I like talking to hotel room cleaners. Especially this kind: friendly, helpful, and humorous. It’s like instant accommodation when you wheel about a sweet lady in a chair. You can squat your car anywhere, use “out of order” bathrooms, kneel in parking lots to administer cold blended soup. People open doors, give up seats, smile. Or look surprised.
But I leave her for a while with her husband and walk off alone down the block, past Bonham Street to the spreading trees and clustered people around the church-turned-fort-turned-shrine. Lookers shuffle around glass-covered knives and a coonskin hat. Leathery men sweat on the scaffolding, repairing dusty, bone-colored walls.
Strangers walk the pavement where a battle took place. On the concrete path a skittering catches my eye, and I turn in time to see a green anole, subdued to brown, crossing to a bench’s shadow. Recognition cheers me in this strange and sweltering place. A friend from my old home. I can almost feel his white puffy mouth, fine rows of teeth, on my finger. A drop of blood. Like my grandmother’s cat, anoles drew me inexorably, and left scars.
A century old live oak bends and sags and beckons. One bold youth in red clings on a branch. I am not impressed.
And for all that, John had no last name. A freedman, remembered, but stamped in history with little but the color of his skin.
We drove home and he used my father’s word to describe the way I did my father’s work. An excellent job as navigator.