He now hurried forth, and hastened to his old resort, the local sports pub—but it too was gone. A lean-to stood in its place, with a street vendor outside selling halal meat with rice. Over the hovel was written something in Arabic, a language with which Rip had no familiarity. Music of the orient with its wailing singing sounded forth from a cheap radio on the vendor’s cart.
There was a crowd of folk about the scene, but none that Rip recollected. The very character of the people seemed changed. There was a loud and disputatious tone about it, instead of the accustomed phlegm and drowsy tranquility.
He looked in vain for the sage Jack Smith or Timothy Jones. In place of these, a lean, bilious-looking fellow was haranguing vehemently about white privilege, CIS-gendered oppressiveness, Aztlan, Islamophobia, social justice, and other words, which were a perfect Babylonish jargon to the bewildered Van Whitey.
The appearance of Rip, with his long grizzled beard, his effeminate dress, and his detestable pale skin, soon attracted the attention of the locals. They crowded round him, eyeing him from head to foot with great rancor. The orator bustled up to him, and, drawing him partly aside, inquired on why he was out of the factory.
Rip stared in vacant stupidity. Another short but busy little fellow pulled him by the arm, and, rising on tiptoe, inquired in his ear, “Are you a wizard?”
Rip was equally at a loss to comprehend the question; when a knowing, self-important old gentleman—who was white like Rip!—in a sharp cocked hat, made his way through the crowd, putting to the right and left with his elbows as he passed, and planting himself before Van Whitey, with one arm akimbo, his keen eyes and sharp hat penetrating, as it were, into his very soul, demanded in an austere tone, “What brought you to this place with your white privilege and a mob at your heels? Do you mean to breed a riot in the village?”
“Alas! Gentlemen,” cried Rip, somewhat dismayed, “I am a poor quiet man, a native of the place, and a loyal citizen of America, God bless her!”
Here a general shout burst from the by-standers: “A racist! A nativist! A white supremacist! Hustle him! Away with him!”
It was with great difficulty that the self-important man in the cocked hat restored order; and, having assumed a tenfold austerity of brow, demanded again of the unknown culprit, what he came there for, and whom he was seeking? The poor man humbly assured him that he meant no harm, but merely came there in search of some of his neighbors, who used to keep about the sports pub that used to reside there.
“Well, who are they? Name them.”
Rip bethought himself a moment, and inquired, “Jack Smith? Michael O’Kelley? Timothy Jones, the schoolmaster?”
“Were they white?” the man snarled.
“Uh, yes, yes they were,” replied Rip, confounded.
“Well, then, they’re long gone, sir, for no whites are allowed to live past their productive years.”
“Gone…as in dead?” murmured Rip.
“Dead and buried… Or left to rot in the streets perhaps. Makes no difference.”
Rip’s heart died away at hearing of these sad changes in his home and friends, and finding himself thus alone in the world. Every answer puzzled him too, by treating of such enormous lapses of time, and of matters which he could not understand. He had no courage to ask after any more friends, but cried out in despair, “Does nobody here know Rip Van Whitey?”
From the crowd a surly voice barked: “What nigga be callin’ me, yo?”
Pushing through to the front, a lanky young man with a shaved head, wife beater, saggy jeans, gold chains, and face tattoos, stared angrily at Rip. Rip stared back in horror at the creature before him.
“Why you be trippin, nigga?” the young man asked of Rip. Rip puzzled over this for a moment.
“I’m sorry…I don’t speak…” and he paused, trying to determine just what language the man was speaking. But as he stared at him, he noticed something—something dreadful. Beneath the tattoos, under the shaved dome, behind the scowling face, was the very visage of Rip himself. This horrified Rip, to the point of making him doubt his very existence. “My heavens…” Rip muttered, mostly to himself.
At this critical moment a fat, slovenly white woman pressed through the throng to get a peep at the gray-bearded man. She had three mulatto infants in her chubby arms, which, frightened at his looks, began to wail. “Shut the f*** up Labronte, Shaniqua, Deshoneda,” she squealed, “This creepy ass cracka ain’t gonna hurt yous.”
The names of the children, the air of the mother, the tone of her voice, all awakened a train of recollections in his mind.
“What is your name, good woman?” Rip asked of her.
“Judy Van Whitey. But my niggas call me Judy from the Block.”
“Do you know your father?”
“Hells no I don’t! That nigga ran away when we was kids.”
Rip had but one question more to ask; but he put it with a faltering voice:
“Where’s your mother?”
“Oh, she dead,” the girl responded matter-of-factly.
There was a drop of comfort, at least, in this intelligence. The honest man could contain himself no longer.
To be continued…