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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7. Chapter Six

On Sundays, when I make the hour walk to get to my black church, everyone say I be lucky. They say I live in this big house with honeysuckle climbing the walls with a stretch of plain right in front of it for me to play in, and a loving ‘adoptive’ family to support me. But they wrong. I ain’t allowed to play on the plain, Miss Lucinda don’t want the neighbourhood to see me, and she think the plain is a real ugly piece of land. Lawrence said he’d do something ‘bout that, but he never seemed to get ‘round to doin’ it.

Them ladies think I should be so grateful that I be brought up by a white family, think I learn some manners and a decent way of living; but they don’t understand that living there includes Miss Lucinda tryin’ to poison me with bleach.

The coolness immediately calms me as soon as I step through those doors. Our church be right round the corner of the Cuthbert’s, the black diner, an’ it be tucked right round there so tightly that them white peoples don’t even have to see it. But it’s a nice church. I don’t know whether it the incense, the people’s quiet chatter, or the feeling that the baby Jesus be right in here to guide me, but it calming all right. I nod at a few people I don’t know well enough to stop by, take a dip of the Holy Water with my finger and bless myself. Whatever happens to me, I know that Jesus gone be there, just like He said he would, and he gone through exactly the same things we black peoples go through. Hell, I betcha Jesus be black himself, living in ‘em hot countries the other side of the world.

“Mornin’, baby Lila,” the choirgirl, Jessie say to me as I walk up the aisle. Jessie be seventeen, ‘bout four years senior to me. She be real pretty; dark, luscious ringlets curling around her neck as black as an oil slick, eyes the color of sweet honey and twice as rich. She have a tall, slender figure too, and I betcha Jessie could have a million boyfriends if she wanted too, but Jessie got plenty of things to do with her time already.

She be the only friend I have near to my own age. Jessie be the maid of a white lady named Miss Georgiana, her husband and her three kids. Jessie have a heart of gold, and a Daddy as rich as such. He the owner of Mississippi’s largest grocery store, Spencer’s, but he a man of business and Jessie only see him on Christmas and July 4th.

Jessie be real good to them babies. She look after a seven-year-old, Mackenzie: a bonny blonde curly-haired girl who always be bouncing on Jessie’s skinny old knee. Then there be four-year-old Max: he be moving so fast all day that I hardly ever see him, just a blur. The only time he weren’t fast was when his mama be birthing him. Fifteen hours Miss Georgiana be on that bed, ‘least that what Jessie told me. Last of all, there’s the oldest, and she be a pretty thing named Olive. Olive be my favourite. She got flamin’ red curls, just like her daddy, and she always wearing this serious expression on her face like she thinkin’ ‘bout the world real hard. Olive be only twelve years old, but she got dreams. Olive say she gone be a writer.

Olive different from all the other white girls I know. While all her school friends gossiping and giggling over glittery magazines and nail polish, Olive always got her head buried in some book or another. Jessie tell me all of them titles, and they sound like strange long lost islands to me. Huckleberry Finn, and Treasure Island, and Peter Pan. I ain’t never read a whole book in my entire life, not cause I don’t want to be just cause I take so slow at readin’ them they get snatched away ‘fore I can blink.

Olive get teased a lot of the time. Just cause she don’t wear the most fashionable clothes, or spend her time laughing and running her frilly dresses dirty, people think she different.

Olive a lot like Charlie in a way I guess. Sometimes I look at them two, going about their everyday business and I think, ‘there something different going on there’.

And just like Charlie, I know that when she old, Olive gonna do something real special with her life.

I stop, just as I normally do, at the statue of Mary and the baby Jesus. Something in that little boy’s face somehow make me feel... less alone. Those soft eyes, though they made out of stone hard as anything, remind me that, for a while at least, he was hated too.

I hear the faint rustle of ladies’ skirts and the sound of the bell tug being pulled, an’ I know church is gone begin. I hurry back to my pew: third from the back, fourth to the left. I be one of the only people who come to church alone in the whole county. All over Coldwater church on Sunday be like a traditional family get-together that everyone enjoy: mamas, aunties, children... but for me I just be by myself. Miss Lucinda, Lawrence and Charlie go to the white church on the main road of Foyles Street. They be a family.

The peoples hush to quiet as the Reverend Carmac move slowly to the lectern. He old, around eighty-three or so, but I can still see the unfaltering gleam deep into his eyes so I know he still young at heart. He smile at us for a moment, then he close his eyes cause he talkin’ to God. I bet them white peoples have great big hymn books in they church, and newsletters too. But I like the way we do things here, even though it be sorta plain. It still the same God. Old Mrs. Ackney stumble in from the back and sit at the old piano. She start playin’ a few notes and we hum along softly, sixty four black voices all prayin’ together. Then Mrs. Ackney start singin’ a line from one of the old psalms, and after she done we copy her; repeat the line and then wait for her to sing the next one. I guess it makes the service go longer, and it awful complicated to begin with, but somehow I’ve learned to like it. It brings us peoples together.

I guess there something special ‘bout the way all our voices all mixed together, moving in unison, in perfect harmony. I guess it like we all thinkin’ and feelin’ the same thoughts. After we done we sit back in the pews, and Reverend Carmac get up. He look down at us with those kind crinkled eyes and he smile again, cause he one of those smiling peoples.

“Dear brothers and sisters,” he begin, “I want to welcome you today to this service, a time we spend with God. Let us pray together now.”

He bring his hands together, and his eyes close once more. His lips mouth the words of a silent prayer, and then he address all of us.

“Dear God, I want to ask you that you love and protect every member of our community. That they always be safe, and never fall victim to the merciless prejudice out there. And we also pray for all the members of the white community: that they always stand up for what is right, and never let Coldwater’s discrimination cloud their feelings of true love and companionship.”

The whole world seemed to stand still then. The flies stop buzzin’. The sun gave up on radiatin’ it’s heat on us. The faint cries of children from the black neighbourhood stop hollerin’ long enough for me to come to my senses. Reverend Carmac was talkin’ ‘bout me, whether he meant it or not. He was talkin’ ‘bout Charlie. He was talkin’ ‘bout us two finally standin’ up to what was wrong with Mississippi.

With every word the Reverend spoke I was growin’ more and more determined. My black fists curled up into claws at my sides. Into my head popped an image of Charlie: blonde and beautiful, funny yet... free. The more I looked into this face in my head, the blacker it seemed.

Charlie was black and white, all at the same time.

And that’d when I made up my mind: me and Charlie, we gone run away.

 

 

 

 

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