“A stranger in town is like a white dog, he gets noticed immediately.” ~African Proverb
As our school bus starts down the hill, we can see the shape of something stretched across the road., green persimmons arranged into a huge letter E.
“Well damn, what is this?” sputters William, the bus driver.
We remaining seven kids start throwing out ideas all at once.
“E. Evil.” William offers his viewpoint. We kids fall silent.
He lets off the three siblings and heads around the bend to my driveway. Just as he’s breaking to let me off, we look over to the power lines that just happen to run through our property. A man, maybe in his mid-twenties is sitting beneath the lines smoking a cigarette. He has sandy brown hair with bits of sunlight streaking through, and it’s kind of ruffled and scruffy though it can’t be any longer than collar length. The strange thing is he is dressed completely in white, kind of what I’d expect maybe a doctor to be wearing. (At that time, I did not know the term scrubs. And no one in our neck of the woods wore all white.) When the man notices we are looking at him, he jumps to his feet and runs into the woods between the road and my house.
William pulls the handle that completely shuts the door. The emergency lights stop blinking and the beeping ceases. My cousin and I are scared speechless.
“Ya’ll know who that is? I ain’t never seen him before.”
In unison we nod our heads no.
“I ain’t letting’ you off here, girl. That might be the man who put that “evil” sign in the road. I’m gonna’ drop you off at the next stop with your cousins.” Don’t you go home ‘til ya Mama and Daddy get there. Ya hear?” We trust William to keep us safe. Still, feeling his concern feeds our fear.
I mutter ok and the bus starts rolling past my driveway. My cousin and I get off at her house along with her niece and nephew who live beside her. We go inside jabbering a mile a minute about this stranger near my house and the “evil” warning he placed in the road. We entertain her mom for a good hour with sinister tales of what this man is most likely up to. The forced closure of her lips hint at amusement while her scrunched brows emit concern. She agrees to let my cousin take me home in the VW bug we often use to zip through the family property.
As soon as we get to my drive, we see the stranger a few feet closer to our property line. He runs towards the quarry as we pass him. We do a quick turn and go back to her house. When my parents get home from work, she takes me back again. This time we don’t see the stranger.
I blurt out all the details over dinner.
“How do you know the E stands for evil?” asks my dad.
“Well, what else could it be?”
“Maybe, it just means east.”
“I wonder who it can be. I haven’t heard anyone mention visitors or anything about seeing a stranger in these parts.” My mom offers. She inquires again about his white clothes and concludes that he must certainly be an escapee from the mental hospital in a neighboring city. According to my mom, all strangers are either escapees from the mental hospital or prison because no one chooses to roam through the middle of nowhere.
I don’t sleep well that night or maybe even for a week or more. I am a bundle of nerves waiting for the school bus. In fact, I listen for the bus with the door open and run as hard as I can to the road when I hear it. In the evenings I hightail it inside and lock the door behind me. Eventually, the fear wanes, and the memory of the stranger fades as we never see him again.
It is only natural to fear what one does not know. Through the years there were other strangers that drifted among us, but those we saw more than a glimpse. We learned their stories and accepted them into the fold we called community.