Freed Souls.

The rays of the sun were becoming less blinding as he watched the prisoners twirl limp flower stems with their trunks. He’d been in charge of locking their cages ever since they were young calves. Some of them flapped their ears at the curious children passing by. Others lay asleep, their duties done, their bowels empty, their tusks toward the blue abyss.

            He always knew there was immense power lurking in the souls of the prisoners. It was in their eyes. It was beneath the leathery wrinkles that folded around their thick shoulders. Their plight was saddening. He resented the way they were coated with fancy paint and paraded through the village streets by rich men who rode atop their backs. He understood, though, that every creature has its place. That all things were to learn and embrace their positions. Birds dig for worms, lions are born kings, and he was in charge of locking the cages of the elephants. It was not permissible to ask why.

            Who would one ask?

            The god who remains in the sky? A sin.

            The government who rules behind closed doors? A conspiracy.

            One must learn to accept what is. Which is why he’d never considered what should be done in the event that the prisoners break free. He’d never considered the possibility of rebellion. Of insurrection and revolution.

            But it was too late now. The imprisoned souls could be contained and controlled no longer. They had become unable to accept captivity. Authority over their minds was now assumed by a potent yearning. To break free. To run wild.  And with a swift burst of strength they became a herd of free souls, stampeding rabidly through the village. With vengeance in their eyes. They became slaves to the idea of freedom.

            Is freedom really free?

            One must not ask.

            The force of the herd’s monstrous strides made craters in the ground and sent ripples through the river. Their trunks flailed above their heads as they let out angry shrieks and lowered their tusks. The village women scrambled to their huts, seeking refuge beneath thatched roofs. The men latched onto branches of baobab trees like young leopards fleeing from wild boars.

            Unlike them however, he had no were to go. He ran, but no destination seemed safe. He looked back and saw a mass of rebellion pursuing him with angry strides. Could he escape the freed elephants? One must not ask.

            They were after him because he had denied their freedom. Because he was equally wicked as the rich men who paraded them through the streets.

            Then suddenly his ears filled with ringing as if a bomb had gone off. His vision slowed as if time had forgotten its purpose. The freed souls grew nearer, moving with determination. But he could barely sense the reality of the insurrection. He could hardly feel the force of their footsteps.

            He found himself in the middle of the stampede. The powerless villagers watched from the treetops. At least he wouldn’t die alone. No one should die alone. His legs realized they didn’t need to run anymore. His knees hit the ground, followed by his hands and face.

            Then freedom trampled him. Crushed his limbs. Stomped his face.

            And his soul ran free with the elephants.

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What Really Matters?

For my seventeenth birthday, my grandmother got me a Monopoly board. I wasn’t too good at it. I didn’t know the tricks. We played several times and she always won. She’d say, “One day, you’ll learn to play the game.”

The next summer I played almost every day. I beat my parents, my sister, my friends—everyone. I was the master of the board. I came to understand that the only way to win was to be totally committed to acquisition. Money and possessions—that was the name of the game.

But then I got bored with Monopoly. I was too good at it; no one could beat me. I put the game on the shelf and went to college. I graduated and got hired as a junior executive at an advertising firm. After two promotions, three cars, and a summer house in South Carolina I decided I’d done pretty well for myself.

The year before my grandmother died, we all got together for Thanksgiving dinner. We knew it’d probably be the last time she’d see us all. “How about a game of Monopoly,” she said. So we sat down to play, but she didn’t stand a chance. And after I beat her she said, ‘”Now put it all back in the box. All he houses and hotels, the railroads and utility companies, and all that wonderful money. Put it back. None of it was really yours.”

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Jelly and Jam

Some people in America will argue that jelly should actually be called jam, while others will argue that jam is actually jelly. I personally prefer jam. But this country’s problem with classification runs much deeper than the jam jelly argument. It seems to me that we can’t peacefully agree on the classification of our own fellow citizens. Mother says us poor people will never be recognized as fully human, and that white people will never see us as equal. She says it’s white people’s fault that we even live in the projects.

Our building is fifteen stories high. We live on the sixth floor. Seven of us cram into our two bedroom apartment. Mother works two jobs now, but we’re lucky if we eat two meals in a day. We used to be on welfare, but last year the laws changed and the government said we no longer qualified. Mother says the white people think it’s our own fault that we’re poor.

She’s never liked that my best friend, Allison, is white. Allison’s a jelly person too, but that doesn’t bother me. Mother doesn’t understand why Allison’s parents won’t let her come over to our house. Yesterday after school, I went over to Allison’s and we practiced accessorizing her old Barbies. All of her Barbies are white. “Blonde hair is the best,” she told me. “It’s so long and straight and pretty.” I’ve always wished my hair was long and straight, but Mother won’t pay for me to get a perm and she won’t buy me a flat iron. She says straight hair is for white people. Mother says I should get dreadlocks like her; that I should learn what it means to be Black because white people will never really care about me.

The day before yesterday, Mother made fried chicken for dinner. I hate fried chicken; it’s greasy and it makes me feel sick. But what I really hate is that white people think fried chicken is all I eat. And that I love grape soda. Mother bought a two liter of it for us to drink with dinner, but I didn’t eat. I sat in the window and drank a cold glass of sweet tea instead. I never got to finish drinking it though. There was a loud pop and I dropped the glass and it spilled all over the carpet. I heard the gunshot better than I could see where it came from. All I could see was a man lying in a pool of blood on the sidewalk. I ran to the door because I didn’t want him to be dead. I wanted to help him. I hated all the Black on Black violence that happened in the projects. But before I could get out the door, Mother grabbed my shirt and yanked me back. “Where do you think you’re going,” she said. “My baby is too young to die. How many times do I have to tell you not to go out in them streets at night?”

I guess you could say that over the past two days, I’ve finally realized America’s problem with classification. I’ve realized that white people assume all Black people are violent and ignorant. And Black people are mad because they think all white people are out to get them. They’re so mad, in fact, that they take it out on each other. History has taught Black people that it’s perfectly okay to not care about your fellow man. In fact, there’s nothing wrong with killing him if that’s what it takes for you to get ahead.

This made me think of Dad. I haven’t seen him since I was in first grade, but I still remember the last day I saw him. He and Mother were fighting. “I don’t have time for this,” he screamed at her. She was screaming too. “What does that white woman have that I don’t?” It sounded like when an orchestra warms up on stage before the conductor comes out. I was in the living room and from there I could see into the bedroom because they left the door halfway open. Dad was holding a suitcase in his hand. I wasn’t crying though. I wasn’t feeling any emotions at all.

Thinking back on it now, I know why I didn’t feel sad when Dad left. Now I know that he was able to see past the laws of classification. The laws that make brothers brothers, sisters sisters, and friends friends. The laws that make Black and white people different from one another.

Now I don’t listen to Mother when she tells me she doesn’t like Allison. Just because the color of our skin is different doesn’t mean we can’t be best friends. Allison doesn’t judge me and I don’t judge her. Mother says that one day I won’t feel the same way; that one day I’ll understand. But as far as I’m concerned, Allison can eat her jelly and I’ll eat my jam, and that’s perfectly okay with me.

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