“Tickets out, passports ready!” yells a middle aged man from the rear of the train. Suddenly the quiet has vanished and the unzipping of handbags, the sounds of rummaging through backpacks and the excitement of the children on board is growing from the sound of a distant mosquito to an army of bees. I hear the sound of footsteps grow louder and louder behind me until they come to a sudden halt. “Ticket and passport” the man has a thick accent which is common for people from the South. “Journalist?” I can hear the undertones of humor and spite in his voice, “what do ya write about? 50 different ways to make fried chicken? Or bout how to be a better maid?” Typical. Racist.
That statement was typically racist. “Actually,” I respond “I write about things that matter like civil rights, ending racism, ending slavery and non-segregated education, while you sir walk around everyday checking pieces of paper that lose value after you make a lil rip on em.” Too far, I always go too far I could tell by the way he was turning bright red and the veins on the side of his forehead were becoming very visible but I don’t care because I’m no longer afraid.
“Your kind needs to remember its place, this ain’t your country.” He throws my passport in my face and walks away without checking the rest of passengers, his body disappearing to the front of the train.
“Whew! You sure got a mouth on you missy” the frail old woman sitting on the other side of the train says to me with a very big grin on her face. “Come here child, talk to dis friendly stranger,” I am hesitant and remain seated and she continues “I promise I won’t bite the way you just did to dat man” she laughs a big hearty laugh and suddenly I find myself moving seats. I stare at the lady across from me, her black hair with infinite grey streaks is done in neat cornrows that meet in the center of her head and tied into a neat bun. The endless lines one her forehead and bags under her eyes would to anyone looking at her appear as though she is exhausted but her actual eyes looked bright as though they were full of hope and joy. “I’m Lydia, what’s ya name sugar?” She says and extends her long arm, her bones are visible on both of her hands and there are burn marks around her entire right arm, “I’m Perpetua, it’s nice to meet you miss Lydia.” She laughs again, that big hearty laugh and I cannot help but smile because her laugh makes me feel warm inside. “Perpetua, nice name for a nice girl, where are you headed sugar?” she asks over curiously, “New York, I’m a journalist and there’s demonstrations happening, a movement, change and I want to be apart of it.” Her smile vanishes and she is suddenly very serious. “Change. I love dat word, it gives me so much hope, maybe more than I should have, ain’t it crazy” of course not I think to myself, I am about to speak but she beats me to it. “You said you’re a journalist, which means you’re a teller of stories?” She pauses before she says “well I’ve got a story for you.”
Lydia Johnson whose actual name is Anika Tinakitu was born into slavery. Her entire life she has served those who are ungrateful and has been treated poorly by her ‘employers’ or rather her tormentors. The burn marks on her arm are a result of what happens if you serve any meal a minute late, or if you drop kitchen utensils on the floor, or if you sing a song in earshot of ‘madam’ and ‘sir’ and Miss Lydia’s favorite, if you serve tea before the bell is rung for you to do so. “I’ve been to hell and back but that’s bout to change” she tells me and I can’t help but ask “what change are you hoping for?” Her smile is back “dats easy, kindness.” Of all the things I was expecting her to say, that was the last thing I would have thought of. “Kindness?” I repeat to which she replies “the fight we wanna fight won’t be won if we carry hate in our hearts because it ain’t matter how many marches we do or posters we make or rallies we attend, if we got hate in our hearts they still gonna win.” I think for a moment and say “I never thought of it that way, hate has yet to solve any problems its created but kindness is a universal language anyone can speak if they choose to. It has the power to turn the ugliest heart to the most beautiful” She claps her hands very faintly “I knew you’s a smart gal, now I expect to see ya articles all over New York City and remember no woman ever made history by being well-behaved.” We laugh in unison. “I’m glad I met you miss Lyd… uh I mean Anika” she stretches her long arm once more “same here sugar, I’d say we’re now friends rather than strangers.” We talk for a few more minutes then we both fall asleep and before I know it I wake up to hear the train coming to a screeching halt. “New York!” I say rather loudly “Anika we’re here!” She’s not waking up, I examine her closely only to see her body is lifeless, her head leans against the train window and her eyes look too peaceful. “Anika!” I shake her vigorously “Anika!” Silence. She doesn’t move. “No” is all I can say barely above a whisper before a waterfall of tears stream down my face.