Excerpt of Crossroads: Lucky Hand, Episode One
* Excerpt of Episode One of suprihmbé’s upcoming serial “Crossroads: Lucky Hand” (on Amazon Kindle September 2019, published every other Tuesday)
1 Haints Have Eyes
‘Strategies now, they change with time and circumstance. Each makes its contribution in its proper time and place’ –Hootowl
Two women hovered at the edge of the boundary, where the highway meets the state road. We knowed they was women because of the markings. White crosses shimmered along a byway. They made they respective sacrifices to Memory, Omna, Indigo Bo and alladem holies, squatted down and turned toward each other, bones creaking. Ignoring the haints in their presence, one lit a small fire. The other lit a blunt.
The first woman stoked the fire.
— You thank it’s fa sho gon happen?
— Ah mean… cain’t neva be too sho bout wish way dese thangs’ll go. We been preparin fuh dis fuh generations.
The second woman balanced her blunt neatly in the corner of her mouth. — Didya bring de cards?
First Woman tchuipped loudly, annoyed, retorted:
— You know Ah did. She pulled out a deck of playing cards. Second Woman squinted in the moonlight.
— Y’ain’t bring no bones? Ah thought you wuz brangin de bones! she complained, lip stuck out.
— Ah ain’t have time tuh go diggin dem thangs out, cuh barely find my glasses. Dese uh wuk fuh me jus’ de same. So go on dere fussin. Ya coulda brought sumn iffen yuh wanted to.
— Don’t get slick wit me, ole lady. Mnh. Second Woman stuck her bottom lip out, jerked her neck a little.
— You wanna do dis or you gon keep bein ornery, holdin me up?
Second Woman tchuipped loudly, sucking air and saliva into her cheek against her teeth dramatically, purring at the top of her throat at the end, leaking smoke out of the hole in her face as she did and ki-keed. — Lay em out den, Ah’m gettin older by de minute.
Drama be lifeblood.
First Woman laughed and lightning quick did a spread tween the two of them. Both peered down at the cards tryna make out a theory. Everything ain’t always set in stone but if you look for the right things…
— You seein what Ah’m seein, ye?
— Drama. Calamity. Def. Lotta spades in dis.
— Lotta spades, one grunted, which one we don’t know. It was dark, even with the fire. Embers littered the air and haints kept on, tryna take full forms. Flutterbys flapped their wings, guiding the spirits, circling the crossroads where Aunt Memory and the others had made their mark.
— Fru diamonds…
— Is what it is and gon be what it be…
They laid wrinkled hands on the cards, turning them, processing the message. When their eyes met again it seemed as if something had been decided.
— Ah won’t be gone long, missy. But come on and hug me, Ah know you cain’t barely live wit’out me.
The other woman scoffed mockingly but she leaned in for a hug, and a smooch on the cheek.
— Get on den. Ah see ya when you done what needs tuh be done. Hopefully you kin save wun uh dem.
— It ain’t up tuh me tuh do dat, Ah jus’ gotta get xem here. Home. Dey gotta do de ress. Dats why we call it ‘work’.
— In Mem’ry. Ah’m gon try tuh get de Hands tuhgetha. Jack, too. See if we cain’t mitigate dis. Dere’s still time.
— Time is relative, ma dear sista. First Woman’s bones creaked as she raised herself.
Chanting, she crossed the barrier and unbeknownst to bofedem, something else crossed too. We seen it.
2 The Flood
Some unknown natural phenomenon occurs which cannot be explained, and a new local demigod is named. — Zora Neale Hurston
All of Cairo story. Whole town masking, shrouded in trickery. Known as an impoverished almost-ghost town to the wider American populace. All they see is crumbling buildings, a closed hospital, a town abandoned by anyone who could abandon it, especially the government. But we took it, see, and we made it our own, and now only nobody can touch us. An herb to grind or drink heals from most injury or illness. Eroticism and healing are woven into the silk of life, strung up through the goldenwebbed cotton trees, dripping from the honey made by oversized bees, filling with bass booming from juke joints, feeding the land that binds us to it with hoodoo ritual and anti-colonial rhythms, sound and silence, crossroads and a sacred tree, a jewel in a serpent’s throat. Cairo captures as we capture Cairo. Drink deeply of de water and you too shall be healed. We sayin more den you know, but in the end you get it.
By the mid-1800s Cairenes worshipped seven newold holi-ancestors: Memory (of de crossroads), Omnaloke Venus aka Omni Luckey (of the erotic), Indigo Bo aka De Realest Nigga (of eights and earth), Benny (of lightning and movement), Dinah (of storms and flutterbys), Billy (of story and sorcery) and Johnnie X (of justice and iron). They were the originators. The first stories are always begun with them. De Mating uh Memory and Indigo. Bloomtime Dreamwalkin. Jack and de Blue Hand. Indigo and Johnnie X Mek De Fust Crib. Venus endem in Magnolia’s Room. De Flood.
All Cairenes love theater. Here is how it went: Aunt Memory planted her wide feet on that muddy shore after taking the Underground Railroad train the wrong way. She was known amongst the Cairenes as the Scherezade of the Mississippi, the Sweetwater Temptation among the river-folk, the Carousing Crooner of the Ohio-Miss’ippi Crux in the juke joints. She was a masterful entertainer, a renowned fabulist. Thee Hoodoo Hussy. When white folks started up lynching, niggas–who were called Ham’s cursed children by Christian colonizers, nevermind that it was Canaan who was cursed, but who cares?–prayed for protection, sacrificed and received. She raised hell and the floods come down. Days and days it went. She and her Hoodoo folk turned a mean trick, and conjured up a new significancy to white flight.
Cairo is the land uh de truly free, Memory endem made sho uh dat.
It was the trick that kept them safe.
3 Bag Lady
They gathered under the bridge. We be there too, but they don’t see us. Fall was perfeck. The air caressed his face as he relieved himself out of sight in a crop of shrubs. A cat skittered past him, white fur shining in the moonlight. A car skrt-skrted in the distance. Niggas walk on the busy street by the plaza calling loudloudloudloudloud and loosies! squares! waiting for response. Check cashing spot still open. Stores: closed.
He straightened up, adjusted his pants and started walking. There was a couple of homeless men standing a little ways away, drinking. He matched them, cradling a bottle in a bag, leaning a little. He wasn’t drunk, though. He was on a mission. He stuck his fingers in his pocket and touched the blunt that rested there, stuffed with memory. He looked for her under the bridge. The men grunted and greeted him. He was known here.
— You seen Ken? someone asked him.
— He uhh… went tuh de warm place… he lurched a little and held onto the wall, feigning drunkenness. They didn’t take him serious. They went on talking while he scanned the area covertly.
Finally he found her: Rita.
An old woman sat on a bench whispering to herself, rocking and twisting her hands. He sat down next to her. He pulled the stick from his pocket, lit it and puffed. She whipped around, facing him, holding onto her stroller.
— You him?
— No, Aunty, it’s Nephew, member? It’s D.
She sighed raggedly, coughing.
— You right. You not him. He was a luhl shorter den you. And thickuh. Solid. But y’all got de same eyes… She paused, looking whistful. — Ah cain’t fully member his face. When he’s a baby Ah put a silva coin on his navel… tuh keep it from herniatin’ see. An’ it turnt out alright. He had a nice luhl inny after. But he died…
She went silent, turned away from him, and her eyes had a glassy farway look to them. Then she turned to him again and asked, — You sho you not him? Ah see him everwhere y’know.
The sight had turned back on her in this place, he saw. She thought she was crazy, seeing things, when really she was clear. Clarity done turned bad, living in a place where folk don’t believe in it, where they throw you away, lock you away. Westerly folk afraid of spirits. He felt so suddenly sad. He struggled to gather himself, gulping. He had a job to do.
—Ah’m not him, Aunty. You see me? He turned to face her.
— Ah see you, Nephew.
— How long you be out here?
— All de time, Ah be around. Fuh years, but Ah move round. Got a change spot. Till they come and took it. Den gotta new spot, don’t nobody go dere much. Good haul ovah dere. Ah cain’t tell you where doe.
— Dat’s fine, Aunty, Ah’on needta know. Ah jus’ wantcha tuh be safe.
She fiddled with the edge of a plastic bag hanging from her stroller. — Ah got a spot not too far. Ah gotta switch spots soon. S’gettin too cold. She pulled at her clothes as she said this, like wishing a blanket into existence.
He proceeded carefully, not wanting to spook her.
— Ah know a good spot you cuh go. It’s always warm there. It’s food and people lee you ‘lone if you want it–
— Alone? Ah don’ wanna be too alone. Ah just wanna be warm. What you got dere, ‘Phew? C’Ah smoke summa dat?
He handed her his stick and she nodded and puffed on it.
— What this is, marijuana?
— Sumn lak dat, yeah.
Easy now. The stick produced a calm in her, a lucidness. The Metra shot across the bridge. He waited for the calm to take over, waited for the stick to work its magic on her like it did with the others. He started to explain, not for the first time. But patience was his gift.
— Dis place, Ah mean, it’s safe. Folk take care uh each other. And it’s drank dere if yuh want it. Love if you want it. You have yuh own crib. It’s peacefuh. Lak Heaven. But right now. Ah cuh get you a ride dere. Dey give you whateva yuh need.
— Ah jus’ don’t wanna hafta fight no mo.
He understood. Out here it was different. Men were often a danger to her. They let him do the convincing on the ground but it was women after him, who did the work of comforting and introduced newcomers to their ways. His job was to get them on the bus, and to collect information. He had been gaining the trust of this particular woman for a time. She never recognized him right away but every time he approached her she grew more comfortable. The women would soothe most of the fear right out of her, heal her, initiate her in her own time. They would introduce her to the children and the children would teach her their ways indirectly. They would make her see her usefulness and they would love her. They never failed.
She started to get the thread back.
— Ah know you. Ah seent you here befoe. But Ah still thought you was him. Ah saw his face when you sit dere. Den it faded away. Her face crumpled inward a bit as she fought a cry. — He died a long time ago, doe. Drugs took him.
— Ah member. You tole me. But Ah lak tuh give you time cuz you don’t always know me. Ah ain’t wanna scare yuh.
— Dis helps. She tapped the stick he’d given her. — Ah’on why, but it do. My mine feel so cleah, e’en wit de drink in me. She paused. — You took Ken tuh dat place, dincha?
— To a diff’rent area. We want folk tuh be comf’table. Ah calledt Ken a bus and dey take real good care uh him.
He had sent Ken to Lyles, because men from the outside sometimes had a harder time acclimating to the ways of Cairenes. He had to be looked after.
— Dey nurses?
— Healers, yah. Aunty Ah neva lie tuh you. Dey real good people. Ah been dere myself. Now dey send me to help odder people. Tuh give folk peace.
— Ain’t no bills, it ain’t no hospital is it?
— No ma’am.
She seemed to be deliberating. He waited. He was relieved when she sighed deeply.
— Well winter on de way. Be nice tuh be inside somewhere.
— Dey give you a home. Trust.
She nodded a few times. — Okay. Okay. Where it’s at?
He smiled inside. She was a hard one. It had taken him weeks to get to this point. The men came easier for some reason. He made a slow summoning motion, a sign in the air with his hands, and the breeze picked up a little. He tapped his feet in rhythm and hummed. It was coming.
— Lesgo tuh duh bus stop. He stood up. She stood too, leaning.
— Ah cuh take my cart? Ah cain’t go wit’out my things.
— You cuh take whateva you want. She followed him down the block to the bus stop with her stroller in tow and they waited as the breeze danced around them. A double decked blue bus appeared, seemingly out of nowhere.
— Dis ain’t a city bus, why it’s stoppin here?
— It’s here for us, Aunty, it’s alright. She grabbed his hand and squeezed it anxiously. The stick was working though because she stood still but she said — Ah’m afraid, Nephew. But Ah want peace.
The doors opened and a thick woman come down all flesh and wine red lips.
— — — — — end of preview! If you loved it don’t forget to clap! And you can support my work on Patreon.