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He walked down the country road, simply enjoying the sights. Few cars passed him by this far from civilization, and those that did would not stop when he tried half-heartedly to flag them down. He didn’t mind. For now, he was content with simply content with the way his own two feet propelled him on down the winding road that slithered through the prairie. He occasionally, he came to a crossroads, and at each junction, he carefully inspected the signposts before adjusting his pack and setting off confidently down the path he had chosen.
Eventually, the sun began to sink lower over the golden grass of the plains, and he began to look for a place to spend the night. As luck would have it, a short ways down the road, there was a farmhouse, its white-washed walls faded and blistered, it’s window frames cracked and sun-worn. As he drew nearer, an odd sight greeted him: the farmer was up on the roof of the farm house, a broom in hand, sweeping the dust and leaves from the shingles.
“Howdy, sir,” he said, “how goes it?”
“Not so bad,” the roof-sweeper replied, looking up and leaning on his broom. His overalls were faded and dusty, his shirt was torn and grimy, and his straw hat looked quite age worn, but he carried himself as if he was a minister in his Sunday best. “And yourself?”
“’Bout the same, sir. I was wondering if I might be able to impress upon you for accommodations for the night, sir. You see, I am a traveler, and my feet are weary from a hard day’s journeying. I have no money, but I will be glad to repay you with any service I can provide, sir.”
“Tell you what, young man,” the farmer said, shading his eyes and gauging the height of the sun in the sky. “There’s a good hour or two of daylight left yet, and if you help me finish sweeping this roof, I’d be glad to let you sleep in the spare room. I’m sure the missus could add enough to the stew to feed one more. Grab a broom from the back porch, the ladder’s out back.”
“That’s quite generous of you, sir. I’m greatly in your debt.”
When he had grabbed a broom and climbed up to the roof, he went straight to work sweeping the roof. There had evidently been a dust storm recently in these parts, as the fine powder was half an inch thick in places. He set to work diligently and dutifully, but after half an hour, he felt compelled to ask the obvious question.
“Might I enquire, sir, as to reason behind this chore? I expect it has something to do with the comparative weights of dry dust and wet dust, and the imminent approach of rain, by the looks of yonder distant clouds, but curiosity necessitates me to be sure, sir.”
“Nothin’ of the sort, my wandering friend,” the farmer drawled, “I’m darn sure this roof will stand up to a bit of mud. I built it myself in years gone by, and I trust my own handiwork like I trust the summer will be hot and the winter cold. No, I sweep this roof so that when God looks down on to my house, He will see what pride I take in my family and my home, and what a good life I lead. Cleanliness is next to Godliness, after all.”
“But, sir, shouldn’t you then hasten to work upon the painting of your abode, and the window frames? Surely God cares not for mere dust, which blows away with the wind, and would be more drawn to the larger, more enduring blemishes upon your home, sir? Not to imply your home to be in any way deficient, sir, I might add. It is good and sturdy, sir.”
“Nonsense. God looks down upon us from His Heaven on high, does he not? Thus, the first thing He would see would be my roof. I will get to those other jobs you mention in my own sweet time, but first thing’s first. This dust has to go.”
“If you say so, sir. It is your abode, and you may attend to it in any manner your find appropriate, sir.”
“As long as we’re on talkin’, stranger, could I trouble you to know where you’re headed? I’d be mighty interested to know.”
“Surely, sir. I wander in the general direction of the city, sir, though I am in no hurry to get there. You see, sir, I have relations that reside there, and they have offered me steady and gainful employment, which greatly outshines my previous toils. I have found though, sir, that the wandering life quite suits me, and thus have decided to proceed at a stately clip, in order to better enjoy the wonder of the land, sir.”
“The city, you say? I ain’t never been much of one for the city, myself. It’s nothing more than a den of temptations and wrongdoings, where a few good men, like you, I would imagine, are outweighed by the many wicked. Why don’t you stay here? You work well enough, I could offer you a bit of temporary work helping around the fields. Not year ‘round, mind you, but at least for a month or two.”
“Once again, you show you are blessed with great generosity, sir. I must decline, however, sir, sorely tempted by your offer as I may be. As I mentioned, I my odyssey is one that will reunite me with my kin at its finish, sir and I am not in a position to deny them that reunion. Once again, I thank you for the offer though, sir.”
“Whatever you say, stranger. I am sorry you said no, though, I could have used the help, for darn sure. But, bygones must be bygones I suppose, and I cannot in good faith keep you from your family.”
They finished the rest of the sweeping in an amiable silence, and at the chores finish, the climbed down from the roof and went into the worn but warm farmhouse. He ate well and slept contently that night, and in the morning thanked the farmer and his wife profusely for their generosity before once again setting out on his way, walking even more slowly than usual, dawdling at pasture fences and. Today, though, when he came upon crossroads, he was less confident than before, and every time he picked a path, he fretted slightly about whether he had chosen the right path. He was barely making any headway, and the farmer’s house was barely beyond the horizon when distant thunder signaled the onset of rain. The skies opened, and he trudged along the side of the road in the mud for a while, before he heard the roar of an engine coming up behind him.
He turned to flag the car down, awash in the light of its headlights, and it slowed down from its prodigious speed to pull over and let him in, its red paintjob standing out in the dark rain like a fire in the night.
“Much obliged, sir, I was soaking in that torrential precipitation,” He said as he climbed into the back seat, setting his pack beside him.
“No problem, friend. The faster one is out of the rain, the better, I say.” The driver replied, turning to look at him. The driver’s hair was strikingly red, and he wore his denim jacket proudly, as if it conferred an air of invincibility upon him. “Where you headed, that you hoped to reach there on foot?”
“I wander in the general direction of the city, sir, though I am in no hurry to get there. You see, sir, I have relations that reside there, and they have offered me steady and gainful employment, which greatly outshines my previous toils. I have found though, sir, that the wandering life quite suits me, and thus have decided to proceed at a stately clip, in order to better enjoy the wonder of the land, sir.”
“See, there’s your problem, you’ll never reach the city in any decent time that way. Why make your family wait for you, when you could be with them so quickly? You should have flagged down a car sooner. You could be in the city already.”
“I never thought about it that way, sir. I suppose I had just been awestruck at the journey I was undertaking, sir. I might as well get there soon, as you say, sir.”
“Now you’ve got it. I’m afraid I can’t see you all the way to your destination, though I wish I could, if only to aid your time. I’m turning off this highway a few miles down, as I’m headed to a different town. I’ll drop you at the crossroads, and you can flag another car to get you on your way.”
The driver continued to talk to him in a friendly way, but at a dizzying, mile a minute clip, his words seeming as rapid as the drumming of rain on the roof of the car, switching from topic to topic at the pace of the windshield wipers. Eventually, when he could get a word in edgewise, he asked the question that had been clawing at him since he had entered the vehicle.
“I don’t mean to impose upon you, sir, but must you maintain such a velocity? It would seem to be much safer to reduce speed in this tempest, sir, rather than continue at this rate.”
“Nonsense. I’m trying to outrun this rain. I hate the rain, you know, and the less time I spend in it, the better. The only good thing about rain is that it helps cool the engine, and I can keep this baby roaring for longer.” The driver patted the dashboard, a gleam in his eyes that shone through the mirror.
“If you insist, sir. It is your automobile, after all, sir, and I have no power to stop you from driving at whatever speed you feel.”
A few hours later, they reached the crossroads at which the driver was to turn off the highway. Thanking the driver profusely for his help and for putting such a massive dent in the distance he had to travel. He waited at the crossroads for a few minutes after the red car’s taillights disappeared into the rain, but soon he grew tired of waiting for another car and began to jog down the road, looking for ay place dry to rest. He passed several signposts and forks in the road, but barely paused to give them a cursory glance before setting off in one direction or another. Eventually, he came across a lone tree just off the road, and he settled down under its umbrella of leaves for the night.
When he woke, the rain had stopped. He yawned, grabbed his pack, and made to set off jogging down the road once more, when he was struck by the beauty of the tableau before him. The prairie grass glistened in the sun as if every one were studded with diamonds, and the warm, comforting smell of wet earth. Part of him yearned to move on, to keep pushing on towards the city and his destination, but another part wanted nothing more than to stand rooted to the spot and admire the breathtaking glory of the prairie until the last hint of twilight vanished from the sky. He looked around once more, searching for some answer to his inner conundrum, when he saw it.
It was puddle. Nothing more, nothing less. But in that puddle, he saw the answer. In that puddle, he did not see reflected the likeness of the roof-sweeping farmer. Likewise, the face of the hasty driver did not stare back at him. Instead, it was his own, familiar features which shone back at him in the puddle, and he smiled. He adjusted his pack on his shoulders, smiled, and set on down the road at his own pace, drinking in the prairie, but keeping himself moving forward. And when he reached a crossroads, he carefully inspected the signposts before adjusting his pack and setting off confidently down the path he had chosen.