Raker Man

The tropical sun was intense but from the shade we sipped Pina Coladas and stared at the blue Caribbean. A vacation in the Dominican Republic! We staked claim to a favorite cabana and by afternoon were chatting with beachside neighbors. Diane in the next cabana knew a lot about the area and in the balmy breeze we compared notes on favorite restaurants as we enjoyed the beach.

The next hot day while eating lusciously ripe strawberries I caught sight of the trio working in the sun. We’d noticed the daily routine of these three whose job it was, apparently, to clear the beach each day of seaweed washed up during the night. They were a motley band in ragged clothes. Locals in need of work I supposed, and hard work it was. Each day they scoured the beach, raking and hauling debris. An older worker lagged behind. The effort it took to push a loaded wheelbarrow through soft sand slowed him down. He usually raked alone, stopping often to wipe sandy sweat from his face. He has to be thirsty I thought, as I sipped cold coconut water.

On the following morning, just as I devoured a heaping bowl of chilled watermelon, I saw the old raker man diligently working over the beach. Mere yards from chattering sunbathers, clattering dishes filled with tropical delights, and Mimosas clanking toasts to vacations, this old barefoot man in torn pants worked silently. Unnoticed. Head down as he worked, I waited for him to look up.

He looked up. I waved.

Puzzled, he stared at me and returned to his work. He has to be hot I thought, as the waiter served our Pina Coladas.

I took a sip of mine. It tasted like guilt.

“How much do you think he’s paid?” I asked Francisco and nodded towards the raker. Before he could answer I heard a groan from the next cabana.

“Well, don’t you give him money.” Diane yelled. “He’ll get lazy. Anyway he’ll never even thank you.” With that, she told the waiter to hand her a magazine, brush away the sand stuck to her back, and bring lunch to the cabana so she wouldn’t have to get up.

Judging me over her magazine, Diane said nothing.

“That’s hard work he’s doing.” I continued with Francisco.

“Well, don’t tell him.” Diane yelled again. “He’ll whine about having to do it and he’ll never even thank you for noticing.” With that, she told us she was staying on vacation an extra week because she was sick and tired of the rigors of her job.

Staring at me over her calendar, Diane said nothing.

I watched the raker struggle with another load of seaweed. He sometimes tripped and fell as he shoved the heavy load down the beach. The ceviche and slices of fruit the waiter set down in front of me looked nice, but I couldn’t eat them.

Days passed and I continued to wave to the raker each morning. He eventually waved back and towards the end of our vacation he even waved first. I never saw interaction of any kind between him and anyone else on the beach. Was this man invisible?

“Is it ok to give him some money?” I asked Francisco. I’d hesitated to do so, less from Diane’s comments and more for fear I would offend the man.

“It could be a tip. How much would a little cash mean to him?” I continued.

“It would mean the world.” Francisco responded.

Diane yelled to us. “Well, he’ll become a beggar if you give him money. Like I said, he’d never even thank you!”

On the morning of our final day I saw the raker as usual, head down, combing the sand. For reasons I’m not even sure of I’d still not given him a tip and I was sorry about that. I mentioned my regret to Francisco, but it was our last day on the beach and I had no cash with me.

“I have cash.” Francisco said as he rifled through his bag. Happy, I think, to bring an end to my weeklong obsession on which I’d taken no action!

As the raker’s work brought him nearer the cabana, he and I waved. This time Francisco stood and waved too, then motioned the man to come over. Clearly perplexed by this new routine the raker slowly left his wheelbarrow and approached us. We quickly realized he spoke absolutely no English but in an awkward conversation consisting at various points of Spanish or French, we learned he was Haitian and had come to the Dominican Republic in search of work. He was in the middle of a rough and miserable time.

Francisco held cash towards the raker and pointed at me. “He wants to thank you for working so hard to keep the beach clean.”

The raker stared at the cash and I waited for him to smile. Instead, he stepped back and threw his hands over his head. Oh no. We’d insulted him.

He looked back and forth at us, his eyes filling with tears as he stepped forward to shake our hands. He shook our hands for several minutes before even touching the money which he very slowly took from Francisco’s hand. He spoke rapidly the entire time. I don’t know what his mouth said but his face said thank you. He wiped his tears and returned to the wheelbarrow. We sat back down fighting tears of our own.

“Well, now you’ve done it.” Diane yelled over the heaping plate of lobster on her lap. Butter dripped from her chin. “He’ll be back. He’ll be back ten times today begging for more! Did he even say thank you?”

I just shrugged my shoulders at her. I was sure the man was thankful but I had no idea what he said.

With a disapproving look, Diane said nothing.

Francisco and I returned to our Pina Coladas. I sipped mine, a bit tastier now, and watched for the raker. If he returned I hoped Diane wouldn’t notice. Silly me. Still, it was the end of the day before she got the chance to say she told us so.

“I knew it!” Diane yelled.

I looked in the direction of the half-eaten drumstick she pointed at the beach and saw the raker running towards our cabana.

“He’s going to ask for more and never even say thanks. Not once.” Diane said smugly.

The raker stopped in front of us and leaned down. Knowing he knew no English we waited for him to say something, anything. From the next cabana, Diane waited too.

The raker leaned a bit closer. “Thank you.” he said in English.

Before we could respond, he smiled and ran back down the beach.

Diane said nothing.

Stuart M. Perkins

123 Comments

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123 responses to “Raker Man

  1. shann273

    In yo’ face, Diane! Loved this story and you guy’s generosity. I had tears in my eyes because a little kindness goes a long way for people who are going through a hard time in life. He was so obviously grateful.

  2. The sad dichotomy of the Caribbean islands, thanks for another great story.

  3. Loved it and boo to Diane. 🙂

  4. More bothered about being judged a fool than loving Jules does nothing…

    Thank you for this reminder. Beautifully written as always.

  5. Tekoa

    Great writing !

  6. I don’t know about your eyes but mine are wet.

  7. Take that, Diane. Moving story, Stuart. I’ve met many people from Haiti and it’s hard and unfair to realize how close they are from the Dominican Republic which is often spared from natural disasters and thus more prosperous than Haiti. Since I’m a French native speaker I’ve been able to listen to them. Most have hearbreaking stories to share. But all have kept an amazing sense of humor and great pride too.

  8. A lovely story and full of humanity. Thank you.

  9. Snotty woman!! Well done, gripped.

  10. Lovely story! I’ve often related more to the workers I’ve met on vacation rather than the other guests. As a massage therapist in resorts often, I’ve met some very snobby folks but also met some very caring and gracious people.

  11. Oh my, this made me cry. How very pompous we can become. Thank you for the reality check!

  12. Aww, Stuart. Wonderful to read you again. Another heart glowing story. You are a word magician. A wonderful story. Thank you for sharing. 🙂

  13. etaxwiz

    Your stories should be required reading for every child in America.

  14. Julia DeNiro

    Wonderful story. This story should be required reading for anybody who considers screwing over the poor in this country.

  15. I like it. Stories about compassion are always good if they’re skillfully told and not sentimental. you told your story with perfect skill.

  16. Humanity is inspiring when you find it

  17. Thank you for being you.

  18. Garrie Madison Stoutimore

    Wonderful story. But I kind of feel sorry for Diane. She is blind and doesn’t even know it.

  19. I have lived in Montreal, home to at least 100,000 Haitians – hard working, respectable people, whether labourers or professionals On a Sunday morning it looked like they must all have been on their way to church, neatly and conservatively dressed, I saw no beggars among them.

  20. …and don’t you feel badly for Diane, too, who may never know the joy and fulfilment of de-centering from her insulated existence, to enter another’s reality? I hope she will read this, recognize herself, and dare to be selfless.
    If I knew only one phrase in someone else’s language, ‘Thank you…’ would be a good one!

  21. Stuart, your gift to Raker Man was at least 3 days’ salary. In Creole, he did thank you as he cried. His tribute, to learn how to thank you in English, showed how you touched his life. All of us should remember that but for the grace of the universe, there go we. Your story reminds us.

  22. I might’ve collapsed Diane’s cabana. With her in it.

  23. As an aspiring writer would have been pleased to have written this story

  24. kelsiesilvaneto

    Ugh all the feels. Touching story.

  25. Such a moving story. Thank you for your compassion.

  26. You are a lovely man and the world could do with more people like you. I doubt Diane learned her lesson but at least it made her stop and think for a moment. Love your stories. Always hits you right in the soft parts. Thank you.

  27. It’s always a treat to see a post from you in my Reader. This time, especially so.
    Thank you.

  28. I was so excited to see that you had a new post in my emails this afternoon. Thank you for sharing!

  29. It sounds like her prediction was wrong. Boy did she ever get fooled! Great story.

  30. Understated and powerful – a WONDERFUL read!

  31. Fantastic story, Stuart! Thank you. 🙂

  32. I feel sorry for Diana. Maybe somebody should give something nice to her.

  33. I also feel sad for all the people here that shit on Diana.

  34. Touching. I enjoyed your story. My name is Diane… but I hated her in our story.

  35. Jill Case Brown

    Such a good story!

  36. Stuart, are your stories real, or are you just a very gifted writer?
    Either way, THANK YOU!

  37. We all read this and imagine we are not Diana. I’m not sure many of us are correct.
    Great story, well told.

  38. Paulina Radzisauskas

    Great story and well told!!! I always look forward to your stories. Just keep on writing and I will keep on reading.

  39. As always you put your reader right in the picture with you.
    I was moved by this one, thanks for sharing.
    What a shallow world we live in, good to see someone with a heart.

  40. Just wonderful. A joy to read and nothing sentimental either. A little diamond.

  41. cynthiahm

    This story is one I can completely relate to as I have been on those tropical vacations and witnessed people just like the raker who work hard in the hot sun. Your characters came to life!

  42. I was deeply touched by your story. What joy you must have experienced when the Haitian came back to say thank you and NOT to ask for more money as Diane had predicted he would.Thank you!

  43. I love this lovely and touching story! Sadly, there are far too many Dianne’s in this world. The world would be a better place with more ‘rakers.’ 😉

  44. Inspired Counselling

    Brilliant story. I loved the ending with the effort it would have taken to learn thank you, and come back from wherever he was staying to say it. Stephen.

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