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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4. Chapter Three

Where I live, out here in Coldwater, Mississippi, everything is white. The house I live in be white, Miss Lucinda’s car be white, all the people’s faces be white, too. It’s strange to live in a world where most things be of white color, when you’re the only black thing for miles. Well, that’s not exactly true, if you think about it real hard. In Tate County, there be thousands of black men and women, but they be tucked away in other white ladies’ homes or spreading tarmac on back streets. On normal days, when I be polishing the silverware or changing the bedclothes, I sometimes feel as if I’m the only black person alive. I feel so alone. Stevie live two blocks away, but it might as well be two hundred; I only see him at parties or when he rake our backyard twice a month.

Miss Lucinda not too keen on Stevie and me being friends. I can always hear her whispering to Lawrence about how you can’t trust a Negro and a Negra together in the same room. Say we can’t control ourselves.

Myself, I don’t think Miss Lucinda keen on me, period. Ever since I be only ten years old she be putting a dishcloth in my hand and telling me to earn my keep. She say that I can’t expect to live in this house, her house, eating her food, sleeping in the bed she bought, wearing the clothes she gave me, for free. I always tell myself, ‘this ain’t her house, this house belong to Lawrence’. And it makes me feel a little better.

Ever since I be born outta my mama, it’s been only Miss Lucinda, Lawrence, Charlie and myself. Mrs. Defoe, Lawrence’s wife, died five years ‘fore I came into the world. I suppose it be some kind a blessing, cause if Mrs. Defoe never died of the lady problems Lawrence would of never hired maid, my mama, and then she wouldn’t of met my Daddy, and so I would of never been born at all.

As soon as Mrs. Defoe be buried in the dirty ground, Miss Lucinda travel all the way from Kentucky to stay with Lawrence and Charlie: her brother and her nephew. Some people might call it selfless and being a Christian, I call it interfering.

Even though Miss Lucinda never liked me, Lawrence has always been a kind man. In fact it was him who first suggested that the maid’s baby, that be me, take up permanent residence in his house so he could educate it. Miss Lucinda be awful wary at first, but then Lawrence explained how useful it be when I come of age, and can do all the housework and the cooking. They wouldn’t have to pay for no maid, as they be able to pay me by feeding me and giving me a bed to sleep in.

Lawrence kept his promise to educate me. Every day at two p.m. exactly he sit me down with a pencil and parchment paper, and he teach me to draw. At first it be simple things: like the vase of flowers on the sideboard and a can of Crisco, but sure enough Lawrence saw that I had a talent for capturing the world on paper, and let me draw more complicated things.

He teach me to read too, and write, and although I take at these things as serious as I could I never found learning them as fun and exciting as I did with drawing and painting. When I be around eleven or so Lawrence announced at supper that I be old enough to start using paints. Charlie put down his silverware at this point, stopped chewing his ham, and applauded me. I never been applauded for anything before, so I figured it must be a pretty big deal. I thought that Lawrence was gonna give me the paints he use when he teach me the next afternoon, but I didn’t know he had a surprise for me. As soon as I had cleared the plates and put the left over grills in the refrigerator, Lawrence led me to the basement, his work studio, and set me down with a big white square sitting on the easel.

He smile at me. “You know what this is, Lila?”

I shook my head. “No, suh.”

“It’s a canvas.”

“A canvas, Mr. Lawrence?”

He smile and nod his head, his shiny fair hair slicked back into a quiff. “It’s what you paint on.”

“Like parchment paper?”

“You can’t paint on parchment paper, Lila.”

I look sideways at the suspicious looking canvas. It white. Too white. Lawrence laugh and hold out a paint brush, dipped in a bright green color paint. “Try it.”

I look at Lawrence, and take the brush from him, my hand looking blacker than ever next to his snowy skin. As soon as I touch the brush to the canvas, some kinda magic happens. I feel a tingling in my fingers.

“I love it.”

Lawrence take the brush from my hand and rinse it real quick under the rusty old tap, letting the cool water run over his hands deliciously. I figure I should say something to him, ‘less he think I’m real ungrateful.

“I be real happy now, suh.” My voice be deep and scratchy.

Lawrence, he look up at me, and for a moment I think I see real tears hovering in his eyes. He take my hand and squeeze it, hard. In that moment, I knew I had a friend. I had a friend who was a white man.

“I want you to be happy, Lila. All I want is for you to be happy.” Then he stood up, and took to wiping down his worktop with a ratty old cloth. “Now you come down here every evening after supper, you hear?”

His voice be hard again, authorative. Once again he sound like my boss, and less like my friend. My fingers, falling lazily at my sides, felt the scratchy cotton of my white maids uniform that Miss Lucinda bought me. I lowered my gaze.

“Yes, suh.”

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