Catch & Release

Then his smile faded into seriousness, as if he'd had a rare light moment then someone had closed the blinds. He stared down at the steam rolling up from his coffee cup. "I been thinkin a lot about what you asked me."

I had no idea what he was talking about. "What did I ask you?"

"'Bout bein your friend."

My jaw dropped an inch. I'd forgotten that when I told him at the Cactus Flower Café that all I wanted from him was his friendship, he'd said he'd think about it. Now, I was shocked that anyone would spend a week pondering such a question. While the whole conversation had slipped my mind, Denver had clearly spent serious time preparing his answer.

He looked up from his coffee, fixing me with one eye, the other squinted like Clint Eastwood. "There's somethin I heard 'bout white folks that bothers me, and it has to do with fishin."

He was serious and I didn't dare laugh, but I did try to lighten the mood a bit. "I don't know if I'll be able to help you," I said, smiling. "I don't even own a tackle box."

Denver scowled, not amused. "I think you can." He spoke slowly and deliberately, keeping me pinned with that eyeball, ignoring the Starbucks groupies coming and going on the patio around us.

"I heard that when white folks go fishin they do somethin called 'catch and release."

Catch and release? I nodded solemnly, suddenly nervous and curious at the same time.

"That really bothers me," Denver went on. "I just can't figure it out. 'Cause when colored folks go fishin, we really proud of what we catch, and we take it and show it off to everybody that'll look. Then we eat what we catch... in other words, we use it to sustain us. So it really bothers me that white folks would go to all that trouble to catch a fish, then when they done caught it, just throw it back in the water."

He paused again, and the silence between us stretched a full minute. Then: "Did you hear what I said?"

I nodded, afraid to speak, afraid to offend.

Denver looked away, searching the blue autumn sky, then locked onto me again with that drill-bit stare. "So, Mr. Ron, it occurred to me: if you is fishin for a friend you just gon' catch and release, then I ain't got no desire to be your friend."

The world seemed to halt in midstride and fall silent around us like one of those freeze-frame scenes on TV. I could hear my heart pounding and imagined Denver could see it popping my breast pocket up and down. I returned Denver's gaze with what I hoped was a receptive expression and hung on.

Suddenly his eyes gentled and he spoke more softly than before: "But if you is lookin for a real friend, then I'll be one. Forever."

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Taken from Same Kind of Different As Me Movie Edition by Ron Hall and Denver Moore. Copyright © 2017, 2006 by Ron Hall. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson.