The Fruit of His Youth: Prologue

Night covered the city for quite a while by the time they all exited the car. The plan was for Rani, Evan, Amanda, and Jasmine to eat dinner, get drinks at a bar, and then catch a late movie, but because one person after the next, as is to be expected within this cohort, forgot a wallet at home or had to change shoes or needed to go to the bathroom one last time, they never ended up accomplishing any of their goals for the evening. Evan, instead, gleefully led his long-time friends on an impromptu venture to Scratch, the obscure jazz club Evan occasionally patronized. Stepping out of the car, Rani turned his head upwards toward the sky and saw the flashing bulbs that bordered bright red neon lights, spelling out the club’s name in all capital letters on the sign that hung from the exterior of the building. Rani, at this point in the night, was already tired, having waited all night for his friends to get ready — although he was guilty of prolonging their outing as well — and the only thing on his mind was to recline into a comfortable chair and devour a large plate of food. But his fantasies of food and company were interrupted when his mind upon seeing the flashing bulbs and neon red script immediately traveled to memories of his grandmother.

He recalled the seemingly ancient settings in his grandmother’s pictures that his little eyes would spy as he rifled through her photo album in the living room while everyone else, or rather all of the adults, bonded in the kitchen, fixing food and drinks that were to be consumed later in the evening. He remembered that photo album vividly as he stared at the neon sign. The book was a royal purple, but after all of those years, the color started to gray ever so slightly. Rani always loved the color. “Grand purple,” he coined it alongside the help of his grandmother. He positioned his body comfortably recumbent on the off-white shag rug, a position which, if he put the entire weight of his body onto his propped-up elbows — how usually did — the braids would make little indents in his skin. The indents would hurt to the touch, but he never altered his body’s arrangement. They were so enticing to feel — almost equally as enticing as the creases in the photo album. With the same time that aged his experienced grandmother, the purple vinyl cover progressively became littered with little cracks. Rani ran his fingers across the valleys. He felt time. The miniscule crevices housed dust from a year Rani could not comprehend. “Photos,” titled in gold, cursive writing. Rani traced the lettering with his fingers this time, and as the tip of his index finger reached the edge of the last stroke, he glided his hand to the margin of the cover and, in a swooping motion, exposed past to present.

He met his grandmother in black and white. She stood outside on a sidewalk below a sign. Its script was made of bright bulbs. He traced the letters with his fingers as well. T…H…E…A…T…E…R… She glowed like the sign. Radiated joy. There were other strangers walking by in the photo, but they were all invisible. She towered over everyone, absorbing all of the space, all of the spirit. Her long legs spread just past shoulder width, her arms out by her side, her palms facing the lens. It was as if she was literally a star on Broadway just about to take her blinding bow as cheers and whistles met her glistening brow. Her smile, larger, brighter, stronger than anyone’s in the world.

Rani’s eyes drifted to the right to spy his grandmother once more in another photo. It was a portrait of her profile — features soft, hair wooly, skin dark. In contrast to its neighbor, she appeared delicate. Her eyelids half-closed cast a gaze downward. To what? Something in her hands, maybe? Or, maybe something on the ground? Nothing, perhaps. Her smile evoked a feeling of curiosity. It was not vibrant like the previous. There appeared to hold a slight tinge of sadness. Her lips curled, displaying her evident joy, but they dripped with melancholy that originated from a hidden source. Rani stared. His eyes desperately attempted to make contact with hers, but to no avail, she remained turned away from him. He sat up, proceeding to cross his legs. His elbows ached. He winced as he scratched the sore indents which painted his elbows that previously rested on the carpet. Granny? He called. He heard footsteps as his grandmother emerged from the doorway.

She wiped whatever food she had been cooking off of her hands and onto her pants as she stepped into the room. Yes, baby?

He pulled the photo album onto his lap and queried, what were you looking at?

She furrowed her brow. Whatchu talkin’ bout? She asked as she began to crouch down to his level. Rani pointed to the photo in question. Oh, she smiled, I remember that night.

Really? Rani asked fervently.

Yeah, course I do, baby. It was my life, wudnnit?

Well, the enthusiasm could barely keep from bursting out of his body, what were you looking at?

She turned towards Rani and smiled the same smile in the photo. He finally found what he searched for. I can’t remember.

“I’ve never been to a jazz club before.” Rani confessed in a hushed, almost absent tone, enchanted, still looking up at the sign. His gaze failed to break for some reason.

“You’re going to love this place.” Evan replied, smiling as he took hold of Rani’s hand, leading them into the club. The group of four walked into the open, dark room, painted black and lined with dark leather parlor room booths where studs evenly spaced apart in the leather created a matrix of creases that collected the dust and sweat of the all of the people who had sat in those seats, year after year. Once the group entered, the sounds blues and its audience immediately blasted them. The trumpet’s notes yelled to patrons, singing them stories of the past and present, of loves and lost loves, of sadness and of redemption. “I’m just in love the look of this place.” Evan said as he let out a relieving sigh, his eyes twinkling like the lights that hung in the sky outside “I come here all the time.” To Rani, Evan appeared to be comforted in a manner that Rani had never expected. Evan was not the type of guy to go out to bars and clubs without his boyfriend and best friends. Evan was a shy man. Earlier that evening, he even protested going out — another reason why it took so long for the group to depart for the night. He never felt at ease when they were out participating in the night-life activities that the other three desired to do. Something about being in a space with strangers put him on edge. For as long as Rani could remember, this had been Evan’s way. Evan looked around, smiling at all of the iron chairs, the little black tables, and the candles that lit the room lux by lux.

“This place is amazing!” Jasmine exclaimed with her eyes darting from chair to table and giddiness pouring out of her lips. “It’s like a blast from the past.”

Amanda helped herself to the nearest open table. Amanda asserted herself wherever she went. When she entered a building, everyone knew it — and she wanted everyone to know it. “That’s exactly what this looks like.” She pronounced with an air of authority. If Amanda said it, it was fact. “It’s almost,” she looked around, “uncanny.” Everyone else joined her at the table as she boomed “Waiter! Can –”

“– Chill out, Amanda.” Rani interrupted dryly but with good intentions, leaving her somewhat shocked. “We’re here to have a good time tonight. They’ll come when they’re ready.”

Amanda popped her tongue. “I guess.” She said, playfully rolling her eyes. The dynamic between the four of them would best be described as safely turbulent where someone could walk by, thinking that they hated each other through their shouts and attacks, but really, they all got along. They enjoyed poking fun at one. They required it, even, as the natural rapport of the group whenever they went out. “I’m just starving.” She let out while throwing her arms up in the air for her natural dramatic flair.

“So am I.” Jasmine agreed. “It took us for fucking ever to get out. It’s almost midnight.”

“Yeah, but if we went out earlier, we would have never made it here!” Exclaimed Evan.

“That’s so true. It’s better this than nothing.”

“Better this than nothing? This place is great!”

“I’m not denying that at all.” Jasmine said with a smile. “I’m so glad we came…but it is a little dusty.” She ran her finger along the leather and crinkled her nose. “Hey, it’s not as dusty as anywhere Rani would have picked.”

“Hey!” Her victim whined.

Evan chimed in again. “It’s funny how things work out like that. I haven’t been here in forever, but every time I come, I remember just how amazing it is. There’s something in the air that just gets me in a way, you know?” He looked around at his companions.

“Yeah, a strange way.” Amanda interjected. She raised one eyebrow, “You’re strangely excited to be out.” Amanda moved closer, putting her face inches away from his as if she was inspecting him, searching for abnormalities in his figure. “Are you secretly dying and just not telling us?”

“What the hell? Are you crazy — where did that come from?” Evan lightly shoved her away from his face.

She leaned back, crossing her legs. “I don’t know. I’m skeptical. There is a shift in the world, and you know me — I’m bad with change.”

“Yeah, your sudden change in behavior is giving me trust issues.” Jasmine added.

“Well now I feel attacked.” Evan joked. “At least I have impeccable taste unlike some of you fake-ass friends.”

“Wow,” Jasmine replied. “A boy goes to a jazz club, and he suddenly forgets how to act.?

“Okay, but you can see how this place is crazy cool?”

While everyone was talking, he was still thinking about his grandmother in the south — back in Fort Worth. He felt as if he had been here before in his past, but he knew he had not. The chatter seemed to lull him. Rani fell into a pseudo-trance, engulfed by a wave of noise which he could feel reverberating throughout his body, partially tuning out the bickering that went on around him. He heard every single noise that filled the whole room. Every voice, every clink of a glass, every scrape of a knife against a plate, every foot tapping on the ground, every note that flew through the air, every timed breath that came out of a person on stage as their body synced with the music. Rani’s body became synced with the sounds as well. The ticking of the beat hypnotized him. His eyes lost sight of everything around him. He saw his grandmother’s profile. The photo in black and white and the full memory in color. The real in front of his face and the captured on the shiny paper. He wanted to touch them one more time, but they were both the past, never to truly be experienced again.

He felt the sound — especially the music. The ticking transformed into a touch that beat on his chest. The trumpets, the bass, the piano, the guitar — he could feel their words. Music stood on the stage. She danced an enchanting, fiery dance around the performers. They created the dancing figure. Music leaped and flung her arms tantalizingly, pushing Rani deeper and deeper into a trance from which he could not escape. Rani stared. She seemed to move around the stage and the performers not seeming to notice anyone or anything around her. She was lost in her dance just as Rani was. Her body moved gracefully as she danced something reminiscent of an African dance. He could not look away, but for some reason, Rani felt as if he should be frightened of this haunting specter. He was afraid of what she may say to him. Her dance sang to him through the compression waves of differing frequencies that hit his skin from across the room. It began to overflow, to take over him. It felt as if he was drowning in awe and horror of her utterly graceful movement. Music flew through the air, and her movement rushed over his body like a thick, hot river. His chest tightened as he tried to catch his breath. Her dance suffocated him. The notes flew around like the pictures in the album, and all he could do was sit and listen while his body was bombarded with a past that he never lived but felt as if it was his own. The image of his grandmother was drowned out by the music’s dance. He tried to run towards the image as it began to slip away from his sight, but his body refused to move. Rani wanted to see it one more time. He needed to inspect it to see if maybe in this last chance he could uncovered what his grandmother was looking at. What was below the frame?

“Rani!” Evan shouted, poking Rani’s arm, snapping him out of his trance.

“Oh, what?” Rani was knocked back to reality. “Sorry, I zoned out.” He looked around, dazed for almost an instant but immediately regained awareness of the situation.

Evan laughed, “Yeah, I can tell. What do you want to drink?” Evan nodded towards the server who stood at the table, looking rather irritated. He had been having a rough evening as some of the previous customers, a group of obnoxious college kids who obviously were using their parents’ credit cards and thus believed that they were entitled to anything their little hearts desired, had decided that it would be funny to treat him rudely as if they all actually were in a 1940s club and that he was a lowly wage-worker who did not deserve the respect of the upper class. This night to say in the least was not working out in his favor. He kept picturing his freedom: lying in bed, staring up at the dark ceiling while his mind traveled to the different people he had seen that night. He made up stories for them. He had gotten pretty good at it too.

Rani quickly snatched up a drink menu. He searched quickly for the first drink that he could see. His eyes scrambled across the page quickly, frantically searching to find a word he could even read until he finally spied one he knew. “I’ll have a Manhattan.” He quickly handed the server his menu in an attempt to make amends for his mistake.

“Are you going to keep that to look over the food?” The server dryly asked.

“Oh,” Rani said. “Yeah, thanks.” And took back the laminated sepia sheet. He felt embarrassed that he had made the server, who already looked like he was having a bad night, wait. The server walked away to put in the order. As he was walking away, he felt a bit of sympathy for the last man who ordered for some odd reason. That guy seemed weird. He was totally out of it…I wonder what he’s like, why he looked so sad, the server thought. He was the only one who caught the look of sadness on Rani’s face, and it did not come from Rani’s feeling of shame either. No one else had any fraction of a thought that he was troubled. His friends did not catch it. Was Rani sad? If he was, Rani did not catch it either. The server was going to have a field day making up Rani’s story.

“Ooh, keeping it old-school.” Jasmine teased.

“Yeah,” Rani said, turning towards her, scrunching up his face at her. “You said this place was old-school, so I thought I’d go old-school.”

“I didn’t say old-school. I said, ‘a blast from the past!’” She snickered, making jazz hands.

“This is what you get for never listening! You never listen to anyone.” Amanda teased. It was true; Rani zoned out frequently. He claimed that there was a lot on his mind — every time. But in actuality, he simply was hard of hearing.

“You look like a clown, Jasmine.”

“I’m only mimicking you.”

Oh, I’ll have a Manhattan! Oh, what? I keep my menu?” Amanda joined in, mocking Rani’s previous interaction.

Rani scoffed, “Well fine.” He threw his elbows up onto the table to prop up his head, subsequently rolling his eyes from Amanda to Jasmine. He plastered a gigantic, fake smile on his face in an attempt to antagonize the both of them. “What did you order?”

She performed the same movement and fluttered her eyes as a wide grin spread. “An old fashioned, of course.” They all burst out into laughter. “Nah, I’m fucking with you. I got a glass of the house red. I don’t have old-fashioned-money. Who do you think I am?” Jasmine tipped her chair back with a smile and looked up at the black ceiling. Everything is black, she thought. I love it. “Guys?”

“Girl?” Evan responded.

“What do you think about black?”

Amanda choked on her water. “Whatchu mean, sis?” She said as she furrowed her brow.

“I mean the color, like painting things black.” Everyone relaxed after hearing the clarification to this uncommon, possibly polarizing question. “Everything here is black, and for some reason I find it calming.”

“Really?” Rani said after being quiet for almost the whole night. “Sometimes when everything is black I get uncomfortable.”

“I don’t.” Amanda said. “I love wearing black.”

Evan leaned in. “Yeah you love wearing black, but everything in your apartment is white and various tones of gray.”

“Okay, don’t attack me, my monotone style is great.”

Rani interrupted, “I’m just reminded of space when I see all black. Space is so infinite, and I guess that makes me uncomfortable.”

“I can see where you’re coming from. I think it reminds me of night time, and night time is so peaceful for me. It’s when I can truly be alone and in my thoughts after having them being drowned out during the day.” Jasmine was strangely pensive. I don’t want to be alone with my thoughts, Rani thought to himself. “But don’t get me wrong, I love spending time with all of you amazing and beautiful human beings.” Jasmine returned to her cheery, bubbly self.

“So, you hate us is what you mean?” Amanda dramatically exclaimed as she feigned heartbreak.

Evan joined in with the performance. “I knew this day would come.” He cried out.

“What will we ever do?” Rani put flung the back of his hand to his forehead as if he was about to faint.

“Hey!” She shouted. “You all know,” she said as she leaned forward. “I’m really happy right now. Abnormally happy.”

“Damn, abnormally happy? Then what do you call the emotion you normally are around us?” Amanda teased, winking at Jasmine.

“Nice one, smart ass.” Jasmine made her occasional shift from sweet to snarky. “And, I actually hate spending time with you. I’m forced to do it. This all is just a social experiment where I watch all of you live your lives.”

“It must not be that interesting for you to watch Rani’s life.” Evan teased as he grabbed Rani’s arm, pulling Rani closer to him.

“Fuck you,” Rani gasped. “You’re the only boring part of my life.” Evan stuck his tongue out at Rani.

“But seriously, guys, I’m really happy right now. I feel like we haven’t all been to a space like this together in a long time.” Jasmine repeated.

Evan sarcastically asked as he raised an eyebrow as he straightened himself up from Rani’s side. “A period-style restaurant?”

“Not a trashy restaurant for once?” Amanda added.

“A black space?” Rani chuckled.

“No, you dumbasses. A place where we’ve all been stress free, even after a rough start to the night.” There was a slight pause. She was right. They all seemed care free, Evan especially after his rough start to the night. However, Rani, unbeknownst to Jasmine, was not as gleeful and energetic as his other three friends were. He was still plagued with the memory of that mysterious photo, and he was put on edge from his brief encounter with the mystifying siren that danced before him. She sat back in her chair again. “It seems like everyone is having an especially good time right now too.”

“I mean,” Evan said. “I’m always happy when I’m here.” Rani looked over at Evan. He stared and began to think about how much he wanted to hold Evan and be close to him. Hide him from the world and make sure that he never has a problem. He didn’t want Evan to ever feel uneasy like he usually was. Rani was messed up, and he knew it. He never wanted Evan to feel the way that he did. He hated it at some points, but he hated it because it confused him. He hated being in the unknown. Maybe that was why he was so hung up on the photo, or maybe that was why he feels uncomfortable when he’s in a room painted black. The nothingness that he fears reminds him too much of the unknowing he fears. Rani looked at Evan’s profile like he did with the photo of his grandmother. He stared deep into his boyfriend, longingly trying to figure out what Evan was thinking. Rani was beginning to get lost down the path of his wandering thoughts, trying to conceive what Evan actually wanted in life and how that related to why Evan wanted to be at Scratch so badly. As he wandered, however, Rani felt the presence of the music creep over him once again, but this time he did not turn to face it. He was stuck between two unknowns, and he could only search for one at a time. Rani loved one, and he feared the other. Evan, after what felt like minutes but was in actuality only a fraction of a second, turned towards him, knocking Rani back to reality.

“But, honestly,” Jasmine continued. “I feel like something about this place being a period-restaurant kind of distracts you from the real world. It’s nice to get a break from all of the shit that’s going on.”

Amanda calmly for once responded, “Yeah, that makes sense.” However, she paused and thought for a second. “But on the other hand, if this really were the 1940s or whatever time period this is supposed to be, Rani and I wouldn’t be here. We wouldn’t be allowed in this room with all of you white folk”

“You’re right.” Jasmine looked a little sad now. “You’re actually so right.” Anger started to creep through her voice. Jasmine at times could be volatile. She every so often dwelled on the horrors of the world and on anything and everything that may put down another human being. In the privacy of her lonesome, she would often oscillate between moods of rage or dejection, but when around other people, Jasmine tried desperately to suppress these feelings. That is why she adopted a carefree and cheery persona, but every blue moon, her true thoughts would shine through. “This place is just washing out and commercializing pain. It’s just like every other place that caters to the privileged.”

Amanda put her hand on Jasmine’s hand. She spied Jasmines leg begin to shake from indignation. “Hey,” she cooed. “Things may be bad now, but they were worse then. And every once in a while, we need to take a break from everything to at least pretend that it’s good.” Amanda could feel Jasmine’s body and mind begin to calm. “And life is better when we’re spending this kind of quality time with each other.”

“Yeah, escape our world to enter a world where we can pretend things were ‘simpler’ or ‘better.’” Rani added.

Jasmine looked up now with an air of hopelessness. “But should we really go along pretending? What does that do but just allow us to ignore everything that’s going on. Hell, that’s why people are still shitty and treat others like it’s the 1950s. There’s an importance in remembering”

Rani breathed as he tried to think of a response. Remembering. He dwelled on that word. They all sat silently for a moment. Evan and Amanda looked at each other, both feeling the necessity for a change in mood. Amanda seized this moment to light-heartedly interject. “But do you know what really fixes everything?”.

“Food!” Evan cheered as he saw the server approach, bringing over all of the drinks and food. When he saw that everyone seemed somewhat abject until they perked up at the sight of him coming with their order, the server’s spirits slightly raised. He began to think that his services were actually appreciated that night.

Since they arrived at Scratch, Rani, Evan, Amanda, and Jasmine had barely listened to the music. They had been subsequent time eating their meals, chatting about the day, and making jokes. While they enjoyed their night, there had been cover performances of upbeat songs such as “Mess Around” by Ray Charles, “Cheek to Cheek” by Ella Fitzgerald, “On the Sunny Side of the Street” by Louis Armstrong, “I Ain’t Got No” by Nina Simone — all songs that would, alongside their food and drinks, naturally boost the mood of the audience. When “I Ain’t Got No” ended, Amanda put her knife down with gumption and declared to her friends, “Hands down, Nina Simone was the most influential singer of all time. She basically shaped how our music is sung today.”

“I’m not going to debate you on that one.” Evan replied, sipping his drink.

“Let me tell you,” Amanda said, pointing her finger at Evan as if he did not just agree with her. “We have seen influences of her in Kanye songs like ‘Famous’[1], ‘The Story of O.J.’[2] And that’s just to name a few who have sampled her.”

Evan looked around confused at his friends not understanding why his friend seemed to be targeting him. “Yeah…I’m agreeing with you.”

And,” She continued, overflowing with zeal. “There has been an obscene amount of people who have covered her.” She gestured to the performers on the stage. “Exhibit A.”

“Why are you shouting?” Rani added.

“Because I’m loud and opinionated.” She countered. “We know this!” They all laughed at her self-deprecation. “What Happened, Miss Simone? Was snubbed by Amy because a movie about a political black woman isn’t digestible to white Hollywood. I rest my case.” She quickly added as she sat back proudly in her chair.

“Hold up, hold up. There are so many other amazing influential singers too.” Rani protested. “You can’t just rule everyone else out.”

“Like who?” Amanda challenged. “You couldn’t convince me of anyone else.” There was a fire in her eyes. It came from a place of pure joy from arguing about something she loves but also from a place of love for a black queen. Just as Amanda declared this thought, the previous band cleared the stage. The host went up to the microphone and said in a slow and cool voice, “Next up, we have Rachel Wright and the Keys playing ‘Strange Fruit,’ originally performed by Billie Holiday.” Rani turned towards the stage. He knew who Billie Holiday was, had heard the name and could maybe recognize her voice in a recording, but he knew that he could not name one of her songs. But strangely enough, at that moment, the name struck Rani, inclining him to focus intently on the singer. The pianist slammed on the keys, creating chain reaction that forced a hammer onto a string within the giant wooden instrument that shouted the introductory notes while a horn blasted the tune, followed by the singer belting out lyrics.

Sullen trees bear strange fruit,

Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,

Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,

Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,

The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,

Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,

Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,

For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,

For the sun to rot, for a tree to drop,

Here is a strange and bitter crop[3].

The notes began to flow over Rani like a soft wind that tickles the hairs of the arms. As soon as the voice started, the figure returned on stage. She appeared instantly beside Rachel Wright and proceeded to slowly make her way into her dance. The mesmerizing movements captivated Rani’s attention once more. It made him feel as if he could not breathe again. The noise rushed over his body like a wave of water that crashed down on top of him. The sound of the trumpet, the sound of the piano, the sound of the voice engulfed Rani as the fiery apparition leaped around the stage. All sounds except for the music seemed to stop. He could no longer hear the nearby chatter spoken between friends, or the forks scrape against a plate, or the food chewed between teeth, or the feet tapping against the floorboards, or a breath escaping between lips, or a heartbeat pumping through a chest. She moved her arms around her body, seeming to reach for something around her as she spun around in the air. He stared into her eyes, but as she moved, she never seemed to notice him. He breathed in. There was no breeze, was no air. Only music flowed through the space. She pushed it out towards him. It circulated through his veins, traveling along the highway of his vast bloodstream, diffusing into every capillary in his body. He was heated by the music, by the sound, by the words. It was as if the fire licked his body, piercing deep inside him, depositing a piece of the song into him which he would never be able to purge. At this moment, the figure stopped moving. It sensed a body in its presence. Scanning the floor, its gaze finally met Rani’s. Fear rushed over him. His mind dissociated from his body, and in one sense, he could see everything in front of him — the stage, the musicians, the tables and chairs around him, the people sitting, all listening to the song — but in the other sense, he was alone in the room as the music slowly descended from the stage and approached him. He could not move as the towering form drew close to his body. His chest compressed again. His heart silently beat at a furious tempo as the music put its face directly in front of his own. He felt it stroke his cheek. With the touch came a feeling of comfort but fear. He felt a familiarity in the touch, but one which he suppressed, one which he was afraid to face. She leaned close to his ear and whispered into his ear. Listen.

When the last bit of sound stopped reverberating through the air, Rani awoke by the lone, nervous clap that emanated from a nearby source. The rest of Scratch erupted into an applause[4] that shook Rani off of the residual effects of his frightening high, stealing the sound that once filled the air. He looked around. The figure had left. With his next breath out, he began to feel the song leaving his body. He exhaled it out just as quickly as he inhaled it in, and like an addict he fought to hold it in. He held his breath until he finally had to expel the carbon-dioxide that was poisoning his blood, and with the exhale came the last notes of “Strange Fruit.”

The sound of applause filled Rani’s lungs and body, accompanied by the rest of the sounds of the normal world that returned to his ears after their brief disappearance. Rani’s friends saw him sitting in his chair, looking dazed and still facing the stage as they wondered what was wrong. When the applause died down, Evan said to him, “Rani, are you okay?” He put his hand on Rani’s leg. Rani turned towards him.

He sighed as he looked deep into Evan’s eyes. “I’ve never heard that song before.”

“Honestly?!” Amanda cried. Growing up in an all-black family in an all-black neighborhood with virtually all-black friends, this piece was a staple in her childhood. It was one of those songs that was an initiation for the people in her family. You are now old enough to hear this song and understand what it really is about. Think about it, remember it, and don’t let anyone take it away from you. “I’ve known ‘Strange Fruit’ since I was a child. It was literally a part of me growing up.” She was in awe at the idea that this song had not been a part of Rani’s life as it had been in her’s.

“Yeah, I’ve never heard it before. I mean,” Rani paused to think. “Maybe I have. I know my mom played Billie Holiday in our house when I was growing up, but I don’t recall ever hearing something that sounded like … that.” He looked up at Evan. Evan saw that Rani was looking deep into his eyes almost as if Rani was searching for something. He wanted to help Rani find it so badly, but Rani looked lost. Evan knew that whatever Rani was looking for, he did not have it to give to Rani. All Rani wanted to do was listen to that song again. He needed to understand it. He needed to feel its touch again.

“It was just so beautiful.” He sounded excited now. His body became erect and a brightness filled his eyes. “Do you ever just hear a song like that where you get goosebumps all over?” Rani looked around at his friends, rubbing his arms like he was trying to warm himself up again.

“All the time.” Jasmine nodded. They were all still coming down from the shock of Rani’s sudden change in mood.

“Yeah, who doesn’t get that feeling?” Amanda added.

Jasmine spoke again. “I get that from a lot of classical stuff too. It’s a euphoric feeling as if the sound is inside of you.”

“Yes, exactly!” Rani exclaimed.

“I get those shivers too whenever I listen to that song.” Evan added, looking around and seeing all of his friends nod. “I think we all get that feeling.”

“I mean, I get that feeling all the time too, but for some reason, this time felt different.”

“It does really seem that it did something to you.” Evan leaned in close to Rani’s face inspecting it in a fashion that felt uncanny to Rani. “Weird though, since it’s such a sad song.”

“It’s obviously sad.” Rani said in agreement. “But I immediately felt that this is such a meaningful song…I guess the realization excited me.” He looked at Evan, hoping that he would be able to share this feeling with him. “So, you’ve heard this song before?”

“Yeah, I wrote an essay on it in high school.”

“Have you?” Rani turned to Jasmine.

“I heard the Nina Simone cover some time ago –”

“Hah!” Amanda shouted.

Jasmine shot a look of judgement towards Amanda for interrupting her. “But, I can’t exactly remember when, though.” She said as she turned back to face Rani.

“So, everyone has heard it except for me?” Everyone nodded with grunts of agreement. He seemed agitated at this thought.

“Hand it over.” Amanda put out her palm towards Rani.

He looked bewildered. “What?”

“You’re black card. You’ve lost all privileges for not knowing that song until now.”

“Well, I guess I’m a fake black person.” He sardonically joked. Everyone began to laugh at this comment as Rani wanted. Too many heavy conversations occupied this evening. While excitement filled his body in anticipation to continue his research on the strange yet alluring song which he previously had never heard, he felt slightly uncomfortable dwelling on the subject. The feeling of being left in the dark about this song made him think everyone had lived a different life than he lived. It made him feel that he was left out, that he was missing something. He wanted that life. It was a life of being awake, and it made him feel relaxed. But at the same time, it made him feel sorrowful, and, when he remembered that fiery apparition whisper into his ear, he was filled with dread. But, he was addicted to the dread. Listen to what? He asked himself. He knew that the song, listening to the song, would give him the answer. The answer, however, was more than just the meaning of the lyrics. Without having to ponder over it with anyone, he knew what the words meant. It was not difficult for Rani to decipher what “strange fruit” Billie Holiday sang about. He did not have to know the original publication date of the song to know that it was about black bodies — lynching black bodies. There was something else hidden between the words that spoke of a horrible truth which he had to know. The notes, not the words, spoke what he needed to know. He shivered at that thought. It was a fascinating song to listen to, but it was a horrible one at the same time. Rani contemplated on whether or not he could even say to himself that he loved the song. It is no doubt that he became infatuated with it. He could not get it off of his mind — he was itching to return to his apartment so that he could listen to it on repeat while he laid on the floor, staring up at the ceiling. He would soon feel the song again. It would flow through his veins once more, again, and again as he kept it on repeat. He would never lose its feeling of comfort and dread ever again. The movement of the music would lull him into a trance where he could contemplate the lyrics  Blood at the roots … scent of magnolias … for the sun to rot … He would never be able to get these words off of his mind. When he heard the song, he would witness the world from a new perspective, through a dual perspective, where he could see from his own eyes and see through the eyes of “Strange Fruit.” He would wonder what it was about this song that affected him in this manner like no other abstract or physical matter could. It was black. But for the meantime, he thought it was best to go about his night with his friends and save this haunting, dark aria for a different time.

“Alright. I need a break from the past. We need to bring things back to our century.”

“No more old-fashioneds?” Evan teased.

“Time for a modern drink?” Jasmine added.

“Yes, that’s exactly it. Time for a modern drink.”

[1] Kanye West. “Famous.” The Life of Pablo, GOOD & Def Jam, 2016.

[2] Jay-Z. “The Story of O.J.” 4:44, S. Carter, Roc Nation & UMG, 2017

[3] Billie Holiday. “Strange Fruit.” Strange Fruit, Commodore, 1939.

[4] Carvalho, John M. “‘Strange Fruit’: Music Between Violence and Death.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. Vol. 71, no. 1, 2013, 111–119. Carvalho quotes Holiday’s autobiography which writes, “‘there wasn’t even a patter of applause when I finished. Then a lone person began to clap nervously. Then suddenly everyone was clapping’” (112).