Wednesday, March 6, 2013
Bentii, the Lonely Man
They couldn't remember hearing the story about Bentii. They had just always known it. A strange sad story somewhere back in their memories. He had had a house, and a sweet wife and several children who played and tumbled in the yard. He had worked in the copper mine, going down each day with his lunch pail and his miners light. Down into the damp, dreary depths of the earth along with so many other men, just making a living for their families. One evening he had climbed out, all dusty and tired, thinking of home. Thinking of the wash basin on the porch. Thinking of a warm filling supper. Thinking of a quiet evening with his children and a soft warm bed beside his wife. Instead, he found a pile of ashes. His house burned to the ground, his wife and children gone like a puff of smoke.
The girls supposed that it was too much for him to bear. Sadly he had decided that a home and family were not to be his. So he had rolled his earthly belongings in his extra pair of overalls, hitching the bundle across his back and shoulders, and he had gone walking down his lonely road. Sometimes, mother would ask him in for a meal, or to stay the night, when the weather was bad. They were used to that , too. Mother always opened her home to friend and stranger alike.
Home was pristine and shiny clean. Didn't they have to scrub the wooden kitchen floor every Saturday with sand and water? Didn't they have to help with the laundry? All those white, white sheets, those beautifully embroidered pillow slips that they hung on the line. Then dry and scented with fresh air, didn't they have to iron them until they were smooth and wrinkle free? The spare bedroom, always ready for someone to stay the night.White metal bed frame, scatter rug, bright friendly quilt, white painted bureau with its wavery mirror.
Only when Bentii stayed, he would not sleep in the bedroom on that cozy bed. He slept on the parlour floor, with his rolled up overalls for a pillow, and no blanket for a covering. The girls would tip toe around him, glancing at him curiously as he slept. He would thank mother for her kindness and be off, again, hitting the road with jaunty step. They would stand on the stoop and watch until he disappeared around the bend.
As teenagers, the girls were more wary of him, noticing how he was not always so clean. How odd he was, uncomfortable around people. Used to having only himself to talk to as he made his way around the country side. One bright spring day they were home alone with two of the neighbor girls, playing their silly and harmless games. This game was a favorite of their cliche of friends.Each girl took a turn, and had to go to the door when someone knocked. If it was a man, then that was the man you would one day marry. It was fun, they had lots of laughs and teased each other unmercifully about the choices. It was Esthers turn. They lounged around the room, reading and talking until there came a rap on the door.
The girls looked expectantly at Esther. She primped, just a little...well, you never could tell... She walked over to the door and decorously opened it. There stood Bentii, that lonely old man, with his odd bundle and his quaint shy look. Esther stood speechless. The other girls burst into merry laughter, doubling over and wiping tears from their eyes. "Father and mother aren't home," gasped Esther laughing now , too. Bentii turned and walked quickly down the steps. The girls shut the door and hooted with laughter reminding poor Esther that she would one day share the open road with Bentii.
A few days later, mother spoke to them sternly. She said Bentii had told her that she needed to teach her girls better manners. Of course, then the whole story came out. Perhaps mother smiled and chuckled to herself, but she reminded them to be careful not to be so heedless as to hurt some ones feelings. The girls felt some what abashed. Martha thought about it, afterward. She could vaguely discern that sad, shamed look on Bentiis face as he had turned and walked away. They had not been trying to be mean. They were just having fun. Perhaps he didn't know about teenage girls and their ready laughter. Perhaps it brought back to him what he had missed, when he had lost his children. Perhaps out on the road, with only himself and God, the odd lonely man had a clear vision of the unfairness of life. She hoped she had learned from him. Learned about compassion and learned to walk in scuffed, holey shoes.
Years later she heard that Bentii had been found in a ditch by the side of his lonely road, done at last with his wandering, footsore, heart sore life. She called Esther and they reminesced about that day. They did laugh again, about those young, careless days. And they wondered...what was in that overall pillow that Bentii had carried for so many years?