Ragman by Walter
I saw a strange sight. I
stumbled upon a story most strange, like nothing in my life, my
street sense, my sly tongue had ever prepared me for. Hush, child.
hush now, and I will tell it to you.
Even before the dawn one
Friday morning I noticed a young man, handsome and strong, walking
the alleys of our City. He was pulling an old cart filled with
clothes both bright and new, and he was calling in a clear tenor
voice: 'Rags!' Ah, the air was foul and the first light filthy to be
crossed by such sweet music.
'Rags! New rags for old!
I take your tired rags! Rags!'
'Now this is a wonder,' I
thought to myself, for the man stood six-feet-four, and his arms were
like tree limbs, hard and muscular, and his eyes flashed
intelligence. Could he find no better job than this, to be a ragman
in the inner city?
I followed him. My
curiosity drove me. And I wasn't disappointed.
Soon the ragman saw a
woman sitting on her back porch. She was sobbing into a handkerchief,
signing, and shedding a thousand tears. Her knees and elbows made a
sad X. Her shoulders shook. Her heart was breaking.
The Ragman stopped his
cart. Quietly, he walked to the woman, stepping round tin cans, dead
toys, and Pampers.
'Give me your rag,' he
said gently. 'and I'll give you another.'
He slipped the
handkerchief from her eyes. She looked up, and he laid across her
palm a linen cloth so clean and new that it shined. She blinked from
the gift to the giver.
Then, as he began to pull
his cart again, the Ragman did a strange thing: he put her stained
handkerchief to his own face; and then he began to weep, to sob as
grievously as she had done, his shoulders shaking. Yet she was left
without a tear.
'This is a wonder,' I
breathed to myself, and I followed the sobbing Ragman like a child
who cannot turn away from mystery.
'Rags! Rags! New Rags for
In a little while, when
the sky showed grey behind the rooftops and I could see the shredded
curtains hanging out black windows, the Ragman came upon a girl whose
head was wrapped in a bandage, whose eyes were empty. Blood soaked
her bandage. A single line of blood ran down her cheek.
Now the tall Ragman
looked upon this child with pity, and he drew a lovely yellow bonnet
from his cart.
'Give me your rag,' he
said, tracing his own line on her cheek, 'and I'll give you mine.'
The child could only gaze
at him while he loosened the bandage, removed it, and tied it to his
own head. The bonnet he set on hers. And I gasped at what I saw: for
with the bandage went the wound! Against his brow it ran a darker,
more substantial blood -- his own!
'Rags! Rags! I take old
rags!' cried the sobbing, bleeding, strong, intelligent Ragman.
The sun hurt both the
sky, now, and my eyes; the Ragman seemed more and more to hurry.
'Are you going to work?'
he asked a man who leaned against a telephone pole. The man shook his
head. The Ragman pressed him: 'Do you have a job?"
'Are you crazy?' sneered
the other. He pulled away from the pole, revealing the right sleeve
of his jacket -- flat, the cuff stuffed into the pocket. He had no
'So,' said the Ragman.
'Give me your jacket, and I'll give you mine.'
So much quiet authority
in his voice!
The one-armed man took
off his jacket. So did the Ragman -- and I trembled at what I saw:
for the Ragman's arm stayed in its sleeve, and when the other put it
on, he had two good arms, thick as tree limbs; but the Ragman had
'Go to work,' he said.
After that he found a
drunk, lying unconscious beneath an army blanket, an old man,
hunched, wizened, and sick. He took that blanket and wrapped it round
himself, but for the drunk he left new clothes.
And now I had to run to
keep up with the Ragman. Though he was weeping uncontrollably, and
bleeding freely at the forehead, pulling his cart with one arm,
stumbling for drunkenness, falling again and again, exhausted, old,
old, and sick, yet he went with terrible speed. On spider's legs he
skittered through the alleys of the City, this mile and the next,
until he came to its limits, and then he rushed beyond.
I wept to see the change
in this man. I hurt to see his sorrow. And yet I need to see where he
was going in such haste, perhaps to know what drove him so.
The little old Ragman --
he came to a landfill. He came to the garbage pits. And I waited to
help him in what he did but I hung back, hiding. He climbed a hill.
With tormented labor he cleared a little space on that hill. Then he
signed. He lay down. He pillowed his head on a handkerchief and a
jacket. He covered his bones with an army blanket. And he died.
Oh how I cried to witness
that death! I slumped in a junked car and wailed and mourned as one
who has no hope -- because I had come to love the Ragman. Every other
face had faded in the wonder of this man, and I cherished him; but he
died. I sobbed myself to sleep.
I did not know -- how
could I know? -- that I slept through Friday night and Saturday and
its night too.
But then, on Sunday
morning, I was wakened by a violence.
Light -- pure, hard,
demanding light -- slammed against my sour face, and I blinked, and I
looked, and I saw the first wonder of all. There was the Ragman,
folding the blanket most carefully, a scar on his forehead, but
alive! And, besides that, healthy! There was no sign of sorrow or
age, and all the rags that he had gathered shined for cleanliness.
Well, then I lowered my
head and, trembling for all that I had seen, I myself walked up to
the Ragman. I told him my name with shame, for I was a sorry figure
next to him. Then I took off all my clothes in that place, and I said
to him with dear yearning in my voice: 'Dress me."
He dressed me. My Lord,
he put new rags on me, and I am a wonder beside him. The Ragman, the
Ragman, the Christ!