The reflection from the liquor store’s neon sign cast a red glow onto Nicky’s face as he looked down to the street below. In the distance he heard car horns, followed by the sound of sirens. The shouting and arguing from the apartment above did nothing to bring him out of his present state of mind. A mind confused and muddled. A mind lost in thought and memory…
He thought of his home back in Puerto Rico. A home where voodoo, séances, and sorcery were the nightly norm.
He remembered his father locking him in a pigeon shack and the frightened pigeons slamming against his body. He remembered furiously trying to cover himself as they pecked at his neck and face.
With detest and hatred his family had rejected him, and before long he found himself walking the streets of New York City. And it was there that he was introduced…to the jungle.
Soon Nicky’s reputation as a fighter proceeded him.
“I want you to meet someone, Nicky. His name is Carlos. He’s the president of the Mau Maus. They’re the toughest gang in New York. Even the police are scared of the Mau Maus.”
The smoke-filled room was like nothing he had ever experienced before, and after he went through the gang initiation, an initiation that involved five of the toughest members beating him up, Carlos had put his arm around his shoulder…
“No one cares about you, man. Not your family, not your school. But that’s all changed now. You’re a member of the Mau Maus, and you’re set for life, baby.” Carlos smiled. “All the women you want, all the drugs you want…”
Nicky stared at the switchblade knife he held in his hand, his mind racing to all the times he had used it…
“All the fighting you want…”
The switchblade flicked open with the push of a button.
“We’re your family now.”
He thought of the endless parties, where your girlfriend changed on a daily basis.
“And when you’re with us…” Carlos laughed as he hit Nicky on the shoulder. “There’s no going back, baby.”
He thought of the fights and the rumbles. The stabbings. The shootings. The blood…
And then he thought of the emptiness, the loneliness. The hurt, and the pain…
And staring down into the street below, those promises now seemed like empty words, and suddenly the events of the night before played over and over in his head…
The skinny preacher talked of another way.
“You don’t like me, Nicky.” He’d said. “But I love you, and Jesus loves you too.”
The preacher’s words scared Nicky.
“You come near me, preacher, I’ll kill you.”
The preacher had only smiled.
“You can cut me into a thousand pieces, Nicky. But every piece would shout that Jesus loves you.”
Nicky closed his eyes, and in anguish he banged his head against the wall of his one-bedroom apartment.
“Jesus promises a better life, Nicky.”
In grief and sorrow, he slowly opened his hand, and let the switchblade knife fall onto the hard concrete floor.
“He offers forgiveness, Nicky.”
With tears rolling down his face, Nicky Cruz walked out of his apartment.
He pounded on the door across the hall. Israel, Nicky’s best friend and long time Mau Mau member, opened it at once.
“What is it, man?”
Nicky ran his hand through his hair, as if in deep concentration. Finally, “Let’s go over to that church, Israel. I want to find out what that preacher man has to offer.”
Okay, so I used a little ‘artistic license’ here, but if you’re interested in more of Nicky’s miraculous story, check out the books Run Baby Run by Nicky Cruz, and The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson.
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