Shattered Lives

by Essie Nail

The day was really hot. Trees were hiding the sky so well that the sun barely peeped through. John and his friend Luke were playing their usual games in spite of the oppressive heat. They often met in the woods between their houses. Their parents were unaware that John and Luke spent as much time together as they could manage. Luke had three brothers at home but preferred his games with John, on the other hand John had only one sister. He sometimes worried what his dad would do if he knew about Luke. Both boys were 10 years old and really did not understand why the difference in their color should matter.

The boys incorporated their differences in their games at times. John would play the storeowner and Luke the customer. It was fun for John to pretend he did not have what Luke needed and then finally locate it. “Boy, don’t you drink too much of this coffee, you might get blacker,” John might say. “I ain’t black, I is a cool paper sack brown,” Luke would sometimes respond. Then, both boys would fall over laughing. John, blond with blue eyes though Luke lucky to be so brown and was not bothered by the sun. Sometimes it did bother Luke that John’s dad was so mean to his dad. He could not understand what his parents could have done that the white people would call them bad names and not be nice. John never called him nigger like some people did. They talked about it once and decided that they did not like it.

So, today was like most days until they decided to play cowboys and indians. John ran home to get his dad’s shotgun and they made their version of bows and arrows. This was great fun. John and Luke would take turns being the cowboy. At one point, they struggled over the gun, being that it was so much more fun pretend shooting. Somehow the gun fired. The boys looked at each other in shock.

Suddenly, John fell to the ground. “Sweet Jesus,” Luke cried. John looked dead like the cowboys in the movies. Luke tried to get John to talk but his eyes were closed. He ran home as fast as he could to get his father, his mom had died a few months back. Luke’s father was so shaken by the news that he could barely make it back to the place where John had fallen.

He immediately realized that John was dead. He too ran as his son had just done. Still, it seemed to take hours to reach the home of John’s parents. Everything seemed to be in slow motion. John’s dad was stunned at what he was hearing. He ran with them back to his son. Mr. John Darby Sr. started to literally howl like an animal. He knew that his only son was gone. “How could this be?” John Sr. asked over and over. Little Luke, in shock, dropped to the ground crying as if his insides would pour out. “My friend, my friend,” he gasped. Luke, then with tears steadily falling, looked up at John’s dad with fear and trembling. Luke knew that something bad was going to happen to him and maybe to his family also.

Two lives shattered, many lives changed forever. John Darby, who always hated black people but was not even conscious enough for that fact to register at first. By the time he had gotten the local authorities out to the scene, he could think of nothing except his only son was dead. His friends however, soon started talk of lynching the little nigger boy who had killed his son. Meanwhile, Luke and his father were back home awaiting their fate. They did not have long to wait. A mob soon appeared demanding that they come out and get what was coming to them. But there was not going to be a lynching in Talbot County that day.The new sheriff arrived just as the mob was hanging Luke over a wash tub filled with boiling water. Their lives were to be spared that day. Luke’s father sagged with relief as the sheriff took action.

Luke went to reform school (the juvenile prison) and after turning 18 years old, he was sent to adult prison. His father and brothers moved from Talbot County and were truly grateful to be alive. Luke’s father often thought that if his wife had lived, none of this would have happened. Before leaving the county, he had a talk with his wife’s cousin, Helen. Helen had promised his wife that she would take Luke to live with her in Somerville. She later revealed that she had only promised to ease her cousin’s mind. After all Helen had a husband and seven children of her own to care for. In spite of this however, Luke had lived with Cousin Helen for a time. When he was old enough to work , his dad had taken him back to live with him. Saddened by the turn of events, cousin Helen told of the night that she had a visitation from Luke’s mother soon after he had gone to prison. Luke’s mom had appeared next to her bed and simply said, “you promised.”

Helen promised Luke to do whatever she could by visiting, taking food, and keeping him informed of what was going on in the family. This promise was kept. Luke is now out of prison after many, many years and living a good life. He said that he never forgot his friend John and would always love him. “John is helping me put my life back together,” he once told Cousin Helen. “If I can help somebody, I feel that John’s life and mine were not shattered in vain.” He added. Luke had found his life purpose.

Shattered Lives by Essie Nail

© Copyright 2004. All rights reserved. No portion of this work may be duplicated or copied without the expressed written consent of the author.

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