The Rug

The movers had just started to roll up the oriental rug when Bob picked up a rifle and approached the tall thin man kneeling on the floor, next to the swirling blue carpet.

“I’ll shoot the next person who touches my stuff,” he announced. Everyone stopped. No one said anything for a few long moments and then the tall thin man softly spoke.

“No need to get excited. We aren’t going to move nothin.'”

Bob watched as the four moving men slowly headed towards the door. He had no doubt they took him seriously. He certainly looked as if he might shoot someone, dressed in nothing but an open-backed hospital gown and sandals; hair almost to his waist. Bob was really stoned, his pupils wide and black. In one hand he held the rifle and with the other he leaned against a silver tipped cane.

Bob’s mother had died six months before and he had been living in her house, much to the consternation of his siblings. While he was visiting college friends, Bob’s family decided to have the contents removed and the house closed. He found out about the moving men as he lay in a hospital bed, recovering from surgery. Signing himself out of the hospital, he rushed back to Indianapolis. When Bob arrived at her house, he decided to take matters into his own hands.

It didn’t take long for the police to arrive. A short, balding deputy got out of his squad car and met Bob on the front walkway. Bob leveled his rifle.

“This is my house, and no one’s making me move,” he announced. Bob was woozy from the painkillers and pot. He could feel the wind blowing through his loose hospital gown and, for a moment, he thought he was going to vomit right in front of the cop.

“Put the gun down, son,” the deputy said slowly and steadily.

“Leave me alone or I’ll effing shoot you.”

“You do and they’ll hunt you down. You’ll spend the rest of your life in prison.”

Bob’s father had arrived, along with some other people he’d never seen before. The officer looked small and, yet, too big for his uniform. He also began to look scared.

“I don’t care.” Bob looked into his eyes. “You’ll be a dead pig,”

The cop’s expression didn’t change, but Bob noticed he was sweating. Then his lip twitched.

“Put the gun down.” The deputy’s voice had softened. His eyes searched Bob’s. His hands didn’t move an inch.

Just then Bob’s Dad approached.

“Just put the gun away, Bob,” he said, as serious as he had ever been. “If you put it down now, they’ll let you go. We can forget the whole thing.”

Bob stood on the walkway, slightly swaying. He wanted to sit down. Bob looked at the people watching him. Everything that had happened in his life seemed as if it were a steel wall, impenetrable and slick. There was no going back. In front of him: nothing. Absolutely nothing. Bob was standing outside in a hospital gown, holding a gun on a cop, stoned and more alone than he had ever felt before. For the briefest of moments, a sense of peace inexplicably rose up within him; something he had not felt for a long time. Bob closed his eyes. It seemed something was waiting for him, but he didn’t know what it might be. He opened his eyes. It wasn’t much of a feeling, but it was something. Bob wondered if it was just the drugs. Then it went away. Bob lowered the rifle and let it drop, as he stepped around the deputy. The deputy didn’t move.

As Bob stepped off the porch, Bob’s father quietly turned towards the car. Bob followed. Behind him, the moving men walked back into the home, knelt down, and began to roll up the swirling blue Oriental carpet.

Bob didn’t know where he was going, but he was pretty sure that things couldn’t get worse. What had started with a small cancer growing in his mother’s colon led, in due time , to Bob standing half naked in front of her house, holding a sheriff’s deputy at bay. Nine months before, a small group of Christians prayed for Bob and his mother, as she lay dying in a hospital room. They couldn’t have been praying for all this to happen. Or at least Bob hoped not.

Bob never really knew any Christians when He was growing up. Other than being followed down the sidewalk by a street preacher, he never met any believers during his college years in Boston, either. His first real encounter occurred when he visited his mother in the oncology ward of Winona Hospital. A swarm of them hovered around her bed, and asked Bob if he would join them in praying for his Mom. Holding hands with the straightest group of people he had ever met in his life, Bob stood in the circle. They seemed harmless enough, and his Mom seemed happier with them around. Bob had grown up around Sufis, mystics, actors and characters of all kinds. So, when the Christians assured him his mother would be healed, Bob took it in stride. Then his Mom died of cancer. Bob was less than impressed with the Christian God.

After his Mom died, Bob became something of a recluse. He moved into her house and spent his days smoking dope and sleeping. It didn’t take long until Bob had used every dish in the house and every horizontal surface was stacked with plates, bowls and glasses of every color and shape. Dried food and mold covered them all. Bob sprayed the whole mess with Raid and Glade. Then, he closed off the kitchen.

One morning, the doorbell rang and two bun-headed women were looking in the door.

“Yes?” Bob could see they weren’t cops, which made him feel a little less uncomfortable.

“You’re Bob, Helen’s son; aren’t you?” The cheerful woman smiled. Her friend followed suit. “We met at the hospital.”

“Oh, my God!” Bob thought, as he stared at his two visitors. “They tracked me down!”

“Can we come in? Is there anything we can do for you? I would have brought you some food, but we really didn’t know what you liked,” she chirped on and continued to smile.

The other woman offered, “we didn’t even know if you were still living here. If there’s anything we can do for you, we’d love to.”

Bob couldn’t believe it. “Who are these people?” It was then he thought about the dishes. Piles and piles of dishes. “Sure. If you could help me get my kitchen cleaned up, I’d appreciate it.” It was Bob’s turn to smile.

The women took to cleaning like fish in water. They sang song after song about Jesus, washing and wiping, stacking and drying. Bob didn’t say a word, he just watched. “Who are these people?” The thought rang through his head again and again. He had no idea. They certainly weren’t getting anything out of the deal. One thing Bob was sure about – they were fools.

A year after Bob’s family closed the house, it was sold and probate closed. Bob was told he had to take his share of the furnishings from the warehouse, or begin paying storage fees. He had no money and no place to put the mountains of furniture he had inherited. The thought of getting rid of even a single item was completely out of the question. It was all Bob had left of his past, an island of flotsam adrift in the sea of life. He wasn’t letting go. It was then that Bob thought of the two bun-headed Christians. Sure that Mrs. Mullins, the most smiley-faced of the two, wouldn’t refuse him, Bob tracked down her phone number and gave her a call.

“Praise The Lord!”

Bob winced.

“We were praying that you’d call.”

Sure. “Could you do me a favor? I have to store a few things I got from my Mom. Could I keep them at your house for a couple of weeks?” Bob smiled.

Several U-Hauls later, he had filled the Mullins’ basement from floor to ceiling, wall to wall. He had stuffed so much furniture in their garage that Mr. Mullins could hardly get the door closed. Climbing over a large couch that he had left stuck in the bedroom hallway, Bob shook Mr. Mullins’ hand. Then he left for a year.

It wasn’t a good year, either. Drifting from Indy to Boston and back, Bob went from one friends’ apartment to another, collecting welfare and selling small amounts of pot and acid. And then, something unusual happened that started to change the course of his life.

Hitchhiking back from Boston, with all of his belongings on his back, Bob got picked up by a guy in a pickup truck, It wasn’t long before he fell asleep. Bob awoke just as they pulled into a rest-stop in Pennsylvania. Leaving his backpack in the front seat, Bob stepped out to use the restroom. Just as he reached the door, Bob heard the truck engine rev up. As he turned to see what was happening, the driver squealed away and headed back onto the interstate. Everything Bob had went with him.

Bob stood looking at the empty parking spot. Then he glanced down the on-ramp towards the interstate. Nothing. Just the chill of the night air, darkness and the constant hum and rumble of traffic. He couldn’t think of anything to do. A pay phone hung on the wall of the restroom. Bob called the police and then he called John Mullins.

“Praise The Lord!” This was John Mullins’ typical greeting, and Bob had become used to it. This time, however, it seemed a bit optimistic. Bob didn’t see anything to praise anyone about. In fact, it couldn’t have been any bleaker. He was hoping Mr. Mullins would send him some money.

“Let’s pray and believe God, that He’ll touch that man’s heart. I believe He’ll bring all of your belongings back. Everything.”

Bob stood, chilled and tired, with the receiver in his hand, wondering who else he could call, as Mr. Mullins prayed.

“Amen.”

Just then, a cop pulled into the rest-stop.

“Listen, thanks a lot. I got to go. The cops are here.”

Bob could hear Mr. Mullins say “God bless you…” as He hung up the phone.

The cop was a Sheriff’s deputy. They all looked alike to Bob and he didn’t expect much from any of them. The officer’s scrubbed face popped out of a freshly starched light brown shirt, and the borders of his hair looked like he’d trimmed them with an edger.

“What happened, son?” The deputy’s voice was deep and full of concern. Bob looked at him closely. “How can I help you?”

“Where did this guy come from?” Bob told the cop the entire story of how he had been robbed. He expected a short police report and an “I’ll call you if anything turns up.”

“Hop in!”

Bob was mighty uncomfortable riding in a police car. Inside, it seemed so clean and squeaky, so tight and sharp and bright. Bob squirmed, as if the seat itself was white hot. The officer spent the next two hours checking gas stations and rest stops, asking who might have seen the pick-up truck. He radioed the description of the truck to the dispatcher, finally returning to the scene of the theft.

As they pulled into the rest-stop, Bob saw an object on the sidewalk, next to the parking space across from the restrooms. He got out of the car and stared. It was his backpack. Bob quickly checked and found that nothing, including his money and two gold coins, was missing.

Bob turned to the cop, whose scrubbed face was beaming. “My friend prayed the guy would return it. I can’t believe it!”

The officer’s eyes sparkled and his grin got even bigger. “Seems like you’ve got a friend, alright.” His eyes looked through Bob . He wasn’t sure what the deputy meant, but Bob knew the cop was referring to something that he didn’t quite get.

Once Bob got back to Indianapolis, he needed a place to stay. Bob never wanted to sell his mom’s furniture, but selling something was a lot better than sleeping between two cars in his friend’s garage, although a cement floor and a roof was better than the field Bob had slept in for the previous two weeks. It wasn’t until he agreed to sit in on Lou’s weekly bible study, with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, that Bob got permission to move into the garage. And so it was that he was able to come in from the rain and begin his first look at the Holy Scriptures.

Bob began stopping by the Mullins’ to pick through the piles of junk and furniture that filled their home, looking for things he could sell. John and Heide’s house was orderly to a fault, it’s pastel walls almost bare. Heidi had taken down one old lithograph because it was of a tobacco plant. Two years passed, and every time Bob stopped by to pick up some furnishings, John told him about the God of Israel and how He was chasing him. He wasn’t hearing any footsteps, though.

One afternoon, as Bob walked up to the front door, he saw a bird flopping around on the ground. It’s wing was gaped open and looked as if it had been caught by a cat. Bob thought maybe Heidi would want to put it out of its misery. After all, she was a Christian woman. When Mrs. Mullins came out, she scooped the bird up in her hands and began to pray in some strange language. Bob just stared at her. He thought maybe it was Polish. But then she began stroking the bird. Bob didn’t know what she was doing, but she certainly wasn’t going to kill it. As he watched, unable to quite make out what language she was speaking, Mrs. Mullins lifted her hands in the air. In an instant, the bird took flight! It flew away, flawlessly beating its wings as it disappeared into the sky!

“Holy shit! I just saw a miracle!” Bob was dumbfounded. He couldn’t say a thing, but for the first time Bob thought he heard a footstep.

The Mullins continued to talk with Bob whenever he dropped by, often telling him he needed deliverance from demons. Not only did his girlfriend agree with them but, actually, so did Bob. One thing Bob knew for a fact; he had something in him that was overwhelming his mind, something that was far stronger than Bob. Whenever he heard John and Heidi describe the demonic nature of his life, Bob wanted to throw himself on their living room floor and beg for help. Of course, he never did, and I doubt that either of the Mullins suspected how desperate Bob had become.

Bob had to have money, and selling a lamp or chair here and there was not enough to keep him going. He had to get his own place and needed some serious money. He thought, for a while, about filing a fake insurance claim against Mr. Mullins’ insurance agency. Then Bob considered selling the Oriental carpet he had almost traded his life for. He hadn’t left it with the Mullins, but had let Mrs. Thorpe, a friend of his mother’s, keep it for him over the years. Bob hadn’t spoken with her since he had dropped the rug off. Stopping by an Oriental rug shop in Broad Ripple Village, Bob found out it was worth thousands. As he drove over to the Thorpes, Bob thought about how Mr. Mullins always told him God was trying to reach him; God wanted to show Himself; God wanted to bless him. It sure seemed, to Bob, like God wasn’t doing a very good job. Bob thought that maybe he’d give Him another chance.

So Bob prayed, and he kept it simple.

“OK, God, if you’re there. This was my Mom’s rug and I shouldn’t sell it. Have Mrs. Thorpe tell me that, and offer to loan me $600 dollars until I get my act together. Then I can pay her back and come get the rug. ”

Bob pulled into the drive. He went inside and exchanged pleasantries with Mrs. Thorpe. Nothing. She was alone and she helped him scoot a couple of tables and chairs off of the carpet. Bob kneeled down by the swirling blue Oriental rug and, as he began to roll it up, his heart began to sink.

“Bob, that rug belonged to your mother.” Mrs. Thorpe’s voice seemed pained and concerned. “You really shouldn’t sell it. What if I loaned you $600? One day, you’ll get your life together and you can repay me. You can have it back then. You should pass it on to your children.”

Bob’s hands stopped moving. “Thanks,” was all he said. Kneeling by that swirling blue Oriental carpet, Bob heard, for the first time, the sound of footsteps pursuing him.

As I write this story beside my sleeping wife, a blue Oriental carpet lies beneath my bed. It is a gift from the Living God of Israel.