Mr. Bojangles

The man jumped up high and clicked his heels together as the guard led Logan into the cell. It was a curious sight to be sure, but he was far too drunk to appreciate it.

“Get in there with twinkle-toes,” the guard said, shoving him into the tiny room.

The man laughed, a great big belly laugh, and did a little shimmy over to the bunk-bed. He shook back his baggy shirt as though preparing to jump up in the air again, but all he did was collapse in a drunken heap on the bottom bunk. Logan drifted to the other side of the little cell and leaned against the wall with a shaky sigh.

“What you in for, kid?” Twinkle-toes asked, scratching at the coarse, white curls sprinkled across his head like confectioner’s sugar.

Logan sighed again, shutting his eyes. “Drunk and disorderly.”

The man barked out another belly laugh. “Well, ain’t we two of a kind?”

Logan dropped his head, taking in the old man’s ragged shirt with its splotches of alcohol and God-knows-what. “I highly doubt it.”

Twinkle-toes glanced over with a smirk. “Them loafers might be shinier than these here puppies -” Here he lifted one scuffed and torn boot. “- but otherwise, we’s much the same, boy.”

“Whatever you say, man.”

The old man hummed an anonymous little tune, making circles in the air with his feet, tapping his toes every so often as though he were practicing in his head. Logan slid down the wall and sat on the floor, hoping the cold cement might sober him up till the guys came and got him.

His dad was gonna chew him out for this one. He could hear him now. ‘When are you going to start takings things seriously, son?’, ‘Don’t you know we have a legacy to uphold?’, ‘When are you going to grow up and stop torturing your mom and me with these stupid stunts of yours?’

It didn’t matter that Logan had finally caved and applied to Law school like his dad had wanted. His old man would always see him as a disappointment, as unfulfilled potential, as the idiot kid always getting in trouble. And Logan would forever be hearing about all the things his dad had accomplished by the time he himself had started Harvard Law.

“What brings you to town?” the old man asked after a time, breaking into his thoughts.

“Just here for the party,” Logan answered, trying to focus on stopping the floor from spinning.

Another big chuckle. “Mardi Gras brings all you big city folk down here. Every year, like clockwork.”

“Hmm.”

“I bet you’re from New York, ain’t ya?”

Logan frowned. “Connecticut.”

“Pshht,” Twinkle-toes said, “same difference.”

He shook his head. “You a local?”

“As local as they get.”

“What do you do?” he asked, as it seemed appropriate to inquire.

“I tap.”

“Tap?”

“Tap,” he repeated, lifting his heels and clicking them lightly.

“Oh, you’re a dancer.”

“Have been all my life.”

“That’s cool,” he said with a nod. A low throbbing had begun right behind his eyeballs, and Logan shut his eyes up tight and leaned his head against the cement at his back. He hoped the old man would let him be, but he was having such shit luck that night it seemed unlikely.

“I’m doing a couple of showcases for the carnival,” he offered, scratching at his silver head. “I always get a few shows during Mardi Gras, pretty good money, great tips.”

“That’s nice.”

“The rest of the year I hit the road – county shows, fairs, that kind of thing. That’s my life,” he mused, scratching at the bunk bed above him with the toe of his scuffed up shoe. “Fifteen years I spent going from show to show.”

“Fifteen,” Logan repeated with eyes closed, if only to show he was still listening.

“Wasn’t supposed to end up like this.” It seemed the old man was talking to himself at this point, and Logan released a tiny sigh of relief. “Day and night, practicing, dancing all over the house and town. It wasn’t supposed to end up like this. I shoulda been on Broadway, Hollywood. Bright lights, big city, and all that shit, instead of hounding watering holes and honkey tonks where ain’t nobody care about the craft. The craft!” he cried out, startling Logan’s eyes open. The old man narrowed his dark eyes and kicked at the upper bunk again. “I’m the best goddamn tapper you will ever meet, boy, and what has it gotten me? Nights in rundown hell-holes and days locked up in county bars.”

Logan tried to focus on what the man was saying, fighting through the haze in his mind. “You spend a lot of time in jail?”

The old man grunted out a laugh. “Oh, a fair bit of time, I’d say. You live a life like mine, son, and you’ll know the love of drink better than anything.”

“I see.”

“Wasn’t supposed to be like this. Me and Bubba shoulda been on easy street by now.”

“Bubba?”

He turned to him with eyes that looked to be watering over. “My dog. My Bubba. Best friend I ever had. You got a dog, son?”

“We had one when I-”

“Best friend I ever had,” he cut in, voice breaking a bit. The old man draped one wrinkled hand over his eyes, and even in that simple movement Logan could see the dance in him. “Had him since he was no more than a runt.” He cupped his other hand in illustration. “Little guy used to sleep in my shoe. Best friend I ever had. Got run over by a gypsy caravan in Georgia.”

Logan raised an eyebrow, wondering whether the man was starting to tell tales on account of his drunkenness. He decided to err on the side of caution and said, “I’m sorry to hear that. Was it recently?”

“Naw, man,” he replied, rubbing his hands across his face, burrowing his knuckles into his eyes. “It’s been… twenty years now.” He gave a low whistle and scratched the toe of his boot against the underside of the bunk.

Twenty years? Logan thought, but he made no reply. The old man fell quiet, emitting soft sounds every now and then that sounded suspiciously like sniffles. Logan was very uncomfortable with tears, and so he leaned his head against the wall again and remained silent.

Time passed, and Logan’s head began to clear. He thought about that old man, who by all accounts seemed to have dozed off, tears subsiding into hitched breath. He couldn’t imagine working so hard at a craft only to end up living tip to tip, and Logan felt a sense of relief that he’d chosen a more practical and lucrative vocation. Though he’d played guitar all through his youth, and – like anyone else – harbored a secret dream of playing sold out arenas, Logan was determined to be more level-headed than that. He would not be the disappointment his dad was so sure he was.

He’d chosen the correct path, he thought with a firm nod. He looked at the man again. He felt pity for him, of course, he did; but more than that, he keenly felt something akin to superiority. He felt fortunate to have made the choice he had, to give up a silly dream for something realistic. He would never end up spending his days and nights drying up in county jails.

Except tonight, he thought, groaning at the memory of the drunken brawl that had brought him here. This is an aberration, a youthful indiscretion. He looked to the old man again. I’m fine. Totally fine, and I’ll never end up like that.

“Logan Townsend,” the officer called, keys rattling as he worked to open the cell.

“Yeah,” he replied, slowly coming to his feet.

“You’re free to go,” he said, stepping back to allow him out.

Logan said nothing to his cellmate, thinking him far into the land of dreams by then, and straightened out his clothes as he moved towards the door.

“Take it easy, Tommy Boy,” the old man said with a chuckle.

“It’s Logan,” he replied.

“Uh-huh.” He chuckled again before breaking into a happy, whistling tune.

Logan shook his head as he exited the cell. He glanced once more behind him as the officer locked the door.

It occurred to him then: poor choices aside, how sad – how lonely – must the man’s life be, to still grieve a dog that was twenty years dead?

Copyright © 2013 Layla AlAmmar