The glass felt cold up against my cheek as I pressed in to gain a better angled view of the movement on the outside. It had been days since Mama had let me outside the walls of our second story walkup. I knew it had something to do with a lot of angry shouting and some folks who worked across the way at the Coca Cola factory. Daddy was the only one who left the house every morning with Uncle Dan and though I couldn’t prove it, I was pretty sure their voices were part of the daily chorus that seemed to grow louder and louder.
“Mama, what’s wrong? Why do we have to stay inside?” I ask again, hoping to get the answer I truly needed from the smartest woman I knew.
“Get out of that window, Katy,” was the only reply I received from her that day. She wielded her words with such skill that it almost felt like she’d tanned my hide without even lifting a finger. I knew from the tone of her voice that I was in the danger zone so I quietly and quickly moved away from the window seat to the sofa on the other side of the room.
Even though I moved away from the window, I could tell the voices were getting louder. My mother looked up from her ironing and over at the window. The expression on her face telegraphed worry which she tried to swallow and hide as quickly as it had appeared.
In what seemed like mere seconds later we both gasped when we heard a loud pop and saw as if in slow motion the very window that I had been sitting in explode inward giving way to an invading projectile. The living room lit up instantly like the switching on of the tree lights at Christmas. I could hear my mother yelling my name but my legs seemed heavy, too heavy in fact to think about moving. Seconds later I heard the front door of the apartment bang open and turned to see my father. When his eyes found mine I saw something I’d never before seen in him…terror.
“Mary, get Lonnie and get down the stairs and in the car. I’ve got Katy,” my dad said gently but firmly to my mother who was already moving towards the adjoining room to retrieve my little brother from his crib.
My father crossed the room quickly and with ease and raised me up in his arms covering my head with a blanket he’d grabbed from the sofa and rushed out of the apartment and down the stairs to the car. Peaking through the shroud I could see that my mother was negotiating the door handle while trying not to drop Lonnie. She quickly got him situated in his car seat while my dad strapped me into the opposite side of the car. I turned to look out the window as we drove away from our home. What I saw horrified me. There were flames climbing out of the window I had been sitting in only a few minutes earlier. Our home was being eaten alive by fire spewing charcoal colored smoke into the sky of that chilly day in December.
As we drove past my father’s work I notice the parking lot sign that I have passed every time I walked to school without a second thought. Today, the sign seems to stand out against the nearby scene of people smashing the windows of the few cars parked in the lot and marching towards the plant door entrance with bats and bottles that looked a lot like what had landed in our kitchen mere minutes earlier.
“Keep your head down, Katy, until I tell you otherwise,” those words coming out of my father frightened me but I did not dare question him. Something was very wrong and I wondered in my eight year old brain why it was that I felt the world shift hard against me that day.
PART 1 | PART 2 |
Marta C. Youngblood is a writer, education and social entrepreneur based in Hot Springs, Arkansas. For more information on her current projects visit https://about.me/MCyoungblood.