The first orange light of sunrise left a flush of rose and lavender on Betty's hands as she fingered the likenesses of her
children. There were tears she was holding back and cocks crowing, as well as her granddaughter's shouts, "Nana, you ready?" Betty sighed and closed the album reluctantly. Time had come for the last of the Mayfields to leave Sweet Tamarind, the plantation they'd known as home for generations. Talk was some carpetbaggers had bought all the land and paid the white Mayfields a smidgeon of what it was worth and left the poor
blacks high and dry. A rough white man, whip and rifle in hand, had
passed by a few days before, warning Betty and hers to be off the land by evening of this very day. So off they planned to be, not wanting to know another moment of the whites' wrath. The colored Mayfields were familiar with what that meant, and with no slavery to hold them back they were off to Charleston, where others awaited them.
There was nothing odd about two colored women racing the rhythm
of cicadas and the tides at first light, busying themselves with order, a
sense of the day to come and dreams of what it might bring, yet this day felt different. This day the cicadas were louder, purposely taunting Betty and her grandchild with their steadiness. Betty set her album down for a second and went to the window to be sure what she was hearing wasn't a band of washboards and gourds being played by some fool-ass folks with tongues in they cheeks. There was no one there. Only the density of Betty's imagination, the palms, some lily o' the valley and nightshadesnugglin' magnolia and giant oaks.
Well, music is not a bad omen, Betty thought to herself. Then she
wondered did God mean for her to hear the glory of Gabriel in the morning machinations of insects, the breeze caressing dew on leaves left to themselves all the dark night, waves breaking how the drum popped if African Jeremiah wanted to change the gait of the ring shout, change the dancers' direction with three strong beats and a quick run of his palms on the face of the skin before beginning another rhythm demanding other movements, other oblations, and peace in the energies of the spirits spilling from his fingers to their bodies through the rings of soft clouds round the dawn moon. Sometimes the drums, fiddles, and washboards saluted the giant rose-orange sun, taking up the whole of the horizon like nobody had anywhere to go but to the center of the universe. Yes, the Lord's set the gulls to calling over the ocean's irrepressible going and coming, midst the cicadas' crescendo, to let her know to listen to this blessing, before she and Eudora made this wild - some would say this wild and thoroughly foolhardy - change in their lives. Moving to Charleston.
Why, on Sweet Tamarind everybody understood everybody else. The
mélange of Yoruba, Wolof, Portuguese, French, Spanish, and a hint of English left the words of men, free or slave, soothing the air from mouth to mouth, left history in place, content with the comings and goings of her children. Nothing was lost, no one madly pounding gainst a vacuum of silence, nothingness that comes of being of nothing, nothing in particular. When she looked out from her tabby hut, oyster and clam shells cemented with sand thick enough to withstand the might of a cyclone, Betty saw the ruins of the Big House of Sweet Tamarind. She kicked something, not knowing what, thinking to herself, I got no call to leave here. I belong right up there. We all do. Belong right here where I stand.
And what was to become of the graves, the bittersweet memories of
her mother, sisters who had been fortunate enough to pass over to the other world before the rigors of this island beat them down, smashed their spirits, left them but ghosts of themselves before it was time. She would have to go to their final resting place before she went anywhere. Sacrilege was not only the province of the white, but could fall upon the unmindful of any of God's children. This Betty believed with her whole body, her body knowing no separation from her soul, ever close to the breath, past and present, of all those whose blood was her own.
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