Today was Sunday. Normally I was in my white dress and black shoes for church. Normally Pa’s smoke ain’t lingering around our house because he know that God don’t like smoke in his house. Normally my eyes ain’t flushed red from tears. Normally the sun burns my skin and scars it with memories. Normally gashes are covering my skin. Normally the table has food. But today ain’t normal.
My scarred fingers danced on our lonely table even though it became empty two months when Mama started to get them pains in her neck. Little did she know, she was knocking on death’s door with a case of Tetanus. I could feel the melancholy vibe drifting in the air of our home. Everything emptier than ever. Like the place in my heart.
“Momma,” I called out.
But I knew I wouldn’t get no answer. The dead don’t answer no one. They only haunt their past homes. Maybe, Pa’s soul would be in the room circling me spitting tobacco on my shoes. Just like old times. Ma ain’t ever coming back. Nothings worse to her than a mouth full of smoke. Although she probably missed singing songs with me. A small tear trickled down my face. It felt like a burn. What was I supposed to do next? I was Crow. The child of the flying rats. The ugly sister of the pure white dove.
“Crow!! I heard you were in here…” yelled the nefarious voice of Mr. Hangley, the plantation owner.
His feet stepped onto the creaky floorboards of my house. I sensed his chewing. The way his mouth smacked. As if eating the words of the past and munching on every single sob of his workers.
I stood in my nightgown in the small room. Clenching my eyes tight. As tight as I used to hold my Ma’s hand. The floorboards shrieked in agony. Slowly, the chewing of Mr. Hangley came closer. I feared him. From his bald head to his black boots. Which reminded us slaves of the past.
Mr. Hangley chuckled. His voice reminded me of my Pa’s, scratchy, dusty. Smoke filling in the feeble spots. Yet Mr. Hangley smoked more than Pa. It seemed he was under a cloud of smoke as thick as steel, breathing through a straw. Soon, that straw would rot, Mr. Hangley with it.
“Crow….Your family dead. I don’t care bout’ them, get out and work.” With that, the snap of his belt struck the air.
All the slaves peered up from the fields, smelling torture.
“Get to work!!!!!” Mr. Hangley snipped.
I rolled on the ground. Breathing rapidly. My parents passed yesterday, but my heart did four years ago along with life. I swear now, there ain’t nothing in the world but a bunch of cries. Cries, the white men try to hide.
I stumbled outside into the fields. Ma ain’t there to hug me. Pa ain’t there to console me. I was on my own. Especially when I caught a glimpse of Mr. Hangley trotting up the cotton field. Everyone in the cotton fields took a moment to stare into my soul with beady eyes.
“I got a deal for you…” Mr. Hangley claimed as he approached me.
“I need you to work for me seven years straight. No weekend days and only seven hours o’ sleep.” He added.
“Never,” I slyly reckoned prying at the cotton.
“You idiotic girl… In exchange, freedom when you finish.” Mr. Hangley muttered.
My eyes widened and I shook his hand thinking it was my chance. My chance to get free, live, and have a family. My chance to love my life. But only if I hadn’t been so clueless. But what’s in the past cannot be rewritten...
For seven years I worked. Every day sweat bubbled on my skin arising from my gashes. Crevices of burns and injuries stung my skin after every week. Day after day, my feet became swollen from thorns. My hands became the numbness of a jellyfish sting and my eyes turned red from the beating sun. That sun ain’t no sign of glory. It just shines rays of horror beckoning the cries of the slaves. Reminding us that we were the ones in the boiling point. We’re the ones missing out on the children’s laughs and smiles and blissful ice cream. But beyond the yearning of ice cream, lied the sweet desire of freedom.
On my 4th year I was in the cotton field. Pricking away at the vain cotton plants. Until I couldn’t hold up. I collapsed on the ground, clasping my bony knees and running my raggedy fingers through my dirty hair. Tears flushed out of my eyes. That was the day my break down begun.
In my break down every day I ached.. My hands trembled. Each one hissed like a snake, never feeling even a twinge of sympathy. Perhaps, the sun doesn’t beat you, the cotton plants don’t hiss, the people of the field aren’t long lost souls from Hell, and I ain’t sick. Yes perhaps. But now, that’s who I am. The girl who only sees hallucinations.
The last day of work was the worst, years and years I had suffered under the desperate wrath of a white man, who laughed when I fell and smiled when I bled. Creaky bones, blind eyes the color of snow, and a psychotic mind. All this time, hope surged in me. I hadn’t been beaten. I showed the white men that we are strong. Powered by the gaze of bravery and beliefs.
On the floor of the cotton wood plants I knelt and sniffed the earth. Smelling of blood and cries. That wasn’t me. I was the seven-teen year old girl who should always be an idol. A girl who carried on after a rainbow didn’t come after the rain. A girl who would finally evade this plantation, no matter how many steps it took. A girl who would be free in the most unimaginable place, Heaven.
© Olivia Janicek, Denver School of the Arts, Denver, Colorado