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I Can't Wait on God (Albert French)


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  Slowly, Jeremiah's drivin over the bridge, tryin to see what's on the other side. He can see that dirt road startin, see it curvin through some brownish green wet-lookin land. Early mornin sunlight is shinin through them trees and light brown, skinny, stick-lookin things growin out of it. Then that sunlight's fallin across that still, murky brownish green water. It's makin it shine like dark, still satin.

Willet's lookin over the handrail of the creek bridge, starin down at the water. She looks up the creek as far as she can see before she slowly turns and looks out to the dirt road. Quietly, she says, "We'll go to my sister's first."

Snake Town wasn't too far from the creek bridge, right up that dirt road. It wasn't on a map nowhere. On them official papers it wasn't nothin but a part of Stoney Town, come under Sheriff Elmer's jurisdiction. But folks in Stoney Town didn't see it that way. They didn't do a lot of thinkin about Snake Town. Most Stoney Town folks sorta thought wasn't nothin past the creek cept Coloreds and snakes. But some of them Stoney Town young men would wait til the sun would go down, sneak across that creek. And some of them Snake Town women knew they were comin.

Daytime, Snake Town looked like something the sun was mad at. It got so mad it burned everything all dark, made them shanties look like they were made of cinders. Them shanties that weren't out the road some, were built real close to one another. Each shanty had its own little worn-out path gettin back to it from the road. Them Snake Town children would run up and down them paths all day long. Weeds never did have a chance growin up under their feet. But them Snake Town dogs would spend most of their time layin up under them porches, stayin out of that sun beatin down on everything. Most folks, except for them real old ones, be gone most of the day. They'd have to get out of Snake Town to get some money, cause there weren't no money in Snake Town to get. They'd have to go to them fields, get that pickin-field money. Or maybe get them some little money from doin some chores for them Stoney Town white folks.

Nighttime it could get real dark in Snake Town. That one electric line runnin out there didn't go too far. Most folks still had them oil-burnin lamps tryin to light that dark up. Sometimes there would be so many night bugs flyin around them lamps that light comin from them couldn't pass them to light up nothin cept them. Folks sittin out on them sittin porches doin that nighttime talkin about the day would just go on and talk past the dark to that face they couldn't see.

Down that Snake Town road some, wasn't much of Snake Town left. But folks went down there anyway, needed to go, could find their way down there in the dark. Daddy Jake had his place down there, had him a place for folks to come, get them somethin to drink, and dance to that music playin down there. Come Sunday mornin, folks would go down that road, too. They'd have to go down there to get to that hope they couldn't find all week. Reverend Bell would be down there in that A.M.E. church passin out that hope. That church was painted white, always gleamed in that sunlight. Old folks say that church been down there since slavin days.

Rustin Hampton had already gone to them pickin fields, had to, needed to feed them children him and Lulu got. Lulu would have been gone, too, cept that child she's carryin now is too close to comin. Just tryin to get herself up in the mornin was hard enough, she couldn't be bendin down all day long in them pickin fields. Them other children she has are up, been fed, and are out playin in that yard of hers. But that noise they're makin ain't makin her mornin no easier. She's sittin at that cookie-room table, tryin not to think about them clothes she got to get washed and them children yellin for her, too. She knows she needs a little time fore that day come and take every minute she got. She can't keep no silence in her mind for them children callin for her. She's yellin out that screen door, tellin them children to stop all that hollerin. But she's still hearin, "Mama...Mama...look Mama...come look Mama."

She's up and lookin out through that screen door, seein that big new car pullin up and stoppin out in front of her yard. It's takin its time drivin up in her mind and tellin her it's there. Them children are still yellin, "Mama...Mama...look Mama."

That car door is openin now. In Lulu's mind, it's openin even slower than it is. That dark hair she can see is slowly gettin to her mind, bringin back time gone by. But it ain't bringin that time back fast enough to tell her what her eyes are seein. She keeps lookin.

"Mama...Mama...who's that...who's that, Mama?" them children are yellin.

Them children are still yellin, but Lulu's stilled in her own silence. Her eyes are seein things her mind ain't certain she's seein. Some little feelin is tellin her to keep lookin, start hopin. She can see a face now, see it lookin up to her home. That little feelin she got is tellin her what she's feelin ain't goin away, it's just comin. Quietly, slowly, she's pushin that screen door open and steppin out onto her sittin porch. Softly, she's utterin, "Lord have mercy...my God."

"Mama...Mama...Mama," them children keep hollerin. But that silence is still in her mind. That kind of silence that makes any sound seem too far away to hear. Slowly, she's steppin out onto the porch, walkin through them hollerin sounds of her children. She's walkin to the edge of her porch, that early-mornin sunlight is gettin in her eyes. But she ain't squintin, couldn't if she wanted to. She's starin, tryin to make her mind tell her what she's seein is there, come back.

"Mama...who's that Mama?"

"Hush" Lulu's quickly tellin them children. But she ain't takin her eyes off what she's seein.

Silently, Willet's standin at the side of the car. She's lookin up the yard path, past the children starin and pointin at her, to the women she sees.

Jeremiah's sittin in the car, lookin out the window and up at that shack-lookin house. He's seen them children in the yard, now he's watchin that woman slowly comin down her porch steps. He can still hear them children yellin, but he's lookin at and feelin the silence on that woman's face. But that silence ain't there no more, that woman's yellin, callin out, "Wil...Lord, Oh my God, Wil..."

Lulu's comin down her steps, now she's startin down that dirt path, she's tryin to walk fast, run. That pale blue nightgown she has on is flingin loose, trailin behind her. She keeps callin out, "Wil! Wil, Oh my God!"

Willet's still standin silently beside the car. She's watchin her sister comin to her. Slowly, she's reachin up to her eye and wipin away a tear before it even comes. Slowly, she begins to take a step toward her sister. Then quickly she's feelin the mornin air gettin in her face, blowin her hair back as she's hurryin through it, runnin as fast as she can.
 
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Excerpted from I Can't Wait on God by Albert French. Copyright © 1998 by Albert French. Excerpted by permission of Anchor Books, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.