THE FAITHVILLE FOUR.
New Hackensack, New Jersey, was a town that symbolized nine-percenters. Lavish gated housing communities, country clubs, and gentrified shops and restaurants dotted almost every acre of land in this clean, modernized municipality.
But on the afternoon of Tuesday, 12 September, as an Everton-uniformed Jesse, Matt, and Mary Maith walked under a clear and cloudless sky along the minted sidewalk next to the marble-fenced border of New Hackensack Endgame Conflict Memorial Cemetery on the six-lane Bergen Boulevard, they all noticed something uncommon amongst towns like theirs.
On the opposite side of the thoroughfare, as Kehoe and Harris hovercars glided to and from, the Maiths bewilderingly glanced at the newest feature of the oak-tree lined soil of Joshua Evans park: a tent city, ostensibly the first of its kind to appear in a Freedomian suburb.
In front of a combination of tents of many colors, ablaze trash barrels, shopping carts filled with clothes and goods, and a holoTV under a black rolling canopy next to a green tent with a sign in bright-gold lettering reading FAITHVILLE attached, a group of four men, dressed in trash bags, ripped t-shirts and jeans, and filthy sneakers, stood face-to-face, heads bowed.
“Should we go say hi?” Matt asked while he, Matt, and Mary studied the scene.
“Why?” a befuddled Mary asked. “You want us, rich nine-percenters, to approach some pryvies that may either beg for money or hold us at laserpoint?”
“No, he’s right,” Jesse gently interrupted. “Maybe we can try to show some charity.”
“Like giving them money?!” Mary snapped. “Mom and dad always said one rule of thumb about being a nine-percenter is that you don’t give a pryvie money! If you give a pryvie money, give them all money.”
“But that doesn’t mean we can’t interact with them,” Jesse replied, “Maybe we’ll tell them about the barbeques.”
“Yeah, what’s the worst that can happen?” Matt asked. Seconds later, he and Jesse began crossing the mini-highway. Mary, lagging, huffed and folded her arms in disgust, but eventually joined her brother and cousin.
As they reached the opposite side of Bergen Boulevard, the gold cross in the T of the FAITHVILLE sign came into focus in the Maith’s eyes. Then, they noticed one man, with disheveled shoulder-length wavy white hair clad in a wrinkled black garbage bag and brown moccasins, holding a copy of the Joshuan diaries in his crinkled hands. As they approached, they could hear them praying.
After they all said amen, the group of bushy-white-bearded men with Joshuan crosses wrapped around their necks looked toward the Maiths, smiled, and approached them.
Startled, Jesse reached out his right hand and said, “I’m sorry, we didn’t mean to interr-“
“Oh no,” the brown moccasin-wearing man with a scratchy voice twanged. “It’s alright. Have you folks read the Joshuan Diaries?”
“Actually,” Jesse replied, “we were just wondering if…”
“Well,” an African-Freedomian man in a plain-white sweat-stained T-shirt exclaimed in a southern-American drawl, “perhaps you’d be interested in the latest version? This one includes testimonials from world leaders and famous actors alike! How about you, big fella?”
Matt timidly took one step back and stammered, “no thanks. Already have three copies,” he lied. “Marvellous stuff.”
“And you, young lady,” a limp-walking Santa Claus-bearded man in a white garbage bag, holding a Joshuan diaries copy, said to Mary in a thick Brooklyn accent. “Why ya hangin’ back there? Too shy?”
“Sirs,” Jesse replied to protect his cousins, “forgive me for being pretentious and I apologize in advance if I offend you, but may I ask why you created a tent city here in the sub…”
“Faithville!” all four men shouted simultaneously toward the sky. “Praise Joshua and all he did!”
“I’m sorry, Faithville?” Jesse asked.
“Yes sir,” the fourth man, a bald man in a plaid buttoned-down shirt and half-ripped jeans replied. “We founded the first suburban tent city two weeks ago here in New Hackensack to spread the word of Joshua. We hold prayer sessions four times per day. You’re more than welcome to join us.”
“Do any of you work?” Jesse asked.
“No,” replied the bald man. “We were all let go from our jobs in Newark, but we aren’t bitter. God placed us here for a reason.”
“Do any of you…beg nine-percenters like us…for money?” Matt nervously asked.
All four chuckled simultaneously. “Oh, young man,” the moccasin-wearing man said. “It would be against our code of ethics!”
“What code of ethics?” Matt replied while raising an eyebrow.
“The code of Faithville. We treat pryvies and nine-percenters as equals. It’s a sin to beg a nine-percenter for money, and we never, ever complain about a lack of cash or amenities.”
“Oh,” Matt confusedly replied.
“Can I ask you gentlemen an honest question?” Jesse asked. He paused, then articulated his thoughts. “Are any of you…you know…jealous of nine-percenters?”
“Envy is a deadly sin,” the Afro-Freedomer replied.
“Right, but…do you really consider yourselves…you know…free?”
“Jesse!” Mary desperately growled in the lowest tone she could muster, “don’t encourage them!”
“Sis,” Matt chimed, “the man’s asking an honest question.”
“Can we just go to NoUp, please?” an uneasy Mary pled with a hint of despair in her eyes.
Before Jesse and Matt could oblige Mary, the Santa Claus lookalike removed his glasses and studied Jesse’s face. “Wait a second,” he squealed, the excitement in his voice increasing, “you’re the quarterback at Everton! Jesse Maith! The one the newslinks are dubbing His Magnificence, like our exceptional leader!”
Jesse’s comfort level suddenly vanished. His eyebrows lowered, and his heart’s warmth cooled. Being recognized as a celebrity was one thing, but hearing a pryvie equating him with a man he hated was cause enough to cut the conversation short. He then nodded at Mary, then pled for Matt to continue walking.
“Gentlemen, thank you for your time,” Jesse calmly asserted, “but my cousins and I have to be going.”
“Of course!” the moccasin-wearing man gleefully replied. “God bless you three. Please tell your friends about us and our prayer groups! My name is Gabriel!” Gabriel then introduced the rest of his group: Isiah, the afro-Freedomer, Zachary, the Santa Claus lookalike, and Peter, the bald man.
“Nice to meet all of you,” Jesse replied with a half-smile, then began following an already in-motion Mary. Matt, however, lagged.
“Say,” Matt asked the men. “I just thought of a catchy name for you guys and your prayer sessions: the Faithville Four!”
The men perplexedly looked at each other. Then, just before the pause could get awkward, Zachary shouted, “ya know, that’s catchy! I like it! God bless you, kid!”
“You think so?!” an excited Matt asked. “Hey, I play for the Pioneers too! I’d love to give you guys an autogra-“
“GET YOUR BIG BUTT OVER HERE, MATTHEW!” Mary screamed from a distance.
Shortly after, Matt begrudgingly began walking toward his sister and cousin, but not before waving goodbye to the Faithville Four. In response, the Four grabbed the crosses on their necklaces and raised them skyward. Matt waived again and thanked them. “Guys…” Matt pled once he caught up to Mary and Jesse, “those guys were so nice! Why…” Before more words could fly out of Matt’s mouth, Jesse and Mary immediately turned to him, then squinted their eyes and creased their lips.
“SHHHHH!” Jesse and Mary shot back. “Can we just go get some freakin’ grass smoothies?!” Mary pled in a muffled growl. Matt folded his arms and reluctantly began matching Mary and Jesse’s pace.