"Take your time Brother."
Four words, but they carried the weight of experience. The weight of history. The man approaching took a few hurried steps towards the open door the older man held widely for him.
"Take your time, Brother," he repeated.
Keon nodded towards the man in a way that Black men do to one another to acknowledge their presence, to let one another know they're seen.
"We all need it easy one time or another."
It was the final sentence that really stood out to the younger man. What did the gentleman mean? What do we need easy? He looked over his shoulder and saw the man standing near the curb, looking down at something in his hands. He shook off the thoughts and joined the growing line of would-be millionaires.
The growing jackpot of a multi-state lottery created a frenzy as it neared $900 million. People everywhere were trying to come up with the right combination of numbers to unlock the fortune. Office pots were developed in hopes of being able to walk off the job as millionaires. Millions wished to rid themselves of debt and enjoy the life of luxury they'd dreamed of for years.
Keon stopped in Malik's Mini-Mart at least twice a week, bypassing always crowded chain stores and opting for a place that seemed a little more like home. Malik and his wife Fozeya knew Keon by name, knew just how he liked his sub sandwiches, and always had a kind word to send him to his wife Alyssa. The deli area made the store seem much larger on most days, but today, it was filled with the possibilities millions of dollars generated. Normally, Keon was able to run in, grab two bottles of Gatorade, and a honey bun, and go straight to the counter, but today he was met by a mass of hopefuls.
The line snaked around the store, extending through two aisles. Many of those waiting engaged in small talk, with a few laughs filling the time. The more serious players were relaxed, despite the fact that their routine trip to the convenience store was interrupted by the novices looking to cash in. One gentleman was visibly irritated by the twenty-somethings behind him talking about student loans, hedge funds, and Dubai.
Two mothers chatted about being able to pay for their children's college educations and taking much-needed vacations. Without their husbands and families. A first-timer was being schooled on the various ways to win, aside from the jackpot, by a lottery vet.
Keon, stood silently, clutching his list of six numbers. Numbers he selected from his grandmother's dream book. It was one of the items he collected from her house after she passed five years earlier. For most of his life, she referred to that book after interpreting dreams she, family, or church friends had and discussed. In the final years of her life, she would send Keon to play her numbers, so the dream book was a natural choice as a tribute to her memory.
As the jackpot continued to grow Keon watched with a passing interest, but once it crossed a half billion dollars, he began to think of trying his luck. He gave $5 to the office pool, which actually produced four matching numbers and won the group $100 that they quickly reinvested in the next drawing. They managed to match three numbers on one of the nearly two hundred tickets they purchased.
After that drawing, Keon went into his basement and pulled his grandmother's dream book from a box of her belongings. He laughed at himself as he paged through the book that was barely hanging on after years of use. The dream he had the night before was easy to remember; he had dreamed that his wife was pregnant with their first child. He searched pregnancy in the book and the corresponding number 63.
Next, he tried to remember other recent dreams that stood out. There was the dream about being lost in an airport (47), the other about his grandmother's Bible (44), and of course the recurring dream he had about falling (16).
At least once a week he had a dream about his beloved grandmother and was shocked to learn the number for that particular dream was 41. His grandmother was born in 1941, December 7, 1941, to be exact. The day Pearl Harbor was attacked. As the Japanese struck a US Naval Base in Hawaii, his grandmother was born at her family's home in North Carolina.
There was another dream that often bothered him when he was younger; it was silly to consider now, but he would often see clowns while he was sleeping. He watched a Stephen King movie with his older sister one night and the clowns would pop in and out of his dreams for years to come. 2.
He looked at the numbers he'd written down: 63-47-44-16-41-2 and decided that would be the exact order in which he played them.
Now, he stood in a line for nearly twenty minutes, clutching numbers that meant more than the near-billion dollars they could bring to him. It was a connection to his grandmother. A connection to the history she carried with her. The history she passed to him in various ways.
He was finally nearing the lottery machine when an image of the older man from earlier popped into his head. Out of instinct, he glanced to the place where he saw him last and was surprised to see them in the same space. Was he okay? What could he be waiting for? Maybe a ride? Keon held the last thought to be the truth. He figured the man must be waiting for someone in the store. He looked at the three people in front of him and selected a man with gray hair as the friend of the man on the outside of the store.
The man that called himself Charlie had chatted with nearly everyone in the line while they moved past potato chips and other snacks and spent nearly five minutes near the motor oil, wiper fluid, and other automotive products. He didn't seem to share the concerns other regulars had with the long lines. Instead, he took it as a chance to tell stories about once winning a million dollars and spending it all within three years.
"Cadillacs, Wild Turkey, and wild women!"
The entire store laughed when he answered a young woman's question as to how you run through so much money in such little time. He claimed to not regret any of it.
"The best years of my life," he added. "People called me "sir", that was a long way from what they called me down in Georgia when I was coming up. I spent two months in Acapulco. I was able to just take it easy. ‘Til Uncle Sam come knocking."
At the mention of the IRS, the laughter died down.
"He knocked and I went out the back do'!"
Laughter filled every corner of the store, even Keon had become enthralled by the old-timer's stories. He didn't know whether to believe Charlie's tale of winning a million dollars or not, but it was funny and precautionary. He hadn't thought of what he would do if he actually won the jackpot, but he knew he wouldn't blow it all as Charlie claimed and countless others had done. His mind traveled back to the dream from the night before and he thought of what it would be like to be a father without the restraint bills and other issues regarding money burdened you with. He'd been married for less than a year and the conversation about starting a family came up at least twice a week.
He and his wife, Alyssa, decided they would wait until they were in the right financial space to have children. However, they purchased their first home six months earlier and the financial burden of that buy disturbed his timeline for children by at least two years in his head. Winning this lottery, or at least a nice chunk of it, would provide the financial freedom he felt necessary for having children. He'd grown up seeing the stress of bills take its toll on his parent's marriage and his father's liver. He decided at a young age that he would only have kids when he could afford them and as he approached his 30th birthday, he was holding up that ideal.
Keon had become so lost in his thoughts that the man behind him had to wake up from his reverie and let him know that his turn to play his numbers had come. Keon released his grip on the paper he held in his right hand and within seconds exchanged two dollars for his chance at $900 million. He glanced back at the impatient man and nodded in apology before heading towards the door.
The line now extended beyond the entrance and as he excused himself to get out, he saw the figure of the old man to the left. He hadn't moved in the near thirty minutes that passed since their initial meeting. Keon now moved to the man concerned.
"Are you okay sir?"
"Oh yes, I'm fine, young man. I was actually waiting for you?"
"Yes. For you."
"Do I know you, sir?"
"No. But, I wanted to give you this."
The man hooked his cane into the crook of his left arm and looked down into the gathering of lottery tickets he held in that hand. He shuffled through what appeared to be twenty tickets before pulling one out and extending it towards Keon.
"I figured I'd try my hand at the big one tonight. I only play the 3 and 4 every day, but I was thinking I would try to win all of the money tonight. But, I changed my mind when I saw you coming in. I don't need that kinda money. The hits I get now are just fine. I don't need any more than what's coming to me."
Keon was confused and slow to reach for the ticket. The older man extended his arm a bit further and Keon finally moved to take the ticket.
"Why me sir? All of these people…," he gestured toward the growing line.
"I saw something in your eyes that I had a long time ago. Hope. You have hope in your eyes for something more than money can bring you. I seen't that look in the eyes of a lot of people I knew a life or two ago. I ain't studying none of these other people here trying to get rich. You trying to do right by your peoples."
"As I said, we all deserve to have it easy once or twice until the Good Lord calls us home. Take your time Brother."
"Thank you, sir. What happens if this is…?"
"Then you enjoy it. Do right by your family. Do right by your peoples."
He placed the tip of his cane off the curb and crossed the parking lot towards his car, leaving Keon staring at his back and thinking about the contents of their conversation. The lottery ticket was an afterthought; he was dumbfounded at how this man glanced at him and saw so much. Finally, he looked down at the ticket and read the numbers silently: 26-29-34-36-45-23.
Later that evening, Keon grabbed his ticket from his dresser and joined his wife in bed just before the lottery drawing. She had multiple tickets spread before her and smiled when he settled into bed holding his solitary offering at $900 million. Keon was about to tell his wife about the curious interaction with the old man at the store, but she shushed him as the numbers were being read out. Keon stared at the television, but his mind was back in the parking lot. He barely registered the voice from the television revealing the winning numbers.