IF IT HADN'T ACTUALLY HAPPENED TO ME, I WOULDN'T BELIEVE IT could happen. God writes me the greatest scripts sometimes, and it is just up to me to transcribe them.
As many of you know, my entry in Creative Loafing's third annual fiction contest, "The Gospel According to Queen James," won second place. What some of you may not know is who the real life Queen James is and what prompted me to write the story.
I wrote the story in black venom. A former associate of mine (see how much distance that 4-word phrase created?), _e__r___, made a comment toward me which was unforgivable.
But Ayo, you may say, isn't forgiveness a fundamental principle of spiritual well-being?
Well, first I wrote the story: No forgiveness. Then I published it: Still no forgiveness. Then I got the sweetest revenge, which I will tell you about.
Now I forgive him.
_e___r__, at various times in his life has been a security guard, a Special Ed teacher, a father, a choir director, a husband, a gay lover, a pastor, and - most recently - a used car salesman. Which is to say he has some identity problems. So to substitute for his lack of identity, he surrounds himself with people who do have one: Lawyers, Athletes, Doctors, Politicians, etc. I served the purpose of Artist. Which is how he wound up personally inviting me into his own home to smear a creamy pie all over both of his faces.
Although I completely fabricated the events in the story, I was nervous from the moment I completed it that _e__r___, if he ever got his hands on it, might recognize himself in the scandalous Queen James character and get all Southside-of-Chicago on my ass. When I found out the story had actually placed and would appear in the January 1 edition of Creative Loafing, I feared "the call" even more. I had not spoken to him in five months, when I finally received "the dreaded call" at work:
"C_________ Media, this is Marvin."
"Hellooooooo, Awo-della." (This awful pronunciation is part warped endearment, part lisp.)
"Oh, hi, _e___r__, how are you?" I asked as cold as politely possible.
"Wonderful, thanks for asssssking," he slithered. "Congratulations on your story in Creative Loafing. I was reading it to a friend of mine over the phone, and I couldn't even make it through the story it was soooooo hilarious."
"Thanks. Glad you enjoyed it," I said, still searching for the dagger.
"Listen, I'm having a dinner party at my home, inviting some of my friends, and I would be honored to have a famous author come and give a reading of his prize-winning story."
Gee, he's laying it on thick, I thought. Even for _e___r__.
"When?" I asked, ready to produce a schedule conflict.
"Oh, I don't know, Tuesday, Wednesday.... Thursday, Friday... Take your pick. It's in your honor."
How stupid does he think you are? This is a trap. He'll be waiting for you with a pink blade.
"Well, how about next Tuesday?" I said.
"Fine. Tuesday it is."
ON MY TRIP TO COLLEGE PARK, I FELT LIKE DENZEL RIDING TO HIS DEATH in Spike Lee's Malcolm X to Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come." You should have brought someone with you. When I arrived promptly at 7, there was only 1 car in the driveway. What are you doing? You know who this person is. It's a trap, I kept thinking, but my feet kept walking right up to _e___r__'s front door. I rang the bell.
_e___r__ appeared in the doorway - all 6 feet, 200 flamboyant, muscle-shirted pounds of him - and he embraced me twice, once for each cheek.
"Come in, come in, everyone's on their way," he said. "Help yourself to a plate."
I peeked around the corner and the dining room table was laid out: cornish hens, pot roast, pasta, wine, various hors d'oeuvres, fruits, and desserts.
"I ate a late lunch," I lied. "I'll eat a little later."
I ain't eatin till I see somebody else eatin. He ain't poisonin me!
Over the next quarter hour, 7 or 8 guests arrived. Perhaps this is legit, I thought.
"I loved your story," one of the guests said. "_e___r__ was reading it to me over the phone. He couldn't even get through it he was laughing so hard. I can't wait to hear you read it."
After dinner went smoothly and I didn't die of poisoning, _e___r__ gathered the guests.
With all the pomp and circumstance due a coronation, he began, "As many of you know, we have a celebrity among us this evening. M. Awo-delli Heath's short story, 'The Gospel According to Queen James,' won second place in Creative Loafing's annual fiction contest."
"For which he won a prize of $250."
"And our dinner this evening is in honor of him - a Black male who has followed his dream of being a writer and made it a reality.
"Let him be a shining example to us all, as we set upon 2004. In recognition of him, let us bow our heads in prayer."
Oh shit, this nigga is really serious. If there's a hell, I'm likely gonna burn in it for this one.
"Now, without further to do, I bring to you, Awo-delli!"
Applause, applause, applause.
As I took the floor, I had no idea what was about to come out of my mouth.
"Um... well... First let me say... thank you to _e___r__ for opening his home to us this evening." Good. "And to tell you the truth. Well, you see, I'm primarily a performance poet, and when I wrote this story, I never intended to read it out loud." I think you're on to something.
"However, I understand, from this gentlemen over here, that _e___r__ did such a wonderful job reading this story to him over the phone-"
I can't believe you're about to do this
"that I would be honored if _e___r__ would read the story aloud to us here tonight." I said this with about as much sincerity as a Republican.
After about 2.5 seconds of feigned humility, _e___r__ leapt to the stage - which was his living room - assumed his regal position and launched into the flamboyant first person narrative starring... himself!
And what a star he was! He gestured, he demonstrated, he clutched pearls even. And without stage directions! Only about halfway through the story did I fully surrender to the fact that he really had no idea this character was him. The dinner party had a ball and chuckled long after his final line.
But being the man of a million faces that he is, being the host for the evening and being the star in the one-woman show starring himself wasn't enough. After the room settled, he wanted to play Oprah.
"So, I must ask-"
Here it comes.
"Whatever inspired such a story?"
"Do you really wanna know?"
"Yes," he said, as warmly and sincerely as possible.
"No, really. Are you sure you want to know?"
"If I tell you, I'm not going to walk out of this house alive."
Now everyone was curious.
"Yes! Yes! Please tell us!" They were on the edges of their seats.
"_e___r__," I couldn't believe I was doing this. I couldn't write this any better myself!
"The reason why you so identified with this character... and why you found him so entertaining-" Oh, I was savoring this!
"Is because it's you!"
The room went silent save the sound of his two faces cracking.
Then an Ohhhhhhhhh sh*t!
Then there was not a single ass in a chair. All were on the floor rolling in hysteria.
I felt bad for a moment, but it quickly subsided.
As _e___r__ handed me my coat on the way out the door, "Marvin," he said, "I'm asking you one last time. Was that story really about me?"
And in that moment, I had a change of heart. I could no longer lie to him. "Yes, _e___r__, it really was."
And I don't regret it. Maybe now _e___r__ will see himself as he really is and change his messy ways. I feel like I did the world a service.
Boy, revenge is sweet. And to top it all off, the pie was delicious!
As if it could get any sweeter, "The Gospel According to Queen James" has new life in the latest issue of the webzine, storySouth.