• Harun Shabazz

Night Train

Like a ghost, I was hidden in the shadows that summer night in 1937—I could see her, and I could see them, but they could not see me. I was there with Mary, Judas, and three other boys—none above the age of fiftteen. We walked along Basin Boulevard, down past the corner liquor store, the boarded-up shoe repair shop, the burnt-out storefronts. One of the boys was kicking a can along the sidewalk while Mary pretended to play hopscotch—laughing, giggling in that sweet voice of hers. She was still high from the marijuana that had burnt her virgin lungs. She was still dizzy from the wine that Judas had made her drink earlier that day.

That night, I witnessed what no human being should ever witness for it destroys a piece of the soul. I witnessed the beginning of the end. Not the beginning of the beginning, for that was a few years before—the time when Mary was made to sit in the back of the classroom by her third grade Negro teacher, Mrs. Washington because there were important white folks from the school board coming to visit that day. That day when Mary cried when she was told that her skin was too black and her hair too knotted to sit in the front row, and her classmates laughed.

But this day, this night with Judas and his friends was the beginning of the end—a long ending, but nonetheless the end, where Mary, some years later, would eventually succumb to the will of heathens, a life of dope and prostitution, succumb to the lie we are living.

Mary died on a cold gray day,

Faded away

Along the abandon tracks where a midnight train passed long ago,

Nothing but a shadow,

Skin and bones without friends nor home.

But I remember her as a little girl—

Dark,

Ashy,

Nappy,

And ever so beautiful.

She had the cutest face with big bright eyes,

And a smile that lit up the sky.

But they teased her,

Called her black, dumb, and ugly,

Names like Jigaboo and Tar Baby,

All because of the darkness of her skin,

And the kinkiness of her hair.

They were unkind children that did not care.

Tears would well up in her eyes

From their cruel remarks and lies,

Destroying the sweet spirit she possessed inside.

That night, the summer that Mary had turned thirteen,

Judas and his crew took her on a night train.

They pretended to be her friends,

Turned her on to reefer and alcohol,

Ended up on the rails that ran along the boulevard.

In a vacant boxcar, they pull her to the floor.

She screamed and struggled for the door.

She looked into Judas' eyes and begged to go home.

But he told her that he would be the only one—

That he was her boyfriend,

And she was his girlfriend.

Through her tears and pitiful cries

He took her and got high,

Each boy taking his turn,

One by one.

Thus, the night train had begun.