Rose looked out the large storefront window through the words painted in romantic script on the glass: Roses and Pearls Flowers and Gifts. After she spent an hour on her routine morning chores, she turned to her computer and typed in “Most Beautiful Places to Travel.” She knew her small town of Stoneridge was also a beautiful place, but it fit her like a shirt too tight in the collar.
What she saw next drew her out of her chair and straight to the window. A man stumbled down the sidewalk with a stunned expression, his wide eyes shooting around as though danger lurked in every direction. Tall, thin and unkempt, he had an unruly beard and a shock of curly brown hair peeking out from a broad-brimmed hat. He reminded her of the homeless people she had seen on trips to Atlanta, but his clothing looked nothing like theirs. He wore Native American deerskin pants and jacket and a dirty cotton shirt with puffy sleeves. Was he really carrying a bow and arrows?
Rose leaned forward to watch his progress until her cheek pressed against the cool glass. He plopped down on the bench in front of Jim Beene’s Eatin’ and Greetin’ Café, propped his elbows on his knees, and dropped his head into his hands.
She had to know what was going on. Ignoring the instinctive warning claxons going off in her brain, she turned the “Closed” sign and strolled with affected nonchalance toward the café. She passed by him with her eyes glued forward so he wouldn’t think she was looking at him, but keeping him in her peripheral vision she could see that he looked as though he had been rolling in the wet leaves that stuck to his deerskin and digging with his filthy bare hands in the dirt. and Speaking to him. When she popped into the café, she found Jim Beene, the owner of the café, sitting in a booth by the window with her uncle, Dan Shepherd, and Sheriff Walter Griffin who had both come in for an afternoon cup of coffee. “Afternoon, gentlemen,” she said. “What do you make of that?”
Without taking his eyes from the window Jim said, “Damnedest thing I ever saw.”
“He looks homeless,” Rose observed.
“He does,” agreed Dan. “Except nobody in Stoneridge has ever been homeless. Not ever.”
“Whoever he is, it’s a sure thing he’s not from around here,” said Walt, sliding out of the booth and donning his hat of authority. “I’d better have a word with him.” Rose, Dan and Jim followed at a distance, far enough to be out of the way, but close enough to hear what they said.
By this time the stranger sat up, carrying on an animated conversation with himself. Though his eyes were fixed on something unknown in the distance, he ceased his frantic monologue when they drew near.
“Son,” the sheriff began, “are you all right?”
The stranger raised his head slowly to focus on the man standing above him. “I…don’t…know,” he replied, carefully articulating every word.
“What’s your name, son?”
“Benjamin…Bower,” he said slowly.
“Where did you come from, Benjamin?” the sheriff asked kindly. Though they had approached him cautiously, up close he was not frightening at all. He looked young, around Rose’s age of twenty-six. His eyes, though dazed, were a nice, clear blue. In spite of smelling like a football player after practice in the summer, his soft, wavy brown hair did not appear greasy or unwashed, although it looked like neither his hair nor his beard had been combed in a while. He lifted his arm slowly to point down the road leading to the highway.
“Were you in a car accident?”
“I’m not sure,” he replied. “I think I’m dreaming.”
Speaking a whole sentence, they could hear an odd accent that might have been British but sounded a little off. “No. Where did you come from originally?” the sheriff pressed.
“Plymouth,” he answered.
“Plymouth, Georgia? Never heard of it.”
“What is Georgia?” Benjamin asked.
“This is Stoneridge, Georgia,” the sheriff answered.
The young man nodded, absorbing the information. “I came from the Massachusetts Colony,” he said.
“Massachusetts? How did you get here? Did you wreck your car?”
“Car?” he asked, shaking his head like he couldn’t clear it of a thick fog. Then he said simply, “I walked.”
Walter’s eyes widened in surprise, and then shrunk to a squint of disbelief. “You walked to Georgia from Massachusetts?”
Benjamin nodded slowly. “If this is Georgia, then yes.”
“I see,” Walter responded with a glance at the others standing around. “Is there someone we can call for you?”
“Call?” the young man repeated. “Call?” He closed his eyes as if he couldn’t face the word.
Walt looked to his friends for suggestions. Rose, Dan and Jim moved closer, surrounding the bench, looking down at him like adults trying to cope with a lost child, but they offered no solutions to the situation. Finally the sheriff made a decision. “Son, we’d better take you to the doctor. You’re talking like you’ve hit your head or something. I’ll be taking this and this,” he said, relieving Benjamin Bower of his bow and arrows and a lethal-looking knife.
The young man surrendered his weapons without argument. He followed the sheriff’s directions to the patrol car, and then stared at it, immobilized. The sheriff opened the door and indicated he should get in, which he did hesitantly, as though unsure what would happen inside. Rose watched them drive off, and then, with a nod to the others, made her way back to her flower shop.
The minute the cuckoo clock in the shop struck five o’clock, Rose dashed out the door. Often she and her mother had nothing interesting to say to each other at the end of the day, but this time she had a great story to share.