Black And White
The two kings surveyed their troops, each confident that his army was stronger than the other. The white king’s pawn gazed across the expanse of the battlefield, excited by the prospect of the forthcoming conflict. He examined the regiment on the other side, noticing with a little anxiety how organised and powerful they seemed. Then, he looked about him and, seeing how proudly his comrades stood, was reassured. Suddenly, a shout pierced the tense atmosphere; the battle had begun.
The head knights shouted orders to the front ranks of the infantry, who were ready and waiting. First, however, the king’s pawn advanced towards the black army. All at once, he was out in the middle of the battlefield. No longer were his comrades supporting him; he was completely alone. Proudly, he stood up straight, looking across at the opposing forces. They looked an awful lot bigger up close. The pawn trembled as one of the black infantry units approached him, stiff and unemotional. It stopped in front of and to the left of him, and he breathed a sigh of relief. These preliminary moves completed, the strategy began in earnest.
Soon, the pawn was surrounded by friend and enemy alike. He watched as unimportant soldiers were defeated easily by the powerful queens and bishops, knowing all the while that be might be next. Far behind him, he could hear his king being advised by the knight general to hide inside his castle until the battle was over. The pawn was astounded at this; his great leader was hiding while his men were being slaughtered? His thoughts were cut off as a black bishop glided slowly forwards to stand diagonally opposite him. The bishop glared down at him, his bushy eyebrows frowning from underneath his mitre. The pawn immediately recognised him as the same bishop who had killed one of his friends a moment earlier and was so frightened by the evil, black eyes boring into his skull, he didn’t even hear the knight general’s order to advance into combat. The third yell from the knight broke through and the pawn slowly walked forwards.
The bishop moved backwards slightly, bringing his wooden staff up in a defensive motion. Determination drowned fear as the pawn marched towards his enemy and began to fight. Wood met steel in a violent thrust from the pawn, splintering the bishop’s staff. A look of terror crossed the bishop’s face before the pawn mercilessly ran him through. The prelate fell to his knees and slid off the pawn’s sword to the floor. Black and white pieces carried on with their moves, ignoring the pawn completely as he stared down at the body at his feet. Suddenly, the enormity of what he had done hit him and, as though waking from a trance, the pawn stumbled backwards in horror.
“I’ve killed someone. I’ve killed someone.”
The phrase turned itself over and over in his mind, an eternal strain on his conscience. Now, he was no better than the rest and knew he would never be the same again. The battle raged around him as the pawn stared straight ahead, appalled at what he had done. He looked about him and saw many others doing exactly the same, seemingly without a second thought. The pawn blocked them all out of his mind and stood, consumed with misery and self-hatred.
A while later, the battlefield was considerably less crowded than it had been at the start. The pawn had not moved from the square in which he had killed the bishop and he watched as yet another piece was defeated. Finally, the only pieces left besides the white king’s pawn were the two kings and a single black pawn. The white pawn advanced to the square directly in front of his adversary and stopped. They stared at each other for quite some time, both examining the other for signs of the evil enemy who could be killed without remorse. The white pawn looked into the face of the black and, to his surprise, found that it was very much like his own. He saw the same fear of death, the same horror of the slaughter they had both witnessed, the same self-hatred for being a part of something so terrible. Suddenly, the white pawn realised that the other was simply a young, frightened infantry soldier just like himself. The black pawn was not an evil monster that needed to be exterminated, as the generals had made out. He was just an ordinary person.
The two kings cautiously moved towards each other, holding their hands up in peace. Then, their faces broke into broad grins and they shook hands warmly.
The white king said, “Good game, good game. Same time again tomorrow?”
Many years ago, when the world was still grey, and illogicality reigned, there was a bus. An ordinary, yellow, American bus which weaved in and out of the Montgomery streets taking workers to jobs, children to schools, and mothers to the grocery store. The bus was unremarkable, for its time, although nowadays we would scoff at the unwieldy wheels and garish lettering marking it out as the workhorse of the road.
The bus had a special, magical power. It had the ability to erect invisible barriers within its rectangular frame. Although these barriers were unseen, they were powerful. They had the strength and durability to cause people to remain within certain lines along the vehicle, trapped behind barriers stronger than steel, although transparent. These invisible walls could not be cracked or smashed, and no human yet had been powerful enough to smash against their transparency to reach the other side.
These invisible barriers had another odd ability. They were capable of dividing people simply upon the strength of colour within each individual's skin. Those with pale ivory faces and straight hair through to ones with peach or pink skin were guided by the invisible walls to sit upon the right hand side of the bus. Those with richer hues of caramel through to jet black satin skin were shepherded to the left. The barriers were stronger than iron, stronger than concrete, and as each person stepped on to the bus and it pulled away in to the stream of traffic, the unseen wall determined where each person should sit.
It is Thursday. An elegant woman cranes her neck watching for the bus that will take her to the office for another day's work. Peering through the drizzle, she waits patiently, the black orchid in her hat band waving in the wind, leaves rustling like an alive thing. She shivers, checks her fob and watches again, because the buses are regular and timely, and she knows in a few moments she can sit, stretch her weary legs and daydream for a while. Sure enough, with the punctuality of a job applicant, the yellow monstrosity snakes in to view, and Rosa smiles to herself, shaking out her woollen cloak and raising her hand to halt the bus.
She pays, and as is obligatory for all with dark skin, she then has to exit the bus, walk the length of it through the rain, and embark again to the back section, marked 'COLORED'. Rosa doesn't sigh, or complain, and she boards the bus again and steps on just as it pulls away from her stop. With a sweeping glance, she realises that while the front of the bus, marked 'WHITES' is completely empty, the back is full to the brim with people. There is nowhere to sit. Frowning slightly, Rosa checks each seat, her eyes wandering from one to the next, taking in damp tousled children, weary workers with gnarled hands and smiling faces, and women smart and ironed for work. She checks, and checks again, and there is no spare seat. She looks ahead, at the rows of seats in the other section. Behind her, a gentleman taps her arm and offers his seat, and she smiles, declines it, and looks forward, almost stumbling as the bus turns a tight corner.
She smiles again. Last night, she had been to hear a pastor speak. Martin Luther King Jr., with his smart suit and close-cropped hair, genteel features and absolute conviction, had addressed their church on issues of racial segregation, and inequality. King is attractive, and charismatic, but more than all this, he is a proud, proud black. He understands the beautiful sheen of dark skin, and the mettle and strength it takes to be a nigger in a white world. He has a way of speaking which makes each listener, usually so docile and accepting of the world, feel suddenly and shockingly empowered. He had looked at each member of the congregation in turn, and made them shout aloud.
"I am as good as any other person."
"I am proud to be black."
"I am proud of who I am, and who I am yet to be."
Without thinking further, Rosa Parks hitches her handbag higher upon her shoulders, straightens them, and walks to the front of the bus. Elegant and slim, she conceals her shaking hands beneath her bag, slipping in to the seat at the front of the bus, to the left of the driver. For a moment, the world stands still. Rosa imagines silence stunning each passenger, mouths open behind her, as if her transgression has actually paused the universe, leaving all in silence except for her own hammering heart. And then, rather than the ground exploding, lightening striking the bus, or her own audacity causing combustion, the bus begins to move again.
Behind her, Rosa can hear a growing consternation. Hushed voices rise and fall animatedly, and she can sense the weight of eyes upon her back. She stands straight and faces the front, and a small part of her beyond the fear marvels at how different it feels to travel from such a seat. The road widens before her, and Rosa almost smiles to see the path ahead from this new vantage point. She flinches as she looks up a little, and sees the angry eyes of the bus driver trained upon her in the central mirror. She holds his gaze, and it burns. Finally, he pulls in to the next stop on the route, and turns to her. They lock eyes, and he shakes his head, and then opens the doors to let the next set of passengers on board.
A white woman wearing a plush fur steps in to the bus, pays, and turns to sit. She stops when she sees Rosa, and her mouth falls open. Behind her, negros pay and return to the back entrance to board. The woman raises her hand and points, horrified.
"What do you think you're doing? No blacks allowed past that point. You need to move," she says, indignation raising her voice to a shrill pitch. Rosa smiles, and looks ahead. The bus driver forgets to move on when the last passengers board, intent upon the altercation taking place in the mirror behind him.
"I said, move, Nigger," the woman says. Rosa shakes her head, looking straight ahead.
Rosa is shaking visibly now, her handbag clasped to her stomach, her arms rigid. She continues to stare at the front of the bus, even as two tears roll down her elegant face. She does not move. The woman, enraged with the effrontery, stalks to the bus driver and demands he manage the situation. He steps from the wheel and turns to Rosa.
"You have to move. See?" he points to the sign demarcating where coloureds must sit. Rosa is crying fully now, and still she sits.
The bus driver throws his hands in the air in frustration.
"Do you not know that the Klan have lynched niggers for less?" he asks, shaking his head before seating himself behind the wheel once more. The woman in fur is agitated and shocked, standing next to the driver as the bus pulls away. She shouts at him, and he responds, and Rosa sits.
At the next stop, the driver disembarks and calls for two police officers. They board the bus and assess the situation, taking in Rosa, the woman in fur and the passengers packed in to the back of the vehicle, trapped by the invisible, impermeable barrier.
"Right. Off, now. You need to leave," one of the officers says in an incredulous voice. Rosa stares ahead, clutching her bag.
"No, Sir, I will not. It is my constitutional right to sit when I have purchased a ticket. There were no seats left in the designated area. I. Will. Not. Move," she states politely and clearly. The police officers glance at each other, and then shrug. One seizes Rosa roughly, dragging her from her seat. Her bag drops and she reaches for it, and is shoved roughly, falling as she tries to avoid the rough hands.
Behind her, a swell of anger and frustration erupts, and while the passengers remain behind the unseen barrier, they shout and jeer at the officers. Rosa's bag is kicked, her belongings spilling across the floor, and she is dragged to the door of the bus and manhandled off, her wrists placed in cuffs as she sags against the taller of the two officers. The driver watches the altercation, before shrugging once more and resuming his seat. The woman in fur, mollified now, walks indignantly to a seat as far away from the one Rosa had inhabited and sits primly, retrieving some smelling salts from her purse and dabbing at her eyes every now and again.
The passengers look out of the window, watching as Rosa is led to a police car and taken away. They watch in silence, staring out at the scene, and then as one, break in to applause. They clap, and whistle, and cheer. The bus shakes. There is a ripple. As unseen as the barriers marking out the divide between white and black, there is a pulsing energy which touches first one, and then another passenger. It hits with a force so great that each person flinches from the impact. It enters and creates a new feeling within each. It is hope.
Silent now, the passengers place their hands to their hearts, marvelling at this surge of energy. It works swiftly, igniting each person.
Inside themselves, they hear a new voice speak. It is solidarity. It is unity. It is strength.
"I am as good as any other person."
"I am proud to be black."
"I am proud of who I am, and who I am yet to be."
In front of them, the invisible barrier shakes with the new force. Unseen by any eyes, across the barrier, a web of cracks spreads quickly and methodically. A single shake will bring the barrier tumbling to the ground, letting the people behind it surge across the yellow bus, sitting where they want, and where they deserve, and the whole grey world will reel from the impact.
She was crouching in a deserted part of the university underneath a ramp with her cellphone. “They’re after me.”
“The FBI. They are on hold, Jade what should I say to them?”
“Holy shit what did you do? Just call your father.”
“No, no way.”
“OK Sandra let me talk to them”.
All summer Sandra’s campus had buzzed with the injustice of shootings and racism. The barometer of racial tension was high. But somehow this had not communicated anything to her. She was engrossed in her project of setting up a macramé business. Her head spinning out in some kind of startup space.
And it never occurred to her she was weird. After all, why wouldn’t you walk around campus all day in your white silk dressing gown with your head in a black bandana. Why should she get changed in the morning? It just used up time and anyway Hugh Heffner did it. Only she didn’t have a cigar. At the twenty-four hour store they would look at her as if to say ‘what the…’ but she never felt their stare.
This semester she was sharing a flat with Jade. And in a way with Marco, Jade’s boyfriend who was always at their place.
Jade put up with her. But Sandra didn’t see that. She didn’t pick up that Jade thought of her as strange. The day before while unpacking the dishwasher Jade asked her
“So have you ever had a screw?”
“Arrr no,” she replied.
Sandra’s head was in a money idea. That day she was going to visit the local bank to get a business loan. She planned to take her funkiest macramé and surprise the manager with it. In the end that didn’t go so well. So when she didn’t get the loan she asked the manager, a white middle aged guy from Texas if he’d ‘like a screw?’ He looked at her and said
“Yeah heck why not, you on tinder?”
“ In that case let’s just meet at the Lake hotel.”
Later that night after several attempts at letting go of her virginity she walked out while the manager shouted
“It’s not me honey, you’re finding it hard to connect.”
This somehow agitated her and she wanted to cuddle. These feelings arrived with such monster intensity she lost control. Usually she did not like people touching her. Now she wanted a human cuddle more than the black fur on her old Titanic teddy from Grandpa. She reached the flat, ran upstairs, into Jade’s room and hopped into bed with Marco and Jade. It turned out they were just in the middle of foreplay
“Sandra you Kook, what the!” Jade had whined.
Sandra however wiggled between the two of them.
“I just want a cuddle.”
“Oh my God’ Jade shrieked.
Marco forever Sandra’s pal just said
‘Aww she just wants a little snuggly hug’.
And so she snuggled right into his black broad hairy chest.’
“I tried Jade I tried to have a screw with the manager at the bank but well…’
to which Jade shot back
“Oh for fucks sake. You what! Get GET get out!”
Jade swung out of bed, dragged Sandra from the bed and pushed her out the door. But Sandra persisted
“If I bring my teddy back can I sleep with you two?’
Jade had yelled
“You need to see someone”.
Which seemed strange to Sandra—who else was she to see?
The next morning in her own bed the monster feelings had disappeared. Mostly she did not have them. Strange visitors that they were. She got up and went out carrying her black and white balls of macramé string and her latest large piece ‘the curtain’. During the few lectures she attended, to keep herself awake she would weave macramé. That day she had made a beautiful belt but the lecturer took it from her and wore it on his little stage whilst quoting Japanese TQM on change management
“And so Sandra If you stay in this world, you will never learn another one”.
She was completing a business degree – mainly for her Dad a white banker.
Later that afternoon her cell phone rang on the way home—it was Toby. Toby was always after a little stimulation when bored with writing his wildly overdue assignments and he knew Sandra to be a sure touch for answering the phone.
“I’m badly babe, only four hours to go and I’ve got at least 10000 words to finish one years’ worth of reflective bullshit journaling—what you up to?”
“Oh nothing much, call you back in a minute.”
And that’s when the idea smashed into the left side of brain. She had long wanted to decorate the bronze beam near the toilet block. Ceremoniously she hung her large black macramé curtain over the beam and then pinned a big note on it with the words ‘It’s curtains for you’.
She had photographed it and had meant to send Toby the photo but had become distracted with a problem in her next macramé project. It was for a black white macramé sash to put over the hideous bronze plaque honoring servicemen near her flat. An old woman had caught her measuring it and asked her to leave it alone. After working out how to get the dimensions for the plaque the idea for a name for her Business came to her ‘Random acts of black and white macramé’ and she drifted home.
Overnight the black curtain stayed wafting in a light summer night breeze. A group of late night drinkers saw it and the note when they went for a piss. By morning the twitter feed was jamming with comments of racist outrage. On her phone she could see hysterical reports of a sinister black curtain suggesting threats to black students. Below a video of her lovely curtain, white supremacists made comments like:
“if I hear a university supports affirmative action I won’t donate”.
She was being described as likely a member of the Klu Klux Klan. The FBI had tracked down her cell phone.
And now, overhead on the ramp, a column of black and white student protestors was walking to the chant
“We stand together and we’re not afraid”
After a while the FBI guy agreed to talk to Jade
“You know Sandra?”
“Yes she lives with me”.
“Is she some kind of racist?”
” No, but she’s a total kook—you see she’s got an obsession with black and white macramé.”
“So she IS some kind of extremist”
“No! No Sandra is harmless she doesn’t understand… look she likes to decorate the university with macramé, here talk to my boyfriend Marco—he’s black.”
“This girl sum kind of racist son?”
“Sandra, get on, this some kind of joke! she’s not racist why she’s just finished a black and white macramé tea cosy for Michelle Obama.”
Having been reassured of her harmless character the FBI guy hung up from what seemed an eternity of teleconferencing.
Sandra put her phone away and looked up to see Kerry Johnson the psychologist.
“I Had a call from the FBI Sandra.”
“That’s odd, me too.”
“Okey dokey lets you and I see if we can get some shades of grey happening with the administration on this one. Been taking your medication?”