We walked by the black man’s shack every Sunday, and Mary Margaret always appeared ready to start a scene. “I’m going to talk with him today,” she’d say as we neared his old hovel.
“Don’t you dare say a word,” Gracie always snapped back. “Folks around here don’t take a liking to his kind.”
As we passed Jeremiah’s shack on Sundays, he was always outside—waiting for us Christians to walk by. He’d talk dirty and try to frighten the younger ones. Most people moved to the other side of the road. But not Mary Margaret—she always wanted to go closer. Sometimes, she almost got to the wooden gate before Gracie could pull her back to the opposite side of the road. Jeremiah always glared at us and wondered what the ruckus was about. He always had a sinister look on his face, and sometimes said ugly things as Gracie and I walked by. But when Mary Margaret started walking with us, he left us alone.
Then came the Sunday when he finally broke the silence. “Sure is a pretty day for walking,” he yelled at us from the gate as we walked by his shack, although on the opposite side of the road. Gracie didn’t reply and held onto my hand as she looked at Mary Margaret with a “keep-your-mouth-shut” look.
Then Jeremiah stepped outside the gate and asked the inevitable. “Who’s that black woman following you? You know she isn’t supposed to be here, right?”
“I don’t see why that’s any of your concern,” Gracie replied in the sternest voice she could muster.
“No concern of mine,” Jeremiah replied gruffly. “But I thought you’d want to know she’s following you…just in case you didn’t.”
“Of course we know she’s following us,” Gracie shot back. “You see her with us every Sunday, don’t you?”
“Yes, ma’am, I do. But she scares my birds. They aren’t used to dead folks walking around.”
That’s when we noticed all of the birds on his porch shrieking, an awful sound. They were flying around in a crazy pattern.
“No but’s needed. Your birds are wild and should be flying free.”
“But nothing; you stay out of our business and we’ll stay out of yours.” The interchange was quick and dirty for Gracie. She didn’t like talking to strangers and certainly wouldn’t talk with him one extra second. But the exchange only strengthened Mary Margaret’s interest in Jeremiah. And for some odd reason, I saw the same in him.
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