Charcoal smoke surged over me in a thick stream obscuring the stars, along with the events that forced me down onto this cold, hard sidewalk. I stared into the flames streaking out of the second-story window until my senses were hypnotized, and the searing pain from the bullet that pierced my abdomen disappeared. “Stardust” began to play in my radio brain and transmitted the memory of my first meeting with Stella. I was at the Jazz Room with my band-mates, Donnie and Snaps. Most of our conversations were pointless, but I recalled them with startling clarity on this starless night.
The pain from my injury forced me back to reality, a reality I had no desire to return to. As blood surged out of my wound unrestrained, I thought this was it. I’d die alone and without my last dream realized. Just as I had given up hope, it came true.
“Daddy!” My daughter, Jessie, ran over to me wearing the pink pajamas I got her for her ninth birthday. She looked off to the side, hypnotized by the flames.
My sister, Leda, arrived next and knelt beside me. “Hang on little brother. An ambulance is on its way.” She gently assisted Jessie down to her knees.
As I gazed at my daughter’s face, an emotional storm struck me. Is this real? Are you here? I couldn’t trust my own senses. I wanted this moment so badly. It sustained me all the way up to now.
“Why are you bleeding?” she asked.
“I’ll be okay.”
“That’s a lot of blood.”
“They’ll fix me up at the hospital, and I’ll be as good as new.”
Leda shook her head at me, and I took Jessie’s hand. “She’ll be here soon. How about you sing me a song while we wait for her?”
Jessie stared at the blaze, and the flames reflected off her light-brown skin. “I can’t sing when I’m scared.”
“As long as you sing, everything’ll be all right…I promise.”
Jessie cried, and I held her hand tight.
“What did Mowgli know about the red flower?” I asked. Jessie loved The Jungle Book. I read it to her every night when she came to visit.
Jessie looked down at me. “That’s what the animals called fire, and it scared them but not Mowgli. He wasn’t afraid.”
“I want you to be brave, like Mowgli. Can you do that for me?”
“Good. Now sing to me, brave one.”
“What song should I sing?”
“How about your song?”
Leda put her arm around Jessie. “It would make me feel better as well.”
Jessie nodded her head and began to sing softly at first and then with every ounce of her emotions.
Close your eyes and dream a dream.
A happy little summer in my jungle dream.
Where no one ever has to sleep.
Where wolves and tigers and panthers creep.
I close my eyes, and they come to me.
I sing my song under a shady banyan tree.
A quiet place where I can stay.
Sit with my friends and play all day.
As Jessie sang, her voice calmed me. If I had to die, at least it would be to the sound of my daughter’s beautiful voice inspired by my music. The way she shaped and improvised the notes made her sound way older than her nine years.
Jessie wrote the lyrics after she found out I was going to trash the song. It was a little too syrupy for my personal taste. She thought it was a waste to write something and throw it away, and she informed me she’d make me change my mind. Her comment amused me, and I didn’t expect anything more to come from the discussion until she came to me the next day and sang my song with her words. I was deeply moved and named the piece, “Jessie’s Song.” I even had her sing it on one of my albums.
Jessie continued to sing to me. Her voice carried me further away from my pain, and the circumstances that led up to my injury.
Trust in me and follow along
Whenever you hear me sing my song.
Hear my call, you’ll never go wrong
As long as you hear my song.
I go home when the moon is high.
I cannot stay because my mom and dad will cry.
Children have parents to go home to.
Out in the jungle that still is true.
I was ready to die. Accepting my demise came easy and was surprisingly atmospheric. The fire reflected off the cars and surrounding houses and made me wish I had Ezza around to write a song. I had the perfect title lined up, “Hymn of My Death.” It’s not hidden behind any fancy metaphor, but it accurately mirrored my mood. The music was beautiful, the stars were out, and the firefighters were coming to save the day. What more could any man ask for on the eve of his death? I turned my head away from the blaze to avoid answering that question. It took a bullet to my gut to make me realize I had a lot to be grateful for, but seeing the obvious was never easy for me. In a circumstance such as the one I found myself in, you can either ask God, “Why me?” or laugh and tell yourself, “What else did you expect to happen after all the bad choices you made?” I asked the latter because I was an atheist. I laughed. It seemed to make Jessie feel better, but on Leda it had the opposite result. Quite understandably she looked terrified.
Reflective thought is a typical reaction when you’re about to die. You think about all the things you wanted to do but never bothered with because you believed you’d have plenty of time left. That’s what I did as Jessie cycled through the melody again. I wished I spent more time with her, paid her more compliments, and told her I loved her more often. Not wanting my last moments to be about all the awful things I’d done—and I’d done far too many—I probed Jessie’s face until I realized I got at least one thing right: I convinced Stella to have a child with me…
Read the rest of the chapter here.
Jessie’s Song is the bronze medal winner for the 2013 Readers’ Favorite Book awards, and the eBook is available for purchase at Amazon. Paperback will be available soon. Please visit Eleni Papanou’s site for updates.