Sunday, May 24, 2009

Black and white and dead all over

My twenty-one-year-old cousin was driving us back to where she lived with her parents and younger sister. I was visiting them in Chicago over the Labour Day long weekend and had been hanging about the city until the bright sun had worn the both of us out. It was a hot late summer afternoon. The narrow lanes of the residential area on the edge of downtown was jam-packed with parked cars and residents. Old people fanned themselves in plastic chairs. Children were riding their bikes and wading about in inflatable pools.

My cousin was in the habit of respectfully turning off the car stereo while passing cemeteries. That is exactly what she did as we started driving alongside the one near her home. The huge cemetery was on our right now. She was driving slowly to avoid hitting any of the people out on the street.

She braked quite suddenly as a pregnant black woman in a bright sundress, her hair wrapped up in cloth, walked along the zebra crossing in front of us. The car jerked unexpectedly. My hands protectively went up, creating a barrier between myself and the dashboard. My left hand hovered in front of the stereo. The thin young woman gave us a dark look before walking away. My cousin drove on, the adrenaline still swirling about in our blood.

Not even a minute had passed when my cousin noticed that the stereo had been turned back up. "Did you turn it on?" she asked me.

I hadn't noticed. I was still thinking about the woman and the look she had given us. But I hadn't turned on the stereo. I hadn't even touched it or the dashboard when I had raised my hands. We still don't know how the stereo turned on when the car jerked to a halt at the crossing near the cemetery.

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