He approaches with caution but soon relaxes into conversation about the government versus the people. And he’s the people. 5 weeks out of the pen on a possession charge from walking the bridge into South Carolina with 2 lbs on him, now he’s “across state lines possession with intent” –a criminal.
His name is David. He exudes Southern boy charm while he talks. Careful to keep his distance from me and my female companion, we are two women on the darker end of River street and he stays close to the nearby street light. As we talk I learn more about him, he says he’s only been in trouble with the law once, the possession charge, and he is scrambling to find real work. For now, he walks the river now selling roses made from palms that he climbed himself. He shows me his cut up hands from the climb. Tells me he does what needs doin’ to keep his room and board, taking trash out for the bars along the river for a few bucks at closing.
He is built and tattooed, but harmless. I want to hug him because I see something so fragile in his eyes, so tender. Instead I take two roses and slip him a twenty hoping it helps him with a roof tonight… there’s a storm comin’.
Almost as soon as we say it the Savannah sky breaks open with a loud crack and sheets of rain fall hard bouncing back up from the pavement soaking everyone instantly. We part ways running for cover from the storm as lightning brightens the sky downtown. I find shelter inside a little restaurant just as the tornado siren starts to blare.
The place is full of people, all soaking wet and buying nothing. We stand around blocking the entrance and eating the free peanuts on the bar. A group of women come in laughing and soon I’m gathered into their circle as if we are old friends. These beautiful dark-skinned women don’t appear to be bothered by the detour into this place. They carry on as if we are all at a club together. They crack jokes about whether or not to move on down the road, one exclaiming she’s gonna go for it. Another says, you can’t go out in this lightning! Sure I can she says, if it’s my time it’s my time. She smiles and we all laugh but she stays around and keeps eating peanuts.
Finally the rain lets up enough that we do make a run for it. I race down the flooded streets to my car, winding in and out of alleys and past men sitting in dark entry ways to closed shops. When I get to my car not an inch of me is dry. I’m cold and delighted. It feels like it’s storming in Savannah just for me. I can’t quite explain this feeling but all along the drive it seems right to me that part of my experience here should include a sudden storm.
As I turn onto the street to go back to where I’m staying, I realize I can’t cross. A tree has been split in 3 directions from the wind. At first I think lightning but it’s not blackened the way a lightning struck tree typically is. I can feel it dying and I go over and put my hands on it. It’s a giant oak. Neighbors from the surrounding houses come out and tell stories about previous damages the tree has suffered. One neighbor speculates the tree is at least 200 years old. Staring at the massive trunk, I don’t doubt it. I thank the Gods my car wasn’t parked here, it had been just hours earlier.
Inside I think more about River Street and the people I met there. Martin, a painter from Haiti…a group of queer boys who somehow innately know I’m a lesbian and come invite me to join them at the queer bar…the guys who hit on me and when I tell them I play for the other team just smile and say, “that’s okay, do you share?” The people here are flirty and bawdy tempered by Southern charm and manners – enough to know to leave plenty of space between their body and mine. They love Savannah and seeing it through their eyes I love her more too.
I go to bed thinking about how I could live here under all this hanging moss tucked away next to the river, just minutes from the ocean.