Ragman by Walter Wangerin, Jr.
"Ragman and Other Cries of Faith"

I saw a strange sight. I stumbled

upon a story most strange, like

nothing my life, my street sense,

my sly tongue had ever prepared

me for.

Hush, child. Hush, now, and I will

tell it to you. Even before the

dawn one Friday morning I noticed

a young man, handsome and strong,

walking the alleys of our City.

He was pulling an old cart filled

with clothes both bright and new,

and he was calling in a clear,

tenor voice:  "Rags!" (Ah, the air

was foul and the first light filthy

to be crossed by such sweet music.)

"Rags! New rags for old! I take

your tired rags! Rags!" "Now, this

is a wonder," I thought to myself,

for the man stood six-feet-four,

and his arms were like tree limbs,

hard and muscular, and his eyes

flashed intelligence.

Could he find no better job than

this, to be a ragman in the inner

city? I followed him. My curiosity

drove me. And I wasn't disappointed.

Soon the Ragman saw a woman sitting

on her back porch. She was sobbing

into a handkerchief, sighing, and

shedding a thousand tears. Her knees

and elbows made a sad X. Her

shoulders shook. Her heart was


The Ragman stopped his cart. Quietly,

he walked to the woman, stepping

round tin cans, dead toys, and

Pampers. "Give me your rag," he

said so gently, "and I'll give

you another." He slipped the

handkerchief from her eyes. She

looked up, and he laid across her

palm a linen cloth so clean and

new that it shined. She blinked

from the gift to the giver.

Then, as he began to pull his cart

again, the Ragman did a strange

thing: he put her stained

handkerchief to his own face;

and then HE began to weep,  

to sob as grievously as she had

done, his shoulders shaking. Yet

she was left without a tear.

"This IS a wonder," I breathed to

myself , and I followed the sobbing

Ragman like a child who cannot turn

away from mystery.

"Rags! Rags! New rags for old!"

In a little while, when the sky

showed grey behind the rooftops and

I could see the shredded curtains

hanging out black windows, the

Ragman came upon a girl whose head

was wrapped in a bandage, whose

eyes were empty. Blood soaked her

bandage. A single line of blood

ran down her cheek. Now the tall

Ragman looked upon this child with

pity, and he drew a lovely yellow

bonnet from his cart.

"Give me your rag," he said,

tracing his own line on her cheek,

"and I'll give you mine." The child

could only gaze at him while he

loosened the bandage, removed it,

and tied it to his own head. The

bonnet he set on hers. And I gasped

at what I saw: for with the bandage

went the wound! Against his brow it

ran a darker, more substantial

blood - his own!

"Rags! Rags! I take old rags!" cried

the sobbing, bleeding, strong,

intelligent Ragman. The sun hurt

both the sky, now, and my eyes;

the Ragman seemed more and more

to hurry.

"Are you going to work?" he asked

a man who leaned against a telephone

pole. The man shook his head

The Ragman pressed him: "Do you have

a job?"

"Are you crazy?" sneeredthe other.

He pulled away from the pole,

revealing the right sleeve of his

jacket - flat, the cuff stuffed into

the pocket.  He had no arm.

"So," said the Ragman. "Give me

your jacket, and I'll give you

mine." Such quiet authority in his


The one-armed man took off his

jacket. So did the Ragman - and I

trembled at what I saw: for the

Ragman's arm stayed in its sleeve,

and when the other put it on he

had two good arms, thick as tree

limbs; but the Ragman had only one.

"Go to work," he said.

After that he found a drunk,

lying unconscious beneath an army

blanket, and old man, hunched,

wizened, and sick. He took that

blanket and wrapped it round himself,

but for the drunk he left new


And now I had to run to keep up

with the Ragman. Though he was

weeping uncontrollably, and bleeding

freely at the forehead, pulling

his cart with one arm, stumbling for

drunkenness, falling again and again,

exhausted, old, and sick, yet he went

with terrible speed. On spider's legs

he skittered through the alleys of

the City, this mile and the next,

until he came to its limits, and

then he rushed beyond.

I wept to see the change in this

man. I hurt to see his sorrow. And

yet I needed to see where he was

going in such haste, perhaps to

know what drove him so.

The little old Ragman - he came to

a landfill. He came to the garbage

pits.  And then I wanted to help

him in what he did, but I hung back,


He climbed a hill. With tormented

labor he cleared a little space on

that hill. Then he sighed. He lay

down. He pillowed his head on a

handkerchief and a jacket. He

covered his bones with an army


And he died.

Oh, how I cried to witness that

death!I slumped in a junked car

and wailed and mourned as one who

has no hope - because I had come

to love the Ragman.

Every other face had faded in

the wonder of this man, and I

cherished him; but he died.I

sobbed myself to sleep. I did not know - how could I know?

That I slept through Friday night

and Saturday and its night, too.

But then, on Sunday morning, I was

wakened by a violence. Light - pure,

hard, demanding light - slammed

against my sour face,and I blinked,

and I looked, and I saw the last

and the first wonder of all.

There was the Ragman, folding the

blanket most carefully, a scar on

his forehead, but alive! And,

besides that, healthy! There was no

sign of sorrow nor of age, and

all the rags that he had gathered

shined for cleanliness.

Well, then I lowered my head and

trembling for all that I had seen,

I myself walked up to the Ragman.

I told him my name with shame, for

I was a sorry figure next to him.

Then I took off all my clothes in

that place, and I said to him with

dear yearning in my voice: "Dress me."

He dressed me. My Lord, he put new

rags on me, and I am a wonder beside


The Ragman, the Ragman,



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