• undergroundcrowds

It didn't help...



It didn’t help that Sam wasn’t from this town. It didn’t help that Sam was always feeling awkward. Always on the outside. One step behind.  It certainly did not help that Daddy was put in jail on trumped up charges with little to no evidence, just coerced eye witness testimony. It didn’t help that he didn’t like sports, wasn’t yet into girls, and didn’t know how to build a boat with his bare hands, or whatever these white kids did on the weekends. It didn’t help that he stuttered. He wanted to go back to Chicago. Why, oh, why did they have to leave? Why did his mom drag him all the way down here to southern Indiana?…oh that.

Sam rolled his eyes to himself and sighed deeply, the sun beaming down on his ebony skin and his feet burning through the soles of his sneakers as they rested on the metal that covered the roaring bus engine. The oversized assembly of yellow metal and plastic seats wound through the Indiana byways, and stopped, on cue, down the street from his Nana’s house, his Grandmother.

“Mom!” Sam bolted through the pink door “we gotta go!” He threw his backpack against the entry way wall, momentarily glancing up at the portrait of his grandfather, with his two sons, Sam’s Dad on his left, his Uncle on the left, 3 years deceased. How he missed him.

“No one here, 'cept little ol’ me,” it was his grandma who answered from the living room. Her tone had a bit of a warning in it, mixed with an invitation. He guessed his mom had to work late, again.

“Oh, sorry, Nana,” Sam sunk into the chair nearest her, and surveyed the crocheting she was busying herself with “watcha making’?” He let the question tumble out without the slightest desire to hear the answer. He was sure he had asked the same question a thousand times before, just to be polite. Point of fact, he was reclined with his head on one of her creations at that very moment, with the clear plastic that adorned all her furniture, a lace doily accompanied it, compliments of her tireless handiwork.

She skipped his question, they both knew he did want the answer to, with a question of her own. “Don’t you like it here?” He couldn’t expect anything but frankness from the woman with grey hair, almost pure white, cut two inches from her scalp in a perfect semi circle.  Her simple silk scarf wrapped meticulously around her regal head like a crown.

He pulled his feet up to his chest to somehow muster the strength for honesty, but she only had to give him that look once that spoke lots of things, but the main idea being, if he didn’t want his feet crocheted into her next doily, he best get them down off her chair. So he quickly acquiesced but for further support starred at the ceiling, feet firmly planted on the blue carpeted floor.  Right words never came. If they did, his stutter overlapped any coherent meaning.

“Miss ya’ friends?” Her dark eyes penetrated through his to his inner soul.

He sniffed and repositioned his feet until he could no longer meet her gaze and looked back up to the ceiling, “naw, ne ne ne ‘ver ha, had ‘nough of ‘em.”

“You don’t need many, you just need one,” Nana Shelton put down her needles for a moment to assess her grandson’s demeanour.  She grunted a little from lack of satisfaction, shifted in the floral recliner the whole family had gotten her for Christmas 5 years ago, and continued click clacking her needles.

“Never had that either.” Sam mumbled. Only rarely did the words come out right, right at the times he most wanted not to say them. He wondered if the ceiling might just this once, in stark contrast to it’s long history of 40 years, suck him up tightly into the sheetrock, so that for the rest of his days he could look down on the world, for a change of pace, never to be seen or heard from again. “Wh, wh, what’s for su, su supper?”

“I don’t know, you cooking?” Nana’s eyes sparkled all over now, pleased with teasing this grandson she adored.

“Sure,” he answered back with equal velocity “hot bu bu buttered toast, co comin’ right up.”

She smiled broadly, all of her false teeth fighting for escape in a concerted effort, “black eyed peas and cornbread, chil.” Squinting her knowing look, satisfied she won this round.

..... It was late in the evening by this time. Sam turned over on his bed with an uneasy feeling in his stomach. The clock read 12 midnight, displayed in bright red numbers against the black consul. Beads of sweat covered his top lip, another nightmare. He pushed off the extra blanket with his feet. Nana always said, too many blankets would give him nightmares. She was right about most things. He lay in silence dreading tomorrow, for no particular reason but that it was not his tomorrow, it belonged to whoever was going to throw him against his locker just for fun and take something from him. It belonged to the kids that would scoot further down the cafeteria table when he sat down to eat his hot meal. It belonged to the lofty eyes that surrounded him on all sides in every single class, looking at him like they didn’t know what to do with an intruder. It belonged to the revised history lesson, during second period, where he didn’t know whether to be relieved they glossed over slavery, narrowly escaping uncomfortable stares as if the whole thing was his fault, or angry. The list was endless, the nuances blurred and oppressively dark, but every other person seemed to find great hope in the concept of tomorrow, except him. Not Sam Shelton. Not one of his tomorrows had ever been filled with hope.

These dreams, though, were reckless, like clarity trying to fight it’s way out to the sunlight. “Just once, let us get out from this side of this stuttering tongue and be free!” They quaked inside his mind enough to blur his vision, and shake his soul. So instead, he thought about where his dad was right at that very moment. Locked in a cell, all alone, for “being in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Mama said he hung around shady characters and reaped the benefits of it. Sam wasn’t sure someone should go to jail for having bad friends, and Nana, well, she was silent about it, which was very out of character.

Just then Sam heard a glass break in the kitchen. Mamas here, he thought.....

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