LOVE AND LOVERS
TOD HOWARD HAWKS
"Have I told you about Hechamiah Moore?" Jon asked Bian.
"No," said Bian.
The two had visited Gabon, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, and Somalia and now were lying in their bed in their room at the Legend Hotel in Lagos, Nigeria.
"It was in the Fall of my junior year at Columbia. I was heading to Tom's to have breakfast. As I walked toward 112th Street on Broadway, I saw a tall Black man holding a styrofoam cup hoping those who walked by him might drop a quarter or two into it.
"When I got to where the man was standing, I stopped in front of him. My stopping right in front of him surprised him, I'm sure. I stuck out my right arm hoping to shake his, and as I did, I said, 'My name is Jon Witherston. What's your name?' The man was incredulous. Finally, after a long, awkward pause, he said, 'Hechamiah.' I said, 'Hechamiah what.' There was another long pause. Finally, he said, 'Hechamiah Moore.' I then said, 'It's nice to meet you, Mr. Moore. I'm on my way to have breakfast at Tom's Restaurant. Would you like to join me and be my guest?' Mr. Moore was stunned. Another long pause. Finally, Mr. Moore said, 'OK.' So we began walking down Broadway toward Tom's Restaurant, and as we walked, we started chatting.
"I found out Mr. Moore was from North Carolina, had married his sweetheart when both were 16, then came to New Jersey where Hechamiah got a job in some kind of factory. But ten years prior to our meeting, his wife died unexpectedly. Hechamiah told me he just couldn't stand it, so he started drinking and couldn't stop. Eventually, he was fired, and for the past eight years had been homeless.
"At this point, we reached 112th Street and had to cross Broadway to enter Tom's Restaurant. We crossed half of Broadway in the middle of which was sort of an island on which there was a couple of benches. There, Hechamiah just stopped. I asked him, 'What's wrong, Mr. Moore?' Hechamiah, after another pause, said to me, 'I don't think they want me in there.' I paused this time, then I said, 'Mr. Moore, there are two reasons why you are going into Tom's with me: First, you are my friend. The second is the United States Constitution.' Another pause. Hechamiah then stepped off the curb of the island and began to walk across the other half of Broadway. I followed him.
"We entered Tom's, first Hechamiah then I. I saw an empty booth in the rear of the restaurant. I walked ahead of Hechamiah to the booth, then we both took a seat. I could feel and see Hechamiah was extremely nervous. A lovely middle-aged waitress came over and handed each of us a menu. When she returned a few minutes later, she asked what would we like to order. I told her Mr. Moore was my guest. She looked at Hechamiah and asked him what he wanted to order. "Some coffee and a glass of orange juice," Hechamiah said. "That's all you want, Mr. Moore?" Jon said with surprise. He nodded yes. Jon ordered his regular breakfast.
"The waitress brought our meals in a matter of minutes. Hechamiah having drunk his cup of coffee and drunk his glass of orange juice, I said, "Are you sure you don't want something else to eat, Mr Moore?" I could see and feel Mr. Moore was becoming increasingly at ease as we shared our food and conversation. He said, in fact, he would. When our waitress came by again, Hechamiah was so relaxed that he had started to joke with her. "I'd like what Mr. Witherston had," said Hechamiah. The waitress smiled, then said, "Great!"
'Hechamiah finished his meal in short order. It was time to leave Tom's. When we reached the entrance, Hechamiah tried to push the door open, but when he had the door just half open, he turned around and said to me, "Mr. Witherston, you are a kind man." I said to Hechamiah, "Mr. Moore, you are a good man." We both stepped onto the sidewalk and shook hands and began to walk in different directions into the same sunlight, but with our stomachs, and our hearts, much fuller than they had been."
Jon turned out the lamp next to the bed, then leaned over and gave Bian a kiss on the cheek.
"Good night, my love," Jon said, then laid his head upon his pillow and closed his eyes.