68. Black Side

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Henry didn't like what he was seeing.

Not one John Brown bit.

The black bunkhouses sat like tombstones on the opposite sides of a long gravel road. They were little more than wooden shacks that had been bleached corpse-gray by the sun. Deteriorating steps led up to uneven porches. Not a stroke of paint decorated these dwellings. The flat rooftops were made of large sheets of tin. Some weren't even fully attached, the corners curled up and flapping with every breeze. Large slabs of rock had been placed on several of the roofs, but even those extra weights didn't look like they would do much good.

All the bunkhouses were dark inside. Many of the buildings looked unfinished, missing basic trim, windows, and even doors. Henry wondered if maybe the tenants had been left to throw these monstrosities together without any of the planning or materials that had gone into building the white homes.

On the left side of the clearing, Henry spotted several families hovering around a large bonfire at the center of a grassless camping area. Six men and four women staggered out of the woods, swaying under the large metal pails they carried on their heads. Henry watched as they set the tubs down near the dancing flames of what must have been a communal fire. Water sloshed up over the edges of the pails and splattered onto the ashen ground.

Henry's eyes widened, his tongue feeling suddenly dry against the parched roof of his mouth. He supposed those water carriers had filled their pails at the creek. And now they'd be heating up that water to cook dinner or to bathe themselves and their children. No running water! Henry had noticed the metallic gleam of more than one spigot, protruding from the sides of the neat and pristine houses of the white section. It just wasn't fair.

Henry shifted the mail bag on his shoulder and began to walk along the road. Since he'd found his way here, he figured he might as well start delivering the mail. Surely Dale would realize this was where he'd gone. At least that's what Henry hoped.

Henry reached into the mail bag and pulled out the first packet of letters. It appeared that Dale had already gone through and separated the mail into bundles, according to the locations of the houses. Henry felt thankful for Dale's forethought. He'd be able to move through this task quickly and with relative ease.

Then again, maybe not. Henry had hardly been here more than five minutes, and already a half dozen colored men had appeared out of nowhere. They stood on the side of the road and in between the bunkhouses, cutting their tired, if not suspicious, eyes his way.

Henry placed the first bundle on the doorstep of house number one. He would deliver to the odd numbered houses first, and then take care of the even numbers. As he made his way down the road, he flipped through the letters, checking the names and house numbers. All the while, Henry continued to attract attention. More men, and even a few women, came out of the woodwork. But he ignored them, focusing his attention straight ahead.

As Henry approached bunkhouse number three, five colored men in overalls were scrubbing the front with wet rags, stained crimson. He glanced over to see what they were working on and winced. The message had been painted on the exterior. Blood red words that looked like they were bleeding out of the cracks in the wood.

STOP STEALING WHITE JOBS!

As Henry continued his deliveries, he heard footsteps and the crunching of gravel from behind. He heard the whispers too. But he ignored these things. He was here to do a job. But he was also alone now. Without Dale by his side, he needed to be cautious.

Henry found house number five and hurried up to the wooden box nailed next to the front door. He dropped in two letters and one envelope that looked like a bill. Before Henry turned away from the front door, he couldn't help glancing back the way he came. Just as he'd thought, a crowd was following him. There were at least a dozen colored men and women, and they all wore grim expressions. What did they want from him? Even if Henry had managed to upset them, shouldn't they give a brother a break? Or at least tell him what he'd done wrong?

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