Milo liked Fox Point, but he was unsurprised when his landlord threw him out. The whole arrangement was under the table and never actually defined. Mr. DaSilva had turned a blind eye to Milo’s occupancy of the attic he was weatherproofing. Milo hoped Mr. DaSilva would continue his policy of benign neglect at least through the winter, but no such luck.
Like a stray cat, Milo always landed on his feet. He was handy enough, could fix leaky roofs and situations. Before the first leaves fell he was stapling fiberglass in an attic on the South Side.
At first it was just terrible. Not that his Fox Point attic was a bucolic retreat. Manny Almeida’s Ringside Lounge was a noise machine at closing time on weekends. But the working men who enjoyed some beer and fights on their nights off were too tired to keep it up all the time.
This house in South Elmwood shook with the noise of 24/7 parties from the house next door. J&W boys who figured the neighborhood was trash so what the heck? They got away with it unchallenged. The bad element was keeping the same hours, the good element was not the kind to shoot out windows. Milo pondered the contradiction of his white self, staying under the radar, vs the whiter college men who created a flagrant public nuisance. Maybe it was just that they were playing to script. Milo had seen that kind of thing before.
Though a peaceable man, he was a veteran. But before he could implement an ingenious and untraceable act of vandalism on the house next door all goes silent.
The J&W men are U-Hauled and Dumpstered away as if they had never existed.
Cheap white vinyl siding swallows the ancient clapboards overnight, covering the century-old carpentry with a nice, clean plastic shell under which the original wood will slowly rot from neglect. When Milo opens his window he smells fresh paint. Trucks deliver gleaming stoves and refrigerators. Section 8 has arrived!
Unit 3 and unit 2 are snapped up by the women and children who compose the front lines of the war on poverty. Unit 1, the first floor, is rented but empty. Weird.
The answer is in today’s Providence Journal that Milo scarfs from the porch next door as reparations. Also the current tenants speak Spanish, no loss to them. Today’s paper says that that the Bantu are coming.
Milo watches from his attic window as mini-vans pull up. He has a hard time placing the people. A black man who seems to be in charge, white and brown people carrying bags and boxes. They look like church folk. Finally a car with two men, a woman, two little kids with brown skin, foreign dress, looking exhausted.
Milo watches his Bantu neighbors from the attic window. Not much to see, really.
As the Bantu settle in, church people show up regularly to take the adults and children to whatever church thing they’re doing. Kids go out in the mornings– first in a van, later walked to the school bus stop by one of the men. One day Milo sees the woman stepping out of her front door in the hard frost of early December. No snow fallen yet that season, but the woman’s bare legs and little summer shoes look almost painful. Her light cotton skirt and cotton head shawl are no protection in a Northern latitude. A minivan arrives and whisks her off somewhere.
As Christmas approaches, charity is extended. Black plastic bags of used clothes and canned goods are delivered to the Bantu. Sometimes the donors ring the bell and are invited in as guests according to Somali custom. Other times they just leave stuff on the porch.
One day Milo is out early. Peeking out of a big plastic bag on the porch next door is a leather jacket. He takes it out, just curious. It fits. It’s warm.
They’ll never miss it, and Milo is cold too.
Thanks to Z Joyce McCollum for the illustration.