Neighbors: A Modern Parable

empty city street with boarded up buildings
Photo by Adrián Metasboc on Unsplash

He should never have been in this part of the city, but his pickup had inhaled gas while sitting in the backup from an accident, and the man wasn’t sure he could make it much further. He grabbed the first exit he saw. It took longer to find a gas station than he had figured. Forty-bucks got him less than it would back home, so he decided to keep following the road to the Business Route instead of doubling back to the Interstate.

Stopped at a traffic light, he saw the Check Tire light come on. Damn! He pulled over to the curb, a boarded up brick building to his right, more of the same scattered through the block. A few businesses seemed to be hanging on, but none were open at 1:00 am. He decided to check things out; maybe he could keep going until things livened up a bit.

No such luck. Some sort of debris – probably from the accident – had cut a hole in the right rear tire. Unless he wanted to replace a custom rim, he’d better change it now.

He had just lifted the spare onto the bolts when he felt eyes on him. Looking around, he saw nothing. He finished tightening the bolts as fast as he dared and bent to put the flat into the truck bed. That’s when they jumped him.

Silhouettes of people walking down dark alley
Photo by Amirreza Amouie on Unsplash

Four to one, he didn’t have a chance.

With a broken nose and cut over his eye from being slammed into the truck, he was trying to ease the pain from his arm being twisted behind his back when one of them called out.

“Look at this!” The passenger door of his truck was open and stuff was being pulled out.

“Big man going to the rally? We got enough of you ‘round here without more comin’ in from outta state.” Other things were shouted as he was punched, kicked, and stomped on. Darkness was a relief.

Pastor Bob was tired. Old Sister Mabel had hung in there, but the cancer had won in the end. At least her whole family had been there for the last. But that meant the condolences had taken some time, and her eldest son had wanted to start planning for the funeral right away.

He looked at his watch. He might get four hours’ sleep, but he’d have to improvise the last part of his sermon from the outline. Not enough time to finish it right.

Turning the corner, the headlights of his Seville flashed on something in the road. Pastor Bob slowed down for a better look. Another drunk or druggie was lying near the curb. Disgusting! When were they going to clean up this area? As he continued on home at a faster pace, he shook his head. The area clergy association had been hounding City Hall about this very thing. All those empty buildings just attracted the riff-raff.

Not two minutes later, a BMW approached the intersection. The driver never had liked this area, but as a lawyer, his job often required his presence here. Of course, if he won the City Councilman seat next election, there’d be a new development replacing all these old buildings. About time the area was gentrified.

His eyes saw the body lying there, but his mind dismissed it. Nothing new; nothing to be concerned about. He thought back to the meeting of movers and shakers he’d left, and smiled. Now, if he could get some backing by showing up at the counter-rally to denounce the extremists, he’d have a solid voter base.

The Ford Taurus was old, but it started faithfully every time Jacqui turned the key. Buying it had put a dent in her school money, but it saved a lot of time waiting on buses that didn’t run regular. And with Kim carpooling and helping with the expenses, she had managed to keep running costs down, even if it did mean driving a little out of her way. It’d been a long shift, and she wanted to be home off her feet.

“What’s that over there?” Kim asked tiredly, pointing down the street they were crossing. All Jacqui could see was a dark lump and something red.

“Dunno,” she answered and turned the corner without signalling. Not like there was any traffic around. And it wouldn’t hurt anything to go around the block.

“Hey, that’s a guy!” Jacqui slammed on the brakes and hit her four way flashers.

“What are you doing?” her friend gasped as Jacqui grabbed the flashlight from the console.

“Keep your phone handy,” was the only reply.

She knew he was alive, because she’d seen his hand move when she rounded the corner.

“Hey, you OK?” she asked as she knelt down, ignoring the blood and oil seeping through the knees of her scrubs.

He grunted as he turned his head, and she saw there was a gag tied around his mouth. Loosening the knot, she pulled it away and it unfurled enough to reveal a Confederate battle flag. Huh. She helped him roll over and sit up, cataloging the cuts and bruises she could see. Looked like someone had worked him over pretty good.

“You wanna go to the emergency room?”

“No money,” he managed to whisper, hoarse from the gag. “They took my wallet, my phone and my truck.”

Jacqui made a quick mental calculation and shook her head. She didn’t have the money either. Nursing home wages didn’t go far, especially with a kid and college expenses. Plan B, then. “Come on, let’s get you in the car.”

With Kim’s reluctant assistance, they got the man into the front passenger seat, and Kim climbed into the back with the empty child seat.

After dropping Kim off, Jacqui made a quick phone call and headed home. Her fiancée was waiting on the porch in sweats and a t-shirt, arms crossed over her chest and a stony look on her beautiful olive face.

“You really want to do this?” Julie asked.

“Help me get him in, Jules. He’s hurt pretty bad.”

“Hope you get your degree soon. Then you can play Nurse Jacqui all you want,” the other grumbled. To the man she warned in a low voice, “You better not wake up our baby girl.”

contents of a first aid kit displayed on a table
Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

Once they had him seated on a chair in the kitchen, they went to work, Jacqui cleaning the blood off and Julie bandaging his wounds, while he held a bag of frozen peas and towel to his nose. The cut over his eye took stitches, and the scowl never left Julie’s face, but it did ease some when she saw his broken ribs.

“You sure got somebody pissed off.” It was the only thing she said the whole time. He managed to do nothing more than groan.

Jacqui had made a call to the police earlier, and two officers arrived as Julie was finishing wrapping an ace bandage around the man’s rib cage.

The older one, a black man who’s hair was showing a little gray under the edge of his hat, stood silently and studied the odd trio.

Jacqui, short and curvy, her hair braided in neat cornrows, sat at the side of the table. Julie stood behind her, leaning against the sink, her hair almost as short as his own but without any curl, a no-nonsense look that he suspected she could back up. Then there was the young man in the chair at the end of the table. Red hair cut short, he had the kind of pale skin that only burned, never tanned.

His partner, who’s uniform and utility belt looked like they were just off the shelf, sat across from Jacqui and took notes as she gave her statement. Then the man gave his.

After they finished, the note taker, who’s name tag read, “Rodriguez”, ask a few clarifying questions, barely hiding the disgust in his voice. “You do understand, a tricked out truck like that has already hit a chop shop by now? But give me the details, and we’ll run them anyway.”

“I don’t have that stuff memorized,” the man replied. “But if someone has a computer I can borrow, I can look it up.”

Jacqui left the room and returned with an old laptop and a plastic grocery bag.

She handed the laptop to the man and the bag to the older officer. “This is what they used to gag him. Don’t know if it’ll help any.”

The older officer checked the contents, not touching the flag. Then he pointedly surveyed the man’s tattoos. “You’re planning on going to the rally this afternoon.” A statement more than a question, the flat tone of the senior officer’s voice was scarier than Rodriquez’ disgust.

The man went cold, then felt the heat in his face and ears, and knew the red of his scalp was now darker than his strawberry blonde hair.

He stared at the floor.

After several false starts, he managed to whisper, “I was.”

See Luke 10:29-37

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