There’s a crazy man at the corner of Royal and Dauphin who talks about all sorts of things. He says things like “they stole the fire from the sun” and his words make no sense. Syllables just drop from his lips like soft, fat peaches. We like to go and listen to him, Rhiannon and me, but we don’t stand too close. Our mamas tell us not to.
He’s darker than burnt-sugar Rhiannon. She says he’s as black as I am white. He has thick purple lips and skin like a soft, dark plum and we think it would smell sweet and drip juice if you pressed it. Only we’re not allowed to touch him to find out, because our mamas would whip us. Sometimes we talk to him, though. We’re allowed to do that, but only because we haven’t asked yet. We repeat things he’s said before.
“They stole the fire,” Rhiannon says and the man nods drowsily. His head looks heavy, but also like it’s floating in water, bobbing and nodding in the bay. He keeps smiling. He always smiles.
“From the sun,” he replies. “They set the moon alight with it.” He never says who took it. We’re already supposed to know that. Everyone else seems to. They walk by him and mirror his nod when he talks to them. Except they don’t move their heads the same way he does. Their heads move up and down, but his sways and dips over muddy, brackish waves no one else seems to see.
Some of the nodding people give him coins, but not us. We don’t have any and our mamas won’t give us even a dime for the man. Others say things to him, words of pity or encouragement. Once we even hear a man call him a “fucking bum.” He’s just sitting there by the sidewalk when the man says it.
“Fucking bum,” the man spits, just like that. Only that’s not true. Our crazy man isn’t a bum because he doesn’t sleep there by the street. We follow that spitting man for a while and call out to him from alleys and around corners, digging our fingers in the moss and crumble to keep from laughing away our hiding places. Rhiannon throws a rock at him, but she misses. She always misses. I never do.
But the man at the corner still says the same thing to everybody, even the nasty ones; “They stole the fire from the sun,” he tells them, “and set the moon alight.” Preaching. He sounds like he’s preaching musically, rhythmically. Singing a hymn, maybe. Over and over he repeats his sermon. That’s what he says to everyone.
Rhiannon says he’s crazy enough to die there. She says he’s crazy because they beat him bad when he was a kid like us. Only that’s not what she said. “Because you beat him bad,” was what she said, but I don’t know what that means. I sure never beat anybody and I never hurt a kindly old man that makes me think of plums. I tell her so once, but she just says I don’t get it. I guess I don’t.