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

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.

Choose Them Wisely, Guard Them Well (continued)

“Dr.Chen?

She was startled out of her reverie.

I have to stay focused. Caroline is the mission now.

She did, however, have some questions for the General.

“Yes, Lieutenant.”

“I just heard that…”

“Yes, it’s true.”

“Do you–?”

“No, no. There was nothing to be done for it.”

She looked around, then back at Harris. “For any of it, really.”

He nodded. “Are you all packed?”

“I’m ready to go, yes.”

“Follow me, please. I know you know the way, but there are clearances that  you don’t have. They seem pointless, now, I know, but everyone seems determined to embrace the comfortable until the end.”

“I understand.”

She followed him.

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

General Williams was waiting at the dock.

“Teri, I’m so sorry.”

“Thank you, General.” She straightened her shoulders. “I do have a question: if I’d requested my family be evacuated and brought here, was there anything that could have been done?”

Williams didn’t hesitate, and his own eyes clouded a bit as he shook his head.

“Nothing is going to be done for any of us. I won’t see my family again. My grandkids…”

“Oh.” She looked down, and her voice sounded small and far away. Of course others have family that are not going to see them before they go; at least you got to see yours, and you know what happened, and when, and why. There are so many others who will never have those questions answered.

He continued. “And to what end, doctor? You said it yourself, destruction is imminent. Make peace with it, Teri. With yourself, too. We’re going to need you now more than ever.

She lifted her eyes to his. “I will complete the mission, sir.”

Williams smiled. “Unfortunately, we’ll never see the outcome, but I have every faith in you.”

A faint tremor vibrated the floor beneath them.

Voices were raised, and the mood instantly grew more somber and intense, and not a little fearful.

“Time to launch, sir.” said Harris.

“Thank you, captain obvious.”

They all laughed.

“Teri?” Williams extended his arm expansively, inviting her to go aboard, as if he were the captain of a cruise ship, and not the doomed general of yet another science facility that wandered too far from its walls.

“Kyro’s already strapped in,” Harris said, extending his hand. “It’s been an honor, Teri.”

She watched him closely, but his face betrayed nothing but fondness, and a trace of sadness they would no longer be working together. Beyond that, there was nothing she could decipher. Either Kyro really wasn’t his son, or he was gifted at deceiving.

She took the proffered hand. “Same here, Ken.”

She released his hand, and turned to board. Glancing over at Kyro, his head had lolled to the side, so he was already asleep. Good, she didn’t feel like engaging an assassin. She looked out at the black, weightless expanse of dotted with white fire.

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

No family. No longer a wife. No longer a mother. Just these children now. And Caroline, who will cause no end of grief on the new colony.

If it weren’t for her, I would’ve been able to join them,  see them, hold them…but she has given me a life devoid of meaning. With no one to share with, to spend time off with, to do anything with; I’m going alone.

Her evil intentions mean nothing to me, but because of her, I’m forced to go on, when all I want to do is die.

So I will stop her. I will make her pay for what she’s done to me; every day I stay alive, I will make her pay. Every memory, she will pay.

The stars blurred, and she realized she was crying. This time, she didn’t bother fighting it.

“….three….two….one….we are launched. All automated systems are functioning normally.”

“Safe journey, Dr. Chen.”

“Goodbye.”

Her voice came out more than a whisper, less than a sob; it was not just meant for her colleagues. It was to everything that had made her up to this moment.  She wasn’t just on her way to a new colony, but on her way to becoming something else.

Chapter 3:

The tremors were becoming more violent. Williams and Harris could’ve enlisted the help of others, but they’d either left or were trying to find a place to exit, though where they’d go if the ground was crumbling, Harris had no idea.

“The Naissance is ready, General.”

“Thanks, Harris. Caroline?”

“She’s in her pod.”

“Is there any way to extract her covertly?”

Harris gave him a grim smile. “She changed all the protocols, sir. You said it yourself, she’s ten steps ahead of us.”

“What I want to know is when did she have time to do all this, and if someone helped her. Have security run video from the last thirty days on all the bay doors.”

“Yes, sir.”

“If Teri can’t get to her, maybe one of the others will do us all a favor and stab her in the back.”

Harris looked away.

“I’m sorry, Harris. That was out of line.”

“What was, sir?”

Williams smiled.

Another tremor boomed, and the building swayed like an empty swing in a storm wind.

Both men lost their footing, and when the tremor subsided, they pushed themselves up along the walls behind them, the portion that remained intact. As they were in the northernmost station, it could only mean that now the entire planet was all but consumed from within.

No one knew if it would be another hour, or another day, but they all knew they were living on borrowed time now.

“General?”

Williams had gained his feet, and helped Harris up the rest of the way.

“I’m listening.”

“We still control the launch, sir. We don’t have to send them.”

“I’ve thought of that, but to kill all for the sake of one…as I said, they may do it for us, and we’ve already programmed them as well.”

“Just an option, sir. Still on the table as long as we don’t–”

An alarm blared through the station, but there was no tremor.

“What in the hell–?” WIlliams blustered.

“Naissance has pre-launched. Repeat, repeat, Naissance has pre-launched!”

Williams and Harris found the nearest com station; the young attendant was punching keys but coming up empty.

“Onscreen, young lady!”

“Trying, sir! Please give me a minute…”

Harris put up a restraining hand, and Williams backed away.

The screen flickered, went out, flickered again, and flared to life, stabilizing.

The ship came into view, and the shot of its interior showed the floor was empty.

They watched as the ship sailed over the station below, the shadow blocking out the starlight glittering like strewn gems spilled in ink.across the top,

“Retractors?”

“Offline, sir. Damaged.”

“We’re going to lose it.” The ship was past the station, clearing the harbor.

A hologram of Caroline sitting in the captain’s chair filled the screen.

“Hello, General Williams. I managed to gain access to the ship’s computers days ago, when the tremors first started.

“I programmed the ship to override the safety protocols and release the locks if the magnitude went above four-point-five. If you’re seeing this, then the ship is already loose and on its way.”

All three of them shook their heads in wonder; they’d badly underestimated her intelligence; in no way they measured it was she able to pull this off.

“I had no idea, of course, if it would actually work, but I guess I’ll know if I wake up dead,” she smiled at the weak joke,  “or if we’re still in that hellhole you call a station. And if the magnitude of the tremors is beyond that, then the creature is about to tear the place apart.

“I hope it doesn’t come after us, General, but so be it if it does. Either way, I won’t be able to send those reports I promised you.

“Farewell, sir. I’ll never forgive you for what you did to my father.”

She leaned forward, and the camera zoomed in on those dark, glittery eyes.

“Never.”

The com went blank again.

“Shoot it down, sir?”

Williams said nothing.

“Sir?”

“Check the weapons.”

The young attendant pushed more buttons.

“Nothing, sir. Offline.”

Williams felt his shoulders slumping yet again.

Outwitted by a thirteen year old girl…

Not for the first time, he wondered if he’d been wrong to sign up all those years ago.

A loud rumbling filled the hall, and things began to sway and rattle and fall and slide.

The floor bucked beneath him, and he flipped over backward, catching the corner of a moving desk, the corner cracking a hole in his skull; he could see the blood running from under his head as his vision began to fade.

I thought it was the right thing to do. ran through his mind as he passed into oblivion.

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.    2015

Choose Them Wisely, Guard Them Well

“Are you sure, Dr. Chen?”

“Yes, General. All signs point to imminent destruction. We’ve done all we can to stop it, but it keeps finding ways to advance; either it keeps attacking the structures we’ve already managed to put in place, or it finds a weak spot, or it grows something to get around and find a new path.

“Those concern us most, because we can’t keep pace, and it advances most quickly when it’s unobstructed. It’s infiltrated too much of the planet, and when it pulls itself into the core, it will push outward.”

“What happens then?”

“It will be nearly double in size, but then it won’t be able to sustain itself with the depleted energy from the core, and it will push the planet’s hemispheres to either side, ripping it in half. Then it will move on to the next planet it deems edible.”

“And then?”

Dr. Chen shrugged. “It’s been an honor to work with you, sir.”

He sighed. “You as well, Teri.”

They shook hands, and he walked away, as Chen turned back to what remained of her duties, more to fill the time until the end than have any real hope of stopping the creature that was leeching on their planet’s core from the inside.

“General Williams,” Lieutenant Harris said in greeting. “They’re ready, sir.”

“And the maternal units?”

“Ready as well.”

“Hunters?”

“All of them, sir. Every facet, every child has been pre-programmed to fulfill their duties on the new colony.”

Williams nodded. “Well done, Harris. I want Teri to go with them, too. Is there room?”

“Dr. Chen, sir?”

“Yes.”

“With all due respect sir, may I ask why?”

“With all respect taken, lieutenant, you can ask away,” Williams smiled. “The need for formality is somewhat moot at this point, Harris.”

Harris visibly relaxed.

“The children are going to need a physician; she’s a medical biologist, a pioneer in genetics, and she’s got a family of her own that she won’t be able to get back in time to see. She’s resigned herself, but I don’t see the need to waste her talents and abilities. There are things she can train the children to do medically that may be needed later on.”

“I understand. But she’ll be the only adult.”

“Who said that? What about the others we were sending down to build the structures, and provide for the children until their pods were safe?”

“It’s a little hard to explain, General.”

“Then try hard, lieutenant.”

“Caroline said she didn’t want any adults, sir.”

“Caroline? She’s thirteen years old! She’s–”

“She’s going to be the planet’s ruler, sir. She’s light years ahead of the others in intellect, in potential, in physical superiority. Her father–”

“Messed with her genetics, I remember. It’s why Teri replaced him.”

“It’s also why she’s…resentful…of anything you recommend.”

“Let me talk to her.”

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

The com flared to life.

Caroline’s face filled the screen. Everything about her was dark, as if an aura sculpted her form. Raven curls draped over her shoulder, caramel colored skin, exotic, dark eyes that glittered with intelligence, and something of amused condescension in her attitude toward the General.

“General Williams. It’s an honor, sir.”

“What the hell are you doing, kid?”

Her eyes narrowed. “Don’t call me that again. That will be your only warning.”

Williams sighed. ” You’re going to need those people, Caroline. They’re going to build your homes, your roads, and provide whatever else you need.”

“We need nothing these men will provide, General. They are symbols of the old world, and simply have no place in the new.”

“How are you going to fend for yourselves?”

“Let me worry about that; the others will fall into line.”

“You’ll all be asleep.”

She laughed. “Oh, General Williams. You’re adorable.”

He heated at the tone of her voice.

“What have you done?”

“I reprogrammed my pod, sir. I will be the first to awaken, by a day, at least. I’ll report my findings to you as I go. Keep you in the loop; it’s a courtesy of course, and temporary. As the others awake, I’ll have already established myself.”

“Dr.-”

Off camera, Harris quickly shook his head.

“What?”

“Dr. Chen said you’re all ready.”

“We are, sir. I will miss Dr. Chen. And General, please don’t send them down after us.”

“Why would you think–?”

“You’ve read my file, General?”

“I have.”

“I’ve read yours as well. Never mind how.” Again, the condescending smile and tone. “If you send them, I will have them killed.”

General Williams’ shoulders slumped. “I’m sorry we elected to send you, Caroline. We really should have killed you.”

“You should have, but like I said, sir, I read your file. You’re much too ambitious. You were foolish to think you were going to get the credit for producing a prodigy like me. Now, it’s come to nothing, and you’ve given me the opportunity to thrive.

“For that much, at least, I thank you.” Her eyes scanned the ship’s systems, then she looked back at Williams. “The time is near, General, and I don’t think we’ve anything left to say, other than good-bye.”

“Good bye, Caroline. I hope your pod is the first to burn.”

She laughed again, with no mirth, her eyes never leaving his, a light in them that struck a spark of fear in his spine, and the com went blank.

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

“Why did you keep me from telling her about Teri?”

“We’ll have to send her down separately, sir. Caroline can’t know she’s there. Teri has to deprogram her.”

“How’s she going to do that? Caroline is about ten steps ahead of us.”

“I have someone else in mind to send, who can bring her close enough; with his help, they can isolate Caroline, and if they can’t deprogram her…”

“He’ll kill her.”

Harris nodded.

“See it done, Harris.”

“Right away, sir.”

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

“I’m going?”

“They’re going to need a doctor, and we need you to  reprogram Caroline’s genetics. She’s growing unstable, arrogant.”

“I thought that might happen; she was exhibiting, but part of that was also being thirteen.”

“She’s only thirteen physically. Mentally, she’s beyond genius, and even physically, she trounces the kids in activities, even some of the boys.”

“That’s a shame; had she stayed within parameters, we could have had something great there.”

“It’s not over yet, Dr. Chen.” Harris said. “Our last shot to salvage her…is you.”

Dr. Chen nodded. “Understood.”

“But you won’t be going alone.”

“You’re sending an assassin in case the new genetics don’t take…”

“How did you know?”

“I haven’t been working here all this time with my head stuck in a test tube, Lieutenant.”

Harris smiled. “I didn’t mean to offend you.”

“You didn’t. Let’s meet him.”

The door slid open, and a young boy of thirteen entered.

“Dr. Chen, this is  Kyro.”

“Kyro,” she stuck out her hand. Kyro took it.

“Dr. Chen.”

She looked at Lieutenant Harris. “He’s a little young to be an assassin, isn’t he?”

“I thought you didn’t have your head stuck in a test tube, Teri. Kyro’s been programmed with the methods and weapons knowledge of the world’s elite assassins from the last fifty years. His options are limitless, his methods impeccable. Blades, poisons, bombs, guns, mines….”

“I get it, Lieutenant. He’s a buffet of death.”

“That’s a rather colorful way to put it, but yes.”

“I’ll go pack,” she said.

She looked back over her shoulder, saw Harris and Kyro conferring, heads close, eyes locked, but just before the door closed, she thought she saw Harris say the word ‘son.’

She went to a computer, punched in Kyro’s name, but nothing came up.

“Of course, he doesn’t exist.”

Chapter 2:

The country was in upheaval, her husband said. Buildings were already falling to the south. It was just a matter of time.

He didn’t cry, and neither did she.

“Let me see the kids,” she said.

He put them on the com; their faces were afraid, but resigned.

“There’s nothing you can do, right mommy?”

“If I could, you know I’d kill this thing to protect you.”

“We know, mom, ” her daughter, the oldest, said. “Dad’s kept us safe so far.”

“I wish we could join you, ” her husband said, “but I know they won’t send anything.”

“I could try.”

“I won’t lie to you, Teri: we’re terrified. If they can send anything, then you should try.”

The picture on the com wavered, rocked.

Her husband gave her a wan smile. “Never mind.”

“I love you,” she said. Her vision blurred and her eyes grew hot, “I love you all.”

She put her hand on the screen, and they all placed theirs on it, and they stayed that way for a moment or two, and then the picture rocked again, more violently, and her family fell away from view, her husband’s strong arms still around the kids as they crashed to the floor, and the com went blank.

She didn’t remember the rest of the day.

I didn’t do all I could to save them….kept running through her mind.

© Alfred W. Smith Jr. 2015

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.

The Mark of Cane

The children were crying, wrapped in chains and manacles, covered in scars from when they’d first resisted.

They didn’t resist now. They couldn’t if they wanted to; they were hungry and tired from their long journey.

The slavers let them sleep, but didn’t feed them for a few nights, though they kept them in drugged water. In days they were gaunt, bedraggled, and dejected.

After five days, they gave them scraps, and watched them pummel, kick, and bite each other for an extra piece, laughing and betting.

After ten days, when they began nearing the city, they fattened the kids who survived the fighting up with full meals to make a decent presentation at auction, and peace reigned in the camp once more, for a time.

A day’s ride out from the city gates, the slavers woke to find their sentries dead, and the children gone. A dark figure in a broad brimmed hat stood among them as they approached him in a circle, their leader stepping forward, his own knife drawn, to confront the silent intruder, who had his head down inside the hood that hid his face.

“You have until a minute ago to bring those brats back, or tell me where they are.”

The figure, his eyes hidden by the brim, gave an enigmatic smile, and then he lifted his eyes, and looked at the slaver.

The slaver’s skin sloughed off his body in a red, wet heap, and his flesh and bones sagged like sludge, collapsing in red, gory mound, spreading out in a pool of meat and guts and bone.

He heard the sound of men crying out, vomiting, shouting, cursing, praying, and finally, running.

In less than a minute the camp stood abandoned.

The figure turned to go, when the curtain on the leader’s tent parted, and a dark-haired young girl of some twelve or fourteen summers emerged. She looked at the pile of flesh that had only last night claimed her maidenhead, and left her crying and bruised, then she looked at the figure.

“Who are you, mister?”

“My name,” he said, as he removed his hat and bowed to her, “is Cane. Come with me, and I’ll take you to the others.”

Having nowhere to go now, she put out the last of the campfire, and walked toward him, stopping to spit on the red, stinking rubble of her rapist, gave her hand to Cane, and the two of them left the camp without looking back.

 

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.

On Black History Month

“They did not take slaves from Africa; they took people from Africa, and made them slaves.”

For years, they brought them out like Christmas decorations, only it was February: Frederick Douglass, Benjamin Banneker, Fannie Lou Hamer, and the ever-ubiquitous Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Langston Hughes and Lorraine Hansberry, Mahalia Jackson and Louis Armstrong.

No one but my father ever spoke of those with more militant stances, more edgy, prickly points of view: Eldridge Cleaver (Iceberg Slim) Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale (founders of the Black Panthers) Malcolm X before his renouncing of the Nation of Islam under Elijah Muhammad, and Imiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones).

I did not know of the brilliant, biting edge of James Baldwin, the struggles of Josephine Baker, the strength and vulnerability of the tragic, plaintive-voiced Billie Holiday, the towering courage of Paul Robeson and the fiery Vernon Jordan.

These figures made people ‘afraid’ and ‘uncomfortable.’

We learned that 6 million Jews died and saw films on the horrors of the Holocaust, but as black children we were not taught about the 9 million Africans who died on the journey across the Atlantic Ocean on a sailing lane called the Middle Passage, where slaves still chained together were tossed overboard, either deliberately to lighten cargo, or jumped willingly in order to die free, or just because they didn’t survive, but neither did we learn about Nat Turner (except that he led a rebellion and died, as if that was all there was to know) or the legal victory of the black men of the HMS Amistad.

And over the years, we learned the stories of our annual decorations. We saw films on the Civil Rights movement taking place in the south, having no idea those attitudes existed in the north, and given no awareness through our history textbooks that it was a global truth, if not universal:

Dark skin is evil.

It didn’t matter what form of evil, because all sorts of stories were concocted based generally around these two principals: Black was unclean, White was pure. Black was inferior, White was superior.

Yet, I was taught in science class that in the spectrum, black is the absence of color, and white contained them all. Why were we being persecuted for something we were not?

When I sang, My Country ‘Tis of Thee, until fourth grade I did not know my fathers died differently, I believed that Pilgrims and Indians lived in harmony. When I sang America the Beautiful, I did not know that its Natives had been stripped of their dignity, slaughtered like sheep, ravaged like Sabine virgins, and tossed aside as rubble.

I didn’t even know that as low as they were, they still owned Black men and women.

I was taught that the Quakers helped slaves escape to Canada to freedom. I have learned, only recently, that it was not so. There were slaves in Canada, too, and some who were free, were sold back.

Long buried in the archives of old libraries lay the story of my people, the mixing of my own ancestry, not just here in America, but across the world, doomed to die dusty deaths in the recessed shadows of long abandoned archives, unless one truly took the time to unearth them.

And then the Internet came, and grew, and evolved, and the archives were dredged and lovingly sorted, restored, and made available. And I learned that far more Black people achieved great things in the face of impossible odds and incredible oppression: denied admission, having no transportation, being ripped off, gutting of project financing, threats of death, and they kept going and became pilots and doctors, nurses and teachers, judges and lawmen, cowboys and business owners, so many, many names bubbling out of the soil after so much blood soaked in…

Their vision was clear and focused, their drive to succeed unstoppable, unshakable, and unswerving.

And all, all, having one common thread: ancestors brought here not to live, but to work, as commodities, not people, as beasts, and not men.

And they survived.

And I do indeed live here now, a free man in America, because of their sacrifice and vision, not limited to twenty-eight days in a government building. The storehouse is mine to visit, whenever I choose:

blackpast.org

blackhistorypages

blackhistory.com

These are just a few of the storerooms available online these days, rich with information. If you would gain some perspective, I invite you to celebrate with us, and not just for the month.

There are no ‘colored only’ signs on these doors….

In the Temple of Her Heart (Chapter 2)

Heat suffused his face at her words, her boldness. She laughed, playful, delighted at his discomfort, and charmed by it too, and left him with the tingling warmth of her hand under his chin, as if he were the dog that rescued her, and she’d scratched his fleas there in gratitude.

And there it was, the opportunity of a lifetime, all because of a rabid dog.

In and of herself, Nahaia was pleasing to the eye, and Arlun counted himself fortunate; marriages were often arranged, and he’d seen some of the mates of his friends, both male and female, and his heart went out to them.

He knew, at least in theory, that in matters of the heart such things were ultimately superficial, since some of those marriages flourished in spite of the physical shortcomings; it wasn’t often, but it did happen. Shaking his head again as he packed, he put it from his mind.

It was not an issue for him.

Strange land, strange customs, strange people, foods, gods, and so forth were going to occupy his days so much that he didn’t need to worry about anything else.

The sun climbed, wearing down the day hour by hour, until finally, shortly after noon, he was ready to depart.

After tearful goodbyes and long hugs that showed fear and reluctance of accepting their new positions, they realized that in their eagerness to please, they’d opened themselves up to public examination, and courtly interference; there was nothing to be done for it now.

Arlun set out on a good, sturdy horse his father procured from the local horse trader; the man’s eyes positively glittered with greed at the thought of having a palace connection, and he was all too happy to accept a small deposit for a lucrative profit when the horse arrived safely; Arlun’s father’s word had proven consistently good throughout the years, and he was respected and trusted as a man of integrity, even among those who snickered at his poverty behind his back.

The animal was fine and even-tempered, and Arlun found himself relaxing as the road unfolded in its own lazy, meandering way toward the land of his bride-to-be. The afternoon sun was not overbearing, and the road was empty of everything except the creatures of habit that needed to cross it.

Seeing no real need to rush, his hands easy on the reins, he let the horse set it’s pace, and allowed his mind to wander…

She was resplendent in a gown of dark blue trimmed with gold, bedecked with a necklace, rings, ankle bracelet, and armbands set with sapphires and lapis lazuli, her raven hair unbound, but styled to frame her delicate face, and draped just so over her slim shoulders, her deep brown eyes rimmed with kohl and shadow, and when she smiled at him, his heart was bewitched beyond recall.

He heard no music, tasted no food, saw no other rival for her in his eyes, and blinded his heart to the possibility. 

Her father saw the stars in his daughter’s eyes, and the smitten smirk on the young man’s lips, and approved, for the youth, as far as he was concerned, had already proven his valor. His queen spoke to Arlun’s mother of plans, and he spoke to Arlun’s father of coin, and before the night was over, an agreement was reached.

  Arlun knew none of it, and would not have cared if told.

  As they danced, he breathed in the honeysuckle fragrance on Nahaia’s cinnamon skin, longed to taste the berry stained gloss of her lips, wet and gleaming in the festive light; he longed to hold the slender, graceful sway of her body and make it sway in other ways, and could tell by her shy smile that these were mysteries she would keep for him alone until he pledged for her.

  “Ah, Nahaia, my princess, my bride, my wife…” he rolled the words from his tongue, thoughts in the distance, and at first did not hear the rider fast approaching behind him.

When he did, it was too late.

In the Temple of Her Heart (Chapter 1)

The day came, bright and clear, though snow remained in the mountain passes.

Arlun had to admit that he was nervous, but he dared not let it show. His parents and siblings were counting on him, and he needed to concentrate. He still wasn’t quite sure how it all happened, but it had, and he was to be wed by the end of the month.

The travel would take a week, the preparations the remaining two; his family would be sent for and conveyed with the utmost care and reverence due their new station.

He shook his head. It had all come about so suddenly….

  The soldiers had pushed the crowds to the sides with the weapons and the large flanks of angry stallions. As the people scrambled aside to avoid the royal procession, a dog, feral, rabid, and scrounging in the alleys had somehow found its way to the merchants’ district. 

In the air, it caught the high scent of fresh meat, and foam pattered in droplets from its mouth as it ran, snarling with anticipation and starvation. It burst out of the alley and snapped at the legs of the people standing aside, who began to jump and scream at the new threat that came suddenly behind them.

   Unheeding of the forest of human legs that sought to entangle it, it broke through just as one of the smaller horses, a pearl colored mare, was passing by; leaping onto a haunch, the dog savaged the flesh, a spout of red staining the white haired beast with calico spatters of blood before the animal reared and wheeled, screaming at the sudden flash of pain, tossing its rider, a slender girl, from its back to sprawl in an undignified heap on the cobblestone street.

Arlun reacted without thought, and rushed forward to pull the young girl to her feet and take her out of harm’s way as her guard’s dealt with the more immediate threat of the dog. 

Her personal guard, however, had seen Arlun, and gave pursuit, now thinking this was a kidnapping ploy. She ran hard into him and sent him sprawling; in a flash she’d straddled him and punched him in the gut twice as his face reddened and his breath fled. With him immobilized for the moment, she got up and let him roll around on the ground to catch his breath, and turned to the girl.

“Are you well, Nahaia?”

“I am, Zarai, thanks to this young man.”

“He was not taking you?”

“Only out of the path of the horses. You did well; you did not know.”

Zarai nodded.

“Help him up.”

Zarai went over, brought Arlun to his feet, still looking him over suspiciously.

By now a crowd had gathered about them, and some of the guards bustled through.

The mangled dog corpse was burning in the middle of the street, and the procession stopped.

“Come, Nahaia.”

“In a moment, Najiu; I have not properly thanked this young merchant boy for saving my life.”

The guard stepped back, and Nahaia went over to Arlun, took off one of her gold armbands, a single ruby in its center, and gave it to him.

“Your Highness,” Arlun said, stunned at the gift, his parents and siblings looking wide eyed over his shoulder. He was going to say he couldn’t take it, but realized that would be an insult, so he knelt, and looked at the ground, as did his family.

“You do me too much honor.”

“Perhaps,” Nahaia said, with a mischievous grin, “but consider it an invite to the palace; my father will want to show his gratitude, as do I. This is neither the time nor place. Tell me your name.”

“Arlun.”

“I will expect you within the month, Arlun. This bauble will only be good until then. If you do not come, I will send Zarai back to extract it from you; the journey to this part of my father’s kingdom is long, if not unpleasant, but still, she may not be polite about it since she will be traveling far.”

“I will be there, your Highness.” His eyes remained on the ground.

To his surprise, she lifted his chin with her finger and favored him with a smile; her eyes were big and brown and beautiful, and his heart quickened as his cheeks flamed.

“I will be most disappointed if you are not, Arlun.”

They turned to go, and Zarai shot him a look of cool disdain, her lips in a mocking, knowing sneer, but knowing what, Arlun couldn’t say.

He swallowed.

This wasn’t going to be easy.