By Patrick D Hahn Chapter One

This story begins many years ago, back when I was still almost-young, after I had finished with graduate school – or, graduate school had finished with me – after an ugly and acrimonious parting with my major advisor that had left me choking on my anger. I somehow had ended up in Baltimore, flying back and forth between various teaching jobs, and spending my weekends washing trucks, to keep my head barely above water.

Deborah was one of my students my first year teaching at Baltimore City Community College. She was two years older than I, the single mother of two little girls, just beginning the college education she should have completed many years before. She was dazzlingly beautiful – but with the saddest eyes I have ever seen on a human being.

One day Deborah asked if she could speak to me in private. We met in the little nook whimsically dubbed “the faculty lounge,” and she began by rather stiffly and formally inquiring what I thought of her.

“Well,” I began, “I think you are an excellent student, and you could probably get into medical school if you wanted to – ”

She cut me off and poured out a sad sordid tale of drugs, prostitution, and wasted years. I don’t remember how that conversation ended.

Deborah was the only student to get an A in that class. The following September I ran into her on campus, and we began chatting, and she was laughing at my jokes, so I asked her if she would like to get a cup of coffee. We drove down to Fells Point and we went to the Daily Grind and after talking things over we realized that there were only two hours per week in which we were both free simultaneously, and that was that.Chapter Two

Brenda was one of my colleagues at Baltimore City Community College. She was from a small West African nation, and she was fifteen years older than I, and I was madly in love with her.

One warm summer’s evening I found myself strolling along Henderson’s Wharf in Fells point with Brenda. We turned down Fell Street, and we sat down on a ground floor window ledge, and we talked until we ran out of things to talk about, and then I draped my arm over her shoulder, and touched my lips to hers – once – twice – and then she opened her mouth for me.

“Did you know,” she said softly, “I never let a man kiss me in public before?”

I wasn’t sure if a dark alcove at the terminus of a deserted dead-end street in the fading twilight really qualified as “in public,” but I let it slide. “Really?” I asked.

She shook her head in amazement. “Not in fifty years.”

We kissed some more, and then we had the I-like-you-but-only-as-a-friend talk, and then we began walking back to the car. Suddenly she began hobbling like an elderly woman, and then she whirled around and demanded angrily, “What are you going to do when I’m an old lady? How are you going to like walking down the street with me then?”

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll take up smoking, so we both die at the same time.”

Her jaw dropped down to the pavement, and she screamed “Nooooooooo!” and I just stood there laughing at her.Chapter Three

The sight of the Bradford pear trees in full bloom along Charles Street filled me with a sense of hope and wonder I had not felt for a long time. I began volunteering at The House of Ruth, reading to homeless children.

One evening a young boy asked me if I would stick around afterwards and shoot hoops with him. So I stuck around and shot hoops with him and two other boys for half an hour, and then I said “Well, okay, this has been fun, but I gotta go.”

“Are you driving home?” my new friend asked.

“Actually, no,” I said. “My car is in the shop, so I have to take the bus.”

He reached out and touched my arm. “Well, you be real careful, okay?”

As I left and took my seat on the bus, an overpowering wave of emotion swept over me. It was such an unfamiliar sensation, at first I didn’t even realize what it was. It took me several minutes to give it a name.

It was gratitude.Chapter Four

My mother came to visit me the first time I went to Africa. We both did the canopy walk, two hundred feet up in the air. She was just a few weeks shy of her seventieth birthday.

The last time I saw my mother was Christmas of 2005. I went down to Florida and stayed with her for three weeks. Every day we would go out and cover three miles (I ran, she rode her bicycle).

In March of the following year, my mother was out riding her bicycle and she was hit by a car and broke a rib. In April she was out riding and she was hit by another car. A woman in an SUV barreled past a stop sign and slammed into her. She was dead before she hit the ground.

The last lesson she had to teach was the the biggest risk is not taking any risks.
Chapter Five

After my mother died, my brothers organized a memorial service for her. They never asked me when I would be able to attend. They never asked me what kind of service I would like. They scheduled it for a time when I couldn’t possibly have been there, they waited until the last minute to tell me, and they sent me an invitation that was so insulting there was no question of my accepting it.

I didn’t care. I already had made other plans. I knew I had to go back to Africa, to Mary, to see if anything still was there.

We went to Takoradi with Mary’s daughter Jennifer, who was fourteen years old at the time, and Jennifer’s cousin Maame Esi, who was eight. One morning Jennifer and Maame Esi got into a squabble, and Maame Esi was crying, and I knelt down and I took out a handkerchief and I dried her tears – and it occurred to me that is something I normally hear about only in song lyrics.

For Christmas I returned and for New Year’s we all went to Brenu Beach. At the end of the day we all were walking back to the parking lot, and I was holding Maame Esi’s hand in mine, and I was carrying a little backpack in the other, and Mary shouted at me “You cannot carry the bag while the small girl carries nothing! It is against our culture!”

“Okay,” I said, and I handed the backpack to Maame Esi.

Then I scooped up Maame Esi, flung her over my shoulders like a sack of potatoes, and carried Maame Esi, backpack, and all to the parking lot, oblivious to my bride-to-be’s screams of protest.    authorAbout the Author:Patrick D Hahn is an Affiliate Professor of Biology at Loyola University Maryland and a freelance writer.