Hung on the sky blue walls of a backwoods art gallery, a picture of a woman calls out to me. She stood at a “colored” bus stop in Manhattan surrounded by women the same stature. Her head was turned toward the right and her forehead was creased with worry. Her fingers gripped the straps of the purse that hung from her right shoulder, a vice. Her hair was slicked back, not a curl out of place and the collar of her shirt looked so stiff and starched I could almost smell the box of detergent through the glass.
My eyes were drawn to hers and the thin lines between her eyebrows which, would be invisible to those who don’t understand her struggle. I could hear her screaming inside from the solemn look in her eye. I wished, in that moment, I could jump into the frame, back to the sixties, to tell her that the future holds no worries, but that would be a lie.
The bus will drop her off last when the sky is darker than her skin. Men of all colors will sit outside bars lining the street corners as motown’s sweet music softly drifted in the wind. Drunkenness knows no division. She can smell the alcohol on their breath even from her distance. They will hoot and holler at her as she would begin her five block walk home, alone. She has to ignore the drunken compliments and the nasty things, hoping that she will be able to just make it home without having to pull out her knife. What good is a knife most days, anyway, when the men are twice her size and hunt in packs like coyotes? She could have stared up at the night sky once or twice, making eye contact with the moon.
“You know,” she would whisper to it, “You only shine because the rest of the sky is dark.”
The rest of her walk home would be silent, staring straight ahead. She’d see people walking about. Single men. Young couples without chaperones. She won’t look at any of them. She won’t want any trouble. She just had to make it home in time to feed her babies and her husband.
Just three blocks away from home, a man will call out to her. She will keep walking with her head down. He would keep hollering. His voice will boom, like it was getting closer, so she would bolt away, in her short chunky heels and skirt, wishing she was closer to home.
She’ll freeze, tired and out of breath.
“Look,” she’ll wheeze out, panting, “ I don’t want no trouble. If you want money, I don’t have any. If you want anything else, I have nothing to give you. Nothing, you hear? Now, you leave me alone. I’ve told you the truth, I have nothing.”
“Okay, Ma’am but…I was just looking for directions to the bus stop.”
Her breathing will calm as she points in the direction she came from, “Sorry, boy. It’s a few blocks that way, on the corner between two bars. Once you smell beer, you’re there. Can’t miss it.”
Standing in the gallery, I picture her walking that last block or two home, rushing through the door, her purse dropping to the ground with a new unimportance. Hugging her babies tightly, she would breathe in the scent of their skin and the smell of detergent on their clothes. Her son would shyly tell her that he stained his good shirt and for a moment she wouldn’t care because she came home to all of her children there.
Having a black or tan child is dangerous and yet, relief would wash over her the same way it will wash over me, one day. My kids will be a mixture of both. She prayed back then the way I will, years from now, for their safety. We pray they get the chance to live without fear. We pray that our sons don’t lose their lives on street corners holding up a pack of candy or a cell phone to prove their innocence. We pray that our children will be able to speak the language of their people freely without hearing, “This is America, speak English.”
We pray that our daughters can safely walk the streets alone and not be preyed upon for the clothes that she wears or the color of her skin being the fantasy of a cruel fetish. We pray that the world will love our children the way we do, the way we will one day, even if they are all pepper but no salt or pepper and spices stirred together. We pray that a social construct is no longer a reason to take children from mothers and mothers from children. We pray that the police won’t show up to family barbecues and leave with our fathers in handcuffs. We pray that one day mankind will also mean womankind and be color kind. We pray, I tell you. That’s all we have left to do.
Angelica M. Ramos-Santa is an undergraduate student at Susquehanna University, majoring in writing. As a Hispanic female writer, she dreams of going onward to grad-school to teach and inspire the next generation writers. She believes that everyone has the right to dream big.