I stood there in the secluded spot and tranquil place where we used to meet. It was our secret place where we could love each other freely. Back there it was against the law for a white man and a black woman to have relations. Race mixing as they called it was banned. The punishment for interracial marriage to be a year in jail and the white person was fined $100 fine. The person who officiated an interracial wedding was fined $200. How I hated those laws. They were passed by ignorant and racist people who couldn’t accept that people of different races could fall in love with each other.
My parents were just as intolerant. They believed that people should stick to their own kind–you know, to keep the races pure. They even used the Bible to validate their racist views. I read the Bible myself and nowhere did it prohibit interracial love. In fact, there were examples of mixed marriages. I hated going to a school where blacks weren’t allowed and even church which was to be the temple of the God who created all races, blacks weren’t allowed to worship with us. I hated living in a state that was so intolerant. I promised myself that I would leave it as soon as I was old enough.
My parents made sure that I went to the best schools and associated only with those whom they deemed to be socially acceptable–the filthy rich. They even had it in their heads that one day I would marry Governor Brown’s daughter, Virginia (I can’t believe her parents named her after the state). Granted, she was a nice girl, very pretty and I could tell that she liked me very much. We went on dates and such and then, I went away to university. It was an understanding that we were going steady and that in due time, I would propose.
When I returned from university one summer vacation, my mother told me that we had a new maid, Flora. The previous one, Berta had been fired. My parents never told me what happened but I was sore because I really liked Berta. Well, when I met Flora, I quickly forgot about Berta. She was much younger than Berta but about ten years older than me. Flora wasn’t pretty like Virginia but she was very attractive. She had big brown eyes that didn’t seem to miss a thing, smooth dark skin and a lovely voice. Sometimes she would sing as she worked.
Once I asked her why didn’t she become a professional singer. She scoffed and said, “The only thing white folks want colored people like me to do is cook, clean, do the laundry and keep my place.”
Flora had a room built at the back of the house where she would change into her uniform and use the bathroom. She had special plates and forks to use for her meals. She was paid $10 a week which in that time was considered good money.
Flora was a bit cynical and who could blame her? Although she is well paid, she is treated with disrespect and condescension by my parents, relatives and family friends. There are times when I sit at the dining table and seethe with rage. The final straw came when Flora accidentally spilled a glass of wine and some of it got on Mrs. Miller, an insufferable and vain woman. She rose to her feet and struck Flora hard across the face. “You clumsy n—–,” she cried. “You’ve ruined my dress. It’s too bad you can’t be whipped for this.”
My mother didn’t bat an eye. I couldn’t believe that she wasn’t livid that one of her guests had slapped Flora. I guess I was foolish to expect her to say something in Flora’s defense. Instead, she said to her crossly, “Clean that mess up.”
Flora quickly left the room and was back in a seconds to clean the spill. I wanted to go after her but propriety made me stay put. I promised myself that I would speak to her before she left this evening.”
“You should fire her, Rosemary,” Mrs. Miller said as she resumed her seat.
“It was an accident!” I said as calmly as I could although, what I really wanted to do was throw the rest of the wine in her sanctimonious face.
“You mind your manners, Boy,” my father scolded.
“You’re excused,” was my mother’s rejoinder.
“Excuse me,” I said as I rose to my feet. I was happy to leave the table.
I headed straight for the kitchen where Flora was busy washing up the dishes. I wanted to help but I knew that she wouldn’t let me. Besides, it would get her into trouble. I went and stood beside her. I could see that she had been crying. I wanted to hug her. “I’m sorry about what happened just now, Flora,” I said quietly. “Mrs. Miller had no right to hit you. You’re a grown woman, not a child.”
“You heard what she called me. That gives her the right to hit me.”
“Flora, sometimes, I wish I could take you away from all of this.”
“You shouldn’t be saying such things, Master Oliver.”
“But, it’s true, Flora.”
“And where would we go?”
“I don’t know yet but some place where you’re treated better.”
“Right now I can’t think of any place like that except Heaven.”
“Flora, after I graduate from university, I’m going to leave Richmond. I want you to come with me.”
“Master Oliver, stop talking foolish.”
“Stop calling me Master Oliver,” I retorted. “I’m just plain Oliver and I’m not talking foolish. I’m very serious, Flora.”
“I’ll think about it now, go before your mother comes in here and finds us together.”
“All right. I’ll go. Goodnight, Flora.”
The next morning, she was gone. My mother had taken Mrs. Miller advice and fired Flora. I was so upset that I didn’t speak to my mother for weeks. I found out where Flora lived and the first opportunity, I had, I went to see her. She was alone. After I letting her know how upset and furious I was that she had lost her job, I made her promise to meet me that afternoon at the pond where no one ever goes.
I got there first and waited. As I waited, I picked a bunch of wildflowers I saw there. Flora would like them. I bet she never got flowers from anyone before. I would be the first. I smiled at the thought. She showed up five minutes later. I gave her the flowers and she took them, smiling. She smelled them. “Thank you,” she said. She reached up and kissed me on the cheek.
I felt my face get hot. I also felt strange sensations in my body. “You’re welcome, Flora,” I said.
We sat down on the grass and talked and talked. I loved being with her and I could tell she felt the same way. We promised to meet there again tomorrow. She left first and then I left several minutes after. When I went home, my mother told me that Virginia and her parents were having dinner with us that evening. It would be the first time I would be seeing Virginia since I’ve been home for the summer. I was more excited about seeing Flora tomorrow than seeing Virginia that evening.
The evening went well, I suppose. Virginia didn’t seem to notice that I was preoccupied with my thoughts. She talked mostly about herself and what she had been up to while I was away at university. I didn’t make any plans to see her again. After we parted company, I went up to my room where I remained until the following morning. As soon as the afternoon came, I was racing down to the pond. This time Flora was waiting for me. And she brought two huge slices of an apple pie she had baked. After we ate them, we went for a swim.
Afterwards, we lay in the sun. We talked about different things and then, I rolled onto my side and looked down at her. She had her eyes closed. The strange sensations stir inside me again and this time, I lowered my head and kissed her. She didn’t push me away or slap me in the face. Instead, she reached up and put her arms around my neck. We ended up making love for the first time.
Day after day we met there in our secluded spot until one day we were discovered by Virginia’s brother and his friends. I was promptly sent back to Atlanta where I spent the rest of the summer until it was time to return to university. I don’t know what happened to Flora. No one would tell me anything. I was devastated because I was madly in love with her. I wanted to marry her.
When I returned to Virginia, I went to her house. At that point I didn’t care what people said or did or thought. All I wanted was to see Flora. However, when I went to her house, the neighbors said that she was gone. They had no idea where she had gone.
Dejected, I returned to Atlanta where I tried to forget about her. I even got married to a nice girl named Amy and we had a boy. Time passed but the memories of my summer with Flora never faded. I still yearned to see her. I still loved her and no amount of time would make me forget about her.
After Amy died, I tried to see if I could find out any information about Flora. I wish I had a photo of her that I could have put on Facebook but I didn’t. In spite of these setbacks and disappointments, I haven’t stopped hoping that one day I will see her again.
It’s 2018 and summer again here in Richmond. I’m here by the pond, allowing myself to relive the happiest memories of my entire life. I look at the wild flowers and smile. I will never forget the spark in Flora’s beautiful eyes when I gave them to her. If she were here now, I would give her another bunch.
“Mr. Jones?” a voice called out and startled, I turned.
It was a young African American girl. “Yes,” I replied. “I’m Mr. Jones. Who are you?”
She came closer. “I’m Regina. I was told that I might find you here. Someone asked me to give this to you.” She held out a letter sized brown envelope.”
I took it. It didn’t have any address. It only had my name written neatly at the front. “Who asked you to give this to me?”
“My grandmother, Flora.”
My heart caught in my throat. Flora. I sat down on the tuft of grass and eagerly opened the envelope. I pulled out a letter and some photos. I looked at the photos first. They were of Flora and a lovely little girl. She looked so much like Flora but much fairer in complexion.
With trembling fingers, I unfolded the letter and read it. Halfway through, I started to cry. Flora was pregnant when she left Richmond. She wanted me to know about Olivia and wrote to me at the university several times but all of her letters were returned. She never got married, she said because there was only one man whose wife she wanted to be.
I looked up at Regina who was standing beside me. “Where’s Flora?” I asked. I longed to see her.
“I’m sorry, grandfather, but she died this morning.”
I broke down at that point. Regina dropped to her knees and put her arms around me. The only thing that gave me any comfort was the knowledge that Flora and I have a daughter and a granddaughter. Our love will live on through them and generations to come.
Those we love are never really lost to us–for everywhere their special love lives on – Amanda Bradley
This was written for the #writephoto Prompt – Tranquil at Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo.