Jesus Saves

There was a fella we used to call Jesus. Not Hay-seus like the Spanish guys say, but Jesus like the Almighty. A white fella with long arms and long brown hair down to his shoulders. When he introduce himself, first thing he say is: I’m an American, from Ohio. So at first we call him the Yankee, but Jesus is what stick. We put him in as goalie and he played with us for a week or two, but he wasn’t no good. We left it up to Keith to tell him.

If they kick the ball so, Keith ask, then why you jumping so?

Maybe I’m not cut out to run with you West Indian guys, Jesus say. This not the type of ball I’m used to. You guys play too fast.

We shake hands with Jesus and think that’s the last time we go’ see him. This boy, you see him there, he at every game. This is about ’69, ’70 or so. He come to every practice up at Meridian Hill Park like he part of the team. But he not playing, nah. Jesus sitting on the side just talking and joking with a cooler full of beers. Be the first to toss the fellas one after a scrimmage.

When we call the park Meridian Hill, he correct us and say, It’s Malcolm X Park now, brother.

That’s what the radicals say to call it and when Jesus talk his stuff, Keith shake his head, schups and mumble, Foolishness.

That Jesus a funny character, boy. Got some kind of nervous twitch in his face when he speak, blinking his right eye and tensing his cheeks. We give him fatigue about it.

Keith say, No wonder he can’t see the ball, twisting up his face like that.

Hey, you come around us, we giving shots, you get your shots. He take talk from us, but it’s like he let his frustration with our jokes build up and then he let it out when don’t no one expect. One thing about Americans, they can’t take fatigue. And that Jesus, man, he have a temper, yes. He get fiery sometimes, especially when it come to football. He take that serious, boy. Used to be at all our games making noise by the sidelines. He cheer the loudest when we score and be the first to protest a foul. He go a bit crazy sometimes, cussing and waving his arms all about, but it make us laugh, yes, so we let it go.

There come a time during a game when the ref make a bad call. I suppose Jesus have a few beers in him that day. He sit there up in that park up on Georgia Avenue near the Maryland line just twitching his face and seething and jerking about like somebody do him something. We playing some fellas from El Salvador and they looking confused, like, We playing against some negroes, who’s this whiteboy?

Ref, Jesus say. What’s your problem? You don’t see he pushed that man down to score that goal. You don’t believe in fouls?

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The game go on, but Jesus is full of brimstone. Boy look just like the picture hanging on the mantle. Long hair and muscles. Built athletic with big hands and long, long arms. Could have been a damn good goalie if he knew what he doing.

Jesus is pacing the sideline and yelling and cussing. What the ref go’ do? Don’t nobody blame him for stopping the game to tell Jesus to shut up or leave the field. The ref do this twice. Three times. Now Jesus don’t want to hear nothing from the ref except a call in our favor. The ref blow he little whistle. He say Jesus got to go. Well, Jesus ain’t like that at all. He run right up to that ref and bawl hard in his face. The ref’s yelling back, clutching his whistle like it’s a talisman that go’ protect him. Sprinkles of spit fly like drizzle back and forth between the two of them. The ref don’t seem to have no fear, but Jesus’s eyes is red, red, red. I feel something about to happen. Some of us start going over there to tell Jesus to calm himself, but he ain’t listening. It’s like don’t none of us exist. Jesus’s skin look like it can’t get no more pink. His eyes become like little beach balls filling up with too much air. When they look like they about to pop, that’s when Jesus haul back and punch the ref in his face. The ref stumble, arms flailing about. He even let go of that whistle—silver thing flopping up in the air and slapping his fat belly.

The ref fall on his backside. He resemble a penguin toppling over. He look up, not with rage like I expect, but with some kind of sadness. I see him as the little boy he once was. The downcast eyes. The face quivering as he try to hold back a thunderstorm. Then the clouds of his brow break and a downpour run over his cheeks and hang from his chin and fall to the grass. He don’t want no help in getting up, he just sit there and cry, shaking his head and whining. Some of the fellas stare at the ref in amazement, but I look away, oui. Give the man his private moment.

Jesus don’t stay to admire his handiwork, he run off and don’t nobody stop him. They call the game in the other team’s favor and again I think that’s the last we go’ hear from Jesus. But he come back to the practice field with his little cooler of Heinekens just a couple days later. He say, I don’t know what got into me, Neville. What’s fair is fair and what’s bullshit is bullshit. That ref, he doesn’t like negroes, I can tell. He don’t care that you’re negroes from another country. Ignorant guy like that probably never even heard of Trinidad, I bet. All he sees is that you’re negroes and he wants you to be in a certain place. Know what I mean?

I just nod. What I’m supposed to say?

So the league call us into a big meeting that week. They want to kick our little Trini team out, but what save us is we say, Look at us, alla we’s black. We Trinidadian. He white. He not with us. We don’t know him.

That work, but we ain’t see much of Jesus after that though.

Rion Amilcar Scott grew up in Silver Spring and earned an MFA in fiction from George Mason University. He currently teaches English at Bowie State University.

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