We were getting close to home. We came to a crossroads called Parson's Corner where the bus made another stop, and the bus driver stood before us once more. Looking straight at Little Man and me, he announced, "All right, you two, y'all gotta move on back."
"We already moved once," I said.
"And y'all gonna move again and many times as I say, need be."
Without looking up from his book, Clayton Chester said, "We're not moving back."
There was a startled pause from the bus driver. "You sassin' me, boy?" he finally sputtered. "Nigger, I'll put y'all off this bus!"
I could see white passengers past the curtain turning to stare. I got up before things got out of hand. I knew we could not win this thing. "You won't have to do that," I said. "We already decided to get off."
Man too got up, looked directly into the bus driver's eyes, then turned and got our bags from the overhead rack.
"Y'all bought tickets to the Wallace store," said the driver. "Y'all ain't gettin' yo' money back!"
We let him have the last say. Man waited for me to step into the aisle. Without another word I led the way past the driver and through the curtain. Man, carrying our bags, followed, past the turned heads of all the white people seated on either side of the aisle. As we stepped off the bus, whites waiting to board, unaware of what the holdup was, stepped aside to let us pass. They would board the bus and take our seats. Now Little Man and I had no recourse but to walk the miles to home. A small store was at the crossroads and probably had a telephone inside, but we couldn't call home. It was 1944 Mississippi and there were no telephones in our community, no way to call ahead and ask Papa or Stacey or Christopher-John to come get us.
We got started.
* * *
The bus soon passed us and as it did, we stepped back into the forest to avoid the billowing dust. Once the dust cleared, we stepped back onto the road. Even with the sun shining down on us, the day was cold and soon the sun would begin to set. As we walked along the red road we said little. Little Man had slung his duffel bag over his shoulder and had wanted to carry my bag as well, but I told him I would carry it. I had always figured to be as tough as my brothers. I shifted the bag from one hand to the other until finally Little Man said, "Cassie, just let me have the bag. We can move a lot faster. You want it back later, you can have it."
As much as I hated to admit it, I knew Man was right. Although we were of the same height, though not of the same weight, my little brother was now stronger than I, had been for several years, and with all the Army training he had an endurance much beyond my own. Still, I kept the bag. At nineteen, going on twenty in the summer, I refused to admit I couldn't carry my own weight.
The sun had already set when a wagon came rolling slowly up the road behind us. Lanterns hung from its sides to light the way. There was a full moon and we could still see the road as we continued walking until the wagon neared, then we stopped and stood aside, waiting for it to pass. We were both apprehensive, for we could not see who was driving. As the wagon approached we saw that a black man sat alone on the wagon seat. We did not know him, but that was all right. There was always a kinship when seeing another black face, especially on a Mississippi road at night. The driver stopped. "Y'all lookin' mighty weary," he said. "Where y'all young folks headed?"
"Over toward Great Faith," I said.
"Well, I'm going a ways past there, far as that store, then I'll be headed on north. Y'all welcome t' ride far's I go." He gave us a studied look. "What happen y'all t' be walkin' this road after dark anyways?"
"Nothing much," answered Man. "Just lost our ride, that's all."
"Uh-huh," said the farmer, doubt in his voice, but he chose not to question us further about it. "Well, y'all get on up here, y'all want this ride."
We thanked the farmer, then both Little Man and I climbed onto the back of the wagon. It felt good to be off our feet. We rested our backs against the wagon side boards and listened to the farmer's talk, but said very little ourselves. Finally, the farmer grew quiet, and we rolled on through the darkness. After some while we passed Great Faith Church and School silhouetted in the night against the black forest and shortly after passing them reached the next crossroads and the Wallace store, dark and closed for the night. Clayton Chester and I again thanked the farmer as we got down from his wagon. He went on north, headed toward Strawberry. Man and I headed west. We had only a few miles before we would be home.
* * *