Illustration by Emily Hammermeister
  1. A Meeting in May
  2. Lemons Always Keep Us Cool
  3. They Call Me Ida B. Wells
  4. The Regal Theater
  5. Bronzeville Sisyphus
  6. Anita Jumps the Red Lines

Ipondered around the airport, maybe that’ll make time go faster. It was May 30th, 2020. I glanced and observed the people ready and speedy for their flights, big families, and teens, ready to enjoy their spring. I couldn’t help to notice this one person though, dressed like she was born in 1800, she stood out…a lot. She seemed a little overdressed for this weather, talk about a hot girl summer. Black comfy old corset, white dingy silk gloves that contrast her whole appearance, her hair slightly lumped in a front with a clip attached to it highlighting her afro-textured hair, she had this foreign presence about her, it made me feel kinda…safe?  I didn’t know I was staring at her for so long until I saw her coming up towards me. I repositioned myself because I knew she was going to ask for directions. Honestly, I’m a horrible communicator, but that didn’t stop her from coming closer, I was raised to be polite so I couldn’t just ignore her. She tapped my shoulder and asked me when the nearest flight to Chicago was, her voice and manner were just as unique as her appearance. I take out my iPhone and check, and tell her that it’ll arrive in about 2 hours, which blew me just as much as it did her because I’m heading to Chicago too and I’ve probably only been sitting here for an hour. The antique-looking woman sighs and takes the seat next to me.  I try to avoid possible conversations by flipping through games and apps on my phone. I was so deep in thought about her appearance that when she tapped me to tell me that they were calling onboarding passengers for my flight, I jumped. I double-checked to see if I left anything, and sped to my flight. Of course, she was boarding the same flight as me. I boarded the plane then I settled in my seat and her next to me. I’m not one to believe in superstitions, but I felt like her presence was going to have a significant impact on me, good or bad, I just felt it. I tried to sneak a peek at her, but when I did, she was already looking at me, so I just played it off like I was staring somewhere else, and she chuckled.

She asked me what I’m heading to Chicago for, and I told her the pandemic, COVID was impacting my family. I didn’t wanna be rude so I asked her the same thing. “If I heard a brother of mine got killed for being a brother I’d rush back and forth around this country we call the United States of America.” It took me a while to understand that she was referring to the killing of a Black man George Floyd by several white police officers. “Oh yea,”. That’s all I could give her, I’m completely pitiful. There are a bunch of protests going on in a lot of states. She pulled a bunch of peanuts out of her large purse and offered me some. I declined, however. She asked me how old I was. She wants to start some small talk being that we were sitting next to each other for the next 5-6 hours. “I’m 16.” She turned away from me. A few minutes go by and she says “When I was sixteen I rode horses to Chicago from here in Jackson, Mississippi.”

Even though I wanted to so badly, I know how disrespectful it is to ask an adult their age, so I held it in, but she answered it anyway. “I’m 32, just as young as you.” I was surprised, even though she looked young she gave me a presence from an older woman. She reminded me of my grandmother, who I miss dearly. “Barbara. My name. It’s Barbara.” I said to her, even though she didn’t ask. “That’s a beautiful name,” she tells me. Is it awkward that I blushed? I’m not one to start nor continue a conversation but I felt intrigued too. 

“Do you think it is justified?” I ask her. She replied, “No.” “Do you think all the protesting and everything will help, I mean, they always win,” I implied. “One had better die fighting against injustice than die like a dog or a rat in a trap,” she says. Her confidence intimidated me. She’s no dog or a rat. All the fusing just might step on Lightfoot’s toes, and maybe we can fix up this city for God’s sake. “The appetite grows for what it feeds on,” she adds.  The weak. That’s who they feed on. The Black, The poor, the Women. I think I took a nap, and slept bout a few hours, because when I check my clock, the time flew, only 30 minutes left of the flight. The woman pulls out her antique-looking mirror making sure her hair is intact. I could never. Be as confident, determined, and mind settled as her? Not at all. “How’d you become so confident in yourself, I could never?” I asked her. She turned to me gently, princess-like I’ll say, “We are the blueprint sista, there ain’t nun but envy in our enemies eyes, don’t listen to me,” she tells me. We land right at O’Hare. I’m not a people person but if I could stay with her I would.  She checks her antique watch and pulls mini signs out of her purse with a marker. She’s making protest signs. Things that read, “Justice for Floyd,” and “The white man’s victory soon became complete by fraud, violence, intimidation, and murder.” She was the first one to get up and start getting her bags, she was in a crazy rush. “If God is good to all then I’ll see you around sista!” She says. “WAIT! What’s your name?” I asked her in a hurry. “They call me Ida B. Wells! Catch me, protest!”

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Barbara Peters is in 10th grade at Art in Motion Charter School.

 

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