I glanced through the trellised pole beans at Ol' Joe. He removed his baseball cap and swiped at the sweat on his dusty face with a damp sleeve. Beads of moisture trickled from his forehead, etching paths among the grime and wrinkles. He smiled.
“Really?” I stopped picking the slender green pods and contemplated his answer. “I've never had it. What did it used to taste like?”
Ol' Joe placed a gnarled pointer finger to his lips and shook his head slightly. He snapped three bean pods from a plant and tossed them into his bucket.
A shadow crossed our paths and I flinched. “Keep working.” The voice grated in the humid late afternoon air. Then the shadow moved on down the row to give the same warning to other workers.
Ol' Joe grinned again. “Son, you never tasted nothing like it. Sweet, juicy, dripping with goodness. Mmmm.” He closed his eyes in remembrance. Then he gazed at me. “But there's no use remembering the way things were. There's only looking ahead.”
I nodded and focused on the beans in front of me. But Ol' Joe was not finished with the conversation. “See, I know there's a banquet and my Lord waiting for me on t'other side. This ain't all there is. Won't be green beans and bacon grease in Heaven neither.” He chuckled. “Unless you have a hankering for that.”
I snorted, softly so as not to hurt the elderly man's feelings. He spoke so often of that banquet table, I could almost picture it. Laden with fruits and vegetables which were now extinct on Earth, and most I had never before tasted.
There was little room in my mind to grasp a glimmer of anything but the present reality, a daily existence filled with toil, hunger, and disease. The dust of the field was all I could taste and that left a hollow feeling in the pit of my soul. Ol' Joe once said, “It's the curse of Adam, boy. To bring forth the harvest by the sweat of our brows.” Sometimes I felt as though my first day in the fields had been copied and I was being made to relive that day for the rest of my existence.
“Someday you'll see Heaven, too,” Ol' Joe mumbled. For another hour we continued to pick, our eyes straining to find the dangling pods among the leaves.
A harsh whistle tore the air. Around me, workers staggered to their feet. Some grimaced and clutched their lower backs. Others arched their bodies to relieve the back strain.
I glanced to the other side of the trellis wall to locate Ol' Joe. No sign of him. A short distance down the row, a field foreman beckoned with a crooked finger to another workman and me. He pointed to a skeletal figure in rags at his feet. “Pick him up.”
My heart pounded in my mouth. It was common for weaker workers to collapse from heat stroke during the harvest. Once fallen, the stricken worker was carried to the ditch beyond the work farm fence and left to either recover or die. The work farm did not have medical personnel on staff.
As we crouched to lift the frail figure, my fear was confirmed. All the way to the ditch, Ol' Joe kept his gaze on me.
“I'm going to that feasting table now, son.” His voice was barely a breath.
“The old man's delirious,” my helper muttered.
“I'll pray for you, Joe,” I whispered as I laid his head down on the grassy verge of the ditch and walked away.
Sleep eluded me throughout that night. I whispered harsh words and pleas for mercy. I wanted to cry but my tears had dried up long ago.
If You are so wonderful, Jesus, why did You leave Ol' Joe to die like this? Where are You anyway?
Early the next morning I strayed close to the fence near the place we had laid Ol' Joe. I had to see him one last time, dead or not. The road crew was about to take his body to the pauper's graveyard. I watched, grief squeezing my heart.
“Will you look at that! Where'd he get watermelon?” One of the workers cursed and pointed at the old man's shirt. A large pink tinge stained the front and in the middle of the pink background was a single black seed.
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