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September 18, 2023

The Farmer

By Frederick Foote

Hey, you know me. I don't mess with nobody. And I don't let nobody mess with me. I done some time. I done juvie time, chain gang time, and Uncle Sam time in Korea.

I've seen and done things that I regret. I done things for the Army that I will take to the grave with me.

I gave up on God a long time ago but the devil stays on my mind.

In January 1973, I was a barber, and with a little bit of strong-armed good luck, I had a shop off West 126th Street up in Harlem.

It was a bitterly cold day with sleet, icy wind, and slippery streets.

The Watergate trial was all over the news.

Tricky Dick claimed peace was near in Viet Nam.

Al Green was big, but Billy Paul was rocking my shop with "Me and Mrs. Jones."

Ronald Riggs, the mailman, was in my chair laughing about OJ running for 2,000 yards when it happened. Riggs claimed he could beat OJ in a race if they both had to carry a mailbag.

Papp Wilson was trimming up eight-year-old Abner Osceola.

Abe Amato was reading "The Sporting News."

BoBo Collins, the second baddest gangster in Harlem, laughed with Riggs.

Sam Smith and Ketch Williams were on the checkerboard. Abe had next.

There were two big glass windows on either side of my shop door. I could always see who was passing by or coming to my shop.

Something made me stop cutting and look at the door. I don't know why. No one had passed by the windows.

The door opened, and the cold came in and nearly knocked me off my feet. Not the wind. The cold. It was colder than my winter in Korea. It was so cold that it shocked my heart and lungs. I thought the cold might off me right then and there.

This short black nigger, maybe five-seven or five-eight, in bib overalls, brogans, and a chambray work shirt, stepped into my shop.

The door closed behind him.

There was mud on his shoes.

But he was bone dry. I could see and hear the icy rain hitting my windows.

The stranger had small, black, mean eyes, and he was looking directly at me.

I almost shit myself.

I looked away quick. I knew what it was. I didn't know if it was after one of us or all of us.

Riggs was looking at the back door like it was an escape hatch on a sinking sub.

The intruder looked at Papp. Papp covered the boy's eyes and kept his own eyes on the floor.

Abe had folded his hands in his lap and concentrated on them real hard.

BoBo was not carrying. That's my iron-clad rule. He was the big dog there.

BoBo started to stand and bark, but there was the tiniest twitch on the left side of the stranger's lips.

BoBo fell back into his chair, eyes on the ground, hands on his knees.

Sam had taken off his glasses and was frantically cleaning them with his shirt-tail.

Ketch had his eyes closed, and his head bowed in prayer.

The Farmer, that's what I called him, grabbed the straps on his overalls with hands as big as dinner platters.

The sight of those hands sent a shiver down my spine.

I gathered up all my courage to ask The Farmer to let Abner go. But at that moment, Abner's mother, Lavender Osceola, walked past the window and opened the door.

I shouted, "No!" but it was too late.

The Farmer stepped aside to let Lavender into the shop.

Lavender shuttered and touched her hand to her chest as she moved from Harlem cold to Arctic cold. She glanced at me and yelled, "Abner!"

The boy flew out of the chair, wrapped his arms around his mother, and buried his face in her bosom.

BoBo jumped up and guided mother and son to a chair.

I pleaded with The Farmer, "Let them go. Please." I was pointing at the Osceolas'.

The Farmer gave me the slightest hint of a grin. I knew these were the last seconds of my life. I reached for my razor.

BoBo tensed up.

I saw Sam and Ketch start to move toward the mother and son.

We all froze as the door opened, and Cole Snider, the ex-New York Giants nose tackle, stepped into the shop, all six foot six inches and 350 pounds of him.

Things happened fast.

Cole saw The Farmer and said, "You! Aww, Shit!"

Cole started toward The Farmer.

The Farmer slapped Cole to the floor.

The slap sounded like a cannon shot.

We all jumped.

The Farmer reached in Cole's bloody mouth, grabbed Cole's tongue, pulled the big man to his feet, and led him out the back.

There was a ripping, screaming, gurgling sound, and as the back door was closing, Cole's tongue landed on the floor.

It was hot as hell in the shop. There was weeping, screaming, vomiting, somebody pissed. I smelled shit.

Eventually, I disposed of the tongue.

I gathered my personal stuff.

That night my shop burned to the ground.

Shortly after that, I left the US for the South of France, Spain, and Portugal.

Five years later, I returned. I opened a barbershop in Inglewood, California.

And on a bright and beautiful day twenty years later, I looked at the door of my shop, and Abner Osceola walked in and froze in the doorway as we recognized each other.

Abner started to back out of the shop, but it was too late.

Someone was standing behind him wearing bib overalls and muddy brogans.

Article © Frederick Foote. All rights reserved.
Published on 2022-04-25
Image(s) are public domain.
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