Jim knew a little about Navajo rugs; for instance, what made one more valuable than another. When he entered the trading post that morning, he spotted a treasure right away. It was a handmade Navajo rug, featuring corn people on a white background, with a black border. Although the rug was small, the tightness of its weave and the depth of its colors made it stand out from the others. Casually fingering the price tag, Jim’s eyes widened when he saw $1000 hand lettered on the tag.
After a quick trip out to see Paul, waiting in the car, both Paul and Jim entered the trading post, then headed in opposite directions. From that moment, events unfolded quickly. Paul proceeded to the self-service coffee bar, where he accidentally dropped a full pot of decaf on the floor, shattering the glass carafe in the process.
As a knot of employees formed around the scene of coffee chaos, Jim rolled up the prized rug, tucked it under his arm and walked out the door. An hour later and half a mile away, the two friends united. With high-fives and sincere congratulation, they celebrated their victory over the tyranny of the trading post system.
“The weaver probably got $200 for this rug. What a rip off of Native Americans”, Jim said.
As Jim steered the car into the parking lot of their dusty motel in Kayenta, Paul added, “I am proud to have taken part in the liberation of such a fine rug”. Dropping Paul at the motel, Jim turned north on Highway 163, leading back into Monument Valley.
As he turned off the highway and on to a dusty track, Jim mumbled, “The Indian got paid for this rug long ago, so hitting that predatory trading post where it hurts means I am doing something on behalf of all the Indian nations, not just the Navajos”.
Rolling to a stop in front of a barren hillock, he proceeded to lay out his treasured rug on the face of that brick-red hill. Waiting for the sun to sink lower in the sky, Jim sat there entranced for an unknown time. Then, when the light was right, he stood and clicked many pictures of the rug.
When he finished his photography, the sun was fading fast. As the light changed and he shifted his focus, he saw before him a Navajo woman, working at her loom. With a traditional hogan as a backdrop, slowly and steadily she sent the shuttle across the loom. After each long stroke, she paused to tamp down the woolen threads. Staring at this scene, Jim felt a shiver go up his spine. He felt like he had been photographing the details of a bedroom, only to find that someone occupied the bed.
After quietly removing the rug from its place on the hill, he gently opened the car door and sat down inside. After red dust poured from the rug to his lap, he dumped it on to the empty passenger seat. Closing the door so softly that the latch did not fully engage, Jim started the engine and slipped the shifter into gear. Then, he idled the car away, toward the highway.
Not once in all this time had the Navajo woman looked in his direction or acknowledged his existence. As his car crested a small hill in fading light, he glanced back in the rear view mirror. The woman had vanished, but hanging there on her loom was a half-finished rug, depicting corn people, on a white background, with a black border.