The Minstrel

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Cindy found no refuge in the streets that evening. No bed, no warm, albeit lukewarm meal for her tonight. It was freezing, and she shivered violently. She began to think herself a fool for choosing freedom over life; for she would die soon if she lived like this much longer. She wondered if she could survive another New York winter out her, and wondered why she would want to; only to have to survive another one a year after that.

For the first time that she could remember, Cindy allowed herself to sink into a numbing depression, the kind that could steal valuable energy that might be needed for survival. She didn’t care anymore. She thought of the injured man by the dumpster. He might die. And she would have a part of it. She was like that rabbi in the religious parable who passed by the Jew beaten up by robbers-she couldn’t even help her own kind.

The thought of the Christian parable startled her. Religion; her enemy for so long. Messenger of condemnation, eternal judge of her soul, that was what religion came to mean for her over the course of her adult life. On Sundays it was a special day of payback where you got to dress up for the day and smile at all the people you hated and hear all the things you heard all week- whore, born to bear physical pain in labor (and out of it too), condemned to live in the shadow of her husband. Patrick would hear it and it would give him more incentive to act as he did; after all he was the head of her. Never once did she hear of the love, peace and mercy that the Church proclaimed itself to be. She deserted the church when she deserted Patrick. The niceties of a normal life had betrayed her. There was a graffiti strewn park across from where she was. Several teenage boys shot hoops. She could see some of them laughing. A girl was being pushed by her mother on a swing. Even in the poverty of the inner city, Cindy envied them all. There was someone to laugh with them. There was no one for her, now or ever. Except for once, once when she had first left, for the only six months that she lived a life that was ordinary.

It was just after she left Patrick, when in blissful naivetÉ she assumed that by leaving she would be rid of him for good. She had moved to the Lower East Side, amongst the hippies and the starving artists that meandered there. She shared a loft with a couple of girls and got a job waiting tables in a greasy spoon. Compared to luxury and pearls, one would think that she was miserable here, but she actually became happy. It was wonderful to be peaceful again.

And then, one afternoon, it ended with the abruptness of a hidden bomb exploding on a city street. She was coming home from her job like she had been for weeks. Just as she let herself into her studio, she felt the blow coming from behind. It felt as though someone shot her, and as she fell she knew that her attacker was none other than her husband. And then blow by blow she felt her life force being taken from her. After all she had survived, it had come to this; she was being beaten to death. Just as she thought she’d taken her last breath, someone walked into her apartment, the someone that saved her life. Patrick disappeared out of her second story building, and Cindy lived. A few hours after lying in a hospital bed, she left to begin her sojourn on the streets. IF Patrick tracked her down in her dump in the inner city, he would find her there too. She then began taking refuge in the danger of the streets. She was not going to let her husband kill her. She had nothing but her life, and she was damned no one would take that from her as well.

In her musings of her survival, Cindy had been wandering. There wasn’t much to do but think, but sometimes she got herself lost doing so, unaware of her surroundings. It was a dangerous thing for her to do, for you never knew who lurked around the corner, but sometimes her brain didn’t give a shit. It needed to seek its own refuge in fantasy, tired of working with nothing to show for it. And then her brain would lead her where it wanted to go. It was heading back to the street where she found the crazy hobo lying in his blood. She wondered if he was alive. And then she felt guilty, and angry at being that way. She could not to afford to trust anyone now, for it was everyone for his own here on the street. And yet, here she was, watching to see if some crazy guy who she didn’t even know was alive. Maybe she was the one who was crazy.

There was a commotion going on in the place where she last saw him. An ambulance was there, along with blue-uniformed paramedics lifting a figure on a stretcher into the ambulance. A plainclothes figure climbed into the ambulance after them. A white guy, blondish. Cindy presumed he called for help. A stranger, probably; he was too fair to be Latin. A stranger, like her, but unlike her, called for help. She watched as the ambulance pulled away, and her eyes misted. She cursed her tears, but they remained, and Cindy tried to forget them as she set off to find her bed for the night.

It was hazy and dark in the passage where the minstrel lay bleeding. Colors, vibrations, smells that mingled together gave him no sense of the journey he was taking, but he could feel the Lord holding his hand. His spirit was a balm to the minstrel’s soul; His protection, his comfort. When the world assaulted him, he knew that the love of Jesus would shelter him, in Him, the minstrel would always live. The minstrel knew that much of his past was hidden, and he was grateful for God’s divine shelter from what hurt him. That he was unworthy of such kindness made him love the Lord even more; that he was even loved made him eternally grateful for such undeserved richness.

The passage gave way to a green forest at the edge of a lake, and as he explored the forest he felt a vague sense of deja-vous. He smelled the foliage, full of aromas of spruce, oak and evergreen, intoxicated by the scents. The air was balmy, rendering him drowsy, taken in so far that nothing else but the Lord existed where he was. All the worries that he brought her were forgotten. If this was heaven, he was content.

The path he traveled on led him upward on a steep path. He felt not the least bit strained from the climb; he felt a new energy instead. As he reached the apex of the hill, he looked back from whence he came. He saw the lake in its entirety stretching along the horizon laced with the magnificent woods along its borders. He was in awe of the lake’s grandeur, more apparent now from a distance than when he was close to it.

The sky was beautiful; clear and blue. A pristine picture of Heaven far above. A sparrow traveling across it like a shooting star, leaving in its wake a bright array of colors. A rainbow, subtle in its hue, pale yellow ,orange, red; God’s covenant to Noah before his very eyes. He rested in its quiet, the beauty fusing with his thoughts. He remained there until he felt God tugging at his spirit to go. He got up from that place and went, God holding his hand along the path upwards.

As he continued, he caught something from the corner of his eye; a relic of the past. There, high in a oak tree as tall as the sky, was a clubhouse, except it was decorated like a girl’s dollhouse, with frilly curtains in the windows, flowers at the door. It was a special dollhouse; his precious daughter’s. He had made it specially for her on her seventh birthday. He smiled as the sun shone upon the fruit of his love, and knew that soon God would lead him back to her.

With a sudden start, he was jolted out of that world. Instead of the colorful landscape of the lake, pale, colorless hues were painted along the canvas of his vision. The silence of the garden was pierced by monotonous beeping, punctuated by a low roar of voices, tired sounding, all fusing into one another. He was not standing in a golden forest but lying in a hard bed, pale like the rest of the room; pale like the curtains that began and ended the room’s existence, and panic entered his heart as he realized that he was alone here, without Lupe, without Raulita, and that the beds by him lay empty. He screamed, unaware of the many alarmed faces upon him, and in desperation, ran to the nurses station, hoping against hope that the worst had not happened, demanding to speak to a doctor; where had they taken them? He was next of kin, he had to see the bodies if they were dead. And then anger, as the young nurse blinked at him in confusion; what part of this did she not understand? His family had come with him. The last thing he remembered before he fell was seeing their bodies being taken away in their home. He wanted to see them. Anger welled in him as the young nurse blink her blue eyes in profound confusion. He needed Lupe. He needed Raulita.

A short middle aged Hispanic nurse with deeply spaced eyes appeared by the young nurse’s side. The minstrel had a vague feeling that he had seen her before, but could not place her. When she spoke, her accent told him she was the same ancestry as he, and he relished the simple bond. She regarded him with grave concern as she spoke: Your wife and child are not here. You came alone. You were found unconscious by your friend Jonathan, and he had an ambulance bring you here. There was no one else with you.

He let out a wail, unable to accept this news, indifferent that the young blonde nurse jumped in the fear. He watched the Latina nurse. She remained as she was, her features set in deep compassion. But she could not bring Raulita back. He sauntered away, a raging bull on a mission. God was all that he took with him as he felt the eyes of the nurse watch him leave.

Jonathan sighed as he parked his car by the hospital to see the singer he found. Ashley did not know that he was here. If she knew that he was here, she’d pack her bags in a second. The singer was below someone like her. Jonathan himself barely cut it at this point. He wished he brought Raven with him; he was beginning not to trust Ashley with her. He never knew when she would be drunk, and if he was not there, Raven would get the brunt. Luckily, Raven was not home yet, tonight was Brownie night. but he missed her. She was his whole life.

He walked into the hospital, thinking about the singer. He intrigued Jonathan; he seemed like someone with a rich past. He had an aura of peace that Jonathan envied. Jonathan would trade everything but Raven to have that peace. He would even be willing to lose Ashley. His heart was the weight of a boulder because of her.

He had a strange sensation as he approached the nurses’ desk to ask about the singer, like he was a foreigner in a new land. At his inquiry, the younger nurses began to whisper frantically. Carmen, the head nurse, shoed them away.

“Your friend left today,” she said brusquely. “About two hours ago. I guess you didn’t see him?”

“He said something about his wife and daughter. Do you know anything about them?”

Jonathan grinned wryly and shook his head, baffled by the information that the singer had disappeared. “I don’t even know his name.”

“Such a shame, isn’t it,” she said. “He probably had a wonderful family. I wonder what happened to him.”

Jonathan let her words sink in before saying anything more. “What do I owe you?”

“We could send a bill, if you want.”

Ashley. What would she think if all that money that could have gone to Sach’s went to a homeless bum who couldn’t speak English? Jonathan was tempted by the bait to egg her on but resisted. “No. Let me pay you now.” He waited as Carmen dealt with the accountant before giving him an invoice, aware of the nurses ogling him. He was used to the attention, though his good looks did not mask the man who was inside; the last thing he ever thought of was what his exterior looked like. A strange man in a world of materialism.

Carmen came back with the bill. “You can pay it downstairs by the main entrance. Take the elevator behind you.”

“Thank you.”

“No, thank you.” Jonathan looked up at her. “We need more people like you. If everyone was like you there would be no problems in this world.

Jonathan looked at her, touched by her words. When was the last time Ashley said something like this to him, that he had to hear it from a stranger? He smiled his thanks.

The wind did not feel as cold as it had been when he left.

The young nurses were in a flurry after the mysterious hunk’s departure.

“That was weird,” the receptionist, Bridget said.

“You’re telling me,” agreed Margie, the nurse who had been unfortunate enough to be the backlash of the hobo’s outrage. “He was a total psycho, that bum. Why a cute guy like him-” she gestured to the exit door, ignoring a black woman with a bandaged hand trying to get her attention “would want to hang out with a bum like that, well, you got me on that.”

“Girls, get back to work. Margie, it looks like someone is waiting for you.” Carmen snapped. The younger girls gave her barely concealed glance of resentment. Older and non-white, Carmen usually found herself the enemy of her underlings. But that didn’t concern her. She wanted them to grow up, act professional. Carmen found herself boiling with anger at the appalling behavior of the young women who supposedly dedicated their lives to serving people. What right did they have to judge that homeless man? Who knew what he had been through? And to make comments about the man who might have saved his life. It was amazing how people scorned those who did good, unless it was good towards them.

She stared at the door, wondering who the homeless man was. She wondered what family was missing him, and she felt empathy for them. For she was just like them. For eighteen years, there was someone lost to her. She hoped that the man found his wife and daughter, so that they would not have to feel as she had for all these years.

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