Flo took one last look back. She turned away and walked toward the bus stop. She had begun here just a shy, awkward girl and now she was a young woman with the world at her feet.
She was to read the law so that she might help those less fortunate than her. Yes, she was an idealist, but growing up a black girl in this neighbourhood had not been easy: the hate still flowed like poison and she had been on the receiving end of every kind of racist there was.
She had worked hard, been a good daughter to her adopted parents and bided her time; after all, things were changing and Washington in 1961 was a place that a girl like her had a chance.
A week earlier, she had boarded her usual bus home from school. It was a beautiful day, and she sat at the window looking out at the world. At the next stop the bus filled up and an older woman came occupied the seat by her. Flo didn't take any notice; she just kept on staring out.
After a while, the woman spoke, asking, "you Florence Backhurst?"
Flo was surprised to hear her name; no one had called her Florence, not in years. She turned looking quizzically at the woman.
The woman raised her eyebrows, asking, "Well, is you or ain't you?"
Flo replied, "yes, mam, I'm Florence Backhurst, but they just call me Flo."
"Flo, yes." She brushed some imaginary fluff from her sleeve, adding, "How old you now, seventeen, eighteen maybe?"
"Yes, mam, I'm just turned eighteen."
"You be finishing school soon, I guess."
"Yes, mam, end of next week. I'm going to college to study the law."
Ruth's eyes widened, a smile breaking over her face, "well, Florence Backhurst, look at you now, all grown up and learning yourself to be some kind of fancy lawyer." To get a better look at Flo, she leaned back a bit, asking, "how are your ma and pa doing these days?"
Flo smiled back, saying, "they's well, mam."
"Bet they's good and proud now you're going to be a college girl, an all?"
"Yes, mam, they are, and..." she blushed, a warm smile that lit up her dark eyes, "to be honest I'm kind of proud myself too."
"Well don't you go get yourself all airs and graces now, you got to remember where you came from," said Ruth, though the smile on her face took the sting out of her words.
Hastily and gravely Flo, replied, "oh Don't you worry, mam, I won't." She looked down at her linked fingers, her thumbs twidling around one another, "though truth is I don't know much about where I come from: I'm adopted, see."
The old woman looked at her and nodded, "Hm, hm," she laid her hand on Flo's leg and tapped it gently, "I know chil', I know."
Flo frowned, "how you know so much about me, anyways?"
The bus began to slow.
"Well, this here's my stop." The woman got up and turned, saying, "you come see me next week when you finished school; I got something to tell you'll want to hear. 1273 Pinewood, I'm always in afternoons. You be good now, you hear, Florence Backhurst." She gave a funny little chuckle as she made her way slowly down the aisle, stopping briefly to say something to the driver, who laughed. Flo watched her waddle down the sidewalk. The bus took off, and soon she lost sight of her.
Heck, thought Flo, I didn't ask her name.
A week later, she got off at the same stop and set to walk in the direction she had seen the woman go. After five minutes she came to a small grocery store and going in asked for directions to Pinewood. Ten minutes later, she was standing outside 1273. It was a small but tidy, single storey house set back from the quiet road. The stoop had a fresh lick of paint, and a couple of comfortable chairs set up under the shade: the woman sat in one, shelling peas. In the background, a wireless was playing some easy listening. Looking up at Flo, the woman stopped her chore and waved her up, directing her to sit in the other chair.
YOU ARE READING
Ballad of a SlaveGeneral Fiction
Washington 1961 - a young law student is told to visit a woman she's never met, who reveals the shocking story of Flo's birth mother setting her on a quest to find truth and justice.