FICTION: Spring of freedom | South Seattle Emerald

by Kathya Alexandre

Daffodils dance in the front yard like tornadoes. Red roses climb, wild, on the roof of our house. This Mother’s Day is full of hope and morning. “Except for the slash running through my mom’s mouth.”

She was kneading the dough for breakfast cookies. She turned on the radio, tunes in WOKJ. This is the radio station where my brother Quint is a DJ. They talk about the Freedom Riders, people of color and whites who take buses in southern Washington DC to New Orleans. All are students. My mom said, “Is this how these chir’en choose to spend their spring break?” They should be home with their moms. Then she whips the dough like it’s the thing that drives her crazy.

The sun shines like a bag full of diamonds. Passing through our dining room window in long shiny strands. What mom is really mad about is that Quinton is with them. He worked on the radio and reported everything that happened. We haven’t heard from him yet this morning. Mom keeps sucking her teeth and saying, “Hmmpfh, hmmpfh. Hmmpfh, hmmpfh. We did nothing to try to make her happy on her special day. Not the talcum powder I bought her with my babysitting money. Not Sissy’s earrings. Not the scent of Jake. Not a single thing we planned to do made the slightest difference to him. Sissy says, “Let me bake the cookies, mom. You’re supposed to take it slow today.

Mom says, “Sissy, you know I don’t let anyone bake my cookies. Wash that pot over there for me. Mandy, you went out to play.

You see now I know something. Because it’s a Sunday morning. I don’t play outside on Sundays. Never done. Never had. We don’t do anything other than get ready for church on Sunday morning. It must be something she wants to tell Sissy that she doesn’t want me to hear. So I go out the front door and run to the back. I sit down in front of the kitchen window. The only thing about it is Cud’n Stell can see me if she’s lying in bed. And that’s the only place she’s found. So she went to tell mom where I am. But, until then, I’m going to sit here and shut up like a mouse. Sissy sees me through the screen, but she doesn’t open her mouth.

“What did Quinton say when he called on the phone this morning?”

“He didn’t speak to me for long. He said things had started to turn bad.

“What kind of harm? Does he say anything else?

“No, he just said listen to the radio.”

I can smell a spider on my leg. I bend down and take it off. He was running across the grass like a monster, his paws spreading all over the place, all of a sudden. The grass so green and sparkling seems to have been watered by the sun. It’s strange how things can be so beautiful and so scary at the same time.

Mom’s voice has been heavy with sanctified songs all this Sunday morning. His voice carries the window.

Hear my humble cry
While on the others you call
Don’t pass by me

Freedom Riders riding the Greyhound and Trailways. Eleven days that they were together. Even sitting in the same seat. Today, they are supposed to finally arrive in Alabama. When they get to where they are going, they will always eat at the white lunch counter. So far there has been no problem. The Whites closed the counter in some places, but they did nothing more. We watched it on television. They check in at 6:00 am every night. And Quinton did his cover. He calls it an eyewitness report.

Mom says he’s a jerk. “Doesn’t he know white people are crazy?” They care less about the color and more about the dirt on their feet. But Quinton lives in Birmingham, so there’s nothing Mum can do about it except keep the radio tuned to her station.

Mom yells, “Mandy! Come and eat! “

I walk around the front as if I wasn’t listening to anything. I walk through the front door as cool as you want. Mom says, “Mandy, when I tell you to do something, I really mean it. And don’t start lying and making it worse. You have grass on your lap where you were sitting by the window. Wash your hands. Stop having a hard head. I have enough to think about without worrying about you today.

I start to walk down the hall towards the bathroom. Then we hear Quinton’s voice. And we all freeze where we are.

“The Greyhound bus has just arrived at Anniston station. This is the stop before Birmingham. And there’s a crowd of white men out there. They shout curses and smash the back window of the bus. “

Then we hear a big explosion. Then, “Let’s burn these niggers alive.

Quinton begins to sound like his panicked voice. He said, “The bus is on fire! The bus is on fire! The gas tank has just exploded. The crowd started to flee. The Freedom Riders and other passengers are all trapped inside. And I hear glass breaking. Wait! I see the door is open. Runners flock outside. They lack air. Some of them fall to the ground. I hear moans for water. And there is no one to help. Wait. I see a little white girl running through the crowd with water. She just walked over to a black woman and put a towel over her face. Now she offers him a drink. She is a 12 or 13 year old child. She is the only one to help. She moves from place to place. She gives every negro she meets a glass of water. When she’s sure they’re okay, she moves on to the next one.

Mom says, “Incredible grace!

Quinton said, “It’s amazing. This little child surely saved a life today. The crowd begins to return towards the bus. Someone has hit a black man on the ground with a club. The negro uses the towel the little girl gave him to wipe his face. His face is covered in blood.

Then the radio goes silent. We all look at each other. Then mom, she started to sing. Her voice sounds like a sigh.

I call you, Savior
Blessed savior
Hear my humble cry
While on the others you call
Don’t let my chili pass

Her voice breaks at the end. She stands there watching the radio as if it were color television. None of us know what to say. We just look at each other. We don’t know what happened to Quinton. I don’t know if he was hit. I don’t know if he’s safe.

Mom says, “Let’s sit down to eat. So we take all our seats. Uncle Jesse comes out of his room and goes to prepare a plate for him. None of us are hungry. Uncle Jesse brings his plate back to the bedroom. He never eats at the table. Uncle Jesse is really weird.

Lucky sucks both fingers. He always does this when he’s nervous or when he’s scared. This is pretty much the only way you know of. I start to cry. “Mom, what happened to Quinton?”

Mom said, “Nothing happened to Quinton. He is fine. I just know it. Eat breakfast so you can start to prepare.

“I don’t want to go to church. Not until I’m sure my brother is safe.

Sissy says, “Don’t worry.” But she’s not looking at me. Her eyes are all wet and she looks at her plate. And I can see the tear drop in his canned tomatoes. I touch it with my finger and Sissy smiles a sad smile. Then she reached out and kissed me on the top of my forehead.

“Pray, Mandy,” she said. “You just pray very hard.”

The radio finished filling the whole room with its silence. Even the sun that shines like diamonds cannot raise despair in the room. Everything inside me screams that the white crowd is done with Quinton. I can see it in my mind. He’s all bloodied and hurt.

The radio begins to crackle. Now we can hear static. Looks like something underwater trying to make its presence known. We all hold our breath as we wait to hear from my brother.

“Our sound engineer was injured,” Quinton said.

You can hear our whole breath explode like a bomb.

“Just like at the right time,” Quinton says, “the white crowd has dispersed. Reverend Shuttlesworth introduced himself with some members of his church. There are about five cars. Each of them is filled with a dozen Freedom Riders. Although some are injured, they are all well enough to walk on their own. We move away. We’ll bring you more breaking news later today. Right now we’re all going to Reverend Shuttlesworth’s Church. Looks like the Freedom Rides are over. These students are injured and have all decided that they cannot continue this journey. There has been talk of some corners that there are replacements here. But I cannot confirm it. Stay tuned for more breaking news. We will be reporting from Birmingham, the next stop on the tour. What a day this has been. These young students held on. I wish you all a pleasant Mother’s Day morning. This is Quinton Delacortes Anderson for WOKJ, your civil rights news channel.

“God, this is good,” my mom says.

Catherine Alexander is a writer, actor, storyteller and teaching artist. His writings have appeared in various publications such as ColorsNW Magazine and Arkana Magazine. She has won several awards, including the Jack Straw Artist Support Program Award. His collection of short stories, Angel in addiction, 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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