My birth into this life was distressed. I fell from the sky naked and smacked the pavement like a raw wet bird. My body was broken, damaged and beyond repair. No one in the smoking traffic stopped to come to my rescue. I felt as if I had to run through the world this way in order to survive. No one gave me a second look or a first for that matter. Trying to figure things out when you don’t know where to begin or end is haunting. You keep thinking your soul will take its last breath and save you but it doesn't. Being forced to live is dreadful. I want to pull my life’s cord and relieve me of my misery, but there is no cord, nor is there a map. There are no rules for me to follow. Asking myself what to do and how to do it is fruitless. Dead vines that intertwine and weave into a mound of choking fibers surround me. These fibers tighten, but never do the deed.
The harsh voice startled me. I remembered where I was although I never forgot. Invisible mystification. It was spinning like an odium filled inferno. Hot bewilderment that could smother me.
When I began to sweat I realized that I had given my soul to the devil. He burned me to a crisp - leaving my body emitting smoking rank embers for all to see and become repulsed by the smell. I turned to face him as I stood to ask why he had chosen me. Of course no creature was there. The devil doesn't show itself as a horned red being. It comes to you in the form of your greed. It's when you desire something so much, or you think you do, without any regard to the consequences, is when it shows up. Realizing that you have made a mistake only comes after you have suffered a little more than enough.
I wanted more money and more family. The family I had wasn't good enough for me. Ray didn't produce. I cursed Teddy before he was born and tried to destroy him as a baby. Favoritism consumed me when it came to Ray Jr. I thought Mama was a childcare provider for me, more so than a grandmother to my children. Greed for my selfish needs was my devil. I continually beckoned for it and it came. It came with a vengeance. The heat it peeled my skin with told me so.
Window three was a dingy piece of plastic that I could barely see through. A round woman who took short breaths while smacking gum looked up to look down again.
“You Adalee Johnson?”
“Sign here. You can get on bus number four and it'll take you to a motel a few blocks from here. Next!”
“Miss, wait.” I had questions. Please let her have my answers. “Where can I get something to eat? I need a change of clothing and supplies to wash with. I, I…I don’t have anything.”
“None of yah’ll that come here do. There are clothes and toiletries at the motel. The bus don’t leave til six, and dinner is served at four. Next!”
“But what do I do in the morning? I don’t have anywhere to go.”
Clearly annoyed the woman sighed. She looked at me and saw a clinging lint ball that she couldn't remove from her garment.
“The bus will bring you back here. You can get breakfast and then you wait to be interviewed. Next!”
The information she gave would have to suffice. I believed if I asked her any more questions she’d have me arrested for caring about myself. It would seem that any kind of compassion for your own sake wasn't allowed here.
I walked to the rear of the building to claim a seat in a room filled with people like me. If they thought I was someone who deserved their attention they were wrong. There were crying children, hungry babies, and faces that looked hollow. We loitered around and looked. There were men, women, and children – people standing, sitting and just looking. Faces were sunken in from defeat. So many stories to be told to no one who cared to listen.
Looking at the people in this room made me think of my ancestors. I thought of their deaths for a movement that remains at a standstill. The nineteen sixties South isn't much different for me than the eighteen hundreds. I know this and I wasn't even there.
Closing my eyes allowed me to wander to a beautiful place. There was a valley of flowers surrounded by butterflies, and a smell that was as close to heaven as I knew. I smiled because I felt this was a vision that God had slipped past the devil for me to see. Then someone tapped me on the shoulder.
“You new here?”
The pregnant female that stood before me looked to be about my age. Her face was bruised, but her appearance neat. She didn't hold much of an odor either, but the room was filled with so many that I really couldn't tell.
“Yes, this is my first time here. I’m Adalee Johnson.”
She flopped down on the hard seat next to me.
A friend feels the need to explain things.
“I was named after my daddy, Harvey. I’m from
.” She extended her hand and we
shook lightly. Baltimore
“I came down to marry and my unborn child’s father was killed. My baby ain't gone be no bastard – his daddy was killed.”
When she finished talking she sighed and looked around the room, possibly for another topic of conversation. This was fine with me because my response hadn't focused in my mind.
“Where you from?”
“You’re not far from home. How’d you end up here?”
Mama said you gotta clean up what you mess up before you can move forward. I swallowed Miss Lillie’s taste in my mouth and said, “I fell in love with a white woman.”
Harvine shifted her misshapen body to the side. Her eyes traveled me up and down slowly as if she had seen something about me that was cursed.
“Shit, you might as well be dead.”
She didn't ask questions as to what lead to my situation. To her it didn't matter. Harvine knew I had committed an atrocity against my race – against myself. When you are born death is imminent. Not knowing how it's going to happen is what keeps life going. A total stranger had just saved me years of worrying about an everlasting life serum. For me, one would never cross my lips.
“I don’t know anyone here.”
My dignity was still riding the bus that I was kicked off of. My body was worn and beaten, but I was still a woman. I crossed my legs and pretended that I was at a small cafe awaiting my order of peach parfait tea and a sliver slice of pound cake.
“It’s best not to try and make friends. Most folks here are way past their last meal. They’ll do anything to get what they want, even if it is rightfully yours.”
I was one of those way past last meal people.
“Have you been here long?”
“This is my eighth day. Every night they shuttle me in one of the buses to a motel. I can’t much complain. I get fed, a shower, and I have a decent bed to sleep in.”
With one hand she smoothed her hair and began rubbing her belly with the other. She looked like royalty compared to me. Her face was light with a defining bone structure. Beauty was still fighting to be her companion, even with the bruises it held.
“When I was at the window the woman said I would be interviewed. What do they want to know?”
Eight days had made her an expert.
“They ask where you from, do you have any family that can take you in and if you work. All the personal stuff that you want to keep personal is what they want to know.”
“What if you don’t have anybody?”
She patted my knee to ease me.
“Then they let you stay in a motel until you can get on your feet. With you being by yourself you’ll have to share it with a few other women. Just be careful.”
I heard Mama’s voice. Just be careful. She had said that to me the day after Ray returned. No heed was taken to it because he was my husband. He had come back to take care of me. Being careful wasn't one of my marriage vows. When I get myself together I’m going to rewrite vows so other women won’t have to endure what I have put myself through.
Harvine wiggled a bit before standing. “It’s about time for the dinner bell to ring. Let’s go wait in line.”
My stomach began to rumble. Pate and Lucy’s lunch was days gone. I didn't have much back in
, but an empty stomach was never one
of my assets. Alabama
Grace and elegance were traits that I never had use for. Maybe one day, when I had my own home and servants, they would appear. That day was pushed back as I made my way to the dinner line. I didn't know any of these people and hunger didn't allow me to be concerned. Everyone else became as savage as I was. There was pushing without force. It was either strangers or I, and I refused to go to bed another night with hunger as my bed partner.
Harvine held onto my ragged garment as we made our way to the kitchen area. I heard her saying that she had been pushed to the rear a few times and only received a minimal portion of food. Hunger forces you to become a predator. When I was close enough to see steam coming from containers and could actually smell edible offerings, I moved faster.
“Hey lady, damn! You ain't the only one hungry!”
I heard that along with the words starving bitch, stankin’ whore and homeless wench. I didn't care. Food was what I needed to save me. I wasn't ready for that imminent death to claim me.