Chapter One of Catching Fireflies

Chapter One of Catching Fireflies

A Story by Aysia

the next chapter to the prologue i just wrote :)


                                               ONE/MARCH 1963


The mugginess of humidity welcomes me with a slap in the face as I make my way off the train in the Alabamian train station. Out of the colored folk exit of course. Paige, who was a former Southern girl, informed me on the dos and don’ts of the south. But when I was used to the friendliness of white people from back in Canada, the hostility they bring down here doesn’t settle well with me. Or does it make me comfortable. Maybe they take pleasure from that. From making me uncomfortable.

    I only brought three suitcases full of clothes and personal belongings with me. Paige promised to send the rest next week. I hold her to that.

    I scan the crowd for my aunt and uncle, as I hold a picture of them in my hand. I’ve never met them and meeting them now is both a pleasure and disgust. A pleasure because I’ve never met them before and a disgust because I don’t want to be here. Their names are Jason and Martha. Martha was my mother’s half sister and from the picture, they’re nearly identical.

    The rising thirst in my throat becomes slightly uncomfortable so I make way for the first water fountain I see. I’m about to bend down to taste the precious water on my tongue when a white woman squeals in disgust.

    “Are you blind? Are you dumb?” she scrawls in a slow, Alabama accent, looking at me as if I just killed someone.

    I take a step back and look at the sign above the fountain. Whites Only.

    “I’m sorry.” I pick up my suitcases, ready to dash as soon as possible to avoid starting trouble. “I was not paying attention.”

    She stares at me funny. I don’t know what caught her attention. Maybe it’s my clothing. My tan slim dress fits me form fittingly, my pearl necklace draped around my neck, my straight brown hair thrown over my shoulder in a braid, the shiny shoes I carry. Or maybe it’s my illuminating brown eyes, a mix of my mother’s hazel and my father’s milky brown. Or maybe it’s my expensive suitcases. Or maybe it’s the way I talk. I’m sure I sound funny to her. She sounds strange to me.

    While she stares, I ease my way out of her beady eyes, and scan the train station wall for a water fountain and I wince at the loud toot of a train horn as it passes by. With no water fountain in sight, I stare into the crowd of people greeting passengers off the train. And I notice that they’re all white.

    Maybe there’s a colored greeting room. I look around, looking for the first colored person I see. No one. I’m the only colored face here. So I ask for help.

    “Excuse me mister,” I say clearly.

    The fat man with a stomach larger than a potbellied pig turns around on the heels of his feet. He swiftly turns back around when he sees me.

    I’m appalled by this type of reaction. So I calmly walk away, as the wheels of my suitcase click every time they roll over a wooden panel. I sigh and search the crowd again.

    I want water. I want to get away from this place. The white faces, some teasing smirks (that I’m sure have no friendly meaning), some frowns, some with their chins jutted in the air. They look at me as if I’m bad, dirty. I try not to make physical contact with them. No touching, no bumping. Paige warned me of that kind of thing. Would it make a difference if I said, “Excuse me sir/ma’am, for bumping into you. My mistake”? Or would they still be mad at me? Maybe I should just bump into one of them on purpose, just to see the reaction I get. I choose not to.

    Then I see them, at the end of the boardwalk. Martha waves vividly, as she tries to catch my attention. I wave back. A tall muscular man with skin the color of milk chocolate stands next to her. Jason. He has a short cut kinky afro, and he smirks one-sidedly as I make my way to them. The smile reminds me of my father.

    They wear nice clothes, they look pricey too. My mother told me that Jason and Martha made good money with their cotton business and were the “richest Negros” in Alabama. The car, the clothes, and the disgust and halfhearted respect the white people show them prove it.

    “Hey there,” Martha greets me, grasping me in a tight hug. I slowly wrap an arm around her.

    “Hi,” I greet, trying to smile.   

    She takes me by my shoulders and holds me away from her, as if trying to get a better look. “Oh my goodness, child, you look like both of ‘em.” She giggles and hugs me again.

    I laugh. “You look just like my mother.” Except for Martha has lighter skin. And her hair is kinkier and tied in a ball. But she has those hazel eyes that my mother had. And those high cheekbones.

    Jason rescues me from Martha’s death grip. “Martha you’re strangling the poor child.” He stands me upright as my balance stray a little and pats my back. “How was the train?”
    Don’t get me started. “Fine,” I say dishonestly. “Sort of stuffy though.”

    “Mm.” He nods, as if that’s all the information he needs.

    “Do you have any more kids?”
    Martha nods, dragging me by my elbow to the car. “Yes, we have a daughter, Cassie. And we have a son too. His name is Craig. They both stayed behind at the house with Big Ma but they’re real eager to meet you.”

    “That’s nice.” I nod and swallow a slight lump forming in my throat. The heat buzzes and simmers on my neck. I look around. This is not home. This is not where I belong. I belong in Canada, with my mother and my father. With my friends and with all those I love. But I’m stuck here. In the miserable heat and simmer and dismay of hate.

    Martha chatters on the way, changing subjects every five minutes. From cotton, to fried chicken, to their house, to their neighbors, to their chickens, and she just about explains everything there is to know about their family and Alabama. Like I care to know. I just listen intently, nod when necessary, as I stare out the window the entire time.

    We pass by poverty, people abandoned with the lies and dishonesties that they are nothing but a mere speck on the wall, nothing more, but everything less. The sun gleams off of the black backs of shirtless men who work away in the fields. Their denim jeans are holey and ragged. The toothless faces of the ancient grandfathers who sit on the porches, looking stunned, but they raise their hands and wave to us. I cannot believe my eyes. Never have I seen such heinous and toilsome drudgery in my life. This is supposed to be the modern world. The year is 1963.

    “Why do people still work in the fields?”

    Jason shrugs. “They gotta eat somehow.”

    “But aren’t there machines?” I look out the window again, and notice that there are buckets piled high with fluffy cottons. All picked by hand. The thorns and pricks, the hot sun.

    “Well, yeah, but machines cost money. It’s better to do the work yourself.”

    Then I reminisce back to stories my mother told me of the help.

    “So do the black women care for the white children too?”

    Martha shakes her head, turning around to look at me. “In the city they do. Out here, white women care for they own kids.”

    “I see.” I nod and focus my attention back out the window.

    When I look at Martha, I see my mother. I remember her soft touch, her smooth skin, her young face, her twinkling eyes, and I miss her ever so more.

    I loved my mother so much. She was a best friend and a mother in one. Talking about boys and kisses wasn’t a problem for me. She loved to listen and I loved to talk. She was amazing. And now she was gone.

    A tear slowly slides down my cheek and I frantically wipe it away before Martha or Jason sees it.

    “Carmen.” Martha calls my name and fades me slowly back to reality. She must’ve called my name several times because she’s looking at me, her eyebrows raised. “You alright?”

    “Yes, I’m sorry.” I rub my eyes and fake a yawn. “What were you saying?”

    “I was asking did you have a boyfriend, up there in Canada.”

    I thought about Greg, the boy who fancied me and I fancied him. We exchanged a few kisses, a few touches in the dark, nothing more. But after my parents died, I never heard from him. I didn’t even think about him, till now.

    I shake my head. “No. No boyfriend.”

    “Oh,” she says, nodding. “Well, you’ve got a lot of things to learn.”   

    This catches my attention. “What is that?” Haven’t I learned enough already?

    She chuckles uneasily, as if she’s trying to ease tension that she’s sure to cause. “No more white boys.”

    I look back out the window. Of course she would naturally assume I was only attracted to white men. And that is true. But there weren’t any black men in Canada that I took an interest in.

    I decide not to argue. “Sure. Of course.”

    She laughs. “I’m sure you only had white boyfriends right?”
    I nod, easing a smile to show she hasn’t offended me. “Yes. That’s right.”
    “Well, you can’t do that down here.”

    “What if he likes you back?” I ask, not expecting her response.

    Her eyes widen at my question. “No white boy down here wants you. Remember that?”

    I don’t further the point. I just nod bluntly. “I will.”

    She smiles but I don’t think she believes me. She has nothing to fear. The last thing I need is someone to fall in love with me and convince me to stay in this hellhole any longer than intended.

    Then we pull up to the house. It’s a creamy yellow with a nice wrap-around Southern porch and pillars and its two stories.  And a thousand people are scattered all over the lawn.

    “Surprise!” Martha squeals. “We arranged a barbeque in your welcoming.”

    I fake the biggest smile ever. “Wow. That’s great. Thank you Aunt Martha.”

    “You’re welcome dear!” She hops out of the car and announces that I’ve made it. Everyone cheers. I just want to go in the house, shut the door and not look at anyone.

    But I slowly make my way out of the car, and into the crowds, smiling and embracing people’s warm welcomes. I hear people murmur about how pretty I am, or how well dressed I am, or how “Northern” I talk. What did they expect? I am from Canada.

    Martha leads me up the stairs and into the first room on the right.

    “This will be your room for now.”

    It’s nice. There’s a nice sized bed in the middle, a desk made of oak, a large window with a daybed, a nice closet, and lots of pictures. Martha loves art. She has artwork framed all over the place.

    “It’s nice,” I say, turning to Jason and giving him a nodded “thank you” as he sets my suitcase down beside me.

    “Well, get acquainted and get into something comfortable and come down and enjoy the barbeque.” She grins, putting extra effort into making me feel comfortable, as she and Jason leave the room, closing the door behind her.

    I set my suitcases on the bed and pop them open, taking a pair of denim jeans and a white t shirt. I change quickly, undoing my braid and letting my long, milky brown hair flow down my back like a waterfall. I comb it out with my fingers, wincing at the knotted parts that I roughly run through, and smooth out my clothes. I reapply some lipstick and make my way downstairs, into the kitchen.

    I run into a teenage girl, pouring a glass of lemonade. She is dark-skinned, has deep brown eyes, a short kinky afro, she’s plain but pretty and she is incredibly thin. She looks up at me and does a double take.

    “Cassie?” I ask.

    She nods slowly. “Yeah, that’s me. You must be Carmen?”

    I extend my hand across the counter. “Yes I am. Pleasure to meet you.”

    She rolls her eyes and walks around the counter, embracing me in a tight hug. “I’m glad to have you here.”

    I wrap my arms around her slowly, as if I’m afraid to touch her. I scold myself mentally for that. She is family.

    “Thanks,” I say, wriggling out of the hug. “You all have a beautiful home.”

    She shrugs as she goes back to pouring lemonade. “Your house was probably more beautiful.” The scowl on her face showed a hint of disgust, maybe jealousy.

    I just got here ten minutes ago. The last thing I need is an argument over house comparisons. “It was but I love your home.” I look around for something to change the subject on. “Your mother’s into artwork I see?”

    “Child yes.” Cassie shakes her head and chuckles. “And she loves to paint. She can paint real good too. Maybe I ought to show you some of her paintings.”

    I nod slowly. “Yeah, that would be nice.”
    She smiles crookedly, holding up a glass full of lemonade. “Want one?”

    Then I remember how thirsty I am. “Yes please.”

    She hands it to me and I instantly put it up to my lips. The sweet beverage goes down my throat, calming the ache.

    “This is the best lemonade ever,” I say, placing the empty glass in the sink.

    She laughs slightly. “My momma makes the best.”

    I nod. “Agreed.”

    We both laugh and I lean against the counter. I can’t believe that I actually laughed aloud, a genuine laugh. With Cassie, my blood cousin, who I’ve never met. This is only time I’ve regretted that my parents kept me away from this life, from people I’ve never met. Actual genuine good people. I wish I had known them sooner.

    Cassie gently nudges my arm. “Come outside with me.”

    I agree, following her into the muggy Alabama evening as the mosquitoes bite and gnaw at my skin. I’ve slapped off ten by the time I’ve taken three steps.

    Cassie introduces me to all her friends�"who all make some sarcastic remark on the way I speak�"and also introduce me to Jason’s mother, Big Ma, who lives across the field. She also introduces me to her little brother Craig, who instantly likes me and invites me to play football with him and his over-welcoming friends who are all “in love” with me. After a couple of missed tosses, Craig suggests that I leave football to the boys and go find Cassie somewhere. I easily agree.

    After the food finishes, Jason says a prayer and everyone grabs a plate. I’m really hungry so I grab a little of everything and sits next to Cassie’s friends at the picnic table. But all eyes are off me now. All eyes are on the extremely handsome black man exiting a burgundy car that just pulled up.

    “Oh lord, here come Jermaine!” Cassie’s friend, Angie, squeals, as she straightens out her curls.

    “He is nice looking,” I say, mouthful of chicken leg and potato salad.

    “Nice looking?!” Millie says, her eyes widening. “He is fine.”

    All the other girls at the table nod their heads up and down quickly. I laugh. It’s almost pathetic. While they’re clamoring over their appearances, I keep eating hastily, not noticing how hungry I was till now. He stops at our table and sits down.

    “Hey ladies, any food left?”

    Cassie responds so quickly I laugh. “Yeah Jermaine, there’s plenty.”

    His eyes rest on me. “And you must be Carmen.”     

    I wipe my mouth and nod. “Yes. And you’re Jermaine.”

    He winks playfully. “Heard it through the grapevine?”

    I laugh. “You couldn’t imagine.”

    He looks back to the table where all the food is laid out, while a line of people go back for seconds. “I’d better get my food before it’s gone,” he says, and quickly scurries to the table.

    “Jermaine has never winked at me,” Angie says, frowning.

    Cassie nudged me. “Girl he got his eye on you. He never winks at us.” She says it playfully, but I can sense she’s jealous too. I look at all the other girls whose eyes are feasted upon me in pure jealousy, that I attracted the boy everyone had been dying to be with.

    I shrug. “He’s alright.”

    Angie snorted, taking down a big bite of potato salad. “If you don’t want him, I’ll have him.”

    The entire table burst into laughter and I laughed along with them. He is handsome. He has a milky complexion, these beautiful hazel-green eyes, a muscular body, and a short cut haircut. I could see how he made all the girls go crazy over his presence. And when he came back and sat next to me, the craze was rising like a substance in the air, radiating around me.    

    “So what’s it like in Canada?” Jermaine asks, scrapping up baked beans with his toast.

    “Less hot, less rustic, friendlier.” I shrug. “I miss it dearly.”

    He smiles softly. “From the way you describe it, I’m sure I would miss it too.”

    I smile back politely; aware of all the pair of eyes that burns holes into the back of my skull. “Yes, it was very nice.” I turn back to my food quickly. It tastes really good. Back in Canada I was only allowed to eat baked meats. That is going to change, I suppose.

    Jermaine nods and everyone grows awkwardly silent. He chews nosily. I reach for another roll from the platter stationed in the middle of the table.

    “So Carmen,” Angie says. I raise my head. “When are you leaving?”

    Jermaine cuts in. “She just got here Angie. You ready for her to leave already?”

    Everyone laughs and I join in. “No, it’s fine. And I leave when I turn eighteen.”

    “So how many years you got left?” Angie asks. The sooner I get out of here, the sooner she can get Jermaine all to herself.

    “A little less than two years. I’m sixteen.”

    Jermaine nods slowly, mouth full of food, and continues eating. The awkward silence pierces the entire table, the girls mentally contemplating who should talk next. Jermaine, still noisily eating, smiles up at me occasionally then goes back to his food. He doesn’t even give the other girls a glance. The last thing I need is all of the girls hating me over a boy. I look around, everywhere, trying to avoid Jermaine’s glances. The tables, the girls, Angie’s necklace, my food, the car that occasionally passes by; anything.

    “Hey Jermaine!” a deep masculine voice calls and a less attractive boy runs to us, smirking at me before turning to Jermaine. “Me and the fellas were gonna play us some football.”

    Please go, I mentally plead.

    The boy stretches slightly, making the veins bulge in his biceps. He’s a little shorter than Jermaine, much leaner, and has an awkwardly twisted mouth but something about that makes him a little attractive.

    “Yeah sure.” Jermaine scraps up the remaining food on his plate and then shoves the remaining toast in his mouth. “Be there in a minute,” he says, mouth stuffed.

    The boy nods slowly then smiles at me again. “Carmen, you look pretty today.”

    I open my mouth to reply but Jermaine hops up and playfully pushes him. “Let’s go man.”

    The boy glares slightly at Jermaine, and then winks playfully at me, before the two take off into the field.

     “You got all the boys all over you.” Angie looks down at her food but I could hear the jealousy growing in her voice.

    I roll my eyes, slowing getting up. “Yeah I noticed.”

    I go back into the house, nodding at Big Ma, who was stationed at the door in her rocking chair. She is a nice woman but of few words. Just like me.

    I refill my glass with lemonade, clinking the ice, and yawn. I did not realize how tired I was. I slip my shoes off, running my aching feet across the rustic wood floor, and collapse on the couch

© 2013 Aysia

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Added on February 11, 2013
Last Updated on February 11, 2013




I'm very shy. A budding writer. Grammar freak, despite my use of fragments in this bio. A photographer. Young in age, but old in soul. Sort of. I consider myself an abstract writer (as in the art.. more..

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