Little Red Caboose, an excerpt from AKA Dead MAN
by Ghetto Girl Blue
In my dream T'wana was hitting me on my neck with the pots and pans from the kitchen in my Head Start class. I could not hit her back. It was like I was stuck in slow motion like when Cindy had a crush on that boy on the Brady Bunch and ran to him real slow, even though she tried to run faster. And every time I tried to hit T'wana, my fists landed real soft against her head.
I heard noise in the kitchen that woke me up. tiny Tim, my dog, had slept under my neck all night. I call him tiny Tim because he's like the little boy in the Christmas movie with the crutches that would never get well. My little dog would not get well either. When I got him for Christmas last year he could play music. All the different kinds of music. When I walked down the hill with mother from my foster home and turned the buttons on his belly he played country music like my brother liked, I turned the button again and he played soul music like my sisters listened to, stuff like James Brown's "I'm Black and I'm Proud". It wasn't that song though. that was my favorite song. When my sisters had meetings with their friends they would let me sing it for them. Then I would stay in the living room to here them talk about the revolution.
When I turned the little dog's button to hear the people talking about how Huey was arrested for beating up a black man, mother took the little dog away from me. She said "they" were trying to follow us. that "they" were using my little dog to track us to the free Church in San Francisco, where we were going for Christmas dinner. I told her nothing was wrong with him, she said she would fix him, make him loyal to me because I was his new owner.
She wrestled with him for a minute. I just looked down the hill thinking of all the bad smells in the Free Church and wondering why we couldn't stay and have dinner with Momma Ann and my sisters. Momma Ann had a big turkey with a lot of dark meat. She always lets me pick my meat first. the only time I liked liver was when she made her holiday dressing. Her dressing was plump with giblets and her potato salad was sweet with relish. At the free church I stand in line behind all the other poor people and wait for a small piece of dry white meat and green colored dressing with no giblets. The smell of unwashed human bodies and breath soaked with liquor and rotting food, mixed with the under seasoned holiday food until I too, experienced the diet of the "poor and discarded," as mother called us.
Mother handed the dog to me. She put the little black box that gave him music in the pocket of her battle dress jacket. He was all empty inside. His brown eyes were still happy ones. He didn't know he was broken. I guess that's the way I felt about myself. I didn't know I was broken. I took the little dog from her and named him tiny Tim. I thought maybe I could pull some stuffing from one of my dolls and put it in his stomach. Now whenever tiny Tim gets sad and crawls under my neck in the middle of the night, I put a little more stuffing from my favorite doll into his belly. This morning I walk to my closet to find my doll but she is gone.
Mother is in the bathroom just outside my bedroom now. I can hear her shuffling through her medicine on the shelves behind the mirror. Mother busts into my room in a frenzy. Her feet, hard and cracked, seize the floorboards in my bedroom as she makes her way to the closet. She riffles through my clothes, grabs a few pairs of shoes and hurls them into my suitcase.
I don't need to be told to get ready. I arise quickly and dart into the bathroom. there is no time to bathe. I brush my teeth and pull my hair into a big fuzzy ball and wrap a rubber band around it. Mommy waits by the living room door. I know now that "they" must be coming.
Maybe this time I will see "them" before we leave. I peek out of my balcony window. I look to the street. It is quiet. Its dew is still undisturbed by tires. Perhaps they are hiding in the trees, protected from view by leaves and fog. Mommy often speaks of "them," but I can never figure out who "they" are and I never know when they will come. I never have seen them either but I am satisfied with Mommy's word that "they" are following us.
My suitcase is full of shoes. Her clothes are in a multi-colored hand knitted tote she wears strapped around her shoulder.
We walk for a very long time before she speaks. She says we are running away to New Orleans. I am glad. For her it is a quest to see the daughter she gave up for adoption a long time ago. For me, a chance to escape before we are dragged back into court for a custody hearing. I don't know where New Orleans is but I think it is far away. Far from the courts, the doctors, the police, social workers and "them." I want to be alone with mommy so she can love me right.
We stop at the health food Co-Op for fresh ground peanut butter, jelly and bread. She drops the items into my suitcase. She takes brisk, insecure steps bumping me periodically as we walk a long distance to the bus station.
At the Greyhound station she gets me a coloring book. I insist on crayons from the drug store and then we stop in a dark bar. I sit by a window watching her promise the bar tender she would leave with me if he would give her one drink.
From my window I can see train tracks. I love trains. For a whole year I have wanted a toy train with a shiny red caboose, but for my birthday and Christmas I got dolls, clothes and tiny Tim.
Mommy finishes two drinks and a conversation with a rust colored man with rust colored hair hanging off the stool next to hers. the morning fog has burned away. We face a sun brighter than the one we left outside the bar's swinging doors. Traffic quickens its pace and I am lost amid belt buckles, shopping bags and purses as she pulls me gently behind her. We are headed away from the Greyhound station, toward a big intersection. We are standing very near the curb at the AC transit bus stop before I can see again. I guess we will go as far as the city bus line will take us and hitch hike the rest of the way to New Orleans. the men we usually hitch hike with are truck drivers. The trucks are big and I have to be lifted into them because they are too high to climb. they usually buy me something or feed me. Sometimes mommy has to pay for the ride. She crawls through the curtains and they follow her into the part of the truck I have never seen.
After standing for a little while, I can hear the great rumble of a train on the track just across the street.
"A train! A train! Look mommy, a train!" I shout. The people at the bus stop smile politely at me as I urge them to enjoy the sight too.
"I see it." Mommy said, patting my head. The train thunders by pounding the track chukka chukka chukka. The caboose chases close behind seeming to barely hang on, determined not to be left behind.
"Mommy the caboose!" I shout gleefully. I look up at her but my quick glance robs her face of any expression. the weary tracks shout for mercy as the last little red car spins across. there is a man on the caboose. I am amazed. Mommy told me people don't ride on the caboose. Why is this man on the caboose?
"Mommy there's a man on the caboose!"
"Shhhhh." Mother begs.
"But look there, is a man on the caboose and there's not supposed to be because you said that...."
"Shhhh, Epiphany." She insists.
In a flash the train has vanished dragging the caboose and the stranger behind it. The suited man standing next to us grabs his briefcase off the ground and darts toward the crosswalk. I watch mother's red and hazel eyes follow him across the street into a phone booth. She glares at me for a moment with bulging eyes that spread her long lashes wide. She stares into heaven like she's waiting for a sign from God. Her hand tightens around my wrist.
"It's all your fault!" She shouts. At first I think she's talking to God. "that man is calling the police on that poor man hitching a ride on the caboose. It's all your fault!" She snatches me from the curb into the street. My feet dangle beneath me, barely touching the tarred plane.
"Who wants this little girl?" She shouts. the skin of my armpit burns like it does when my sisters and I play Indian Chief. A trickle of her sweat works its way through the crease of her hand and my wrist. It crawls down to my burning armpit and evaporates.
"Who wants this little girl?" She gives me a couple quick turns as she screams at spectators. People gather like children on a schoolyard gravitating toward a fight, thirsty for excitement. Women with shopping bags and men with briefcases will talk about us over dinner tonight.
There are no cars, no buses, only whispers and the distant rumble of the caboose. the rust colored man with the rust colored hair peers at me through the window. A woman walks over to him, hands him a drink. He disappears. Some people gawk shamelessly from distant corners of the intersection. Others peek timidly as they walk slowly past. Some drag their eyes slowly across us as they pretend to look out for the bus.
I dangle before these fearful shoppers and gutless travelers for long minutes barren of pride and power. Everything that is me is up for grabs, for give-away like the stuff in the free boxes I get my toys from. Momma Ann told me about the auction blocks where black people use to be sold. Maybe these people are not surprised. Maybe these people remember my Black daddies. I think of looking cute to attract a buyer but not one of the White faces will look me in the eye. Not one spectator comes over to pull my lips back and check my teeth or separate the hairs on my head in search of mites. They just look down from their pedestals with the approval of silence.
Mother and I are an unlikely pair, so much the same and so much different. We are like my refrigerator magnets, no Matter how we try to be together there is always an unseen force waiting to pull us apart. Like the social worker's that flash seemingly innocent smiles, then, with a stroke of their mighty pens I'm shipped off to another place, there are always outsiders itching to tell us we don't belong.
"Who want's this little girl?" Mother continues to shout in desperation. "Who wants this little girl?" Her voice echoes then fades until I can barely hear it over the loud stares of the gathering crowd.
I look up at my mother trying to face her. If she would only look at me I can make her love me again. She does not look at me. She pokes her bottom lip out to blow her bane's out of her eyes. She rocks back and forth, clinching my arm so tightly the pink of her knuckles whiten. Her toes curl up with drunken rhythm slowly tapping down on her run over thongs. She jumps at the sound of a woman's voice rising slowly above the assembly. The onlookers are surprised, like a secret meeting was interrupted. Like this savior was intruding.
"I'll take her." The woman said from a dusty white car across the street. Mommy pulls me onto her bony hip. She carries me over to the woman who hustles me quickly into the front seat of her car, and closes me in. She and mommy talk outside the car behind the raised hood of the trunk. I stare at the boy and girl in the back seat, expecting answers. After a few minutes I realize they can't help me.
Sunlight creeps through the back window as the woman shuts the hood of the trunk. I embrace this opportunity as the last ever to see my mother. But she is not standing there to bid me well. I sit up on my knees to get a better look but I only get a glimpse of her battle dress jacket slipping into a circus of people, cars and traffic lights just beyond the railroad tracks.