Ruby

Based on a true story, this piece of fiction covers one crucial morning in the life of Ruby Bridges, a six-year old black girl, who was one of the first to go to an all-white elementary school in New Orleans in 1960 as part of the U.S government's desegregation policy.

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1. Ruby

I like being invisible. It means I can see people and they can’t see me, and I like that. Ma says that these windows are special ones. She says that I can look out of them and see everything, but no one from out there can see me. I think they must be magic, because most windows aren’t like that. That makes me feel special and important. It’s a fun game to play. You look at people outside, on the street, maybe smile or even wave, but they don’t see you. There’s lots of people to watch; men with hats and ties, sometimes looking at their watches, frowning. And ladies, with their children, or ladies walking their dogs, they frown too. Ma says it's rude to stare, but they can’t see me so it doesn’t matter. Sometimes they even look at the car, at the window, at me. But straight through me, like I’m a ghost. It’s funny.

Her pigtails are pinned tidily to the back of her head; nothing extravagant, but neat, sensible for school. Her white dress is uncreased, pressed flat, like pages of a newspaper, unopened. The workbooks and textbooks sit orderly beside her, just waiting to be opened and scribbled on. She stares out the window, almost hypnotised. Something has her full attention. The complete innocence of this girl is evident and catches me off-guard. A six- year old girl, on her way to school – a very ordinary situation. But her circumstances are not ordinary; she is no ordinary school girl. I hope someone has prepared her, readied her for what awaits at her new school. I hope she knows what she’ll face when she leaves this car. But it’s difficult to explain such unnecessary hatred to a child. She turns from the window, her dark eyes catching mine. She smiles. I know that expression all too well from my own children; the excitement but anxiousness all new pupils get. Her naivety makes me feel slightly sick. But I smile anyway.

The man seems friendly. He has a kind smile. Not like others that I’ve been warned about. Ma told me to be careful because some people might be angry at me, because we are different colours, because they think colours shouldn’t mix. But I think the best colours are those that have been mixed. Like purple, or green. I like purple, I think it’s my favourite. The friendly man is wearing a yellow band, over his jacket. It has some writing on it. They look like the ones at the pool to help the younger kids stay afloat when they are learning. But I can swim without them now. There are three other men with bands, but they aren’t as friendly. They try not to look at me much. I wonder why the men need them. They won’t be swimming; there isn’t any water near here. Maybe it’s just in case. Maybe I’ll ask the friendly one later, about the armband.

We are getting closer to our destination. The crowds will have formed and will be getting restless, like predators awaiting their pray. But this is unlike any other mob. This one targets a child who has done no harm, who only wants an education. If that’s an offence then our society is failing. Our government have been naive, however. One law will not change the hundreds of years of hatred that have festered in this country. No amount of abhorrence can be completely wiped clean. There will always be scars.

Butterflies start to flutter in my tummy as we get closer to the school. That’s okay though, Ma says it’s good to be nervous sometimes. There are lots and lots of people out there, the crowd is almost as big as Mardi Gras, and just as loud. People are shouting, getting excited as the car approaches, the same excitement in a crowd just before the big carnival starts. More have spotted the car and some people are pointing, moving towards us. But it’s okay, they still can’t see me, I’m still invisible. The friendly man with the yellow armband looks nervous, too. I want to tell him it’s okay to be nervous, but he smiles and says ‘Are you ready Miss Bridges?” I nod. He called me ‘miss’. I want to tell him to call me Ruby but before I can, he opens the door and the crowd explodes.

The noise, the hysterics, the insanity erupts when I open the door. The barriers strain to keep back the force of the mob, a dam struggling to hold back a flood. Ruby steps out seemingly unfazed, into the madness. We assume our positions one at each corner, with Ruby in the centre of our square. How could we protect her if they broke through? Hundreds of angry men and women against four US Marshals, who would win? The title US Marshals gives us an air of hero-like ability, but we are just human, like the rest of them. Words of spite and hatred are hurtled at us, along with rocks and other objects. The scene is one of total chaos. Women half lead, half drag their children out of school and teachers join the protests. They won’t teach one of 'her kind'.

I walk further away from the car. I’m not invisible any more. They shout and scream and bare their teeth. They remind me of the rabid dogs that you’re not supposed to go near. Call animal control. I can’t make out everything they shout but I do hear some words. Words that you are not supposed to use, according to Ma. Words can’t hurt you though and I can ignore them; maybe they don’t understand that. People are starting to throw things at us, like food and bits of wood. I hope they don’t hit me because it might hurt and also because my dress is very clean. The fruit could stain it. We are getting closer to the school but have had to slow down. A man has set a pine case on fire. It has a black doll inside. This scares me a bit. Because I know that the black doll is supposed to be me.

They swarm around us but we push through. The heat, the noise, the surge of the crowd makes us sweat, but we continue. We must get her to the school. Not only for her safety, although that is the priority. They cannot win. We cannot give them this victory. Ruby has shamed us with her courage, her conviction. And she is only six-years old.

The steps aren’t far away now. The crowd, the rabid dogs are frightening and they are getting louder. I just won’t look at them. I’ll look at the friendly man with the yellow band instead. He is standing tall, looking brave. They don’t know that he is nervous. I will mirror him and stand up straight, look forward. Like a soldier, marching. Left, right, left, right. The stairs are just in front of me now. Left, right, left, right. I count the steps as I go up. One, two, three, four. Four big steps, into my new school.

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