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She was everywhere. Everywhere Graham turned and in everything he touched, she was there. Her reflection peered back at him when he looked in the mirror. She was a glimmer of light on a distant ocean. He felt her hand graze his while placing the oversized pillow on her favorite spot on the sofa. On the day he'd gone fishing, there she was in all her radiant beauty, staring back at him through the ripples in the water, and he had jumped in to try and save her.
It was almost two months to the day since Amanda died. Graham had not ventured out of the house except for the day he'd gone fishing with his buddies. He sat home day in and day out waiting for Amanda to return so they could resume their life together. But with the passing of time, his obsession left him scraping the bottom of loneliness.
Today was going to be a new day, Graham promised himself. Self-pity had its place, but now he was ready to rise from its shadow. As he lay on the couch trying to make good on that promise, he was suddenly twenty again -- a young man recently come to the Bay Area from St. Louis to follow a dream.
Graham's best friend, Charlie Ford, had arrived in the Bay Area a year earlier. Charlie's Uncle Roscoe, or Roc as he preferred to be called, migrated to California after the war, finding work at the Naval Air Station in Alameda. Uncle Roc had invited Charlie to come out west after high school.
Graham and Charlie went way back. They met at junior high school. Charlie was one year older and seven inches taller than Graham, although Graham swore he was six feet tall when he had his Sunday-go-to-meeting shoes on. Charlie had coal-black, wavy hair that appeared an iridescent blue depending on the light. Graham had a thick crown of self-made waves with the help of a little Murray's hair pomade and a stocking cap. They were a pair. You'd rarely see one without the other. And yes, they could turn the charm on and were not accustomed to being without a girl wrapped in each arm.
Graham and Charlie played football in high school and were the main ingredient in a singing group they formed. Now Graham found himself in the Bay Area by way of Southern Pacific Railways with a shoebox filled with all his worldly possessions under his arm. Graham's mother, Eula Mae Perry Peters, had died suddenly of a brain aneurism, one short year after his father died. So Graham set off to see the world, leaving his two younger sisters behind with his Aunt Rubye to care for them.
It was Graham's first week in Oakland. The city was all a-buzz -- a little like St. Louis, except that there were more jobs for Negroes and maybe a chance to strike it rich. Striking it rich didn't seem to be a likely event in Graham's immediate future unless he accidentally fell into it, but he did like the feel of the place he now called home.
Charlie subletted a small room from his Uncle Roc and asked Graham to stay with him until he got on his feet. There would be no problem with Graham getting a job. Hire notices were posted all over the black community. Everyone was looking for young, strong Negro men to work in the Naval shipyard, lifting heavy cargo.
But this was the weekend, and Graham was ready to see the sights. It had been a long, tedious ride on the train. The bright lights of the San Francisco Bay were a wonderful welcome mat for a young kid a long way from home.
"Come on, Graham," Charlie shouted. "The show's gonna start in about an hour. Man, you and me will be back in business in no time -- all the babes we want."
"Church, Charlie? You've gotta be kidding. All of those clubs we passed on the way in. I'm sure we can find some good-looking girls there. I'm ready to unwind a little, kick up my heels."
"Relax, Graham. They say if you want a real woman, go to the church house. There's a convention going on at this big church up on Market Street that's about three blocks away and in walking distance. My man, Curtis MacArthur, swore up and down that there's gonna be a lot of babes at the convention. They come from far and wide. Graham, man, you can take your pick -- short ones, tall ones, skinny ones, fat if you like, but there's enough to go around for seconds, thirds if you want. There's gonna to be good music, eating and even a little preaching, but this is the place to be if you want the cream of the crop."
"Charlie, you are crazy. You should have been a car salesman. Anyway, I don't have anything to wear."
"That's no problem. Uncle Roc got plenty of suits. They might be a tad bit too big, but they'll do for tonight." Charlie laughed and hit Graham on the back. "You're my buddy, and we're a team. Now what kinda friend would I be strolling with a fine babe on my arm and my best friend sitting back in the room all by himself?"
"You don't want me to answer that...?"
"Go on, tell me."
"What makes you so sure any of these girls are gonna even look at you? They're lookin' for preachers so they can become first ladies. No slick, jive-talking, unrepentant, tall, dreamy-eyed, dark-haired boy without an ounce of salvation got half a chance."
"I was counting on that tall, dreamy-eyed, dark-haired boy to do the trick." They both laughed until it hurt.
"You're right," Graham continued, "we are a pair, but you run on tonight. I'll catch you in church another time."
"Suit yourself, buddy. You're gonna wish you were there. And don't let me have to tell you I told you so."
"Get on and get out of here. I might take a walk later."
"Gonna try and sneak a peek, eh?"
"Catch you later."
Graham sat in the room contemplating life -- what he was going to do tonight and then tomorrow. An hour had passed since Charlie left. It seemed the whole neighborhood had evaporated into the night -- a hushed quiet that made Graham a bit wary. He jumped up and went to the window, but only the stars and the moon dared to stare back at him, the moon illuminating his face in the windowpane.
Graham grabbed his jacket off the chair and headed out the door. He wasn't sure where he was going, but he knew he needed to get out of that noiseless house -- maybe hear a little music, ahh maybe some preaching, but he wanted to be where there was life and a little reminder of home.
He headed West passing a few couples out strolling. Then he noticed the cars -- so many lined the street. He continued another block, and the cars -- Buicks, Packards, and Fords, inhabited every available space on either side of the street. Yeah, he would own one of them one day. Then he heard it, felt it reverberate throughout his body. It reminded him of thunder, cymbals crashing. Yes, someone was having a good time, and it didn't sound like the blues they were playing back at Slim's in St. Louis.
As Graham neared the big church on Market Street, a flurry of activity surrounded it. The building seemed to sway on its cinder blocks, careful not to empty its precious cargo from inside. It was ten p.m., and although there seemed to be a lot going on inside the church, there was a lot happening outside as well. Small circles of young people milled about holding conversations. Suddenly, Graham was converged upon by a sea of purple and white choir robes which dutifully stretched into a single line waiting to march into the sanctuary. Graham looked around, but Charlie was nowhere to be found.
As Graham inched closer, a beautiful girl in her late teens emerged from the fellowship hall. She was about Graham's height, give or take an inch. She wore the prettiest white silk suit and a white pill hat with a bow made of lace attached to the front. The ends of her hair were turned up in a shoulder-length flip that accentuated her nutmeg-colored skin. But it was the nut-brown legs that made Graham come from his hiding place. Graham stumbled over a workhorse that had been placed over an open manhole. He regained his composure and followed her right into church.
He'd forgotten for a moment that he was not dressed appropriately, but that didn't matter. Charlie was right; "the crÉme de la crÉme" resided here. Someone called "Amanda," and the girl with the nut-brown legs waved her hand. What a pretty name. Graham would have to move closer if he was going to say anything to her at all. She looked his way and then quickly away, bobbing her head to the music as the choir marched in. She looked his way again, and Graham locked upon her gaze and didn't let go.
She seemed shy in a girlish sort of way, but Graham forged ahead. He pushed closer to her, the crowd unyielding until he was within an inch from touching her nose.
"Hi, Amanda," he said above the noise.
She sneered at him, wrinkling up her nose.
"Who are you, and how do you know my name?" Amanda Carter demanded.
"That's a secret," he said, even more mesmerized by her beauty. "My name is Graham." He extended his hand. "I'm going to be a preacher one day."
Graham saw the puzzled look on her face. "What does that have to do with me?" she retorted, leaving his hand in mid-air.
"Well...I...Would you like to go outside and talk for a few minutes?"
Amanda cocked her head back hesitating before she spoke. Her eyes cut a path down the length of his body and rested on his wrinkled khaki pants and blue pea coat that had doubled as a pillow on his trek to the west.
"Sure, why not," she said nonchalantly. "You seem harmless enough, but after this choir sings. They are so good."
Oh, if Charlie could see him now. Graham could tell Ms. Amanda liked the attention he was giving her, although she pretended she didn't. When the choir finished singing, they quietly went outside. They made small talk, but Graham was transfixed by her beauty (eyes the color of ripe olives embedded in an oval, nutmeg-colored face) and those beautiful nut-brown legs that he wished he could wrap his own around. Actually, he wanted to reach out and touch her, maybe place a kiss on those fine chiseled lips of hers that smelled of sweet berries when he got close enough to catch a whiff.
There was something about Amanda that was different -- unlike those other girls who stumbled over themselves vying for the chance to be his lady. Graham Peters became a different person that night -- his heart ached for Amanda Carter, a girl he had just met. If given half a chance, he would cherish her until the end of time. © 2007 by Suzetta Perkins