Getting directions to Hanson’s place wasn’t as hard as I expected it would be. I stared at the card he had mailed to me once in a while to make sure I was on the right path. There were street pointers at intersections and major roads, which was somewhat different from where we lived in Memphis.
I was soon past the University of South California and then arrived at Wilmington. It was somewhat on the edge of Figueroa Street. The houses there were sparsely arranged, giving a certain serene atmosphere to the milieu. I didn’t walk long before I spotted 14A. That was where Hanson lived. Finally, I was here. The house was a small bungalow with shutter windows and a small doorway that had wooden steps that were overlaid with snow. Atop the door, I could see a miniature statue of the Virgin Mary and I wondered when Hanson had become religious. Little rows of well-trimmed flowers lined the house and I could hear a dog barking in the distance. Something about the air smelled clean, calling one to drink it in. A man outside his house a few meters away shoveling snow stopped and stared at me for a while before maybe, he concluded I wasn’t worth it and went back to his job.
I tapped on the door twice; two frail taps as though I was afraid of the door, or who I would find behind it. Secretly though, I feared I was at the wrong place so I checked the address again in the paper with me. I had again to make sure it was 14A and not 4A. It was 14A. I tapped again, more loudly this time, then I heard movements inside, feet and then voices. A young black girl with a tank top that exposed more than it covered, opened the door. She was holding a saucepan in her hands and her hair was in disarray.
She peered at me ‘Hey dude, what can I do you for?’
I said a silent prayer that I was at the right house.
‘Hanson, Hans…he live here?’ the last part of my question trailed off
‘Hmm’ she said, swinging the saucepan sideways ‘Who you?’
That had to mean this was the place. I breathed a sigh of relief
‘His old friend, Chap. We worked at Madilla’s in Memphis before he moved to LA’
‘Oh, okay’ she slammed the door in my face and went inside. Now I was pissed. What the hell did Hanson think he was doing keeping a cheap bitch who played doorman, interrogating me? Hell, I had known Hanson before this girl ever came around, whoever she was.
I waited a few minutes, unsure of what to do next before the door opened again, and she stuck her head out of hollered ‘Come on in!’
I dusted the snow off my boot on the stairs and lugged my small bag inside the house. The smell of something nice cooking hit me as I got in. My stomach grumbled, then I realised I was hungry. I hadn’t eaten anything that morning. I wished she would ask me if I was hungry. What appeared to be the sitting room had only three pieces of furniture; two sofas and an ugly old table. There were no pictures on the wall. There was almost nothing in the room apart from the furniture, just a fairly large image of Virgin Mary to the side of the room, a reading lamp, and a small television. I looked around, then sat down in the chair closest to the kitchen. I dropped my bag beside me and just then found I was tired. The girl had gone inside, probably to the kitchen to watch the food.
I heard loud voices and footsteps coming from inside. I tried to pick Hanson’s voice from among them but they were too loud and speaking at the same time, so I couldn’t and besides, my chair was backing the direction they were coming from. I expected Hanson to emerge any moment, then I would ask him why he had made me do so much waiting. The next thing I felt was a hand on my throat, hurting me. Was this some sort of ‘Hanson’ joke? I was being strangled, I could taste blood in my mouth and my breath was being cut off. I tried to turn to see the face that owned the hand and at the same time the hand left my neck. Before I could breathe easy, a stinging slap landed on my face. While I was reeling from the impact, I felt someone jerk me up from the chair and give me another slap. I tasted blood again. My eyes rolled in my head. I could not see clearly anymore, but I quickly counted four of them that were assaulting me.
Hanson wasn’t there.
I heard someone unzip my bag and begin to pour out the contents.
‘Tell us who sent you now or we’ll waste you!’ I heard one voice bellow. I smelt tobacco on his breath.
I coughed up blood then I felt the bones of my nose crack under a heavy fist and then I could not feel my nose anymore, only the trickles that ran down to my chin. Blood now flowed freely. I couldn’t understand what the men were saying. This had to be some kind of mistake.
I tried to talk but words just couldn’t come out. Maybe my mouth was swollen from the beating. Now slaps and blows were coming from everywhere. Everyone was talking and no one was listening. I am not sure if I said anything aloud, anything that was not said inside my mind alone, but I know I wanted to say that I was innocent; that I was not an enemy. Just a Memphis boy looking for his friend.
A hand landed on my ear, and I heard the sound re-echo until I felt myself become weightless as I was lifted off the ground. For a brief second, I remembered Nina, and Father, and Bernice, and Mother, then their faces all vanished and I couldn’t find them anymore. It was as though I evaporated, and soon the wooden floor stained with my blood became one with me. The last thing I saw before I closed my eyes was the Virgin Mary looking mournfully at me