Sunday, August 10, 2014

BUS STORY # 405 (Portrait # 27: Time Traveler)

Principal R. E. Jacobs of Sabine Normal and Industrial Institute.  Downloaded from Documenting the American South: History of Louisiana Negro Baptists From 1804 to 1914

I don’t see him until he’s coming down the aisle to exit the rear door. I register “black male” before I see his hair. Combed back flat against his head with a high part, pomade shiny, the kinks not entirely suppressed. (Think young Duke Ellington.)

The word that surfaces is “Colored.”

Now I see a black man, maybe in his 40s, maybe five nine, a hundred and fifty. Just a blip on the radar were it not for the hair. And the suit coat. And the latter not just because it’s August in Albuquerque.

It’s black, with pinstripes. When he gets to the back door, I see he’s got the trousers as well. The suit fits, but is old and worn. The jacket is double-vented.

His shirt is dark purple, open-collared. My memory gets confused. Would I have seen that shirt under a suit coat some 50-plus years ago on a bus in Dallas?

I go straight to his feet, and immediately hear Bo Diddley exclaim “Them’s brogans.” They are dress shoes, appropriate for the suit, and every bit as worn and rundown.

He is carrying something in his left hand, and I have already seen in my mind’s eye a carpet bag. In paisley. An elaborate but tired orange paisley... But when my real eye moves from the shoes to the bag, it is a gray duffel with blue ends, faded and frayed.

He is standing at the back door now, and I can see his face in profile. Lots of small, long-healed nicks scattered across his face. Not expressionless, but nothing I can read, either.

All of this has happened in approximately 60 seconds.

The doors open, and he steps out onto the sidewalk. I watch him look around, and at this point, I’ve superimposed my story on him. He’s looking around because he’s not sure which way he’s supposed to go. He just got here, of course, and by “here” I don’t just mean Albuquerque. I also mean the twenty-first century, no matter where he’s come from. He’s in Albuquerque because he’s already figured out the Great Migration north is long over, and the future is out west.

Maybe he’s got family here. I think about folks from New Orleans displaced by Katrina, and I wonder if he’s got an address for a cousin, an uncle, a nephew... As the bus starts to pull away, he turns south and begins walking.

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