The Gathering of Soul Women

by Jasmyne K. Rogers

“Help me! Someone help me get her down! Please!”

The woman’s high-pitched scream made the cherry oak trees sway in the darkness that engulfed them.

She jumped and clawed at the small feet that were still and black as the midnight hour that was upon them. Tears stormed violently down the woman’s cheeks as she tried to no avail.

“Oh Myra, my baby,” the woman cried frantically as her clawing made the lifeless body sway in the cherry oak tree that branched out over the river.

The river.

The same river that Myra had been baptized in when she was nine. Her little body welcomed the flowing current as the pastor read the baptismal scripture. The deacons, two elderly gentlemen both dressed in white, stood at each side of the little girl. The water stopped at the men’s ankles; it danced at the waist level of the little girl dressed in frilly white lace and ruffles. After the pastor read the scripture, the deacons gently dipped the little girl into the water. Although Myra was under the water less than twenty seconds, it seemed like an eternity for the woman who stood at the edge of the riverbank. She was relieved once she saw the smiling face of the little girl all dressed in white. Myra had been unafraid. The flowing current of the river did not frighten her; it renewed her spirit. The current resembled the blood that was flowing freely through her veins. It made her alive. It made her feel free.

That same river was now as still as Myra’s lifeless, twenty-year-old body that swayed silently on the branch of the cherry oak tree. The woman stood near the edge of the riverbank just as she did on the day of Myra’s baptismal. This moment was different.

There was no smiling face. The water could not save her as it had done eleven years ago. Myra could not leave that space and run into the arms of the woman who had given her life. The trees knew. The river knew. Everything was still. Nothing was more important than the body that became one with the trees.

The silence was deafening.

The woman sobbed uncontrollably and dropped her feeble body down at the base of the tree.

In her spirit, she knew this day would arrive.

Myra’s spirit had been fearless. She was simply unafraid in demanding equal rights for black people. She would always stand her ground in the face of racism. She planned. She strategized. She believed.

After every incident that involved the Klan, the woman would ask her why.

Her response was always compellingly simple.

“I just want us to be free, Ma.”

The woman sat still on the cold and barren ground. She was broken. Nothing would be able to pick her up from that space—that space between the river and the trees. That space represented life and death.

She soon heard the crunching of grass and knew that they had come back. There was no light illuminating the place but she knew they would come back in numbers with faces and bodies draped in white. She was ready. Her body was weak, but the fire and strength that danced a slow groove in her soul would be prepared for their physical attacks. She would fight back.

As the footsteps drew nearer, she drew a long breath and knew that her time had come to become one with the trees.

“Daisy, what you doing out here?” A woman called out to her. She could not move. Her body was in a paralysis state. Tears began to form rapidly again as she looked up at the tree towering over her.

“Myra,” she said almost inaudibly, “in the tree.”

The woman looked up and saw the petite body of a young woman hanging from the old cherry oak tree. Her eyes grew wide with sorrow at the sight for a half of a millisecond. She quickly disguised the brewing emotion. She looked at the woman whose pain decorated her face like dark red rouge. It was highly visible. It could not be mistaken for anything else. She wore the pain like makeup.

“We gotta get you up from here, Daisy. You can’t stay here.”

She did not move.

“Get my baby down.”

The woman looked Daisy squarely in the eyes and called out into the night.

Soon, five or six bodies walked silently to the barren ground.

Two women walked directly to the space where Daisy was sitting and sat down beside her. An elderly woman, Ms. Avery, began to hum “O Mary Don’t You Weep” while the other women freed the body from the branch of the tree.

Ms. Avery’s voice was powerful. It was soulful. It made something stir deep down inside Daisy’s soul. Her voice bellowed sorrow, the sorrow of having a promising young woman lynched in the still of an Alabama night.

The other women joined in and hummed as Myra’s body was freed. Ms. Avery kneeled down by Myra and moaned and prayed. She had been the midwife who delivered Myra. She had been present in the coldest of winter when water gushed out of Daisy and bathed the floor of the two-room shack she shared with Myra’s father. Baby Myra came out fighting her life—it wasn’t until Ms. Avery prayed over the baby girl that she took her first breath. She became alive.

As Ms. Avery concluded the prayer for the safe travels of Myra’s soul to the ancestors, tears begged to flow. Ms. Avery was not one to cry easily, but she wanted to weep for the little girl she loved since birth. There was something outright phenomenal about Myra’s spirit. She was fearless. She was confident. Her spirit carried the courage of the ancestors who rebelled and fought. Most importantly, she was beautiful and full of life. Myra was free.

Tears grazed her frail cheeks in the darkness as she unwrapped the black scarf from around her neck. She covered Myra’s naked body with it and looked among the trees.

“Rest in power, Myra Sinclair.”

The old woman then joined the rest of the women who had gathered around Daisy.

Daisy’s spirit was broken. She was crouched down with her face buried in the barren soil. Part of her had died. Her fragmented self was left to deal among the women, trees, river, and darkness. They all knew. They all knew what brokenness felt like. Brokenness bred strength. Brokenness was still.

Photo credit: Deposit Photos

Jasmyne Rogers is a native of Wilcox County, Alabama, and a 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 her on FaceBook (Jasmyne K. Rogers), Twitter, and Instagram (@poetic_jaszy).