The Man

23 May 2020

It rained the day my parents sold me. Apprenticed was the word they used. But I was given to the man, and money changed hands, so sold is an honest description.

The man was tall, thin, almost gaunt. His face held a scowl deep etched on his face. I didn’t like what I saw.

“Welcome, Sir,” my mother said nervously. She made a gesture to clean the bare table and offered a chair. “Please sit.”

“No,” the man said harshly. But then his voice softened. “I prefer to stand.”

“Of course, Sir,” my father said. He reached out and placed a hand on my shoulder, his grip hard. “This is William. As you can see, he’s strong, and a hard worker.”

That was a surprise, coming from my father. By all account I must have been the laziest child he ever knew. And I hardly looked strong. Underfed, scrawny, but not strong.

“Hmp.” the man grunted, eyeing me over. “Show me your hands, Wil.”

“William.” I countered.

“Show respect, boy!” snapped my father. He looked to the man nervously. “He has spirit, Sir.”

The man looked at me with squinted eyes, still scowling. But I almost thought a smirk flickered at the edge of his mouth.

“William, then,” he said. “Your hands.”

I raised my hands toward him, palms up. He grabbed my wrists firmly and twisted them to look at my hands front and back. After a moment he released one hand and reached into his robe. I heard the schlick of steel as he pulled out a small dagger. At the sight of it I tried to free my other hand, but he held tight. With a quick movement he flicked the knife, and I felt a spark of pain in my thumb, then a warm trickle of blood.

The man returned the knife to his robe, then pulled out a dark gray stone. It was smooth and round, about the size of a small potato. He wiped it against my wounded thumb, then looked at it oddly.

“Hmp.” he murmured, rubbing my blood on the stone. “Hmp.” For a long while that is all he did. Stare at my blood on the stone.

“Is everything all right, Sir?” my mother finally asked. The man looked up at her and nodded. I saw damp at the corners of his eyes. His face held an emotion I couldn’t read. Confusion? Regret? It unnerved me.

The man released my hand, then raised a pouch toward my father. It had the heft of coin.

“As agreed.” the man said. My father slowly took the pouch, and I could hear the stifled sobs of my mother.

“Quiet, woman,” my father said, more gentle than angry. My mother made a warbling inhale, then grew quiet.

The man glanced around the room, made another small grunt, then turned to leave.

“William,” he said, in a clear beckon to follow. I took a step, then froze. I wanted to turn, hold my mother in my arms one last time. But that would only make it harder for her. At least that is the lie I told myself for years. Instead, I took a deep breath and followed the man into the dark rain.

Memory is a strange thing. Of my life before that day I have only fleeting impressions. I remember the toils with my father, the love of my mother. But I can’t remember their faces. My father’s dark beard lingers in my mind, but the color of my mother’s hair? Flaxen? Auburn? The faces of my parents have faded into the crowd of remembered faces. Those I’ve protected, and those I’ve harmed. A blur of human strife.

The day I was sold, however, is crystal clear. Of that day I remember every sound, every smell. The taste of my evening meal on that day is still fresh on my tongue.

And I remember the face of the man who bought me. For a while, years after he died, I couldn’t remember his face or even the sound of his voice. The lessons I remembered. The anger, even the slumbering rage. But the man himself faded. Then over time, the memory of him returned. At first in the still small voice in the back of my mind. Then in my own voice. His words echoing from my lips.

Now I see his face often, in the reflection of glass or still water. As the memories return, the pieces of puzzles fall into place. Mysteries solved, so that now I know the truth of the man, and of myself. But there is one truth I cling to most.

I will again see my mother’s face in time.