This was the tree where David and I met after school. He was the sweetest boy I ever knew and I always imagined that one day we would get married and have lots of children. It never occurred to me that laws would soon be put in place to make relationships such as ours illegal.
As soon as school was let out, I ran to the tree and he would be waiting for me. He was so tall and handsome with thick black hair and gentle brown eyes. We would hold hands and kiss but that was as far as things went. We would sit under the tree and talk for hours. Parting from him was always hard. I always willed the hours because I couldn’t wait to see him again.
Then one day, I showed up and for the first time he wasn’t there. I waited for hours but he never came. I was understandably frantic. After several days went by and still no sign of him, I decided to go by his father’s shop and was appalled to see the word, “Jude” painted across the window and the star of David. The shop was empty. I ran home and asked my father what had happened to David. My father sat me down and explained to me that the Germans had moved the Jews to the Ghetto. I learned that they were banned from from entering certain streets, squares, parks, woods and other public places. That meant that David and I couldn’t meet by the tree anymore. It was in the woods. David couldn’t go to my brother’s school any more.
After my father finished telling me everything he knew, I went to my room where I cried and cried. David who was forced to live like an animal because of deeply rooted hatred. My world had become a dark and ugly place of intolerance and ignorance. I wanted so desperately to see him but it was out of the question. My father told me it was best to forget about David. There was no future for us. He was a Jew.
I knew that I would never forget David. I loved him. He was my first and only love. And I never gave up hope that we would be together again–not even when I learned that the Jews had been deported to concentration camps. No one was willing to take them in and for some Jews, going into hiding would break up their families and that was unthinkable, especially those who with children.
The years went by, the war raged on and I became a nurse. My father died of a heart-attack a couple of days after his fiftieth wedding anniversary. Only my mother and I were left. My brother was killed years ago after he was arrested for being a part of a resistance movement against the Nazi Regime. My parents were devastated but I was proud of him for fighting against evil. I only wish I had the guts to do something too. Instead I prayed that David and his family would somehow survive and that when the war was over I would see him again.
Well, the war is over and I’m the only surviving member of my family. My mother died from a stroke a month ago. I buried her next to my father.
Tomorrow is my birthday but I have no one special to celebrate it with. It’s a nice afternoon so I decided to go for a walk in the park. I head straight for the tree. A man stood there with his back to me. He was wearing a hat and a trench coat. Something about him looked familiar. My heart began to beat faster. I could feel the color drain from my cheeks. “David?” My voice was barely above a whisper and yet he heard me.
He turned around slowly. “Ingrid.” He removed his hat and stepped forward.
“David!” I cried again and then we were in each other’s arms, laughing, crying and kissing. I don’t know how long we did that and I didn’t care. All I knew was that David, my David was alive. He had survived the ghetto, the camp and the war.
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.
Imagine being forced to marry the man who raped you? This was the horrible reality 16 year Amina Filali faced. This drove Amina to take her own life.
In a variety of cultures, marriage after the fact has been treated historically as a “resolution” to the rape of an unmarried woman. Citing Biblical injunctions (particularly Exodus 22:16–17 and Deuteronomy 22:25–29), Calvinist Geneva permitted a single woman’s father to consent to her marriage to her rapist, after which the husband would have no right to divorce; the woman had no explicitly stated separate right to refuse. Among ancient cultures virginity was highly prized, and a woman who had been raped had little chance of marrying. These laws forced the rapist to provide for their victim.
There are two accounts of rape in the Bible that I will address here. The first was of Dinah, the only daughter of the patriarch Jacob. The man who raped her was Shechem. We learn what happened in Genesis 34:
Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land. And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country, saw her, he took her and lay with her, and violated her. His soul was strongly attracted to Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the young woman and spoke kindly to the young woman. So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, “Get me this young woman as a wife.”
Shechem raped Dinah and then he wanted to marry her. Dinah’s brothers were livid. “The men were grieved and very angry, because he had done a disgraceful thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, a thing which ought not to be done.” Shechem’s father Hamor pleaded on his son’s behalf, asking Jacob to give Dinah to him as a wife. And make marriages with us; give your daughters to us, and take our daughters to yourselves. So you shall dwell with us, and the land shall be before you. Dwell and trade in it, and acquire possessions for yourselves in it.” Surely Hamor was aware of what his son had done. Wasn’t he disgraced by it? Did he think that his son marrying the woman he raped would excuse what he had done? And what about Dinah? How would she have felt marrying the man who raped her? Suffice to say, the marriage didn’t go through. Two of Dinah’s brothers killed Shechem, his father and all of the men in the city. We don’t hear about Dinah after this terrible chapter in her life but it is safe to say that she never got married.
Tamar was the daughter of King David. Her half-brother Amnon lusted after her to the point where he couldn’t eat or sleep. Finally, unable to bear it any longer, he dismissed all of the servants and got Tamar to come to his room on the pretense that he was ill. She trustingly entered his room with the cakes she had made for him. He took hold of her and he took hold of her and said to her, “Come, lie with me, my sister.”
But she answered him, “No, my brother, do not force me, for no such thing should be done in Israel. Do not do this disgraceful thing! And I, where could I take my shame? And as for you, you would be like one of the fools in Israel. Now therefore, please speak to the king; for he will not withhold me from you.” However, he would not heed her voice; and being stronger than she, he forced her and lay with her (2 Samuel 13:1-14). After he raped her, Amnon chased her away even though she said to him, “No, indeed! This evil of sending me away is worse than the other that you did to me.” He had the servant throw her out and bolt the door. Tamar was a virgin. She went away crying bitterly. She remained at her brother Absalom’s house. Tamar didn’t go to her father to report what had happened. And we can see why. We learn that although King David was angry when he heard what Amnon had done to his half-sister, he did nothing. Amnon was not punished for his crime. Absalom took matters into his own hands and avenged his sister by murdering her rapist.
Rapists should not be allowed to marry their victims so that they could avoid jail time. They committed a crime and should be punished according the law. Victims should not be forced to marry the men who violated them. What psychological damage could that do to a woman, especially a young woman like Amina? She was forced to marry her rapist. Such an arrangement was unbearable for her. After seven months of marriage, she saw no other way out except death. Death was more preferable than staying married to Moustapha Fellak whom she accused of physical abuse. It is a terrible shame that this young girl had to die in order for the Moroccan justice ministry to support a proposal to change the penal code.
Let us hope that other young girls will be saved from the same fate as Amina. This is not just a women’s issue–it is human rights’ issue. Everyone has a right to quality of life and to be protected from violent crimes. Rape is a crime and should be treated as such. Those who commit rape should be arrested, charged and sentenced.
It is sad that we live in a world where an unwed girl or woman who has lost her virginity is considered to have dishonored her family and deemed no longer suitable for marriage. It doesn’t matter that she was raped. Some families believe that marrying the rapist is the best alternative. According to a BBC News, Amina’s mother told the Associated Press, “I couldn’t allow my daughter to have no future and stay unmarried.” It’s times like these when I am thankful that I am not a part of a culture where a young girl or woman doesn’t have the right to refuse to marry the man who raped her. Keeping the family honor in tact even if it means that the guilty party will be a part of that family is more important than their daughter’s wellbeing.
Let’s continue to hope and pray that Morocco will change the law allowing rape marriages and to curb violence against women. It’s time to take action, Morocco and prevent more tragedies like the suicide of Amina. It’s time for parents to stop forcing their daughters to marry their rapists out of fear they won’t be able to find husbands if it is known they were raped. It’s time to protect the victims and stop allowing rapists to escape prosecution. It’s time to rewrite the entire penal code to stop violence against women. It’s time for change.
In Morocco, the law protects public morality but not the individual.
president of the Democratic League for Women’s Rights, on the suicide of a Moroccan teenager who was reportedly forced to marry her rapist