Swaying with the rhythm of the crowded metro she sits. Invisible to all; silently catching the tears at her eyelashes’ edge.
She watches four rowdy college boys. High off the sense of their own masculinity. Skin like deeps caverns of mahogany and purple. Their eyes wild, their testosterone fuming, with voices that hit her soul.
She used to be them. Riding the new metro trains in the early morning hours. Her dress short, barely touching her knees; face framed I’m short Shirley Temple curls. Rey called her Jezebel, the lady of power; spokes model for all women wild. All women who dreamed, and dared, to step from the barrier of her sex.
In those days, U Street was for the hip. Blues and jazz breaking loose from illuminated basement juke joints. She sang, trained in the church but praising in the streets. Church had always stifled her. The oppressive rules and protective gaze of the Bishop-her father. Bishop Ezekiel Joseph Washington, the second. Twice removed from slavery, third bishop on the family. His wife, her mother, a simple wholesome gal. One that rather pray than fight, wash the dingy white man’s draws, instead of stepping out of line. Adeola Lee Simpson, although she was known as Fannie since childhood after her great-great grandmother, she had once been called. She gave Ezekiel eleven kids and sixty years of her life before she was put away sweetly in the church cemetery, overlooking the city of Gray Court in Laurens, South Carolina.
The second of four girls, Henrietta Mae was the black sheep from birth. Spankings for back sassing was commonplace, gradually getting worse until the morning she was beat within an inch of her life; after staying out the entire night with that no good Bobby Frank, whose family let him run wild with any old woman. She took that beating kindly, that night was worth it. She danced in the juke joint, off Old Town Road, deep off in the woods. The twins, Sam and Aaron Rodgers, built it from the ground up by hand.
King Rob and his Sho-Nuff Band came all the way down from Baltimore to play. Henrietta had smuggled his sheet music in the house, hidden beneath her floorboards under the bed. Whenever her parents went to town, she would tune the living radio in and dance. She committed all their songs to memory, even teaching herself the chords on the old piano- which was only to be used for God’s music.
Bobby danced the might way with her, ending the evening in his Pa’s 1935 Ford pickup; siting on the edge of the road. She sang to the heavens when he crawled on top, her blue dress bunched around her waist.
The day after the class of 1941 graduation from Laurens Colored High School, she ran away by night to the train station, and went to Washington, DC. It was the place to be for Negroes, especially those that didn’t care for the approval of whites.
“Howdy-doo, Miss?” a sly faced brother asked when she sat on the train.
“Howdy-doo, sir,” Henrietta tossed her bushy hair behind her shoulders.
“Might I ask what a pretty lady like you name is?”
“Henrietta Washington, but call me Hennie, fella.” He tipped his hat and say beside her.
“I’m Caleb Calahan. The one and only, baby.” he wore a gray day suit with navy suspenders. Thick concolene held his hair back, flashing on the sunrise’s light. “Where is your stop, Miss Hennie?”
“DC, where else, sugar?”
“Hmmm, DC is the place to be, miss. You stick around with me and you’ll make, sure enough.”
“Stick with you? Who says I need anyone for me to make it? I can make it just fine, daddy-o.”
“Be cool, sweetness, I didn’t mean to press a nerve. A sweet pretty lady like you needs a strong man to look after her. The city’s a big place,” he leaned closer, breath scented with peppermint, “and I couldn’t live with myself if you got lost.”
She fanned herself, “Well I may possibly need a little company from time to time.”