Chris Markham: Mississippi Odyssey, excerpt 2

I was trudging along the side of the road, turning back now and then to flag my thumb, when a station wagon suddenly pulled quickly off the road and skidded to a stop twenty yards ahead of me. It was a ride, I was certain, and I half-walked, half-ran towards the waiting car. Before I got there, the driver, an Indian, got out and started walking towards me. I figured at the time he was coming to give me a hand with my equipment. Then a passenger, another Indian, joined him. Three more piled out of the wagon. They were dressed in jeans and overalls, and their black hair was mostly shoulder length.

I set down my equipment and told them I was going as far south as they could take me. They were silent, certainly weren't smiling. I was becomming aprehensive, but I did my best not to show it. I felt like the new kid in the neighborhood about to get a beating from the local gang.

Stopping a few feet away from me, the driver finally said mockingly, "White man want to buy moccasins, beads."

I said nothing.

"No!" another shouted. "How about a nice handmade blanket to keep you warm in winter snow?"

I smiled, thought I should say something, but I couldn't think of one word that might get me out of what I now realized was a bad situation. I was thinking of just picking up my equipment and walking right on by them when one of the Indians -- all of them looked under twenty-one -- screamed a war whoop and started dancing around me. The others joined in, whooping and shouting and performing the mock war dance. A car approached, but it shot by without so much as slowing down.

Well, I figured, if they wanted to play, then I would join the game. (When in doubt, punt!) With them dancing and yelling a few obscenities at me, I cuped my hands around my mouth and shouted: "Indians! Make a circle! Hide the women and children!" I then started "shooting" at the Indians with the boyhood gun of my extended index finger and raised thumb. Kneeling behind my sea bag, I fired -- "Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang." Six shots should be enough, I figured, and I stood, blowing away the imaginary smoke from the barrel of my "gun."

They were bewildered. They stopped their dance and I very nonchalantly shouldered my equipment and started walking away from them.

"Hey, wait a minute," one of them called to me. "Where you from?"

Turning to face them, I told them my plans, adding that I'd like to make it all the way down the river in one piece.

The driver, who seemed to be something of a leader, nodded and, to my relief smiled. "Want a ride?"

Copyright 2004 Chris Markham, All rights reserved.

excerpt 3