Looking After Little Almita Randell

“Almita!!!!!”

Clarice Randell marched back then forth down the vacant road and its barren surrounding landscape.  She turned a frightened eye to her oldest child.

“John, where she at?! You was supposed to be lookin’ after her!”

“Mama, I don’t know she was sittin’ right here just a minute ago.”

Before she could leap to attack her son, her husband grasped her wrist.

“Clarice juss calm down, she couldn’ta went too far.”

“Almita!!!!! I don’t trust it … these roads.  You know what they doin’ to colored folk down this way  Henry?!”

Silence, fear, and resentment hung heavy.  Father and son did the work of preparing the car to be road worthy.

“ALMITA!!!!!!!!!!”

Her mind drifted to a day a few months before.

“Baby don’t come in here!  Mama’s not feelin’ well and lord knows I don’t need you gettin’ what I got. Gone back in there with John.”

“It’s okay Mama. I’m a doctor.”

You a doctor?”

“Yes ma’am. I’m gonna take care of ya.”

“Is that right? Alright Ms. Doctor. Take care of me.”

Almita jumped right in staring intently into her mothers eyes, then ears, then throat. She flexed and bent her arms and legs. Finally, she put her head against her mother’s chest to listen to her heart.

It was here that the memory froze, and Clarice’s heart broke. Her legs folded and before she knew it she was on the ground. She sobbed heavily and cried out one last time.

“ALMITA!!!!!”

There was brief silence, then the roaring of an engine. She lifted her head and was greeted by a large billow of dust. The jalopy pulled abruptly next to her nearly running her over. In an instant she heard …

“Mama!”

Almita jumped out and ran over to her mother.

“What’s the matter Mama?”

Anger and relief washed over Clarice. She swatted Almita has hard as she could across her back side, then immediately kissed her and wept.

A small statured white man got out of the car.

“She yours?”

“Yessir.”

“You might wanna keep an eye on her.”

The twang in his voice and the implication that she would neglect her child, stirred hatred within her but the relief of having her child back kept it at bay. She rose, thanked him for his kindness and began to walk back toward her family. He followed.

Smiles and laughter as the family reunited fell to awkward silence.

“May I help you sir?”

“I fancy myself a photographer. You’re a right smart lookin’ group of coloreds. I wanna take your picture.”
Clarice looked to Henry.

“Yessir, but we do need to be gettin’ back on the road.”

“Won’t take me but a minute.”

The gentleman fumbled with his clunky equipment as Henry, John, and Clarice ready themselves to leave immediately after the photo was taken.  Almita, ever the curious rebel, ran toward the gentleman, past her father, down beside her brother, while resisting her mother’s last minute adjustments to her hair.

“Okay Mister! I’m Ready!”

Rosie.

photo courtesy of  the Waheed Photo Archive

Joe 1940.

* I’ve become very inspired by the Waheed Photo Archive Tumblr, so I’ve decided to write stories based on my internal perception of some of the pics.  Here’s the first one. I hope you enjoy!
He stood for a second and gave the pelican legged child a once over while fondling his pockets for cigarettes. Once located, he slid the package out and began rolled it slowly against the back of his hand never moving his eyes from her.

“Go in there and get me some beer.” he gruffed.

“Th-there ain’t none. Th-that’s why Momma went to the store.” the child stuttered. Her eyes frozen to the lithe brown man. The bones in his face leapt out from beneath his skin. Frighteningly tall from the child’s perspective, he seemed to be an apparition. As she continued to examine him, her own face became apparent in his and she faintly remembered seeing him before.

“You know who I am?”

“I think so.”

“I’m yo daddy. You was too little to remember the last time I came.”

She did though. The more she stared at him the more the memory came together. She remembered he smelled good, and that they had danced to some old time music that her mother liked to listen to when she was good and drunk.

“I do remember.” she said at last.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

There was silence, mainly because neither knew what else to say, but also because they’d continued examining one another again.

“She say when she gonna be back?”

“No. She always take a long time. I guess she be takin’ to people.”

“Well I ain’t got time to wait.”

There was more silence, then he reached in the pocket of his lapel, pulled out a photo and handed it to her.

“You can keep that.”

It was a photo of him. He was young, full and handsome; the direct opposite of the hollowed out frame before her drawing in with much effort on a Pall Mall.

“Ok, I gotta go.”

“You comin’ back?”

“No. I won’t eva be back ‘round here no more.”

Her heart sank inside her warm chest. It felt like all her blood was leaving her.

She knew she would remember this day and this moment for the rest of her life. She would play it over in her mind a thousand times. Some days so she could remember him just as he was and the moment  just as it happened. But some days she would remember it but imagine if she could have done or said something differently so he wouldn’t go.

She cried. Her tears give way to sobbing. He stares at her, but does not react. He turns to leave, then stops.

“There are things, little girl, that you can’t and won’t eva understand. It’s best you get used to that or somebody gonna break that little heart of yours.”

Rosie.