The Man Behind the Man

May 28, 2009
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He was crouched in a corner murmuring inaudible things to himself when we first saw him. His eyes were stiff and nonexistent, like his body was there but his soul was lost. We asked if he was okay, but he just stayed in the same position, glaring at the bare walls of the alley. My friends and I weren’t really worried about an unknown man in an alley, so we shrugged our shoulders and walked away. It had been months since I’d seen him, and honestly, I’d never given him another thought…at least not until I saw him again.

This time he was dressed all sharp in a nice cream-colored suit with brand new shiny shoes to go with it. He had a dark black button-up dress shirt under the suit jacket. I was window shopping in Parking Central when I saw him. Sitting at a table by himself, the stranger gazed intensely at a small notebook. He took a pencil and scratched something out and then wrote something else in its place. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I didn’t know The Stranger could write, let alone come up with ideas to write about. I tried to be slick and glide into the café all smooth without being too noticeable. I conquered this act without even a slight glance from The Stranger.
I thought I was in the cool as I gawked absentmindedly at this intriguing man. I would have stayed in that very spot if I wouldn’t have been startled by a low rumble of a powerful voice. I just about jumped right out of my skin. Glancing around embarrassed, I searched for the person that the thunderous voice belonged to. That’s when he looked me square in the eyes and told me to come to him. My knees buckled, my hands began to shake, and I lost control of my thoughts. Somehow, I managed to get to the seat across from the stranger. Gulping, I anticipated what the strange man had to say to me and prepared to scurry home with urine soaked pants.










To my surprise, The Stranger didn’t chew me up and spit me out. He talked to me in a mild monotone voice like a college professor teaching class. He asked me why I stared at him with wide eyes and slob about to dribble out the side of my mouth. “Ummm…sir, because ummm,” I sputtered. I wasn’t sure why I looked at him as hard as I did, so I couldn’t really answer him. He chuckled and I noticed a dimple right in the center of his left cheek. His chuckle ended just as quickly as it had started with an unexpected abrupt halt. Then he spoke to me, “If you are so interested in me, why don’t you just ask me questions,” he said. “I have too many and it would be rude to interrogate someone I don’t even know,” I responded with my head down and my eyes focused on my clasped hands that lay in my lap. “Well, if you insist, I will tell you about me by myself without any of your “rude” questions.”

He proceeded to tell me his story with a smirk plastered on his face the whole time. “It all started back in 1902, January 1st to be exact. The day I, Langston Hughes, was born was the greatest day ever. My bi-racial parents, Carrie Mercer Langston and James Nathaniel Hughes were a mixture of African, European, and Native American descent. So of course, I am too. My childhood is not one I wish to remember. I grew up in the ghettos of Joplin, Missouri. My father left me and my mother because he was ashamed of the color of his skin. He was such a miserable man, though he was extremely intelligent. My father was also misled and confused. I didn’t understand it then, but now I do.” After a while, he stopped talking and had a far away look in his eyes as if reliving that specific point in his life. I waited for him to drift back into reality patiently. Out of nowhere, he speaks barely above a whisper and continues his story like he had never stopped. “Just like my father abandoned me, my mother left too. In search for work, my mom left me to my maternal grandmother, Mary Patterson Langston, to raise me in Kansas. She never went one day without telling me to be proud of the color of my skin and to always do my best. ‘Til this day, I state that to myself every morning and every night. When my grandmother passed away, I went to live with friends of the family for two years. As you can see, my life was a wreck. In a way, my abnormal childhood was a blessing in disguise and influenced my poetry a great deal.” “You write poetry!!??” I exclaimed. “Oh yes. I write lots of it too. Why, I…” He cut himself off again and blankly watched the wall. I called his name several times with hysteria rising in my voice. Mr. Langston cut his eyes at me and said, “Are you talking to me? Lower your voice if you are, because you’re frightening me. You’re calling me by someone else’s name anyway. I apologize young man, but you’ve got me mistaken with another man. My name is Rupert Brooke, not Mr. Langston.” With that, he stood up and walked out the café without even a head nod. He left his notebook, pencil, and I staring behind him dumbfounded.

Snapping back into my senses, I jumped out of my seat and ran after Mr. Langston, no, Rupert Brooke or whatever his name is. I yelped ‘Mister’ at the top of my lungs until I felt like I was going hoarse. Finally, I got close enough to him to get right in front of him and hold my hands up, indicating that I wanted him to stop. This man, now The Stranger again, looked at me as if I had offended him. He asked me what I wanted. I told him I wanted to know who he was because he had just told me two different names. When this was said, The Stranger looked at me as if I was the lunatic and said, “If you’re one of those reporters, you could’ve just asked me what you want to know. I would’ve agreed to answer you, so you really didn’t have to make up that ridiculous story.” “I’m not making a bootleg story to try to convince you to do anything sir,” was all I managed to say before he shushed me again. “Now be quiet young man, I’m trying to tell my story,” he snapped. I cooperated since that was going to be the only way I was going to get the answers to my questions.

“August 3rd, 1887. The best day in world’s history, because that’s the day my old lady popped me out. HeeHee. I grew up to be a sexy young man. Everywhere I went I attracted people from both the female and male gender. I was engaged to Noel Olivier, yes I’m attracted to men, but I still had so much affection for Katherine Cox (also known as Ka), so it didn’t work out. In the 1900s I studied in Germany, traveled in Italy, became a fellow of King’s College, and set sail to Dard anelles. I used to read Browling. He influenced me to become a poet. Poetic soldier is what they called me. Yes-in-deedy I was a soldier in World War I. Not to long after the war, I perished. I died a couple of weeks prior my 25th birthday. August 23rd, 1915, the exact date of my death. I died off the Greek Island of Skyres on a hospital ship. They buried me in an olive grove on the island. Now young man is there anything else you want to know?” My mouth hung wide open until after a pause that lasted for what seemed like forever. “How are you dead, but I’m looking at you?” He chuckled and stated, “Things are never what they seem young man.” And with that he tipped his hat and walked off. Unfortunately for him, I wasn’t letting him get away that easy. I stalked behind him, right on his heels when he turned around and stopped me before I stopped him. Well I thought it was him anyway.

Honestly, the man startled me. He grabbed me by my shoulders aggressively and turned me towards a store window and pointed to his reflection. “This is me,” he told me. Then he spun me to face him again and said, “This…isn’t me.” He pointed up and down his body as he said this to me. “Sir, I don’t get it. You look exactly the same as your reflection.” I tried to explain to him in a calm voice, but again he cut me off. “You don’t get it! No one gets it! This isn’t me…This is me,” he screamed at me with his arms flailing in the air. He jumped up and down and reminded me of a distraught monkey. I can’t even front, he was really about to make me poop myself. I must admit that. “Look at me boy, LOOK AT ME!!! Can’t you see it? Why can’t you see the real me,” he asked on the verge of tears. He folded himself into a fetal position and just bawled and rocked back and forth. I didn’t want to leave him there, but then again I didn’t have to.

“STEP AWAY NOW!” My hands shot up and my eyes darted in zigzags as I looked for whomever the person or people where at that were yelling at me. That’s when they snatched me and said, “Didn’t your mother teach you to never talk to stranger?” “Huh?” That was all I said before the man explained to me that the man or “men” I’d been talking to was a psycho. Shocked, the North Calister Mental Institution nurses and security guards sent me on my way. I still don’t get it. Maybe I will always be confused.

‘Til this day I make it my personal business to go check on Sir (that’s what I call him now) at least once a week. He needs a friend and I need answers. Somehow all this has to make sense. Somehow I will make that happen, regardless the obstacles I’m going to have to conquer.





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