|bell hooks [withfriendship]|
from bell hooks's Bone Black:
To her child mind old men were the only men of feeling. They did not come at once smelling of alcohol and sweet cologne. They approached one like butterflies, moving light and beautiful, staying still for only a moment. She found it easy to be friends with them. They talked to her as if they understood one another, as if they were the same — nothing standing between them, not age, not sex. They were the brown-skinned men with serious faces who were the deacons of the church, the right-hand men of god. They were the men who wept when they felt his love, who wept when the preacher spoke of the good and faithful servant. They pulled wrinkled handkerchiefs out of their pockets and poured tears in them, as if they were pouring milk into a cup. She wanted to drink those tears that like milk would nourish her and help her grow.
One of those men walked with his body bent, crippled. The grown-ups frowned at her when she asked them why he didn't walk straight. Did he know how to walk straight? Had he ever learned? They never answered. Every Sunday he read the scripture for the main offering. His voice wrinkled like paper. Sometimes it sounded as if there were already tears in it waiting to spill over, waiting to wet the thirsty throats of parched souls. She could not understand the reading. Only one part was clear. It was as though his voice suddenly found a message that eased sorrow, a message brighter than any tear. It was the part that read, It is required and understood that a man be found faithful. He was one of the faithful.
She loved the sight of him. After church she would go and stand near him, knowing that he would give her his hand, covered old bones in wrinkled brown skin that reminded her of a well-worn leather glove. She would hold that hand tight, never wanting to give it back. In a wee pretend voice full of tears and longing he would ask for his hand back saying all the while that he would love for her to keep it but could not build his house without it. She loved to hear him talk about the house that he had been building for years, a dream house, way out in the country, with trees, wildflowers, and animals. She wanted to know if there were snakes. He assured her that if she came to visit the snakes would come out of their hiding places just for her, singing and playing their enchanted flutes.
It was a hot, hot day when she went to his house. She came all by herself slowly walking down the dirt road, slowing moving up the hill. He stood at the top waiting. The house was so funny she couldn't stop laughing, it was half finished. She could not imagine how anyone could live in a half-finished house. He gave her his hand, strong and brown. She could see it sawing, nailing, putting together boards that contained the memories of all his unfulfilled dreams. She could see the loneliness in that hand. When she whispered to him that she always held that hand — the right one — because all the loneliness was stored there like dry fruit in a cool place, he understood immediately.
Sitting on the steps watching him work she could ask all the questions about being crippled that she had ever wanted to know. Was he alone because he was crippled. Was he not married because he was crippled. Was he without children because he was crippled. Her questions smoothed the wrinkles in his brow, took the tears from his voice, wet his dreams with the promise of a woman waiting faithfully with outstretched hands.