over your head son.
Look, I know what happened to your friend this morning. The
two of you have been marked ever since you started running
with those scum-sucking bangers. Now, they're after you for a
pound of flesh and you come running in here with a piece.
I've got half a mind to smack your silly butt upside the head
with the business end of that rod." He began rising threateningly out
of the cheap wicker chair. "Just because your mother and I
aren't together don't mean you can bring her this grief..."

My upper lip snarled with contempt as my gun hand
quickly squeezed off a warning shot across my father's
impending advance. Jack hastily fell back into his seat
as Mary and Hal curled protectively below the
table's edge.

Enraged, I shouted, "Sit down and shut up, all of you."

Hal looked flustered and confused. "Listen baby, I
know you're upset but just let me leave and I won't say
anything. (Crying) Your doin' all this because of Phil and
me, aren't you? I didn't hurt you, Phil did. Please let me
go."
I shook my head and laughed. "Chill out sweet thang, we're all in this together. You people make me sick. How long do you think you, can go on ruining
the lives of people who love you and get away with it?"

Jack said, "What the hell do you mean?"

Mary joined in saying, "Jack, before you arrived I asked
Hal to stop by and shed some light on our son's state of mind up to today." She sternly glanced Hal's way and whispered, "You knew Nivranna worshipped the
ground you walk on and yet, you went on seeing his best
friend, Phil, behind his back; knowing if he ever found out
it would send him over the edge. I couldn't piece together
what someone like you, a successful newspaper reporter with a
reputation for knocking hood-rats like my son and Phil,
would ever see in linking up romantically with either."

Hal looked outraged. "I beg your pardon! I can't help it
if Nirvana fell head over heels in love with me. He
knew if he wanted to get with me he'd have to change his
street ways and get a life. I don't have no time for another
black man stuck in the ghetto with no job and no future."

"Is that all?"

"Chemistry between us was good, at first, but in the end all
we did was argue about my pushing him to do better and be
the kind of man I need for my life to go places. He just didn't
rate, although I give him an E for effort in trying to pull
his life together. I just don't have the time to nurse him
again. I gotta take care of myself, so don't blame me for
breaking the poor boy's heart. Especially, with all he told
me about how his Ma and Pa fought viciously, how the both of
you abused him emotionally and then cheated on each other.
You've no regard for it's effect on him or your marriage. You
better check yourself before you point a finger of blame at
me. By the way Mary, how is Rev. Kirk hangin' these days?"

Jack was blistering with venomous rage. "You two-bit excuse
For a gossip column tattle-tale. People I know have dropped the
word on you and I've had your number for a long time. Your
nothing but an opportunistic, mooching little tramp who saw a
way to get another story."

"You don't mind using someone like Nirvanna to further
your own career. You'd sell out your mother if you could score some points. Nirvanna didn't know about your undercover story, did he?" Jack said.

Hal leapt up, with a self-righteous pose. "Get with the
program,
you tired old dog." "What do ya Mean?" Jack responded. "Just what the hell makes you so special Miss She's All That?" "Been that way and always will be, " Hal said. "So like the title says, I'm O.K. and you're not; sorry about your luck."

I looked at my father. I still called him Sgt. Jack at times
of trouble.

"Which story matters the most, Pa? Maybe, the one Hal
sniffed out about Phil and I?"
Jack sounded irritated and angry as he blurted out "Sniffing, like the dog bitch he is."

Mary asserted herself and blurted out, "Don't go there Jack! Women have
a right to stand on their on two feet and choose what life
they live without a need for condescending approval from
men. Why is it men are so insecure that they attack whatever they
can't control? Hal and Nirvanna are up to their necks in
trouble and she's trying to tell us why."

Tense and irritated, I stared into space. "We were making police payoffs to seventh district Narcs for protection, transport and to look the other way. My gang bought assault weapons, crack and stolen goods provided with a seal of approval from city hall. Sure, I knew all along what she was up to, but I thought she loved me and believed in my trying to get out."

Looking forlorn, Hal replied: "I loved being in love with you; and it scared me to death."

Acidly, I spate on the floor. Blood streaked mucous just missed a scrambling spider near the varnished floorboard. "He used me and chewed me up. When I refused to stay in the criminal flow of information, he dumped me like a hot potato. I got crazy for him and he wouldn't return my calls or see me
anymore. Then, two days ago I see her and my best friend, Phyllis, pulling into the Low-Rider motel. I stood by the door and could hear her laughing about how she'd played me like a violin, how only a real man could satisfy her and be part of her future." I turned and looked at Jack. "But for me there's another story as well. The one about you and my mother." Mary pleaded, "Please, don't do this to yourself."

"Let him speak, Mary."

I was nervous, but spoke out anyway. "I made this crappy situation for myself but Ma hated you Dad. She despised the role of police officer's
wife and every time you got drunkenly abusive towards us,
after a rough night out on the beat, she vowed revenge
against you in any and every way. She blamed you for turning
her life into a nightmare where the filth of the streets
followed you home. As you became sullied with its depravity,
some of it rubbed off on us. She turned to the church for
salvation and found it in the arms of Rev. Kirk. She turned
her rage towards the one thing that best reflected you in her
life, me."
Jack drew his 6'4" hulking frame into an attack posture. "I don't hate you, I hate what you stand for. When I grew up this neighborhood was a decent place to live. Old folks could walk down to the corner store without fearing
being attacked by young punks looking for a fast buck and an
cheap thrill. Kids could play in at the park playground
without dodging bullets from drive-byes or being beaten to
death by gang recruiters."

"You're still stuck in the past, old dude, I said. "Times
have changed and we're not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy!"
Jack was incensed and furious by now. "Mothers could walk to the bus stop on their way to work without fear of being raped, robbed and accosted by homeboys calling them whores. Fathers could play with their sons in front of their homes without dope-boys hassling them to cop some blow and crack houses springing up next door. You didn't need bars on every window and a gun whenever you emptied the garbage."

Mary interrupted with her 'as a matter of fact' voice pouring out as smoothly as a Bobbi Humphrey flute solo. She made me think of "Harlem River Drive." "Not until people like you decided it was your right to tear down the last refuge black folk have to live out their lives with some manner of dignity."

Hal said, "All in the name of anarchy. Your kind is a plague
that may just destroy what little we have. You worship death
and destruction of hope, respect and civility."

Jack began gesturing dramatically, as if he were directing traffic on Michigan Ave. in 'Chi-Town.' "You hate your fathers and curse your mothers while gunning down anything that moves. You've turned our children into cold-blooded killers of other children, yet, beg for mercy and demand justice when the jig is up. You elevate 'prison mentality' to an art form and believe you've enriched the world with your music, fashion and in-your-face lifestyle." The images of NWA and TuPac Shakur took shape in my mind. "Now you wonder why your being erased from a society that you taught to fear you. It's like a serial killer not understanding why he's getting the chair. No remorse, no conscience."
I wasn't impressed by his words. I didn't care anymore. Or did I? "And who better to teach it to us but the masters of our lives; people like you. How many children are out there learning the twisted values of our fathers?"
Mary looked defensively somber, her long Indian-thick locks of hair began to show the grayish streaks middle-age, but not wisdom. "You're out of your mind."
Reflexively, I began tugging on my tattered, second-hand coat. "People like Doug and I would watch as your kind taught us to praise greed in all its forms. Committing deception, coercion and brutal intimidation was all the same to you. The old, the poor and the sick. Like unfeeling parasites you suck away the life of everyone you come in contact with, as though their only purpose for being was to service your needs. You beat your wives and treat your children like some throw-away trash that should be discarded when its usefulness has expired."
Jack said, "Seems a little late for you to give a Sermon on the
Mount. You can't even spell the truth; much less see it."
Pissed off, I venomously sprayed my words at them all. "Spoken like a true hypocrite. You cheat, lie and steal six days a week then, on Sunday, march off to church to reinforce the charade you play as upstanding God-fearing citizens. You lie to us, telling us all what a good future we can have if only we abide by your rules and values."

"That's right. It's how I made it, you
asshole!"

"You said 'The American Dream' of a house,
good job and secure family can be our heritage if we listen
to you, you say. All the while you sell out and steal away
the very future promised to us, your children, in order to have
it all for yourselves right now."
Mary: "That's enough. I've taken all I can stand of your
juvenile ravings about our morality. You sound like a spoiled
brat who can't find it in his heart to have gratitude for
the food on the table or the roof over his head. We've bent over
backwards to leave you with the best we could."

"You leave us nothing but broken homes, promises not kept
and dreams deferred. We're left to our own devices to
survive. It's almost as if you hope we don't make it to your
future. We're the reflections of all your mistakes and now
you want someone else to clean up the mess you've made. The
only legacy you've left me is your hypocrisy."

Hal started with that emphatically devious tone peculiar only to him. "Nirvanna, we can still make this all work."
"How?"
"Let me call my editor." "What for?" "By tomorrow we can use the ledger, your friends murder and your testimony to break the biggest story on police corruption since Frank Serpico. Your father and mother can provide supporting corroboration."

I Sneered icily as Nancy Wilson's "Guess Who I Saw Today" permeated my thoughts.

"You still don't get it. Jack's name is in the book along with Rev. Kirk who's listed as the owner of this office building."
"Why are you telling me that?" I looked at Ma and thought about Marvin Gaye's "Mercy, Mercy Me."
"You knew about this all along didn't you Ma? The gang has been funneling the payoffs through Kirk, who's skimming money off the top to finance real estate schemes, redevelopment projects and my mother's family practice agency. In order to bury the whole bloody mess, the suits have to have a fall guy to go down after they've regained possession of the black book. Your new boyfriend, Phil, has been elected to prove he can clean this all up. And that includes you, sweet thang. That's why you are here, isn't it Jack?"

Jack was sighing tiredly. "Not quite so simple as that girl.
I knew it was you in that cardboard box back in the alley this
morning. I led the other cops away by faking like someone may
have heard us, after we failed to find the book. No matter
what you think of me, I've always loved you. In some
ways you may be right about the life I provided for you and
your mother. Perhaps, it's all my fault."

"You damned skippy it is."
"I never intended to cross the line this far. But I wanted to provide you and your mother with what was needed for us to be comfortable. The
department kept passing me over for promotion year after
year, despite good scores. I got fed up with playing the good
guy while everybody in the district 'cruised on the pad.'
But they've gone too far expecting me to take out my own son,
wife and an innocent reporter. By now they must know I didn't
go through with it. They'll be sending in the clean-up crew
real soon now. There's not much time left."

I watched my Ma and pensively reached for the shoe box.
"Ma, it's later than you think." Opening the box, I revealed several sticks
of dynamite wired to an alarm clock.

Mary was sobbing sporadically. "Oh dear God. You can't do
this. It's wrong. We can't be made to pay for the awful mistakes
of our past ignorance raising you. Killing us can't erase the
anger and betrayal you feel. Murdering us will not free you
from the pain of who and what you are."

"I didn't come here to do you in. It just turned out
that way. We're all rotten to the core. Maybe we belong
together."

"We are still your parents, forever.
Lord knows I tried to be a good mother to you and provide
the
love and guidance a growing girl needs, in spite of your
father's absence. I worked my fingers to the bone going to
night school, waiting on tables and providing a roof over
your head. The older you became, the more rebellious your
attitudes towards my authority over you were. I was lonely
and tired of struggling to make ends meet when Rev. Kirk came
into my life. I didn't mean for anything intense to happen,
it was an accident. Once things started between us I couldn't
stop, even after his wife found out. I believed in what he
preached."

I heard sounds coming from the background. The screeching
tires came to a halt as car doors began to slam shut. The constant ticking of time-bomb's clock mixed with the anxiously deep breaths of the rooms occupants. I thought of Dizzie Gillespie and Duke Ellington. I thought of "Let's Take the A Train." I thought of my father and his father. All our fathers.

Jack stood and sauntered to the window, briefly peering out
through blinds. "Nirvanna, what the hell is it that makes us so
right one moment and so very wrong the next? How can so much
bad come from something that started out so good? Can it ever
be turned around?"
I sat there, staring sadly at Hall as I answered. "Sometimes,
all you can do is whatever God left you tools enough to do at that moment.
I heard the booming thunder shake the window as lightening
flashed. I glanced out the window.
Then Jack, whirling around with service revolver in hand, sprung into action. I wasn't ready for it. "I'm sorry for all the years I let life steal from us what we could've had together." The room exploded with the sound of
Jack shooting me.
Hal hysterically shouted, "N-o-o-o, don't kill her, Mr.
Tyler." I began to bleed. "I love her...I don't care about the story."

I reeled as he lunged toward me. The shot sent me head over heels.
I found myself lying upended in my chair. In shock, I grasped my
wounded gun arm.

"You shot me. Now we're all going to die. The bomb is set to go off in three minutes. The shot forced me to release the dead man's trigger. Get out of here while you still can."

Jack was turning towards Mary and speaking softly. "Take
the kids and the ledger and run for it. There's just enough time for
you to escape if I hold them off. Be sure to straighten
those two out after the story hits the headlines. They really
remind me of how we once were. Confused, afraid but in love
all the way. Tell her thanks for giving her old man one last
chance to do right. Tell her don't let me down. Now
beat it. I've got some unfinished business with the suits
who want to destroy my family."

My mind was dim as Mary and Hal dragged me out of door. In
The darkness, the sounds of gunfire, sirens and a horrific
Explosion resounded. Before I passed out, I heard George Benson
playing 'Nature Boy' for me over and again.

We were seated in the rear booth of a local railway
coffee shop. Mary, Hal and I somberly gazed out of a
sun-drenched window. The low hum of ceiling fans slicing
through the oppressing pall of the noonday's heat mingled
curiously with sounds of clanging dishes, ringing registers
and sporadic public announcements proclaiming arrival and
departures to distant points of refuge. Mary glanced at her
watch as she crushed out yet another cigarette into an already filled ashtray. She was dressed stylishly in pastel-blue sun dress, matching flats and expensive straw panama hat. She removed her Ray-Ban shades to peer diligently
into her make-up mirror as she proceeded to touch up her lipstick.
I shifted uneasily in my seat as Hal pensively sipped on a cup of steaming hot
coffee. Before him, on the table lies an opened letter from
my deceased father, Jack. It was given to him by Mary at the train
station. Both he and my mother were unaware of it's contents.
Mary slid her carry-on luggage along the base of the booth as she spoke.

Mary said," Well, I suppose it's all over now." Jack, God rest his
soul, was given a decent burial with departmental honors at
least." Even with the corruption story being released, you
decided to leave our involvement out of it, Hal." Jack
would've wanted it that way." The Justice Department will be
taking care of the major players like Phil and Rev." Kirk
thanks to our depositions." Maybe now some good will come from
all this for a decent change in the old neighborhood." In a
way, I'm glad we'll be moving on to a fresh start." You
haven't touched your breakfast son, what's troubling you?

I fingered with my sling.

Hal said," We all beat up on ourselves. We can learn from our mistakes."

"My past changes how I see my future," I said.

Mary said," Your father wanted you to do something with your life." You were such a smart kid in school. How did things turn out like this?"

Hal said, "Listen up; we all had dreams of becoming something
great." I thought I'd be the next great American author,
writing fantastically profound works of literature loved by
all." Every year, while at college, I immersed myself in the
ideals of standing up for journalistic integrity, the quality
of craft and serving as a defender of free speech and public
truth." But life ain't easy and it's a cold, cruel world,
baby."

Mary said," Naiveté' doesn't lend itself well to the
brutal fact that being a pawn of mass media entails serving
the bottom line on every level."

Hal said," Get the story at all costs." Never mind the
sensitivities of a distraught mother, anguishing over her
dead son gunned down in the streets." Push the mike into her
face, focus the camera on her grief and let the world feel
her most private pain." If it bleeds, it leads because we say
it sells." And just what are we selling to the public? Images
created that reflect the self-serving editorial decisions of
profit oriented news executives who decide how the reported
vision of their reality will be seen by the public eye." It's
all a game and the fix is in." We see the world as they
want us to see it." The hands controlling the camera's have
become the writers of public reality and the erasers of
unacceptable existence.""

Mary said," The game and how to play it is all there is for them."
But, your father gave his life to give us a second chance to
run our feet down another path and make a difference, no
matter how small."

"Yeah, a lot of help you gave him," I said. "You pushed him over the edge."

Mary said," There was nothing I could do then." I was trapped
between a rock and a hard place ." Your father was gone and I
was working my way through college while raising you at the
same time." Decent affordable day care didn't exist for us
then." I did the best I could."

"I guess your right, momma."

Hal said, "Don't just sit there and let her put you down
for how you turned out. I love you, but I won't let you do this to yourself or
her." Is this how your son will be talking to me one day? Mary, you
could've had something of a stable home life if you had tried
to give her a chance."

I said," I began realizing all those boyfriends you let stay with
you were abused you."

Mary said," You should've known better. My heart wasn't that
simple."

Mary (rising up as all begin to gather their belongings and
head for the train) said," You know, we're always feeling threatened by loss."

Hal said, "Yes, but how do we hang on to our humanity in the darkness of this jungle we live in?"

I took my mother's hand and said, "I am my father's
daughter."

Hal (gripping Nirvanna's arm tightly) said, "Long as you love me
we'll have more in common than the ways in which we're
different. If that's all we'll ever have, then it is more
than we'll ever need."

Nirvanna (bestows a gentle kiss upon Mary and Hal) said," I think
the greatest gift I know is the love from my father and mother.

But, this love; I'm not so sure that it loves
me." Maybe that's why I never give up fighting for my
dreams. It's the one, shared human quality I can own that no
one can take away."

Calls declaring 'all aboard' filled the air as we disappeared into the dimming lights.

The Amtrak commuter train, enroute to San Francisco carried us and an assortment of various passengers, railway support employees and conductors into the advent of imminent nightfall. Several hours had past since the we boarded. The train hurried on, speeding into the moon-lit summer countryside.

As the poetic scenery of rolling hillside glide blithely by the dimly lit observation windows of our car, we sipped away at cool refreshments, uneasily glancing at one another as if to speak. The murmur of background chit-chat
and conductors punching other rider's tickets melded with a gentle side to side jostling caused by the train. Soft jazz music played over the train's loudspeaker.

Mary pensively caressed her carry-on bag which sat next to
her. Hal and I were seated in front of her. I found myself becoming curious about mother's bag, our future. I didn't want Hal to follow suit and notice my slightly protruding lower abdomen. It seemed he was concerned over the contents of my father's unopened letter. It haunted me.

Hal looked at me and said, "Hey lover, looks like you
could stand to drop a couple of pounds."

Mary remarked with a distracted expression on her face, "Now son, let's not get started on jumping down the poor girl's throat about her figure. Seems we've more than enough worries to hold our attention."

"Here we are," I said, "sneaking off toward parts unknown and trying to
survive with little or no money. That's more important than
how I look to you right now."

Hal said with a sheepish grin, "Nirvanna, I don't feel like being
bothered with your bull crap."

"Look, I haven't been feeling to well lately. All this stress is getting to me and your attitude's not making me feel any better. So back off, baby."

"Back off of what? I've been noticing your mood swings and how you've been making a lot of trips to the bathroom. You've been throwing up, haven't you? Are you pregnant?"

Now I was concerned and defensive. I said, "I wanted to tell you all
about it ever since this morning. I just found out from the clinic
right before we came to the train station."

Hal began gesturing wildly and exclaimed, "Of all the times for me to get knocked up, why now?"

Mary said, "My God, it's a blessing in disguise for you two. Maybe, in some small way, your pregnancy is just what the two of you need to strengthen
your love." Perhaps now can stand up and be a man for you
and the child, Hal."

Hal just peered out into the dark night somberly. Then he shouted, "Stand up and
be a father and husband, eh? I think we're forgetting one little detail in all this confession." Is this child my baby or Phil's? Well, which is it?"

I sat sternly staring into Mary's stunned eyes before responding, "I don't
know. It could belong to either one of you." I know I should
have told you that I suspected as much but I wasn't sure."
Anyway, what difference does it make who the baby's
biological father is, so long as he has you to love and
support him." You will be the only father he'll ever know."
Shouldn't that be enough for us---for him?"

Mary was shaken. "Let me get this straight. You
had a feeling you might be with child while you led Hal to
believe you and he could rekindle your relationship." You
never intended to tell him the boy might not be his own." What
on earth possessed you to think you could slide on by with
deceiving him and manipulating his love for you in order to
get off the hook as an unwed mother?"

I grasped Hal's arm and answered, "All my life, I've been
dumbfounded to explain why men have such an effect on my trust.
I can't explain how I allow my faith and love to become so misguided and used by you. It's as if I knowingly set myself up for the pain and failure that
follows falling in love with someone who doesn't love me
in quite the same way. I guess I get just what I ask for from all the men in my life."
Hal said, "Still, I'm shaky on why deception is so vital to how women like you relate to me. Your mother lied to you for years about Jack. Now you lied to me about your relationship with Phil. Then this latest little secret,
when all I ever wanted from you was honesty. Can you ever really be
truthful with me or must we always play our dark games of deceit? What is it you fear? That someone might see you as you really are?"

"I was afraid that you would leave me behind. I was frightened that if you knew me for the things I did, you'd never accept me for what I could become." I was so busy knocking you for all your faults that I didn't realize I forced them onto you. I tried to prevent my attention from focusing on faults within me. As long as I could put you and those like you down, I never had to challenge my own illusion of power. But I have changed. Loving you has done that and if
you'll help me learn to reveal that which I cannot see within
me, my love will grow and so will I. Give me a chance to regain your faith in me, baby."

Mary said sarcastically, "I've heard enough of this philosophical
bull. You two remind me why men like your father should never be trusted in the first place."

I said, "Let him rest in peace. You manipulated him from the
very start." He came to the conference room at your request
and you knew his guilt over how he treated the two of us
would force him into the sacrifice he made." Dear God Ma, you
wanted him to come in and clean up the mess we all made even
at the cost of his life." It left you free to avoid blame and
still profit from ill-gotten gains you and the reverend
skimmed away."

Mary said," What on earth do you mean."

I said," Look in your bag, Ma."

Mary frantically searched her carry-on. "The money, it's not
here! What have you done to me, you fool."

Hal returned to his seat after conversing with a conductor. "That's right, Mrs." Tyler." Nirvanna and I wondered how long you would go on allowing us to believe we were safe." You knew that-once the skimmed funds were discovered missing by
the reverend and those seventh district cronies, our lives wouldn't be worth a bag of nails." You never intended on living with us in San Francisco." That's why I checked the ticket counter to see if a women fitting your description
bought a fare for any other cities."

"It must be nice down in Nevada this time of year," I said, "huh Ma? We took the money and placed it in a train station locker." Here's the key." I threw the locker key onto her lap. "They know the money's there at the last station we
passed through." If you want it, you may still have just enough time to make it back, from our next arrival, to the locker. Hal and I don't need your blood money."

"Please Mrs. Tyler, stay with us and let sleeping dogs
lay. You can still change the way you are."

Mary, rising up as the train pulled into the next station said,"
It's easy for you two to think about staring over broke." But
I'm a middle-aged used up divorcee who needs every advantage
she can get." I can't change and wouldn't try, even if I gad
the chance." Like an old tigress who can't change her stripes,
I stopped believing in the illusion of love, truth and
happiness long ago." My truth is the reality that the money in
that locker is mine and the future for me is regaining it."
I've relied upon my wits and cleverness for all these years
to get me everything I have, so I'm not about to stop now." I
don't have faith enough anymore that I can." If anything
happens to me put me near your father. Here's his letter." I've got to go now, so long my baby." She held my hand and opened her mouth as if to speak. Then
she left the train.

I opened the envelope from daddy and discovered the deed to a home in Atwater, California, along with a check for $10,000. I said, "My God Hal. Stop the train.
We've got to get Ma back with us."

"No Nirvanna. Let her follow her own destiny. She'll get us killed. I think your father knew that and gave us that deed to the house in Atwater and the ten grand for us to have a chance at keeping our family together." A chance he never
took advantage of." It's his way of asking your forgiveness for his wrongs.

"What do you mean?"

"By raising his grandson to be a better person than any of us."