December 5, 2021
Fiction from Tom Moser, Leadership Team Chair
Sisters In The Kitchen
“You must be anxious to get home after the flood,” I suggested to the man sitting on a cot as I picked up an empty food tray from the floor. The Red Cross had set up a temporary emergency shelter for evacuees before the river crested, and now they were packing up their equipment but didn’t seem ready to close the building. My sister Martha and I were there to assist and make sure things went as planned.
The man did not respond, so I took the tray into the kitchen, where Martha washed dishes. “This should be the last tray,” I said, looking around to see if there were other unwashed items.
“How many evacuees do we still have?” she asked, using a tone of voice that made me pause before I exited the kitchen.
“I only saw one,” I replied and turned to look at her. “Why do you ask? I know the Red Cross checks evacuees in and out, and they will have an accurate count.”
Martha looked through the open service doors into Fellowship Hall, where a man from the Red Cross was talking on the phone, and she lowered her voice, “Even though people can now return to their homes, the Red Cross says they can not close up. It seems all evacuees are not equal, if you know what I mean.”
I didn’t know what she meant, but I also sensed I needed to hear more. “Are you saying we have people here that are not supposed to be here?”
“I’m saying there is a reason they are not closing up operations,” she replied. I decided to ask some questions and went back to the gym.
The man on the cot pulled his knit cap down around his ears and considered my question about his status. “Do you believe it is possible to be evacuated if you don’t have a home?” he replied. His voice was soft and unhurried. His demeanor convinced me he was not trying to intimidate or play games by answering my question with a question.
“I’ve never thought about it,” I admitted. “Did the Red Cross bring you here because of the flood?”
“They did not bring me, but yes, I’m here because of the flood,” he explained and looked up at me through the tufts of hair sticking out under his cap.
“Are you saying you didn’t get flooded out of your home? Or are you saying you don’t have a home?
“If I told you I don’t have a home, do you see me as anything other than an evacuee?” he asked quietly.
I was starting to see where this was going and thought for a moment about his second question. I looked around the cot and saw a backpack with a sleeping bag tied to the bottom. His clothing was soiled, and his boots looked the worse for wear. “You’ve been camping on the west side?” I asked.
The man nodded and said, “Does it change anything for you, or the church, that I’m homeless?”
“No, an evacuee by any other name is an evacuee,” I replied, hoping it answered all three of his questions.
He looked at me in the eye for the first time and said, “I’m one of the least of these.”
I had no retort and nor further questions; I nodded and headed back to the kitchen. As I started to tell Martha about my conversation, the Red Cross staffer who had been on the phone earlier walked over to the open service doors to listen.
“Who are you talking about?” he interrupted.
“The evacuee, the man on the cot,” I said, pointing in the direction of the gym.
“We don’t have any more evacuees,” he said. “The last one left about an hour ago. I’ve checked them all off, and I just gave a report to our regional director on the phone,” he insisted. “The doors are all locked, and the only other person here is loading our van in your parking lot.”
“No, there is one more. I didn’t get his name; here I’ll show you,” I said, leading the way. Both Martha and the Red Cross man followed me down the hall, and I opened the door to an empty gym, except for one cot. “He was just here, 30 seconds ago,” I insisted as I held the door open and stared at the empty cot. The Red Cross man ran to the north entry doors, and I heard him yell to his co-worker, asking if anybody had just left the building. He returned, looked at me, shook his head, and said, “I don’t know who you saw, but nobody else saw him.”