Braids and Ribbons | Amy Short

A family confronts the attitudes of people in their new home.


Braids and Ribbons

Amy Short

Quasimodo’s Quasi Oboe Award


Sweet jazz music flowed out of a nearby café and young children quietly played on the street corners and across the road. Parents watched from their doors, some turning their backs and continuing with the household chores; folding washing, preparing dinner.

Adelaide Spence guided her two children, Lois and Jerrick, up that road, the trio slowly gaining attention from their soon to be neighbours. It wasn’t the kind of attention they’d been hoping for, what they had expected yes, what they had hoped, no.

The children circled them under the watchful eyes of their parents, some adults even encouraging them to take a closer look. One little boy reached into a bag and rooted around, pulling out items and giving them an approving nod.

“Excuse me, can you not look through our bags please,” Adelaide’s smooth, Southern drawl asked.

“Don’t you talk to my son like that, you nigger,” the boy’s mother screamed. She wrapped her arms around him and pulled him back.

Adelaide ignored the slur, pushing her children forward as they walked towards their new house. They had been fortunate, an envelope of money delivered to the wrong house by incompetent people and now they had luck on their side. This was the start of a new life.

Many things had been heard about the north, communities in acceptance of all. There weren’t any niggers here, just people they had said. Fat lot of lies they were. The south was a death trap waiting to happen, white supremacy ran writhe throughout the towns and cities, blacks living in fear of every step they took just in case it was a step in the wrong direction.

Adelaide had taken the children and ran. The three of them could barely read a newspaper between them, the educational system tailored to whites and the racism so high that any black mother couldn’t bear to see her child beaten and teased each day. So they had all said, ‘fuck education’.

They were lucky to have a pastor nearby who could teach the basics between services. Letters, numbers, colours of the rainbow. But with the infrequency of lessons, the children forgot unless they practised. Let’s just say you could see who wanted to take the world and those who just wanted to live in it.

Now, they were ready to start their new life in the north, a life advertised as free from racism and prejudice.

“Mama, when can I have my braids back?”

“In a little while.”

“But I want them now.”

“The white people don’t like them, honey. So for the moment, we need to settle in and then you can have your braids.”

“Mama?”

“Yes, Jerrick?”

“I think that boy took my saxophone.”

“We’ll have to find it later. I’m sorry, baby. We need to get inside before it gets dark.”

They found their house, their three suitcases doing a measly job of filling it up but they could buy more later. Hours passed by, the three of them wrapped in a blanket telling stories of their father. Adelaide forgoed his lynching.

A light knock on the door drew Adelaide’s attention, her silent voice telling the children to be still. She opened the door and there stood a white girl, hair in braids and a saxophone in her hand.

“My big brother took this but it’s yours and I know you shouldn’t steal. Don’t tell my mummy I brought it back. Thank you, have a lovely day.”

The little girl ran off, hair bouncing off her back and Adelaide smiled. Maybe the north was the place for them.