Monday, June 15, 2009

How to See the Elephant -- Part III

At the train station in Philadelphia, Thetis considers ditching Sheba:

If I abandoned Sheba here she would be safe enough. I had never asked her to come, after all, and it was hopeless to continue to drag her along. I have to get out of here, that's all that matters. I pictured her running loose in the station. It wouldn't be five minutes but that they'd catch her.

The next man in line moved up. "What's the closest city you got to Buffalo, sir?"

On the other hand, helping Sheba escape was getting my own back, so to speak, against the girls and Miss Veda. They thought their Sheba was so happy and devoted! And I would be like a hero -- liberating her from her chains! So what if we were chased by dogs? No child of my generation could have been wholly insensible to the glamour of being hunted by bloodhounds, preferably across floes of ice, but even the Penn Railroad terminal might do in a pinch.

Waking up the next morning on the train, Thetis realizes what she has done:

All the years of riding trains with Pa, I had been used to getting off the train for food, coffee and certain necessities. If I was thirsty between stations I drank water from the tank in the car. But I had never seen a Negro in a station dining room or hotel restaurant, and I did not want to be the first person to ever bring one in there. I knew for sure that Sheba would not be able to use the station washrooms or facilities. And if she drank from that cup alongside the water tank no one else in the car would use it, and they might even complain to the train conductor. And he could throw us off, no apologies.

I looked over at her, perspiring a little in the already airless car.

"You're going to have to listen to me from now on,"I said, "Do as I tell you and if you don't I'm going to put you off the train at the next station and leave you there, forever."

Sheba shuttered her eyes and lifted her chin.

"Uppity," she muttered. "Can't we eat?"

"They'll let us off for breakfast in Altoona. You're going to listen to me, right?"

She rolled her eyes, exactly as she had last night, and looked out the window beyond me.

No comments: