Buddy

 

In my late 40s, I said goodbye to my partner and grown daughters, and took to the road on a peace mission. I walked from town to town, talking to church groups and kindergarten classes, camping outside military bases, sharing my concerns and hopes.

In 1988/89, I was crossing Canada. The scenery was truly awe-inspiring, every day revealing beauty—sailboats bobbing like white corks on a lake; Aurora Borealis dancing across a midnight sky; a lone crocus in a prairie meadow.

I often walked alone and usually relished the freedom. But one day in Northern Ontario, having trekked through long stretches of tree after tree after tree, it hit me how vast and unpopulated Canada was and how bored and lonely I felt. I longed for a bit of comfort and conversation, or at least something novel.

Suddenly I spied another solitary figure on the distant horizon. Oh great—someone to talk to! I thought at first, but my enthusiasm waned as I began to wonder why someone was out there all alone. I didn’t clue in to what an equally unusual sight I must have been.

I could tell the shape was a man. He stood still, which struck me as peculiar. Maybe he’s waiting for a bus, I proposed, soon realizing how irrational that was considering our remoteness. Frightening thoughts then filled my mind. Is he a serial killer? Nowhere to run.... No witnesses.... My dread grew with each slowing step I took towards him. Then I noticed the backpack slung on his shoulder, the tan, the beard, and travel-worn expression. It was like looking in a mirror. As I reached his side, I smiled and nodded. He smiled and nodded. Next, I swear, we exclaimed in unison, “What the heck are you doing out here in the middle of nowhere?” Laughing, we sat down at the side of the road, letting our stories unravel.

Buddy was hitchhiking to Edmonton to visit his sister. He shared sad tales of relationships gone bad, jobs lost, alcoholism, and even time served at the Kingston Penitentiary. I didn’t want to know about his criminal record, as that serial killer image still lurked in the back of my mind. He went on though, desperate to talk to this captive audience. His tragic tale revealed one wrong turn after another, but he was looking on the bright side, sincerely willing to change his life.

Eventually I shared my mission, to which Buddy exclaimed, “Get outta here, you’re pulling my leg! All the way across the country? That’s so cool. And for peace? Right on!” He must have quizzed me for a good half hour; it was as if he’d met an alien and wanted to know all about life on Mars. Soon, I heard the familiar roar of an oncoming semi and I turned to face it. The driver was slowing down so I stuck out my thumb for once instead of two fingers in a “V” for peace.

The semi stopped, and my new friend picked up his backpack. “Are you coming?” he asked. I reminded him I was relying on my feet. He laughed, shaking his head, and then dug down into his dirty blue jeans to pull out a fistful of change. “It’s all I have, but it’s yours.”

“Thanks, friend, but you’d better keep those coins," I said. "You’ve got a long haul ahead."

“No way, man,” he replied. “I need to do something for peace too. Take it, bro, please.”

I couldn’t insult him, so I held out my hand and his offerings—including a sticky fuzz-coated piece of candy—tumbled into my palm. I grimaced at the sight of the gooey gumball. “The money’s for peace, but the candy’s for being so sweet to listen to my gripes,” he said with a laugh. He gave me the peace sign and climbed into the cab of the truck. I watched the semi roll away into the distance. Alone again, I walked on, grinning.

 

By Carolyn Affleck Youngs, Victoria Written by her late husband, Derek Youngs

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