I spent most of my time working hard and avoiding Master's angry attention. But it wasn't all hard work and beatings. The barn was very large and it had a little window at the very top for ventilation. When nobody was looking I used to climb up to that window and pretend that I was in the crow's nest of some great ship coming from Europe or Africa. I had heard about these ships from some of the slaves that had been brought in chains from across the seas and from some of the house slaves who had seen pictures of the great three-mast sailboats in books from Master's library.
I'd sit up there at the end of the day, watching while the slaves picked cotton in the fields, pretending that I was the lookout put up there to tell the captain when there was some island paradise where we could drop our anchor.
And sometimes, if I was very lucky, I would catch a glimpse of Miss Eloise Tobias's daughter.
Eloise. She was dainty and white as a china plate. Her pale red hair and green eyes were startling. In my mind she was the most beautiful creature in all of Georgia.
When Eloise would come out to play I'd squeeze down behind the sill of the open window and watch. Even when she was alone she laughed while she played, swinging on her swing chair or eating sweets on the veranda.
Every time I saw her in the yard behind the Master's mansion I got a funny feeling all over. I wanted to go down there and be happy with her but I knew that a nigger* (*That was back before I met Tall John and he taught me about the word "nigger" and how wrong it was for me to use such a term.) like me wasn't allowed even to look at someone like Miss Eloise.
One day, when Eloise was sitting in her swing chair alone, I stuck my head out to see what she was doing. But I didn't realize that the sun was at my back and that it cast the shadow of my head down into Miss Eloise's lap.
She looked up, squinting at the sun, and said, "Who's up there?"
I ducked down under the windowsill but that didn't stop her from calling.
"Who's up there spying on me?" she cried. "Come out right now or I'll call my daddy."
I knew that if Miss Eloise called her father I'd get more than a whipping from Big Mama's razor strap. He might whip me himself until I was knocked out and bleeding like the slaves I'd seen him bullwhip while they were tied to the big wagon wheel in the main yard.
I stood up and looked out.
"Yes'm, Miss Eloise?" I said. "I been workin' up here. Is it me you want?"
"You were spying on me," she said.
"No, ma'am," I assured her. "I's jes' workin'."
If ever you tell a lie you should know where it's goin'. That's what Mud Albert would tell me. I should have heeded those words before telling Eloise that I was at work. Because there was no work for a groom like me up in the high part of the barn.
"Breshin' the horses," I said lamely.
"There ain't no horses in the top'a the barn," she said, pointing an accusing finger at me. "You're malingering up there, ain't you, boy?"
"I's sorry," I said, near tears from the fear in my heart.
From 47 by Walter Mosley. Copyright © 2005 by Walter Mosley. All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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