She walked along the uneven sidewalk in heels that pinched her toes, watching the concrete to avoid tripping over the cracked surface. That same day, she purchased clothing appropriate for the heat. The thin, cotton dress fluttered around her knees. Two old men seated on a bench between the sidewalk and the street, were fanning themselves. The top buttons on one man’s shirt were unfastened exposing gray chest hairs crookedly peering above his undershirt. The men spoke with thick Southern accents. She heard one of the men pronounce the word, “segregation.”
The man closest to her, removing his straw fedora, revealed a shiny, baldhead. He laughingly leaned to one side, “One day I tell ya, one day, he will get what’s comin’ to him!” His mouth open from laughter, he saw Batresh, walking towards him. He noted her walk and the curve of her hips.
She brushed loose strands of hair from her forehead, catching a glimpse of the Lee County Courthouse on the small hill to her left. Mindful of where she was, she looked towards the street. It was congested with large vehicles, the sidewalk crowded with workers going to their cars and women leaving shops. In front of her, stopped in traffic, was a dull, dark green Chevy, from the the previous decade. She had found her.
She saw the face of a small boy looking out the back window. He watched the old men. Tiny and fragile, dark circles under his eyes, he could not have been more than five or six. He did not see her, but looked at the men. Batresh saw the boy’s mother, petite, young, driving the large vehicle, barely able to see above the dashboard. She peered through the opening at the top of the steering wheel, looking for a parking space.
Batresh turned. Behind her, the late afternoon sky was pale blue, white clouds touched with pink. A statue honoring dead Confederate soldiers on the corner, faced away from her. Turning back, she saw the young woman parked further up the street. The boy leaned forward, looking through the windshield at people on the street. Ahead, black people were busily shopping. Women in colorful, tight dresses, wearing small hats, laughing and shouting to friends. The boy’s mother leaned forward to see better. He and his mother were talking. She turned, reaching back to touch the boy’s face. He pointed towards the women.
A chill fell over the mother’s face. Her smile tightened. The boy turned to look. A thin, young man, wearing a khaki uniform exited a brick building ahead. He looked around with a cocky smile, moving his head with self-assured invincibility. His light blue eyes settling on a black woman’s hips, he squinted aggressively, and pressed his lips together. The boy sat back, away from his mother. Not wanting to look at the man’s face, he looked towards the courthouse. The man opened the passenger side car-door and slid into the front seat. He spoke through tightened lips and snarled, nostrils flaring. He gestured aggressively, and the mother opened her car door and went around to the other side. The father moved across the seat to the driver’s side and started the engine. She opened the passenger side door, but the father jerked the car forward, causing her to stumble. He laughed, and looked at her. She got inside, and they drove away.
Batresh watched the car as it turned a corner and disappeared. Across the street, she saw a small shop with its door barred shut. She felt the presence of dark energies. Still focused on the closed shop, she was aware that one of the older men was standing and looking at her. “You look like you’re lost, Miss,” he offered. “May I help you with somethin’?”
Knowing she must look out of place, she responded, “Thank you.” She looked into the old man’s face. One of the few strands of gray hair combed over his bare head, blew wildly in the breeze. “I had some business at the court house this afternoon.” Trying to appear casual, she continued, “I was hoping to find a restaurant to have some dinner.”
Her accent, although convincingly Southern, was not familiar to them. “You don’t sound like yer from around here,” the standing man said. He was leaning on the bench, his walking cane within reach. A newspaper lay where he had been sitting.
She responded, “I am here visiting my aunt. I’ve just come from Virginia.” Both men looked at her curiously, but were too polite to pry.
The seated man offered, “You can go over to Main Street to TKE’s and get somethin’ to eat.” He looked into her face, trying to guess which family she was related to. The man who was standing looked to the east, towards a taller building a short distance away, a gray, plastered jail house. He squinted his eyes, and then turned to her again, “You look like one of the Reeds. Are you a-kin to the Reeds?”
Batresh was reluctant to say more, afraid of showing how foreign she was. She looked towards the Court House again, then, back. “I believe my mother mentioned the Reeds.” She continued, “Thanks for your help. I think I will look for TKE’s.” She turned back towards Main Street, looked at the men and nodded.
She looked at a brick building across the street, the brown brick stained with rust from metal plates. A block ahead, the signal light turned red. As she walked, she became aware of someone walking behind her. She heard a man’s footfall. He was small and his walk inconsistent, as if he were not accustomed to walking in the shoes he wore. Every now and then, he stumbled. As he grew closer, she felt cold. She took a deep breath, not knowing what to do. She didn’t expect that they would be here. Her heartbeat grew faster as she focused on the cadence of his walk. Perspiration beaded above her lips. Her breathing quickened. Not considering the consequences, she reached into her handbag and removed a disk shaped object. As she held it in her palm, she felt it activate. It vibrated softly, and warmed. She looked down at her hand. As the disk became fully activated, the vibrating stopped. The man walking behind her slowed, as if he knew she held a weapon. She looked nervously to the side, afraid she had given away too much. Now, they would know she was here. She continued walking towards Main Street.
She sat at a table at TKE’s, a drug store with a café. They also sold school supplies. To her right was a soda-fountain and a few tables. A young mother with her little girl entered, and walked towards the back to ask a young man about a workbook. Looking up from her grilled cheese sandwich, Batresh saw a small, thin man open the door. The door was heavy for him. He winced at the force he had to exert. He wore a loosely fitting gray jacket, a neck tie, fedora, and trousers that were too big for his small frame. The oversized leather shoes he wore clicked on marble tiles. He walked towards the counter, fixing his eyes on Batresh as he passed by. He took a free chair, and examined the menu on the back wall. Although his eyes were focused on the lettering, his attention was fixed on Batresh. He could hear her breathing and feel her heart beat. His keen sense of smell allowed him to make note of her chemical signature. He knew that she was afraid. Still looking at the lettering on the wall in front of him, he decided to proceed. Her presence was of little importance. Their plans were in place. He asked the young aproned man behind the counter for a coke.
She ate a few bites of her sandwich and sipped iced tea through a paper straw.
Within five minutes another small man, dressed similarly, walked to the store. He also struggled with the door, but walked in and headed towards the man at the counter, taking a stool several feet away. He fumbled in his jacket pocket and withdrew a small, flat case. Placing it on the counter in front of him, he opened the silvered lid.
She felt coldness again. The atmosphere in the store changed, the man behind the counter looked down at the tiles on the floor and frowned. He concentrated on an imagined slight from earlier in the day. Another customer had teased him about pimples on his chin. The young man’s face reddened. The mother in the back of the store raised her voice, “But, her teacher said we should come here to get the notebook!” The man responded, raising his voice, “We should get them in a day or two.” His face creased with annoyance.
Batresh reached into her bag again, and drew the disk into her palm. Again she felt the vibration and heat. It calmly activated itself. She stood. Both small men at the counter turned to face her. She opened her palm towards them. The atmosphere changed again. The man put the small case back into this pocket. Both men stood up from the bar stools, their calm faces belying their panic. They clumsily, but hurriedly rushed to the door of the store. “Hey, that coke costs ten cents,” the young man behind the bar called out. But, the small men were already gone.
Batresh slid her hand into her purse, releasing the disk. It unattached itself from her hand. “May I have my check please?”
The summer Mississippi sun was setting behind her as she walked eastwards on Main Street. She wondered why the men at the restaurant were here, what value could the population of this town be to them? She wondered how much time she had. The evening sky grew darker. She looked up, knowing that she would not be able to see Tayamni-Pa until almost morning. Newly installed streetlights blinked on. Rush hour in this small southern town was winding down. Sighing with relief, she allowed herself to feel the heat. Evening breezes felt sensual on her skin. The cooling night caressed her. She was reminded of home.
After a time, she reached the fair grounds. The Mississippi, Alabama Fair and Dairy Show would be a whirl of activity later in the autumn, but now, the fairgrounds were empty. She slid through a partially opened gate and entered the darkening field. Her shoes made hushed sounds against soft earth and wet saw dust. She walked further, and turned left, making her way to a darkened corner near a stack of boards. As she approached the vehicle, she saw the warm glow of awakening systems. She walked closer, and heard a soft click, as an opening appeared. Although not completely obscured in the darkening night, the vehicle’s mat surface reflected little light. She stepped inside and the opening closed.
Originally posted on Scriggler.com.