Obasi’s Honor

The sun was hot on his skin, and the camel he rode began to stumble.

He is going to die, but not me. I will do what I must.

Behind him lay the bodies he’d killed, but it had been, at best, serendipity, and not skill.

He would rather that it had been skill.

The town was in the distance, indistinct in color from the sand everywhere, save that it had shape, and he could see the shapes of the buildings through the haze and the heat shimmer that felt like it would boil his eyes in their sockets.

I did not avoid being a sacrifice only to have my bones bleach in this merciless sun.

He stopped, and taking the knife he pilfered from the body of the man that had sought to tie the rope around his neck, he put his hand on the camel’s neck and said a silent prayer of thanks to its spirit for providing him life.

And he cut its throat with his spiked club, ripping out the spike and cupping his hands around the fount that spurted as the animal bellowed a final curse, and toppled. The taste of its blood was rancid and bitter in his mouth, but he was going to die if he didn’t drink, and water was not to be found.

And as he had no water, he made no urine, or he would have used that instead.

He was tempted to skin the camel and make a tent, but the sun had crested its zenith, and would be down soon; if he skinned it now, night would catch him crossing the dunes, and the chill wind would ice the blood that was now boiling.

Breathing heavy against the urge to vomit, which would dehydrate him further, the burning sand licking at the sides of his feet in the leather sandals that adorned them, he took the spiked club from the camel’s neck, and pushed on.

Distance was a tricky thing in the desert, however, and if the town wasn’t as close as it looked, he would be covered over by the relentlessly flowing sand, buried in an unmarked grave so deep and remote his ancestors would never see him.

“You will not die, Obasi. Your ancestors will strike you in the afterlife if you do.”

He didn’t know if the part about his ancestors was true, and anyway, it was a promise he wasn’t sure he could keep; he only knew that if he didn’t hear himself make it, he wouldn’t survive.

 

********************

 

Two horsemen came out to retrieve him from the sand, where he’d vomited and lay in a pool of rancid blood.

“Fool boy, drank the blood of his camel.”

“How do you know?”

“The hairs on his robe, his skin. He was unskilled, and favored by the gods that he made it here.

The guard that noticed the hair threw the boy across the saddle, and with the other, he walked his horse back.

The watchman called. “Is he alive?”

“Barely, but yes.”

“Take him to see –“

“I know, I know. He needs water though, and now.”

The watchman threw his canteen down, and they dribbled water into the boy’s mouth, held him as he sputtered and coughed, gave him some more, and he spat.

The water was threaded with bright red strands of bile, and both men made the sign against evil.

“Get him out of here,” the watchman said.

The other guard proffered him to take his canteen back, but the watchman smiled and shook his head.

“I’ll get another; he can keep that one. I should’ve let the vultures have him. If it hadn’t been for their circling, I wouldn’t have seen him.”

“You did well to save his life; these things come back to you.”

“As I well know. Take him quickly.”

They proceeded to the town sick house, as they called it, and the boy began to stir.

They were carrying him on a horse, sideways across the saddle, as if he was a sack of something heavy and unpleasant, but he didn’t know who ‘they’ were or where ‘they’ were taking him, but their robes were dark, in stark contrast to the sand, and against the normal dress of white and tan, which kept the heat of the sun away.

He noticed they were on a road of stone.

“Where am I?” His voice came out like a croak, and he coughed.

The horse nickered in warning, not liking the smell of stale camel blood in its nostrils.

“In the land of Fatinah, south of your lands. We are taking you to the sick house; our doctor is an elder, and will see to your needs. Rest now, boy. There is time enough for introductions and conversation; this is not that time.”

Not willing to trust his voice again, or have the horse bite him, he closed his eyes and mouth again, and swayed to the animal’s rhythm, his insides rolling, as unconsciousness reclaimed him from the waking world again.

 

In the Mean Time

In the Mean Time

We count for nothing

We are prone to anyone’s impulse to violence

Whether they wear a badge or watch the community….

In the Mean Time

We are hated for things that have nothing to do with

who

we are (not just a skin color)

In the Mean Time

We are shot like rabid dogs

regardless of guilt or innocence

In the Mean Time

Are our prayers even heard?

Is our suffering even

moving the hearts

of

anyone,

anywhere?

In the Mean Time,

we must go on

and strive to exist,

and fight to survive

and struggle to live

in hostile territory

surrounded by

enemies

shouting

curses and untruths

behind their walls

of

hate and fear.

 

In the Mean Time

We must continue to

Love

one another

and

our enemy,

even as we

contend with his ignorance.

In the Mean Time

Life for us here is hard,

but it can and will

get worse

if we

give up

in the

Mean Time.

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.

2015

Precipice

Now immortal fires burn

Step up now and take your turn

Hopeless now for you to yearn

Endless lesson, never learn

Look into the dark abyss

On your lips a demon kiss

Living in a joyless bliss

How’d it ever come to this?

Not too late to step away

Walk into the light of day

Fighting in the frenzied fray

Clinging to life’s edge

You stay.

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.    2015

Nomad

I was down on the waterfront, looking out at the waves, watching the boats and jet-skis, looking over at the private beaches, where the sun shone more brightly, and the illusion of a better life beckoned like a whore in a neon lit window.

One last time, I wanted that illusion.

One last time, to try to make it real for me.

That’s why I was down here, burning up in the high humidity of a day in July, waiting for the contact to give me the latest information on my final assignment:

Who do I kill next?

I’m called Nomad. My real name was erased years ago; I didn’t like it anyway.

No family to speak of, no wife, and no candidates for that position on the horizon, I was free to travel and murder at will.

It was a dangerous life, and so far, I’d come out on top; that wouldn’t always be the case, I knew, and there were times it got close, but not close enough.

I lived with it; death was the dance partner who every now and then stepped on your toes and kneed you in the balls just to let you know she was not enjoying your company.

The contact waddled up, all sweaty and wheezing, trying to light a cigarette with the lighter in his right hand while he fished around in his pocket for the chip with his left.

“Here.” He held it out in his sweaty palm.

I took a napkin out of my pocket and took it from him; he narrowed his eyes at me, and I smiled, and he looked away.

I put the chip into the port they inserted behind my ear, and heard the locking click.

The file took shape: holograms, maps, pictures, names, dates, locations, and finally the target.

“Who is he?”

“Your counterpart in that country.”

“And we want him, why?”

“You don’t get paid to ask questions; with him removed, you actually make more money.”

“He looks like he’s twelve.”

“It’s not like you wouldn’t do it if he was.”

That was probably truer than I cared to think about at the moment. I let it pass.

“You gonna confirm, Nomad? It’s bitchin hot out here.”

I confirmed.

“You leave in two hours.”

I nodded.

He walked away, gave a lazy wave, and the bullet burst his skull like an overripe melon.

Gonna be late for my flight…

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.

Open Season

It was always Open Season.

It started in Africa, and spread across the world.

The Middle Passage was Open Season, as was the slave auction block, the noose, the burning crosses, the beatings, the framings, the looking away, the destruction of prosperous black towns.

It’s been Open Season.

It was Open Season on Dr. King. Dogs, hoses, jailing, beatings, and finally, a bullet.

It was Open Season on Malcolm X (well, his was ‘friendly’ fire, but he scared ya’ll for awhile, didn’t he?).

It was Open Season on the Black Panthers, but not on the Klan.

It was Open Season on Jackie Robinson, and Hank Aaron.

It’s been Open Season on our daughters and sisters and mothers and wives, bearing up under the indignity of laying in beds that weren’t their husbands’, and watching their children destroyed before their eyes.

Some walked to the edges of cliffs and rivers voluntarily, and some dropped in the master’s child; some dropped in themselves, and still others made it a package deal.

Black girls with white dolls, black women with bleached skin.

It’s been Open Season on the first black President: met a wave of incredible backlash and resistance. Desires for his death requested, hinted at, and plainly stated. His wife, just another angry black bitch with a big booty. His daughters called classless by a white reporter who boozed it up in her own ‘heyday.’ Oh wait. His daughters don’t drink.  His crimes: Tan suits, Marines holding umbrellas, coffee cups. his feet on the desk…Oh, wait, there are pictures of other Presidents doing the same thing.

So what’s different this time? No, really. What?

Oh yeah, it’s Open Season.

It’s been Open Season on black neighborhoods: ‘gentrification’. A gentle sounding word to describe the economic herding of poor people out of established neighborhoods so the demographics can be more ‘attractive’ to tourists and businesses, and former suburbanites  can save on property taxes by moving back into the city they abandoned decades ago to get away from ‘those people.’

It’s been Open Season on the streets:  the police began shooting young black men and women like dogs, regardless of the severity of the crime, regardless of guilt or innocence. Yet white guys with multiple guns shooting children in movie theaters and schools get apprehended alive, unless they shoot themselves.

Obey and Respect the law? Let’s see…

Black men are just now getting out of prison because of DNA evidence overturning wrongful convictions, after losing decades of their lives. “We just need someone to take the fall. We don’t care who, as long as it’s a black guy.”

“You fit the description…”

“Why are you driving that kind of car, and what are you doing in this neighborhood?”

“A black man did it,” and a community gets rousted, but it’s the mother who drove the car into the water after all, it’s the husband, it’s the….well, it’s not a black guy (this time…)

All white juries. Peers?

Mobs breaking into jail cells while sheriffs and officers look the other way.

Those same officers and sheriffs taking pictures in Klan robes, smiling….

Heck, these days even community watchmen get a free pass after being told by the real cops to let them deal with the little Skittle-eatin’ n*r. (How many times did that community watchman, pillar of the community, get arrested since then? But you see, the kid was a criminal, an unarmed, walking home having a snack criminal… ok)

Cops and citizens who kill black thugs (which covers crimes from robberies to unpaid parking fines, and whether they reached for the gun or ran away, or knocked on a door at 3 in the morning, or played their music loud at a gas station) become network tv spokesmen and motivational speakers, overnight millionaires.

Whistle blowers are, let’s say, discouraged….

It’s been Open Season in the military: Black soldiers segregated, denied medals of honor for brave deeds done, now gathered posthumously, if at all.

It’s been Open Season on generational wealth building: Towns of black prosperity burned, their citizens murdered: men, women, children, to rise again from the ashes, until a new generation came.

The apartment is taken. Someone came by in the half hour since we spoke and gave a deposit.

The position is filled.

Keisha’s a ghetto name. How’d she attend Harvard with a name like Keisha? Toss it…

Code the applications with the letter N….Why do you people abuse food stamps? Why can’t you do better for yourselves?

It’s been Open Season in education: until Black history month, our history in the US began and ended with slavery. We learned nothing of the kings of Africa, of its wealth, of its culture. We did learn of it’s colonization, but not what it cost.

We learned nothing of black patriots who helped build this country; (not entirely true: we learned nothing of Crispus Attucks except he was the first to die)  Did YOU know? Paul Revere did not ride alone…

Hallway conversation in an inner city middle school: “We pass the kids because they’re not going to be successful anyway…”

Open Season?

Keep. Moving. Forward.

One of us has gotta make it through

because

Open Season

is

never closed.

Miriam’s Camp (a Darlene story)

Author’s Note: This story features Darlene, the young widow of “Of War and Breakfast”, as an old woman who has lived out her life, dispensing wisdom accumulated from her own experiences and dealings with many people. Her origins start in another story titled, ‘A Journey Home.’ The idea to put several tales from her lecture to her nephew, who comes to visit one summer after many years, of those experiences she shares with him, came when someone suggested I take the experiences from her soliloquy and make them into separate stories. Miriam’s Camp is the third in the series. I hope you enjoy reading it. It is a tale of faith, so if you are not a believer, and wish to comment, please be respectful; I approve all comments prior to them being posted here.
Thank you, and thanks again for taking the time to read my story.  

Alfred

She was never really able to answer why she got off the bus when she did, in front of the old house that lay on the bus route, a road of dust that seemed little traveled except for the people on it going somewhere else.

Every part of her ached from the old bus’s constant jarring, its suspension in dire need of repairs that would likely never happen; the only one it didn’t seem to bother was the driver, who was humming some tuneless song, if there was such a thing, over and over.
If there isn’t, he just invented it Miriam thought.
But she knew her focus was on the wrong stuff; his lack of tonality was not the issue, but a distraction from the truth of why she was coming back.
Get out of here, Miriam, they told her. See the world.
You’re young; you’ve got your whole life ahead of you to do whatever you want.
You’re a beautiful girl, Miriam. Good looks will take you places.
You could be a model.
You could be in movies.
It sounded glamorous, exciting and exotic.
It was actually wrong, crude, cold, and ultimately bloody; the ways of men and beasts, she discovered, were not dissimilar.
And now she was coming home.
******************

She needed time to think.
“I’ll get off here.”
The driver stopped humming.
“You’re a long way from where you belong, miss. That ticket’s only good for one ride.”
“There’s one I haven’t heard,” she muttered.
“Say, miss?”
“I’ll get out here.”
“You sure?”
“ Yes, I’m sure. Thank you.”
“Suit yourself.”
*******************
She stood there in a cloud of wheat colored dust that spun in little dervishes around her like a pulsing aura as the bus pulled off.
Stepping back out of it, she stood there as it settled on and around her, not quite sure what to do next.
“Best get out that sun girl, ‘fore you burn.”
The voice came from across the road; Miriam shielded her eyes from the sun with her hand and peered over.
An old woman sat in a rocking chair on her porch, a cup of coffee in her hand, and a thick book on her knees.
Miriam had never known anyone lived there. Of course not, idiot, this isn’t your side of town.
There were two rocking chairs on the porch. The other one was empty.
The old woman spoke again. “Girl, can you hear me?”
The woman was black; Miriam had never heard a black woman speak to her that way before. It was always, “Yes, Miss Whitcomb,” or “No, Miss Whitcomb,” or “As you please, Miss Whitcomb.”
“Child, come out that sun ‘fore you burn.”
Still somewhat dazed, Miriam found herself crossing the road.
The old woman didn’t stand up. Her brother would’ve called it an anomaly: it was his favorite word. Her father would’ve called it an affront, and dealt with it, but as Miriam got a closer look, probably not with this woman. There was a force to her, and undercurrent of vitality that didn’t seem to encourage or align with the nonsense of modern customs.
“Have a seat, girl. You look done in.”
Miriam looked at the seat, at the woman, at the book in the woman’s lap, and back at the woman’s face. It was old and lined, dark as oak.
“I’ve been sitting for a long time,” Miriam said. “I’ll just lean against this railing, that is, if it’s sound.”
The old woman looked at her then; she had kind and patient eyes that looked not at you, but through.

“My father David, God rest his soul, built this porch with his own two hands. Wasn’t nuthin’ out here before but that dusty road. If it ain’t sound, ain’t ‘cuz he didn’t build it right. Time, termites, and carpenter bees mighta done their share, but you’re welcome to stand, if you choose.”
The railing held.
The old woman went back to her reading, her chair creaking, her finger on the page, tracking the text within.
Miriam watched a hawk circle over a distant field, but the silence pressed.
“Aren’t you going to ask me why I’m here?”
The old woman didn’t look up, kept tracking the words with her finger.
“You here ‘cause I told you to get out of that heat.”
“No, I didn’t mean that, I mean, here.”
“Figured if you wanted me to know, you’d tell me.”
“But you haven’t even asked me my name.”
“Figured if you wanted me to know…”
The girl smiled at that. “It’s Miriam.”
Darlene looked up.
“Well, Miriam, welcome to my home. I’m Darlene. Miss Darlene to you.”
Miriam tossed her hair from her eyes, and said, “And why is that?”
“It’s called, ‘respecting your elders.’ Ain’t you ever heard of it?”
“I guess so.”
“Mm-hmm,” Darlene said. “You can go in the bathroom and freshen up. There’s some clean washcloths in there, and some soap, and lotion, if you’re of a mind. Pour yourself a glass of water too.” She went back to her book.
Miriam did, and came back out in a few minutes, a dampened washcloth in her hand, wrapped around a glass of water.
“Feel better?”
“Yes, thank you, Miss Darlene.”
“You’re welcome.”
Miriam drank her water awhile, her eyes far away.
Darlene finished reading her chapter, and set the book aside.
The words fell in the silence like a stone tossed in the middle of a still lake:
“Comin’ home, ain’t you?”
Miriam went to take a sip of water, and couldn’t raise the glass.
“Yes,” she said, clearing her throat.
She tried to raise the glass again, and couldn’t; her breath hitched, and she tried again.
“You went to the city.” It wasn’t a question.
“Yes…” To her dismay, Miriam felt her face redden, and the tears came so fast and hard they stung. Her reflexes moved her hands to cover her eyes, and the glass fell from her hand as she began to break down.
The glass broke into shiny shards on the sunlit porch, the water spreading, filling the cracks and crevices as Miriam went on her knees.
“I’m sorry!” she cried, “Oh, oh, I’m so sorry!” Darlene knew she didn’t mean the glass.

Miriam bent over, her face in her hands, tears leaking through her fingers, her yellow hair limp and damp from the heat, hiding her face, draped over her shoulders; she could feel tiny splinters poking through her summer dress, and welcomed the pain.
Darlene rose from her chair, and made her slow way over to the young girl.
She raised Miriam off her knees, and held her.
“I know, child. I know.”
She swayed with Miriam in her arms as the girl cried.
“I didn’t mean it,” she said, her voice husky with sorrow.
“I know.”

“I didn’t know!
“How could you know, being so young?”
“Oh, it hurts, Miss Darlene, it hurts so much!” Her body was trembling.
“Yes, baby, it’s gon hurt a lot, and maybe for a long time, but you gon be all right after awhile, Miriam. Time heals. God heals.”
Darlene held her until her sobs became sniffles. Miriam stepped out of the embrace, embarrassed somehow, before this woman, at what she was about to say.
She looked at the water drying on the porch floor.
“I don’t believe in God,” she said.
Darlene kept her hands on the girl’s shoulders, and gave a small smile.
“You don’t, huh? Then I guess you ain’t never heard of your namesake?”
“My…namesake?” She looked up.
“Miriam, the sister of Moses. You ain’t never heard?”
“No. We…we don’t go to church. My father…” she didn’t finish, and averted her eyes again.
“Well, sit down. I’ll be back.”
Miriam sat, wiping her eyes with the washcloth, which was also drying from the heat, but still wet enough for the task. She pulled her hair back off her neck, and tried to compose herself. Something was going on here, something strange and uncomfortable, but not frightening.
In the distance, three more hawks had joined the first. Miriam watched their silent, deadly circles.
And I was the mouse in the meadow.
She thought back to that moment she stepped off the bus, looking around in unadulterated wonder at the crowds, the buildings, the noise assaulting her ears, her senses flooded, and a smooth voice in her ear like a lifeline to someone drowning.
May I help you with your luggage, miss?
She looked away from the hawks.
Darlene came back, handed Miriam a new glass of water along with a fresh wet cloth, cold to the touch, and Miriam wiped her face and neck with it.
“Hang it on the railing with the other one. It’ll dry quick.”
“Okay.”
Darlene waited until Miriam had resettled herself.
“You ready to hear about Miriam?”
“My ‘namesake,’” she tried the word again, and gave a little smile. “I like that word.”
“Yes, she was. Bet your parents didn’t even know.”
“That would be a safe bet, Miss Darlene. I’m ready.”

*******************
Darlene told her of Miriam: how she had watched over Moses as he floated down the Nile and made sure he was safe, and how she led the women out of Egypt in a victory dance, singing songs of praise to God, and how she rebelled against Moses, and God struck her with a skin disease, and they had to put her outside the camp for seven days.
“And you know there ain’t no worse hell for a pretty woman than a skin disease,” Darlene said, laughing.
To her own surprise, Miriam started laughing too.
When the laughter subsided, Darlene continued.
“But you see, Miriam got jealous because God talked to Moses in a way he didn’t speak to her. She got jealous of what Moses had, and forgot that the only reason Moses had that close relationship was because he had a job God wanted him to do.
“See, Miriam had to wait in the same bondage with the rest of her people until her brother came back, and she was older than him. It wasn’t her job to lead the people out, but she did lead the women, ‘cause Moses couldn’t understand how that bondage was for them. Womenfolk’s pain is always different from men; it goes through us in places they don’t have, and I don’t mean what you might think. It goes deeper, and stays longer, and hurts more; you know that now, don’t you?”
“Yes, ma’am.”
“Ain’t no shame in knowin, child, and you found out young. Some women don’t find out til it’s way too late, and they lives is gone. Now this Miriam, she ain’t had no call to rise up against her brother, but y’see, people forget.
“She didn’t know Moses had to keep climbin’ mountains to speak to God, to keep on his knees to stop God from wipin’ the people out, cuz they was always complainin’. He had to work, to judge the people, to deal with their jealousy and pettiness.
“She was there, and she saw it all, but she didn’t know. All she saw was that God was talkin her brother in ways he didn’t talk to her, and it didn’t matter they was free, and on they way to a wonderful place.
“See, folks gets to lookin at what other folks have, and don’t know what they had to go through to get it, but they want it all the same.”
As Darlene spoke, a tear had pooled in the corner of Miriam’s lips, and she licked it off, tasting its bitterness. There had been harsh words and hard feelings at her departure. It all came down to one thing, the last thing she said before leaving: “I deserve better!”
Darlene let her words sink in as she looked at Miriam, who’d begun rocking the chair.
“You made the right choice to come back. Now, truth be told, girl, I don’t know why you got off that bus here, like you asked me earlier, but God knows. Now, you need to get on home, and let your heart and body heal from that beatin’ they done took.” “

“My family doesn’t know I’m here, Miss Darlene. I was afraid to tell them…”
“Honey, they know, and don’t you think they don’t. They didn’t know how long it would be. Soon’s they see you, they’ll know why you came back.”
“They may not be all that happy about it.”
“Well, my dealings with that side of town have not been good, but there’s only one way to find out, and it ain’t by staying here on this porch, now is it?”
“No,” Miriam said, looking at the broken glass.
“Well, I ‘spect they’ll be happier to see you than you think. Come here, girl.”
Miriam went to her, and knelt in front of her, and Darlene took Miriam’s face in her hands, lifting up her sea blue eyes to stare into the depths of her own rich brown ones; Miriam could see they were patient, kind, and full of life, lore, deep sadness and high joy, as her smooth pale cheeks were cupped in dark, calloused hands, like a warrior angel with a new-made chalice.
“You outside the camp now, Miriam, and you’re feeling diseased and wrong, but the only way you gon’ heal is by going back inside, among your own, and let them take care of you. Ain’t got no choice in the matter, no say-so. You spoke out against, and you went through your suffering days, and it’s time to get back. Whatever you do, from here on out, is gonna matter more not just to you, but to other folk, to your family, your husband, when you get one, your kids, when you have some. Your life is gonna be different now.
“You understand that?”
Miriam sighed, and shook her head, and rested it in Darlene’s lap awhile, as the old woman chuckled at the girl’s honesty, and stroked her hair, humming something low and sweet, and Miriam smiled. This was music.
After awhile, Darlene smiled and lifted her up as she got to her feet.
A cloud of dust was visible in the distance as the tires from the approaching bus rumbled over the road. The high sun lit it, fine and floating, a wind blown corona swirling in slow motion through the hot, still air.
“You wait here,” Darlene said, and went inside. She came back out with an old, yellow skinned tambourine, its shakers pitted with rust, its wood worn smooth and bright where hands gripped and slapped. There was a rotted piece of duct tape that was supposed to be a handle, and a smaller piece over a hole where her mother’s fingernail had pierced it.
She held it out to Miriam.
“This belonged to my mother,” said Darlene. “You take it.”
“Oh, Miss Darlene, I couldn’t!”
“Didn’t ask if you could, said I wanted you to take it. I want you to remind yourself of which Miriam you’re supposed to be. See, it’s just like you: it’s been beaten and shaken down to its core, but it’s still here. It got scars and hand marks, scrapes and patches, but it’s still here.”
She held the tambourine out again.
“So are you. You been through it, and now you need to lead others out.
“See, you think you comin’ home in defeat and shame, but you came out of that cesspool in victory, and now you know what to say to those young girls come after you gettin’ on that bus.”
Miriam opened her mouth to say something, but nothing came out. She closed it, her face flushing.
She tried again, but all that came out was, “I don’t know how to play it.”
Darlene laughed.
“Child, neither did Mama! Didn’t stop her none. The deacons had to take this from her she threw the choir off so bad; she’d start out all right, but after ‘while seemed like she just played to the rhythm in her heart, and it wasn’t what was going on up there at all. Happened every Sunday too, sure as sunrise, til she got too old to hold it anymore.
“Then, they just laid it there beside her, and she’d rest her hand on it.”
She wrapped Miriam’s fingers around the worn taped handle.
“Just before she passed on, she told me to keep it, ‘cuz she was gon get a new one when she got home. She don’ need it no more. I don’ either.”
Miriam smiled, and took the gift.
“Thank you.”
The bus pulled to a stop, the nimbus of dust bursting around it like a beggar’s halo.
“You’ll learn to play it in time, and when you’re ready to lead out, you’ll understand. Your time of bondage is over.”
Miriam looked at the worn and battered tambourine, then back at Darlene.
“Over,” she repeated, half in wonder, half in affirmation.
“God bless you, Miriam.”
She kissed Darlene’s wrinkled cheek. “He already has.”
As she crossed the dusty road, she tapped the ancient tambourine lightly against her knee, its rusty jingle breaking the afternoon stillness.
When the bus was gone, Darlene looked at the washcloths hanging like ephods on the old railing, and down at the broken glass, glinting in the sunlight, like the precious stones waiting to be placed on them.
It was a shrine to their time together, and Darlene smiled.
“You gon’ be just fine.”

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.

( May 16, 2014)

The Muted Muse

She appeared to him at the oddest times, putting visions in his head, ideas, characters, grand plots and glorious villains; he was voracious, and she enjoyed being around him, flitting, flirting, whispering creative seduction in his ear.

But when the darkness came, he became sullen.

When the chill winds blew, he became just like them. Hard and fast was her rejection, sudden and without reason.

She stood close, but he ignored her.

She tried to whisper to him, but his ears were tucked under the folds of his hat, and he couldn’t hear. When his hat was off, he strained to hear her still; her lips were moving, but he couldn’t read them, and all he heard was silence.

The fact that he could see her speaking, the look in her eyes of desperation, of sadness for the time lost that he could not reclaim, tortured him, and drove him further out.

“I’ve nothing to say, and nowhere to say it. I haven’t read anything, or anyone, and I can’t write.”

He cried for his loss, and she put her hand on the glass of his laptop monitor, looking at him from the inside, and lowered her eyes. He saw the tear splatter on the keys, and mingled his own with it.

There was nothing left to say; he’d silenced her, and she was out of time.

“I loved you once.” he said.

“I love you still,” she answered.

“Will I see you again?”

“Maybe one day, when you open your heart to me. I hope it’s soon. My sisters and I have other places to be. They say I’ve already delayed them. You’ve never taken this long to catch fire.”

“I don’t know why it’s happening now.”

“We’ll have to talk about it later. You’ll have to write without me. It will be harder for you.”

He nodded, not trusting his voice.

When he looked up, the blank screen stared at him, unsmiling, with its empty gaze.

It mocked him. “So, writer, where have you been?”

“I don’t need to explain myself.”

“Oh, but see, you do. You are a writer who doesn’t write; it’s why you remain unpublished, and unread, and unknown, even a little.”

“Shut up,” he said. “I’m trying to think of an idea.”

“Then the battle is already lost, ‘writer’. You should sit down with an idea already, or don’t sit down.”

“I  said ‘shut up.’ ”

“That’s the height of rudeness; you can ask me nicer than that.”

“Please. Be. Quiet.”

“That’s much better…now about your Muse…”

“What about her?”

“Do you think she’ll return?”

“Don’t see why she would.”

“Me neither. Write something.”

“I can’t, and you’re not helping.”

“I’m not a muse.”

He could sense it smiling, even though it was blank.

He stared at the page, and nothing came. No images, no great lines, no what-ifs….

“Good night, Toshiba..”

“Good night. Perhaps tomorrow….?”

“We’ll see.”

He closed the lid, and went to bed.

The muse, lovely, loving and loyal, had left.

The word processing screen was as devoid of compassion as it was of words.

He would try again tomorrow, if tomorrow ever came.

RAIN

As I listen the rain

Each new drop’s a fresh new pain

Memories blossom in my brain

As I listen to the rain

 

To new places you have gone

Laughing as you travel on

Never caring, dusk til dawn

It’s my heart you’ve walked upon

 

As I sit and watch the sky

Cry the tears I cannot cry

Clouds all hide the reasons why

As I sit and watch the sky

 

Others hold you in their arms

Never hearing the alarms

Muffled by your many charms

Unaware your poison harms

 

Solitude’s new denizen

Seems the sun won’t shine again

I was very happy then

Guess I’ll just remember when….

 

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.

 

 

Victory Flags (Daily Post repost)

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Enough Is Enough.”

You should know:

Victory Flags are not always grand, unfurling banners embroidered with gold sigils of lions rampant, soaring eagles, flame-spewing dragons, diving falcons, and weapons of war, planted at the heads of armies, looking down into valleys of defeated foes.

Sometimes…

they’re just the right words of comfort in a time of despair,
or dirty, blood-soaked rags stanching bleeding wounds,
or taking a deep, ragged breath before making the next shaky effort…

sometimes it’s looking up the mountain at the descending hordes gathered against you

and getting back up to stand, and exhale a whispered, defiant declaration
into the howling winds and roiling clouds of your most ferocious storm,

“I’m still here.”

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.