The phone on the wall had rung four times already.
“Get the damn phone!” Deacon shouted from behind the counter.
“Don’t you cuss in my shop, young man!” his mother called from the kitchen.
“Yes’m. Sorry, mom,” Deacon called back. He was sorry, even if his voice didn’t sound convincing. He was too busy lining up the sandwiches and salads in the glass front case. Deacon was in a rush because people were already lining up outside the entrance. And because he wanted to meet Ryder before they had to go off to their community rotations at 10:00 that morning. They were so rarely placed together at the same time, leaving Deacon to fend for himself. Keesha was always working with the muralists. So he had given up long ago of hoping to be placed alongside her. He couldn’t draw stick figures. Besides, he felt better putting his arms and his back into his days’ work. Deacon always marveled at the beauty of both creation and destruction; like when they demolished the old buildings … and creation like when he and the others rehabbed a house and made it new again. It was concrete and satisfying work, and appealed to his affection for double-edged swords like chaos and order.
“Come on, Pops, your phone is ringing,” Deacon said again, more softly this time.
The ring tone on their deli’s “location phone” agitated him. It was shrill and demanding, not like the cool smooth tones that old cell phones used to make, or at least the one Orion had shown him in secret. Nobody Deacon knew had one of those anymore, except for Orion. And the Blacker Hatters. That last bit wasn’t public knowledge, but it was quietly understood. After their garden commitment one evening last July, Orion secretly showed Deacon and the other kids the old cell phone he kept hidden under his bed, like porn or a hand gun. “It’s not activated,” he would re assure the other kids. But he pressed the “ring” button and his audience of impressed peers “oohed” and “ahhed” with amazement as the screen lit up. The small object vibrated in his hand with each ring. Eliminating cell phones was part of their community agreement to become a decolonized zone when they unscripted. The action was necessary to stop feeding the fuel line to the data pods. Cell phone were the main artery of data mining from the people to the powerful.
It had worked. Eliminating their cell phone and all electronic data collecting devices had broken the back of the corporate masters. Orion looked at Ryder that day and said, “Didn’t your Uncle Kelley want you to ‘come up’ learning how to be a Blacker Hatter?”
Ryder shook his head to suggest “I don’t know.”
A new batch of the younger generation would have to eventually replace middle aged people like Kelley and manage the data shield, and keep up the “secret operations” to take down the corporate data systems and protect their community from pirates and hijackers. Deacon was fascinated by it all. Maybe he’d talk to Uncle Kelley himself and offer to take Ryder’s place since Ryder expressed little interest.
Deacon’s grandfather answered the phone which hung on the wall between the front of the deli and the back kitchen.
“Hello! Watson’s Deli!” he said into the mouth piece.
Deacon returned to his task, lining up the perfectly golden glazed donut rings, one after the other, until he had three rows of twelve. There was one left that didn’t quite fit into the tray. Looking carefully around first for his mother’s watchful eye, when he saw the coast was clear, he crammed the last remaining donut into his mouth and chewed quickly. He pushed the tray into the glass case and slid it shut. The store would be opening any minute.
“Uh uh,” his grandfather was saying into the phone. “Yes. That’s right.” He leaned his large sinewy figure up against the door frame as if he knew he might need to get comfortable, making his “this could take a while” expression.
“Who is it?” his mother called from the back.
“Another reporter,” Deacon said after swallowing the remaining evidence of the stolen donut. “At least, I think it is.” He listened.
“It’s quite simple, really,” Pops explained. “You don’t need a five installments expose for your newspaper to understand this.” Pops never had patience for stupid questions, or stupid people. “Our community saw it coming.” He paused to hear a question from the reporter.
“How? Well, because we knew what being colonized and enslaved looks and feels like. It’s sandwiched into our history.” Pops loved making deli jokes. “So we could see the corporations for what they were. Masters. We were all their property. Those white middle class suburban folk just werent’t looking in the right direction. They were too busy eating up the next device or cool app or online service to pay attention to what they were giving up. Now we are all colonized!”
He paused again. He face twisted with greater annoyance. He listened. “That’s right. Our deli shop was the first to decolonize in this neighborhood.” He shifted his weight on his feet. “Look. We resisted out of necessity. The world around us had abandoned us.”
He paused for effect. Then continued, “Places all over the country … like Detroit. No grocery stores. No businesses. No banks. No jobs,” He was gesturing with his hands and fingers, counting the items one by one. “Eventually they even took their electricity and our water. Left those people to starve. They tried to hang on. They tried to pull themselves out of it. They played the game. Meanwhile, the corporations did come into our neighborhoods to use up those kids. With those online schools…”
He spat on the floor and continued, “Kids sittin’ at computers all day… or those charter schools!” His sentence trailed off. “The corporations came in and mined those babies for their own purposes-which was profits and control. You start messin’ with people’s kids you’re gonna get push back!”
He listened again to the voice on the other side of the line. Pop’s body language suggested to Deacon that he was not pleased with what this reporter was trying to say.
“I don’t care what you were told about charter schools!” Pop’s yelled into the phone, “They sold us out …our kids, and our communities, so that Wall Street billionaires could own our public education system, and track our children right into their privately owned prison systems. Owning our children from cradle to grave. Then they built these data pods right in our backyards, just like freeways or pipelines cutting right through our communities.”
He paused to listen.
“Uh uh. That’s right.” He nodded curtly. “Yes. I don’t know why you want to include all of that in your story, now. Everybody knows that history. Our community was the first to refuse corporate colonization. The government led them right to our doorstep, too. Promising to help. But we got smart, fast. And we had nothing to lose. We started our own food production. My deli shop was the first modeled as a community collective. We trained our people. We employed our people. We fed our people. And the model worked. It caught on. So, we created our own jobs. We fixed up our own neighborhoods. We policed our own streets. And we started our own public education system. And we didn’t need some corporate sponsor anymore and their so called philanthropic generosity.”
That last words bled with resentment as they rolled off his tongue.
People were starting to file into the shop. The noise-level rose and Pops placed one finger in his ear to hear better.
“What’s that? Yes. Well, you’re welcome to come visit anytime and see what we do and how we do it. I know Clevand and some others are doing the same thing. But you come on down, anytime. We’ve got the best bagels on the east coast.” Then he smiled. Deacon knew it was true, too. “Well, thank you for inquiring. I look forward to reading your article when it comes out.”
People were lined up, ready with their orders and their forms of payment. Some held cash in their hands. Mrs. Randall had two dozen eggs. She must be bartering for the pastrami on rye again Deacon supposed. John Eldridge had a paper commitment to swap three loaves of Italian bread and two pounds of potato salad in exchange for car repairs. Pops would be grateful for that. His car hadn’t been running for a month and it made making his home deliveries difficult. Deacon was tired of riding his bike to and from everybodies homes. His energy flowed through the streets bringing food wherever it was needed. There were no more homeless shelters. No one lived on the streets and no one went hungry anymore. Pop’s deli had been a part of that change.
Imagining himself flowing through the streets on his bike with sandwich orders made him think of Joe, his economics mentor. “Currency … Current. How are the words connected?” Deacon asked himself, pulling the long French baguette into a paper wrapper for Denisha. He knew that Joe, who was now nineteen years old, was going to probably bring it up during their economics hour at the library.
“Deacon,” his mom called. “Bring those eggs from Mrs. Randall back here, please. I can use them this afternoon.”
Deacon walked into the steaming hot kitchen with the eggs under his arm. All ovens were on full blast. The large square fan wedged into the factory sized window pushed lukewarm air across his face.
He practiced in his head what he would say to Joe. “Money was one source of currency. But currents are a flow of waves, electrical… or like water. It also means now. Present tense. And currency is s a medium of exchange.”
Joe, always the argumentative thinker would of course reject any suggestion Deacon offered.
He could hear him now, “So is money the most valuable currency we have? For centuries we treated human beings as currency for the profits of others. What kinds of other currency can we begin imagining now that can free of from that?”
He had a lot of respect for Joe. They had known each other all their lives and as Joe grew older, he took the role of mentoring the younger kids very seriously.
Deacon would have to drum up an answer later. The line was now out the door and he couldn’t fill his head with abstract theories while filling the food orders. Besides he was quite sure Keesha would beat him to an answer. She always did. Her smarts were her currency, he thought. But they had think bigger, the three of them, him Keesha and Ryder, because soon they were to be the leaders, and they would have to lead with answers.
The cacophony of kitchen equipment and workers talking drowned out the sound of a rumble and roar coming from outside. Looking at the expressions of people passing by on the street Deacon knew something had just happened. He carried three trays of quiches toward the front counter and noticed the disturbed countenance on the faces of the people around him. There were murmurs. Concerned and hushed tones.
“What was that?!” someone shouted.
Karl Jensen was craning his neck up out the deli front window toward the sky. He shook his head, proffering no answer. Folks on the side walk looked up, down and at each other, shrugging their shoulders.
But Deacon had a solid hunch.