She was standing on the porch of a sagging cabin with bright
yellow leaves collecting around her feet. As the cold wind
billowed her skirt, she shivered and wondered if the owner
of the purse really lived here. She knocked timidly and the
door quickly opened, revealing a tiny girl holding a
hideous, bald doll...
Here's where I took mine:
|A quilt on display at the Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.|
Alone in the Woods
Celia stood on the porch of the sagging cabin. Bright yellow leaves collected around her feet. As the cold wind billowed her skirt, she shivered. Did the owner of the satchel really live here? She knocked timidly and the door opened, revealing a tiny girl holding a hideous, bald doll with one hand, the thumb of her other hand stuck firmly in her mouth.
“Where’s your mama?” Celia asked.
Beck looked back at her, unspeaking. She sucked on her thumb and clutched her doll to her chest as Celia looked beyond her into the cabin. It was completely bare, save some scattered leaves on the floor. The only sign of life was the small black girl before her.
“It’s okay. You can tell me where your mama is. Or your papa.”
Beck remained silent. Celia turned around, searching through the rustling trees for an adult, or anyone else who might answer her questions. Seeing no one, she turned back to Beck. She thrust the calico-patched satchel toward the girl.
“I found this. Back that-aways,” she said as she waved toward the forest behind her. “Does it belong to your mama?”
The small girl’s eyes grew wide. Her thumb popped out of her mouth as she reached for the bag. Celia held it at arm’s length and studied the girl.
“It is your mama’s, isn’t it? Where is she?”
Beck didn’t answer, but instead looked into the woods beyond Celia. She darted out onto the porch and ran past Celia, heading toward the area where Celia said she’d found the bag. Celia remained on the porch, unsure whether to follow. She thought about leaving the bag and hurrying home. Her own father was sure to get angry if he discovered she’d been traipsing through the woods where Negroes were hiding.
Celia was pulled from her reverie by the sound of a small voice in the distance. “Mama!” Beck cried balefully.
Celia watched as Beck tripped over a tree root and fell to the ground. She let out a soulful cry and remained where she lay, calling for her mother again and again. No one answered. The silence that met the two girls was final. It was only Beck and Celia in these woods.
Celia slung the satchel over her shoulder and crunched through the leaves toward Beck’s small, weeping body. As she approached, she heard Beck mewling “Mama” like a kitten into the rich, dark soil of the earth beneath her. Celia reached down and shook her gently.
“I’m not going to hurt you.” Beck remained in place, unmoving. She reminded Celia of an animal playing dead. “Let’s get up and go inside, okay? It’s cold.”
Beck remained still. Celia stood and peered through the trees again, hoping that someone would come to her rescue and take over. She was just a girl herself and didn’t know what to do about this small child before her. But no one came.
Celia stooped down and tugged at Beck’s arm. “Come on, now. You’re going to freeze.” Beck did not respond. “Let’s go inside and wait for your mama.”
At that, Beck finally turned her head and looked up at Celia, who loomed over her as tall as a tree herself. Beck glanced around and came to the same conclusion that Celia had; the two were alone in the woods.
Beck slowly rose to her feet and walked beside Celia back to the cabin. “What are you and your mama doing out here anyway? It doesn’t look like you live here.”
A sudden thought crossed Celia’s mind. “You all aren’t slaves trying to escape are you?” She held the satchel out from her body and looked at it suspiciously. “Is that why your mama was carrying a bag out in the woods? To carry all your things?”
Beck didn’t answer. Her thumb found its way into her mouth again and she clutched her doll tightly to her chest. Celia watched her and snuck a hand out to touch the raggedy doll’s bald head. “What’s your doll’s name?”
Beck didn’t answer.
“You don’t say much, do you?” Celia asked. “You are a slave, aren’t you?”
The small girl gave no response. “I know you are,” Celia continued. “Who were you here with? Your mama? Papa? Do you have brothers or sisters?”
Beck’s silence was maddening.
“I could turn you all in, you know,” Celia said sharply. “I was just trying to be nice, returning that satchel I found on the ground. The least you could do is answer me.”
At the mention of the satchel, Beck reached out again and touched the worn fabric. “Mama,” she said softly.
“Where is she?”
Beck began to cry. Celia took a deep breath and searched the cabin and the woods one more time. They were still alone. She felt a wash of relief. She was sure to get in trouble if she got caught playing in the woods. She’d be in even more trouble if her father thought she was helping Negroes hide.
“Take it,” Celia said as she thrust the bag into Beck’s tiny hands. “But don’t tell anybody that I’m the one that gave it to you. Understand? Nobody.”
Beck dropped the doll and hugged her mother’s bag to her chest.
“You tell anyone I was here and I’ll make sure they hang your ma. Got it?”
Beck nodded, her eyes wide with fright as Celia raced out the door. Then she sat on the floor, thumb in mouth, and waited for her mama.