11. The World's Changing

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"Sir," Henry said, "are you okay?"

The grizzled man's expression melted as if he had waited all day to unload his mind. "You ever work inside a steel mill?"

Henry shook his head. "No, sir. I've never had that opportunity."

"Opportunity?" the man huffed. "Don't know if I'd call working fourteen-hour shifts an opportunity, breathing all those fumes 'til we shaking with fever."

"Sorry," Henry said, "I didn't mean–"

"Sorry nothing. I moved my whole family from the south to find a decent job here. Inside the mill, we taking all kinds of abuse and humiliation. And we supposed to be grateful? Every day, that damn white foreman tells us coloreds we don't have any right to be there. He say we stealing all the good jobs. Well, let them keep their jobs. I'm done with Union Steel!"

As the mill worker rambled on. Henry listened intently, nodding his support. He understood the man's anger. Getting treated like an inferior human being day after day wears a person down. Something Henry knew about. All this man wanted to do was work hard and do right, and he was being treated as if he didn't even have a right to a job ... as if he had no right to support his family. That sort of treatment made Henry burn under the collar.

"Wait a second ..." the mill worker said suddenly, pointing to Henry. "You that baseball player, right? The one got whacked good in the head by a rotten pitch?"

"Yeah, Henry sighed. "That was me."

"Man," Willy said. "Word sure does spread fast around here."

"So what you gonna do about that, boy?" the man asked.

Henry exhaled a small laugh. "What do you suggest I do?"

"That Pioneers pitcher attacked you!" the man said. "You can't just sit back and take that."

Henry remembered a verse from the Bible his father used to say: And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, an eye for an eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

"I'll tell you what I'd do." the mill worker said. "Everyone says he hit you on purpose ... and he don't respect you 'cause you colored. If he did that to me, I'd go give him a piece of his own work and then some. He did violence against you. You gotta do more violence against him. He made you bleed a drop? Then you make him bleed a river. Beat him so bad he won't go to the cops. Make him too scared to tell a soul it was you. Then he'll respect you."

Henry cast a glance at Willy who looked like a gigantic balloon about to burst. The big guy was a peacemaker at heart. And right now, he probably wanted nothing more than to tell this outraged mill worker he was wrong. You can't change the way white people treat you. Sometimes you just have to turn the other cheek. Willy pressed his lips tight.

The three men looked at each other for a while. Then the mill worker pushed out a long breath and said, "I guess I better be getting home."

Once the mill worker had moseyed out of earshot, Willy gave Henry a stern look. "Don't you believe what that man said."

"Hester has changed a lot since the war started," Henry said. "And not for the better. The relations between blacks and whites was never ideal, but it's never been worse."

Big Willy crumpled his brows as if considering those words.

"No," Henry said. "I take that back. It's not just Hester that's changing. It's the whole damn world. What's it gonna be like for colored folks in ten years or twenty or fifty or even a hundred?"

Willy didn't say a word as if he was channeling all his energy into a thought that was just beginning to whirl in his head.

As they started down the road again, Henry brought a hand to his head, his wound dully throbbing against the gauze. His left temple pulsated, his heartbeat quickened. He could feel the stirrings of a headache forming. And the next thought to enter Henry's mind surprised even him:

Sarah ... I'll never see her again.


Author's Note:

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Author's Note:

Whoa, you made it to Chapter 11! That's a big deal. I've heard that most people don't finish books they've started ... even good ones. And you know what? I know I've done that before too.

If you're still here, that means A LOT to me!

As always, a vote or feedback is always ... and I mean always ... very much appreciated.

See ya next week!

Take care,

Tom

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