Continuing with the current featured author, I bring you an excerpt from SK Nicholls’ novel Red Clay and Roses.
The fruitcake that Little Auntie had sent back for her parents felt heavy in her lap. She was just starting to adjust it, when the train whistle began to blow. They must be nearing town now. The conductor announced the stop. It was already dark when the trained slowed to a complete stop, but the depot was well lit. People scurried off the train, pushing for the opened doors. Sybil waited until the flurry passed and was the last one out of the passenger car.
She noticed him immediately. He stuck out like a sore thumb, the only colored man on this side of the station. The Negros were leaving their passenger car, claiming their baggage and making their way to the other side of the station. The whites had almost completely left the platform. Most had already found their rides with waiting loved ones. A couple of taxicabs were parked at the north end and a couple of taxicabs were parked at the south end. This man stood with his back to the counter, leaning on his elbow, and tipping his hat at the few people walking by. He was a tall man with moderately light skin, not too light or too dark, and dressed in a suit befitting an Ivy Leaguer.
Sybil had her small suitcase in one hand, her purse on her other arm, and the fruitcake in the other hand. She walked to the counter, set the fruitcake down, dropped her suitcase, and fumbled in her purse for her Parliaments.
She brought the cigarette to her lips while she continued to dig through her purse for matches. The Negro gentleman offered to light her with a stunning silver lighter, and she begged off, “I’ll save you a trip to the lynching tree with a penny pack of matches.” It was a most intimate gesture for a man to light a woman’s cigarette and Negros just didn’t do that, light white women’s cigarettes. She noticed his hands were fine, with no calluses and nails well-manicured. Sybil found her matches and fired up her Parliament.
“That’s a beautiful lighter though,” she added, almost apologetically.
“It was a gift, but I don’t smoke. I just carry it for good luck.”
“Has it gotten you lucky?” she inquired, and immediately apologized.
“No, that’s quite alright, it has actually.” He smiled.
He had the most perfect teeth, and his smile reminded her of Rudolf Valentino, a little curled on one end.
“You don’t talk like you are from around here. Where are you from?” Sybil found herself entranced.
“I was born in Atlanta, and I attend school in D.C., but I’ve just come from my auntie’s in Harlem,” he said proudly.
“Harlem, New York, then, that explains why you might have forgotten the rules.”
“Oh I haven’t forgotten any rules, just know that sometimes the risks of breaking the rules are worth the punishment.” He smiled again.
Sybil blushed slightly. “So what brings you down to these parts?”
“Why Christmas of course. I’m visiting with my parents who work out on the Handley place just outside of town in Whitesville.”
“I know the place. I’ve taken a couple of lady friends out there for adjustments by The Good Doctor.” Sybil wondered if he knew what sort of adjustments, she seriously doubted he would.
“Yes, I hear The Good Doctor has built up quite a reputation, with folks coming from all over…I’m sorry, my name is Nathaniel Grier.” He had taken off his hat and held it in his hands.
“Sybil Hamilton,” she replied. “My family lives on past there, out in Harris County.” She didn’t know why she felt obliged to continue her conversation with this man, but felt she should cut it short, in case people were taking notice. Not that she cared what people noticed, but for his sake.
“I have to go now. The colored folk usually wait on the back side. I mean, if you are waiting on your folks, that’s probably where they’ll be.” Sybil picked up her suitcase and headed for one of the awaiting cabs.
She had already opened the cab door when she heard, “Wait just a minute, your cake!” Nathaniel brought the cake to her. “My friends call me Nathan,” he added.
The cab driver shouted, “Ma’am, is this Nigra a botherin’ you!”
“No, sir!” Sybil shouted back. “And thank you, Nathan,” she added sweetly. “118 ½ Doughtery Street,” she told the cabby as Nathan closed the door. The cab driver sped away.