Her skin, the color of coffee beans, glistened in the orange light of the setting sun pouring through the dining room window. She shared her childhood memories of North Carolina. Happy memories made her eyes sparkle, sad memories made the furrow on her forehead grow deep. Memories can do that; alter your face, leaving your emotions exposed to strangers.
Even today; sitting on a bus, working at the diner, or watching a movie, my face betrays me. I try not to think about the day she left, but those memories linger on gray, rainy days. It was raining the day she sat on the front stoop, waiting to leave me.
Kennedy had given us hope. He promised a New Civil Rights Act that made most blacks I know give him our vote. I felt freedom coming. My prison was coming to an end, at least I hoped so.
She arrived that summer, the summer of 1960, and I hoped and prayed even more for my rights and the freedom they would bring.
She wore dresses from the south, made by her mama, and touched the flowers on her skirt. Remembering her mama was far away, her face grew sad. I was twenty-two in the summer of 1960 and Ella was seventeen, young and beautiful, an innocent in a city that was mean, cruel, and evil. I longed for dinner each evening. I sat opposite her, I wanted to see her face, take in her beauty and the aura that surrounded her.
Two weeks passed, I knew I had fallen in love with her. She was all I thought about when I worked at the diner. When I woke up, when I went to bed, her face and her creamy voice were all I envisioned. My life took on new meaning because of her.
I made an effort to dress a little better, comb my frizzy Afro back to let her see my eyes. I smiled more and laughed at her stories. I hung on every word she spoke. My heart jumped when I heard her call “I’m home,” and the door closed gently behind her. She took her shoes off and left them by the stairs; she preferred to go barefoot, just as she did at home in North Carolina.
The day came when we both had a day off from work. She must have known how I felt about her. I thought she looked at me differently, paid me more attention the night before at dinner, and I wanted her, wanted to be with her.
The shower splashed into existence, I knew she was there, naked, her coffee colored skin waiting for my touch. The water dribbling down her back. I wished I were the water.
She had left the door unlocked. I stepped into the bathroom and inhaled the warm steam. I gently pulled the shower curtain back, and she stood, quiet and staring, unsure of me. I tried to touch the exposed breast, and her hand met my fingers with force. I remember screams, seeing blood, and her hands beating mine away. Still in my prison, she didn’t want me, not like this, not in any way.
She sat on the front stoop and waited in the rain, afraid to come back inside the house, I was too ashamed to go out. In the setting sun a car pulled up, and a black man got out. She hugged him; he kissed her on the lips. Her lips moved rapidly as she retold him what had happened, the furrow in her brow deep.
The lace curtain hid me, but I still felt the redness creeping through my black cheeks; the heat of shame engulfing my face. The man looked up at the window. Did he see me? Would he come in and beat me like my mama and papa had done? I wished for a real prison, with bars to protect me.
The man’s lips moved. Ella looked at the window and the deep furrow in her forehead eased. She had never heard of this before. Shock made her eyes grow wide and her mouth fall open. I watched the black man’s lips move as he explained that I was, “That way.”