“Outcasts” by Valjeanne Jeffers 2 of 3
Monique watched the airships ready for take-off through the bars of her cage, hanging beneath the cliff. She still bore a black eye—the latest bruise from her mother. Only this time she’d fought back: punching and scratching. She’d done no more than was needed to fend Isabelle off and stop her beating. Still, two more weeks were added to her sentence.
Longing pierced her soul, as she gazed at the puffs of steam streaming from the ships on their way to patrol, and the wooden wings flapping. Suddenly, the first one was airborne—flying past the slender rocks that separated the triangular stacks of boulders at the edge of her village. The sound of palms on drum-skins beat in refrain to the ships’ wings, as if the drums were were the reason they could fly.
One. . . two. . . three … and now they soared into the distance. Monique stared at them until they were lost to her gaze. She gripped the bars of the cage. Suspending prisoners outside during the day, and letting them return home at night, was supposed to be a kinder punishment than perpetually confining captives indoors.
I’m still a prisoner. Being outside just makes it worse.
The rumbling of her belly and the shaking of her cage let her know it was time to eat. In the next moment, two women hoisted her cage up from under the rock and shifted it to the ground. Their narrowed eyes and pursed lips revealed what they thought of her. The strange one who lusts for the flesh of her sisters. The bad daughter who beats her own mother.
One of the women reached into the folds of her dress and produced a skeleton key. A few moments later her dearest friend, Angelique, sauntered over. She was a plump young woman, her skin the color of ripe bananas with a thick head of hair. She carried a basket and there was a blanket under her arm. The delectable smell of diri kole ak pwa, brown rice with red kidney beans topped off with red snapper, tomatoes and onions, drifted toward her.
Angelique smiled, her teeth flashing against her cafe au lait skin. “Let’s find somewhere nice to eat.”
Angelique was a mulatto Affranchis: a wealthy descendant of the union between slave owner and slaves. Birth determined the Affranchis social position, and intermarriage between them solidified this caste solidarity. Some of them had even owned slaves, before General Toussaint had emancipated all living in Saint-Domingue.
Angelique knew how the ships were put together, what made them tick and she could fly. So she said. She and Monique’s mutual interest in airships had brought them together and they’d quickly become friends—in spite of their dissimilar backgrounds. How she’d come by her knowledge of airships was a mystery. But she’d shared all she knew with Monique and swore her to secrecy.
She was also in love with John, the dark-skinned son of former slaves. Because of his social status Angelique’s parents, who followed the old ways of class solidarity, had forbade any courtship between their daughter and John. Tradition meant she must obey her parents’ wishes or suffer the same fate as Monique.
“But I’m going to marry him anyway,” she’d whispered. “See if I don’t.”
Monique secretly thought Angelique made half of her stories up, although she never said so. Still, she tells pretty tales, non?
Monique followed her past the cottages to a meadow, took the blanket from her friend and spread it on the grass. “If you don’t stop being so nice to me, they’re going to get someone else to bring me lunch.”
The young women sat down, unpacked the food and began to eat. “I bet you wish now you’d just taken the punch instead of fighting back, eh?” Angelique said, her sympathetic eyes belying the coldness of her words. “Next time will be probably worst you know. Isabelle has always been ill-tempered. She’s so angry with you. She had her heart set on grandchildren.”
Monique frowned. “I can’t help the way I am. Just like you can’t help loving John. . . Your parents will never let you marry him. They’re going to pick out a man for you.”
Her best friend grinned slyly. “So they believe.”
“What does that mean?”
Angelique bit into a piece of fish and didn’t answer. For awhile they ate in silence.
“Do you miss Simone much?”
Monique’s eyes filled with tears. “Wi. . . It is an ache.”
“So you love her?”
“What is it like. . . loving a woman?” Although they’d been best friends for years, they’d never discussed this.
Monique shrugged. “Like your love for John, I suppose. For me, it is as natural as breathing.”
“Well, perhaps after tonight you will met another woman and fall in love.”
“Loving someone, whether man or woman, is not like picking vases from the well. If one is empty, you just pick another one, n’est-ce pas? Love is not like that. . . What makes tonight so different?”
“Stay awake and find out.”
Monique shook her head. “I can’t go fishing. I need my sleep.”
“Who said anything about fishing? You must pack a bag and stay awake.”
“Poukisa wap fè sa? What are you up to?”
Angelique laughed like a child but would say no more.
Monique gazed at her friend with exasperation and affection on her brown face. “Why do I always listen to you?”
“Because I’m your best friend! Who else would you listen to?”
At that moment, two women plopped on the grass to their right, close enough to hear what the friends were saying. They fell silent and finished eating.
To be continued… Feb 8th, 2019… stay tuned!
Valjeanne Jeffers is a graduate of Spelman College, a member of the Carolina African American Writer’s Collective, and the author of eight books.Valjeanne was featured in 60 Black Women in Horror Fiction. Her first novel, Immortal, is featured on the Invisible Universe Documentary time-line. Her stories have been published in Reflections Literary and Arts Magazine; Steamfunk!; Griots: A Sword and Soul Anthology; Genesis Science Fiction Magazine; Griots II: Sisters of the Spear; Possibilities; and The City.Book I of The Switch II: Clockwork was nominated for the best ebook novella of 2013 (eFestival of Words); and her short story Awakening was published as a podcast by Far Fetched Fables. Preview or purchase Valjeanne’s novels at: Valjeanne Jeffers official site