It was not yet morning; I woke up too early that day, so I grabbed my phone from the nightstand and began my usual routine: weather, sports scores, news, Facebook.
There was a post that stopped me cold.
My eyes looked to the message like a train wreck, and I read.
“We are heartbroken at the loss of our dear Abeo. The Lord took him too soon. Some doubt at times like this, but we have our faith, and it will sustain us.”
I cried. I’m a sixty-five-year-old man, but I was bawling like a baby. My wife was sleeping beside me and woke quickly to my heaving sobs.
“What’s wrong, Michael, what happened?”
I passed the phone to her. She let out a little shriek and joined me in my misery.
“You were there for him.”
My wife consoled me as we both wept while the sun of a new day rose, and filled our bedroom with light.
Abeo was my little brother.
I was a mentor with the Big Brothers program for nine years. Abeo was ten years old when they paired us up.
Abeo was one of four children raised by a single mother. That’s the facts, but the actual scenario is much different. There was royalty in his bloodline. His mother descended from a line of African tribal leaders. Momma was a queen without a king, but she had her family who adored her.
Since their Dad was not in the picture, Momma always made sure that each boy had a “big brother”. It was my role to teach her youngest son how to be a man.
I did the best I could.
Life was hard for Abeo. He was proud, not humble. Clever, not wise. There was raw ambition inside that little man, and it was nearly impossible for him to control his relentless urges.
The first time I met Abeo, I took him to his favorite restaurant – Applebees. He studied the menu and asked me politely,
“Could I order the ribs?”
I told him sure.
“Can I get the wings too?”
He was testing me.
When the waitress came to the table, he looked at me with a sly smile and slipped in one more request,
“How about we split an appetizer, mozzarella sticks?”
He was charming. I gave him the go-ahead, and he was pleased.
Abeo always wanted more.
When Abeo was eleven, he started a landscaping business. He cut a deal with his next-door neighbor. He’d do the guy’s lawn for free in exchange for using the lawnmower to cut the grass in other yards.
He was working hard, making good money, but he wasn’t satisfied.
He figured if he could do more lawns, he’d make more money. He recruited his older brother to help. As the business grew, the entrepreneur found it harder to get everything done.
It all came crashing down one night when he left the electric mower outside, instead of returning it to the garage. An animal chewed away at the electrical cord, and that was the end of his business.
The neighbor who owned the mower held him accountable.
“You’re going to have to pay to repair the cord.”
Abeo didn’t think it was his responsibility.
“It’s your mower – I just borrowed it.” He responded.
The neighbor told him to pay up or else.
Every penny Abeo made that summer was already spent. He owed his neighbor, he owed his older brother, and he had to face his Momma.
Abeo stood alone on the wrong side of the argument, and he dug in his heels. The neighbor gave in first.
Yet, with all the trouble that came from his first entrepreneurial venture, he never did learn his lesson. He had a stubborn streak.
The next year when Abeo was twelve, he entered middle school. Abeo saw it as an open marketplace filled with kids who had an allowance to spend.
Nintendo Wii was the hot thing that year. You could do sports on a big screen and play with your friends. Tennis, golf, baseball, all virtual – an all-new experience. Abeo didn’t have his own Wii, but he knew kids who did. He organized Wii tournaments for the middle school crowd. He charged an entry fee, gave the kid who owned the Wii a few bucks for hosting, and kept the rest for himself.
It caught on like crazy. Games were going on after school, on weekends, and during vacations. He was flush with cash.
Just as quickly as he would make it, he would spend it on clothes, sneakers, and caps. He loved being well dressed.
It was shortly after spring break when the principal called Abeo to the office. There was a police officer there.
“Young man, it is illegal to take money from children for gaming purposes. Cease and desist.”
It didn’t seem fair to Abeo.
“Show me the law,” he countered.
The police officer did not comply.
They called his Momma, they suspended him from school, and they shut down his business.
And yet he went on, defiant and unbroken. He never even considered that he may have done better handling the situation differently.
High school was the big leagues for Abeo – literally speaking. Abeo had always been an exceptional basketball player. By age fourteen, his Nigerian DNA was in full bloom. He stood 6’4 inches tall and still growing. The local Catholic school recruited him to attend St. Joes.
His Momma was a big fan. One among many who loved to watch Abeo dominate on the court.
But, there was a dark side to all the hype and glory of basketball stardom. Abeo would lose his temper after a close call from a ref, a scolding from the coach, or a fight with an opponent even more aggressive than himself.
His Momma watched seething with anger and disappointed to see her son display such unsportsmanlike conduct. It was not how she raised him.
Momma was always trying to teach Abeo self-control. But he would not hold back when he felt someone did him wrong. There was never a shrug of resignation that would come to his shoulders. He was a grudge holder with a mind that did not forget, and a heart that would not forgive.
After two years at St. Joes, he had another altercation with the coach. It was to be his final fight at the school. Abeo was kicked off the team. The headmaster asked him to resign from St. Joes.
“What did I do, Father? It was Coach’s fault. Why not ask him to resign?” Abeo was defiant. It wasn’t exactly the kind of argument that would change the Priest’s mind.
Abeo transferred to the public school, where he again crushed it on the basketball courts, this time with a coach who was soft on his star player.
It seemed like things were going better for Abeo at Kennedy High School. He was whip-smart but uninterested in the academic side of his education. Yet everything was easier at Kennedy than at St. Joes, and his grades were good enough.
There was more free time and less supervision. Abeo figured out a way to make some money. He had a late morning free period where he would borrow a friend’s car and drive to pick up lunch, not just for him and his friend, but for a large portion of the Kennedy student body.
He’d come back to campus with a back seat full of favorite foods you couldn’t get in the cafeteria. One day he’d pick up Mexican. The next, it could be deli. He’d vary the offerings, cut a deal with the restaurants, and add a hefty profit for himself. No one complained. The convenience and cuisine were worth the price.
One day he got a call from a mom, asking if she could pay in advance for a month’s worth of lunch for her daughter.
“It’s a nuisance to be dishing out cash each day,” she explained.
Abeo gladly took her check.
If paying in advance was something one mom valued, he was sure others would feel the same way. With a line of credit for his friends, he knew he could double his sales. People were always more generous when they didn’t have to exchange actual cash.
He didn’t double his sales. He tripled them.
Abeo was taking in advance payments of over $5000 a month. He knew how to stretch his purchasing power. He’d found he could clear $3000 a month. Not too shabby for a high school basketball star with a side gig.
Unfortunately, the school administrators felt differently.
And once again, Abeo’s ambition ran headfirst into a brick wall. His mobile catering business was closed effective immediately, and it was the beginning of the month.
Hoards of angry moms demanded refunds on their advance.
“Sorry, no refunds.” He told the unhappy customers
The money was already spent. Abeo bought a used car when business picked up. He finally had his own ride, and he wasn’t about to go without, just to satisfy the complaining customers. Buyer beware.
As suburban parents will do, they threatened to sue the seventeen-year-old businessman. They called his Momma; they blamed the school, the local press picked up the story.
Abeo wouldn’t budge. No compromise. No payment plan. He held out, and finally, the furor died down.
Basketball was the ticket to higher education, and college was the prize. Abeo received offers to play basketball at Division III schools. He chose a school in California, a two-hour drive to Los Angeles where he could live in sunshine and be near the west coast glamor capital. Basketball was the ticket, but it was not to be the main event.
Abeo lasted three semesters at the college. By sophomore year he had a lucrative business buying and re-selling athletic shoes online. He made connections with hip-hop artists, movie stars, and sports stars. He was appreciated for his pluck, and his network grew.
The sneaker business was his entry to the really rich life he always craved. He moved to L.A. He was living in the land of more, among a population of people seeking shiny objects. Abeo sparkled.
His Momma worried about him. Theirs was a religious family, and she saw him drifting from the flock. But Abeo thrived in his new life.
“I’m finally free from authority and naysayers, I’m on top now, Momma,” he assured her.
And it seemed like he was doing well. He was generous with his money. He bought endless gifts for his family and sent cash to his Momma, who had always struggled to make ends meet.
But he was intoxicated by the money—the smell of it, the sight of it, the magic in it. Money was the center of his universe, and he always wanted more.
His business interests expanded. He found more things to sell to his wealthy network of celebrities. A visit from Abeo was always welcome. He thrilled the thrill-seekers with exotic things to buy and try.
Some will tell you this was when Abeo was on top. It was to be the peak of his career and the moment in his life when he met Juliette. She was the love of his life.
Like his Momma, Juliette was a woman of faith. She was kind and caring. She loved Abeo for who God meant him to be, not for his shortcomings.
“He’ll come around,” she told Momma. “He’ll learn what to value.”
Chester was born one year after Abeo and Juliette got married.
Abeo could not believe his good fortune: A son. A wife. His family.
This should have been the turning point in a life headed dangerously in the wrong direction. Instead, when Chester was nine months old, Abeo was killed.
It was no accident. Abeo drew a target on his own back. He bragged, he flashed his money, he posted pictures of new cars, mansions, and even a yacht, all with him posing in the foreground. Abeo’s Instagram was frozen in time with the showy photos.
It happened a few days before I saw the Facebook post.
One of Abeo’s customers stole a watch from him. He went to the guy’s house to reclaim it.
“Pop. Pop. Pop.” the sounds of a handgun startled Abeo.
“Are you nuts?” were his last words.
He was shot three times in his stomach, chest, and neck.
The police arrived on the scene shortly after with an ambulance following closely behind.
As he lay dying on a gurney, and the ambulance pulled away from the scene of the crime, he wanted more.
More time with his wife and son. More time with his Momma and brothers. More life.
I visited with Abeo’s mother a few months after his death. She is an amazing woman. We spent an hour fondly reminiscing about Abeo. We talked about her plans, which include moving to California to help raise her grandson Chester. She’s up for another round.
She believes Chester is a parting gift from Abeo, who was simply too restless to exercise sound judgment. Her youngest son made a clear choice to live dangerously. “He couldn’t do it any other way.” She explained. “My boy had a spirit that could not be tamed. Some bad boys have their demons, and my son had his angel.” And she smiled as she kissed Chester’s picture.