It has been a long stretch since I've seen any people of color. Now here was a whole family, a daddy, mama and two little un's before me, looking surprised to see me as I am to see them.
"Howdy" I say, quiet-like. I guess its a habit to be that way. Didn't ever do me any good to be noticed when I was a slave and doesn't really do me much good now either.
"Howdy" they say back just as careful, "We heard there was a healer in town. Wife's foot is infected."
"That would be me." I say, with just a touch of pride in the thought that people in other towns actually tell strangers there's a healer here. And they don't say a nigger healer either. You can tell by the surprise in their eyes when they first see me.
They looked just as surprised as white folks and then all smile shyly at me. The older boy's eyes are bright, "You a black doctor?" he asks.
I smile down at him. He's a beautiful little boy, "No, child. They don't let black folk into them medical schools. But I learned some healing in the war and I do the best I can."
But they ain't here to learn about me. They have a foot to be looked at. "Come on up to my clinic." I say and again feel that surge of pride. Pride that I have a home that's my own and friends that care about me. Pride that I'm needed.
Oh, I ain't no fool. I'll always be different because I'm black and was a slave. I try not to let my guard down, although with my friends, that guard that saved me so often as a slave ain't necessary. I reckon they all have proved themselves, except maybe Ezra. Ezra is a southern boy through and through with all those fancy rich graces. He's learned way more than most men like him have, though and I'm sure he would kill to save my life in a gun battle, and he treats me with respect, come to think of it. But I don't think he'd take a bullet for me. He's sure changed though. And I reckon knowing me has helped some with that.
The lady is scared about her foot, and it's pretty bad, but I know what to do. I teach the whole family as I work, telling them about keeping the wound clean to get rid of infection, about carbolic and how it cleans the wound. They are all so fascinated that she doesn't even holler when I have to lance the wound to drain the pus.
I put a poultice on it and the woman, who is named Lizabeth, tells me that her Mama used to use a tincture of thyme on cuts and scratches. She's got grit, but she shouldn't be traveling on that foot yet.
"Reckon it would be best if you would stay here a few days." I say
"Is it safe?" says the husband. His name is Moses.
"We get a lot of strangers here." I say, "you'd best all stay with me. I got plenty of beds since no one is shot up right now and I'd be proud to help out some."
We settle the wife and kids in and Moses and me talk some. Moses wants to know if this is a good place to live for us folks. So, over a pot of fresh coffee, I tell him about nearly getting lynched and about Mary Travis, and the Seven and the Seminole Village and my Pa and Judge Travis. I tell him about Ezra, which makes his jaw drop, and about the people in town who treat me good and the ones who are scared not to.
Moses says this sounds like a dangerous place, but it has some good folks. He wishes there were more people like us here, you can tell that. People here might like me, but that don't mean they'll like him and he's got a family to look after. So I tell him what I know about the communities further west of us and he listens real good. He was trained by his master to make wagons and buggies, so he's got a good trade. Fancy buggies ain't needed much, but wagon repair and building is a good thing.
It's time for my patrol, so I tell him good evening and show him where the teas I give out to those that can't sleep are located.
My evening patrol is quiet, which is good.
When I get back and put my horse away, I go to the saloon for a drink. It's late, and there are a lot of people there. Ezra is playing poker with a bunch of fools and flashing his gold tooth to beat the band. He nods to me and I nod back. I don't play poker with Ezra too much. What money I got, I like to keep and Ezra may not cheat, but he's the world's best poker player as far as I'm concerned.
I look around the room at the strangers and friends sitting about. Ezra is the only one of the Seven here. Chris Larabee just went on patrol and Buck has a date. Josiah's probably at the church and J.D. has been helping Mrs. Wells along with Vin.
I walk up to the bar and then everything goes to hell in a hand basket. I'm shoved out of the way by Ezra of all people. Before I can even ask him what the hell he's doing, a bullet hits him, explaining everything.
He falls, but pulls out his gun and shoots at a man I've never seen before. The bullet only wings him and the stranger aims at Ezra now, sneering with an unmistakable southern drawl, "Niggah Lovah!"
By this time, my knife is in the bastard's leg. He stares at me shocked. "How dare you!" he hisses and raises his gun again. My next knife takes him in his gun arm. He screams and tries to shoot me again. This time Ezra gets better aim.
I see that I'm not going to be able to do anything for the man, so I kneel by Ezra who is bleeding all over his fancy coat. "Damn," he mutters, ruefully, "and this is a new jacket, too."
That's Ezra. Do a brave ass deed and worry about his wardrobe.
I hear another southern voice behind me. "Folks like him don't deserve to drink with white men."
I turn and look, but Yosemite and some of the others I know are holding the man. Inez was out back when the shooting happened, but she's there now with her shotgun swearing at the bastard in Spanish like a scalded cat, while I press a tablecloth against Ezra's jacket to stop the bleeding.
Ezra's eyes whip open and practically glow like a mountain lion's in the night. "I beg to diffa Suh," he says. His drawl gets worse when he's wounded or mad. I pay him no mind. I've got men at my back and Ezra's bleeding has my whole attention. But what he says next makes me start and I almost lose my grip on his bleeding shoulder.
"Your type of man isn't good enough to drink with Mr. Jackson. He is a true gentleman in every sense of the word, while you and your unlamented associate are braggarts and bullies. I wish you would remove yourself."
"Ezra!" I hiss, "Did you just stand up for me?"
I look into his eyes and he smiles at me, almost laughing except for the pain. "Why Mr. Jackson, I believe I just took a fall for you." Then his face get white as a sheet and he faints. Probably a good thing too, cause that bullet needs to come out.
Well, Inez and some of the others from town run the southern fellow back to his hotel and tell him to leave in the morning or go to jail. Inez is scary when she's mad like that. We ought to deputize her, the way she handles that gun, that man is probably gonna be gone before the sun comes up.
Some of the townsfolk help me get Ezra up to the clinic. Moses and his family are startled when we come bustin' in and Moses stands up like he's going to have to start fighting to protect his family.
"Ezra's been shot," I say, and right off Moses stands down.
The townsfolk with me are shy acting with Moses and Lizabeth and their little ones there, but they act really nice towards them, smiling and nodding their heads. Mary Travis comes rushing in; her face set with fear. That woman takes it to heart when one of us gets hurt.
"I heard you were shot, Nathan," she says, and looks from me to Ezra on the bed. She puts her hands to her mouth and whispers, "Oh God."
"What happened?" asks Moses.
Everyone is silent then, so I figure I better tell what happened.
"Ezra just saved my life. Some good old boy from the South decided he didn't want no colored man drinking in the bar and was fixing to shoot me in the back, when Ezra pushed me out of the way and took a bullet for me."
Moses looks down at Ezra like he's a three-headed mule or the Second Coming. Then he looks at me, sharp like and says, "What can I do to help?"
So he and Mary help me doctor up Ezra who is pretty quiet for Ezra. He sits up once and shrieks like a girl when I hit the bullet. Then he faints again and stays that way.
Moses, Mary and me take turns with Ezra that night, but he sleeps good and only gets a light fever. Come morning, he wakes up and the first thing he sees is Moses and Lizabeth's youngest girl, who is staring at him while I'm brewing up some tea for when he comes to.
I wonder how he'll act, this white man from the South who just took a bullet for me. Those green eyes flutter and he looks at the little girl, whose eyes widen apprehensive-like. Young as she is, she's already learned to be careful of white folks.
Ezra gives her a big smile and says, "Well Hi, Sugar, Ezra Standish at your service. What's your name?"
She frowns, all serious, then says softly, "Daisy."
Ezra smiles and says, "Well, Daisy, I must declare that you are the prettiest little thing I've ever seen here in Nathan's clinic."
Daisy looks over at me and I smile and nod at her so she knows she's safe.
"You get shot a lot?" she asks innocently, and Ezra's mouth forms a perfect "0" and he starts to laugh, which hurts from the way he coughs in between laughs.
"Miss Daisy," he says, finally, "You are a very perceptive young lady. Yes, I do get shot a lot. It's part of my job."
"Its a stupid job," observes the little one
"Well, darlin', I couldn't let someone shoot our resident healer in the back."
"Why?" asked Daisy, a little defiantly.
"Why, because he's my friend, Sugah. Once you find good friends, you have to keep an eye on them." Ezra leans back on his pillow and closes his eyes.
I don't say nuthin, but my chest starts to burn. One minute I think I have Ezra figured out, and then the next, he's saving my life like I was his brother.
Daisy draws nearer to Ezra and hesitantly touches his arm.
He opens those green eyes and she asks, "Will you be my friend?"
I reckon Daisy ain't dumb at all.
He smiles again, and now he looks kinda sleepy. "Sugah," he says, "It would be an honor to be your friend." Then he takes her little grubby girl hand in his and kisses it like she was a princess. She giggles and I can see he'd be playing with her when he oughta be sleeping, so I touch Daisy gentle-like and say, "Ezra's gotta rest now, Daisy. You can say hey to him later."
Ezra smiles at me as he falls back to sleep and I tuck the blankets around him. Ezra gets cold easy.
Moses comes over and smiles at me and then down at Ezra. "I think we're going to stay here," he says. "People here are good folks."
I look at Ezra and realize he's right. We're all good folks here.