Several weeks passed since Cael Block exploded through Greyson’s door with a bloodied and limp Ruben Herrera in his arms. Greyson sat on his couch in a funk, lost in the reverie of that strange evening. Snippets of memory flooded his senses. He gazed at the corner of the room where Cael’s stained shirt had been kicked behind a chair. He pictured Ruben laying on the bed, with bright crimson ooze staining his stark white sheets. He envisioned Jaio standing at his kitchen table, espousing his views on violence and destructive choices. He could see Gina Santaria, Henry Lucas and Cael all hunched at the table, engaged in the conversation.
The most vivid image from that evening seized his mind. He had been the last to notice the figure behind him. Jaio looked up first. Unlike the others at the table around him, his body language remained relaxed as if to say; “It’s about time you decided to join us.”
Concurrently, Gina spun around and gasped as Henry’s eyes bulged. Cael jumped to his feet. But Ruben appeared to need little assistance as he emerged from the bedroom door looking lucid and virtually unscathed in his cargo pants and Greyson’s fresh white T-shirt.
“Look Daddy,” Olivia Lucas’ voice trumped the incredulous silence. “He’s back alive again.”
Greyson closed his eyes and wiped the picture of Ruben’s miraculous recovery from his head. He sat on his couch browsing the incoming vid bits for scraps of work thrown his way by Alonzo King and his casting company. He had barely left his apartment since Latrell Hawkins had been shot and his absence from the scene had caused his prospects to grow scarce. Maybe the economy cost him some business. Maybe King held him responsible for the loss of his former client. Or maybe he had just faded off the radar. But in any case, he found himself on the couch playing video games, watching TV and wasting time night after night.
In the spare bedroom, Greyson heard the muffled sounds of his new roommate on his Google Trinity account, sometimes in English, sometimes Spanish and sometimes Arabic. He couldn’t hear the specific words, but Greyson remarked to himself at Jaio’s charisma in presenting to his worldwide audience. With his tone, projection and diction, Greyson realized that he could not have taught his acting students any better.
He listened from the couch for a few minutes and considered picking up the feed on his television. Instead, he poured himself a glass of water, blew his nose and played a mindless game on his phone.
Cael had asked his cousin to provide room and board to Jaio until he could find him a suitable place to live. In exchange, Cael paid Greyson $700 a month out of a non-profit fund that Henry Lucas had started to support Jaio’s travels, while also watching the building like a hawk for any unusual strangers or unwanted visitors.
Jaio had moved in soon after the event with Ruben, Gina and Henry, but spent little time at the apartment. He traveled throughout the entire first three or four weeks on an extended trip to Iowa, Minnesota and Chicago.
Between trips, Jaio typically arrived at Greyson’s door well after 10pm, slept sparingly – if at all - and then headed back out between 4:00 and 4:30am. Greyson saw him occasionally and interacted with him a few nights a week between 10pm and midnight when one or both would go to sleep.
Cael had made an offer of employment to him earlier in the week. All he had to do was drive Jaio to the airport on occasion in his uncle’s Town Car. He’d be paid $200 a week plus gas and expenses out of Henry’s fund. The fee would remain on retainer, so he’d make out whether they used him or not. Cael or Ruben would typically travel with them as well as Gina and sometimes Henry. He’d be given a day’s notice and he’d be expected to remain sober in order to perform his duty.
Jaio was already staying in his apartment and he had a car readily available. The arrangement made perfect sense.
Jaio spent most of his time away from the apartment meeting with religious leaders, community organizers, politicians and random people on the street. He disappeared for days, even weeks at a time. And when he returned to the apartment, often accompanied by Cael Block, he logged most of his free time in front of Greyson’s massive television. He sat on the couch, shielded by the security of his Google Trinity Account, and connected with contacts from across the globe through podcasts, live on-camera chats and video posts that his massive circle of followers would download and review. When he didn’t use the TV, he retired to his bedroom and conducted private chats with small groups of followers via his Google Trinity account and a laptop that Cael had secured for him.
Greyson thought to himself that Jaio’s message had an elegant simplicity to it:
Life is sacred. Treat your life and the lives of the people around you as a valuable gift from God. Respect yourself and others. The greatest happiness comes in sharing joy with others.
It’s not like his words had never been uttered before. But there was something about his presence and the way he explained them to his followers that caused his message to resonate like only the few great prophets from the past that have preceded him.
“Believe what you want to believe,” Greyson recalled phrases and bits of conversations with Jaio. More, he recalled the feelings he experienced when he sat and listened to him speak.
“Believe what you need to believe. Faith is for us, not for God. God loves you and cares for you whether you believe or not. And God does not need your faith for sustenance. God does not have a human ego nor expect you to preach to others nor sway others to your religious beliefs.
“Having your own set of beliefs and values as well as a framework for helping decide how to integrate with other members of society are purely human needs. And that’s OK. Embrace what you have been taught. Cling to the values that enable you to be a positive contributor to society. Use those beliefs to sustain yourself. And no matter what you choose to believe, as long as you treat your own life and the lives of the people around you as sacred and valuable, you can never be wrong in your beliefs.”
Greyson decided soon after entertaining Jaio as a roommate that he would accept Cael’s offer of employment if they could increase the pay to an even $1,000 per month. He’d stick with the role until he could motivate himself to rekindle his talent coaching business.
The presence of another soul in his home gave Greyson a comforting feeling that he could only remember in faint flashbacks to his childhood. Just the coming and going of another person in his studio, or the anticipation of sharing dinner with someone else gave him an emotional boost that had been missing from his life. Perhaps his habit of going out to clubs and bars had served as a gap-filler for him; a way to reach out and connect with other human beings. Maybe even his choice of career, coaching young wannabes to improve their skills at connecting with other people belied his own desire to connect with the world around him.
The experience of having a roommate gave him insight into himself that his wayward social behavior, while intended to help formulate relationships, actually destroyed them instead.
Greyson asked Jaio about the “Miracle in the Middle East”. Jaio only confirmed that he had been there, that he prayed for the people who lost their lives and he thanked God for those that survived, including himself.
He had wondered if the media would find out Jaio’s presence at his apartment and collapse on him like a pile of loose falling bricks. But, to date, Jaio had masterfully elevated his profile among his followers while remaining shadowed from the mainstream press.
Greyson rubbed his itchy nose. He felt a head cold coming on. He sneezed several times as he lay staring at his ceiling. His first assignment would take place early the next morning. Henry asked him to drive Jaio to a private airfield in New Jersey. Cael and Gina would meet him at the apartment at 7:00am for a 9:50am flight on a private jet. Knowing he had an early morning ahead of him, Greyson tried to sleep. But the congestion in his head kept him awake. After rolling back and forth like a boat in a storm, he cast his tangled bedding aside and got out of bed to watch TV.
That’s when he came across Jaio, sitting on the couch reading e-mails on the 54-inch TV screen. The clock read 2:47am. The screen showed numerous tabs with e-mails and text message opened simultaneously – many written in different languages.
“Can’t sleep either?” Greyson quipped as he flopped next to his roommate on the couch.
“Many of my followers find this to be a convenient time to correspond,” he replied. “I rested earlier. But my work energizes me.”
Jaio closed out a series of windows and switched to regular TV. They sat together and chuckled as they watched part of a rerun of “Friends” and part of an episode of “Seinfeld” before Jaio elevated from the couch purposefully.
“Come with me,” Jaio said, as Greyson continued to blow his nose. “We must get some soup. You will feel much better if you come with me.”
Jaio convincingly assured him that they could get great soup despite the early hour of the morning. So, despite his reservation about soup for breakfast, Greyson threw on a baseball cap and sweatshirt, pulled up a pair of jeans and thrust his feet into his sturdy work boots.
They ventured out to 7th avenue. The lights of the city obscured the early time of day and they could see their breath as they turned down 54th street. A small gathering had amassed in front of a hole in the wall deli. The owner emerged wheeling a push cart onto the sidewalk with a large metal container of soup a stack of cups, lids and plastic spoons.
One of the people in the crowd greeted Jaio with a tight hug. Another offered money to the shop owner. But the short smiley man in his late 50s beamed, put his hand over the cash and told him to use it in other ways.
Jaio moved through the crowd and embraced the owner of the deli, thanking him for his generosity. Greyson counted seven people that had gathered outside the deli.
“I picked up the blankets at the warehouse on 9th,” said one of the people in the crowd, a grey-haired man in his young 60s. “They only took half, so we had enough money left over to buy coffee and pastries at the deli on 7th.”
“We have all of the hats and gloves from the wholesaler on 8th and 77th,” said a woman in her 40s, dressed in a business suit, who looked like she could be on her way to work at a Fortune 500 company in Midtown.
Jaio introduced Greyson as his friend before thanking the team and directing them to their first destination. Two of the younger men in the group, one an African American high school student and another, a student at NYU pushed the cart, which contained a large 10 or 20-gallon vat of soup, a big box of coffee, coffee cups, soup cups, spoons and pastries. The group walked as a pack down 51st street, out around the corner and then down 50th. Along a wide expanse of the sidewalk across from the Duane Reed, they stopped at what looked like a lump of cast-away clothing, wet, dirty and torn. Greyson saw a pair of eyes blink and a wide toothless grin peek from behind the tatters.
“This is Daniel,” Jaio said to Greyson. “He used to sell shoes on 23rd street. He has lived here and in the alley behind that restaurant for the past 2 or 3 years. He sleeps out on this grate because of the warm steam that comes out of it every five minutes when the subway goes by.”
Jaio poured him a cup of coffee. One of the volunteers scooped a ladle of soup into a cup and another handed him a miniature blueberry muffin. Another person threw a blanket on top of the junk pile of clothes the man had wrapped loosely around himself and the NYU student offered him a hat and gloves.
Daniel squinted. He made a gurgling sound.
“What the hell is all this?” he asked in a sickly cackle of a voice. “I don’t need no handouts from you gangbangers.”
“It’s OK Daniel,” Jaio said quietly. “These are gifts from your friends.”
“I ain’t got no friends,”
“Yes, you do my friend,” Jaio replied.
“Leave me alone,” Daniel snapped like a mongrel dog, holding the cup of soup like a prized possession in his two hands, close to his face. “Leave the shit here and leave me alone, damnit.”
At that, the team moved on to another corner where a similar bundle of humanity lay sprawled on a tattered strip of cardboard. Isaac was a bushy haired man, who looked in his late 80s, but was probably closer to 65 or 70. His face had numerous red and black splotches with bumps and pock marks. He smiled widely with a full mouth of teeth that had been yellowed and browned over his many years of homelessness.
As the group approached, he perked right up and spent 20 minutes telling them all about how he had stowed away on a train in his teens to escape his village outside of Belgrade and how he snuck onto a cargo ship to get to America. He talked about working on major civic projects like roads and bridges. He proudly boasted of helping to build several skyscrapers in the city including the “mother of them all”, the World Trade Center. The group listened with interest while serving him multiple cups of soup and bundling him in the new blanket, hat and gloves.
Isaac thanked the team profusely and blessed each person as they all left his side. Jaio hugged him and kissed his cold, raw, blotted cheek.
Some of the homeless people they encountered remained asleep, in which case they threw the blanket over them, left the soup and coffee by their side and rested the hat and gloves next to them.
Some were gaunt and malnourished. Others looked fat and immobile. Some seemed nearly as healthy as the average Joe on the street. Some had the nicest demeanor, chatting breezily with the group and others spat and hissed at them like angry alley cats.
But beneath the weathered, beaten, scarred and tired exterior of each individual, Greyson could see the underlying human being and the gratitude they felt about the assistance they received. Even the people that seemed almost totally crazy softened at Jaio’s touch and encouraging words.
By 6:45am, each member had peeled off to attend to their day. Some went to work and others to school. Greyson and Jaio ambled back to the apartment together. Red and orange streaks of sunlight jutted through the openings between the buildings and the gentle murmur of the early morning gave way to the deafening hum of the fully awakened city. Shaded bodies brushed past them moving with quick and deliberate purpose and a barely audible “s’cuse”.
“How many people did we help this morning?” Greyson asked.
“Quite a few,” Jaio replied.
“There must be thousands of homeless people in the city,” said Greyson
“Between 50 and 60 thousand.”
“Wow?” said Greyson. “That many? I had no idea there were that many. That’s more people than the town I grew up in. It was really nice to help out. But seven people can’t possibly get to all 60,000.”
“We had eight counting you.” Jaio replied quietly. “There are 60,000 in New York alone. But Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Dallas, Baltimore, DC. These places also have tens of thousands more people who do not have the good fortune of homes or families. The people you joined this morning are just one group. There are others.”
“How many others?”
“In New York, there is a group here, a group in the Flat Iron District. Chelsey and Hell’s Kitchen. There are a couple groups downtown, on the east side and several in Harlem.”
“Wow,” Greyson remarked. “I had no idea. You organized all of this?”
“They organized it themselves,” Jaio replied. “I just endeavored to inspire them to do so. There are similar groups in other cities as well.”
“And so, your web conferences are with these people?”
“Many of them, Yes.” Jaio smiled. “You often hear about the people who make the wrong choices - who rob and hurt others. But people have such great capacity for good and for helping others. They just need to see the potential change they can affect, and they must be motivated to give of themselves. I try to help facilitate those choices.”
They returned to the apartment a few minutes after 7:00. Gina and Henry held coffee cups in gloved hands and chatted briskly outside the entrance to the building. Cael appeared from behind them, virtually out of thin air.
“Have you been behind us the whole time?” Greyson asked.
Cael did not answer or even crack his stern expression, saying only; “We need to go.”
Gina entered the passenger seat. She wore a conservative business suit with long leather boots and a modest silver necklace and crucifix. She had grown out and straightened her hair and styled it to look like a suburban soccer mom. He thought Hillary Clinton, which shocked his system when he recalled his first experience with her. But for the most part, he could barely remember the naked curly haired girl who had filled his TV screen with her soft, pale skin, her cute little freckles and her tiny, tight, fire engine-red G string.
Instead, the woman next to him could have been a Princeton economics major with her black skirt and her beige silk top, covered discreetly by her matching black blazer. Only her big black sun glasses belied the hip stripper chick he had originally encountered the previous winter.
She wore the same perfume he had observed the first night they met live in the hallway of his apartment building and her sweet scent filled the front seat of the car like a tropical hypnotic.
She smiled at him as she settled in. She set the seat belt across her lap and through her two breasts like a river slicing through a deep valley. Her smile gave away the slightest inclination that their association initiated through a somewhat seedy beginning. But since neither could figure out which of their part was more embarrassing - the stripper or the patron, they simply interacted as if having met at a Starbucks or a college party or in high school.
After exiting the car at the airport, Jaio reached in through the driver’s window, placed a hand on Greyson’s shoulder and said; “Thank you – for all your help today”. The gesture sent an odd shiver down his spine and he felt happy to have been so productive throughout the morning. He felt a twinge of loss as Jaio turned and disappeared into the hangar.
He and Gina drove about a mile and pulled into a dirt area adjacent to the service road alongside the runway. Greyson sat in the car with Gina, watching the plane take off. He tried to count the weeks since Jaio had moved into his apartment – maybe six. He gathered that he would be gone at least a week on his trip to several midwestern universities such as Notre Dame, Purdue, Indiana and Ohio Trinity.
“Well, we got them off to their next destination,” Gina said with her nose buried into her iPhone. “Hey, what ever happened to that cold you said you were coming down with? You sound pretty healthy to me.”
Throughout the lonely week Greyson observed the dead quiet of the apartment without Jaio’s presence. Not even the bustle of 54th street below his window permeated the casket-like bubble in which he stood entranced in thought.
He had always masked his loneliness by glazing his mind and body with drugs and alcohol. But without the shroud of inebriation, he felt more alone than he could remember. He shook his head as if to brush away the feeling, but he couldn’t help recalling the weeks he had spent with his temporary roommate.
At the end of the week, he drove to Bayonne to pick up Gina at her Aunt’s house and she accompanied him to pick up Jaio and his team at the airport.
“It’s going to be a full car today,” she said, removing her shades to reveal the emerald green eyes that had so mesmerized him in the past.
“Larry, Curly and Moe,” he replied.
“The three musketeers.” Gina smiled like the sun.
“The Holy Trinity. The three amigos. Three blind mice …”
“Alright already,” Gina’s smile faded. “You really don’t buy into this do you?”
“It’s just not for me,” Greyson answered diplomatically. “He’s an incredibly smart guy. And every message he delivers makes so much sense. I’ve seen how he lights people up. But it would take a lot to get me to believe that Jaio could be the next coming of Christ.”
“It’s too bad,” Gina peered at him. “Look what it’s done to me?”
“Did he change you?” Greyson asked as he navigated through heavy traffic and a flock of oblivious Jaywalkers. “Or did you just change yourself.”
“Of course, I changed myself,” she replied. “But he helped inspire it. And that’s his whole message. It’s not that he has all the answers, given to him from above or anything like that. It’s just we all have our own little piece of God inside of us and we have to learn how to embrace it. Everyone is looking outside of themselves for answers. And he teaches us to find the answers inside our own souls and to help each other find the best version of ourselves that we can be. Those answers help guide us through the choices we make. And those choices give us the free will to take our own path toward happiness or fulfillment or finding love or whatever we are all looking for in life.”
Greyson didn’t react at first, but his silence almost seemed to mock her soliloquy.
“I just can’t dive in like that,” he said. “My parents were like that. They used to tell us that we might get to a point in our lives where we had to decide whether we wanted to accept God into our lives. I believe in God and all. But I just couldn’t feel it the way they did. And I can’t just drop my guard and give in to something like that, like they could.”
“And like I did?
“Right,” Greyson lowered his voice in slight embarrassment. “Like you have.”
“Listen to Jaio,” said Gina. “Maybe he will help you feel something.”
Her phrasing; “… help you feel something …” caught him off guard. In fact, he had not felt much in the several years since leaving his family. The closest he had come to feeling passion came during his heyday when he could pick out a bit actress at a bar and take her back to his apartment for an evening of wine, weed and sex. But the joy of reckless abandon in the evening faded to emptiness in the mornings and that hollow feeling lasted much longer than the high.
Even his evenings with Gina the on-line stripper, while exhilarating in the moment, turned to empty memories soon after. She, of all people, would know that feeling since she had experienced it with him.
“I probably need him to change water to wine or walk across the East River or something like that before I can believe what you believe.”
“What about Ruben?” she replied. “He practically raised the dead right there in your apartment.”
“Ruben was neither dead, nor was Jaio really responsible for Ruben’s freakish recovery.”
“He cured Henry’s daughter.”
“But did he?”
“It’s all in what you choose to believe, babe.” Gina gave Greyson a wink.
“I suppose it is.”
Greyson couldn’t believe how much brighter and livelier the apartment seemed to be with Jaio in town.
As the days passed, he found himself looking forward to providing transportation to Jaio. Over the next several weeks, they went to Westchester, LaGuardia, JFK, Newark and even Hartford. Gina joined them for many of the rides and they often caught lunch or dinner together along the ride home. Gina beamed in sharing stories of how she was helping Henry Lucas set up his non-profit foundation and how she had learned so much about spreadsheets and office automation systems.
“I never pictured myself working 9-5 in an office,” she said. “But we are forming a 501c3 organization and it is so much work. We have to fill out all of these government forms. We have to provide documentation about the charter of our organization and get references. It’s all busy work. But it’s amazing how much fun and rewarding it can be. I get in at six and don’t want to leave until all my work is done. Sometimes I’m there until ten at night.”
Greyson marveled at her enthusiasm. While she used to light up a room with her cherry red lingerie and her clear milky flesh, now, her smile alone shed more brilliance than her naked body ever had.
Greyson met Jaio’s Times Square homeless assistance group at 4:00am with Jaio whenever he was in town and helped homeless people over a 20-block radius on several occasions. His feet ached from the walking, but his lungs felt tremendous breathing the cool morning air.
It hadn’t initially occurred to him, and he tried to conduct the calculation in his head, but he couldn’t figure out why they never ran out of soup given the number of people they served. It seemed that no matter how many ladles they emptied out of the vat, it never ran dry. Or at least, it never seemed close to empty until the last person they served. And then, at that point, the soup was gone. He didn’t ponder it deeply, but in passing, he did find it strange.
Later that morning, he had driven Jaio to Teeterboro and then gone back to sleep until about 10am. Gina had stayed home to make calls and finish work she owed Henry. Jaio was only flying with Cael to Boston to meet with a Cardinal in the Catholic Church. He also had appointments with several Jewish leaders and a planned visit to a large Mosque. It would be a quick day trip and Greyson had to pick him up again in the afternoon.
He had set his alarm to ensure that he would not miss his lunch date. He had a personal engagement, one that he had neglected for far too long. The extra sleep would help ensure that he could be his sharpest and the most charming version of himself possible.
He closed the apartment door behind him, for a moment listening to the echo of the latch. He fussed with his hair, straightened his pullover sweater and proceeded out to the street to meet her.