Malcolm Jennings Bryant, a man with a name, cast in a beggar’s garb, his brain wired like a child’s sketch, lived in a world of daily dangers – a place where vagrancy was a crime of life, no less necessary, and no more resented, than breathing, or taking a well-deserved bowel movement when and where he could, knowing that one’s bowels were as unwarranted as any other part of his being.
He smelled from a mile away. He was soaked with engine exhaust, gum markings, oil spills, spit, piss, spilled dreams that leave images on the pavement – maybe the marks of someone who puked up his guts after eating from a waste bin – or maybe just a dark reposed figure clad in something gray, heavy, dark with filth, and asleep – a figure curled in an alcove with bars at the door – a someone in a someplace outside human care, taking a space for awhile, where he will not be stepped upon, kicked, or touched, except by a madman, or a desperate gray figure like himself.
He once was a boy who sang with his mother in Church. But now, in this Big City Holy Land, the Christ is Herod’s favored child and Mary, a girl of the streets, is cleaned up for the occasion, then returned with a purse of gold. In this mecca, the pilgrims who survive do homage differently.
What Bryant needed was a plane. Yes, a large plane for his entourage. He would visit the Pope, and the whole thing would be seen on BBC, and when the private audience was finished, and he had wiped his ass like a respectable citizen of the world in the papal bathroom, and emerged shaved, perfumed, smiling, with golden tie and matching diamond links, then at last, he would have found the Holy Land in Rome, or maybe down the street in Jerusalem.
But before the plane arrived, he died, wrapped in a donated blanket on a cold night in Detroit – a black man, so black that the grime had colored his chocolate skin invisible against the sun, curled his hair tight, crimped the beautiful melody of his soul into an unwanted flute, until all that jazz was played out.
When the smell of death overtakes the smells of life, someone calls 911. They removed his body, burned it and all its smells, the smoke having the pungency of common human dust. About that time a weave of white smoke curled from a vent atop Saint Peter’s. By majority vote, Christ once again entered into the world.