Watch Us, Protect Us

We’re all holding hands on the street. Bear on my left, a stocky, grizzled Filipino dude wearing a hard expression under squinting eyes. Pancho on my right, a wiry black man with a thin face and a black “OAKLAND” beanie with big, gothic lettering. Cece is between the men, finishing a prayer: “And keep us alllll”—she draws out the word in her Native-American accent—“safe from the Devil!”

Amens all around.

Cece is direct, and I like that about her. She’ll show up at the door and ask for a couple bucks for bus fare, or maybe a hot meal for the evening. No BS about your place burning to the ground, or needing travel fare to visit your newly-discovered relatives in Tuscon.

She reminds me of a bird, her beaked nose giving rise to sleepy eyes encased with gold wire-rimmed glasses. She waves her head about when she speaks, side-to-side like a pigeon’s. You can see it particularly when she’s off on one of her rambling episodes, going off about the weather, or about her Christmas, or the long bus route to Richmond, where she and her son Lamoine used to live in a shelter. Tonight—“I got two kids with me” — I am surprised to discover they are a little older.

Bear and Pancho, as far as I can tell, are Cece’s friends, mid-twenties men dressed in black, hands in pockets and (I think) looking dangerous. I heat the food and find the three of them are waiting on the railing off to the side of our front entrance, where churchgoers are warily exiting the evening service. I drop off the food before Cece, who along with Pancho begin rifling through the contents.

Pancho slaps my hand in greeting and immediately informs me he used to sleep on the steps out here. “You’ve seen me around.” Come to think about it, he does seem familiar.

“Sheee-yit” Bear exclaims with a smirk, “Can I tell you a story? Some spirits live out here.”

eveningtime, it is bitterly cold, he wakes to the sensation of being lifted and dragged. upward, upward he floats. he is flailing, someone, something has snatched him by the leg and he is now ten, twenty, thirty feet in the air (up by the tower, he gestures up overhead). he is let down and on his leg are finger marks, scratches, blood.

“I ain’t sleeping here no more.” He stares out into the parking lot, a blank expression on his face. Bear has found another place to stay by the McDonalds on 17th.

“Yeah right, you can believe a lotta things,” Pancho exclaims as he digs through a macaroni plate with his fingers. “You was just crazy.”

“I believe that,” I tell them. “That stuff happens.” Bear gives me a worried look, which turns to confusion.

Cece interjects, “the Devil is REAL. He come to get me in my dreams.”

she is a teenaged girl, though raised in a native american church out on 98th ave (her uncle was a priest) she left the Great Spirit to live the wild life, and oftentimes in her dreams she sees a figure, dark, red eyes, hovering. it is often hard to breathe and she has to try with all her strength to whisper the name of jesus, jesus, jesus. these days, the devil is after her nephew who presses a knife into her hands and tells her with a fearful smile: “you’ll need it, moms.”

“I believe that too,” I say, and Cece smiles, looking around, satisfied.

Pancho knocks me on the forearm and chuckles, gesturing to Bear and Cece. “Listen, I think the Devil ain’t what we see in the movies with the horns and maybe the pitchfork. He’s different.” He doesn’t elaborate.

“Yeah, that shit’s real man, I ain’t never coming out here again.” Bear interjects.

“The Devil is REAL. He come to me in my DREAMS!” Cece has gone off rambling again, her voice whiny and raspy and full of trembling fear. Her eyes dart about as her head bobs and her voice shrinks.

“We don’t gotta be afraid when we got God on our side.” Pancho finishes.

We talk about Jesus. It’s crazy, like a little church service.

Pancho: “You know, I think Jesus beat the devil by going to the cross we don’t gotta be afraid no more.”

Me: “I think that the name of Jesus is powerful and even the demons have got to submit to his name. I’ve seen stuff like this happen.”

Bear: “For real?”

Pancho: “Oh yeah.”

Cece is still rambling.

Me: “For real. You need to call on Jesus next time that stuff happens.”

Bear: “Listen man, can we have a prayer? I could use a prayer tonight.”

Cece quiets down and nods her head.

Without a word, everybody extends a hand. Bear starts the prayer (“Um I don’t know how to do this man”), Cece finishes us off (“Aaaaa-man!”). And amen.

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