Hanging by a Rope. I’m at the End of My Rope.

Billie Holiday croons in the heat of the afternoon, the soft sizzle of the old LP, adding to the melancholy she feels.  She remembers her grandmother and her grandfather telling stories of when they would visit the wicked south, the dirty south, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi. She remembers thinking as a child how lucky she was, that she and her friends didn’t live in a world like that: afraid to look into a another’s eyes; taking the back seats in the bus; being beaten just walking down the street minding your own business. Imagine seeing a lifeless body hanging from a tree on the side of a road: face unrecognizable; eyes bulging; tongue bloodied and swollen three times its normal size; limbs bent awkwardly, bones like broken match sticks. That’s what Billie is singing about. Emmett Till was only 14, lynched in Mississippi as late as 1955. Bernice’s own mother was born just the following year making the story still relevant, at least to her. Billie’s voice hauntingly sad, Bernice Toucan let the words tumble across her mind, over her tongue and spill into silence. She switched on her Nina Simone version on her cd player. It was hard to choose which one she preferred so she just didn’t bother and often played both. 

Her thoughts went to the events the day before. Little Melanie Chickadee had come home from school, clutching her raincoat against her forehead. She and her older sister, Marion had come straight to her. Marion was screeching her name, “Aunt Bernice! Aunt Bernice! Pleeease, come quick!” At first Bernice hadn’t realized what was going on and was about to send her housekeeper to check what all the noise was about, when she heard the flapping at her window. She looked out and there was Marion and Melanie, blood dripping from Melanie’s head. She rushed to let them inside and got the housekeeper, Maisy, to get a clean wet towel and some water for the girls to drink. She gingerly cleaned Melanie’s head while asking Marion to calmly tell her what happened.

“Aunt Bernice. I don’t know how ih end up dis way. We midi come home from school when one of the boys in another group started to make jokes about the man they stoned on George Street. He was singing “Boom bye bye inna batty bwoy head” and the other kids were laughing and shouting “all batty man need fi get shot”. Melanie turned around and said to Leroy, the main bwoi who midi do it, ‘God seh fi luv eviadi. How you wuda like it if dami you?’ Then Leroy get vex and come up to Melanie and tellah ‘Tek dat back! I nuh gay! what? da musi yu gay!’ Melanie shake ih head and telah, ‘ah nevah seh u gay but my ma seh dat people whe talk di mos gat di most fi hide.’ Den he try push ah dung and Melanie push ah back. Suh I get Melanie and tell ah mek wi goh home. Den wen wi miya jus turn di cawna, ah feel sumting knack mi back and den ah si Melanie drop dung pan di street.”

At this point Marion’s voice is rising and her breath is quickened. She swallows and hi cupped a few times so Bernie reaches over and gives her a glass of water.

“Marion. Just sip it slowly, sweetie. Everything is ok now. Take your time.”

“Oh, Aunt Bernice,” wailed Marion. She was sobbing now and so was Melanie.

Bernice just gathered them both under her wings and rocked them as their bodies shook. By now, her own children were in the room, quietly standing by the doorway. She beckoned them to come and they did so quietly. Their eyes were wide and fear made them still. Bernie realized that she was still holding the bloody towel and could only imagine what they must be thinking. She smiled reassuringly and said, “Melanie and Marion were attacked by one of their school friends on the way home from school.”

Her daughter made a clucking sound and said, “Some friend.”

‘Katherine, I am sure the boy who hurt Marion and Melanie doesn’t even understand what he was doing or why he was saying what he was saying.”

“Oh, mom! Why you always have to be like this? Can’t you just get mad like everybody else? Nelson ma miwa dun di walk to da lee bwoi house fi bus fi hi head!” Bernice shot Katherine her ‘you bettah stop that now’ glare and Katherine stopped her tirade. Katherine sighed and asked in a lowered voice, “Whe hi seh?”

“Well, he was making fun of the incident that happened on George Street and saying derogatory things and Melanie stood up to him.”

“Way to go Melanie!” said Katherine.

Melanie raised her head and smiled weakly at the compliment.

Katherine tried not to react but Henry gasped. Even with the wound cleaned, it still looked frightening.

Bernice got up and said to the girls, “I think we had better call your mother. We can go pick her up at the factory and then go see your doctor or the ER whichever your mother prefers. I think you might need stitches Meli Mel.”

“Ok, Aunt Bernice,” Marion dried her eyes and hugged her sister close to her.

“Maisy, please have the driver pick up Lindsey and bring her and Darnell over here to stay with Henry and Katherine. You guys play some games while we are gone ok?”

Katherine and Henry nodded, not saying anything.

Bernice called her friend and quickly relayed the details. They decided to take Melanie and Marion to Bernice’s private doctor. She really didn’t want the girls at the public hospital facing all kinds of stares and even more trauma. Bernice felt it was the least she could do. Melanie had stood up to a bully today and she paid the price. She needed to know that it wasn’t in vain and that people would respect her for being so brave. Bernice felt that by taking care of the wound and quickly trying to get Melanie and Marion to bed with some dinner and tea, the sooner the girls could recover.

At the doctor’s office, while Melanie was receiving her stitches, Bernice and Dodes waited in the lobby. Dodes started to cry.

“How could this happen Bernie? They are just kids. Melanie is still just a baby. And this boy? What would possess him to stone my children? Did you see the bruise on Marion’s back?’ Of course she had but she just nodded. She knew Dodes didn’t really want her to talk. She just needed to cry and vent. “I feel like it’s all my fault. She told that little boy something I said.”

Bernice grabbed Dodes by the shoulders and turned her to face her. “Now stop it, Dodes. You only try to raise your children to be fair and just. She stood up to that boy because of what she believes and you are the one who gave her those beliefs. And they are good beliefs Dodes. Don’t let some ignorant little boy who has no idea what he is talking about change what you are teaching your children. There will always be bullies out there. And we all have to learn how to deal with them. Now. Get yourself together. We have to call the police as soon as we get home and the kids are gonna come out here any minute now.”

Dodes had nodded silently and sniffed loudly, trying to regain her composure. Bernice softened as she saw her friend try to calm herself. “Dodes. I am so proud of you. You are a great mom. Look at the wonderful children you raised. You need to let them know that you are proud of them ok? They did the right thing and they want to know that from you, ok?’ Bernice hugged her friend and felt herself start to tear up. Just then the girls came out all patched up and smiling, each with a lollipop their new favourite doctor had given them.

Bernice presses replay and listens to Nina again. She sings about murder and cruelty. Facts race through Bernie’s head. At one time, there were 4 million members in the KKK, made up of doctors, lawyers and even religious ministers. They justified their hatred with biblical quotes. They let their children cheer at lynchings, then let them go home to have the wives and sisters of those they lynched, cook their food and kiss their bruises and scrapes. And here it was, happening again, this time directed against sexual orientation. Did we never learn? History seems bent on repeating itself, lessons lost. Yesterday, a stoning, tomorrow a hanging. What would it take to satisfy these bigots? How could self-proclaimed devout Christians incite such hatred and not feel an ounce of Christian love and tolerance for their fellow creatures, God’s creatures? 

Bernice sighs and presses replay. She had begged Dodes to be strong and take pride in her good sound beliefs she taught her children. Bernice shared these beliefs and expected no less from her own children. But, she could not help but be painfully aware of the difference. Bernice was definitely more insulated against such assaults as that just perpetuated against two little girls by a little boy. Dodes was alone, her children subject to dangers Bernice’s weren’t. Melanie and Marion hadn’t gone to school today. It was Friday anyway. Dodes had decided she wanted them to recover as well as have the next three days for the incident to fade in the schoolmates’ memories. But Bernice decided that even though the police had been called and the little boy arrested, that was not enough. She needed to go to that school and talk to the principal. Dodes had not gone because she needed to go to work but Bernice could and decided she would. 

Nina sings  about bodies swinging and the image of  ropes hanging from trees flashes across Bernie’s mind. She is at the end of her rope. She is tired, tired of the inexplicable hate fueled by ignorance and fear. She could not just stand and watch this escalate. She makes a silent promise to all those who had hurt and all those who continue to hurt. She would not stand down or stand aside. She would stand up and stand beside and fight for what was only right and decent. She rises and goes to her room. She would go to that school and demand some sort of corrective action. She would get the media involved and send a strong message that this would not be tolerated. She wants to take that little boy, and others like him, and show him there is a different way to live, to think, to act. Plans blossom in Bernie’s head and hope flickers and then brightens. She is at the end of her rope but she will turn around and use it as a lasso, gather those wayward children and teach them to love and be accepting of difference. Bernice giggled out loud and shook her head. She marvels at herself. Even while she is thinking very dark morose thoughts, a funny image pops into her head of herself lassoing these boys. Bawk! Bawk! Bawk!  Her giggles give way to hysterical laughter borne out of her own anxiety and apprehension about what she is about to do. 

Duh Soh, Nuh Like Duh Soh by Fayemarie Anderson Carter

It is a sunny morning in the Jewel and children all over are rushing to school. Some stop at the Chineyman shop to buy haadtimes and sweets or pencils and erasers. Others dawdle on corners waiting for their friends to catch up so they can walk the rest of the way together. On the junction of Fortification and Judgement Streets, passersby can hear the screeching of a frustrated Dodes as she hustles the children out the door. 

Marion! Marion! Get your little sister and get your bottoms out of here NOW!” screamed Dodes.

“But MOOOOM! She is so slow dis morning and she will make me late. Can’t you take her?” asked Marion.

“Marion, if you backansa mi one mo time, ah wa wahm you lee rass fi be suh rude,” responds a very visibly angry Dodes.

Bernie hails the children from her perch trying to distract them and Dodes from escalating and also to signal to Dodes that the neighbours are hearing everything.

Morning, Marion, Lyndsey. You bettah run a little to catch up on time, girls. You only have 20 minutes. Hold her hand Lyndsey and don’t give Marion any trouble ok? See you dis evening girls. Maybe you come visit me and I’ll have some treats fuh yu ok?” said Bernie kindly.

She didn’t deal with this in the morning at all. Their driver took her children to school and she had time then to chat with Dodes over a cup of tea before she had to go to the factory. The bus passed by their street around 8:45 am. She was the last one the company driver picked up. She was close to the highway and it was only five miles to the factory. They usually made it with about six minutes to spare, just enough for a last bathroom run before she clocked in at 9:00 on the dot.

Dodes looked especially flustered as she sidled next to Bernie. “Aye, gial. Sumtimes, deya pickney just tek it outta mi. My day staat at 5 in the mawning. By di time da damn bus come? Ah ready fi lay down again.” Dodes sighed heavily.

“Come Dodes. Ah have yu tea ready fi yu. Ah cud call Maisy and have her bring us some fresh tortillas if you want, with some dutch cheese? guava jelly?”

“Thanks, Bernie. Ah mek breakfast fi di pickney but den dey staat fight and of course, ah nevah finish mines.” Bernie calls to her housekeeper, Maisy and instructs her to bring Dodes some breakfast.

“Now Dodes. Tell mi whe happen. All ah heah da lata railin up and screamin. Who do what now?”

“Well da Marion and Darnell again. Ah nevah know what wa set off Marion these days. Shi so quiet and moody and her mouth di staat to sting.” Dodes looks up at her friend with tears glistening in her eyes. “Sometimes, I wonder if ah mek a mistake kicking her daddy out. Ah mean at least he would be here now fi help me.”

“Dodes. Nuh duh dat tuh yuself gial. You did what you felt was best at the time. He was cheating on you and withholding money and spending it on the other women. How you know anything would be better or even different now? 10 years later? Maybe you guys would be fighting so much, it would be worse. And then he has five more children pan top. What if he mi have dey while he mideh wid u still? How u miwa deal wid dat? And what bout Melanie and Lyndsey? They wouldn’t be here now, would they?

Dodes smiled weakly and shook her head. “Anyways, suh Darnell have dis habit fuh nuh duh his chores and den po Marion end up di hafi do dem bc by di time I get home, da time fi Darnell duh ih homework. You know he nuh as smaat as di girls and so he tek twice as long fi duh anyting. Suh Marion decide dat she wa staat get back afta Darnell and stop wash ih clothes and shi di hide dey anda di bed stuck up all in between di bodes dem. I di look fi days everywhere befo ah finally find dey. Darnell di wear di same unifahm fi neahly a week now. Ah haftu di wash it da nite and heng it inna di bathroom. Suh dis mawnin, Marion squirt tootpaste pan di shirt and po Darnell had to goh da school wid a wet shirt cause ah had to rinse out di spot. And we use Close Up cause da di cheapest and da rass red. So po Darnell shut gat dis pink lookin stain crass and crass it. Aye.”

Bernie is laughing now as she imagines Marion doing this to her brother. “But Dodes, gial. Why yu nuh mek Darnell wash ih own cothes fi tru? He di get big unuh? Even lee Melanie wash clothes with Marion pan Saturday.’

“Really? Ah nevah know she midi actually wash di clothes. Ah know dey go dungstayz tugeddah but ah mi tink shi just di kip Marion company,’ said Dodes. “Ah feel like sumtimes my life jus outta control Bernie. Ah feel like day in and day out, ah just work and work and work and fi what? Ah di lose mi pickney. Sumtimes di look whe Marion give me, ah wah slap ah but den ah jus wah dissapear eena wah hole. Dah like shi hate mi. Anyway,” Dodes chewed a piece of her tortilla and swallowed before continuing,” Ah di try explain tuh Marion dat even doh Darnell wrong fi nuh duh ih chores and ih nuh wash ih own clothes and she hafi end up di duh it, shi just as wrong for hiding his clothes and ruining his shirt. Shi tell me how whe she do nuh as bad as whe hi duh and plus top, he get everything fuh duh absolutely nutting and shi get nutting fi duh absolutely everything. When dey wah lawn dat in di meantime, di two ah dey di mek it haad pan me! Ah just di try mek a life fuh all a wi you know? and ih feel like nuh mattah whe ah try duh, ah ciant get head and all dey duh dah fight di mek it woss!”

Dodes starts to smile. “Sound like friggin UDP and PUP huh? ‘you tief’ ‘no yu tief!’ Dodes moves from side to side changing her voice to represent each side.

“well, at least ah nuh as teifah as u!”

“Who seh so? wi still nuh know how much yu tief! At least when we tief, we pass it on to the people! Ask evibadi whe get turkey and ham fi krismus. At least dat da sumting!”

“Ha! what people? fi u people? O wait! da nuh even fi we people! Da di bloody alien whe uno just hurry friggin give citizenship!”

“Well when election time cum, u always drag out alla your votahs dem, even di one whe dead fuh 20 yeahs! At least ah nevah tek money fram Ashcroft fu mi campaign! Go google da shit! Ih deh ret deh pan wikipedia! And a bet dah only di million whe uno cop tu! Who knows how much ih reaaaaaalllly give uno!”

“Well look pan kettle di cuss pat! Who u fi seh jack shit? You represent di man den tun rung and sue ah??? Conflict of interest much? u lucky u nuh dead! You sure hitman nuh deh afta u?”

At this Dodes looked squarely at her friend,” Meanwhile me and you di get busup like pinata, right Bernie? Ah mean really? Put puss eena bag which one cum out fus? And dey one pa tv! O my lord!” Dodes puts her hands on her hips and imitates the tv personalities they all knew so well. ” I know my party nuh perfect but that is in the past! We are talking about this government today! They promise to do bettah and they haven’t! They are just as corrupt so out they must go!'” At this, Dodes cut her eye and sucked her teeth. “Da stupid di tawk but nuh stupid di listen. Ah mean who dey di fool? How I supposed to vote dem back in when demi worse and dey di actually agree da demi worse?? Soh dis govament tief tuh suh let’s vote een di one whe tiefarah! My goodness!”

By this time Bernie is laughing heartily. She loved it when Dodes got funny. “Aye, Dodes. Stop! U wah mek ah drop off ah disya wiyah. Hmmmmm.” She catches her breath. “Dodes. Dodes! Di bus di cum! Go lock u doh hurry!”

Dodes flies off to lock her door before the bus stops on her street.

“See you latah, Berns! whooohooo!” waved Dodes.

“Bye Dodes! See u latah fi tea!” waved back Bernie.

Dodes seemed in much higher spirits as she made her way to work. Another day, another win against unemployment and poverty. She made a silent promise that she wouldn’t lose her focus and determination even when her children questioned her actions. She needed to talk to Marion. She couldn’t stand the thought of losing her best ally, her best friend in this world. If she only knew that is exactly why Marion resents her.