My hands shake as I smooth my aproned skirt. My breath comes in bunches as I hear a rumble on the stairs. My heart beats a steady tattoo to the clump, clump, clump announcing a nearing crowd.
My mind flits back twenty years — the last time I stood in this room, on this very platform. I shiver in the cloying heat.
“Good teeth.” The towering man with tall hat remarked.
“Appears strong,” his companion said, picking up my hand and turning me around.
“Mrs. Lewis will be pleased, I’m sure,” Tall Hat said, turning my face from side to side.
An unwelcome tear formed in my one eye. I blinked and blinked but it escaped, rolling down my cheek. Tall Hat’s companion scowled.
“Sure ’bout this-un, Mr. Lewis? She seem a bit puny lookin’.”
“We’ll bid,” Tall Hat replied.
Merciful God blessed me that day, putting me in the Lewis family. Mistress ignored the law. She taught me to read. And write.
“Remember, Susie,” she’d say, “It’s our secret.” Her forehead frowned, but her eyes smiled.
Tucked away in the safety of Mistress’ bedchamber, I devoured every book in Master Lewis’ extensive library. Geography, History, Literature. I tasted and thirst for more.
Years passed. War came. Men died. War departed. Devastation remained.
Victory declared me free. My people milled about, searching for a future. Poverty equalized master and slave.
I made my way to the Central of Georgia bank building, headquarters of General Geary.
“What can I do for you?” A member of his staff asked.
“I come to see the general,” I said.
“May I inquire after the nature of your business?”
“I hear the general is setting up a freedman school for children.”
“That is correct,” he said, “Third floor of Bryan’s Slave Mart.”
I drew myself tall — tall as Mr. Lewis’ top hat from 20 years back. “I know the building well,” I said. “I’ve come to ask the general for a teaching position.”
General Geary appeared from the other room. “And so you shall.” His face and eyes smiled.
My hands shake as I smooth the freshly starched apron over my skirt, deep ebony against stark white. Grinning faces burst through the door. I square my shoulders and smile.
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