The Village of Hope

Raymond Washington woke up with a throbbing headache. The overhead fluorescent lights burned, making him squint. He realized he was lying on some sort of cot, and tried to recreate the events leading up to this. That was the bitch about blackouts, the black holes as he called them, the time lost.

“Take it slow, my brother, you’ve had a rough few days. I can get you something to eat if you think you can hold it down. Here, drink this.”

Ray’s eyes popped open and found a way to work perfectly when he heard the strange voice. Looking at the venerable elder wearing a kufi on his graying head, he noted the ropy muscles lining the man’s forearms. His hands were large and vascular, and he was sitting in the chair opposite him.

His suspicions were running full throttle. It wouldn’t be the first time he had been involuntarily sent to Detox.

He took the offered steaming cup and sipped a small amount as his eyes surreptitiously, or so he thought, surveyed the room.

“Man, this art looks like it’s straight out of the African museum. Those prayer rugs are authentic too,” he thought. He knew the difference after two tours in Afghanistan.

Ray made a face and turned his head. He started to spit the vile liquid onto the floor, but thought better of it at the last moment. He used his peripheral vision to peek at the man who watched him with arched eyebrows.

“Go ahead and spit if you want to, you’ve done worse here in the past few days, but that’s good for you. It’ll help you heal, get your immune system recovering from all that shit you’ve been putting in your body all these years.”

“Who the hell are you,” he asked as he sniffed the steam and made another screwed up face, “and where am I, exactly,” Ray said as he swung his legs over the side of the bed and sat up wincing. His hand went to his head, and he kept one eye open and trained on his interlocutor.

The man placed both hands on his knees, and then stood in one fluid motion. His palm over his heart he said, “My name is Kai, and you are in the Village.”

He was wearing a nondescript outfit that screamed Commie or Muslim to Ray. He had seen enough of the phony Maharajah bastards around Harlem to know when he was looking at one. On the floor by his feet were a pair of hand-crafted huarache sandals. Ray recognized the quality of the work from the time he spent in the seedier parts of the Mexican border towns when he was stationed at Camp Pendleton. He wiped his mouth with his hand.

“Something ain’t right here,” he thought.

He said, “How did I get downtown? I hardly ever go south of 110th street, and I ain’t never been to Greenwich Village before.”

Kai narrowed his eyes as he looked down at Ray. When he spoke he did so slowly, and the depth of his voice became more apparent. It boomed quietly if that was possible, resonated in Ray’s body. It was almost as if the man had conjured the tone to convey the gravity of his message.

“Not that village, my brother. The Village. You’re still in Harlem.

Ray stood up quickly, plucking at the simple pajamas he wore. Despite the pain in his head he was angry now. “Then gimme my shit so I can go. Or show me the court order that I gotta stay in this rehab.”

“This isn’t rehab. This is our concerted effort to save our people from the genocide being carried out against us. You have unwittingly become an agent provocateur of that heartless endeavor. I’m afraid your days of doing the system’s work for them are over.”

Ray was not a small man. He had used his physicality as a weapon for so long it was second nature to him. He was leaving, and that was all there was to it. He put his hand on Kai’s chest and pushed. Before he knew what happened, he was kissing the hardwood floor. His wrist burned, and he could feel the man’s fingers pressing into his hand like crab pincers, and a stone-hard knee pressed in the small of his back.

“Okay, okay. Let go. I’m not Gumby, damn it,” he yelled through the side of his mouth that was not making out with the floor.

Kai stood and stepped to the side, his hands going in front of his body where he laced his fingers and watched Ray stand awkwardly, rubbing his wrist and then the small of his back.

“Okay, so you know some Kung Fu shit. All right. I know some—”

“Aikido.”

“What?”

“It was Aikido I used against you. We eschew violence in any form here at the Village. My movement was purely defensive and only meant to subdue you so you could not harm yourself.’

‘Allow me to give you a more exhaustive explanation of your circumstances, Mr. Washington. The community can no longer afford people like you dragging it down. Your behavior had one of three inevitable outcomes, any of which would culminate in a premature and ugly demise.’

‘There are good hard working people living here who are tired of watching the self destruction. Tired of the rape, the domestic violence, the substance abuse, and all the rest of the violence. This village is designed to build the community back up. We are geared to reeducate ourselves so that we are once again a viable part of the world community as the universe intended.”

Ray plopped down on the bed, his mouth hanging open as he stared at Kai. Then he started to laugh.

“So, let me get this straight, you are forcing me to get my shit together, is that it? Forcing me to get my life right? Oh that’s beautiful. Hysterical, but beautiful. You think you can just up and make me financially independent in a couple of weeks? Get real, Nigger” he said spitting that last out with every bit of vitriol the word was made to carry.

“Interdependence, Mr. Washington, we will teach you to be interdependent. Independence is a myth created to frustrate those trying to get ahead. It leads to isolationism, and envy, unhealthy competition for limited resources, it’s a myth, Mr. Washington. Here you will learn the truth of the saying that no one is an island. You will learn to trust your neighbor, and to become a positive agent for change. There is no time limit for this transition. Unlike rehab, you will not be kicked out when your insurance runs out so that we can sell the bed, and room, to the next victim. You will not be sent out into the world with underdeveloped coping skills, hoping you will figure the rest out on your own, or, oh well, wind up back with us for another stay. The purpose of The Village is to restore Hope, on both a personal and societal level. You will learn to be an emissary of Hope.”

Ray looked Kai up and down, his disdain clear on his face. The man’s face was serene despite the fact that he had just been cursed out and assaulted. “And what if I don’t?”

“That is not an option for either of us.”

M. Zane McClellan

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