God Has Retired

Wayne McCray

Rihuana is sitting in bed. Nude with legs crossed. In her lap is a legless bamboo breakfast tray. It’s an ideal flat surface for laying out ground weed so she can roll blunts. For the last 30-plus years, six days a week, she twists one for her husband, Ras the God. Now, she never makes them fat. But they’re big enough for him to fulfil his daily sacrament and enjoy the sunrise. And allow a friend or two to sit down and puff-puff-pass with him.

Right now, he’s in the shower, fogging up the bathroom. Today, this Sunday, 23 March, Ras is a free man. And with it comes retirement, and that makes Rihuana happy, for it means having him around more often. Now, he can roll for her, which induces chuckles. Even thoughts of cuddling and getting freaky nightly bring joy. It’s something she misses. Fucking only on Sunday, his one day off, does present some relief but not enough. And yet, they have three children.

Even after each child, Sunday as family day is upheld. Ras favours family time above shuteye. Starting from 10am to 10pm, they do something fun. It doesn’t matter what or where, as long as they do it together. And, at the conclusion of those good times, despite being worn down and fatigued, he uses the last of his energy and strength for his Queen; for that, she truly adores him. 

Which makes today special, as well as the blunt she is rolling. Unlike the others, this one is the size of a Habano cigar. It celebrates his forgotten status. The one he put on hold for the family to do 33 years of menial labour. So, she hopes this indo-strain enables him to see once again both sides of the sky and perhaps look down on the cosmos. Something he hasn’t done for a long, long time. 

Rihuana places the cigar-sized blunt on the nightstand, right beside his favourite ashtray and lighter. She leans over and slides the breakfast tray back under the bed. She gets up, goes into the closet, dresser, and chest drawers, and lays out what she wants him to wear. That’s when the bedroom door opens and closes. Rihuana turns and smiles. Ras removes his shower cap to let his thick crown fall waist length. His dreadlocks are sun-dyed brown with a mixture of grey strains.

“My King, you’re still wet.”

“Morning again, my Queen. Yeah. I thought about air-drying for once, but I can’t. I do miss those days.”

“Do you, now? How about this?”

Rihuana approaches him. Even on her tippy-toes, she barely reaches his chin. She looks up, then removes the towel from around his waist. “Take a knee,” she says. Ras is dried off from head to foot. No body part is left damp. Rihuana concludes by applying shea butter, thoroughly moisturising his bronze skin. She hasn’t anointed him in a while. Not like this. Not since they were both teenagers. Today, Ras is given the royal treatment, which is why he loves her so much. Because, other than the ganja, she does a damn good job keeping him calm, focused, and feeling great.

“There, finished.”

“Oh, that felt good,” he stands up.

“Good. This is your day.” 

“It is, isn’t it? Thank you, honey.”

Rihuana gives his shiny butt a love tap. She puts on her bathrobe and leaves to go take her shower. It’s time for her to get ready for work. Ras checks out what’s been laid out and dresses fast. He grabs the cigar-sized blunt, his Zippo lighter, and the roach-filled Serano ashtray. He descends the stairs, goes outside, and takes a seat on the green steps. His neighbours, at first – those who lived on his block in The Bottom, a residential area south of the City of Kensington, a bunch of cookie-cutter, red brick, two-story industrial-style homes that line up neatly on both sides of the street – didn’t know what to think of him.

Ras loves The Bottom. It’s three square miles of Afro-everybody. It reminds him of several foreign destinations he visited. And with so many ethnic groups in one spot, it made for some interesting unions and language combinations. That and a fair share of mixed children. For Ras the God, an Afro-Jahmerican, his arrival at 1620 S. Kifferine Street at the age of 18 and five days raised some eyebrows. Besides the addition of another multicultural element. Some neighbours remember him pulling up the “For Sale” sign and moving in without a lot of furniture. Just a few boxes and a king-size bed. Nothing else. From then on, he is seen every morning sitting on the front stoop smoking a joint. And after each toke, he disappears until the next daylight.

After two weeks of this, a short Asian widow comes out of nowhere and chases after him when he exits his house. Ras doesn’t hear her calling. His mind is elsewhere. 

“Hey! Rasta man, I’d like to talk to you.” 

As Ms Pakalolo hears his deep voice, she feels intimidated. “You call me?” Looking up directly at him doesn’t help either. His head wrap makes him appear taller. He also isn’t what she expects. His face lacks life experience and facial hair. It’s smooth and innocent-looking, unlike some of the other dreads she has seen going about the city. And none of them are basketball-tall. Moreover, he carries himself differently. He has a swagger about him that exerts pressure that is felt. Even his stance and direct eye contact convey a kind of noblesse oblige. Ms Pakalolo finds his confidence intriguing and wants to know what else is there.

“I’m Ms Adiza Pakalolo.”

“I am Ras the God.”

“Excuse me,” she says, eyes blinking fast.

“Ras the God. My name.” 

“Okay?” she says. “So, how do you like the neighbourhood?”

“I can’t say. Not yet. I haven’t been here long enough to have an opinion,” says Ras. “Now the house? It’s way bigger than it looks. Too much house for me, but I’ll get used to it.”

“Wait! This is yours?”

“Yes, it’s mine. I own it…Ms Pakalolo, is it? I wish I could stay and chat, but I must run. Work calls, and I can’t be late. Another day, okay? How’s Sunday? My porch steps. Does that work for you?”

“Sure…Okay.”

“See you then.”

He leaves. Ms Pakalolo stands there with a befuddled facial expression. This is a first for her. A get-together with a teenager. And a homeowner to boot. Right then, she wishes it was Sunday. Her brown eyes follow him. He gets into his red Saab and speeds off, dub Reggae music playing. From that initial meeting, the two have held Sunday sessions when able and thereafter built a close friendship. Something beyond being neighbourly. Soon rumours spread, going up and down the block, touching all incorrigible ears. Ras isn’t some juvenile, rude boy, or misfit pothead. He has a job. Nothing fancy, but it pays.

During their Sunday get-togethers, Ms Pakalolo learns Ras is a different brand of Rastafarian. He neither attended nor graduated high school. Nevertheless, he has a top-notch albeit unorthodox education. Life as a globetrotter put him in contact with a lot of smart people. He learns a great deal from them. Things often left out of books. He thrives while living within his parents’ dream, which is a carefree, invisible, and nomadic lifestyle. It has done well for him. Mobility and distance reduce many burdens. But after several years, Ras seeks permanence. The ability to plant his roots somewhere, anywhere. Take what he knows and see what comes out on the other end. That’s what he wants.

His stepdad, Jaffe Norval Bosem, knows the perils of being seen. He, too, had an unusual upbringing. His biological mother, an adopted child herself, is half Swedish and Japanese. She gets pregnant after cheating on her husband with a Gambian man while on an all-ladies vacation. Things remain fine until his birth. His skin tone exposes her betrayal. Even though she wants him, she still puts him up for adoption because of her husband’s refusal to raise another man’s child and for fear of his anger. It showed itself when he tried to get into the nursery to do the child harm.

A year later, he is adopted by the Bosems. A Jewish family. They couldn’t have children. Margot, like her two sisters, inherited money and barren wombs from her mother. Her mom was given synthetic oestrogen shots to help ease complications at birth. In the end, it had lasting effects. Even with that, Margot’s mother, Marsha, isn’t fond of the idea. Raising a black child is harder than hard. They face the slightest prejudice daily. Societies have built entire systems and set up roadblocks just for them. “Everybody isn’t on board with this adoption,” said Martha. “Love and faith aren’t enough to turn a black child into a black man. The Jewish experience can only go so far. More harm than good will come of it.”

These family attitudes make Jaffe’s formative years pretty tough. Full of teasing, unfunny jokes, and ugly name-calling. Even though his mother loves and defends him at every turn. His father backs what his in-laws and family think. This creates some contentious days. It becomes harder for Jaffe. His adopted culture is faltering. And year after year, he isn’t them. So he rebels and embraces all things culturally black: marijuana, music, style, thought, philosophy, and women. Margot understands. And three years later, she frees him and herself by committing suicide. After the funeral, his father immediately ostracises him. 

But hidden to them all, Margot made out a will. She knew her husband. She knew he wouldn’t do right. So, when she dies, the meagre trust fund she set up becomes Jaffe’s. More than enough for him to never beg his adopted relatives for anything. Moreover, it will help him secure his identity. From thereafter, Jaffe makes sure he visits her grave on her birthday. Otherwise, he is hanging out with his skin-folk in varying parts of the globe, letting immersion introduce him to all the complexities of blackness, which enables him to find not only a collective identity but a singular one as well.

Now, as an avid pothead, Jaffe often lets his weed consumption determine his destination. Then, a bright idea flashes in his head. He decides to use his travels, along with a green thumb and newfound passion for nature, to look for native weed strains. After one of his lengthy stints somewhere in the jungles of Southeast Asia, he makes a detour for Jamaica. A two-week layover becomes three years. He befriends a bunch of Rastafarians and ganja farmers and, through them, is introduced to Rasalyn Godlove, his future bride, tourist companion, landrace huntress, and her nine-year-old son, Rasul Nke Godlove. 

He helps Rasalyn raise the boy. And in doing so, they become inseparable. So now he has a chance to lessen his son’s burdens and the pitfalls of living as an extraordinary person. His background and recent lifestyle know what his son is in for. Especially life as a Rastafarian. To help him combat that, Ras is given cash and a prearranged job. The job isn’t much. But it will do one thing: it will help him preserve his identity. No haircuts. Nor drug testing. Moreover, he is given a black airtight container full of wild sativa seeds, his mother’s big red-brick house, and a little used foreign car. The latter two are free and clear. “Plant your roots,” Jaffe tells him. “Show us what you can grow and who you are.” 

The family celebrates Ras’s 18th birthday by visiting Goree Island and “The Door of No Return”. They depart from the Senegalese airport three days later. Ras heads for The Bottom. His parents travel elsewhere, going from one hotel, cottage, and tent to another, hunting for marijuana strains and enjoying the good life. But they promise to visit him and stay in touch, wanderlust be damned. Since then, they have talked twice a month. To date, Ras has seen them just five times. Short stays. Long enough to attend a wedding, the baptism of three grandchildren, and a college graduation.

Ras is now in his early 50s. Thirty-three years at one job hasn’t beaten him down. Nor should it have. There’s nothing stressful about being a janitor. All he had to do was gather, dispose of, and clean up other people’s unsanitary habits. Menial work. Yet, in the end, pushing that broom and mop is what provided him with a stable job and fortuitous financial security. Grunge work is behind him. No more 12-hour shifts. All those impeccable blue uniforms, matching headwraps, and shiny black boots have forever been boxed and shelved.

Now he can go casual. Like this morning, when he put on his blue long-sleeve hemp shirt, a monogrammed green t-shirt underneath which reads “Pass the Dutchie” in bold font, blue jeans, open-toe sandals, and finally his green rasta visor hat. Ras rolls up his sleeves. He looks eastward toward Africa and blazes up. Smoke streams from his nostrils and puckered lips. Another day, another fulfilment of the holy sacrament. It’s a ritual he performs to pay homage to the lost garden, his divine creation, ancestral roots, Judah’s return, and the destruction of Babylon. He closes his eyes and says a prayer, and concedes he’s indeed been blessed and not a victim of “sufferation.”

“Long live the King and Queen,” Ras says aloud, rubbing his watery eyes, then letting out an even bigger lungful of smoke. 

Suddenly, Madison Joyce jogs up. She’s huffing and puffing so badly that she seeks oxygen near the ground. Her grey skin-tight two-piece outfit is discoloured from sweat. She’s a lanky but fit woman with black hair and dark eyes. A cancer survivor, a soon-to-be marathoner, and one damn good pastry cook. Although Ras abstains from certain foods and alcohol, he overlooks them when it deals with her dark stout chocolate chip cookies. They are so delicious he’s willing to swap an ounce of Jolly Rancher for a batch of them.

Ras is glad to see his friend. She lives up the block with the rest of the Joyces: Grandma Erin; Fiona, her mother; and big sister, Jana. Grandma Erin loves Ras. She tried to put him and Fiona together when he moved into the neighbourhood. Back then, Ras was a novelty. He was the first black teenage homeowner. And most definitely, a different kind of dread. His bad behaviour was relegated to the front porch where every morning he lit up a joint. Some found this habit attractive. Especially Grandma Erin. She saw his upside. She pictured cute Irish-Jamaican grandkids running loose around the house. Ras instead met Rihuana, which dashed her hopes, but not their friendship.

“Let me hit that,” says Madison.

“I don’t know, Maddy,” Ras says. “I’d catch my breath, first.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” she replies, beckoning for it. 

Madison takes one big hit and begins coughing and dancing immediately. Bending over and stumbling from side to side, back and forth, and in a circular manner.

“Oh, my God! Say, God? What is that?” She gives it back rather quickly.

“Purple Ether.”

“Shut your mouth”—still coughing—”Oh wow, I can’t feel where I stand. Say, God? I don’t want any more of that.” 

“Why not?” 

“Are you kidding?” Madison says, “I rather the candy than that.”

“Okay. Say? Are you okay?”

“Feels like I am standing on nothing.”

“Let me help you.” 

“No, no. I’m good. I got it. I can walk on it.” 

“What about my cookies?”

“Cookies? Yeah, yeah, yeah. Just don’t bring that, okay God? I’m so serious. I’ll holla at you later, alright.” Ras agrees then waves goodbye. Madison first walks away slowly. Then it builds up to a moderate pace and finally a jog. 

He leans back in such a way that he makes the hard uneven surface look soft. Another lungful of smoke is released. He gazes skyward, looking upon things that came before him. His vision isn’t as impaired as usual. Normally, his eyes are red and tired. Sleep often cuts his smoke time short, interrupting his spiritual connection. Not anymore. He and Jah can now have more quality mornings together.

Cars drive past and honk. He raises his hand at each one of them. Soon one after another, his neighbours appear. Those who see him or smell the strong aroma give a polite gesture or shout out: “What’re you smoking on?” before going off to do what they do to do what needs to be done. They never hassle him. Not now they don’t. Time does wonders. Back then, as an aberrant, self-reliant, tall, dark, and handsome black man, he attracted women. They would sit on his porch in the early mornings, trying hard to hitch themselves to him, but none succeeded.

Exiting the house is a short, olive-skinned, and deceptively fit woman endowed with plenty of backside. His loving partner for 30-plus years, Ms Rihuana DeCastro. She sidles up to him and sets the canvas bag on her lap. Her dreadlocks are covered with a golden Nefertiti-style headwrap. The blunt is taken and sucked on sufficiently to get a buzz. Rihuana works as a housekeeper for a clinical psychiatrist, Dr Bedelia. She looks after and takes care of the doctor’s home, which includes running errands. Dr Bedelia is so busy helping patients and people deal with chronic emotional and behavioural problems that it leaves her very little time to do menial tasks – like housework. Rihuana soon leans over to give him a passionate kiss, but he exhales the ingested smoke.

“I saw Maddy.”

“She looks good, doesn’t she?” asks Rihuana.

“She does.”

“That’s the power of weed.”

“It doesn’t hurt, that’s for sure,” says Ras. “It has its health benefits.” 

“No doubt.”

“Say? I was thinking. You should join me?”

“Join you in what?” she says, playfully denying him the blunt. 

“Retirement.”

“And do what your parents did?” says Rihuana, still swatting his hand gently and hitting it twice more. “Fuck, smoke, and travel the world?”

“That does sound good, doesn’t it?”

“It does,” she says, snapping her head around. Ras takes hold of her two-karat hand to further express this desire, then kisses it. Both have done well doing menial labour. They deserve some “us” time. Look at how long they’ve put it off. Too, too long. Family came first. Now they’re grown. Rashelle, definitely. Their sons, not quite? Although, they will graduate high school this year. Sometimes, they act childish. That will change once they undergo their “Rooting Session.” Because, in the fall, they’ll be attending college. Each one studying on a different coast.

“Let me think about it.”

“C’mon, really?” he says, reclaiming the blunt.

“Really! So don’t go making plans,” says Rihuana. “I’m serious, Rasul.”

She digs through her bag and takes out an open pack of spearmint gum. Two sticks freshen her breath. Then a small bottle of stankless deodorizer follows. She stands up and thoroughly sprays herself from the blouse down, including the inside of her sweater. The surrounding air clears up instantly.

“Do I smell?”

“I’d do it again,” replies Ras. “But not here, okay.” 

“My bad. I’ll do it at the city bus stop.” 

“Take the car.”

“Uh huh,” Rihuana says. “I’m skywalking now. And we agreed: no driving while high. Besides, I like riding the bus. You see and sense people differently when high. You just enjoy your day, okay? I’m good. The bus stop’s only a few blocks from the house.”

“You’re sure?”

She nods. “And Rasul,” she says, poking him with her finger. “You do you, but not in the car. Leave it parked, okay? That goes for Rashelle, too.”

“We won’t,” Ras replies.

Rihuana gives him another fat kiss, crossbodies her bag, and then departs. She holds up her skirt, which shows off her running sneakers, and runs down the sidewalk. Ras stands up and looks. The skirt and cardigan do what they can. Her protruding backside wobbles obscenely with every stride. His excitement reminds him of all the sleep he lost to court her. And it was worth it. She was hot and gave a brother a chance. Especially a natty dread sitting on a park bench and in his work clothes. 

She made him prove his sincerity. That he wasn’t looking for a hook-up. He had to sacrifice something. So, Ras promised to show up every morning after work still in uniform, rain or shine, ready to run laps with her around the park. A month passed before he got her phone number. Another two weeks before a date. Then it mushroomed from there, growing into a friendship, then a relationship, and finally a family. In all, it took almost a year. The funny thing about it all, she determined the pace. So, he wasn’t surprised when she told him to wait for an answer, then turned away from him and ran.

He sits down and is met by an annoying fly. It buzzes around his head, enamoured with his one ear. Hand swats do very little. So he exhales smoke to get rid of the pest, and it zig-zags away. Bright sunlight makes the brick homes look warm and the windows glint yellow. Just then, two doors down, a loud banging is heard. It’s Ms Adiza Pakalolo, a now fragile, platinum-crowned old lady, retired high school maths teacher, his childrens’ tutor, and the last of her family. She is a widow and childless but had her share of wild fun. But right now, she is losing a fight with what looks like a very large foldable chalkboard sign. Ras leaps up and hurries over to offer some help.

“Ms Pakalolo,” says Ras, “Let me have that.”

Ms Pakalolo hugs him gently. “Thank you, God,” she says. Then she cranes back like a jazz trumpeter as an enormously round blunt burns in her face. And after a good whiff, she surprises him by taking hold of it. “Hey!” says Ras. After one hit, she begins coughing. It shortens her wind, making her unsteady. Ras turns loose the sign in favour of her so she can regain her balance. Eyes wide, she stares at what she holds. Taken aback by its potency.

“Oh. My. God! What. The. Fuck. Is. This?”

“Purple Ether.”

“Purple Ether?” says Ms Pakalolo, her speech slowing. “That’s…that…shit.”

Ms Pakalolo’s face goes blank. She drops the blunt, closes her eyes, and then falls forward. Ras reacts fast, catching her. He uses his foot to stamp out the fallen blunt. Ms Pakalolo is soon carried inside and upstairs to her bedroom. It requires little effort. He lays her in the bed. She looks so serene with that big grin across her face. Ras feels for a pulse and breathes a sigh of relief. He heads for her kitchen. There, he looks for something tasty and refreshing and finds what he’s looking for. Ras soon places both a bottle of Perrier Spring water and a plate of Milano mint chocolate cookies on the bedside nightstand. A nice snack for when she wakes up with the munchies.

Ras exits her place, chewing on a mint cookie. He shuts the door but leaves it unlocked, then crouches to pick up his smashed blunt. Now, when he looks over at his house, he sees three mischievous girls at work: Emma, Keisha, and Isabel, his sons’ girlfriends. They’re on his porch, sifting through his gold ashtray. The trio attends Our Lady of Mercy, an all-girl Catholic High School. Although smart and street-wise, they are solely focused on his front door and not their general surroundings. They overlook him entirely.

“Sugar Babies!”

Hearing his low-pitched voice startles them. He is the only person who calls them by that name. They jump up and off the porch really fast. They look toward the boom and there he stands. All 6′ 5″ of him. 

Ras doesn’t check them instantly. He takes his time, letting them think so he can set up Ms Pakalolo’s blackboard where she likely wants it. It reads, written in pink and lime chalk: “I’ve found Confucius, Jesus, Muhammed, and Mary Jane. I’m asleep. So don’t fucking ring this doorbell.” 

“Funny, Ms Pakalolo.” Ras chuckles. 

He then goes and deals with the Sugar Babies. His strides are unintentionally long and cover considerable ground. Emma, Keisha, and Isabel step aside, allowing him through. They stand there in their Catholic school-girl shoes, dark stockings, pleated and tartan skirts, matching ties, and a blazer over white dress shirts, wishing they could sink into concrete. They know he knows them. Ras has put up with them since childhood. Then, at some point, they called dibs on his sons, and that claim hasn’t been challenged.

“Good morning, God,” says Isabel.

Emma says, “Good morning.”

“Yes,” says Keisha. “Good morning, God.”

He says nothing else. Instead, he stands there. Then, he extends his hand and leaves it there. Soon, six fairly large roaches fall into his palm. He sits down and gives the ashtray a good once-over. The roaches are dropped back into the pile once the inventory concludes. Satisfied, he studies them. They expect a chewing out, but none comes. Emma takes out a packet of candy they all like and opens it. Sweet encouragement, no doubt. Ras’s bass voice remains rather mellow and loaded with meaning. 

“So we’re smoking now?” asks Ras.

Emma gobbles down a few pieces of chewy chocolate before she answers, “Not us, God. Not at all,” as she tucks her curly red hair behind her right ear. Her almond-green eyes flash. They are so sharp and magnetic that they draw you toward her freckled oval face. “We don’t burn at all. Honest.”

“That’s right, God,” says Keisha, taking hold of the yellow and red candy packet. “What she said. None of us do.” She pops a few chocolate bites between her naturally thick lips, which brings out those deep and pretty dimples. They show themselves with every chew. “That’s not what we do.”

“Not yet,” says Isabel, the tallest of the three. “Not yet.” She ties back her chestnut-coloured hair into a ponytail which exposes her bright-skinned forehead and one large straight nose. Then she is given the candy packet. She takes a small handful and begins eating the chocolates.

“Not yet, huh! So you know when.” 

“To be honest, God, we all do,” says Isabel. “We were going to do it after graduation. But before we all go off to college and go our separate ways.”

“Yeah! Right after London and Brixton’s ‘Rooting Session’,” says Keisha. “Just the five of us. Nobody else.” 

“They told us what it is,” says Emma.

“Did they now?”

“Yep,” says Emma. “They told us everything.”

“Sure did,” says Keisha.

“So God? Can we do it together?” asks Isabel. 

“No! You’re not my children.” 

“Why not!” says Isabel.

“Excuse me?”

“Nothing,” says Emma. “She’s just excited.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Four years from now we will be your children,” says Keisha. “Kind of.” 

“Oh, really now!” Ras says. 

“That’s right,” says Isabel. 

“Do they know?”

“Oh? They know,” says Emma, eating the last of the candy after several passes. The other two confirm that point. “They have it so good.”

The Sugar Babies keep talking. One voice after another. They argue mostly from the heart why they should attend the “Rooting Session”. Ras sits and listens. They lay it all out, their goals, lofty but goals nonetheless. Some are far-fetched. Others, not so much. Regardless, the bottom line is they want Ras and Rihuana’s blessing. They promise to do right and follow the rasta rules. 

Right then, Brixton and London, his twin sons, finally come out. Late as usual. But late at the regular time. His sons also attend a Catholic school: St. Francis Xavier, the brother school of Our Lady of Mercy. So they share the same school colours and do certain co-ed activities together.

His sons aren’t as tall and dark as him, but tall nonetheless and more on the light caramel side. They inherited their mother’s hazel eyes and hair texture. Altogether, they are quite the ladykillers. So much so that as freshmen, they used their charisma to charm the headmaster and nuns to relax one aspect of the school’s dress code. To let them rock dreadlocked fade haircuts as a way to honour their Jahmerican heritage without being dismissive. So for four long years, they kept them neat, at a fixed height, and their natural colour. After graduation, they will commit to what they are.

“Hey, Dad,” Brixton says, now at the bottom steps.

London too, “Morning.”

“Morning.”

“You’re all ready?”

“Waiting on you two, silly,” says Isabel.

“Yeah, I’m ready,” says Emma.

“Let’s go already,” Keisha says.

“You and your girlfriends have a good day at school.”

“Dad! They’re not our girlfriends,” says Brixton.

“Future Queens, then.”

“Stop already, okay?” says London. 

“Yeah Dad, don’t do that,” says Brixton. 

“Okay, if you say so.”

“Say, God, here come those Hollywood-looking church women,” says Emma. “They’re out here mighty early, aren’t they?”

“It’s never too early in the morning for the Lord,” says Keisha.

“There you go,” says London.

“That’s Catholic school talking,” replies Brixton.

“No doubt,” says Isabel. “Sister O’Malley, for sure.”

The girls all laugh.

“It’s okay. I like talking with them,” says Ras. “And Sugar Babies? That thing you all want. I’ll think about it. Have a talk with my other half. No promises. So until then, don’t do anything stupid, okay? Nothing. Promise me that.”

Each girl runs up and happily kisses his cheeks, starting with the right. They head out, clearly excited. They all wave goodbye. Emma blows an additional kiss. “There goes the family tree. Two unique branches,” Ras says aloud. “Let’s see what they’ll grow.”

“Say? What was that all about?” Brixton asks them. 

“Yeah,” asks London. “Tell us. I want to know.”

Isabel and Keisha take hold of London. Emma side-hugs Brixton. They usher them both down the sidewalk. Each girlfriend has an ear. Brixton and London slow their pace because of what they are told. That’s when Isabel shouts: “C’mon. There goes the other bus.” New Kensington runs a tight bus schedule. So when one bus is seen going, there is another one coming. The girls didn’t want to miss it. So they break out running fast.

In their hurry to catch the city bus, they avoid bumping the door-to-door evangelists walking on their side of the street. Brixton and London soon realise what is going on and run. They all eventually board, but only after the bus driver makes them run to the next bus stop, another city block. 

Meanwhile, those churchgoers draw closer. Emma is right. They don’t fit the usual image. These devout ladies don’t wear long floral or solid-colour dresses and button-up sweaters for capes. Nor do they throw up their hands, shout praises, and strut off singing spirituals. No sir. They resemble Audrey Hepburn. Dressed in 1960s houndstooth bodycon dresses, pixie haircuts, black leather flats, dark handbags on the arms, cat eyeglasses, pearl necklaces, and Bibles held against their chests. For the last year, they have been under the impression an Afro-everybody community lacks identity and is in need of enlightenment.

They use glamour and elegance as the carrot. It gets people to open their doors. But as soon as they listen to their beliefs, rejection follows. Doors slam occasionally. Even a few instances of “Get the fuck off my porch.” None of it deters them. They stay on point. Rudderless people need God. 

Two ladies finally reach Ras, right after a brief stop at Ms Pakalolo’s house. They halt abruptly: Ras has relit the blunt and let out a cloud of fruity weed smoke. They fan the air, for the smoke clings to them, but they step forward and stand before him.

“Hello, brother.”

“Hello, brother.”

“Sisters,” replies Ras.

“I’m Sister Beverley, and this is Sister Nancy. We are members of the local church on Bradbury and Hope. Do you attend church and pray to God, brother?”

“Every morning, right here on these steps.”

Each Sister looks at him, then at each other.

“Brother? Be nice and put that out,” says Sister Beverley.

“No can do,” says Ras, “But go on.”

“Seriously?” says Sister Beverley. “With this in the air?”

“Why not?” 

“The odour,” says Sister Beverley. “Plus, this drug corrupts the spirit. Destroys the mind. Reduces your fidelity to God. It is corrosive, brother. Let us help you.” 

Ras isn’t offended but sits back. He’s heard it all before. Just not from these two. As they talk, he stands up. His height produces space, pushing them back. He’s glued to their made-up white faces. Their blue eyes mostly, in search of the real them. He unloads another generous lungful of smoke. It chokes Sister Beverley. Sister Nancy turns her face and backs up a bit more.

“Brother? That’s so uncalled for,” says Sister Nancy.

“Seriously,” says Sister Beverley. “Is that all you do? Smoke weed?”

“I’m a Jahmerican. Rastafarianism is a piece of my identity.” 

“C’mon, sister,” says Sister Beverley. 

“Hold up,” says Sister Nancy. “Let’s hear him out.”

“Fine!”

“This is sacred,” says Ras, pointing at the blunt. “This herb is the third thing God created. Third, alright! Genesis 1:11–12.”

“What is this, pothead theology?” says Sister Beverley.

Ras blows again into their faces. “Genesis 2:16–20. This plant is so holy that Adam wasn’t allowed to give it a name. He was only responsible for what walked, flew, and swam. Nothing that grew. God told him what plants were and weren’t food. Since plants, not meat, induce higher levels of spirituality and divine consciousness.”

“So you know a little something,” says Sister Beverley.

“Sister!” replies Sister Nancy.

“It’s okay,” says Ras. “I must cut this short. I do have other things to do.”

“Really?” Sister Beverley says. “Like what!”

“Help the elderly,” Ras replies. “And, Sister”—looking directly at Beverley—”read Matthew 6:22–23. ‘Eyes are the lamp of the body,’ and I see you. Maybe, Luke 10:1–12. Now go visit the homes of the non-believers and inspire them to believe, okay? Go on, go do what you do. The church is out.” As a parting gift, Ras gives the two women another smoke blast. 

“He’s what some call an Obeah,” says Sister Beverley. “Don’t you feel it?” Sister Beverley stumbles while pulling her spellbound churchgoer by the arm. 

“I do,” says Sister Nancy. “I do.” 

They finally meet up with the other two Sisters . At the end of the block, they hold a long discussion. Three stand there while Sister Nancy returns and finds a young woman sitting beside him. It’s Rashelle, his daughter and eldest child, sharing the blunt with him. She isn’t short, like her mother, and on the honey-dark side, with light brown eyes and very long wicks – wicks kept in a dark green turban. It takes a second for Sister Nancy to gather her thoughts. It’s clear she’s high. The Purple Ether must’ve touched her spiritual side.

“I never got your name.”

Rashelle blows smoke into her face. 

“It’s Ras the God.” 

“Ras. The. God. C’mon now. What is it really?”

“Ras the God,” says Rashelle.

“You’re serious,” says Sister Nancy.

“I am,” says Ras.

“And your name?” Nancy asks.

“The same as his,” says Rashelle. “It’s a family thing. The gift of being born first.”

“Okay then, until next time…God and God.”

“Tell your friend,” says Ras, “I don’t have any magical powers. None at all, okay?”

“I will, but I do wonder,” says Sister Nancy.

“Do you, now?” says Rashelle.

Sister Nancy smiles, then sashays off to catch up with her fellow evangelists. They continue proselytising on the next block. Rashelle watches her closely, then glances at her father. 

“I think she likes you, Daddy,” says Rashelle. 

“They all do,” says Ras, “For one reason or another. It’s the weed talking. That’s all.”

“That’s not it. Not for her.”

Ras and Rashelle pass the blunt back and forth. They sit there and talk about future things until the blunt shrinks to a roach. Rashelle puts it out in the ashtray. She heads for the basement. Ras renovated it 20 years ago. A sizable portion of it is a solar-run, odour-free, and soundproof grow room. This enabled him to cultivate and grow marijuana so he could uphold his faith. And, in doing so, he developed his own hybrids from the sativa seeds his parents collected and gave to him. The excess was either sold, traded, or given away. Profitable all around. She now helps him manage the crop.

Ras goes next door. He checks on Ms Pakalolo to make sure she is fine. When he enters the room, she is sitting upright in the bed, chewing on a cookie and holding onto a water bottle. Her grin hasn’t gone away. Ras kneels before her and plays doctor. 

“I’m alright. I’m still high, that’s all.”

He takes a seat in a nearby chair and strikes up a conversation.

“Ms Pakalolo? Tell me something,” he asks. “What was your first day of retirement like? I had people in my face all morning.”

“Were they unpleasant faces?”

“No. None of them were.”

“Then yours began better than mine. Mine was miserable,” she says. “I never told you this: how I became a widow. But I woke up to a dead husband in my bed. He died in his sleep. I was fucked up for a while. But I was put back together. Therapy helped. Thank you, Dr Bedelia. Then, I found God. It’s so nice to know he lives three doors down and has some of the best weed.”

Wayne McCray is a Susurrus 2022 Pushcart Prize Nominee and a 2023 Best of the Net Nominee. His short stories have appeared elsewhere in Afro Literary Magazine, Bandit Fiction, The Bookends Review, Chitro Magazine, The Dillydoun Review, Drunk Monkeys, The Green Hills Literary Lantern, The Hooghly Review, Ilinix Magazine, Isele Magazine, Malarkey Books, The Ocotillo Review, Ogma Magazine, Pigeon Review, Roi Faineant, The Rush Magazine, Sangam Literary Magazine, Swim Press, and Wingless Dreamer. He works diligently from his book-laden junk room. 

Sign up for our newsletter

Sign up to get our latest stories, poems and essays!