And we shuffled on past the graffiti walls hiding even from bright lights of watching stars. Mama and I were runaways now with our hair still wrapped like noodles on a spoon. I pulled my book bag off my shoulder and held it above the ground. I didn’t want no one facing what we put behind us with quick steps. Mama pulled out her cross that pointed at four directions. She stopped, and waited for the cross like it was a whirling compass. I never understood this; the metal chain didn’t come with a spinning needle on it pointing us north.
“Alright, I know the way,” mama breathed.
Who was I to question her? Ain’t no way a nine year old girl knew which way was which. I had never gone to school but then again Mama never been either. She was the only person I had ever followed without question but then again I never had any other option.
We walked across the old railroad leaving city streets. Now we were walking through high grass that whispered through our legs.
“Ma, what about snakes?” I whispered.
` She picked up the pace showing she wasn’t listening. There were worse things than snakes. There’s the musky scent of a man shifting through my door with no lock. I swung my bag over my shoulder, running to catch up.
Once I was close again I could hear Mama’s soft plea with God.
“Jesus, lead me and little Esther to greener pastures away from the wicked schemes of evil men.”
Suddenly I realized we were being watched. Up ahead there was a dark silhouette leaning against a tall Sycamore. Fear pressed against my stomach like cautious hands. But my mama just thanked the sky and walked towards the stranger.
That was the night I met my Father. That was the summer of 1958 when Mama and I ran like slaves from white men wearing white hoods looking through slits for two black girls who never learned to read any signs. We had walked right past the one that said “NO COLOREDS.”