The Memphis Greyhound station was about a quarter mile from the airport. As the bus turned east off I 55 onto 240 Tamika took her phone out of her purse and placed a call. “Hey, sugar, how you doing?” she said in an insinuating tone. “We just pulled on to two forty so shouldn’t be more than ten minutes. You already there? You so sweet. Okay, see you in ten; and keep your motor running, Mama wants a ride,” she giggled as she disconnected the phone. When her eyes looked up and met John’s her face grew a huge smile and she demanded, “What? We’re married. Got to give Daddy Bear his props,” she laughed loudly. “Do you have a minute to meet Herman? I’d really like to introduce you two.”
“I should think so. I’m supposed to have an hour layover before I have to catch my Chicago bus and I just want to grab a bite to eat. And shave,” he added pointedly.
“You’d better shave if you want Miss Joni to welcome you the way I’m planning to welcome my man. Good. I really want Herman to meet you.”
“Mama?” Aziz asked, “Can we get something to eat too?”
“No, you may not,” she said shaking her head. “You had a huge lunch three hours ago and your daddy’ll want to get home. You know it’s going to be a late night for him. Please, child,” she added, shaking her head some more. “You ready to see Daddy, Vashti?” she asked.
Vashti smiled, nodded her head and snuggled up against her mother. “Ten minutes, baby,” she said, slipping a jacket onto her little girl. “You boys get your things collected and put jackets on. We’re not in Gulf Port anymore. Don’t want to keep your father waiting.”
The bus pulled into its slot and folks filed off. A big man with a bigger smile waited inside the depot. He took Vashti out of Tamika’s arms and then hugged and kissed his wife while holding the infant. “Boys,” he said, kneeling down so as to be at eye level with his sons, “Was you good for your mama?”
“Yes, sir,” Aziz replied.
“Yes, Daddy,” said Arsu.
Herman looked at his wife with raised eyebrows and Tamika said, “They were fine, Herman. They’re good boys.”
“And how about you, Buttercup?” he roared, holding the small child high in the air and shaking her gently. “You didn’t give your mama no trouble did you?”
Vashti squealed and giggled and then shook her head. “No, Daddy! I’m a good girl,” she added, emphasizing the word good.
“Don’t I know it?” he replied, bringing his daughter right up to his face and shaking his head. “We ready?” he demanded.
“Almost,” Tamika replied. “First, I want you to meet somebody. John? This is my husband, Herman Washington. Herman, John Knopick. John was so good with the children. I just wanted you two to meet. Especially with Aziz.”
“That so?” Herman answered. “Well that’s mighty nice to know. You live here in Memphis? You need a ride home?” he asked, shifting Vashti to his left arm and shoving forward a meaty right hand.
“Nice to meet you, Herman,” John answered, thankful that he had pushed his hand far forward into the other man’s as Herman’s grip was as firm as he was large. “Uhm, no. I’m on my way to Chicago. Thank you for offering.”
“No problem, my man. Anybody that Tamika meets on a bus and say is a good egg he got to be an alright dude, she usually reserves her judgement; don’t cha, baby?’ he said with a wink.
Tamika stroked Herman’s arm and pulled her phone out of her purse. “I know we have to get home, sweetie but take a picture of all of us won’t you? And, John? Tell me your phone number in case we’re ever in Chicago. Or New Orleans,” she added with a scowl.
John shook his head, exchanged numbers with Tamika and after Herman took the photo he asked the big man, “One more?”
Herman smiled shook his head and snapped another picture with John’s phone. “Alright, troops,” he declared to his family, “this convoy has got to roll! Put your coats on, you ain’t at the beach no more, it’s cold outside! John? Great to meet you. Safe trip up to Chicago,” he added pointing his index finger. Then readdressing his family, he repeated, “Come on now, time to go!”
“Boys?” Tamika asked, “What do you say?”
“Thank you, Mr. John,” Arsu said.
“Nice to meet you, Mr. John,” Aziz intoned, emulating his father.
Tamika held her arms out to her daughter and the little girl slithered into them, “Say bye-bye, Vashti.”
“Bye-bye,” the little girl wiggled her fingers.
“Goodbye, Little Buttercup. You stay sweet,” John replied.
“Boys? Go with your father. Make sure you have all your things first. Bear? Give me half. I’ll be right along.”
Herman nodded, gathered his boys and Tamika’s luggage and said, “Don’t be long. I’m fixing to get out of here; pronto.”
Tamika rubbed her husband’s cheek with the back of her hand and said. “Half a minute; I promise.”
John and Tamika watched the three men head to the exit and Tamika said, “You had best call me with news of what you’re doing in Chicago; you hear? Don’t make me call you,” she added, hugging John with her left arm while she held Vashti in her right.
“I won’t. I’ll call. Hey? I have a kind of personal question? Why are you so rough on Aziz? I mean, he seems like a handful but he’s a good kid.”
“You telling me? I love that boy to death. I wouldn’t tell anybody this but you but he’s my favorite. He’s got ADD. Life is hard when you’re poor and black especially in the south; somebody’s got to ride his ass or he’s just going to slide through life. Not for my son, no siree Bob!”
“Okay. I guess I can see that. You just might want to, you know, give him a little more carrot and not so much stick.”
Tamika put her left hand on one hip and Vashti on her right, pursed her lips and looked hard at John before answering. “Alright. I’ll consider it. You’re probably right. I do express my displeasure to him far more than my pleasure. I’ll try; for him. And for you. Now give us some sugar before Herman gets mad,” she concluded, offering him her left cheek.
He kissed it, kissed Vashti, waved and then watched as they exited out the same door that her husband and sons had. Once they were gone he headed into the restroom for a long overdue shave.