On a conference call from Miss Louise, Lelia and I heard the news at the same time. Bushi was dead, and Miss Louise wanted to sue the hospital for “killing her baby”. Miss Louise wanted Lelia to make the funeral arrangements. “Flora Lee”, Miss Louise used my childhood name, “I want you to give a short talk, maybe the Twenty-third Psalm. “ Without waiting for a response, Miss Louise went on about the details of Bushi’s death. I sensed that, upon hearing Miss Louise’s voice, my best friend, and Miss Louise’s sister, Lelia, had placed herself in that far off state of consciousness that was her only defense for her family. I guessed that she was on automatic pilot the minute she heard Miss Louise’s voice.
Lelia responded with a deep sorrowful moan. Then, she disengaged, as only she could do, for self-preservation. She was good at it, too She had to be. It was because of her capacity to shell herself from her family, she had managed to survive. Even on the phone I could feel Leila fall into her expected role. Around her family, Lelia performed with a precision that was unnerving. She, more than most, seemed to understand the method to life’s madness. Neither she not I had been back to the neighborhood in almost thirty-five years. Even back then, I could not understand Lelia’s servitude to her family, or her deference to Miss Louise. Things appeared to be the same and we were years older. Lelia had moved to San Jose just after college and had only returned, so I had heard, for births and deaths. I knew she was married, but I didn’t know much more.
As I recalled, Lelia got none of the attention Miss Louise had demanded and got on her sixteenth birthday. Her family had, for the most part, ignored her turning fourteen. I had made a cake and taken her to a movie. Miss Louise had celebrated her birthday for more than a week. Lelia was essentially Miss Louise’s maid. I asked her why she was self effacing around Miss Louise. “My grandmother says I am especially chosen. She says I was born to serve them so that the signs of Yahweh might be revealed in me. Believe me,” she continued with a sigh, “I long for the day when I can run away from these folks. She knew her place in the Creek family, and she knew what she had to do to be in good standing. She moved quickly to it, without apparent thought or resistance.
I had come back to the neighborhood for? I was not sure for what reason I was there. Lelia had said that Bushi’s funeral was scheduled on Tuesday morning. It was Saturday. What would I do with three days in South Los Angeles. One thing was certain, I would not look up old friends. I had long since left behind the days and times of Miss Louise and Bushi. Since leaving I had encountered life far more complicated than the neighborhood in which I had grown. I decided to park my car on Main Street and walk the quarter mile to my neighborhood park. I wasn’t expecting, nor did I want to meet anyone I knew.
She saw me before I saw her. She was the last person I wanted to see. The neighborhood news bearer, Doris Wheatley, now in her late eighties, was taking the same walk she had taken every day, I’ll bet since I left. She came up behind me as reversed my direction. I had decided, upon spotting her, to drive to my old park, after all. “I thought that was you. “You her sister’s friend, you is,” Mrs. Wheatley remarked. “I remember you.” I said nothing. I, instead, focused on the neighborhood changes. There were paved, clean streets, smoothly cut lawns dressing tiny houses. More than half of the houses had been converted to large, two-story apartment buildings with strong security fences surrounding them. Beautiful flowers decorated the huge entrances.
I asked Doris Wheatley how she had been, falling back on uninspired home training. She ignored the question. It was clear that she had something to say. She asked if I had seen Louise. I explained that I would see her later. “Where she gon’ be?’ By now Doris had heard about Bushi. From previous history, Doris Wheatley knew Miss Louise would be in the midst of her classic “fit” over her son’s death.
As she was moving toward a neatly trimmed walkway. I sensed she had something to say. What the heck did she want. Doris added casually, “Bushi and Edie died the same day and they also be buried on the same day. Waddya’ know about that??? So sad, jes’ so sad”. I made the mistake of showing surprise. “Now, don’t you go unsetting that Louise, you hear?? I’ll see her at the repass.” It was clear that Doris wanted to be the first to tell Miss Louis the Edie-died- too news. So, it was either divinely planned or it was by chance that I learned that Bushi and Edie died the same day. I knew Miss Louise would be compelled to respond. In fact, you could bet that she would have plenty to say.
Satisfied, Doris Wheatly entered one of the newer apartment buildings on the corner of Main and 124th street. I had not said anything, but her news was news. I was far less than a fan, but Edie Avalona Williams had certainly left her mark on the neighborhood. Anyone who came in contact with Edie would sooner or later conclude that she was one of, if not the meanest people in life. You ever meet one of those? There seemed to always be a burr just under her butt that made one sense a danger residing just below the surface. You know, when you are clear, sight unseen, about their capacity for uheeded volcanic eruption. You just hope it won’t happen in your presence. One day you know that, without constant ferverent prayer, you will erupt, too.
Bushi, it must be said quickly, was The Statement on mean and nasty. Edie, without a doubt, was the other meanest one. Oh yes, you can have two mean ones in the same block. Wherever they landed in their passing, they are together, of this I am entirely certain. Equal in their contempt for one another, wherever they are, they are still snarling, even in death.