black man walking

After a whirlwind of activity, I pass solitary hours. Quiet chunks of Time. A ticking clock. A lonesome day stretches to two. To three. To a week.

Stay strong, Sister.

People are wells. Sometimes, water streams from my own cavity, excess for parched souls. Need a few drops? Sure, here you go. A whole glass? I can spare it. Here’s a bucket, because you’re clearly dehydrated. I’ll come back with more.

Stay strong, Sister.

Until I find myself, boring through rough granite, desperate for anything wet. A clock pulses while I claw at rock with bloody fingers. I suck those nubs, a pathetic attempt to quench my needy thirst.

Does anybody have water for me?

Stay strong, Sister.

Never mind. I’m always the strong one. The person with the bottomless well.

And so I walked through the silence. The vacancy. The desert of my own thirsty soul. A city park and sunlight. Repetition and Time would refill my well. I didn’t want any help.

I didn’t need anyone. Need was a wasteland, gutted by disappointment. In everyone.

In me.

Stay strong, Sister.

I noticed him when he ambled onto the park trail. A white shirt made whiter by his skin’s midnight hue. Baggy jeans. Shoes of the classic I’m in a gang variety. When he fell in behind me, his loose shoes thwacked against pavement, and his aura pushed into mine.

Stay strong, Sister.

Black thoughts knocked inside my skull. WhatamIdoingheredoIevenmatterwhatcanIdotofixthemessofmyowndecisions.

Stupid refrains. Self-pitying screeds. I picked up speed to run from them, not from him……..until I realized he matched my pace. Step for step. Breath for breath. He overtook me as I hurried through the scruffiest part of the park, trail obscured by ancient magnolias. Spanish moss. Rambling azaleas.

Stay strong, Sister.

I turned to accept my fate. Accosted in a public place teeming with racial tension. A landscape brimming with injustice, flung from the tip of a gun. Frothed into a frenzy by a non-existent bolt.

Stay strong, Sister.

I smiled. How fitting, really. For this to happen now, when my well may never again hold water. I scrolled through idiotic phrases as I smiled and awaited whatever the stranger had for me.

Stay strong, Sister.

I didn’t expect to see chipped front teeth when he smiled and ambled into step with me. “Been trying to let you set the pace, but damn, girl. You wearing me out.”

“You keep up pretty well.” What? He wants to talk first?

“You come here a lot? To walk, I mean?”

“I used to. Been gone a lot. But I need the exercise. It fills my tank. Keeps the demons at bay. Something like that.”

“I hear you. I come here most days after work. Today’s my day off.”

I looked sideways at his profile. Clean-shaven. Proud, even. “What’s work for you?”

“Construction. But I’m really a singer. My name’s Jason.” He held out an inky hand.

“Andra,” I said and clasped it.

“Yeah. You mighta heard of me. They call me Charleston’s best rocker. I got a record contract and everything.”

“Really.” Great. Now I’m going to be assaulted with somebody else’s impossible dreams. Just what I DON’T need. I kicked up my pace, but he cemented himself to my side. Kept talking.

“Yeah. Got a gig coming up at the Music Farm. New tracks releasing in a few weeks. All that stuff being put together in Nashville. Don’t understand much of it. Publicity and all that stuff. It’s a lot of work.”

“Don’t I know it. I’m a writer.”

“Okay, so you totally get what I mean.”

Yeah, and I’m out here trying not to think about that, you asshole. Sigh. “What’s your sound? I mean, if you’re Charleston’s best rocker, do you write your own music?”

“Uh-huh.” He leaned his steel-wool head my way. Whispered to nobody but me. “I got this song I been working on. Hadn’t laid it down yet or nothing. Only one left to mix and master for my debut. Wanna hear it?”

“Okay.” I awaited an assault on my eardrums.

Through finger snaps and chest taps, he built his own percussion section. Pushed sound through sable lips.

Stay strong, Sister. Stay strong, Sister. Stay strong, Sister. Somebody’s there for you. Stay strong, Sister. Stay strong, Sister. Stay strong, Sister. You’re gonna make it through.

I don’t know whether Jason had a recording contract. Or if he worked construction. Hell, I’m not even sure his name was Jason. He stayed with me until I finished my last lap, though. Dreams and ambition. Possibility and promise.

“This is me. I head off here.”

He pulled me to him. Kissed my cheek. “Stay strong, Sister.”

I fled the park. Pounded my feet into the concrete sidewalk, distance a barrier between human kindness and my tears. A dividing line between what I expected and what I was given.

I forgot to thank him.

But when I turned back to wave, I almost tumbled over my own gobsmacked feet.

The park was empty.

Jason, my black accoster-turned-savior, vanished into Nowhere. Into some other soul, crying out for a drink.

**********

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