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Northeast
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Callaloo 30.4 (2008) 1071-1078

Northeast

The South. The early 1940s. Lights up on a small-town train depot. There's a bench, a rack of magazines and not much more. A CLERK, a middle-aged white woman with a plain, round face, sits behind the ticket window. She's reading a magazine and drinking from a bottle of soda. A radio plays softly—popular music of the period. The CLERK occasionally fans herself with the magazine. The air outside is hot and still, but inside the depot there's a ceiling fan running to ease the sweltering heat.

The screen door to the depot squeaks open and MAN CODY, a ninety-eight-year-old black man, enters, carrying a child's suitcase. His body is thin but firm under his brown suit, pale blue shirt and tie. He wears a hat. His black shoes are powdered with dust. His skin is like beautiful brown leather and his eyes have grown milky-blue with the years. He puts his suitcase down, removes his hat and mops his brow with his handkerchief. He opens a small purse and looks inside, then closes it. He picks up his suitcase and crosses to the ticket window. His gait is slow but sure. He stands at the ticket window, waiting to be acknowledged. The CLERK does not see him.

Man Cody
'Scuse me.
Clerk
Can I help you?
Man Cody
When's the train run? [End Page 1071]
Clerk
Well, where to?
Man Cody
'Way from here. My wife died. Just come straight here from her grave.
Got it on my shoes.
[He looks at his dusty shoes.]
I don't need to be here no more.
Clerk
Where do you want to go?
Man Cody
When my boy . . . he's way grown now for sure . . . when he left here, he went that way.
[He points.]
Clerk
That way's east.
Man Cody
Right.
Clerk
Do you know where your boy is now? [End Page 1072]
Man Cody
I seen him go east. He like it out that way, guess. He ain't come back since.
[He looks toward the door.]
When's the train run east?
Clerk
Now I can't get you east right off. You have to go north and then you have to make a change.
Man Cody
That's the way he went.
[He points.]
Clerk
That's fine, but you have to go north first if you want to go east. The trains from here don't go east.
Man Cody
The train don't run east?
Clerk
No. The trains from here go north and south, you see? [End Page 1073]
Man Cody
North and south?
Clerk
Right.
Man Cody
Up and down.
Clerk
Yes. You can get east, but you have to go north to Point Lee first.
Man Cody
Point Lee.
Clerk
It's the fourth stop from here, going north. You change there.
[Pause. MAN CODY thinks.]
That's what you want if you want to go east.
Man Cody
You say the train stops three times 'fore it gets where it's go'n? [End Page 1074]
Clerk
It makes stops in Still Creek, Lowe, Bruel and then Point Lee. You change trains and go east from Point Lee, hear? You want a seat to Point Lee?
Man Cody
He went that way. What time's the next train to Point Lee?
Clerk
It's due in here at 5:10.
Man Cody
How long from now is that?
Clerk
Half an hour. You want a seat?
Man Cody
If north gets me east, guess I do.
[The CLERK prepares the ticket. MAN CODY gets his purse and takes out two one-dollar bills.]
How much?
Clerk
That's three, please. [End Page 1075]
[MAN CODY takes out another dollar and gives the CLERK the three dollars. MAN CODY counts the few dollars he has left. The CLERK gives him the ticket.]
Man Cody
[Looking at the ticket] This say I got a seat?
Clerk
[Sincerely] You can't read?
Man Cody
No. My...