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If Not This Dream
Book Two: Zaki
By Larry D. Clark
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2015 Larry D. Clark
All rights reserved.
When Zaki Charleston II turned five, Thomas Biggs had completed a thorough study of the schools in and around Charleston, South Carolina. He chose Porter-Gaud School for young Zaki. It was the most reputable K-12 college preparatory school in Charleston, started by the Episcopal Church in 1867. The private school stood on the banks of the Ashley River, sweeping past the west side of Charleston. Biggs also noted Porter-Gaud was one of the first schools in the south to open its doors to non-white students. The doors weren't opened wide, but they were opened. The school was ninety-two percent white and three percent black. Asians, Pacific Islanders, and Hispanics comprised the rest of the student body. Thomas discussed the ethnic makeup of the school to Zaki on their way to his first day of kindergarten. They sat in the backseat of his new 1989 Mercedes-Benz, Moses Charleston driving.
"Zaki, most of the children in school will be white children. Some of them may not be friendly at first. You must win them over by being nice to them even if they aren't nice to you," Biggs instructed. "Do you understand?"
Zaki nodded his understanding.
"When your teachers tell you to do something, you say, 'Yes ma'am' or Yes sir," Biggs continued. "Say 'thank you' when someone says something nice about you or your schoolwork. Say 'please' when you ask for something."
Moses pulled up in front of the school, smiling broadly, Biggs still sounding like a worried grandmother in the backseat prepping Zaki for his first day of kindergarten.
Thomas Biggs held little Zaki's hand as he lead him into Porter-Gaud School. The white parents leading their own children into school had become used to seeing Thomas around Charleston accompanied by little Zaki. They paid little attention.
Thomas stopped in the office to make certain Zaki was properly registered and checked in. He then walked him to his kindergarten classroom to meet his teacher, Mrs. Rock. She stood in the doorway greeting her new charges.
"Good morning, Mr. Biggs," she said. "I see you have brought someone to school today."
"Good morning, Mrs. Rock," Thomas answered. "This is Zaki Charleston." Biggs bent down and whispered into Zaki's ear.
Zaki extended his hand toward Mrs. Rock. "Good morning, Mrs. Rock," he said.
"Why, good morning, Zaki. Welcome to Porter-Gaud School," she said with a smile.
Biggs nudged Zaki. "Thank you, ma'am," Zaki said.
"Oh, my, you are a polite little boy. Good," she answered. "Let me show you your desk, Zaki.
Mrs. Rock took the little black boy by the hand and walked him to his tiny desk, which was in the back of the fifth row. She began chatting with Zaki, looking over at Thomas, suggesting she felt he should leave the boy with her.
Thomas walked over and joined them instead. "Zaki, why don't you go over there and look at all the books Mrs. Rock has on her shelves," Biggs suggested. Without hesitation, Zaki ran to the bookshelves.
"Mrs. Rock, I'm afraid I have a request before I leave for the day," Biggs said.
"Of course, Mr. Biggs," she answered
"I want Zaki to sit in the front row where the smartest children should sit, and he will be one of your smartest children," Thomas said.
"Oh, well, I've never reserved the front row for the smartest children, Mr. Biggs," she answered.
"Nonetheless, I prefer to have Zaki in the front row, so he doesn't miss anything, Mrs. Rock.
"Very well Mr. Biggs. I can switch Zaki to a front row seat, if you wish," Mrs. Rock stammered.
"Thank you, Mrs. Rock," Thomas said. "One more thing. If you need anything for your room the school can't or won't supply, you notify me, and I will make certain you get it.
"Oh, well, thank you, Mr. Biggs. How kind of you," she said.
"You are welcome, Mrs. Rock. I'm serious about my offer. I want Zaki to have the best education possible. He will someday be a leader of men," Biggs bragged. He extended his hand to Mrs. Rock, nodded his head, smiled, and exited the room.
At 2:35 p.m., Thomas was back at Porter-Gaud to pick up Zaki from his first day of school. This time he was driving the car himself.
When Zaki saw Thomas enter the room, he shouted, "Papa Thomas! Papa Thomas!" and ran to him and hugged his legs. Then he walked across the room to a pretty little girl with chestnut hair and blue eyes, took her by the hand, and led her back to where Thomas was standing.
"This is my best friend in school, Papa Thomas. Her name is Paula Walton," Zaki said.
Thomas extended his hand, taking the little girl's hand in his, and then he whispered to Zaki. Zaki said, "This is Papa Thomas, Paula," Zaki added.
"You must be Senator Gordon Walton's little girl," Thomas said.
"Yes, he's my daddy," Paula answered.
"Did you learn something special today?" Thomas asked the little girl.
"Yes, I learned to write my whole name," Paula said. "Zaki already knew how to write his whole name," she added.
Thomas patted Zaki on the head. "Well, we've been working on reading and writing and arithmetic for a while now, haven't we Zaki?" Thomas said.
Zaki smiled and shook his head in confirmation, and then the two children ran over to the play station to busy themselves.
A tall, beautiful, chestnut-haired woman walked into the room. She stopped and stared over at the play station where Zaki and Paula were playing. The woman froze for an instant, momentarily losing her composure, and then visibly regained it, smiling as she called from the doorway.
"Paula, come dear," she called.
When Paula turned around and saw her mother, she took Zaki by the hand and led him to her. "Mommy, this is my best friend Zaki," she said. "This is my mommy, Zaki."
"Well, Zaki, how do you do?" Carol Walton said, rather ill at ease.
Zaki extended his hand to Paula's mother, looked her directly in the eye, and said, "I'm doing fine, ma'am."
"Good afternoon, Thomas," Carol said, as she took her daughter by the hand and led her from the classroom.
Mrs. Rock looked across the room at Thomas, wondering if he understood the implied message Carol Walton had just given him. Thomas nodded to Mrs. Rock, took Zaki's hand, and led him from his kindergarten room at Porter-Gaud School. He understood Carol Walton's silent message. He also understood politics and made a mental note to closely monitor Zaki's life in the school.
The next day when Thomas returned to pick Zaki up from school, he waited in the car like most of the other parents. He told Zaki he would not come to his room to pick him up every day; if he did not, Zaki should come outside and look for his red car. Thomas kept a close watch on the door as the children hurried out, some with their parents, some by themselves. He saw little Paula come out with her mother. A couple of minutes later, Zaki came out, stopped and looked around, spotted Thomas' red Mercedes and ran to him. Thomas climbed out and gave the boy a big hug, then got him into his car seat and buckled him up. When they had driven a couple of miles in silence, Zaki began to cry.
"What's wrong, Zaki?" Biggs asked.
"Paula isn't in my class anymore," Zaki sobbed, rubbing his eyes with his fists.
"Isn't in your class anymore? Why on earth not?" Biggs responded.
"At recess Paula told me her mother moved her to another class," Zaki said.
Thomas drove on in silence, hiding his anger. He would visit Senator Walton in the morning.
After Thomas dropped Zaki off at school the next morning, he went directly to the offices of Senator Gordon Walton. The secretary tried to stop him, but Thomas stormed right past her into the senator's office.
Walton stood, surprised, miffed by the intrusion. When he recognized Thomas, he relaxed and sat back down in his office chair. Thomas walked straight to Walton's desk, placed both hands on his desktop, and leaned toward him.
"You like being a senator, don't you Gordon?" Biggs said.
"Of course. I love to serve, Thomas," Walton answered.
"Have you discussed little Paula's first days of school with Carol, Gordon?" Biggs asked.
"Not a whole lot, Thomas. We're only about two or three days into the school year, so there isn't much to discuss at this point," Walton answered.
"Well, there is plenty to discuss, Gordon, and we're only three days into the school year."
Walton frowned. "I'm not sure what you mean, Thomas."
"I mean, Gordon, my little Zaki and your little Paula were in the same class the first day of school, and they took a liking to each other. Obviously, Carol didn't like their little friendship, so she had Paula transferred out of Mrs. Rock's class so she wouldn't be near Zaki," Thomas said.
Gordon Walton stood, straightened his tie, and walked to the water cooler in his office. "Thomas, you don't believe my wife had Paula transferred from Mrs. Rock's room for racial reasons, do you?" Walton asked.
"You have identified my concern, Gordon," Biggs answered.
"Thomas! You know we aren't the racist type," Walton countered.
"Then why did your wife transfer your daughter out of Mrs. Rock's room?" Biggs asked.
"I can't tell you, Thomas, but I'm sure she must have had some valid reason," the senator answered.
"I trust you will look into it, Gordon," Thomas said. "There are over 1,000,000 black votes in Charleston and around the state. I would hate to see something as trivial as a kindergarten friendship derail your political ambitions."
"Thomas, are you threatening me?"
Thomas turned and headed for the door of Senator Walton's office, placed his hand on the door handle, turned, and smiled at the senator. "I don't make threats, Gordon. Not my style. But I do take action when necessary," Biggs said, as he exited the office.
The next day when Zaki ran to meet Thomas in his car, the boy was all excited because Paula Walton, his best friend in school, had been transferred back into Mrs. Rock's class. Thomas patted the boy on the head. "Oh, I'm glad, Zaki. Let's celebrate."
Thomas drove to the ice cream store and bought Zaki an ice cream cone to celebrate his friend's return to his classroom.
By the end of September Zaki had settled into a solid routine in school. Either Moses or Thomas drove him to school, and sometimes Moses drove them both. After school, Thomas supervised Zaki's homework, and then the boy practiced the piano for an hour. Playtime followed anything the boy wanted to do. Often, he just wanted to go into the fields with Thomas and be around the workers. In the fields he practiced his Hausa language with the other Hausas. They enjoyed the quickness with which Zaki mastered the nuances of his complicated second language.
In October, Thomas called Moses, A'isha, Jacob, Jamilah, Aminu, and Atikah to the mansion for a special dinner. A'isha and Jamilah prepared the meal. They set the table with the fine linen, china, and silverware. Each place had a crystal glass for wine. Thomas was the last to enter the dining room. He took his seat at the head of the table.
"Oh my, girls, you have set a fine table," he said. "Let's just enjoy this meal together, and then we'll retire to the library and have our special meeting."
An hour later they were all seated in Thomas's library, enjoying a snifter of brandy.
"Okay, everyone, let's begin," Biggs said. "As you know, we have been making some changes and adjustments around the farms. I want to bring you up to date on what I have in mind."
"First, Moses you have been sneaking back into the fields to work."
Moses shifted in his chair, looking at the others around the table.
"You are now seventy-three years old, Moses. I want you to retire from the fields except for serving as a consultant when we need you," Biggs began.
"Mista Biggs, I can still work," Moses complained.
"I know you can still work, Moses," Biggs countered. "And you will, but your job is going to be easier now. You deserve it. You have been a good and faithful worker on Biggs Farms all your life. It's time for you to rest and enjoy your children and grandchildren."
"What I'm gonna do, Mista Biggs?" Moses asked.
"Your main job is going to be serving as my chauffeur, Moses. You will be responsible for keeping all the cars clean and serviced. You will drive Zaki and me into Charleston for school, business, and supplies," Biggs explained. "As you can see, you will be plenty busy, Moses. The difference is you will be able to sit down when you work."
Everybody laughed. Moses seemed pleased with his new job definition and the importance of his work.
"A'isha, you will turn all mansion duties over to Jamilah," Biggs continued. "You will help in the mansion when we decide to host a big event. From now on, you can spend your time tending your own house and your gardens and flower beds."
A'isha began to cry.
"What's wrong, A'isha?" Biggs asked.
"You are just so good to us, Mista Biggs," A'isha said.
"Thank you, A'isha," Biggs said. "You have also given your life to these farms and to the care and management of this mansion, not to mention changing my dirty diapers for a while. Now, it is time for you to rest."
"Can I come in and help around if I want to, Mista Biggs?" A'isha asked.
"Yes you can, A'isha, but I want you to enjoy yourself each day. And, I have another surprise for you a little later," Biggs added.
"Okay, next order of business. Jacob and Jamilah, I am having another house built for you out behind the mansion. Jacob, you will take care of the old place, so you need to be here. Jamilah will take care of the mansion, so she needs to be close by," Biggs said.
"Your house will be big enough so each of your girls will have her own bedroom and one for Zaki as well. So, I am going to build a six-bedroom house for you, a nice house," Biggs went on.
"Aminu and Atikah, you are next," Biggs continued. "Aminu, you will take over operation of the new place. Can you handle it?"
"Oh, yes, Mista Biggs, I can handle it," Aminu said.
"If you have any trouble, you tell Jacob. Between Jacob and Moses, they will know what to tell you," Biggs ordered.
"And, I can't expect one of my overseers to live in a shack, so I am building a new house for you on the new place, too."
Thomas stood, walked to the liquor cabinet and grabbed the bottle of brandy. He walked from chair to chair and poured more brandy for each of his guests, and then he poured one for himself. He replaced the bottle, turned, held his own glass high, and said, "Okay, everyone, stand up. Let's toast to continued good fortune for Biggs Farms and all the people who work here," he said.
They all met in a tight circle, following Thomas's lead, held their glasses high and touched them together.
The meeting over, they all started moving toward the front door of the mansion, when Thomas called to them. "Oh, I almost forgot, A'isha. I promised you one more surprise." They all turned around to face their overseer.
"I'm building you a greenhouse between your house and Jacob's new house, A'isha. You can grow flowers and vegetables all year around," he said.
"Oh, thank you Mista Biggs. I'll grow you fresh greens for your dinner table," A'isha gushed.
The six Hausa friends and co-workers left the mansion, all deciding to go to Moses' house to discuss the new turn of events in their lives.
By March of 1990, the builders had completed the houses and the new greenhouse.
During Christmas break, Thomas organized a special holiday piano concert, featuring Zaki. Thomas invited one hundred people to hear ten pianists from Charleston and the surrounding area. The pianists ranged from six-year-olds, Zaki and Paula Walton, to Thomas himself. A'isha, Jamilah, and Atikah decorated the third-floor ballroom. Biggs hired a small string orchestra to accompany all the pianists.
Little Paula Walton, dressed in a white dress with a red ribbon in her chestnut hair, played O Holy Night.
Zaki, dressed in a white suit with a black silk shirt and blue silk tie, was the last of the children to play. He played Ave Maria by Franz Schubert. He was so advanced for his age, feeling the passion and grace of the piece, forgetting anybody else was in the room, except Paula.
When Zaki finished his piece, the ballroom guests, silent for a moment, sprang from their chairs at once, recognizing this child possessed special talent. No one was prouder than Thomas. All the Hausas sat in window wells, two in each. Jacob and Jamilah smiled at their son, understanding the advantages he would have over other black children growing up in Charleston or many other places in America. Tears of joy ran down both of their faces. Zaki bowed and then took his seat beside Paula Walton in the front row with all the other performers. Senator Gordon Walton reached over and patted him on the knee and smiled. Carol Walton stared straight ahead.
Thomas Biggs was the final performer of the evening. He walked to the piano, placing a hand on the beautiful instrument where his own father had died so many years earlier in a drunken stupor. He spoke to his assembled guests.
Excerpted from If Not This Dream by Larry D. Clark. Copyright © 2015 Larry D. Clark. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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