NYU Black Renaissance Noire Volume 18 Issue 3 - Fall 2018 - Page 90

Though the thought was on our minds, it was too far to run the whole way home. Because the woods were the worst part, we ran up out of there. No one worried about crunching leaves, snapping like the lobby full of typists at the bank in town. We hit the gravel and tar in no time, and not long after, listened to Peebo tell jokes, once we stopped running and were out on the road. I had not too long got my wind back from running, when he told one that had me holding my stomach to save what little breath I had, holding the spot that was cramping up. There was something in the water, as the people say. It did something to us. And staying with that feeling or trying to figure where the feeling came from was more important than thinking about switches and whelps. We strolled with our heads up so that we could see what had always been there but had, for whatever reason, escaped our notice. Wide-open land all looked the same to the eye, standing flatfooted and looking up the long snaked roads. We’d see nothing but gravel and red clay paths disappearing into the crowns of far off trees. In college, where I studied engineering, and so was able to take many art and design courses, I remember at least one lecture that dealt with the concept of the vanishing points sometimes found in drawings and illustrations. Most of my classmates, because Detroit, where I went to college, is extremely flat and the streets are laid out in an unyielding grid, were reminded of standing on Woodward Avenue or Seven Mile or Grand River or Michigan. One could stand in the center lane looking up Michigan Avenue and see Chicago, Illinois, if it were not for the vanishing point that became apparent around thirty or so blocks out, where the buildings and telephone poles kaleidoscoped together. Those discussions always took my thoughts to the Canebrake, where no street was straight or flat enough to witness any coming together of two halves of a landscape. Rather than a single, centered vanishing point, my childhood home had multiple vanishing points, and one could witness them, when moving along any elevated spot. Standing on a slope in any part of that place and the whole world was trees. Everything in every direction looked the same, until Peebo and Sam and I kept walking and were able to bring into view the bungalows and farm homes and the people and their cattle, their dogs roaming the yards, barking. The people we met stared, but did not wave. Froze. Like white statues and contemplated us. A tractor pulling bales of hay was in the distance getting passed by a car traveling in the same direction, two twilight bulbs eclipsing a couple of fog lamps bobbing along at four miles per hour. Just as the car passed us, it braked, sudden. Rubber tires crushed deep trenches into the road. The car reversed and Sam and Peebo and I stopped walking. I stared at the dust rising from beneath the car. Took everything in stages — the car, the road, the pea-green fields, the deep-green forests, and the slow approaching bales of hay — before I could know what was happening, before I could comprehend the tail of a car pulling near, fast. I knew we were a long way from our side of town. I also knew that the car was going to be trouble. The driver stopped the car short of us. He did not back it all the way up to where we stood, as I had expected. I was prepared to dodge the car, but the white boys felt the need to walk; they wanted a slow approach so, it was best they got out and walked so that we’d see their smirks, their swagger. It was that smirk and that swagger that did all the talking. When the four boys stopped walking, a few yards shy, their figures were nearly shoulder-to-shoulder, squared off with one another, so that they formed a line in the road. All wearing long pants and formal dress shoes. The boys were a lot older than we were, but there was a little one with them. They hadn’t said a word at this point. And then they spoke, the driver did. He asked if we were lost. His friends widened their eyes in anticipation of our explanation. Peebo and Sam looked at me, and then looked at each other. “We just walking,” Peebo said after a moment. Driver told us we had no business over there no way, and that we needed to get on out to White Hill, where we belonged. I wanted to tell him that I didn’t live in White Hill. Then I realized that what he meant was that we needed to get across the color line, and then it also occurred to me then that he didn’t know that the colored side had three parts, distinct parts. There was White Hill and Canebrake Crossing, and then there were the folks on Lou Walker, and then, also, if you count where Red and Stan and their family stayed, even though they didn’t, it was four parts. These boys — none of them looked older than eighteen — had no idea that, as far as we were concerned, what it meant for a boy from Lou Walker Road to be running the streets with two kids from White Hill. I’d spend the former third of my life trying to distinguish the various sections of our community myself, or rather becoming familiar with how those in the Canebrake had done so. In the minds of many — because it was the image in the paper and on the radio, television — was a stripped down image of the folks that stayed in the Crossing and in White Hill, and I wanted without knowing it to let anyone know who had laid eyes on my black skin that I was from Lou Walker Road, with nine hundred and ninety-two acres. I wanted to see the looks on their faces, as they back peddled out of that one. But before I would get to this stage, these white boys who for the most part were bigger and older were cussing us with their eyes on one of their roads. I wanted to get away from there but was feeling that feeling you feel when your body shuts down the instant it is filled with panic, the kind of panic where it is your life that is in question, and I couldn’t move. One is sometimes paralyzed in those instances, like creatures in the forest that hear footsteps. No matter how much you say you will do this or the other in a dire situation, sometimes the body ignores the brain telling it to get the hell out or fight. But I looked at the little one’s eyes which shone a brave gloss. The little one could not have been any older than seven. His shoulders were squared like the others, but he licked his lips rather than tossing us a menacing smirk. I doubt that I felt the weight of this little boy’s eyes, while standing out there on the road that day. I had to have seen them though. This is my memory. Maybe I was looking at him, looking at his eyes, and seeing how grim and set they were, considering how much he had adopted the older boys’ behavior, when I saw the rock fly and dent the gravel at the shoe of the driver who flinched, and he did not know how to react after that — he had not expected it. Sam, Peebo, Me, the white boys — no one breathed it seemed, and then Sam took off in front of the hay tractor and into the woods and Peebo, and I were right behind him. The white boys gave chase, but we had bought a little time having just missed getting clipped by the front end of the tractor. We were already crunching across the sticks and dried leaves, and my chest scattered and walloped. Their footsteps were behind mine, mixed with cuss words. I tasted my spit. Heard Peebo at the front of the pack saying not to stop. To come on. Hurry on and can’t stop. Duke. I even heard Old Man cussing my stupidity. Foolishness. Knuckleheadedness. Asking what the hell I was thinking. I knew Peebo ain’t have good sense. Least I could do was have better sense than him… I heard all of that. I did not hear when the white boys turned back. n We took turns swinging, seeing who could execute the most complicated maneuver or fly the farthest or make the biggest splash, and not once did we think about time, until I said that it was getting dark, and everyone got spooked. Even Peebo said that we definitely should have left sooner. The stars in that part of Georgia were our streetlights, when the last traces of purple fell away from the sky. We veered away from the large ivory columned house on the way back — taking, instead, the long way — walking towards the section of road near the feed store, where Peebo and Sam saw the water from the back of the truck that took them out to Mr. Walton’s farm every morning. Peebo thought that it was a shame I had stayed near the house like I was too good for everybody, but none of our parents would have appreciated our trek out towards Walton Farm — forget about getting in the water out there. So we were in the mindset that we might as well get one last good stroll, before we got the straps or switches or fists or lectures — or any combination of or all of them — that were coming. I figured Peebo and Sam had parents that would not have minded as much when they came in, but when I said I wished that I had their parents, both of them looked at me askance and did not bother to say anything for a while. Until Sam said, “You come to my house, if you want to.” And Peebo laughed. I stood just short of the tree to watch Sam fly. His arms went out away from his side, his legs went out, like a long-legged frog, and he brought himself to a ball, as he entered the water. Peebo threw his fist up and down and began to clap and laugh and cough and spit, and I thought maybe this was the actual choking to death, but he had that beam on his face. That telegraphic beam of his he used to let you know whatever he wished to. I clapped. I celebrated Sam’s flight. I wanted to fly.