Across the river was a large tree. His eye for it had become natural and instinctive. And no more did he think of the tree than he did of the impossible sun pulling the sweat out of him as he stood in the dirt. He did not know that the tree gave him something–something unconscious and something powerful. He did not know that without it, he would not have fought back when the group of men were beating and raping Beth. He did not know that without it, he would not have hidden the boy for those months. But what he did know, was what he must do. He knew how the power to do it felt–the power to lift against the weights that ceaselessly pulled against him.
He wore coarse brown pants that were held up by frayed suspenders. His white shirt was the same color as the dirt he worked in. His shoes were four sizes too small, and stayed below his cot. The rocks on the path to the Robinson’s farm found his leathery feet, and if this had been his first walk on this path, he would have jumped and cried like that day when he was five. But this was not his first walk here. And across the river again, he waded–his bare, shiny arms, taut and expanded under the weight of the sack over his head.
The day he came across the river as a boy, with the blood from his feet being washed down the river and into the ocean, he met three men as he came out wet under the tree. The cool water had made him forget about his sore feet, and the wind blew the shadows of the leaves across his face and they spilled there onto the ground. As he looked at the tree, a red spray painted the side of the powerful trunk that stood beside him. And as he turned to the men, who were staring at him the way a normal man would stare at a wild animal, he looked down and forever was forced to leave behind his father and brother there in the mud, where the river met the tree.
But now, as the rush of the river released him to the soft dirt by the tree, he looked up and stopped for a moment, as a boy would so that he could take off his shirt in the sun to feel its warmth, and without a conscious thought, the white men’s eyes burned through his memories and he felt the blood mix with the river and spray on and past him, to the tree.