A Penny for your Thoughts
by Brittany Harrison-Lopez

Justin sat in his situation. Sometimes he forgot how he got there. Years prior he was the CEO of a successful booking agency but a brief moment of consciousness led him to making a few wrong moves in the right direction. He gave it all up for a matter of perspective that forced him to evolve into a different sort of man. To say that it was a choice would be dwindling down the complexity of his experience into a narrow framework. One that was too simple to digest his existential circumstance.

Still, he sat there. On the corner of Vernon and nowhere special, letting his eyes wander and express a sort of humility that could only be birthed from despair. Justin had faith. Faith that was the size of a mustard seed, but faith nonetheless.

He took a sip of his water from the cooler and spread out beside his corner spot. The corner grew to become his place of business. It was a place where he could let his work speak for itself. He didn’t have to depend on the charity of others because he had a hustle that was good for at least 3 grand a month. He slang all sorts of things and, since today was Sunday, he was dealing in healing.

He stood up and traveled to the past. His fists were clinched, teeth were grit and sweat beaded down his face. Although the moment had come and gone, it still played in his mind – over and over again. A bad dream that wouldn’t let him go.

It would always play like this. Felicia was a young, pretty and demure administrative assistant. She sat there, arrested to the carpet that ran under Mr. Buxx’s desk and stretched the length of the entire room. It was regal. Moments before, she walked in with Mr. Buxx’s contracts for the day. She was unaware that he and his business partners had lured her there.

One of the men stood behind the door while Mr. Buxx called her in to bring him the contracts. Up until that point, Justin played along with the gang and their silly jokes. However, as Mr. Miyamoto held his hand up to his mouth to muffle the sound of his laughter, Justin knew it was no longer a joke. These men played games that Justin wasn’t accustomed to playing.

As soon as Felicia flung the door open, “Here are your papers Mr. Buxx!”, she was pushed down to the ground.

The men continued their laughter as they zeroed in on her. Before she could collect herself, four men stood around her. She frantically gathered the papers, apologized for tripping and stood face to face with Mr. Buxx.

“Here are your papers sir.”
Her voice was inaudible – barely resounding above a whisper. “Why doesn’t she fight back or scream?”
Buxx snickered, “Cause’ the little black bitch needs this job!”

Felicia whimpered as she retreated back towards the door. Miyamoto stood in her way. He pushed her back towards the middle of the room where the men formed a circle around her. Justin stood in the corner of the room, resigned to go unnoticed by the rest.

“J, are you alright?”

Justin’s father used to call him J. He couldn’t believe he told Mr. Buxx that. He stared into Felicia’s eyes. This connection triggered him into a memory about his mother. She would’ve been about 65 by now. He remembered the way she used to well up with tears on the floor in the same manner after receiving a beating from his father.

Felicia resembled his mother. Justin couldn’t go through with it. Mr. Miyamato saw the look of shame on Justin’s face. It worried him a bit because he needed this deal to go through if he stood any chance at saving his company.

“Yeah J, are you in or are you out?”

Justin broke his fixation with Felicia. The room didn’t appear so grand now. It was seedy and voyeuristic. The men who he grew to admire appeared more clear – a few gangsters in suits. Nothing about his life had really changed for the better at all. He hadn’t escaped the life of a thug and he didn’t leave the customs of the streets.

He was still being jumped in. Initiated into a terror world that would cost him the price of his soul upon admittance. He glared at Buxx.

“I’m out.”

Justin broke into the circle, grabbed Felicia and ran out of there bowling over any pinhead that got in his way.

On the corner, the sage stood firm in his hand as he lit it. The trauma spell was broken by his torch. He made his way down the street with smoke billowing behind him and consuming the cars. Carrying pouches filled with mustard seed prayers, Justin sold them to people as they sat at each red light in their cars.

Justin learned to make brief, yet, meaningful eye contact to confirm a purchase. He held up his holy supply and the driver would gesture with a nod, smile or cash in hand that they were ready to make a purchase. Some days were filled with triumph; others were miserable for profits, but he continued on. Something deep inside of him told him to continue his holy quest, to guide the herd – to save souls. He never gave up because he couldn’t afford to lose sight of the Lord. He survived by chance and on the grace of God.

As he walked down the row of cars he side-eyed a gesture from the driver of a four-door sedan. The window slowly rolled down. He peered inside. There sat an older woman. She had a calm demeanor and a gracious resolve about her. She intimately looked into Justin’s eyes. Her sight penetrated the outer layers of his circumstance. Inside of him was a man battling a dark spirit that didn’t belong to him. It didn’t take long for her to know that she wouldn’t regret her choice.

“How much for a bundle of sage and a prayer pouch dear?”
“They a dollar each ma’am.”
She smiled, reached into her purse, pulled out a five dollar bill and handed it to Justin. “Thank you ma’am!” Justin handed her a bundle of sage and a prayer pouch.
“Thank you sweetheart. Listen, you keep the change and be careful out here on the street.” “Yes, Ma’am.”
“I’ll be praying for you.”

The light turned green. Justin smiled and waved goodbye. He put his money away, gathered himself and returned to the sidewalk as another row of cars passed by. The cars continued on. Another row stopped as the light turned red. This time, a black car crept up and stopped directly in front of Justin. It’s windows were tinted a deep black.

Justin was unable to see who was inside. The back passenger window rolled down. The men inside the car echoed out with roars of laughter. One of the men threw a penny at Justin.

“Pick it up boy.”
Justin knew the voice, it was Buxx.

He felt no shade as he looked and saw the sorry state of the men inside. They reeked of drugs and alcohol. He picked the penny up and handed a prayer pouch back to Buxx.

“What the fuck is this gay shit J? – man, is it that bad? Are Niggas out here slinging purses?”

One of the men looked back and grabbed the pouch from Buxx with even more outrage. He was eager to see what was inside. He craved for more ammunition. As he opened the bag, it exploded into flames and a loud thunderous voice spoke from inside the car.

“Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the armor of God…Stand having fastened on the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes for your feet and a readiness given by the gospel of peace.”

The men couldn’t believe it. Each one looking over the face of the other to process the shock of the supernatural force that such a little pouch could yield. The force that such a little man could yield. One by one, their feet swelled and burst into flames, catching their clothes on fire and burning their bodies. Their screams rose high above the flames as they bellowed upward into black and grey smoke.

The wind swept the smoke up into the air where it dissolved into the blue sky.

The paint on the car started to peel. Justin reached his hands out over the remaining skin and peeled it all off. Underneath it was a shiny silver armor. Justin looked around for a witness to his miracle. By some act of intervening fate, no one was there. He walked around the car to the driver’s side and peered inside. The entire car was empty and unmarred by the flames.

The driver side door opened. Justin stepped inside, pushed start, turned to the gospel station and made a call.

“Put on something nice, I’m coming to get you baby.” Finally, he found favor in God’s eyes again.

The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Exodus 14:14