The Will-is Touch
William eyes the blue bridge, squints, thinking he may have walked back home. Shuffling his way up the sidewalk, he’s shaking his head, remembering the blue Florida Avenue Bridge in New Orleans where he found his Claira ankle-deep. Blue bridges, he thinks, separating them carefully.
“Working hard has its rewards,” he would say to Claira.
William works extra hard to distinguish his anguish from the outside world, but the scars run deep, they surface and turn. Today, as the earth swings far from the sun, the rewards come. His radio belches with feedback and whine, the volume increasing as his neurons re-connect. William’s cap falls to the ground as his jatas twist and turn, dancing in the escalating frequency. Then it goes silent, and for the first time since the rage of Katrina, William stirs from this decade’s long sleep.
“Is serious,” he declares from high above the river, fully aware that his mind has been windy, blowing this way and that.
William looks down at the swift current. There are no barges on a busy canal, no Mississippi River ahead and not smelling any N’awlins King cake.
“Claira,” the words fall out his lips.
“Claira,” he says, talking to her, “a better father teaches his child the ways of the water.”
He shakes out the thought. His long dreads are restless as they loosen and stretch with his waves of guilt. William bends his long frame, picks up his cap, stuffs it in his coat pocket, and looks at his feet. No longer stuck in the ankle-deep. It is time to let my Claira go, he thinks. William stands, and from the top of the blue bridge, cars passing, people moving, William sees himself for the first time through the eyes of Claira. A good daughter would want her father to live a fine life. Claira, a good daughter is, he thinks. William lowers his head over the railing, dreads hanging, moving in the wind, and cries for his girl as he lets her go. His tears fall into the river, carried to the ocean with the ebb tide.
“Is love,” he says, clearing his throat.
“I love you Claira,” yelling out over the sounds of cars and current.
As he straightens, his dreads braid themselves behind his back.
William’s posture aligns, and he feels taller as he reaches the other side on the north bank. Landing on the river walk, just under the blue bridge, his radio awakens again in loud popcorn bursts, as if picking up an important signal. His dreads tighten around his head, giving him pause. The swift moving current reflects the underside of the bridge in blue ripples, much like the current that Kristina met yesterday in the surf.
“What’s wrong with you?” he hears, remembering Kristina on the beach, wondering if they are still searching for her.
The water and wind have taken so much, he thinks. His radio riffs with static and pops. The sounds remind him of the wild dogs of New Orleans left after Katrina, barking for his attention as he walks the streets looking for Claira. William understands now. His radio wants him to listen, and so he does.
His jatas release, and fall around his tall body, and William touches the future for the first time. Here. Under this bridge. In his touch, he sees Kristina, in the water, not now, but soon, when the moon is far from the sun. He takes comfort knowing she is alive. Is her, he thinks.
A passerby shouts, “Jump in, Rastaman!” snickering with his friends, pointing to the river.
William momentarily falls back, confused, shuffling his feet on the river walk, much like he does in the ankle-deep surf. He fights the compulsion, hanging on to his trace of clarity that comes long and goes shallow like waves at low tide. William fights to understand. William also knows he can touch beyond what is now. Work hard to learn the touch, and it will have its rewards, he thinks.
William continues west, down the north bank river walk, where his next touch leads him. His jatas are calm, and the cold doesn't feel so intense. William begins to feel the summer.
“Walk. Is what I do,” he says with a bounce in his voice.
Two days without food, William knows he needs to feed his weak body, to support his strengthening mind, wanting to hold on to the rewards of working hard. He asks a playful couple walking in the opposite direction sharing chicken on a stick.
“Food is?” he asks, pointing to the charred and fragrant meat.
“At the farmers market,” the man says, avoiding eye contact.
“Give him some money,” she says, poking at his pocket.
He pulls out some change, and a twenty, and holds out the change to William. William bows.
“Grateful is,” William says.
She yanks the twenty out of her boyfriend’s hand, steps in close to William, and slips it into his pocket.
“Eat well, sir. The farmers market, it’s two bridges down. I love your dreads. Love them,” she says, looking up to him, stroking one.
Her boyfriend drags her away. She whispers to him as he pulls her down the river walk, “Did you see that? His dreads. They move!”
William could hear her, but it wasn't with his ears. His shuffle turns into a walk; his gate becomes smooth and long as he heads two bridges upriver. Happy and wide-eyed, he presses the talk button on his radio, and like a walking tour guide announces the destination.
“Farmers market, two bridges is,” loud and proud, passersby turning to hear.
Lieutenant Sharon Holmquist finds it difficult to distinguish the chirp of the Jays perched on the patio railing and those of her radio. Walking down the hall, it sounds like a duet. Stranger still, the switch is still in the off position. Skye is standing, paws hanging in the air, anxious for Sharon to do something.
“Hello? Who is this? What’s your Ten-Twenty,” she asks, slow and deliberate.
William hears an audible voice. He is not surprised, hearing voices on his radio. The walking tour guide welcomes the familiar codes that further calm the winds settling in his mind.
“Who is this? Name please!” he hears.
The past tugs hard, but he knows this isn’t a search party announcing that Claira has been found. He can separate these things in his mind now, like the blue bridges. He can touch, and he knows that Claira is pleased with his progress.
“William is,” he says louder, the signal breaking and strengthening in waves.
“Willis?” she asks, straining to hear.
“Ten-Nine. Repeat. Willis? What is your location?” Sharon asks.
“Farmers market. Is serious, hungry, serious,” he says and slips the radio back in his pocket.
His chills are ebbing away. William unbuttons his coat all the way down and feels the comforting heat of this summer day.
“Is two bridges,” he says and smiles for the first time since Katrina.