The problem was simple, really. I was a little too drunk. Me and my buddy Jake though, we found it simple to walk with a stagger and laugh a little too loud, a simple problem. The day was pretty good, pretty drunk.
The hours passed easy until Max came out of his pawnshop. Max never leaves his pawnshop. He looked so worried and strange I had to squint to be sure it was him. He got us interested, walking toward my buddy and me with trouble written all over his face. Trouble is something a man can relate to from time to time, somehow.
Max walked right up to us and put his hand on my shoulder, thowing me off balance for his remark.
"I need your help, boys," he said.
Jake laughed. "Hey, Max needs our help!"
I nodded and tried to look serious to hide the surprise that made me want to laugh too. I thought it could be big trouble if Max wanted help from us. Me and Jake weren't particularly known for being helpful around town.
"Some old chief I never even met before came in and pawned a black leather bag," Max said. "It's got some beads on it and it looks good and I gave the chief money for it, but there's something wrong with this one."
Jake and I looked at each other and our eyes sort of met, but the excitement of trouble made it hard to focus.
"Hey, Max," I said as I pushed his hand off my shoulder and put my hand on his shoulder instead, to balance things out, "you know we'll help you. I mean, hell, Max."
"Yeah," he said. "I knew you boys'd give me some time. There's something wrong with this deal I made. Come on, come on to the shop and lemme talk to you. Get off the street for a while."
Me and Jake were happy to follow Max to his shop. It wasn't every day Max asked for help from anyone, and I could hardly wait to see his idea of trouble. The pawnshop is a dark and jumbled place where I've lost more than one piece of jewelry or beadwork in exchange for Max's idea of cash. We leaned on the dusty counter to hear his story.
"So I'll tell you, boys," he said, talking so fast I wondered if he'd squeak, "this old chief I never saw before comes in here with a black bag, and he gives it to me and he wants fifteen bucks. You know, the bag has old cut beads on it and some leatherwork, it looked worth it to me. But just when I decide to check the inside of the bag, while the old chief is pocketing his money, he says to me, 'Don't ever open that bag. You just get the outside.' I ask you, can you believe it?"
Max shuffled around, moving junk from one place to another and back again. We waited for the end of the story. Max said, "Well, I said to the chief, 'You got your money. I'll look in the bag.' And the chief raises his hand and he says again, 'Don't ever open that bag. You just get the outside.' So I humor him, you know, I tell him okay and he leaves out the door."
Now Max faced right up to me and Jake and said, "Boys, I've been meaning to open that damn bag, but I've just been sitting here looking at it. Can you believe it? It's just really...weird. The old man must've got to me or something. So I saw you boys walking along and I figured, there's a couple of chiefs that'll open that bag for me. Could be the old man didn't like me 'cause I'm white or something, but you're chiefs too, right? I bet the old man wouldn't care if you opened it first. So what d'you think? I mean, 'cause you're chiefs and all. Will you do it?"
My eyes had gotten adjusted to the dark in that gloomy place, and I could see Max held a black leather bag shaped like an old-time doctor bag, only bigger, and pretty, and old. What I thought was that there was something important in the air, so I didn't say anything. Jake was inspecting the jewelry display.
"Come on," Max said to me. "Come on behind the counter and open this damn thing for me, chief. It's your people."
I don't know why he said "your people" but when he did, my heart kinda swelled. All at once, for the first time in a long time, I felt like a nation. I felt as if many thousands, all family, surrounded me. I felt pretty good.
Jake was saying, "Oh hell, Max," but I went behind the counter and took that black bag from Max's hand. It had great old cut beads on it, and I felt like a sure-enough Indian standing there holding it. I told Max, "I'll open it."
I put the bag on the bench behind the counter and felt something like power around me and the bag. It was something I hadn't felt in a long while. The clasp opened clean and easy, then the power was pulled out of me, like a vacuum did it.
The pawnshop filled with the piercing moan of a high wind.
It was a whirling, whistling wind that rushed right out of the black bag. The wind pounded my ears and my heart sorta caved in, but I looked inside the bag anyway, and my eyes must've opened to about the size of half-dollars.
"Oh God, oh God," a little voice said, and it was me.
Dancing, spinning, black, red, green and white, bones, feathers, animal parts, plants and dirt, thunder and lightning, songs overlapping, drums and fire, sorrow and strength--roiled and disturbed. All of that was in the black bag. All of it.
I heard a little groan stick in my throat. I closed the bag and stumbled backwards.
They were gone, Max and Jake. They'd run away. I knew I was gone too, though I'd still walk around this place.
Oh, my people....