The old man sat on his bed and cried for his late wife. It was a full year since she had died but she was all he could think of. Twenty-three years of marriage into his then 64 years of age was wonderful but now she had been gone for a year.
The macaroni and cheese was done and he served himself a bowl. His wife used to cook the most delicious meals for him. His long days of work would be rewarded with another scrumptious supper, a supper fit for a king.
They married late in life because they could never stay together long enough to commit to each other. It was only much later that they decided to settle for each other. Their daughter was born a couple years after they married and they couldn’t believe they didn’t start sooner. They missed out on so much.
Hank decided he was going to visit an old native friend of his, John Red Bear. It had been awhile since he saw anybody and figured John was just as good a host as anybody would be. They used to work in the mines together until they were around forty years of age, by then their bodies had had enough.
“Hello Hank!” said John, “It’s been a long time.”
“John ol’ pal, it’s good to see you.”
Hank and John sat and reminisced about the old days and how they were not allowed to see each other by their fathers.
“The white-man child will corrupt you son” John’s father would say and Hank’s dad didn’t want him hanging around those “darn wagon-burners.”
The old friends shared some good laughs until John asked Hank how he had been doing without Abigail.
Poor ol’ Hank realized he hadn’t even thought of his wife for a couple minutes. Shame filled his heart as he felt he had betrayed his late wife’s memory. “John,” said Hank, “it seems to never get easier,” he wept, “it was only just today I haven’t thought of her for a mere few minutes, but for the past year, she been all I’ve been thinking about.”
John felt the sorrow in his friend’s heart. He could only imagine what Hank was going through because he never got married. His devotion was to his ancestral spirituality. He had the option of finding a wife but he did not want to put her through the negligence of being a medicine man’s wife because his offerings would always be for his people, people that no longer shared his beliefs.
He hadn’t had any kind of ceremony for a long time. Nobody came to him with offerings of tobacco or spiritual healing. He longed for the connection to his spirituality.
Hank sat up and thanked John for his hospitality. He looked out at the horizon and it reminded him of the long walks he used to have with Abigail. If he ever wanted a time to stay where it was, it would be when they walked and talked with no regarded for future or past.
John Red Bear was on a mission. He would find a path for his friend into the afterlife. It would be seamless and painless for his long time friend.
John made the necessary arrangements with what was left of his tribesmen that he practiced with. The songs were sung and the drums were beat and the offering of the tobacco began.
In his bed, Hank tossed and turned as he struggled to sleep. His mind raced to a distant beat with no relief forthcoming to his endless but mild agony.
The next day, John Red Bear felt he had accomplished what he set out to do. He allowed his friend to skip to the next world without death and would be with Abigail.
In the horizon, John saw a visitor coming his way. He thought it might be his grandson. John waved to the coming figure and realized it was Hank.
“John, my friend“, said Hank, “I’ve come back for your great brew.”
John just stood in disbelief, “Hank… you’re alive.”
“Just barely, but one cup of ‘Indian’ java should liven me up”, Hank quipped.
“Of course Hank” said John as he invited his friend into his tipi.
“What the heck are you doing in this pointed tent John?” asked Hank, as he took the freshly brewed coffee in his hand.
“Oh, this” John said, “I’m just trying to feel some history. It’s good to go back sometimes.”
As the old friends sat and exchanged stories, John thought to himself that maybe his ceremony brought relief to the hopelessness Hank had been feeling. Maybe Hank didn’t need to go to the next world just yet. The look on Hanks face was one of calmness. John was happy for his friend.
“Abigail should be getting here soon” said Hank.
“What?” exclaimed John, “Abigail is coming?”
“My one and only” said Hank proudly, “oh, there she is, right on time, we’re actually here to pick you up.” explained Hank.
“Pick me up? Where are we going?” asked John.
“You know where we’re going, all three of us.”
John was bewildered, what was Hank talking about. Did his old friend finally lose it? Did so many months of grieving get to the old guy?
“You’re looking all peaceful there.” said Hank, as he pointed to the side of the tipi.
John looked to see a person on his bed. He went over to the body, of who he thought was one of his tribesmen. John saw himself on his bed, lying down.
He realized that when he woke that morning, there was nobody else around. He had been with several of his tribe members overnight to help with the ceremonies. As he looked around outside, he noticed that only his tipi was erect but his house and other belongings were nowhere to be seen.
Behind John Red Bear’s house, close to his sweat lodge, a young man wept over his grandfather’s body. The body was still warm and he had tried to revive him with his CPR training but to no avail. John Red Bear was still in his ceremonial regalia and held a well worn drum in his hand. The other tribesmen came running over. “He was still chanting when we went to bed.” One of them said, “He refused to stop when we asked him to, he was so determined.”
John’s grandson was only there to tell his grandfather the news of his old friend Hank passing away in his sleep. He was there to see Hank being taken away by the ambulance and was now waiting for the same to happen to his grandfather. Hank’s daughter had already gotten the phone call, but John never had a phone, he was always so old-fashion.
“Is there anything we can do?” the tribesman said.
John’s grandson got up to give one last song for his grandfather and his friend, to bid them a happy journey to the next world.
Just beyond the horizon, under the brightness of the sun, John, Hank and Abigail begin their journey to the next world. No more pain, no more sorrow, with only the hope of a new beginning in the never-ending circle of life.