We’ve been here before. The burning. The looting. The screams. The darkness. The fire. The running. The chanting. Avoiding the tear gas. Breaking glass windows. Turning the police cars onto its side. Hit by rubber bullets. All of it looks too familiar. Her mother told her about her witnessing such rage when she was younger. And here sitting in her boyfriend’s bedroom, Billie watches the flames rise on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. She sat on the end of his bed, watching the news footage on his television. She watched, troubled by the whole thing. But she understood.
Her boyfriend, Ronald, just finished taking a shower, walks in wrapped in a bath towel-from the waist down. He sits next to her. He holds her hand as they watch the chaos on television.
One-year prior Billie had warned the nation that ‘black fire’ was going to erupt in the north very soon because of generations of injustice. Injustice being the thorn in her black people’s side, not only their side, but their backs, their necks, their minds and their hearts. It has been and continues to be painful experiences one after another and in her poetry, she warned the nation what was coming.
Billie would sometimes feel the uniqueness in certain moments- especially this one-as Ferguson burned and people rioting, she found it romantic to be sitting next to this sexy dark skin man. His big hands gripping hers, she felt safe and aroused. He removed her clothes and they made love that night as the flames grew higher.
“But you see what I’m saying Billie.”
“I do…’ she waves at the working class people who have stopped outside the restaurants window to acknowledge her on their way to work.
“…I do see what you mean and so that is why we as artist, I mean me and Vanessa, sorry babe.”
“Yeah, count me out, cause I’m just a simple waiter.”
“A cute one. That’s why I picked you up.”
“You picked me up?”
“Here we go.” Vanessa laughs.
“Yeah, don’t you remember?” Billie asked Ronald.
“I remember clearly, apparently you don’t, babe. I gave you my number.”
“‘Cause I allowed you too.”
“Allowed me, in what way?”
“I gave you the ‘welcome look’. Every woman gives it to a man when she wants to engage him into her web.”
“That’s what you call it? Your web?”
She nods and smiles.
“A web I don’t mind being tangled in.”
They smile at each other.
“So yes,” Billie continues, “specifically artist I’m talking about, we all do our part, speaking on behalf of the trouble that we witness, things will move forward because we’re owning our responsibility.”
“What did Nina Simone say, ‘it’s the artists’ responsibility to reflect the times we’re living in’, Vanessa added.
“And it’s hard to look away when it’s all on T.V.” says Daniel.
“That’s right and truth be told, I will keep writing, and Vanessa will keep making movies, ‘til we can’t no more.”
“I hear that.” Vanessa grins.
A couple of middle age black women walk to the back of the restaurant up to Billie’s table.
“Excuse us, we just wanted to say we love your work Billie. You keep doing your thing in spite of the naysayers.”
“You have so much ahead of you. Proud of you sista.”
“Thank you both. That means a lot, thank you.” Billie smiles at them. They politely ask to take a picture with her.
“Sure, come on.”
The following year Billie stays in a hotel room. Her bodyguard sits outside her door in the hallway. Inside, she sits at the desk typing her latest poetry book on her laptop. Nearby is her cup of hot tea and the newspaper- front page reporting about Sandra Bland’s death in prison.
Her cellphone rings…
“I see you’re still up.”
“Yes, trying to finish my book. How are you?”
“I miss you too.”
“Any word on when you can return home?”
“No, they said the death threats hasn’t stopped.”
“Told you should have moved in with me.”
“I like living by myself, you know that. Listen, I don’t want to talk about this right now Ronald. It’s late and I need to finish this.”
“Okay, I understand.”
“Sorry, I’m just a bit stressed.”
“Try to get some rest.”
“I would, if the world was the way it should be. Goodnight, babe.”
“Listen, listen, here’s another review ‘Billie’s latest is the most engaging and though provoking poetry books this year. Her prose is nearly perfect. Billie addresses the toughest questions the nation is facing and challenges the authorities like no other writer of her generation.’ Wow!” Vanessa looks at Billie with a big smile.
“Why am I not surprise, my baby is on fire,” Ronald kisses Billie on her mouth.
“Any bad reviews?” Billie asked.
“Why would you want to hear those?” he asked.
“Find some Vanessa.”
“No, don’t Vanessa,’ he looks at Billie, “You’ll only get depressed and you’re not going to get depressed tonight.”
“You’re right, I’m going to get drunk.”
“First let’s dance,” he takes her hand. “Vanessa, music.”
Vanessa plays an upbeat song from her cellphone. She watches as both of them dance joyfully together.
“So, I’d say you look great but you know your mother don’t lie.”
“Yeah, I had too many drinks last night. Go ahead and scold me.”
“Why? You’re a grown woman.”
“We were out celebrating my book release.”
“I figured. Who’s ‘we’?
“You know, Vanessa and Ronald.”
“I told you from day one I didn’t feel right about him.”
“Mom, he’s been nothing but a gentleman since we’ve been together.”
“How long its been?”
“A year. Never mind all of that. Okay? Did you get my book?”
“I did, thank you. The neighbors on the block bought their copies.”
“Wow, I appreciate that.”
Her mother sees Billie rub her head.
“Coffee and aspirin will do.”
“Your hangover, what else.”
“How you know I didn’t know that?”
“Because the amount of times you were drunk, I can probably count on one hand. I want to see you around the holidays this year. No excuses.”
“You know I want to be there.”
“The Bronx isn’t for.”
“Things are different now, mom. It’s about the families’ safety.”
Billie walks out of her bedroom, carries the laptop- looking at her mom on screen. She sits at the kitchen table. Her bodyguard sits on the couch in the TV room watching music videos on his cellphone.
“You ready for retirement?”
“Yes! Four more months left.”
“The students are going to miss you.”
“I’ll miss them too but it’s time to go! I’ll get to stay up late, get out of bed whenever I want.”
“You deserve it mom.”
“What’s next on the agenda?”
“They say I should slow down in what I’m saying in my work mom.”
“How long have we been told to ‘take it slow? Let things work itself out.’ Those days been over. What do they know? And who’s ‘they’ anyway?”
“The officials. My agent.”
“Fire him. Don’t stop Billie. You keep going. You hear me? The world, especially the black community needs your voice. And don’t worry about anything. God is with you, you know that.”
“Yes, I know.”
“After the cop threw me down to the pavement, he put his knee so hard on my back, I thought he was going to break it. My face pressed to the ground. It happened so fast.”
Brenda listened to Ronald as she mended his cuts and bruises as they sat in her house.
“They checked my car. They wouldn’t tell me why they pulled me over. But this is what I really wanted to tell you, the officer that had me pinned to the ground, he said in my ear, ‘tell your girlfriend to back off.’
“How is Philly?”
“What you been up to?”
“Since I’m on vacation, reading a lot.”
“Rereading Angela Davis’ autobiography.”
“That’s a real good one.”
“Yes. And a book about Aretha Franklin.”
“Love her. You and mom would play that ‘Amazing Grace’ album so much in the house.”
“You sung to it.”
“Yes, I did.” She smiles.
“I heard the event went well.”
“The one at the University.”
“Oh yeah, the students were so engaged. They want to be leaders, that gives me hope, you know.”
“Yes, indeed,” he drinks his coffee.
“I spoke to them about America. The real America of who built it and whose blood was spilled to keep it here. I thought about how you and the guys in the union who worked countless hours building with your hands mainly, those skyscrapers and bridges. So underappreciated.”
“I don’t look for recognition from man, you know that. I just want to do my best with what the Lord has given me.”
“Well, I’m saying thank you Dad. For everything. I don’t say that enough.”
She smiles at him.
“You’ll always be my angel. Keep fulfilling your calling.”
Suddenly two police officers walk up to their table in the back of the coffee place. One of the officers is tall, brown skin, younger than his partner. His partner is also tall, middle age, Caucasian. The young officer looks at Billie.
“Excuse me are you Billie Jenkins?”
“We have a warrant for your arrest.”
She looks at the folded paper in his hand.
“What’s this about officer?”
“We’re talking to the lady, not you,” the Caucasian officer says disgusted.
“I’m her father, I’d like to know.”
“Stand up Billie,” the brown skin officer says.
“Can I read the warrant?”
“Stand up, now.”
“What is this about?”
“I’m not going to ask you again.”
“We’re minding our business.”
“Be quiet, sir.”
Billie sees the Caucasian officer put his hand on his gun.
“Dad it’s okay. Everything will be fine.”
Billie stands up. The Caucasian officer turns her around aggressively and slaps the handcuffs on her. Billie winces.
“Hey! You don’t have to be so rough,” dad stands.
The brown skin officer points at him- “I’ll light you up, calm down, sir! Sit down.”
Her dad sits back down slowly. The Caucasian officer reads her rights. He pushes her out of the restaurant as some of the customers film it with their cell phones.
“Don’t worry dad, I’ll call my lawyer. Everything will be fine.”
“Sorry for the inconvenience,” the brown skin officer smirks at the dad and begins to walks out of the restaurant.
Outside, the Caucasian officer has Billie pressed up against the hood of the police car. He pants her down, groping her breast and waist.
“They say you carry weapons on you.”
“Get your hands off of me! Sick pig!”
He slaps her hard across the back of her head, her forehead hits the hood of the car, bruising it.
The brown skin officer walks to the car.
“No, she’s good. Real good. Come on. Inside.” He opens the back door and pushes her inside the car. He slams the door. Her dad stands out on the sidewalk watching as Billie rides away in the cop car.
The next mornings headline- ‘Radical Poet Arrested.’ It states in the article her prison time is still to be determined.
Billie sits in her cell night after night, tired, angry. Tear stains on her brown skin. She thought of the last time she marched amongst the large crowd of women of different ethnicities at the Women’s March. How their enthusiasm and courage strengthened her that day and the time she spoke in front of the young University students. The fire in their eyes. Their thoughtful questions. Their confidence rising. She reminded herself all she was doing isn’t done in vain. She’ll be out soon. And during her lunch break, on television she seen the protest on her behalf from people who spoke out about her unjustified arrest.
One year later Billie rides in the front seat of her mother’s car. She’s quiet through the whole ride. After being released her mom takes her back to her house. Her neighbors and fans from all around are gathered outside on her block, chanting, welcoming her home.
She and her mom walk inside her house pass the reporters. Her mother cooks her a meal as Billie takes a shower. After her shower she goes into her bedroom, closes her door, packs her luggage.
“Thank you, mom.”
“No problem. Can’t imagine what they fed you in there. You lost weight.”
“You can keep the leftovers.”
“May want to eat it now, before you leave.”
Billie looks up at her.
“I saw your luggage in your room. Want to tell me where you’re going?”
“It’s better that you don’t know, so when they ask...”
“How long will you be away?”
“Told your father?”
“You going alone?”
“Guess so. Ronald is out of the picture, so is Vanessa. She envied me. Both are liars. He was a cheater.”
“Why do you have to leave? Many depend on you here.”
“Truth be told, if I stay and face more injustice from a white person, I’m going to kill one of them”
“Don’t talk like that Billie.”
“I’ve had it with this cesspool of violence, bigotry, and disrespect mom. I’m just tired. I’m not going to let it kill my integrity. Didn’t let it when I was a little girl, not going to now. You and dad gave me that fighting spirit but I’ve learned even the fighters can get weary. I refuse to stay in a country that doesn’t value us. I will not. We’ve been fighting for a long time. I just need to collect my thoughts.”
Mom looks at her, doesn’t take her eyes off of her. Billie finishes her plate.
“Did they hurt you in there?”
“Maybe one day I’ll write about it.”
“Did they hurt you?”
“Maybe you want to come along with me.”
“Get away from being around the same faces, do something different?”
“No, I’m fine right here.”
“Why you looking at me like that?”
“Like you don’t know me. I’m your daughter. Remember?”
One of the employers walk up to Billie and places her steaming black coffee in front of her.
“Good to have you back. Welcome home,” she smiles and walks away.
Billie sits there in the back of the restaurant with her luggage. She looks out the window. The working-class people going about their daily routines. She sits still. Alone.
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WOW...Great story Keith! Loved it! Looking forward for more stories from you!😊😉 Keep writing and have a great day Keith!❤️️❤️️
Thank you, I appreciate that. Enjoy the rest of the weekend.
Sure,no problem Keith! Glad to have help! You too!😁