by GENO LAWRENZI JR.
When I lived in Springfield, Mo., I had a neighbor who lived across the street from me. He shared a house with his sister on a quiet, tree-lined street and spent a lot of his time sitting in a rocking chair on his front porch, just watching the world go by.
Leroy was in his 60s. He worked construction when he could find a job. He is also a handyman who is willing to help anyone in need. That is the way he lives and he does it with a smile. Although he doesn’t attend church regularly, he believes in Jesus and reads his Bible regularly.
I would pass him daily on my way to the bus stop on Division Street. Leroy would always smile, give me a wave and sometimes we would just enjoy a cup of coffee his sister would make for us.
We enjoyed our talks and shared some of life’s experiences.
He knew I was a freelance writer and would query me on what topics I was writing about. I would share some of my stories with him and sometimes his sister would come out and sit on the porch swing while we talked.
I would tell them I was writing about topics that affect people, places and things.
One morning he told me a true story about his own life. I asked if I could share it with others.
“I don’t mind,” said Leroy. “If it helps others think about others and do the right thing, I’m all for it. I mean, isn’t that why we’re on this earth—to live and learn, and to help others?”
Before moving to Springfield, Leroy and his sister lived in East St. Louis near Ferguson, the town that sparked so much controversy when a shooting occurred that rocked the U.S.
The two of them shared a house on a street much like the one in Springfield. Construction jobs were few and hard to come by, but the two of them managed to cover their bills by keeping expenses to a minimum.
When I carried the soup into the living room, she was shaking like she had palsy.
“There was a girl in the neighborhood whose name was Tanya,” he said. “She was pretty, in her 20s and she loved music. She would walk by our house while I was sitting on the porch with a cup of coffee or a soda. I didn’t realize it, but she was a prostitute. She’d go down to an area a few blocks away where there were hotels and restaurants to find business.”
“When she would walk by our house, I’d wave at her, give her a big smile and she’d wave back and just keep on walking. She was always pretty much in a hurry going someplace, and we rarely exchanged anything more than a couple of words and a smile.”
“Sometimes it might be raining and Tanya, bless her heart, wouldn’t be wearing any shoes. That didn’t seem to stop her. She seemed to be a happy-go-lucky person who accepted life the way it was,” Leroy shared.
“This went on for a couple of months. One evening just before the sun went down, I was sitting there. It was raining pretty hard and here came Tanya. She was barefoot, soaked to the skin and shaking from the cold. I decided I had to do something so I called out to her and said, ‘Hey, girl, you look like you’re freezing to death. Come in here and get warm. I’ll fix you some soup.’”
“Well, she accepted my invitation. My sister wasn’t home from work yet, so it was just the two of us. I told her to make herself comfortable and went into the kitchen and made us some hot noodle soup. When I carried the soup into the living room, she was shaking like she had palsy. I handed her the bowl of soup and some crackers.”
“She looked at me with those big dark eyes and said just two words: ‘thank you.’”
Leroy told me Tanya stayed there about an hour. When she got up to leave, he followed her to the door.
The rain had lessened up. As Tanya walked down the street, Leroy shouted after her, “Have a good day, girl. And remember—I love you.”
She stopped on the sidewalk and turned toward him. She just looked at him for the longest time. Then she nodded and mouthed the word, “Thanks,” and left.
For the next month or so, Leroy did not see Tanya. He found work on a construction job and his economic situation improved. But he found himself thinking about the pretty girl with the big eyes and wondered how she was doing. One day he saw a neighbor who was familiar with the streets of Ferguson and asked about her.
The man stared at him and laughed out loud. “Tanya? That girl is doing just fine. She fell in love and found herself a guy, a rap musician who is big-time. They’re living in a mansion with a swimming pool near Hot Springs, Ark., but sometimes they come back here just to see their old friends in the neighborhood.”
A couple of weeks later, Leroy told me, he was sitting on his porch and a beautiful blue BMW convertible pulled up in front of his place. Tanya stepped out of the car and came toward him. She did not look like her old self. She was stylishly dressed with jewelry and diamonds. Her hair was beautifully styled and she was wearing elegant shoes.
“Hi,” she said, smiling. “Remember me?”
Leroy just laughed out loud, shaking his head. “Dear girl,” he said, “how could I ever forget you?”
She had left the engine running and walked up to him. She pulled a checkbook and pen out of her purse and said, “How much?”
Leroy was totally confused. “What are you talking about?” he said.
“How much do you want me to make this check out for?” she continued, waving the pen. “Name any amount. It’s worth it to me. And don’t be cheap, Leroy. Better yet, here’s the check and pen. You write down any amount you want.” She handed the items to him.
Leroy said, “I didn’t know what to do. My hands were shaking so bad. I made the check out for $100. Well, she took the check from me, read the amount and just shook her head and said, ‘That isn’t near enough, Leroy. Stop cheating yourself.’ She tore up the check, made out a new one and handed it to me. It was for $5,000.”
Then she hugged him. “Five thousand dollars is a very cheap price to pay someone who saved my life,” she said. “That day you took me in and gave me the soup I was planning to kill myself. I was tired of life—tired of the life I had created for myself—and just wanted to end it all. When you let me get warm in your house and gave me that bowl of chicken noodle soup and said, ‘I love you…’“ Her voice trailed off and tears flowed. “Well, that made the difference. Here I am now. I love you. Now let’s go to my bank and cash the check.”
When I left Leroy’s house, the sun was shining and the moisture on my cheeks was not rain.
GENO LAWRENZI JR. is an international journalist, magazine author, ghostwriter and novelist who lives in Arizona. If you want to comment on this story, his email address is [email protected]