Tuesday, May 1, 2012

True North

Corner of Carpenter Road and Kansas Avenue
Modesto, California

Monday, February 28, 2005
Upon arriving at the bus stop after work today, I noticed an unkempt man sitting under the pavilion. His hair was long and unstyled and his beard was growing wild. He wore a pair of beat-up, dirty, old jeans and a shirt from which the color faded long ago. Once-white tennis shoes looked as though he found them in a dumpster somewhere and no socks finished off the look.

I took a seat on the bench outside the pavilion. Just as I seated myself, he looked over at me, smiled and said, “Hello,” as though he thought he knew me. I could tell by the gentleness in his eyes and the tone of his voice that he was harmless. He got up, walked around the enclosure and sat next to me. He spoke as though I was his lifelong friend, telling me how thirty years ago he registered for the U.S. Marines right from this very town. He told me how much the town developed since then and how all the new buildings, streets and cars took over this once only orchard-and-cow town.

He told me about a truck he once owned, said it was just like the one sitting at the red light at the corner and how he thought it might actually be his. But he figured they installed that sliding window in the back themselves. Then he said, "Man, it’s a shame someone would steal a man’s truck from him while he's inside the church." I saw tears flood his eyes while he gazed at that old truck. He went on about how he slept in that truck. How the padlocks on the doors were installed by him and that there couldn’t possibly be another one like it anywhere. After the truck drove away, he said that he reported it stolen to the police, but they had no records of him ever owning one.

He shrugged his shoulders and started going on about the two tall evergreen trees that were planted side-by-side across the way and how he always used to carry his compass with him. He discovered that whenever he saw those types of trees they were always growing in pairs and no matter where they were, his compass would always read due north. I could only assume what he meant by this, after all, if he were to approach the trees from the other direction, he’d be headed south. But he told me that if I were to start walking right toward the center of those two trees, I’d end up in Alaska, I couldn't get lost. He went on about a trip he made to Alaska. About all the trees just like that pair that he found on his way there and how they were also planted due north (I began thinking of him as “Alaska,” true north. Couldn’t get lost; Always know where you’re going).

He spoke of a time that he and some other handicapped fellows went to San Francisco. They protested the way bus drivers would just open the door and let people on. Sometimes they’d get on the wrong bus, so they created a rule just because of him and his comrades who joined him there that day. Now drivers have to pull up to the stop and yell out the door what bus it is or where it’s headed (Couldn’t get lost; always know where you’re going).

“Which bus are you waiting on?” he asked.

“The 36.”

"Okay, there’s your bus.”

I looked down the street and saw it was the 26 instead. When it arrived at the stop, he kept talking and smiling, so I stopped him and asked, “Hey, did you need to catch the 26?”

“No,” he said. He smiled, got up with his cane and started walking toward the corner. “Can’t get lost, I know where I’m going.”

A corner he’d never reach…

The poor man dropped and, before I could get to him, he took his last breath.

(According to his compass his eyes were fixed true north, as though his last vision in life was the Rose Line setting directly between those two trees and aiming straight towards heaven; “Alaska” was never lost at all.)
©Patricia Stalcup

Click on Patricia Stalcup  for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.

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