Mustard Brown Long Johns
By Karen Wells
Her eyes had a peculiar apologetic look about them. She was smiling, true. But there was no question in my mind as to her genuineness; not even a skerrick of sarcasm or jest was present.
Teri was the leader of a women’s group that met for prayer and mutual encouragement. This particular meeting was devoted to hearing about my intended move to Kazakhstan, Central Asia, and we had finished and were standing on the front lawn chatting before I took my leave. Once the others had gone, she handed me a grocery bag that had been recycled more than once-too-many times, and said, "Karen, this has a story to it I think you would want to know."
I focused intently on her face, curiosity aroused, and pressed the bag against my body. I sensed that whatever it held, it was going to be precious to me. You get that feeing every once in a while and I just knew this was going to be one of those rare times.
"In our fellowship there is a man who shows up only once in ‘a blue moon’," she began. "He looks quite poor, and…well, his clothes don’t always smell as if they have been recently laundered. We welcome him and he seems to be happy in our midst, but he doesn’t say a lot. He’s a bit of a mystery to us. Sometimes he makes these incredibly provocative statements that make you think he has been to other places, and seen other things, and had other experiences that we only read about in books." Her eyebrows puckered as she paused to think.
"He heard you speak the other week at another venue, Karen, and he was very moved. I really think he’s quite an intelligent man, and certainly spiritually sensitive," she continued, "although, you wouldn’t guess it by looking at him. Once you meet him, you’ll know what I mean by that. You may even ‘twig’ who it is when I tell you what he looks like. He’s kind of unusual."
"Please, go ahead," I urged her. Just maybe I would remember.
"He has a longish beard of light brown color with streaks of gray through it, is medium height, perhaps a little taller than you, has a rather thin, sharp nose, and the most piercing blue eyes," she described.
"Yes, yes! The eyes. I do remember!" I interjected, jumping at the intensity of my own voice. "Who could forget those eyes?"
"Well, Karen, when he heard that you were to be here today, he walked six kilometers, leaving his apartment at 7AM in order to get this parcel to you. He explained that you would need very warm clothes for the Russian winters, and he wanted to give this to you as a gift. He spoke as if he really knew. He pressed it quite firmly into my hands and made me promise I wouldn’t forget to pass it on. "
The package was tucked inside a bag that looked for-all-the-world like it had been dragged out the back end of a bus, but I held it like it was something costly. What might it be? "Should I open it now?" I queried.
"Karen," she replied, "I actually opened it ahead of you, that’s why I feel a little reluctant to give it to you now. You see, it’s not new. It’s used, and you may want to leave it behind. Don’t feel embarrassed if you decide to discard it. I would, if it was given me. I did promise to give it to you, though, so here it is."
I felt myself tremble a little as I pulled the inner wrapping apart. There, lying neatly folded, was a pair of men’s thermal underwear, size "Extra Large." They were mustard brown, had blue and red rings around the ankles and brown stains down the back of one leg.
There was a long quiet moment when words wouldn’t come to my lips. In a great rush of unworthiness, awe, and laughter, all jumbled together, I felt myself warm to this dear man. I knew he must not have given a thought to the heat of the rising Australian summer sun, nor the ache of his feet after the third, fourth and fifth kilometers. Not many people I knew would have walked that far, nor given as much thought to what I might actually need. Admittedly, this gift was a ‘tad’ unusual, but my, how those thermals made a difference in my attitude!
I clutched those comical long johns to my bosom as a smile snuck across my face, and I decided there and then that I would fit them into my already bulging suitcase, no matter what else had to come out.
Karen Wells currently works with an Australian Company in Kazakhstan, Central Asia. As a side to her work, she is seeking to identify, network with, and nurture Kazakh writers and publishers. She is a widow, with two young adult children living in the States. Writing is her newly discovered passion and hobby. You may write to Karen through the Letters page of this magazine.
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