the true stories
One year on the Trail was particularly wet. The best description of rain that I have encountered in literature to date is a passage by Ken Kesey in his book Sometimes a Great Notion. The time I speak of beggars all description, using the aforementioned as a baseline. My gear stayed in a flux of waxing or waning moss, mildew and mold despite nightly efforts to dry it. The water ruined my cigarettes, my paperwork for registered items, my eyeglass lenses and thinned the ink in my pen to a pale blue juice. My socks wound up in the toe of my boots and my underwear rose up so as to cleave me two.
Rivulets went down my neck and became a stream between my shoulder-blades. This emptied into the main watercourse between my back pockets. My shirts shrunk and my sweaters stretched to clown proportions. My leather belt came apart when I tugged it with too much force. This was before my employer discovered the magic of Gortex. The issued capes were of rubber and served to carefully contain all sweat and vapor from my physical efforts and thus turn it into useful moisture with which to season the sweet water from the rain.
My hands, toes, feet and knees kept their pickled, puffy water-logged appearance long after each shift. I could either dress too warmly or not warm enough. Animals, including normal humans were not out in any numbers and those that were stayed hidden behind umbrellas or cowering under any overhanging structures. The deluge kept up for days and the only perceptible change was that of temperature. As Christmas approached, the rain got colder.
My personal affairs at this time were in perfect accord with the weather. It was becoming increasingly hard to drag myself through the miles of mouldering leaves, downed branches and mud. I was poor, single and attending the Law Courts during a lengthy divorce proceeding. The mail bags were replete with Christmas cards, parcels and advertising which took on several pounds of extra weight in water before one could empty them for the next bag full. I was wearing army surplus Vietnam issue jungle boots in a last-ditch effort to save my feet from certain amputation.
One day was much like any other during this rainy time. I woke in the gloom, worked in the gloom and went home in the gloom. Except the day I had a package for a particular Punjabi family on my route. I pried open the busted gate and mounted the cracked steps. The overgrown ornamental hedges deposited all their accumulated moisture onto my mail, my neck and my legs. Across the mushroom strewn lawn, I sought the concave soggy stairs. A few careful steps had me in front of the broken door-bell. Only one wire protruded from the recess, so I couldn't short them to make it ring.
I wrenched open the screen door slowly so as not to shear off the one remaining hinge and knocked brightly on the peeling green door. I heard running feet. The door opened wide revealing a little girl. She was about seven I guessed. She was clad in a faded purple sari and pink plastic sandals. Her jet hair was tied back in a long single braid that fell to her waist. She had little pearl ear-rings, dark wide-set eyes, a missing tooth and bright red nail polish on her little fingers and toes.
I handed her the mail and suggested she put it on a table to dry a bit. She ran away with the handful to the kitchen. She returned and I gave her the package. As I hadn't heard any other commotion in the house I asked if her Mom or Dad was home.
“My Baba is at bork. My Mami is also borking,” she replied. “I am having Kreezmus holeeday prom my school.”
I inquired as to the whereabouts of her older siblings. She said there were none. I told her to promise me that she would lock the door up tight and not open it for anyone at all until her parents returned. She promised. I waited at the steps until I heard all the locks and latches click into place. I resumed my march.
The next day dawned as dark as the previous and just as wet. There was a stronger wind to deal with and it gave some variety. I reached the house of the little one and began the laborious process of shoving large pieces of paper through a tiny slot with out ripping them asunder, a feat made even more difficult by the waterlogged state of said paper. Halfway through this process, I heard the little feet and the latches clicking open. I greeted her and began to reiterate what I had made her promise the day before.
“I know, I know. I did lokut. I know bas you dis time. I med for you chai. It is too much raining. Do you bant?”
Her little face shone with serenity and compassion. The eaves of the old rotten porch gushed torrents where the downspouts had long ago torn away. Water splatted on mud and one had to nearly shout to be heard. I looked back at the little hostess and was about to answer in the affirmative when she began clearing some old cardboard boxes off a broken porch swing. I hefted off my two satchels and settled them on the driest corner of the porch. I said I would like that and took my prepared seat.
She ran away to the kitchen and was back with a little wooden tray before I could roll a smoke. There was a steaming mug of chai on a saucer and a plate of tea biscuits. She put the remains of a wicker chair in front of me so as to facilitate conversation. This she engaged in immediately with more tact and polish than I had encountered in the best of homes amongst the most refined of hosts.
One sip of the chai revealed that she was also an expert in the kitchen. Cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, coriander, black pepper, tea leaves and sweet hot full-fat milk tweaked my nostrils, tickled my tongue and soothed my soul while warming my corpus. She had a cookie after I had one and tried out topics of discussion that she thought I might find interesting.
All too soon the mug was empty. I had forgotten all about the inclement weather and every other problem real or imagined that had been plaguing my mind. My little friend popped up to take the empty mug after a polite interval.
As she walked to the doorway, she turned and asked, “Do you bant to pet my bunnee?”
I answered in the affirmative and expected to be ceremoniously handed a favourite toy. I waited. The little girl appeared in a few moments bearing a large lop-eared Dutch rabbit. It was all she could do to heft it into place on the swing. With indescribable delicacy she placed it in my hands and took up her position in the wicker chair. I stroked the bunnee and years of accumulated barnacles fell off of my spiritual hull. Presently, I thanked the little sweet-heart and said I better get moving.
This visit of fifteen minutes of clock time from the opening of the door to the putting away of the bunnee was timeless on another plane. I knew it, the little one knew it and the bunnee knew it. I waited for her lock up tight and went away whistling through the rain. We had chai on the porch every workday after that until school started up again. I never saw that angel again but she is with me every time I'm walking in the rain.
Copyright © 2019 by Michael A. Hawes. All Rights Reserved.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.