Toussaint Wright stepped onto Ephraim Avenue with a backpack slung over his shoulder and a bleeding cut on his cheek. He was 13 years old. Two years before a fire had consumed 248 Ephraim Avenue where Toussaint used to live. The fire destroyed most everything he loved. Nothing remained but a few girders inside the charred hull of the house and a scorched old oak tree out front.
Toussaint had many homes since then: group homes and foster homes, the rectory of a pastor he knew, but he always busted out of them. Now, he stood a long time on Ephraim, watching the browned leaves falling from the oak. The gutter pipe on 248 came loose and bent with a metallic shriek that sent a flock of sparrows flying off into the night. Toussaint had not eaten in two days. He had run most of the way there, stopping to catch his breath behind parked cars or in alleys. His heart beat too fast; his blood ran like water. He touched his hand to the cut on his cheek and felt something small and hard protruding. Glass.
Earlier that day, in another part of the city, some boys who hung around the same corner Toussaint had been hanging around asked him a couple of questions: why you always alone and why don’t you never talk? You ain’t got no mama? Or a grandmama or something? The answers to these questions were unbearable. Sometimes grief came on him like a sweeping numbness, up from his toes and along his neck so he couldn’t swallow. Other times, it was a column of rage rising along his spine. In answer to the boys’ questions, he picked up a brick. He picked up a brick and threw it through the glass window of an abandoned storefront on the corner. He ran.
On Ephraim Avenue he stomped his feet to warm himself. His sneakers thudded against the asphalt. The sound rang in the cold empty air, so he stomped again, harder this time. He yelled, “yo, yo, yo!” just to hear his own voice echo down Ephraim. The block was all shadows, as though the night was more night on Ephraim than anywhere else. He bashed in the plywood nailed over the doorway of 248. This took the last of his strength. He ducked through the hole he’d made and entered the house.
Toussaint settled in the warmest corner with a blanket, a sandwich he’d taken off a passed out drunk, and a sheath of letters from his mother who wrote him from Holmesburg Prison even though he couldn’t stand to go and see her. He had letters from his grandmother too. Her name was Dutchess. She lived in a place called Bonaparte in Alabama. He was on his way there. He was really going this time. He fell into a jerky shivering sleep and dreamed of throwing the brick through the window all over again. Filaments of glass caught in the streetlight as they fell. The glass rain sparkled like tinsel.