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So today I’m outside the post office and Mr. Steve calls out, Can you run a telegram over to Miss Voyant at the train station? I just run right over and say, Yessir. Anything else? I don’t hold my hand out for nothin even though I know in some towns there’s people who have it a job to take telegrams. But Mr. Steve hands over the quarter anyway—like he always does—and motions for me to come a little closer.
Yeah, he says, There’s another two bits in it for you if you come back and tell me who gets off the two o’clock train.
I almost don’t
knock on the ticket window—Miss Ellie Jane
For just a minute I pretend I’m me a few years from now buyin my ticket to California and gettin away from here and Mama and Darnell and the ghost of my daddy. But then Miss Ellie Jane tips me a dime for handin over the telegram and I say, Thank you m’am. Anything else?
And she says, Yes Morris. I believe I’ll need you to help with a passenger’s bags. That brings me right back to my senses.
I ain’t never seen Miss Ellie Jane so worked up over anything before. She even leaves the ticket booth window when that train pulls up—didn’t close it up or nothin, just walked off and left it empty. Then on the platform she’s just a bundle of fuss asking me, Do you think that’s him?
I say over and over, Do I think that’s who?
And she says, Why Mr. Dennison of course.
And I say, How should I know who Mr. Dennison is?
Then she fidgets a little more with her hair and asks, Do you think that’s him? And it starts all over again.
When he finally does come off the train it makes me wonder just how we could have thought he was anybody else. Now I know a rich white man when I see one. But this guy—he is almost pretty. He’s wearin this suit the color of molasses cake and one of those dandy hats and more jewels than I’ve ever seen any man wear—diamond rings on each hand, gold watch, pearl tie clip and cuff-buttons.
Miss Ellie Jane is saying introductions, herself and me the boy to fetch his bags. She gives me a little nudge wantin me to hold out my hand to shake his but I guess she don’t know that rich white men don’t shake the hands of Negro boys. She keeps nudgin and nudgin until finally I hold out my hand and what do you know? He shakes it. Shakes my hand right there on the train platform in front of everybody.
I’m expectin a strong grip but his fingers never really wrap around mine. When he lets go I realize he wasn’t shakin my hand at all. He was slippin me some money. He tells me he has two bags in the baggage car and a hired cab—Mr. Coleman’s own automobile—waitin just outside the station and if I get a single scratch on the leather he will take it out of my own skin.
I want to tell him that I’d like to see him try but then I look and see what he gave me.
Five dollars. Five whole dollars in one bill. I never even seen one of them before, let alone held one in my hand, let alone know it was mine just for pickin up two leather bags and walkin them twenty feet from one railroad car to a hired cab. When I see that bill, all the hatefulness leaves me and all I can say is, Yessir. Anything else?
And he says, Not now but stick close and I’ll let you know.
I don’t know
when I ever carried anything as heavy as them bags. When I’m done,
I see Mr. Ned picking up a delivery and he motions me over to talk to
him. I like talkin to Mr. Ned because it’s not really like talkin
at all—it’s kind of a game where you have to read his face
and his hands and the little sounds he makes and sort of put it all together.
He taught me the whole alphabet and some other signs too.
End of Day 4 Excerpt - More coming in tomorrow's email!
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