Charlie neglected the house. His presence was evident in the takeout boxes, snack wrappers, and empty Diet Pepsi bottles. At the eye of the storm of Neesha’s life is a love of artful interior design. Neesha needs a beautiful nest. She lives in Gilpin Court.
Gilpin Court is awful. It’s not safe to be outside. Outside is a hurricane of crime, addiction, and misery. People that live in Richmond’s Courts live with ambient desperation. Over 200,000 stories of a desperate struggle to raise a family and live a purposeful life. These are the castoffs and enslaved nobody wanted to live near them. Enslaved? Yes. The slave owner is Uncle Sam. That’s our legacy from the struggle for enfranchisement by people with enslaved ancestors. We moved brown people to reservations and public housing then built walls made of regulation and law to ensure they could not live in our backyard. Neesha is a mother of two who doesn’t know another way to live. Without TANF, Section 8, WIC, Medicaid and SNAP she has nothing else.
Concrete and Silk, Not a Beautiful Nest
Neesha is a single mother of two school-age children. Her Baby Daddy David bounces between rehab, jail, and the hospital. David is out on probation. More from him in a later post. Neesha doesn’t have a car so she relies on Uber and Lyft to get around. Neesha has a side business cleaning houses. Her business is on the down low because a paycheck would ruin the little bit of stability her children have. She did this because Uncle Sam took from her all the better answers.
Her Mom and four brothers? A caseworker discovered them living with her. She’s on the books for herself and her two kids. The caseworker gave her a choice. Keep the studio apartment and kick out her Mom and brothers or find another place to live. The caseworker is racist. RRHA is racist. You are racist for saying she ought to put her family on the street. Gilpin Court is racist. Her small studio apartment is racist. But . . . her kids keep her up all night with fears of being homeless again.
Kicking out her Mom and her brothers was a cop calling brawl. Her Mom is racist. Her brothers are racist assholes. They are gone and her kids slept through the night this week. Neesha, like Ophie, defends the nest.
A Beautiful Nest and Fortress
Neesha keeps a beautiful nest. Outside the sonic stream drums along with roaring cars, squealing tires, blaring sirens, gunfire, and wailing women. She’s cleaned used needles and puke off the landing outside her door too many times. A banner with 保護這座房子 hangs on her front door. Inside it is a fight between mid-century modern public architecture and Chinese Buddhist decoration. Gilpin Court is built with concrete. The interiors are tile and bare concrete. Neesha decorated her apartment with donated furniture and art from the Asian-American community. There is a home temple in the living room.
Farms have to operate on very little for most of the year. Harvest is a bounty/binge season and then the slow decline into misery kicks in. Neesha is living out an agrarian life cycle each month. When the checks come and her SNAP card is refilled there is a binge of spending for a week. Ophie heard of this. She sent a caseworker of her own from Catholic Charities to Neesha.
Ophie needed time to get the farm ready for Neesha. A weekend cleaning would take care of the stench of Charlie. She could leave the grime accreted by years of neglect to Neesha. The caseworker put Neesha in touch with Feedmore. The rest of the desperation could wait.
A Beautiful Wish and a Problem for Ophie
The house on Charlie’s Goochland farm had Kazakh quilts stored in a cedar chest. The living room had an old rug soiled by spilled Diet Pepsi and crushed Doritos. Neesha knows of Chinese rugs from her time as a guest in the homes of friends at the Chinese Baptist Church.
Ophie got the Goochland Farm. Charlie’s last night in the casino sealed his fate. He’s awaiting trial at Nevada’s Humboldt Conservation Camp. Yes, his charges are that bad. Nobody wanted the farm so Ophie got it for a good price. Before Charlie, a Kazakh family tried to make it work as a farm and failed. the farm was owned by the same family for 150 years before the Kazakh family.
What Ophie got needed things. Years of neglect and a few years of Charlie hurt the farm. Traces of the Kazakh family’s work to fix the damage were visible. She had a general contractor appraise the property. The bugout shelter wasn’t built to code. The electrical and plumbing were unrepairable. Rat urine and feces soaked into the porous concrete floor. ServPro did their best with it. But the shelter still stunk of mold and rat piss.
Bug Shelter Death
Ophie’s answer for the bugout shelter was easy, bury it and use the land for chickens. Hens using the land is better than a chicken-shit asshat’s temple to fears of the Zombie Apocalypse. Her contractor agreed. The house had possibilities. It needed a caretaker and a farmhand. Also, Ophie wanted Neesha out of Gilpin Court. She also thought maybe David might agree to be a farmhand.
Neesha was cleaning a house when her phone rang, “Hey.”
“I need a favor.”
“Can you come to my farm?”
“I’m working. I have to pick up my kids in an hour.”
“I can pick you up. It’s important.”
“Ok, I guess.”
“Where are you?”
“Some lady in Oilville.”
“Send me the address.”
Ophie took Neesha and her kids to McDonald’s in Manakin Sabot. They didn’t get to the farm until after dinner, “What’s the big news?”
“The farm needs help.”
“And your kids need good schools.”
“I know, right? But I can’t afford to move.”
“Maybe you can.”
“I don’t know. I mean, first, last and a security deposit on a three-bedroom is like, four grand. Where am I going to get that kind of money?”
“I have that kind of money. But I have a problem I bought from Charlie. It’s a problem that money can’t fix.”
“That farm is horrible. The house is kind of ok, though. There was a quilt in the parlor I wish I could get.”
“What if the farm was your problem?”
“Wait . . . what!?”
“The farm needs a family. The house needs a woman. Charlie . . . I don’t know what he is other than bad.”
“Yeah, but I know shit about farming. I’m a city bitch.”
“Could you learn?”
“I don’t know . . . are you giving me the farm?”
“No. I’m offering you a job. If you do well we can talk about giving you equity in the company I made to run it.”
“What job? What do I know how to do on a farm?”
“You clean houses. The house needs to be cleaned. It also needs a woman to manage the renovation. If I hire a guy he’ll put a motorcycle repair lift in the living room and another gaming setup in the parlor.”
“Gaming setup? Can I do that?”
“Not right now. Are you interested?”
“I guess so.”
“Is that a yes?”
“Can I see the house again?”
They drove out to the farm. The kids hadn’t seen it. Kudzu overtook the yard before Charlie moved in. The house looked haunted. A stray dog barked at them as they pulled into the driveway. Ophie, Neesha and her kids walked to the door with the dog trailing them. He stopped barking, nuzzled her son, and he petted the dog. That seemed to be enough for the dog to accept them.
Ophie had done some work inside the house to make it presentable. It smelled clean, “what about the storm shelter?”
“My contractor buried it.”
“Cool.” Neesha got quiet. The kids tore around the house exploring every room. A lot of the grime was gone. Everything in the kitchen was put away properly. There were new small electrics including a toaster and a microwave. Neesha let out a tear, “this is so nice. I can’t accept this. It’s too much.”
“Neesha. Maybe it is. But nothing changes if nothing changes.”
Neesha’s son ran down the stairs to the kitchen, “MOM! LOOK! A Chinese Toy Soldier! Can I keep it?” Neesha was dumbstruck. Another tear fell. This was too much. There was hope here where no hope can be found in Gilpin Court, “I don’t know, Ophie. This is insane.”
“Think about it. It’s a lot to process. You don’t have to say anything today.”
“Yeah, but Gilpin Court is horrible.”
“It is. Ready to go back?”
Neesha’s daughter came into the kitchen clutching a plush Kazakh baby doll, “Mom, I found this. Can I keep it? I like this place. I don’t want to go home.”
Say Yes to A Beautiful Nest
Neesha reached for a hug from Ophie, “I don’t know what to say. How is this even possible? Oh my god, I must be crazy.”
The daughter, “Can we live here, Mom?”
“Baby, it’s complicated.”
“NO! I want to live HERE!”
“Ophie, you are crazy, I am crazy, my daughter is crazy, but . . . when do I start?”
“Come to my office in Willow Lawn tomorrow afternoon. We’ll do the paperwork then. Your caseworker will help wrap you things up with RRHA.”
“Yes. YES! Oh my god YES!”
The daughter starts crying, “are we moving?” Then everybody loses it, “Yes baby, we are moving.”
“Ophie, can I ask you a favor?”
“Can I make this house my own? Like, decorate it how I want?”
“Let’s talk about all that tomorrow. I’m tired. It’s late and your kids should be in bed.”
“You are right.”