Short story by George Wynn
[dropcap]N[/dropcap]ear the Western Addition in a backroom of a barbershop, a closely shaven, solidly built man in a black suit sat at a mahogany desk reviewing a young man’s essay, writing comments, then explaining some grammatical corrections to a slender young man with a white shirt and dark tie.
“Professor, you really think I can go to college?” the young man asked.
Professor nodded: “Without question … without question!”
“You really made a difference in my life.”
Professor’s large eyes gleamed. “Thank you kindly for the compliment.”
“I was going down the wrong path — Juvenile Hall then probation. You set me straight. I’m thinking serious now.”
Professor listened attentively in a reflective mood.
The young man said, “My partners told me, ‘You don’t go to jail for stealing. You go to jail for getting caught.’ I never thought I’d get caught.”
“It’s over, that’s history,” Professor exclaimed, shaking his fist. “You in the world of books now. Stay there. It’ll give you comfort.”
“Yes sir. I hear you loud and clear. Hitting the books is my passion, thanks to you,” he smiled, leaning over to hug Professor. After an exchange of firm handshakes, the young man made his way to the door. “Same time next week?’’
“You can count on it. I’ll be here,” said Professor emphatically. “And I’m glad to see you working. young man.”
The young man pumped his fist. “Doing my best.”
Josh the barber finished up with his last patron and approached Professor. “How many students you mentoring now?”
“Eleven,” said Professor.
“That’s an odd number,” said Josh.
“It’s an odd world,” said Professor.
“Especially in your case,” said Josh. “How do you keep from being bitter? I mean 10 years in prison for a robbery you didn’t even commit. If they framed me like that I’d be full of rage. They done you super wrong!”
“Bitterness will eat you up like a vicious cancer,” said Professor. “I didn’t get no justice, but I can still make my name proud by helping young people in trouble and make them proud of themselves. It gives me a lot of satisfaction.”
“God bless you, Professor,” said Josh. “You a real man. I’m proud to know you.”
“Likewise,” said Professor.
“Listen, I got to clean up, you take your time leaving.”
Professor sat down at his desk, gathering his papers and books into his satchel, and leaned back in his chair and relaxed and remembered. He’d been a professor of classics at a small southern college before the nightmare frame-up. A model inmate, he received an early release, but not early enough to attend the funeral of his only son, Isiah, an innocent bystander killed in a crossfire of gang violence.
He lightly pounded his fist on the desk. “Damn, they wouldn’t even allow me to attend his funeral.” He covered up his eyes with his hands and then a handkerchief. The death of his son weighed so heavy on his mind. He still woke up in the middle of the night screaming, “Oh no, oh no, not Isiah!”
He stiffened his shoulders. His day was over. Today he’d mentored three students. Tomorrow there would be two more. He had to keep his resolve.
He was retired now. But I still have to make a contribution—that’s what Isiah would have wanted me to do and that’s what’s important to me. He fixed his tie and put his black hat squarely on his balding head and stepped out into the hustle and bustle of the street.