Deveronna and the Drunk
Deveronna had to go to the store. Her Mama had to stay with Amos, because Amos had the croup. Amos needed to stay in the bathroom with the hot shower on to make warm mist. So, it was Deveronna who had to go to the store.
Now the store wasn't too far away, only two blocks. Deveronna had gone with her Mama many times. But this time she had to go by herself.
And Deveronna was frightened because one of the blocks was on 63rd. Street. She didn't like the old men who stood around, or sometimes sat, on the sidewalks. She didn't like their vacant eyes and unshaven faces. When she went to the store with her Mama she always clung more tightly to her Mama's hand when she felt one of the drunks looking at her.
Still, Deveronna knew she had to go. They needed the bread and they needed the beans. Her empty little stomach was signal enough that this was true.
Nine years old, and two months, when she stepped out onto the sidewalk, out into the warm sunlight on an August Saturday morning.
The first block wasn't so bad. She had the five dollar bill tucked in her stocking so that both her hands were free, just like her Mama told her. Deveronna could run very fast for a girl of nine years and two months, and she thought about that as she headed up the street.
There was a drugstore at the corner of Blackstone and 63rd, but it wouldn't be open for another hour. When Deveronna made the turn onto 63rd Street she was glad to see that there was only one drunk on the whole block, and he was on the other side of the street, sitting, half braced by a garbage can, in front of the T and J bar.
Deveronna smiled to herself. This wasn't going to be so bad. It was just too early on Saturday morning for trouble. The Red Rooster Grocery would be the onlything open for business, the only reason to be out and about.
Deveronna walked fast. A sunny August morning didn't seem so bad after all.
The shopping part was easy. There was only one loaf of brown bread on the shelf and Mama said that brown bread was the best for you. There was only one kind of dried beans, and they always bought dry beans because they were the cheapest. Mama cooked them with a little ketchup and said that gave them plenty of flavor.
Deveronna paused by the jars of peanut butter. They looke yummy, golden brown, and some had the little peanut pieces int them that Deveronna liked. Sometimes they bought peanut butter and Deveronna knew they didn't have any right now. She had finger wiped the jar after Mama made the last sandwich two days ago. But Mama had said bread and beans only because they might need the rest of the money to buy something for Amos.
The bread and the beans were light. Deveronna carried them up to the front of the store. She was the only customer in the store. She smiled up uncertainly at Big Rick and lifted up the bread and beans onto the counter. Then she got the five dollars out of her sock.
Big Rick was really big, everywhere but his eyes. They were small and hard to see unde the fat eyelids. Deveronna didn't like Big Rick because he never smiled. Mama said Big Rick never smiled because he didn't like his job. He was slow and made customers wait. But the Red Rooster felt they had to have a big man on the cash register.
Big Rick rang up the purchase. Deveronna handed him the five dollars and he put it in the cash register. Then he shut the register drawer.
Deveronna waited for her change. But Big Rick turned away to go put up a box of bananas. She said, "May I have my change please," trying to sound real polite.?
"Go on home kid," said Big Rick.
Deveronna walked around the counter and started following Big Rick back to the fruit section. "You forgot to give me my change. The bread and the beans were only $1.64"
Big Rick kept going. He put the box of bananas down in the fruit section. Then he turned around. He looked like a giant to Deveronna. Before she could pull back he grabbed her arm. He dragged her back to the front of the store, swept up the bag of bread and beans with his free hand and dragged her out the front door. He dropped the bag on the sidewalk and told Deveronna, "Go tell your Mama you spent the rest on candy, or I'll feed you to the rats in the sewer."
Deveronna couldn't believe it. She just stood there for awhile with tears flooding down her face. It was only after two customers had walked by her into the store that she picked up the bag and headed home. It seemed like a very long way.
Mama looked at Deveronna and she saw fresh tears well up to follow the tear tracks down her face. It wasn't long before Deveronna had the true story out. Mama dressed Amos quickly. They all set out for the Red Rooster with Amos, a little wide eyed at the fast paced walk, perched on Mama's hip. An instant later, or so it seemed to Deveronna, they were back in the Red Rooster. Amos was too wide eyed to think about coughing.
Big Rick was waiting on a customer and Mama waited until he slowly finished. Then she said fiercely, "Give my baby her change."
"What change," said Big Rick, grinning a little.
"The change from the five dollars I sent with her," said Mama.
"Aint no change," said Big Rick. "You better ask her about the peanut butter and the bananas and the candy. It all came to $5.03 but I let her have it for the $5.00. Have you got three cents?"
Mama's face was terrible to behold. Deveronna was afraid she might explode into pieces. "Big Rick, you are lying to me, and all over a piece of change that don't mean nothing to you no how."
Big Rick was really enjoying himself now. "Well you're right Mama. Forget the three cents. You just go on home now."
Two customers were lined up behind Mama now. One said, "Hey, can we check out now?"
Mama didn't know what to do. Deveronna wondered if Mama was going to call the police. She didn't think that would help. Why would the police believe a little girl. Big Rick came around the corner and was just about to grap Mama's arm when a voice sounded from the front door.
"Aint you ashamed. Making a little girl cry.
It was the drunk from across the street.
"I saw you put her out. She didn't have no bananas, no peanut butter, and no candy neither."
Big Rick spun on his heel like he had been shot. "You better go find some more wine so you can improve your vision."
"Oh I know what I saw. You oughta give the little girl her money."
Mama said, "I'm going to go call the police."
Big Rick said, "We don't need no cops. It would cost more to pay them off than to pay you." He opened the cash register and gave Mama the whole five dollars. When Deveronna got home she was still scared, but she was also thrilled. "Who was that drunk, Mama? Do you know him?"
"Oh, I know him child. He's just a little bit of Jesus, hanging out where he can do some good."
From then on Deveronna never felt funny when the drunks looked at her. She didn't hold her Mama's hand at all, and she even smiled at the ones who smiled at her.
Written by: Pat Conover about 1967 and edited January, 2007. This story goes nicely with Matthew 7:15-20.