What did she remember from elementary school? Indians lived in teepees. They rode horses. Smoked peace pipes. Used bows and arrows. She has an image of an Indian on horseback holding a bow and arrow, ready to strike at something. What the Indian is aiming at is not part of her image. The Indian is simply racing on his horse aiming at a wide open expanse of country. The sun is shining. Perhaps he is aiming at a buffalo. In another part of her memory having to do with Indians is the rest of the Indian’s family. There is his wife and their two small children, a boy and a girl. In her image all three are milling about the teepee, but that is all. The image does not inform her as to what they are doing exactly. That is, what they do with the other hours of the day. In her image they are simply there, in and around the teepee.
Is that all they taught her about the Indians? Or was she simply not paying attention? And surely she had learned more about the Indians since elementary school! What was she expecting to see?… Indians on horseback riding through the plains shooting down buffalo with their bows and arrows? Her imagination and romantic leanings began mingling with the fragmentary images of Indians she had stored in her mind since elementary school. There she was, traveling in a foreign country. Well, it was an Indian reservation in Arizona, and she was from Connecticut. Night was falling quickly. It was nearly dark when she saw a gas station. It was not a teepee, but surely the clerk would be wearing a feather headdress and speak little English. She got out of the car. This was not Hess with a million lights, digital gas pumps, fully stacked candy shelves, and an ATM machine. This was a couple of flickering light bulbs dangling from cords, a cinder-block shack, and a weather-beaten wood-frame screen door banging back and forth in the occasional summer breeze. She got out of the car and stretched. Out of the darkness appeared a group of young boys. They were smiling and laughing and mingling about one another nervously. They were slowly advancing toward her. She got a little nervous. They came closer and stopped at what she felt was a safe distance. She gave them a friendly smile with inquisitive eyes. Then one boy stepped forward with an outstretched hand, palm up.
“Excuse me, do you have any quarters?” he asked.
The question startled her. Her mind jumped to a day she spent in Tijuana. There, too, children approached her with outstretched hands. But here? Where was the Indian on horseback? Does anyone have a pipe? Where is the chief? Shouldn’t these children be weaving dream-catchers or collecting firewood? Her mouth made several attempts at speech, but no sound was heard. Eventually she regained the ability to speak. Her eyes moved slowly from the boy’s outstretched hand to his eyes. Clearly, she was not expecting this. Where was Geronimo? Sitting Bull?
“No, no I don’t. I’m sorry.”