Darkness has fallen around Pasadena when they emerge from a public housing complex on Colorado Boulevard. The streetlights are bright, and traffic is heavy as people head home from work. Their car is parked on the street just around the corner. The young missionary is headed that way when they pass a black man standing on the corner as though he might cross the street. He thinks of talking to him, but the man is muttering to himself and reeks of beer and urine. So the young man smiles and nods at him but turns right and keeps walking.
Then he pauses, turns around, and looks back. The black man has turned and is no longer facing the side street to cross. Instead, he is standing on the curb next to Colorado Boulevard, his beat-up shoes half off the curb and hanging over the street. Traffic is flying by just inches away from him.
“What’s he doing?” Elder Davis says.
“Doesn’t look good,” says the young man.
He takes a deep breath and walks back over. “Hey, I’m Elder Laws.”
The black man turns, his eyes glassy and bloodshot, his beard patchy and ragged. He looks blankly at the young man, then turns back to the street, still muttering to himself.
The young man moves closer to him and says, “What’s going on?”
The man says, “I’m fixin to step off this curb and kill myself.”
The young man doesn’t react except to nod. “What’s bothering you?”
“It just ain’t worth it. Ain’t nothin worth it.”
“What’s not worth it?”
The man shakes his head. “Nothin. I cain’t take no mo.”
The young man looks behind him and sees a green bench. “Why don’t we go sit over on that bench and you tell me about what’s not worth it?”
The man shakes his head. “Nah, man. I done tole you. I’m fixin to step off this here curb and kill myself.”
The young man nods. “Okay. I understand what you’re going to do. But before you do, how about you come over to the bench and tell me what you can’t take, and then you can go back to the curb and kill yourself.”
The black man looks at him for several long moments, shrugs, then starts to the bench. He sits down and looks up at the young man and Elder Davis. Just before the missionaries can sit, the man throws his legs up on the bench and lies down. He looks at them and says, “Y’all mind if I take a nap before we talk?”
The young man shrugs and says, “Good by me.”
He watches the black man close his eyes, and in moments, the man is snoring. The young man looks at Elder Davis.
“We can go now,” he says.
Two days later, on a warm spring day, they are knocking doors on a street that intersects Colorado Boulevard, and they hear whistles and catcalls from one side of the street. On the other side of the street are two black women, one of whom calls back, “Ain’t gonna tell you again! I don’t want none of you!”
They walk to the house where the catcalls are coming from. The black man from two nights before is sitting with another black man on an old wooden porch. They walk up cement steps to it.
The young man gets close and sees brown bags full of Natural Light. He smells body odor and beer. The black man ignores him and whistles again at the girls.
The young man says, “Good to see you again. You feeling better?”
The man looks up at him. “Man, I don’t know you. What you talkin about?”
“We met the other night.”
“I didn’t meet no one no other night.”
“Okay,” says the young man. He motions to Elder Davis, and he starts back down to leave.
The black man calls after him. “Wait, wait, wait.”
The young man turns.
“Can I aks you a question?”
The man holds up his right arm, bent at the elbow, and points to it with his left hand. “You see my arm? It’s broke.”
“It looks okay to me.”
“It’s broke because I fell for her!” he says, pointing across the street. “And so now my arm is broke.”
“All right,” says the young man. “Have a great day.”
“Wait, wait, wait!”
“Can I aks you a question?”
The young man sighs. “Okay.”
“You see my arm? My arm is broke because I fell for her.”
“I know. You told me that. Have a great day.”
“Wait, wait, wait! I wanna aks you a question.”
“Have a great day, pal.”