The trucker dropped me off someplace east of Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma. He was turning south and I was heading north towards Wyoming.
It had been only three days since I began ‘hoofing’ it from Muskogee across Indian Territory. I’d only managed the one ride that took me to the point at which I found myself.
The sky was clouded and darkness was quickly approaching and I knew I had to get my hobo-camp set up before the skies either opened up on me or it became to dark to see. I found an open field near a frontage road and pitched my two-person tent.
In the distance I could hear kids outside, playing and it was joyful sound. I decided to walk towards the sound and see if I could watch them play, as it always made me happy and reminded me of my childhood.
They weren’t all that far from my site and I sat down next to a tree at the side of a gravel roadway to watch. There eight kids sprinted around in a game of tag, seven White and one Black; a girl.
They ran and chased each other until the one street lamp in the area popped to life, then like I had to do as a child, they disappeared indoors. Except the Black girl, who seemed to have no place to go.
As I got up to head back to camp, I heard, “Hey, mister!”
I turned as the girl came jogging up to me. She was a good head shorter than me and was missing a front tooth.
“How long you been there?” she asked.
“About fifteen minutes?”
“I’ve never seen you around here before.”
“No, I’m passing through. Got a tent set up in the field over there.”
“You mean you’re sleeping outside?”
“Yup. Been doing that a lot the last two days.”
“Well, mister, if you ain’t no boogie man or something you can come crash on my couch, if you’d like. Even have some beer.”
Slightly taken back by the forwardness of this child, “What would your parents say about that, you offering me a place on the their couch and beer?”
“What in the hell you talking about, child?” she laughed, “I’m a full-grown woman and can make my own decisions. Shit!”
I looked at her closely, “I’m sorry, but you don’t look any older than 12.”
“Yeah – ‘cuz I’m short. What is it people got against us short folk anyway?”
“Obviously, a lot of incorrect assumptions,” I answered, adding, “And you know what they say when you make assumptions…”
“You make an ass out of you and an ass out of me,” she laughed. “Now go get your shit and I’ll meet you right here.”
A few minutes later, camp site cleared and my back pack hanging loosely from my right shoulder I met her right where she instructed. She introduced herself as Daphne and I told her my name.
We walked to a small house with a nice front porch and entered. In the light, I could suddenly see that she was older and far more physically mature than a 12-year-old.
As we ate meatloaf, mashed potatoes, peas and carrots and drank her beer, I asked, “So why do you go out and play with the kids like you do?”
“So I can stay young,” she answered as she explained how she grew up as the caretaker of her alcoholic parents in Kansas City.
“Never had time to be a kid, till they went home to be with the Lord. So I’m making up for it and I’m staying so young that I even fooled you.”
She said it in such away that I couldn’t help but laugh. She gave me a toothless grin.
After dinner, “The shower is there, if you’d like.”
“I’m gonna go change and then listen to the radio some and have another beer. You can join me after you get some of that road-smell off your skin.”
Somehow, without me hearing her, Daphne removed my dirty clothes from the bathroom and I soaped up and rinsed off. She replace my dirty rags with a pair of running shorts and a tee-shirt that was a size to small.
I put it on anyway, before I returned to the living room and the couch.
Daphne was dress much the same as me, a country-western radio station played low in the back ground and she had two beers setting on the floor amid a gathering of pillows. We spent the next couple of hours talking about our lives, dreams and our hopes for the future.
Once my clothes had dried, we retired for the evening; her, to her bedroom, me to the couch. Minutes later Daphne call out, “Please come here.”
Somewhere in the distance, a clap of thunder echoed as the heavy rain accompanying the lightning, fell rhythmically on roof.