Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Stranger

It was Walter that saw him first, or maybe just sensed him. Out of the corner of my eye I detected the slight rise of Walter's left eyebrow; a sure sign of imminent danger. He was coming up the lane - walking deliberately - head down, looking neither left or right. When he got closer I could make out he was a tall slender black man in worn out clothes and no shoes. He walked up to Walter and me on the porch and said, "If I could get me a dipper of water out of that bucket I'd be glad to split that wood for you." He indicated the woodpile at the side of the cabin. From the way he talked, he was an educated man. He was about my age and looked like his life had been one of hard work and few frills. He was a raw-boned rugged looking man - not a man to tangle with - but there was also a kindness in his eyes and a gentleness about his presence that made me want to know more about him. Where was he from and how did he get to be here in tattered clothes and no shoes?
I asked him how long it had been since he ate and he said he had stopped by yesterday morning at that Ms Weatly's place and for helpin her boy carry in the wash she had made him some biscuits. Said they was a man stayin in her barn that was not quite right in the head but that her boy liked the way he talked and that he had promised a friend of hers that he wouldn't ever hurt her or that boy. I said, "Me an Walter was just about to go in and make us some breakfast an they's plenty if you want to come in and eat with us."
" I wouldn't mind a plate of food if you could bring it out here on the porch," he said as he looked down at his bare feet, "but I'll have to work some more to pay for it. I won't be beholdin to no man. I pay my own way." I'd have none of that and insisted he set with me at the table. I sliced off thick slices of bacon into one skillet, sausage in another and stirred up a pan of biscuits while the man worked on the wood pile. I put on a fresh pot of coffee, fried up a dozen eggs and sliced up a couple of tomatoes.
When he came back in I had him a feast spread out. He ate slowly and seemed to savor every bite as he gazed out the window at a place far away in another time that only he could see. He said, "Coffee makes me kindly nervous when I drank it." I went and got him some cold buttermilk outa the well. I was anxious to know more about him but I was never one to pry into another man's business. I knew that he would tell me in his own time whatever he wanted me to know about him. He said, "This sausage is really tender, did you make any gravy to go with it?" I said, "That IS the gravy."

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