I was standing out front watering my lawn the other day when I saw Mulenga Harangua strolling up the street big as day. I was dumbfounded. Mulenga doesn't come out to my neighborhood in northwest Detroit much, and when he does he's usually sneaking. He's kind of paranoid and always seems to think somebody is out to get him. He tries not to be seen in public — at least not during the light of day.
"Hey, Mulenga, when did they let you out?"
"I'm feeling brave today. Plus I thought I'd take advantage of our public transportation and check out the happenings along Woodward Avenue. How are you doing?"
"I'm a little worried about crime out here these days."
"Did something happen?" Mulenga got that suspicious look and scanned the street with a practiced eye. He sidled toward a small tree in front of my house as if that would hide him if necessary.
"Plenty of stuff has happened. The other night the family of a girl my daughter plays with was held up at gunpoint."
"Did anybody get hurt?"
"No they're all right. What happened was the girl and another friend went roller-skating on Friday night. Her parents drove the other girl home. She lives over by Seven Mile Road and Wyoming. So they drop the girl off but linger in the driveway chatting with her mom through the car window. They noticed three young men in hoodies walking by on the sidewalk, but stopped paying attention when the guys got a couple of doors over. The next thing they knew was these guys popped up around their vehicle with guns pulled and demanding money. The lady who lives there ran into the house screaming."
"That's a good tactic, run off screaming. I've used it myself."
"Well, get this. Her husband is a Detroit Police officer. He came flying out the side door in his underwear and started shooting at the robbers. The girl in the backseat of the car lay on the floor and rolled around trying to decide which side of her body was best to leave up in case she got shot. But nobody got shot. The robbers shot back at the cop and ran away. The car had a couple of bullet holes in it. I saw them when they came by here a couple of days later. One slug went through to the inside of the car back where their son usually sits playing video games. He wasn't with them at the time."
"I guess they have to be thankful that nobody got hurt. With all those bullets flying around anything could happen." Mulenga eyed a shadowy area behind some bushes as though he'd feel safer there. "I guess if you're going to hang out chatting in somebody's driveway at night you should do it where a cop lives. And ya'll got to pay closer attention when a bunch of guys in hoodies walk by."
"It's hard for me to be instantly suspicious of a group of young men. We used to be young men walking around with our friends. But anyhow, a couple of days after the shooting incident, the girl was over here visiting my daughter. I was inside talking with her mother when some loud voices suddenly came through my living room window. When the girl heard them she panicked and scooted away from the window. Said she 'didn't want to relive' her Friday night."
"Now that's the proper amount of paranoia to have around here. Maybe she'll be like me. Be able to slip through the city without being seen."
"So you are the invisible man?"
"Pretty much, but I'm talking about Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man rather than Lon Chaney's tragic monster."
"Well, I wish I could make my car invisible."
"Somebody broke into it and ransacked it the other day."
"Did they take anything?"
"Naw, there wasn't anything in there worth taking. They even left my CDs. I guess Keb Mo and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band aren't high on the playlist for thieves these days."
Mulenga chuckled and looked around as though he were scanning for possible crime spots. "Well, I know things are tight out here. I'm surprised something like that hasn't happened already."
"It has. Last year somebody broke the lock and handle on my car breaking in, although there wasn't anything stolen. I drive a stick shift, so I guess nobody wants to steal that. But the other day, the same night they hit my car, they hit the neighbor's across the street. Just ransacked both their cars and took a cup full of change. A couple of weeks before that somebody stole the wheels off that SUV over there." I pointed with my hose and sprayed water in the street. "It was about 5 o'clock in the morning. My other neighbor over here heard them as they were packing up. He actually came out and cruised around the neighborhood to see if they were after anything else. He had a car stolen about the same time. His son had parked it over in University District. It was the second time for that one. It was stolen a couple of years ago but was recovered."
"So the police did their job."
"I don't know what they did. But my neighbor found the car himself. Several months after it was stolen he spotted it in a parking lot at a suburban strip mall. He called the police and got it back. The people who had it bought it didn't know it was stolen."
Mulenga looked around. It seemed that every house he looked at I could remember something bad happening there.
"Those folks over there had the wheels stolen off their car. That other house they took the catalytic converter off the car. Over there they were held at gunpoint in their home while it was ransacked. Then they took the woman to the ATM machine to get more money."
"Well, at least nobody got hurt."
"That's what people keep saying, and it's bothering me. Every time somebody's car gets robbed somebody says, 'Well, at least we're safe.' But it's a damn shame that we have to think we're lucky because somebody stole our stuff and we didn't get hurt. We sit locked up in our houses listening to news stories about Mayor Bing and the City Council fighting over the city budget and how many police will get cut. At least they came up with something this year. Who knows what's going to happen next time around."
Mulenga began to look panicked. "Do you mind if I slip through your back yard?"
"I don't think it's safe around here. I need to pull a disappearing act. Cut through the cemetery and across Palmer Park. Then I can work my way from building to building. Get back downtown where I feel safe."