“ Hercules and the Devil “               by   Luwoo N’Bye


Dred-Loc-wanna-be- Rasta. Award winning dancer. Sober for 15 years.  Father of 6 kids. Single and living alone. 38 yrs old. Connected to a church group.  Just learned an amazing skill.  


                               That was Hercules.

I first met him at a book store/café on Wisconsin Avenue, in Washington, D.C.  The book store was very popular and often held community meetings and self help sessions.


Every Thursday night was Open Mic , where anyone could show off their particular talent. It was always packed and performers were featured in the local papers.


One guy played guitar while his wife sang. Another couple danced, a woman played the saxophone and when a young kid sang “Sitting On the Dock of the Bay”,  he brought the house down!


Then Hercules stepped up to the mic. He had a book in his hand, so I assumed he was going to do a dramatic performance.


He opened the book and proceeded to read…..He read like a first grader! Stumbling over every word, regrouping until he got it right.


At first the audience laughed a little, thinking it was part of the performance. Then in the background, it was softly  announced that Hercules had just learned to read and write. As he continued to struggle reading, I realized that I was witnessing a truly great moment. 


Hercules read a whole page! Naturally some people got impatient when he struggled with simple words like ‘the’ and called out the words for him. When that happened, Herc gave them a look that said he was the host of this show and he didn’t need no stinking side-kick.


When he finished, I was the first one to stand up and applaud. I was truly proud of him. The only shame in not knowing how to read, is not learning how too!


After the show, I went over to meet him; to let him know what an inspiration he was. Herc and I became off handed friends. When ever I ran into him, we’d discuss current events, walk the city, soaking up all the international favor D.C. has to offer.


I guess I had known Herc for about 3 years when I decided to visit him at his apt and hang out. He wanted a much closer connection, something I didn’t want. I smoked a joint with him, then left. 


We went back to being friends and I never gave it a second thought.


On the other side of town, I finally opened a shop on Capitol Hill. Business was good and I had been open for 2 years when I got a call from Herc one day. He had attended my grand opening, but I hadn’t heard from him since.


It was good to talk again, to find out what was going on in the world. I was busy tending my shop that I didn't get out as much as I did before. I still walked D.C. every morning, but I didn’t have time to hang out with friends like I use too. After catching up on the latest events,  Hercules got a little too personal.


Out of the clear blue sky he said,


“I wanted to marry you, but you talk too much.”


I was completely taken back. What did he just say? My mind was racing, but I couldn’t think of a single thing to say in response. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings by saying I never thought of him that way. On the other hand, didn’t he just insult me by saying I talk to much? Oh yes he did!


I was quiet for so long that Hercules finally broke the awkward silence. What he said next was even more bizarre; His voice actually took on a low sinister ‘sing song’ quality. Very smoothly and convincingly he said,  


“You know, you can make a lot of money selling cocaine out of  your shop.”


More stunned silence. Who was this? It couldn’t be my friend Hercules cause he knew I didn’t have anything to do with drugs! It couldn’t be my friend Hercules because he hadn’t done drugs, drank alcohol or smoked cigarettes himself in 15 years!


More than just shocked, I was getting scared. Not wanting to aggravate him, I didn’t answer one way or the other. I told him I had to do inventory and I hung up.


Damn! I sat there, not knowing what to do. I thought of calling the police…but only if he came near me or the shop. Then I felt sad because Hercules and I would never be friends again. The man I was once  proud of, was gone.


Two months later someone came by the shop and asked if I’d heard about what happened to Hercules. No I hadn’t. She said he was in St. Elizabeth’s Mental Hospital. What? She didn’t know the details, but apparently Hercules had went off and had to be admitted to the mental hospital.


As soon as she left, I called St. Elizabeth’s. Yes, he was there. No, he couldn’t tell me what happened over the phone (the CIA was listening). Could I come visit him and bring him a few things? Yes, I could do that.


I closed the shop, picked up the toiletries, candy and cigarettes he wanted and went to visit my ex-friend. He looked different; His long dred-locs were gone, his eyes were blood shot and he looked embarrassed. When he told me what happened, I had to hold my stomach and press my mouth together to stop from laughing out loud. 


Hercules said someone knocked on his door. He didn’t really know the guy at the door, but there was something ‘familiar’ about him and he was ‘sure’ he had seen him in the neighborhood before. He was sure, but he couldn’t place the guy, couldn’t call his name and the guy had never been to his apt before. 

In spite of all that, Hercules let the guy in. He didn’t get a good look at the man because he wore a hat. They talked but he couldn’t remember a single thing they said to each other.


By now, Herc said he felt like he was in a dazed state. They sat down on the couch, the guy lit up a joint and  handed it to Hercules. Although he didn’t smoke weed anymore, Herc took a deep drag off of it. Instantly he felt like a bomb was exploding in his head. When he came to his senses, he was strapped to a bed at St. Elizabeth’s hospital.


Hercules found out he had ran out of his apt building and tried to break the double glass doors. The police were called and when they tried to handcuff him, he went off. It took 10 officers to restrain him.


If the police hadn’t known Hercules, they probably would have shot him considering how violent he was. Instead of throwing him in jail, they took him straight to the mental hospital for an evaluation.


Tests showed that Herc had PCP in his system. PCP is embalming fluid that’s put on cigarettes or weed to get an intense, often very violent, high.

Since there were no other drugs in his system and once he explained how he had been tricked by a stranger, the charges were reduced.  

When he said the guy had tricked him, I couldn't control myself any longer; I laughed so hard tears were rolling down my face!


He didn’t get what was funny. I gladly explained. Hercules had tried to trick me the same way that guy tricked him. By trying to entice me to sell drugs in my shop, he tried to ruin my life the same way that guy ruined his life. 

The difference is that, when the devil knocked on my door,   I didn’t let him in!