The moment the guard handed Jim the paper, he knew; the parole had come through. Jim felt relief, but at the same time
a heavy burden seemed to settle on his shoulders. Being free to go home left him scared to death.
"Well, Johnson, looks like you'll have Thanksgiving dinner at home this year. Get your junk together, and get out of here.
We'll see you again in six months; I'll just keep your room clean and tidy." He chuckled at his own wit.
Jim Johnson, a tall, slender, black man, had been in prison half his life. Armed robbery. He knew he was fortunate to be
let out at all. He'd been sentenced before the law made it mandatory for a consecutive twenty years to be tacked on for the
use of a gun. Yes, he was fortunate, but the time was gone, lost. He tried not to think about it anymore, it was finished;
he was going home.
"Thank you, sir, but you won't be needin' to worry 'bout that cell, I won't be back." They shook hands, and Jim began to
gather his few things.
At the outside gate, he caught a ride into town with a Correctional Officer. But still, sitting stiffly and looking straight
ahead, he didn't feel free. The guard offered a small amount of conversation but neither felt the need to speak, so soon fell
silent. Jim hadn't had a normal conversation in twenty years, and wondered if he was still able to.
The officer dropped him off in front of the drug store which also housed the bus depot counter. The tarnished, copper bell
on the door jingled as he pushed it open and it awoke a memory. He hadn't heard such a thing in a long time and smiled to
himself as he looked up at it.
"Dover please, one-way."
Carefully counting out the money for the ticket, he took the precious piece of paper from the clerk.
Sitting on the edge of the bench outside the building, he gazed around the busy little town. The sun began to warm him
as he breathed deeply of the sweet-smelling, fresh air. Two-hundred miles; that was all that separated him from his folks.
That, and twenty years.
Jim finally heard the bus gearing down as it approached and pulled up in front of the store. Raising his eyes, he drew
a deep breath and stood, waiting for it to stop. He climbed aboard, making his way down the narrow aisle to a vacant seat
as close to the back as he could.
Staring out the window, talking to no one, he watched the landscape rush by. The bus stopped at every nook and hollow on
the route to pick up a passenger or two. He felt glad of the delays, but his heart beat rapidly with impatient anticipation
at the same time. His thoughts conflicted. He wanted to see the folks, to get back into the business of living with people
who cared for him. If they still did. He was scared to find out.
It's been a long time, maybe they've forgotten they used to love me. Aggravated at the tears that suddenly and
unexpectedly began to run down his high cheekbones, he quickly swiped them away, his eyes searching to see if anyone noticed.
No one did.
Four hours later, the driver called out the name of a town. Dover? Did he say Dover? Thats me; I gotta get off now,
can't sit here no longer. I gotta walk on home and see if I still got one. Lord, help me. God, I'm more scared than I was
when they hauled me out of here.
Jim took his small bag, and began the long walk. The folks lived way out past Murphy Slough, about ten miles out and around.
About a half-mile out of town, Jim found the path that led through the woods, and he lit out. He began to run, being anxious
like he was. Surprised to find his feet still knew the trail, he turned them loose while his mind reflected on past times.
Suddenly, impossibly quick, he came upon the slough. It smelled of rotten fish and slimy, green water. I'm almost home.
The spindly willow branches drug upon the muddy ground, so thick he felt a sudden urge to crawl underneath and hide. To
wait awhile. He felt the need to stop and think about things, instead of just rushing on. I sure wish I could've
let them know I was comin'; surprises aren't always a good thing.
He continued to walk, being anxious and feeling as small as a wayward child to face his parents. Emerging from the
last stand of pine, he stood behind the thick, wild blackberry bushes, and watched the house. The old place was in bad repair;
twenty years had taken its toll. The once white painted clapboards were colorless, the weather having stripped them bare.
He saw tar paper patches on the roof, and some corrugated sheet metal that seemed to be holding the little shack tight to
the ground. The yard though, was swept clean of loose dirt and leaves, the same as it had always been. The old tire swing
of his childhood was still attached to the cottonwood, even though he knew the rope was so frayed it would no longer hold
a child. The sight was beautiful and he smiled.
There's Daddy in the rocker. Just sittin' there, not even rockin'. . Jim choked and tried to swallow the knot
that'd suddenly come into his throat and watched, drinking in the sight. He desperately wanted to fill himself up with all
the lost years and spit them out.
A movement at the corner of the house caught his eye. He turned his head slightly and there she was. Mama. She
had been to the garden, as she was carrying a small basket. She looked so small. She still wore one of her dresses that reached
to her ankles. Over that was her apron, which was almost as long. A red bandanna was tied around her head, with wisps of gray,
curly hair peeking out here and there. Mama, you and Daddy grew old too fast. Mama, I'm so sorry.
Jim dropped to his knees right then and there, giving thanks to God for allowing him to come home and see his folks again.
When he rose the tears were flowing, but he wasn't ashamed of them this time, nor aggravated. Raising both arms, and looking
toward the sky, he laughed joyfully.
Leaving the bag where it stood, he began to run across the small field calling to the folks. His laughing voice carried
to them and both looked up, shading their eyes with their hands, to see who it was coming at such a gallop.
"Jimmy?" they questioned, as the garden basket slipped to the ground unnoticed, and then they both shouted, "It's Jimmy!
He's come home!"