Boone had been working hard since before day in the morning and as the sun now faded into hues of creamy lavender and magenta, he was just finishing up. His back had a dull ache and his callused hands were worn from handling iron for most of the day but he looked forward to doing it again tomorrow. As a free man, working for himself was always a pleasure, especially when he thought of how hard his own father and mother had worked as slaves and how hard his own wife, Suzette, worked daily as a slave herself. How he longed for her to be free with him; he was obsessed with the prospect of a real life with her. He constantly thought of it in the recesses of his mind.
There weren’t many opportunities for them to be together and he had to be very careful with the timing of his visits. The night overseers changed posts twice a night at the same time, every night and Boone used these times to make his entrance and exit while no one was patrolling with the dogs.
He sneaked into his wife’s slave quarters and saw his newly-wed bride setting a bowl of pork and beans at a small wooden table. He had brought her pork the day before and the pot of beans was filled with its rich, savory flavor. Meat was rare for slaves on the Howell plantation and Suzette considered herself blessed to be married to a man who could provide it for her so often.
She’d survived off of the supplemental protein of crawfish so long that she’d been through the three stages of food several times over: love, like and then utter distaste. Right now she hated them and she was ever so grateful to Boone for bringing her the pork.
He was quiet as he made his entrance. His presence was not wanted by her master. His being a free black man didn't sit well with any of the slave-owning whites in Whiteport, Virginia, especially Thomas Addison Howell, whose father had acquired Suzette as a young girl. Thomas had reprimanded Boone's advances from the first time he caught him courting Suzette on his property, wooing her with fresh honey or flowers or candy.
Her favorite was rock candy. She loved it so much that she would break it into tiny pieces to eat on as long as she could. She'd done that since she was a little girl on her father’s plantation down in North Carolina. When everyone else had gobbled and crunched theirs down, she'd still have several small treasured pieces to enjoy from her stash.
Boone had made it his mission to find out everything about her when he first saw her playing ring-around-the-rosy with a small group of young children, her smile as captivating as the sound of her laugh. He had mistaken her for a child at first but, as he rode closer he saw otherwise. He'd tipped his hat and the children had all stopped to admire him on his beautiful horse, Cheyenne.
It was an Appaloosa all the way from out west and the story of how he'd won it from a Sioux Indian in those parts was one he was proud to tell, because the proof of his testimony was right there underneath his saddle. His horse was an even greater reason for the local whites not to like him, but he was the best ironsmith in those parts; black or white.
The horseshoes he made fit like gloves and lasted ages longer than the competition and he also concocted horse remedies out of ingredients of which no one knew, but all sought when their horses ailed. He had no problem creating a niche for himself wherever he went, though he had made his home in Whiteport some 5 or so years ago by the time he had met Suzette. There was a great population of free blacks in Virginia and he liked that.
Though he was 10 years Suzette’s senior, neither of the two minded. In fact, he liked being able to teach her new things. Of course she had seen nothing in life except the plantation, so she eagerly devoured the information and experiences that he had to share. She’d had some literary skills, which he commended, but it was he who had taught her to really read and understand and after a while he would often worry about her being caught with one of his various books. She had been so intrigued with his copies of Emily Dickinson's poetry when she first read them that she had begged him to let her keep it for a while. After that, it was the same with every book he shared with her.
Boone was an interesting one. His story was amazing to Suzette and, was it not so tragic for him, she would have gladly asked him to tell it to her again; her grandmother had instilled a love in her for storytelling.
According to Boone, an old Quaker had rescued him from the hands of slave captors when he and his father were caught en route to freedom. He had been only eight years old when his father had snatched him up and took off. The provocation had been the fact that his mother had been sold and much worse, specifically for "breeding" purposes. His father, Big Jack was what he was called, had watched angrily as their master had come and gotten her one day and stripped her bare for her prospective buyers to examine in front of the whole plantation.
They had weighted her breast with their hands and admired the strength in the muscles of her buttocks. They inspected her teeth like a horse and tugged at her long dreaded locks; a style which they had never seen before in a black person’s hair. Boone’s father had raged before a group of four white men beat him into submission with sticks and whips. The end result was that his mother was still sold away and his father was beaten almost to death, submitting only for the sake of his son. He'd wanted to save him; do for him what he had failed to do for the boy's mother.
They had made it almost 40 miles on bare foot in South Carolina heat before they were apprehended near the border of North Carolina. A widowed Quaker woman by the name of Margaret Chrissiks had taken them in, but dogs had traced their scent and they had been exposed in a false floor of her home. She feared being arrested and had offered money for the sake of herself and for the papers of both Boone and his father, who stood bravely before the barking dogs and sneering white men, his son’s head peeking out from behind his legs.
The men took all of the money, but only gave her the papers for Boone.
"The biggun's got a special bonus for his delivery alive," the leader of the band of six men had said as they collectively approached the wild-looking man with chains and caution.
"Get him outta here," Jack had yelled at Margaret. "You get my boy outta here, ‘cause he ain't gonna see me in chains ever again!"
She had quickly grabbed Boone and took off with him on her horse and cart as his father stood ready to fight the men as they closed in around him. He managed to knock one man out and break the neck of another before they frantically shot and killed him, knowing that they wouldn't receive the bonus for his corpse. Boone’s father had left them no choice.
It wasn’t that he was big in height, but he had big features that made him seem larger than the average man. His hands spanned a great width and his feet were long and burly. His ankles and wrists were thick with big bones, his legs and arms like tree trunks in their sturdy appearance. He’d fought with the strength of every muscle that day, showing no signs of stopping until his captors were no more. They’d had to shoot him several times before he finally let go of the collar of one of the men and died.
They had been as stupid as to think that Boone's father was going to go back into captivity where nothing awaited him but pain and memories of people he loved and would never see again. He had had nothing to lose. Knowing that Boone was free in the hands of a kind Quaker woman had caused tears to flow from his blood-engorged eyes as he breathed his last breaths. He had not freed neither himself nor the boy's mother, but he had freed his seed and he knew that his ancestors would have been proud of him…that the generations that came from this one son of his would revel in what he had done for his Boone. He had given a gift to his son that none before him had ever been able to offer: liberty.
And Boone, he had gained a guardian in Margaret. Her husband had died before they’d had any children and she had never remarried. Instead she had poured herself into publishing his writings and as a result her husband had posthumously become a prolific author in Europe, though American citizens had not been as receptive to his ideas of global racial equality and had little to do with his works.
Boone had read everything he could as a young boy under the old woman’s tutelage. Much like Suzette, he had been eager to learn from Miss Margaret and her man-servant Jonathan, whose given name translated from the Cherokee culture, was Guiding Moonlight. He was the first servant that Boone had seen who wasn't colored. He was Cherokee Indian and had become employed by Mary and her late husband some years ago when they had travelled west during the decades preceding the 1849 Gold-rush. Margaret was a tough frontier woman with a heart softer than a baby duck’s down.
Young Boone would beam with pride when he mastered a skill successfully and Jonathan would rub his head and encourage him to always keep his hunger for knowledge because he would be a great leader for his people. And Boone believed him. Then Margaret died abruptly seven years later. Jonathan had discovered her body one night and awakened the boy with his papers and a wad of money.
"There is nothing I can do for you, my friend. If they come to take, I cannot stop," he said in his broken English. “I am not from here and my words are no good to white man," he said in truth.
"Can't I go with you…out west?" Boone was wide awake then, though he had been deeply asleep before Jonathan had given him the news.
"No, I cannot care for you, I am sorry. You are man now, remember what I teach you.” He touched the boy’s head. “Remember what Miss Margaret teach you…remember God." He touched the boy’s chest with his palm.
Boone had known Jonathan would head back to his homeland out west. The man had spoken of it often enough, though much of his family had been displaced or slaughtered. He missed the land that he had been raised in. The boy had pleaded and begged that night until the old man had relented and they left in the night, taking Boone's papers and all of the money in Margaret’s safe. It wasn't the literary fortune that awaited her family in the bank, but it was more than either of them had ever been in possession of and it would go on to serve them well.
Boone had really only begun to feel completely free when he took off with Jonathan that night. It was that journey west that marked his manhood and when Jonathan died peacefully nine years later, Boone knew he wanted to go back and find his mother if he could. It was a dream that he couldn't shake. That was what had brought him back to the east coast and the moment he saw Suzette, he was glad that he had returned. He’d planned to have her as his wife right then and there. Her Master would not prove to be in likeness of this ambition of his though, and it had shaped the whole course of their relationship over the years.
"Hey now," Boone whispered after he'd entered and shut the wood door. They had barely been married a few months and making love was still all that either could think about when they were alone together.
He embraced her and couldn't help but thank God for giving him a woman so beautiful and loving. He was instantly aroused by her closeness and his hunger for the beans was subdued by his hunger for her.
"Massa Thomas been nosin' 'round here near bout every day since we been married," Suzette confessed after they'd sated their initial lust. "I think he knows that we married. He be real nice most times, but he always askin' me questions…"
"How come you just now tellin' me?" He was instantly furious, she could see. He returned her concerned gaze with a fierce glare.
"Didn't think nothin’ of it at first, but now he over here every day pesterin' me ‘bout mendin' something or cookin' something special for him and I…"
"And just what you do when ask, huh," Boone cut her off again as the blood pulsed through his veins at a reckless speed.
Suzette sat up in order to speak and defend her honor against what he was insinuating.
"I does whatever he say, Boone; don't want no trouble."
Her words were soft even though she didn't like the fact that he was acting as if she had a choice in the matter of doing what her master requested and demanded. But, she also knew that according to law, her master could do with her what he pleased and that their marriage meant nothing; this furrowed Boone's brow every time he thought about it.
"You tell him that you married now and that you got no Godly right treatin’ other men with more favor than me!" He whispered as loud as he could. He wanted to scream the words and dare a body to try and come keep him from being there with his wife. "Tell him I said I'll do whatever he needs done around here."
"You know I can't! You tryna get me beat to death! He prob'ly wouldn't leave a strip ‘a skin on my back, I go talkin’ to him like that," Suzette reasoned.
"You do as the Bible says, and don't talk back to me, woman! I'm the man you married…not him," he pointed to himself emphatically as he rose from his place beside her and paced in the nude by the light of the embers that glowed from the tiny hearth.
"I know what he's ‘round here for and I'll kill him first; you hear me? I'll kill him first."
"Shh." Suzette shushed him. Boone was not only free, but arrogant in his freedom. He had no patience or tolerance for being discriminated against and Suzette was always afraid for him when he left her sight because she had visions of him being strung up or set afire by a mob of white men who didn't like "uppity free niggers". Even though Boone was a free man, the law wasn't much on his side and the last thing Suzette wanted was for him to be discovered here and give her master a reason to have him taken to jail for trespassing.
Boone lowered his volume, but his blood pressure was still high when he said, "You listen to me good: he come ‘round here beggin' special favors and you make yourself scarce and hide somewhere else on the land ‘til he goes on away."
"That won't last for long Boone. He'll catch up with me sooner or later 'round here."
"I know," he conceded. "I don't plan on us being here much longer. I knew he had an eye for you when he didn't want me comin' around to see you. He wants you for himself. I've seen it before, Suzette, and I'll kill him or die tryin’ ‘fore I let him have you like only I should. My God says, 'what He has put together, let no man put asunder', and I intend to hold fast to that vow. I owe that to you and God."
He stood before her now, his brow creased with worry. His stomach growled impatiently and she instantly got up and fixed him a bowl of the beans, careful to give him generous portions of the pork. He knew he would have to leave soon after he ate and he wolfed the food down quickly. They hadn't spent one whole night together since Christmas Eve and before then not since they had wed secretly one Sunday while the Howell family was away at revival. The most God-fearing slave on the plantation, Uncle Rab had been the officiator. Boone hated leaving her there and as he grabbed his clothes his heart was heavy as it always was whenever he left her.
"Don't go tonight," Suzette cooed seductively.
"I wish I didn't have to, but if anybody sees me it'll be you that they'll punish and I can't risk that. Anyway, you need to get your rest for tomorrow and you know that ain't gonna happen if I stay here any longer." They both smiled at that truth but it was hard for them. They each longed to be together like the married couple that they were and the fact that they couldn't was already starting to take a toll on their union.
When Suzette had first met Boone she’d had dreams of him whisking her away to the freedom of the open west and settling there and making a tribe of children with him. She had known, right then at 16 that that's what she wanted to do with this man who had been places that she had never even heard of. However, the years went by as Boone saved up money, and when her master had refused to let Boone finally pay for her, she knew that it wouldn't be an easy dream to bring into fruition. She had actually begun the process of resigning herself to the arrangement of seeing Boone every other day or so and though he kept promising her otherwise, she was beginning to doubt that they would ever be free together.
He felt her sigh in his arms and he longed to comfort her even more but, though he'd been free most of his life, he knew that there was no way to soothe the ache for liberty except by achieving it. Standing there, holding her, he thought of his mother and father.
He tightened his arms around her, his eyes closed and he could see that fateful day all over again; his mother being inspected like an animal while his father's blood boiled. He could hear the screams of the white women there as his father raged with the strength of a Brahma bull. Boone still remembered the moment when he locked eyes with him. He held his gaze for only a moment, but it had felt like all of eternity to Boone. Two men were upon him and choking him as he resisted, relenting only well after his muscles had slackened. He had been prepared to die fighting for his son's mother, his best friend. However, when he saw Boone he realized that he had one more person to live for.
Tears welled in Boone's eyes as he held them tightly shut, and when he opened them two thick rivers slid down his cheeks, under his chin and onto Suzette's bare shoulder. She knew without seeing his face that he was crying and also what he was thinking of…that he had never gotten over what had happened to his parents and when he looked at her, he thought of his mother and the pain his father must have felt at losing her.
She said nothing, for she too knew that his ache had no comfort that words could bring. Instead she pressed herself to him harder, rubbed the back of his neck and shoulders. They stood there like that for a long time, yet not long enough for either of them to be satisfied. But, he had to leave. Suzette reluctantly released him from her embrace; however he kept his hands on her shoulders as he said one last thing.
"You remember to do what I told you," He looked intently at her. "I'm not gonna let what happened to my folks happen to us…I promise. Do you believe me?" He searched the depths of her eyes.
"Yes," Suzette nodded. Though doubt lurked in the recesses of her mind, she didn't dare let it infiltrate her voice. She wanted to believe him; even if he never fulfilled his promise she knew that he meant to do so and she vowed to herself not to hold it against him if he couldn't save her or even if he decided to leave her in bondage instead. She feared that the most: that he would grow tired of her restrictions as a slave and give up on her. She knew that he loved her and dreamed of their life together as she did, but she also knew that slavery was the slaughterer of the dreams of her people and that a life together for them most likely wouldn't be anything close to what they desired.
Hope never left Boone however. If it was one thing that his father's defiance had taught him, it was to never give up fighting to save what's yours…that it's better for a man to die trying than to give up. Suzette may have had her doubts about their longevity together, but he knew that he could never leave her in captivity and that he had to do something before her master sullied the sanctified union that they had. That was more than he could bear; the thought alone made him murderously mad. He wouldn't allow it.
Suzette did what Boone had told her and hid elsewhere on the property whenever she noticed Thomas Howell walking down from the big house toward the neighborhood of slave quarters in the evenings. This went on for about two weeks before he became suspicious and asked Nicodemus, the head overseer, to keep a closer watch on her after work-hours. He knew which slaves to ask and by the end of a few days of questioning he had learned about her secret marriage to Boone and also about Boone's late night visits to his plantation. His first instinct was to strip Suzette naked and beat her back raw; instead he visited Boone the next day during the rise of the early-afternoon sun.
Boone was vigorously hefting hay down from the loft in his barn to feed his livestock and fill his coops.
"Boy, get down here so I can talk at you," he demanded, as if Boone was another one of his slaves.
Boone's shirt was still tucked into his trousers but was off of his upper-body and hanging by the waist of his pants. His arms were swollen with muscular definition and his chest heaved as he stopped and peered over the edge of the loft at Thomas, unsure of how to address him.
He wanted to beat the living day-lights out of him but he knew that was a suicidal thought. However, he didn't intend to let Thomas Howell intimidate him either.
"You need somethin’ for your horse," he asked nonchalantly, still standing above him on the loft of the barn.
"I need you to get your black-self down here now," Thomas demanded again, pointing a finger at the ground for emphasis.
Boone stiffened at his tone and leaped from the loft in a single bound and landed at Thomas's feet. The unexpected action caused Thomas to flinch and take a step back instinctively and Boone almost smiled because that had been his intention: to shake if he could be shook.
"Yes," he said once he faced the owner of his wife.
"Contrary to what you may think ‘bout the white folks around here, we are far from ignorant."
"Beg your pardon?" Boone said quizzically. He was trying to control his anger but his temperature soared.
"We aren't as dumb as you seem to think we are, boy. Now I know all about you and Suzy and this secret marriage that yall think you have, but she is my property and I have not expressed permission for her to marry anybody…especially a nigger who thinks that he's free just ‘cause a piece of paper says so."
"I'm a free man whether you like it or not," Boone's curled upper-lip twitched with strained self-control.
"The longer you stay in Whiteport, the quicker you're gonna meet your maker, boy. Now you've had your fun with the gals ‘round here.”
Boone was caught off guard and Thomas noticed.
"That’s right. I’ve heard about you and several other nigger-gals. Does Suzy know about them too?” He didn’t give Boone time to answer.
“You better make yourself scarce in these parts before you find yourself in a mess that you can't see your way out of."
"I'll be gladly on my way from here with Suzette," Boone said bravely. "She's my wife and I ain’t leavin’ here without her. I'll work off every penny you want for her if I have to."
"We've already been over this before, boy. She ain't for sale; not to the likes of you! Now you better heed what I said and git! You’ve overstayed a welcome that was never extended."
"Folks ‘round here like my horse shoes and remedies. I ain't never heard a complaint from nobody but you, Thomas Howell."
The man seemed taken aback at Boone's use of his first name without the handle of "Massa" or "Mr." put on it. Boone watched as he turned two shades of red.
"You seem to forget that she's mine, and if you aren't gone within the next few days she will pay the price. And I can tell you I've a good mind to beat the skin off her back for this scandalous escapade with you. You have sullied her flesh and devalued her.
“A virgin like her would have been worth hundreds more…now she’s only good enough to loan out as a whore, and that’s after she’s been thoroughly cleaned up. It’d be a shame for you to have to watch that, knowing that you could have stopped it by just goin’ away.”
Boone controlled the urge to lunge and put his hands around Thomas scrawny, red neck. However, the rage in his eyes didn't go unnoticed, but this time Thomas maintained his footing along with his scowl.
He finally relented, "alright.”
The last thing he wanted was for Suzette to be hurt. His mother's eyes invaded his sub-conscious and he couldn't help but feel defeated. Thomas sneered, knowing that he had the upper hand as every white man did over a black man, free or slave.
"And don't even think about runnin' off with her in the night ‘cause I'll be watchin' from now on."
"I-I just want to say my farewells," Boone said somberly.
"I don't want you anywhere ‘round my plantation or I'll have her stripped and beaten until she can't take another lick. Are you understandin’ my words, nigger? If not, it’s best to believe I’ll show you." Thomas turned heel and left Boone with that threat.
By the time Thomas had mounted his horse, Boone had ground his teeth so hard that his gums ached. But that was all that he could do to stay his mouth from shouting. He had to leave Suzette. There was no way that he could stay and let Thomas have her whipped and whored. He'd seen more than a few slaves beaten in his life; it was cruel torture.
He would have to get word to her through another slave, but now he wasn't sure who to trust. Having been sold away from her mother long ago, she had no family that he knew of. She was the product of her mother’s affair with her master and the offense along with others had grown to be more than her father’s wife could bear.
Under the impression that the only way to rectify his infidelity was to get rid of the proof, Suzette and her mother were sold. Being sold together had been the only consolation that he could provide for having to do so, though it did no good because as soon as Suzette and her mother reached North Carolina, her mother was sold by the same man who had promised and even been paid extra to keep them together.
"Don't worry," her father and master, Vance Harvey, had said when she had begun to cry at the news of being sold. I know the man who's gonna take you, very well. He'll make sure that you and your mama stay together and go to a nice plantation just like this one. You’ll get plenty to eat and meet lots of new friends to play with."
Of course Vance had never acknowledged his illegitimate black children. But Suzette had won his affection more-so than any other bi-racial child he had and he'd seen to it that she had had the best of what was available; which included the old clothes and toys of his white daughters and sometimes even books which was where Suzette had acquired the novice reading skills that Boone had been so impressed by. She also received meat with her rations and occasional visits to talk with him when he saw fit.
"I wish that you were white," he had told her one day, thinking that it was a compliment to love her so much as to make that wish. But contrarily, it had torn her heart to hear him verbalize the fact that she wasn't good enough for him the way that she was.
She hadn't been much younger than Boone when her master and father sold her and her mother away; only six years old. And when Thurston Howell, Thomas’ father had purchased her, she had been bought as a cheap play thing for his daughter: a pretty, little, living doll that was sent away from the house when her breasts and hips started to develop. She had not met Thomas then though. He had been away completing his freshman year at the College of William and Mary at the time.
Suzette was thrust from the house and into a world full of black faces that she had only seen in passing and many of them had not been receptive of her "tainted" black beauty and the way many of their black men looked at her longingly.
Boone's friendship had been a kindly-welcomed breath of fresh air and truthfully, once she'd showed interest in this handsome, dark-skinned, freed-man, her popularity among the other slaves had increased. This man had attained something that they all longed for and they thought that just maybe his fortune would rub off on them.
But now Boone wasn't sure who to trust. Someone had told Thomas Howell about them, and it had to have been another slave. No one else in Whiteport knew, or even cared for that matter, about two colored folks tying the knot. He could only think of one person whom he could fully trust to reach her with his urgent message: Uncle Rab, the man who’d married them.
Uncle Rab had served his time as a slave, but in his old age he couldn't do much physical labor. The fact that he knew every plant indigenous to the area, as well as its medicinal effects had been the reason that he still held value to Thomas Howell. So he was kept and fed with the rest of the slaves on the plantation, though he didn’t do much work anymore.
Rab and Boone had formed a quick friendship and he actually reminded the young man of his old Indian guardian, Jonathan. Uncle Rab was wise and he often found humor in the atrocities that had plagued his life.
Every day he sat in a tiny stall in an alley between the post office and the barber in the town square and sold his medicines for the profit of his master. He had never been bedridden a day in his life that anyone still living could remember. Boone knew he could get a message to Suzette through him without anyone else knowing. The man was noble and trustworthy.
When Boone went to him, he was mixing together some kind of concoction in his stall. He smiled and revealed a near perfect set of old, white teeth. Boone couldn't help but admire the old man's condition at his age, and Uncle Rab had given the credit to God and the natural herbs He’d created.
"What ails you man; don't tell me that young wife a yourn done wo’ you out already," he chuckled heartily but sobered when he noticed the seriousness stayed upon Boone's face. He waited quietly for him to state his reasoning for having come and once he did, the old man carefully thought as he kept working.
"Shoulda known the onliest reason he ain't want you round Suzy is ‘cause he wanted her fo’ hisself!" He hissed. "I knowed it too…" He trailed off and then picked back up with, "white folks see somethin' good an’ they gotsta have it fo’ theyselves. That's one ‘a the reasons why I married my Josephine: she was mean an’ uh-guh-lee, woo-wee," Rab smiled in remembrance, "but she was all mines…yessuh. Ain't nobody want Jo but me, an’ I was jest fine wit’ it…sho was.”
Boone got a chuckle out of that despite his worries and they were both silent for a long moment. When he left, Boone felt better about Suzette getting the note he had written and given to Uncle Rab. He hated having to leave but at least she would know what was happening: that he wasn’t leaving her of his own accord or to hurt her, but because her master had threatened to do her harm if he didn’t.
By the time she got the note from Uncle Rab, Boone was already out of Whiteport. Taking only what was of significant value, he'd left, promising in his note to rectify the matter soon. Tears slid down her face as she read his rushed script. She'd known it was coming, but how it hurt her heart to have to let him go. She didn't expect him to come back for her and she didn't blame him either.
She went to bed sobbing into her own arms, hating her predicament. She clutched the letter to her breast and there it stayed as she cried herself into a weary sleep. Her mind drifted into the realm of a distant existence where only dreams of the past loomed.
All of a sudden she was a little girl, sitting at the feet of her grandmother as she had often done before she and her mother had been sold. Her mother would go off to work in her father's huge, white house and leave her with Granny, who was old with rheumatism. Thick cataracts had taken much of her vision many years before Suzette had been born. The woman cured and smoked an herb that she claimed eased the pain in her eyes. The second-hand smoke left Suzette light-headed and giddy every time Granny smoked it in her corncob pipe, which was usually every day at some point.
The old woman was good for nothing in the eyes of most of the slave owners around and many of them probably would have simply euthanized her like a no-good horse or beast of the field. But Vance Harvey had been raised by her and had cared for her daughter Rain and their daughter Suzette enough to allow her to tend to the baby-girl while Rain did her share of work as his slave.
Granny would tell her the greatest stories of Noah and the ark, King David and his many adventures, even of the immeasurable treasures of King Solomon and of the obedience of Ruth and most importantly, the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ Jesus. While Suzette was barely of an age to talk, she would sit and listen intently to the words her Granny spoke, clapping her hands instinctively when the old woman’s voice rose with emphasis. Her stories were always full of passion and imagery and while the old woman couldn’t so much as read her own name if she was to see it, her biblical knowledge was uncanny.
It had seemed that even though the woman was losing her vision, she could still see the stories play out in her mind vividly. Even the other slaves on the plantation would gather around on rare occasions, and listen to her retell stories that had passed down through generations of African ancestors. Their master, Vance Harvey himself could sometimes be caught standing in the midst, focused on her lively tales of Brier Rabbit or Ananzi the wise spider, smoke curling lazily from his tobacco pipe as he crossed and uncrossed his arms.
He too had been told some of those same stories in his childhood as Granny had practically raised him from a suckling infant until he was old enough to sell her away if he had chosen to do so. She'd fearlessly chastised him the same as she would her own child when she'd felt like he had gone afoul of God's Word and at times he had even come to her for the wisdom of her advice. Though he never publicly acknowledged her importance in his life to his white peers, he couldn't deny the admiration he had for her steadfastness and quick-witted responses in any situation.
"Where you git your stubbornness from, Auntie," he'd often teased, "sometimes I'd swear you was a descendant of old Pharaoh himself”. He'd chuckle as she grumbled some facetious remark or another.
He had been the only boy of his father's six children and it had broken her heart when he’d gone away to school. He had come to see her before leaving, but she wouldn't even look at him or say a word for fear of crying, which she never allowed anyone to see or hear her do. She had shooed him away as Rain handed him a small molasses cake that Granny had made for him from her own rations. It wasn't much, but he knew that it was probably all that she had to give and he had taken it graciously and tipped his hat to Rain, who was then just a girl. And then he went off to the university though he’d begged his father not to make him go.
After a year of squandering his tuition money aimlessly at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, he was summoned home for the death of his father. Being the only son, the plantation was his, whether he was ready or not…which he wasn't. The evening after his father's burial he had come to see Granny.
"I just don't know if I'm ready, Auntie," he had confided. "Daddy ran this place like a ship in tip-top shape. I don't know how to do that…I don't know what I'ma do." He'd seemed as if he were about to cry in frustration just like the little boy she still remembered him to be. She had smiled faintly at him in the glow of the kerosene lamp.
"You know what to do…but you won't do it. It ain't in ya…wasn't in yo daddy neither." Looking up at her, perplexed by her statement, he'd felt offended.
"What you talkin’ ‘bout, Auntie?"
"God said to ‘let my people go’," she'd said evenly and held his gaze. His eyes fell and he was quiet for a moment, not knowing what to say to that. He had always listened to her guidance and expected her advice to most times be Biblical, but he hadn't foreseen this and it had made him uncomfortable.
He'd fidgeted and finally, unable to come up with a decent response, he got up and left silently.
She had wept as soon as he was gone. She'd wanted to be free her whole life, or at least now for Rain to be free and she had so hoped that loving him the way that she had would eventually earn her this one thing. Yet, she had watched him grow up and each year of his age brought her closer to the realization that no matter how well she took care of him or how much she loved him like a son, he would never release her or her child and that asking him to do so was like asking him to stop being who was born and raised to be.
They never spoke of that conversation again. She never mentioned freedom again or ever even thought of it as a tangible option anymore. As far as she was concerned she was living in the generation of slaves before Moses. She had to accept the fact that she wouldn't ever be free, and so did Rain. Maybe Rain's children would taste liberty, but according to Granny, one could only hope and pray that it would be so.
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