The softness of the first light of the day, the warmth of the blanket, and the woman’s embrace kept the boy floating, languidly. Voices and sounds came to him, drifting and disconnected, muffled and soothing. Horses snuffled and whinnied. Mules brayed. Dogs barked. Cattle lowed. Quarreling crow’s quarrelsome caws faded until only one was still heard. The boy thought it called his name.
“Shik’isn Ba’ ts’ose,” the name swirled all around, riding on the blowing dust.
His eyes pulled open and the familiar sky hung above him, and the smell of the unfamiliar flooded his senses. The woman. The town. The shit and piss saturated dirt of the street. The pungent smell of tobacco smoke. The stink of white-eyes. Dust in the air shrouded the edges of his vision. Ghostly figures. His heart raced, near to exploding in his chest. He looked into the face of the woman. Cocking her head curiously, she blinked her black eyes.
He spoke his garbled talk, his voice high and weak. He said, “You cannot have me yet, raven.”
Elizabeth’s heat rose. With a slight head shake, she cut her blank expression to her husband. It was then the boy flung himself from her embrace. He dropped to the ground, landing on his hands and feet. He humped up in his back. He flicked his head searching for an escape.
Pissing in the dirt from fear, where he stood on all fours, the boy scampered away. Loping down the main street of Solomonville as fast as a dog could run. Dodging spooked horses and mules. Frightened oxen bellowed. Their big bells hanging around their necks clanged their distress. Dogs chased him—barking and nipping at him. All the while, the boy yelped and whined. People strolling the town’s adobe and boarded buildings yelled out in disbelief and jumped away from the naked dark boy loping on all fours.
“Someone get that poor child before he gets hurt!” Elizabeth Merrill yelled.
Horatio, and the other men with him, gave chase—grunting from their exertion, followed by Elizabeth, holding up the hem of her dress with one hand and waving the blanket in the other.
The first person to gather his where-for-all kicked at the yapping dogs chasing the boy. He made a grab for him. The boy stopped his mad dash for freedom as soon as the young man seized him. Still slathered in bear-grease, he slipped his hold, and then free again, changed direction in his charge to escape. Panting and whining, his fingers and toes dug into the dusty muck.
It was then a vaquero, wearing a fancy sombrero and mounted on a ewe-necked yellow-buckskin pony build a loop in his rawhide riata. His horse snorted. It danced in the dust. The vaquero’s spurs jangled. With a flick of his wrist, he sent the loop over the boy. He yanked the slack—the riata snapping. The caught boy sat back on his haunches. He quaked. He trembled. Tears flooded his face. He slumped and then went quiet.
Lying like a dying dog in the street, the boy knotted his body and whimpered. A crowd gathered around him. The woman pushed through. She freed him. And then she covered him with the blanket. Now cradled in her arms, he looked into her warm black eyes. He closed his eyes in acceptance. In his garble, the boy said, “Raven, why won’t you let me be a boy.”