by Margie Shaheed
A wise ol’ owl lived in an oak
Terrell is sure God loves him like a mother because life couldn’t be better. A recent promotion, a new house and his love life was let’s say active. He put on his baseball cap and grabbed his sunglasses before he headed out of the door. He was on his way to pick up Pops his baby sister’s father in-law, an elderly man who just moved to the states from the island of Jamaica. Going to the bar for a few beers on Saturday afternoons had become a weekend ritual between the men. They were a perfect match. The old man loved telling stories and reliving his past through the lenses of this attentive young man, and Terrell loved listening to the old man’s stories about island life, sugar cane and his adventures as a construction worker.
They arrived at the bar just in time to catch the first throw of the big game between the University of Kentucky and the University of Connecticut. Terrell could tell that Pops held a deep appreciation for an ice-cold Heineken especially in the bottle because whenever the first one was served he usually got quiet and lowered his head. By half time Pops had had three beers his usual cut off but today he ordered another. And, after he finished that one he ordered another. Terrell noticed that Pop’s behavior was changing. He was more talkative and today he seemed to be in a drinking competition with him.
Pops started talking about women and how they walked. He said as a young man he’d sit on the beach and watch women walk for hours. The way she moves her hips, how she glides, and the rhythm of her feet in each woman is unique as a fingerprint. Terrell laughed because he’d treaded lightly the subject of women out of respect for Pops being a married man of God.
It was obvious, Pops was drunk. A bit concerned, Terrell asked Pops if he was alright or was he ready to go home. Pops told him in no uncertain terms that he could hold his alcohol and no, he was not ready to go yet, not until after the game went off. Terrell thought to himself, this old man is trying to out drink me. That’s just ridiculous. I’m a young man. There’s no way he can drink me under the bar!
Although he and Pops were friends Terrell felt used by Pops because he never once offered to buy beer for them. If I can drink cheap beer so can Pops. When Pops went to the bathroom Terrell ordered two of his high octane malt liquors pouring one into Pop’s glass. He’s drunk now and wouldn’t know the difference anyway he rationalized. Pops returned to his seat and continued drinking the spiked beer without suspecting a thing.
The game was in its final moments. Kentucky was down by 4, had missed 11 free throws, and Connecticut had the ball. All eyes were fastened on the game when suddenly Pop’s words begin to slur, his eyes crossed and just when Terrell was ready to throw this drinking contest into second gear Pop’s arms flew up, his body began to shake, and he fell off the bar stool with a loud thump. Stunned, Terrell jumped up from his stool and quickly fell to the floor kneeling to see if he could revive Pops. “Call 911,” he shouted to the others. He nervously held onto Pop’s hand, telling him to stay with us, Terrell prayed that Pops wouldn’t die. Although the University of Connecticut won the game 60-54 the intensity of the moment was lost on this human tragedy. All of the guilt in the world fell down on Terrell’s shoulders as he watched Pops being whisked off by the paramedics on a gurney. He quickly jumped into his car and followed the speeding ambulance to the hospital. He was sorry for pitting the old man in a drinking match. If Pops died, he would never be the same he told himself.
Family members gathered in the hospital’s waiting room talking quietly anxious for the doctor to bring them news about Pops’ condition. Grandma Bankston, Pop’s wife was rather composed considering the circumstances. Terrell kept apologizing to her and whoever else would listen. Grandma Bankston assured him that it was God’s will and not his fault. This brought Terrell only minimal comfort. When the doctor finally appeared everyone hushed. “He was poisoned,” the doctor said.
“Poisoned?” said Grandma Bankston. Terrell looked down at the floor and shrunk sadly in his seat.
“Yes. He’s got a bad case of alcohol poisoning,” said the doctor. “For now, he’s stable and resting comfortably.” The doctor offered the family hope when he said that since Pops was in good health he had a great chance of making a full recovery. However, he did say that Pop’s should have no more than one beer a day.
When the family was allowed to go into Pop’s room, Terrell pushed past Grandma Bankston.
“Hey Pops, how ya doin’? Man, you scared me. I’m sho happy you didn’t die.”
Pops was groggy and slow to respond, “me too! I know I’m old but hopefully I’ll get older.” He laughed lightly.
“Really Pops, I thought you were gone...”
Pops interrupted Terrell by resting his hand on his, “Well son, in time I will die, but not now. I enjoyed the game and I sho liked them beers--they just didn’t like me.” Both men laughed.
As Terrell watched Grandma Bankston and the other family members gather around this man they loved so deeply he reflected on what he had done. Although Terrell was relieved that Pops was going to be alright and that he didn’t seem to blame him for his terrible mishap he still felt guilty about giving Pops the malt liquor in the first place. He knew it was his fault the old man was sick but he couldn’t dare tell anyone. He vowed never to take Pops drinking again. It was going to take him a long time to get over the fact that he almost killed Pops.
Terrell was beginning to feel tired. He had had enough excitement for one day. After telling everyone good-bye he gave Pops a hug and headed to the garage. The only thing Terrell wanted right now was a hot shower.