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Just Look, Don’t Touch!

Haresh Shah

It was the very week or the next when I had moved into my condo on Maplewood after nine years sojourn in Prague, that I heard some commotion outside and then quick steps thumping  along the passage between the front gate and the parking lot in the back. I crane my neck out and see a cop running as in a chase. Seeing me he stops, you haven’t seen anyone escaping from here? And then he begins to tell me that there was a shootout between the gangs right outside of Roberto Clemente High School and that one of the cops got shot in his arm. Just a young kid, who had darted out of  there.

‘You’ve been living here long?’

‘No, have just moved in recently.’

‘Welcome to the neighborhood!’ And he fills me in on the gangs and the guns and tells me, even though it’s not as dangerous as it once was, just to be on my guard. Whenever possible, to avoid the crossroads of Western and Division between two and four when school normally lets out.

This and many other such incidences around the city, prompted many schools, among them, Roberto Clemente to install metal detectors to curb kids bringing in guns to schools. That wouldn’t restraint frequent blow outs and fist fights outside the schools.

Enter Safe Passage guards of Chicago Public Schools deployed within several blocks of the participating schools. They are men and women garbed in neon greenish yellow vests, just standing there and greeting passerby with big smiles on their faces with how’s your day going so far? Did you have a nice weekend? Have a great day. In short, they are friendly sorts. They see many of the same familiar faces and strike up conversations and just be there to make sure that kids don’t get into any rows. They don’t carry guns or any other kind of weapons. They are not allowed to get involved when there is a commotion of sorts. Not allowed to use their cell phones during their work hours. But they all have a pager with direct connection to the nearest cops should there arise a need.

One of those guards on the north west corner of Western and Division is the man called Paris aka Perry Wright. A big fellow with a friendly face. He is always talking to people while his eyes survey his surroundings to make sure the hoards of kids who have just come out of their classes amble along leisurely without getting into any trouble. Paris and I have developed quite a friendly rapport over a period of time and we often get a chance to joke and also talk about philosophy of the thing called life.

‘Hey, you don’t stop to say hello to your buddy here!.’

‘Oh, Paris, I am so sorry. Actually I was looking for you on your regular spot, but not there!’

‘I am right here, how can you miss such a big man?’

‘You’re right. I am so sorry!’ And he extends his fist, we bump.

‘I’m sorry, I really didn’t see you,’ I emphasize. He doesn’t answer – just looks at me with bit of smirk on his face.

‘I said I’m sorry – do you forgive me?’

‘Of course I forgive  you. God forgives you, and if he does, so do I.’

He always has to throw in his God bit in-between. Something I don’t know how to counter, but thinking that you can never be blessed enough, I just let it pass.

‘Where you off to?’

‘Got a doctor’s appointment.’

‘Is everything okay?’

‘Yeah, just that having bit of a problem breathing.’

‘You’ll be alright man.’

‘Yeah, I ain’t going anywhere soon!’

‘Of course not – stay. Just keep walking.’

‘We’ve got to, you know? We’ve still got some “looking” left to do.’ As I say this,  I pull my skin down under my eyeball, turning to look at a cluster of young co-eds just gotten out of the classes at Roberto Clemente’s.

‘You’ve got that right man! Something to live for. But just look! Don’t touch!!! And he too turns his dirty old man’s wistful eyes towards the colorful cluster of mainly African American and Latina young things. I cross Western and shuttle over to St. Mary’s Medical Center building.

I see him again the next day. We talk some more. Former furnace maintenance man, at 57, he has seven children and seven grand children. The eighth is on the way! (since then, the little boy is already born). He says and then he is lost in imagining one more grand child in his life.

‘You’re doing well for yourself,’ I chide. And he smiles, as if I have placed upon him some sort of divine blessing.

Normally I would see Paris two or three times every week at his post. But it had been a week or longer that I didn’t see him. The post was covered by different substitute every day. Just when I thought I would ask one of them whatever happened to Paris? – lo and behold, there he was. I walk up to him, we bump our fists as usual.

‘Where you’ve been man?’

‘Oh, I was in hospital!’

‘What were you doing in the hospital? You didn’t ask me if you could go to the hospital,’ I kid and then, ‘are you okay?’

‘Yeah, I am fine, but I sure am glad I did go to the hospital, otherwise I wouldn’t be standing here talking to you.’

‘What happened?’

‘I don’t know. The week before while standing here I felt this pain in my stomach and then it got to the point where I didn’t know what was going on. Something with my heart. I was bleeding and all!’

And then he tells me how they checked him out and treated him and now he is fine. But while recuperating, they placed him into a room with a cancer patient in the bed next to him.

‘I was resting and I fell asleep. And suddenly I feel that two men had lifted me and were about to placed me on a gurney. I woke up with a start. Hey, what you’ll doing? Where are you taking me? Seeing my body spring up like Jack in the box, looking at their faces I thought they were having a heart attack.’

Sorry! We were taking you to the morgue! They told us you died.’

‘You see I ain’t dead.’

But they did, look, here is the paperwork!’

‘Well, they must have made a mistake. As you can see….’

They never make a mistake…’ one of them started telling me and then stopped short.’ As it turns out, it was the guy in the next bed who had died. How could I have died? As much pain as I was in, at times it felt like it, but then I prayed and I prayed and prayed, Lord, don’t let me die. I’m still so young. I have been good.  I ain’t ready to go yet!


Boy, it really was nice to see him again.

© 2019 Haresh Shah

NEXT WEEK                                                                                                                                          Undetermined. I have some stories in the making, but not sure which one would be ready by the time its time to post the next one.

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