My Uncle Perry is a whistler. He’s also a hitchhiker. Oftentimes, he’s a panhandler. If you’re lucky, you can catch him being all three simultaneously I discovered one afternoon when I stopped and picked him up.
It was pouring outside, and he was walking on the side of the road, hands in his pockets like the sky wasn’t trying its best to drown him.
He turned his head when he heard the car, then stuck out his thumb. I could tell by his puckered lips, rain be damned, he was whistling.
When he got in, he wiped his face with his arm, and continued to whistle. He didn’t even acknowledge me. It was as if he had been expecting his only nephew to come driving by and offer him a ride.
“You going home, Unc?” I asked him. He lived on the outskirts of town about eight miles from where I picked him up.
He paused his whistling. “Yup,” he said before picking up the tune again.
We drove in silence for a couple of miles.
“Why you always whistling?” I asked him.
He didn’t say anything at first. I thought he was wasn’t going to answer, but after a spell he said, “Whistling is joy leaving the body.” Then he went back to it.
“Joy?” I asked. “You happy, Unc?”
“What you got to be so happy about?”
“I’m out the rain.”
I guess that was as good a reason as any.
“Why you always hitchhiking?”
“I ain’t got a car,” he said, like it was the most obvious thing in the world. I guess it sort of was when I think about it.
Everyone in town says Uncle Perry is crazy from serving in Vietnam. I never believed them. He just likes to keep to himself is what I always figured. But as I glanced at him sitting there with droplets of water beaded up on the graying naps of his hair with a strange faraway look in his eyes that was matched by the melancholy hissing coming from his face in spitting spurts, I knew they were right.
We were only two miles from his house when Uncle Perry said, “Let me out here.”
“But you’re almost home,” I said, pressing the gas a little harder.
He repeated his request.
I slowly pulled the car over to the shoulder. Uncle Perry opened the door, then sat there looking out at the rain.
“You got a couple of dollars I can hold?”
I put the car in park and reached into my back pocket. I handed him a five-dollar bill. As he took it, I noticed his hand trembling.
“God bless you, sir,” he said. He got out of the car and shut the door.
I drove away watching my uncle in the rear view mirror. He put a hand in his pocket and used the other to stick out his thumb. I shook my head and began to whistle.
Travis Keys lives in drought-stricken San Diego, California where he works as systems administrator. He loves to write. Email: t.b.keys[at]gmail.com