February 28th, 2018
The summer of 1939:
"Waiters, all colored, and passengers, all white, moved up and down the aisle. The din of the car was like any other restaurant except the clatter and grind of the steel wheels on steel tracks was the background setting for all other sound. Now and again, the locomotive’s whistle would blow and crossing bells would clang. The car rocked gently, and my beer swayed in its glass. When the train lurched, my beer jumped. The waiters never filled the glass any more than a little over half full.
"I watched some of the experienced Negroes slide though the crowd expertly wielding hot coffee, trays of food, and pitchers of water. One of the gees, his name tag read Julius, had a kindly look, another, a big man, Clarence, was gleeful, and still another Augustus had angry eyes and looked at the passengers with thinly veiled contempt and/or resentment.
"Our eyes met – Augustus and mine. He didn’t look away. Instead his look turned inward; it was a disguise. His privacy was inside of him, readable through his eyes when he wasn’t careful. He was a man trapped in spotless white livery branded by a name tag and serving people he didn’t much like. Either that or I had a wild imagination.
"I heard someone yell, 'Hey, boy. Hey, boy. Over here, boy.' The waiter’s eyes went flat as if he was no longer there. His body did what it was told to do, but he disappeared somewhere inside of himself, or so I deduced being a detective and all.
"I glanced at the swell across from me. He was studying me impolitely; maybe like I had done the waiter. I didn’t like it. I suspected the waiter didn’t like it either.”
...“Outside on the debarkation platform, Augustus Williams asked me, 'What was that ruckus on the train all about?'
"'Sorry, sorry. I got in a jam. I needed a way out.'
"He squinted at me. 'You set me up?' He chuckled. 'Why me? Clarence -- the colored man that was standin closest to you -- is a big, strong man. Why didn’t you insult him: He mighta thrown all of you out the windaw.'
“'That happy mug?' I shook my head. 'Naw. I picked you cuz I’m a good judge of character. I new exactly what you’d do.'
"He thought about that for a moment and then blew out a big, deep belly laugh.
"'Sorry about the Miss Negress and kiss-my-white-fanny stuff,” I said. 'Didn’t mean it.'
"He looked at me strangely, and nodded.
"When the eastbound train pulled up to the station, amidst its steam and smoke and bells and whistles, Augustus said, 'I’m going.' He motioned with his head toward the rear of the train. Before he left, he stuck out his hand. I thought it was to shake with me, but the forty bucks I’d given him was in his fist.
“'I don’t need your lettuce, man. I make my own.' His eyes were bright. He smiled.
'“Keep it for your trouble. I coulda got you fired,' I said.
“'No trouble,' he said, smiling abruptly. ‘It ain’t usual for a colored man to get away with hittin a white man. I enjoyed it. Besides, not everything is about money.'" - from my novel, Otis Moon.
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