by Kathya Alexander
The daffodils dance in the front yard like tornadoes. Red roses climb, wild, to the roof of our house. This Mother’s Day is alive with hope and with morning. ‘Cept for the slash that is running cross my Mama mouth.
She kneading the dough for the biscuits for breakfast. She got the radio on, tune to WOKJ. That’s the radio station where my brother, Quint, is a DJ. They talking ‘bout the Freedom Riders, colored folks and whites riding buses down South from Washington D.C. to New Orleans. All of them is students. My Mama say, “This how these chir’en choose to spend they spring vacation? They ought to be home with they mamas.” Then she whip the dough like it’s the thing made her mad.
The sun is shining like a bag full of diamonds. Coming thru our dining room window in long, shiny strands. What Mama really mad about is that Quinton is with them. He working on the radio reporting everything that go on. We ain’t heard nothing from him so far yet this morning. Mama keep sucking her teeth and saying, “Hmmpfh, hmmpfh. Hmmpfh, hmmpfh.” Ain’t nothing we done to try to make her happy on her special day done worked out at all. Not the talcum powder I bought her with my babysitting money. Not the earrings from Sissy. Not the perfume from Jake. Not one thing that we planned done made her one bit of difference. Sissy say, “Let me cook the biscuits, Mama. You’re supposed to take it easy today.”
Mama say, “Sissy, you know I don’t let nobody cook my biscuits. Wash that pan out there for me. Mandy, you gone out and play.”
See now I know something up. Cause this is a Sunday morning. I don’t play outside on a Sunday. Never did. Never have. We don’t do nothing but get ready for church on Sunday morning. It must be something she want to say to Sissy that she don’t want me to hear. So I go out the front door and run around to the back. I sit outside the kitchen window. The only thing about that is that Cud’n Stell can see me if she laying in her bed. And that’s the only place she be at. So she gone tell Mama where I am. But, till then, I’ma sit here and be quiet as a mouse. Sissy see me thru the screen, but she don’t open up her mouth.
“What Quinton say when he call on the telephone this morning?”
“He didn’t talk to me long. He said things have started going bad.”
“What kind of bad? He say anythang else?”
“No, he just said to listen to the radio.”
I feel a spider on my leg. I reach down and brush it off. It run thru the grass like a monster, legs spreading all over, every which a-way all at once. The grass so green and sparkling, seem like it’s been sprinkle with sunshine. Strange how things can be so beautiful and so scary all at once.
Mama voice been heavy with sanctified songs all this Sunday morning. Her voice carry out the window.
Hear my humble cry
Whilst on others thou art calling
Do not pass me by
The Freedom Riders riding on the Greyhound and the Trailways. Eleven days they been together. Even sitting on the same seat. Today they is suppose to finally get to Alabama. When they get to where they going, they always go in to eat at the white lunch counter. So far, it ain’t been no trouble. White folks done closed the counter in some places, but they ain’t done nothing more than that. We done watched it on the television. They on the 6:00 news every evening. And Quinton been doing his coverage. He call it a eye witness report.
Mama say he a fool. “Don’t he know white folks is crazy? They care less ‘bout a colored than ‘bout the dirt on they feet.’” But Quinton live in Birmingham, so it ain’t nothing Mama can do about it except keep the radio tuned to his station.
Mama yell, “Mandy! Come and eat!”
I go round the front like I ain’t been listening to nothing. I walk thru the front door just as cool as you please. Mama say, “Mandy when I tell you to do something, I mean it. And don’t start lying and make it worse. You got grass on your knees where you been sitting by the window. Wash yo’ hands. Quit being hard headed. I got enough to think about without worrying about you today.”
I start walking down the hall on the way to the bathroom. Then we hear Quinton’s voice. And we all freeze where we at.
“The Greyhound bus just pulled into the Anniston station. It’s the stop before Birmingham. And there is a mob of white men outside. They are screaming profanities and breaking out the back window of the bus.”
Then we hear a big explosion. Then, “Let’s burn them niggers alive.”
Quinton start to sound like his voice full of panic. He say, “The bus is on fire! The bus is on fire! The gas tank just exploded. The mob has started to flee. The Freedom Riders and other passengers are all trapped inside. And I can hear breaking glass. Wait! I see the door is open. The riders are pouring outside. They are gasping for air. Some of them are falling to the ground. I can hear moans for water. And there is no one to help. Wait. I see a little white girl coming through the crowd with some water. She just walked over to a Negro woman and put a towel on her face. Now she’s giving her a glass. This is a child of 12 or 13. She is the only one who is helping. She is moving from place to place. She is giving every Negro she encounters a glass of water. When she is sure they’re all right, she then moves on to the next.”
Mama say, “Amazing Grace!”
Quinton say, “This is amazing. This little child has surely saved a life today. The mob is starting to come back in the direction of the bus. Someone just hit a Negro man on the ground with a club. The Negro is using the towel that the little girl gave him to wipe his face. His face is covered with blood.”
Then the radio go silent. We all look at one another. Then Mama she start to singing. Her voice sound like a sigh.
I’m calling you, Saviour
Hear my humble cry
Whilst on others thou are calling
Do not pass my chile by
Her voice break at the end. She just stand there looking at the radio like it is color TV. Don’t none of us know what to say. We just look at one another. We don’t know what happen to Quinton. Don’t know if he got hit. Don’t know if he safe.
Mama say, “Let’s sit down to eat.” So we all take our places. Uncle Jesse come out his bedroom and go fix him a plate. Ain’t none of the rest of us hungry. Uncle Jesse take his plate back to the bedroom. He don’t never eat at the table. Uncle Jesse is real strange.
Lucky suck his two fingers. He always do that when he nervous or whenever he scared. That’s ‘bout the only way that you know. I start to crying. “Mama, what happen to Quinton?”
Mama say, “Ain’t nothing happen to Quinton. He fine. I just know it. Eat yo’ breakfast so you can start getting ready.”
“I don’t want to go to church. Not ’til I’m sho’ that my brother is safe.”
Sissy say, “Don’t you worry.” But she ain’t looking at me. Her eyes is all watery and she looking down at her plate. And I can see the tear drop into her tomato preserves. I touch it with my finger and Sissy smile a sad smile. Then she reach over and kiss me on the tippy top of my forehead.
“Pray, Mandy,” she say. “You just pray real hard.”
The radio done fill the whole room with its silence. Not even the sun shining like diamonds can lift the despair in the room. Everything in me is screaming that the white mob done got Quinton. I can see it in my mind. He all bloody and wounded.
The radio start to crackle. Now we can hear static. Sound like something under water trying to make its presence known. We all hold our breaths waiting to hear from my brother.
“Our sound engineer has been wounded,” Quinton say.
You can hear all our breath explode like a bomb.
“As if on cue,” Quinton say, “the white mob all dispersed. Rev. Shuttlesworth has shown up with some members of his church. There are about five cars. Each one of them are filled with the dozen or so Freedom Riders. Tho some are wounded, they are all well enough to walk on their own. We are moving away. We will bring you more breaking news later on today. Right now, we are all going to Rev. Shuttlesworth’s church. Looks like the Freedom Rides are over. These students are hurt and have all decided they cannot continue this trip. There has been talk from some corners that there are replacements here. But I cannot confirm that. Stay tuned for more breaking news. We will be reporting next from Birmingham, the next stop on the tour. What a day this has been. These young students have stood strong. I wish to all of you out there a pleasant Mother’s Day morning. This is Quinton Delacortes Anderson for WOKJ, your Civil Rights news station.”
“God sho’ is good,” my Mama say.
Kathya Alexander is a writer, actor, storyteller, and teaching artist. Her writing has appeared in various publications like ColorsNW Magazine and Arkana Magazine. She has won multiple awards including the Jack Straw Artist Support Program Award. Her collection of short stories, Angel In The Outhouse, is available on Amazon.
📸 Featured image is attributed to R. Miller and is used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0).
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