by Jasmyne K. Rogers
Somebody burned alive that night.
The smell of fire smoke pervaded the nostrils of sleeping bodies coupled in small rooms that swallowed the cold before the sun traded places with the moon.
It was not until a man yelled, “Somebody help me! Please,” that the awakened bodies rubbed their eyes and crept silently to their opened windows with their fingers pressed on their window sills.
They must’ve stood there, sticking their heads out of their respective places in life, in different, yet identical rooms, on different minutes, watching the red-bricked house across from their dormitory spark up in burnt orange flames.
“Somebody help me! Please wake up. My lord!”
The man gasped and choked on limited air.
After what seemed like hours on end, two boys climbed out of their windows and ran across the linear plows of grass that led to the broken pavement that sat in front of the red-bricked house.
The boys hesitated.
Before that moment, they ran on impulse, now at the point where their lives as well as another was at stake, they had to strategically think about their next moment.
They stopped smack dab in front of the door housing a Welcome sign with Col. A. Simms engrossed on a gold plate beneath the worn sign.
The boys knew the old man who always clutched a bottle of rye whiskey the same color as water.
He always found it his duty to always remind the students to never take their education for granted. There is nothing more dangerous and powerful than an educated and creative mind.
As the boys pondered, they heard the crunching of grass as another person ran in their direction, trying to beat the speed of a silver bullet.
“Aye man,” one of the boys spoke as the other person neared them.
“How are we gonna get this old man…” He stopped in mid-sentence when he realized his “aye man” was a girl.
She was panting with no shoes on and headed passed the boys to the door that housed the tattered Welcome sign.
“What you doin’?”
The other boy grabbed her by the waist.
“Why are you all wasting time? He’s in there! Mr. Archiiiiieee!”
Recognizing the voice, Mr. Archie tried his best to fight the growing flames that entrapped him in his bedroom.
“Lena, leave darlin’,” He coughed. “Don’t need to be here. Dangerous.”
As the boys’ next movement dashed across their minds, only one thing, rather person, came to Mr. Archie’s mind—Lena-Rose Calloway.
Not a bottle of whiskey. Not his wife who left him as soon as he returned from fighting in the war back in ’58. He ended up retiring as Colonel of the 9th regiment in the US Army the same year. Not this small red-bricked house that used to be his father’s once he received his manumission. Not his two sons who didn’t have the sense God gave a chicken. None of his family. Not the roof collapsing in as he stared out the smoky window at the just formed crowd of people who stood around hesitantly. Just the young girl who was crying blood and clawing to save the man who became her Baba. Just a soul who truly cared.
Her heart must’ve removed itself from its respective chamber in the middle of her chest and slid down and splattered on the pavement where she fell once she saw the fallen roof. Tears stormed from her almond-shaped eyes and fell into her clenched fists that pounded against the pavement.
In that moment she forgot about being initiated as a SOUL or the soul-searchin’ conversation she had with Levy who offered to drop her off at her dorm two hours earlier.
The boys stood there rubbing their heads as the crowd exchanged whispers about the old man who would not sell his land so that Lowndes County, Alabama could host a memorial statue for Garner Oates.
He was noted as a prestige and fallen deputy sheriff at Lowndes County Police Department as well as a former Klansmen.
They wanted to build a statue in recognition of his “public work” directly across from Alabama University.
The same university he fought to keep segregated and among the black cherry trees he knew so well.
Lights flickered on like fallen dominoes to those who were just hearing the commotion.
“Lena!” Cassi yelled trekking in a zigzag pattern like a chicken snake was chasing her across the grass passed the boys’ dormitory.
She sucked for air all the while saying excuse me to get to her dear friend whose face was down in the pavement while others watched the burning red-bricked house.
Lena-Rose blinked her eyes rapidly to remove the traces of tears that blurred her vision. She noticed a considerable amount of blood oozing from her bruised knee.
“You’re bleeding,” Cassi’s words melted into the wind that breezed through her lengthy auburn tresses.
Lena extended her hand so that Cassi could help her up.
“Can you walk?” Cassi whispered. It seemed like it was only them, the darkness, and the swaying black cherry trees among the smoke risings.
The crowd seemed like marionettes whose strings were pulled for different expressions, but never actions.
“We didn’t save him. He burned in that house, Cassidy. We let him die in there.” Lena was near hysterics. Cassidy cradled her friend until the ambulance arrived an hour later.
No one really talked about it. It glided through the air and traveled in silence to the lecture halls where students only mumbled their disdain.
“You know it wasn’t a suicide,” Cassidy blurted as her and Lena sat in the cafeteria eating lunch between classes.
“I know. I also know who’s responsible,” Lena said, biting down hard on her tuna sandwich. Cassidy nodded her head in agreement.
There was no need to call names. The evidence was in the bulldozers and tractors cleaning off the land that belonged to Mr. Archie.
Tears welled in Lena’s eyes as she watched the student population, both black and white, laugh and giggle about a party last night while her and Cassi did the exact opposite.
They wanted to fight back and tell the Alabama government, “Forget y’all jive turkeys and forget Garner Oates. That racist bastard.” But they didn’t take the ignorant route.
They needed help. They needed voices and educated minds.
One of the boys from that night passed the table where Lena and Cassi were sitting.
His choice of wardrobe suggested Mr. Archie’s death still plagued his mind as well.
He searched for semantics to verbalize to the pretty girl with the bright eyes that had traces of tears left in her eyes from two weeks before.
He could only rub her back and say, “I’m sorry.”
She looked deeply into his eyes as if she was searching for something, something beyond physical. It almost scared him until she patted his hand and molded it into a gentle fist.
“Don’t be sorry, be aware.”
Photo Credit: Shutterstock
Jasmyne Rogers is a native of Wilcox County, Alabama and graduate of Georgia State University. She majored in English and thoroughly enjoys writing that reflects African American culture, history, and progression. She self-published her first extended short story, In the Basement of a SOUL Child’s Mind: The Extended Short Story, in 2012. Her personal motto is adopted from the Ubuntu philosophy, “I am because WE are.”
Connect with me on FaceBook--Jasmyne K. Rogers and Twitter & Instagram--@poetic_jaszy.