In my quest to read something by a present day Barbadian author, I came across this free read by Margaret Sisu. Few can write a decent short story with a satisfying ending. Sisu delivered the goods, providing a commentary on 1950s African American life and the hypocrisy of clergymen – the evil done by supposedly ‘good’ men. I’m pleased to say that there’s none of that white-man-hates-on-black-man trope here. (Huh. I think the only other majority black cast fiction I’ve read without this trope is Alice Walker’s The Color Purple.)
Although I’m not a fan of the spooky ghost story, it wasn’t laboured in any way. Sisu got down to business and I appreciate that.
Ginny is a soil scientist forced into a lengthy vacation. She spends it in an old homestead on the outskirts of a small town in Alabama. A strange incorporeal voice and an oddly barren and unmarked grave send her investigating the former owner of her vacation home. While we follow Ginny in the 1990s we also have the 1950s point of view from Herman, the man whose grave she’s curious about. His story is that of a scapegoat. And no, he isn’t unjustly judged by the racist white man, he’s judged by a black conservative preacher.
Herman is an honest outcast. He sets himself apart by his self-educated freethinking and erudite ways. Attending church is unnecessary to him because God is everywhere. Why pray in church when he can pray from the comfort of his property? When he isn’t working he’s reading, writing poetry or chatting secretly to Ebony on one of her regular visits to his place.
These innocent visits are moments of freedom for Ebony. She rails against her father’s restrictive post-high school plan for her: to stay in the close-minded and claustrophobic town, marry and have babies. At odds with this are her dreams: to escape to the big city and become a singer. In Herman she has a friend who listens and understands. Herman is enchanted by Ebony’s voice, her beauty and her spirit. He’s shy when it comes to sharing his poetry and he’ll do anything to make her happy, including driving her out of town so she can follow her dreams.
What Herman didn’t bank on was the vindictive animosity of her father. On the basis of a man’s poor eyesight, Mr. Preacher Man riles up the locals into believing Herman raped and murdered his baby girl. Some decide it’s time to go a’huntin’. Frightened and unwilling to give Ebony up, Herman runs. Unfortunately he trips and accidentally shoots himself dead. What rankles is the twist.
On Ebony’s arrival in New York City, she calls her father to tell him she’s okay. He knew she was safe and well, yet he takes his anger out on an innocent man, causing his death. Because if the accident hadn’t happened we know Herman was going to die the minute his pursuers caught up to him.
Afterwards, the preacher has the nerve to drop a major guilt trip on his daughter by visiting her with the news that Herman had committed suicide due to his unrequited love for Ebony and proceeds to sever all ties with her. This is the reason why Herman’s spirit cannot rest.
Back in the 90s Ginny finds and meets Ebony, informing her of the truth. Ebony returns to the small town to quash the vicious rumour that still prevails. And Herman’s barren grave becomes as lusciously green as his father’s beside him, as he’s finally at rest.