Charlie

His face be pale white, like after all this time, he just didn’t realise it before now. I smooth down my white uniform, as is habit. “Black children ain’t meant to play with white children.”
“And that’s law, is it?”
“I don’t know ‘bout no laws, suh.”
“All I’m saying is, there are laws about black children in white schools, white diners, white libraries, white water fountains… Where are the laws about black children playing with white children?”
“Them kinda laws don’t be in no law book, Charlie. Them kinda laws just be Mississippi laws.”

Lila is a thirteen year old maid, working for a family in Coldwater, Mississippi. Charlie is a sixteen year old boy, living in that family.
Life is fiercely divided: especially amongst the children of the state.
But charlie isn't like any other boy.
The two of them embark on an unforgettable journey: to Washington, to march with Dr. King to save their Mississippi.

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5. Chapter Four

“Right, I want you to straighten out the silver service on the sideboard then get started on that tiffin, Lila.”

I sigh, wiping my sweaty forehead. Working in this kitchen be so sweaty sometimes I can feel it coming outa my hair braids. Miss Lucinda be scowling at me, smoothing down the dress it took two hours for me to iron last night. Over the pleats she wear a snowy white apron, tied with string at the back. To me it seems like she wear that to show peoples she a good housewife; but truthfully I know she do nothing she need to wear an apron for.

My caramel be bubbling slightly on the stove top. I leave it there, knowing that if I stir it, it will sure enough burn out on me. Today be Miss Lucinda’s bridge club, every Thursday, three o’ clock. I have to serve afternoon tea at four, coffee at four thirty. It be my worst day next to Friday, which be sheet changing day. The one thing I can’t stand above all else be serving those ladies their coffee. I learnt how to say ‘yes, ma’am’ and ‘please’ before I could even tinkle in the toilet bowl, and all them ladies know it. But do they ever say it themselves? Not even once.

It’s as if I ain’t even a person. I’m just a robot to them ladies, automatically programmed to do everything they say. I bring them their dinky sandwiches, their prawn cocktail, their eggs. I even make my own signature tiffin, with a special touch of caramel swirled chocolate. Them ladies love my tiffin, and they know it come from Scotland, which to all of us is mighty far away.

I know this be my job, and there ain’t no use complaining ‘bout it, but once, just one time I would like to hear one of them ladies say please to me.

“Aren’t you getting big now, Lila?” Miss Grace asked, taking a beef sandwich from the platter I held.

“Yes, Ma’am.”

Miss Grace was one of them ladies that you never actually know how old they are. She wear pretty powder color dresses and her auburn curls be sprayed as high as the Empire State; but she wear so much make-up it’s kinda hard to spot the wrinkles. Her eyes crinkle up when she laugh though, and although that ain’t very often, I know by that she pretty old.

Miss Macy look at me down that long, pointy nose of hers. She take a devil egg warily like someone poison it. I think she just sickened cause she know a black person touch it. I move down the line and serve Miss Stephanie, she only take a small sandwich and an egg, and then I serve Miss Lucinda last. She take a cocktail for herself and two sandwiches, then look round at the ladies to see if they’ve noticed. Miss Lucinda don’t realise that no one else care what she eat ‘cept herself. I wait there a moment; see if them ladies need any more coffee. I look down at my brown shoes, can’t help but listen to the chatter. Miss Macy be talking to Miss Lucinda in a real high pitched voice, her skinny fingers curled like claws around her coffee cup.

“How’s your Charlie getting on?”

I stiffen suddenly. They talking ‘bout Charlie. My Charlie. Miss Lucinda let out a breath, roll her eyes.

“I just don’t know, Macy. He’s sixteen years old…”

Miss Stephanie pat Miss Lucinda’s hand. “He’s only young, Lucinda. It’s all you can expect.”

“He’s just still so wild,” Miss Lucinda say, taking another egg, “Charlie’s still got an imagination like a four year old boy. He’s in High School, not pre-school.”

Miss Grace click her teeth all disapproval like. “That’s not right. Charlie needs to grow up into a man. He’s not still playing with…”

All of a sudden, all the ladies’ eyes turn on me. I look up, exactly at the same time. The wrong time. Miss Lucinda cough quickly. “Go and get some more coffee, Lila.”

 My eyes glance back to the coffee pot that’s standing majestically on the table cloth. It be full. I reach out to take it but Miss Lucinda suddenly snap, “Just go, Lila.”

I creep out the kitchen, my thin work shoes squeaking on the lino. I feel four narrowed pairs of eyes burnin’ into the back of my head. When I get to the kitchen, I let out a relieved sigh and lean on the counter, thinking real hard. I couldn’t help but wonder what Miss Grace was gonna ask Miss Lucinda about Charlie. She had said, ‘He’s not still playing with…?”

And that’s when it hit me, heavy as a ton of bricks. The other ladies be worried that Charlie hadn’t begun to be bothered ‘bout the color of my face. They be worried he color blind. Them ladies just don’t understand that Charlie still plays with me cause he like my company. I slide over to the kitchen door, trying to make out the ladies’ hushed whispers.

All of a sudden, I hear a clatterin’ of china on the bridge table where they be sittin’. Someone’s bashed their fist down hard. “You need to put a stop to it, Lucinda. Before it’s too late.”

Suddenly my throat’s all tight. Hand shaking, I open the cupboard and get out my special cup, the one I use so I don’t give the family colored diseases. I’ve seen Charlie use it when there ain’t any cups left. I fill it with the blissfully cold water from the tap. What was Miss Lucinda gonna do with me? Lock me up? I knew that if I didn’t stop playing with Charlie she was gonna stop me herself, and I shivered at the thought of that. I look down into the cup in my hand, right into the water. Water have no color. It ain’t black, it ain’t white, it ain’t anything. That why water be so innocent. It don’t belong to no type of group.

Nobody ask why water ain’t black or white. Water’s just… water. And everyone just accepts it. I wonder if people found out that water be black, they’d stop drinking it. I wonder if they rather die than risk non-existent colored diseases.

I wonder if Charlie will stop playing with me just cause Miss Lucinda told him so. I wonder if Charlie will reject me like everyone else, just cause the world told him that the way it meant to be. 

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