Jesus Ain't Coming
A story from New Domangue
Joann Batille couldn’t stand it much more. She had put her troubles aside just so she could make it to the laundry shop. The poorly ventilated little place was full of women just like her, women she knew by face or by name, women who had similar troubles at home. It was hot. And the women complained as easily as they sweated, as if their words about their cheating husbands, their no-good children, and their lousy lives in New Domangue could not be helped. They had little faith, which bothered Joann. After ten minutes of praying for them, she felt a desire to bear witness for the Lord.
The words came out of her mouth with ease, and they kept at bay the hollow ache she had felt when she fell asleep on the living room couch the night before. Her son Calvin and her husband Enrique had not come home. She awoke feeling anxious and began to ask friends about their whereabouts the next morning. By noon, no one she asked had seen them. When Auntie Freeman arrived to mind the twins, Joann walked the few short blocks to the laundry shop, hoping to find Calvin and Enrique at home when she returned.
“The year before he left,” Joann said loudly to the lot of women, “Enrique was drinking up his pay before he could use it to support his family. He spent most his time complaining about New Domangue, about how it suffocated him. He said he wanted to go find something better up river, up in New Orleans. Was a minister once, yessir. Gave up on God. Quit his ministry and turned to the bottle. Then he left his family. The girls weren’t in the picture yet, you see? And my son, Calvin, was only four years old when Enrique left the first time.”
The gathered women listened quietly, even as the hum and bang of washing machines filled the sweltering laundry shop with noise.
Joann gave her friend Willie Mae a hard look.
“You see,” Joann continued, “it ain’t got nothing to do with how I survived, because I ain’t did nothing. I give my credit to Jesus. When Enrique come back to me, Calvin was going on ten years old. God showed me the way. I took Enrique back, and God blessed us with two beautiful twin girls.”
As Joann witnessed, she began to feel as if she were pouring cement into a hole inside her that had developed out of nowhere that the previous night.
“Now, I’ll tell you the truth,” she pushed on. “Enrique and me are facing some tough times these days. Tough times. Just like you might be with your husbands and children. And my boy Calvin—he’s more a stranger these days. But I can’t lose faith just when I’m in the middle of it all going bad. This when I got to believe. When I need him most. And so do you. Because if you believe, he will show you his glory. Amen!”
“Amen!” shouted the women, including Willie Mae, who quickly walked over to Joann.
“God is both savior and protector,” Joann added, directing this final statement toward Willie Mae.
“Amen to that. You sure right,” Willie Mae answered.
Some of the women near Joann offered words of agreement as they moved away, returning to their washing and folding. Joann glanced at the ceiling and thanked God quietly. She scooped into her large arms the three pillowcases of washed laundry and stepped out into the humid New Domangue afternoon.
Joann thought about the way the women responded to her words and the way Willie Mae had agreed, and she felt as if her prayers had been heard.
“Joann! Wait up!” Willie Mae called as she emerged from the laundry shop. Joann carefully lowered her load of pillowcases onto the searing cement and wiped beads of sweat from her brow.
“Girl, you shouldn’t be walking with that kind of load in this July heat. You could catch heatstroke. Let me grab one those bags,” Willie Mae said as she placed one of the pillowcases on her wheeled basket.
Joann thanked Willie Mae and walked in silence alongside her friend. Her thoughts were suddenly struck with what felt like barbed wires as she wondered about her husband and her son. The boy was only fourteen, but with Enrique out all hours of the night getting drunk, there was little Joann could do to keep her son from slipping away. She recalled the first time Calvin had stayed out the entire night, how she had worried herself terribly and been unable to sleep until she saw the car of those boys he was with drive up to the front of the house at six in the morning. She tried to discipline him, even used a switch, but it didn’t work. Calvin simply took her yelling and her beating without a word and continued seeing his friends. Joann talked to Enrique, but he did nothing.
Enrique had been a good man before he had become a drunk, and Joann believed that one day he would be freed of the bottle.
As she looked up at the brilliant white sun, Joann wondered how things might have turned out if she’d done a number of things differently. The unbearable heat made her wish she’d learned how to drive a car.
“How far you going, Willie Mae?”
“I can help you to your house.”
“I greatly appreciate it. The girls were sleeping last time I talked with Auntie,” Joann said as they continued slowly down Haven Street. Joann always wondered at how the homes on this street differed so much from those in other neighborhoods, how everything looked lifeless, as if it were deserted.
Haven Street, the main entrance into New Domangue’s King Central neighborhood, stretched from the river toward the old commercial section of Earl K. Long Avenue. A canopy of limbs from fatherly live oaks, remnants of an old sugarcane plantation’s grand entrance, covered the last few blocks near the river. As Joann walked toward the shade, she noticed how the number of broken-down houses and the amount of trash filling the sidewalks increased with her every step.
“You still working for that white lady up in Lakelawn Estates?” Joann asked, her memory briefly reminding her of the new development of three-story houses she’d once glimpsed through a bus window while running an errand on the north side of town.
“Yep,” Willie Mae answered. “But I’m not sure for how much longer. Some days, when I gets into it with Miss Betsy, I have a hard time remembering my prayers. I try to think about finding peace, but when I can get to a place where I can look for him, I don’t find nothing.”
Joann stopped at the next corner before crossing the street and looked into the noonday sun.
“What I wanna know is,” Willie Mae continued, “where you get all that faith? Seem like no matter what happen to you, you stay strong.”
“I just take my soul out my heart and I place it in God’s lap. I walk up to him and I say, here’s my soul, God. I know you strong and I know you kind, so here I am.”
“That don’t work for me.”
“You ain’t going to find him in The Blue Lady.”
“I know it,” Willie Mae shot back before speeding on ahead.
Joann stopped once more, gently lowered the pillowcases in order to wipe away the sweat from her face, and suddenly felt, for a passing moment, as if she could fall in a heap of clothes and sweat and never get up again. As she leaned over to pick up her bundles, she felt the heaviness of her large frame and felt her joints ache as she slowly stood back up.
Her home was only a handful of blocks ahead, nestled in a row of deteriorating shotgun houses on the last block of Three Quarter’s Row, a short dead-end street that cut away at an angle from Haven Street. Upon turning the corner, Joann ran abruptly into Willie Mae.
“Willie Mae! What’s going on?”
“Look down there,” Willie Mae ordered quietly.
Three police cars blocked the sidewalk directly in front of Joann’s house, and several policemen were kneeling behind their cars with their guns drawn. As two officers walked carefully into the yard next door to Joann’s, their guns pointed ahead of them, Joann tried not to think the worst, and her first thought was that the Williams kid had finally done something to bring the police down on his grandmother’s house. But then she thought about Calvin.
“Look like they going in Old Woman Williams’s place,” Willie Mae screeched. “I sure hope it ain’t nothing too troubling.”
Joann avoided acknowledging her own thoughts about Calvin. She followed slowly behind Willie Mae and recalled something about Jesus saying that if one taught the wicked the way to heaven and the wicked refused to follow, all one could do was dust one’s hands clean of them and walk away. Joann wondered if Jesus would have said that if he had had a son who turned wicked.
When the policemen seemed to rush toward her house, Joann suddenly leapt into the commotion. She pushed through and beyond the red and blue circling lights of the police cars, ignoring the bursts of gunfire that pierced the afternoon heat and the uproar in the house next door until she reached her own front door.
“Auntie Freeman!” she yelled. “Open up, Auntie! You open up!”
Before a large, angry policeman rushing toward her from the yard could catch her, Joann slipped inside through the slight opening Auntie Freeman made for her.
“Where the twins, Auntie? They all right? Where they at?”
“We all right,” Auntie Freeman called out after her. “I put them beneath the kitchen table!”
Joann found her two daughters holding hands as they sat on the kitchen floor. She quickly inspected them from head to toe and then scooped them up and embraced them tightly.
“Joann, you better get out here!” Auntie Freeman called. “These cops yelling at us to open the door!”
“You two get back down under that table until I come get you,” Joann cooed, using as soothing a voice as she could manage.
Joann thought about Calvin again. She’d seen those boys he was with going by Old Woman Williams’s place a few times before. She remembered her own dark thoughts about her son as she opened the door and watched two oversized policemen, guns drawn, enter her home.
Why would they look for anyone in her house? God only knew, she didn’t have the kind of family that crossed paths with the police.
“Ain’t no one come in here,” Auntie Freeman said to one officer as he moved past her.
The other officer walked up toward Joann and asked vague questions about people—if she’d seen this person or that person, or if she’d heard anything or knew anything about who visited the house next door. Joanne nodded or shook her head depending on the question, answering when she could answer, but barely listening as she continued to wonder about Calvin. She wanted to know where he might be at that moment. Was he with those boys somewhere across town? Somewhere far away? While her thoughts stretched across the streets of New Domangue, she began to feel in the back of her mind that there was something wrong in the world when a faith as strong as hers couldn’t help keep her son out of trouble.
“Who else lives here?” the officer asked.
Joann looked at him as if he’d asked her to take her clothes off.
“It’s routine, Miss. Can you give me their names, please? And yours, too.”
“My husband’s name’s Enrique, Enrique Batille, and my boy is Calvin Batille,” she said. “He’s fourteen. I’m Joann Batille.”
“All right, thank you. Please wait here.”
Joann didn’t wait. Instead, she followed the man out onto the front stoop where she saw an ambulance arrive without the usual sirens blaring. She watched the officer slip into one of the police cars. Her thoughts drifted to her husband, and she remembered how Enrique’s return had been such a good thing in the beginning. But Calvin and Enrique had slowly drifted apart. She tried to locate the moment when they had begun to act less like father and son and more like strangers, but she couldn’t. All that remained was a feeling of absence, as if Enrique had never come back.
Joann recalled how, on Father’s Day, Calvin had run out of the house while everyone was still asleep. When he returned late that night, while Enrique was still out, Joann asked him if he remembered what day it was.
“Sure, Ma,” he said.
“Well? Ain’t you ashamed you ain’t even wished him a Happy Father’s Day? He your father, you know.”
“I ain’t got nothing to say to him,” Calvin shrugged.
And only fourteen, she thought. Joann could no longer keep things from Calvin. Her girls, too, will one day see with their own eyes.
Where would she be now if she had been able to learn to live without Enrique? She had done what she had because she believed, as she still tried to believe at that moment, even as the police blocked everything in front of her house, that her husband was a God-fearing man who only needed to accept guidance.
“Mrs. Batille,” the policeman called to her as he returned. He climbed up the stoop slowly toward her. “I’m afraid you’re going to have to come downtown with us to the detention center. Your son is on his way there now.”
“What? What my boy going to the center for?”
“He’s going to be booked, ma’am.”
“Booked? What you mean booked? Booked for what?”
When she arrived at the detention center, the policeman who drove her there showed her where to sign in. She did so and was led back to a room with brick walls and no windows. As she sat in one of two stiff wooden chairs at a plain wooden table that was inscribed with countless scratched words, Joann prayed while unanswered questions filled her mind. What had happened? What made them think Calvin was involved? Couldn’t it have been a coincidence that brought Calvin here? What if someone was hurt? She didn’t know who to ask, or where to start asking. This was her first time in such a place. As she looked around at the indifferent walls, she thought of her two girls who remained behind with Auntie Freeman, and she thought of Enrique.
“This ain’t what I took you back for, Enrique,” she said, too loudly, her voice thundering back to her off the cold walls. She lowered her head and began to reprimand an imagined figure of her absent husband. When her eyes noticed a worn, yet clear phrase etched deeply enough into the wood to withstand many attempts to erase it, she fell silent. Directly beneath her palms, she could easily read the inscription, which formed soundlessly on her lips: Don’t sit here and pray for Jesus, because he ain’t coming. Jesus ain’t coming, and I thought you should know.
She wondered what sort of lost soul would write such a thing.
Soon, the sound of voices down the hall filled the room. Two men entered and introduced themselves, though she didn’t quite catch their names, and one sat down across from her.
“Mrs. Batille, we’re sorry to have to tell you this, but your son is going to be booked for murder.”
Joann felt as if she might lose control and slip from the chair, spreading herself flat on her back across the floor. One of the men continued talking about bail and procedures. It wasn’t until Joann became aware that she was still sitting upright in the chair that she realized she hadn’t fainted.
“How you know my boy done what you say he done?” she asked once she felt able to speak.
“He was caught running through your neighbor’s backyard, he and two other boys. We have their guns. Your boy’s involved.”
“My boy ain’t the murdering kind.”
“You can take that up with the judge, ma’am.”
“Can I see him?”
“Yes, ma’am, you can see him tomorrow morning.”
Joann didn’t understand. Why was she brought here if she couldn’t even see her son?
“Can’t I even visit with him for five minutes?”
“We’re sorry. You can see him tomorrow. We need you to sign these papers, please.”
“But you must have the wrong child. Calvin’s a good boy, he is.”
“We’re sorry,” one of the men said, “but could you please sign here?”
Joann stared into the twilight as she stepped outside the detention center. She noticed that the far-reaching rays fanned out across the tops of distant clouds in the west and created rose-colored streaks in the sky. She felt the warm heat of the humid evening slowly spread across her face as she sat down heavily on the large cement steps to wait for Auntie Freeman.
Her thoughts were distant and vague. Something had begun to break loose the cement she had poured into that hole earlier at the laundry shop. She didn’t know what it was, and in a removed way she decided to focus on breathing.
A woman with two small boys sat down beside her. Joann noticed that the two boys giggled in a hushed manner while they pointed at her.
“Man,” one of the boys said, “look at her arms—they bigger than my legs.”
Joann saw the woman slap the boy on the head and reprimand both of them for giggling.
“I’m sorry, miss,” she said. “They ain’t mean nothing.”
Joann looked into the stranger’s eyes and blinked as if she were just awakening.
“You got one of yours in there, too?” the woman asked.
“I tell you the truth,” the woman said, “it’s enough to make me cuss Jesus, sometimes. The way things turn out.”
“Lord, honey,” Joann shot back, her voice and her lips feeling as if they belonged to someone else, “if you fall down so low as to have to curse Jesus, then what you got left?”
“I don’t know, lady. Maybe you right,” the woman said, her eyes turning away from Joann. “But I get a desire to cuss God sometimes. Can’t count on nobody but myself these days.”
The woman looked away, and Joann remained silent. Auntie Freeman often said the same thing. Joann realized that she would have reprimanded this woman for her thin faith if she’d met her earlier that same day.
As Auntie Freeman drove her home, Joann stared in silence out the window at the changing landscape as they headed south toward King Central. She watched as the well-tended lawns, brightly lit businesses, and clean streets spread out from Lakelawn Estates, down Historic Downtown, through Magnolia Gardens, and then began to fade as they came to Booker Gardens. King Central, farther south, offered only ramshackle housing units and run-down, makeshift storefronts. Joann glanced back at her two daughters, sleeping quietly in the back seat, and thought about the writing on the wooden table and about what the woman on the steps had said. In her heart, Joann felt a slight touch of guilt.
“Joann, when you going to say something?” Auntie Freeman asked.
“I don’t know what I got to say anything about,” Joann answered.
“For starters, you can tell me what’s going on with Calvin. What kind of trouble he in?”
“More trouble than I can bear alone, Auntie.”
“Don’t give me that kind of talk, Joann. You know I ain’t going to tolerate it. You going to talk sense, or not?”
Auntie Freeman pulled into Three Quarter’s Row.
“I don’t feel like talking right now, Auntie,” Joann said as she looked down at her swollen feet.
“Fine, then I’ll tell you what I found out while you was gone. You know about the Williams boy? He was the one got killed today. Seems he was involved with some drug-dealing hoodlums. Got more than he bargained for. A passel of them no-good hoodlums come in there and filled him with bullets. Old Woman Williams heard it all from her back room. Can you believe that, Joann? Imagine having all that stuff happening in your own house? Old Woman Williams was crying that she didn’t call 911 fast enough. She was crying over her no good grandson, like he was worth something. He sure didn’t care about her, did he? You all right, Joann?”
“No, Auntie,” Joann mumbled, wishing that none of what she had just heard was true, and hoping, Lord God, hoping that Calvin hadn’t done any of the killing. Her eyes fell upon the yellow fluorescent tape that criss-crossed the yard next door.
“We here, darling. You want me to go in there with you?”
“Yes, Auntie, I do.”
After she tucked the two girls into bed, Joann returned to the front room where Auntie Freeman waited. She wondered what Enrique would do once he learned that his son was in jail.
“What kind of trouble Calvin in, honey?”
“Auntie, I don’t want to say,” Joann answered. “But I guess I ought to. You tell me the Williams boy is dead, and the police told me it’s Calvin that did the killing.”
“What? Our Calvin? Killed somebody? You sure that ain’t some kind of mistake?”
“I wish it was, Auntie. Just when I need my savior most, he don’t seem to be listening to me.”
“And if he listening, what would you have him do?”
“I’d have him answer my prayers, Auntie. I’d put my troubles in his lap and ask him to see me through this.”
“Listen, Joann, I don’t mean to put God down any. But you got to believe in yourself first, honey, before God do anything for you. Even Jesus going to tell you that. You just like your mama. She was accepting of too much, God rest her soul, and I put her in the ground too long before her time was due. But you still young. You got a chance. If you don’t believe in yourself, then what good you think God going to be for you?”
“Sometimes I think I know what you mean about believing in myself. I try to do it, but then I feel guilty that I ain’t giving God his due, and I stop thinking like that.”
“Jesus, honey, you should hear yourself,” Auntie Freeman said. She grabbed Joann by the arm and led her outside. “Come on, we don’t want to wake your girls.”
Joann breathed in the dark air that enveloped the street. A thick, humid film coated the night air, creating a blanket of heat that permeated the poorly lit dead-end street.
“I know you been having a tough time, Joann,” Auntie Freeman began. “And I know Enrique ain’t helping matters none. Now you tell me that Calvin’s in jail for murder. I just don’t believe it. Even if he is going round with the wrong crowd, he ain’t just going to up and throw away everything you taught him overnight.”
“In my heart, I see it like you, Auntie.”
“Do you really think Calvin could have killed somebody?”
“No, Auntie, no.”
“But he could get led into the wrong place, right?” Auntie Freeman asked. Joann nodded. “Well, maybe you need to consider that just because Calvin was here don’t mean he committed murder. You understand?”
Joann didn’t understand. But something about what Auntie Freeman said rang true, as if for the first time Joann was beginning to listen to how things truly were.
“Joann, listen,” Auntie Freeman continued, “I don’t think God troubles himself about no particulars. What happens in your life between you and Enrique and between you and Calvin ain’t for God to decide. Now I know that this may sound like blasphemy to you, but what happens to you is your own making.”
Joann looked at her feet while Auntie Freeman spoke.
“You listening, Joann? I don’t know about what God wants, but I do know that maybe you ought to think about what you want. And right now, your boy’s going to need you. Whether you have God’s blessing or not, you going to have to be there for Calvin. He might be innocent for all we know, might just have been at the wrong place at the wrong time. And he’s probably too stupid and too young to know how to say that it was somebody else did it, and he going to need you to help him understand that. But you can’t go to him with your talk about God, because God ain’t coming up in there to help him and Calvin knows this. He don’t need God right now. He needs you.”
Auntie Freeman’s words made Joann remember the message she had seen carved into the wood table in the detention center. Joann considered the words as they moved inside her head and then slowly let some of them form on her lips.
“He ain’t coming,” she said.
“What did you say, honey?”
“I was just thinking,” Joann said, slowly feeling the words in her mouth as her mind created them, “that if Enrique don’t show tonight, that maybe I might have to tell him to go.”
“Go? Where? You mean for good?”
“I don’t know, Auntie. Maybe.”
Looking down Three Quarter’s Row to where it joined with Haven Street, Joann felt as if her dead-end corner of town were even more desolate and deserted than that night when Enrique had left for the first time so long ago. There was an empty feeling about it that sunk into her as if it meant to stay there. She took in a deep breath, and with a wide open mouth she took in the humid night air, which tasted somewhat like wet dirt and sweet jasmine.
Joann glanced over at Auntie Freeman, who sat beside her, staring into the night. As she looked at her aunt’s profile she saw the faces of the women she’d seen earlier that day. She waited until her thoughts formed into words and finally made their way toward her tongue and escaped through her lips.
“Auntie, I ain’t had a chance to ask you. How my girls did today?”
About the Creator
I'm a Dominican immigrant living in the New Orleans area since the 70s. A father of two, I've been a service worker, war medic, ER tech, pro fundraiser, nonprofit leader, city bureaucrat, and now a PhD'd person, but always a writer.
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