Opposites Attract Joy Road

Joy Road


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Four remarkable women from Bottoms, Georgia.

Struggle to survive as they tackle life, love their men and raise their children during history's darkest hour.

Joy Road

By Shirley Hailstock

Passing (for white)

She'd been on the bus all day. Her breasts hurt from the constant jiggling motion and her shoulders ached from holding herself erect. Seated on the back seat, where all good Negroes sat, RaeMyra Elliott was wedged between a woman reeking of last night's garlic and a Samson-sized man who smelled like mud and pee. She was trapped. Exhaust from the rear-mounted engine raped the air. Her head throbbed and she coughed. Sweat trickled between her breasts, collecting at the bottom of her brassiere and wetting through to the flower pattern of her dress. Her behind was hot from being so close to the engine. Every now and then, she raised her legs, hearing a smacking sound as the sweaty glue that welded them together came apart. And she had to go to the bathroom--bad. Oh God, she hated being Negro.

At the last rest stop five people got off. They were replaced by three mothers with noisy children. When the bus driver stood up and hollered, "Chicago bus leaving in five minutes," the children rushed on as if it was a war cry and they needed to claim a victorious prize. The confined area was perfect for them to try out their voices and revel in the reverberating way a shrilled scream sounded as it collided with window glass and metal ceilings. The noise came back to them, amplified as if the metal frame, suitcases and people absorbed none of the ruckus. The space proved too good a playground for them not to be fascinated by their new-found sand box.

RaeMyra tried to ignore them. She wanted to move forward, sit by a window, feel fresh air on her face and watch the countryside fall away, eagerly awaiting the lights of the big city she was sure was ahead of her. Excitement and fear found equal anchor inside her. She'd longed for this day, prayed for a time she could leave The Bottoms and begin life. She was on her way. Chicago was going up. A whole knew world for her. She smiled to herself, relaxing a moment and leaning back.

She glanced at Sampson. He smiled appreciatively, showing a mouth of crooked, stained teeth. RaeMyra turned away feigning interest in the scenery along the other side of the road. The bus hit a hole and the ten-ton caravan bounced like an elephant had jumped on it. Bags and luggage danced in the overhead racks. A small case fell to the floor. RaeMyra fumbled to keep the shoebox on her lap from toppling into the aisle. A child's bottle clunked to the floor three seats ahead of her.

The mother gasped as she fumbled to catch it. She reached for it, balancing her fidgety child in one arm and finding the other too short to reach the bottle, especially since it rolled forward just as she extended her arm.

The man across from her, wearing a grey suit, got up and retrieved it. As he bent over RaeMyra noticed the frayed cuffs of his pants. The suit had seen better days and so had the man. She could tell it used to fit his frame better, but nothing fit well anymore, not on anyone. He straightened, in shoes that had a worn-over tilt to the soles. In better times he probably would have discarded the entire outfit, given it to some poor relation or Negro worker whom he deemed appreciative, a credit to his race. He returned the bottle. RaeMyra showed no emotion as she watched the small courtesy.

"Thank you," she heard the young woman say as she wiped the rubber nipple off on her dress and stuck it back in the baby's mouth.

As the man sat down his eyes met RaeMyra's. Blank, she thought. Lifeless. Dead. She turned away. He reminded her of home. The Bottoms, she thought. A small, forgotten section of land in rural Georgia where ambition died with being born colored and no one saw the need to change anything. It was a small place, a place where people got lost, although size didn't matter. People got lost everywhere. From hamlet to village to city to major metropolitan areas, souls wandered without purpose, passing from one breadline to another. A world full of the walking dead.

RaeMyra had seen people like that since before the crash. October 29, 1929, was a day that had meaning to white folks. It was when they learned the meaning of hard times. Negroes learned something too. It wasn't how to survive during hard times. Times had always been hard for Negroes and they could handle them. White folks learned to live on less and Negroes to live with no jobs, no money and very little to eat.

RaeMyra was tired of seeing people with no life in their eyes. She wouldn't be one of them. It was time to go, move, start something new. In The Bottoms, a place where she'd been born and reared, a place where she was suppose to die, day in and day out the same weary faces greeted her. The years rolled in and out, generation after generation, without anyone rising above the poverty line. Not any longer, she told herself, lifting her chin a bit higher. She was out now and she wouldn't look back.

She wanted change. She wanted to experience life and she wanted a way out of The Bottoms. She should have gone years ago, but it was hard leaving heritage behind, leaving what she was comfortable with and where she understood the rules and rituals. It was hard striking out in the vast unknown, but others had done it. She'd discovered colored soldiers and teachers in the wild, wild, west. Negro cowboys helped open the plains and settled in a part of the country that was outside the United States at the time. RaeMyra didn't fancy herself a pioneer. She wasn't out to conquer the land or open a new territory. She only wanted her slice of life and she was heading toward it now.

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