The rest of the cargo swayed silently in the Ocean breeze, many of them with their eyes closed. Duwa looked over the side of the pier into the river. He saw all the way to the river's bottom; countless dark-skinned bodies frolicked there. When they saw him looking down at them, they made excited hand motions to him. One young man in particular, his kinky bush of hair waving in the undercurrents, swam up from the bottom to just beneath the river's surface and smiled at Duwa.
"Kola!" Duwa said to himself.
Kola's image then sank peacefully back down with the others and vanished.
Duwa averted his eyes upward to the empty sky above the White man's village. Clouds swirled, rapidly shifting their shapes like sand dunes in a storm. He saw tall man-made structures grow piece by piece, multiplying until there were thousands of them, burying the dead, scraping at the sky. Then, abruptly, they were all wiped away by a great hand of fire.
The visions faded. Duwa wondered if Kola was watching over him, where ever he was now.
"Mr. Hartog," Nathans cried in Dutch, "Mr. Hartog!"
Hartog cringed at the sound of that voice. "Shoo, Nathans, still after me? What is now the matter?" Hartog responded in Dutch.
"Why, dear Mr. Hartog," he started, "you haven't had your pick, yet, sir. The pick of the litter." Nathans gestured at the Africans standing on the pier and slapped the old man on the back.
"Pick?" Hartog's eyes scanned, darted back and forth across the Africans. His lips curled inward on one another. "Do you mean purchase?" He pointed his walking stick and cackled. "You could not give those black crows away!"
Hartog shook, sputtering tobacco into the wind.
"You amuse me, sir," said Nathans, " You amuse me truly. I had no idea you had such good humor, such good humor, sir, yes!"
"No, Trader, you humor me." Hartog once again pointed his cane at the Africans. "What good any of your malnourished lot could do my stores, I'll never know!"
"Dill weed! These, why, yes, these here specimens are but merely the acme of their species: naturally and sensibly."
"And under-nourished by the looks of them," said Hartog, "Protect your investments, Mr. Nathans."
At this, Nathans darted over to Duwa, grabbing the African's wrist (to a shipman: "Well, unchain him, then!" ) and, by it, led him down the ramp to Hartog.
"Easy," said Hartog, extending his walking stick into Duwa's abdomen, pushing into it, "They muster up a stench, you know."
"What do you expect, fresh off the boat?" asked Nathans, then raising Duwa's arm and squeezing the bicep, "See?" He forced the African's arm into a tighter curl.
Hartog donned a pair of spectacles and leaned forward.
"Oh my," he said.
"I'm Ivorian! I'm Ivorian!" Shanice squeals moving like a piston up and down in tiny bursts, then tears across the small office in a whirl, stopping to spin around at the window and face Dr. White again. "I can't believe it! Wait 'til I tell my Moms!"
Dr. White's eyes narrow, his eyebrows perk and point toward the young woman. "Now, Shanice," he starts, " You ain't never been nowhere near Africa." Her excitement reminds him of Tracy.
"But you told me where my people from. In Africa! Wow, this is too deep." Shanice plops down in a plastic school chair and exhales. "Ya' know," she says.
"I had no idea this'd have this affect on you, " White smirks.
"Oh, Dr. White, it just, I don't know, it is so cool to know where you come from, you know?" Shanice says, "Not just Charleston, South Carolina, but Africa- Ivory Coast! "
White picks up his calculator from the wooden desk in front of him and slides it into a pocket in his light-blue labcoat.
"Genetics is the bomb," says Shanice.
"I guess so," White says examining a dark splotch on the back of his hand. He looks through the window into the Excavation Room. An unlabeled tray of petrified teeth lies next to some skull fragments without labels on them.
Once again, his eyes go to the crude wax figure. It sits in a plastic bin marked: "New York/ African Burial Ground/ July 12/ Artifact Shipment." The figurine's head is made of an Oak wood with deep, sleepy sockets carved into it as eyes. The figurine's fat torso and spindly legs have been molded from wax. Its arms fold over its chest in a death embrace.
"Can you come in early Monday?" he asks, "We still have a lot of work to do."
"Sure," she says, "What's your story?"
"Where are you from?"
"I'm a Black man from Harlem," he starts to gather up his files.
"No, silly, I mean, what did your blood test say?"
A crater hollows in the bottom of White's stomach. Shanice stands straightening her black mini with both hands, brow furled. She frowns.
"Are you okay?"
White sighs and once more thinks of Tracy. "You know, Ms. Hooks, you should dress in a more appropriate style if you're going to be working in my lab."
"Yes, sir," says Shanice.
Duwa and the boy Daniel continued talking. They watched the great big White man draw closer, returning from the well. From the distance, they could see he sloshed a tin pale of water in one hand and a tattered scrap of rug in the other.
"He lumbers across the meadow like some red-haired cow," said Daniel, speaking in a Kwa dialect. He was short and slightly built and wore only a long, straw shirt. Sucking a yellow grass blade, the boy squatted in the sandy dirt next to Duwa who was covered in layers of soot.
Duwa wore short pants. An iron chain gripped one of its ends close against Duwa's neck. The other end grasped a large Oak tree.
Situated behind Hartog's grocery store, the Oak overlooked the banks of the Collect Pond, which spread out for dozens of acres. The lake's environs were surrounded by green meadows and clusters of buildings. Across the road- Reade Way- from Duwa's dirt -patch were the slave's Burial Fields.
"They are all beasts," said Duwa in the Kwa dialect, "We have all gone to the dead place; even the air is dead."
"I have been in this place- they call Noo Yawk Sitty for almost a whole season," said Daniel, "The dirty smell from that rotten lake still churns my stomach."
Duwa turned to look , "It is a still lake."
"The Smith told me it was once full with fish and clams, but the Whites filled it with their garbage," said Daniel, "Now, they plan to take the lake away."
"Away?" asked Duwa incredulously, "Where do they plan to take it?"
Daniel laughed, exposing a large head of teeth with soft, black gums.
"Your teeth will surely go away if you 're not more careful," said Duwa.
"What do my teeth mean to you," asked Daniel.
"I care," Duwa continued, "I am one who cares. Take this."
He handed the boy a splinter of tree root and Daniel began massaging his gums with it.
"It feels good," Daniel said.
Duwa: "What land are you from? Iboon?"
"I was born in a place called Cuba," said Daniel, "I was told my Mother was taken from Anambra across the Water."
"Anambra," Duwa's eyes narrowed, "My Moon Brother was strangled by a shit piece from Anambra."
Daniel studied Duwa's features.
Duwa continued, "In the bottom of that boat he killed Kola for a lump of filthy bread." Frowning, he leaned sideways on one elbow, staring into the distance.
"I think he told us he was a chief," he said, "I am certain he was no relation of yours, then."
Daniel kicked dirt at him and they both laughed.
"You are only a boy," Duwa said, "You will have your chance to set free and escape. You may go home to Anambra."
"I may be a boy, but I have grown up very quickly these past months," said Daniel. He bent his head backward to the bright shining sky and gaped his mouth, letting the sun warm his bleeding gums. Then his eyes met with Duwa's.
"I have no home. I know I am here now," Daniel said, "That is all I know."
Duwa shifted a little then started: "Kola was my Moon Brother. We both lived beyond the edge of the village, because our people called us Magic. And our Mother was the Tree, larger than this one," Duwa waved at the big Oak, "And our Father, the Hawk. Both spirits, Man and Woman, lived in us and because of this we saw things."
Duwa extended his hand.
"I see life's wings flapping above your head, longing to sing their songs," he said touching the boy's forehead, "I see a house of worship. And many children. Your line will run long, long after we've gone."
"Magic, eh?" said Daniel. He reached for Duwa's chain and yanked it, raising an eyebrow at him. Daniel let the chain relax and spat into the dirt. "Magic!" he said again. The sun glistened in the boy's eyes.
"There is another vision, though, a bad one-" Duwa said. A shadow was cast over Daniel's face. He squinted.
Duwa and Daniel turned toward the man who blocked the sun. His eyes were tiny pin-pricks engulfed by deep sockets. His giant stomach, the widest part of his body, was supported by two spindly legs. The great big White man stood at the edge of Duwa's patch of dirt, having come as close as he could to Duwa without the African being able to reach him. He stood there for a while squinting at the two with those tiny eyes and wrinkling his nose before raising the water pale he had sloshed across the pasture.
"Bathe!" he yelled at Duwa and shook the rusty pale at him.
Daniel translated to Duwa in the Kwa dialect, "He wants you to wash yourself."
The boy turned again to the White man. "Ko-ree-duhn give Dahn-yell bread?" Daniel asked him in English. The young boy raised from his crouch beside Duwa and smiled at Corydon.
Corydon flashed a great big toothless grin at Daniel.
"A crust or two from Master Hartog's grogshop would do you good, would it?" Corydon asked. He reached into a pocket and gently tossed a round lump at the boy.
"Ah," Daniel shouted scrambling for Corydon's gift. Daniel caught it and snatched it close to his chest. He unfolded his hands and found a ball of brown wax.
Corydon roared, bending over, hands on knees. Daniel's fist drew tightly around the waxball. His nails dug in, cracking it.
Duwa continued sitting, legs crossed in the cool tree shade. Flies buzzed around him, dancing on his eyes. Corydon, still laughing, now leaned backward with his hands on his hips, mouth wide open.
Duwa watched as the hard ball of wax shot from Daniel's hand, smacking Corydon square in his gummy mouth. Corydon shut up. He focused on Daniel, then Duwa (whose expression was blank), then back to Daniel. Corydon, eyes burning, then only smiled at the boy, and remained still. His smile intensified and Daniel scrambled off across Reade Way, into the nearby, Burial Fields.
Still smiling, Corydon returned his glare to Duwa, picked up the pale and the rag, and flung them at him. They hit the ground, splashing water on Duwa's lap. He remained still as Corydon's grin weakly dissolved.
Corydon to Duwa: "Now, bathe."
And he lumbered off.
The sun sets as people dart about Dupont Circle. White steps onto the sidewalk, burps up the remnants of some Absolut Vodka , and heads South on Connecticut Avenue. He stops to steady himself against a parking meter, wiping both eyes with the balls of his fists. He stands there swaying back and forth.
"Yo, Dr. White?" Shelton calls.
Two young Black men appear before White. His face is blank.
Shelton continues, "I was a friend of Tracy's."
White's arm lifts slowly, pointing.
"Now, I remember you," White starts, "but I don't remember-" his pointed finger shifts to, Chris, the second young man, "- don't know you!"
They all laugh nervously.
Losing his balance from the effort, White clutches Shelton's black leather jacket for support. Cherry blossoms in the air mix with Shelton's citrus cologne.
Then Shelton asks, "So, how's old Tracy?"
"Tracy's dead," says White. Floral prints dance across Shelton's shirt. The two young Black men exchange looks.
"Oh-," starts Shelton, "Ummm-."
"Dr. White," Chris interjects, "I would love to work with you and the bones."
"Beg pardon?" asks White.
"The slave remains from New York," he continues, "I've been trying to register for your class to study the Burial Ground bones."
"Well, you call my office tomorrow evening," White puts a hand to Chris' cheek, "and we'll set something up."
"Tomorrow's Saturday," Chris says.
"Right, right," White says. He erupts with laughter and leaves them standing there on the sidewalk. His hand waves them on.
"I'm sorry!" Shelton finally manages to say, then to Chris, "Tracy was mad cool."
On his way, White tries hailing several taxis, but none stop for him. A middle-aged woman and her young daughter stop him at Thirteenth Street and U to ask for money. As the Mother inquires, her girl conceals her face with delicate hands. White shoves them twenty dollars each.
"God bless you!" he shouts and wobbles towards home.
Muffled rap music shakes the sidewalk. In front of his four-story powder blue rowhouse, a silver mini-van hums, its motor running. In its front seats, an old White woman and a Black teenager sit.
White whimpers: "That was today, oh, Jesus."
"Dr. White! We waited for you!" and she leaps out.
White stands, hand in pocket, it frozen around his doorkeys. He sways back and forth slightly. Another Absolut burp is suppressed.
"Here's Reggie, Dr. White!," she continues, "Reggie! Oh, Reggie, come say hello to our Dr. White!" She drags Reggie out of the mini-van. His forehead wrinkled, the tall, lanky youth scowls at the old White woman.
"I told you my name is Crabs !" the teenager corrects her.
Duwa, handling a sharp stone, finished carving out the small man's eyes. The brow protruded heavily. The pupils, small pin-pricks. Duwa leaned over to lightly blow away the Oak shavings from the face.
Not far from Duwa's dirt patch, Corydon, kneeling, stacked red bricks in columns against a weather-worn chicken coop. Old Hartog leaned on his cane watching each brick's placement. The old man teetered but reached out to squeeze Corydon's sweaty head to steady himself.
Corydon: "You ought not to be out. Neither of us, really. Oh, this heat!"
Hartog, woozy, nodded.
"Your African there should be doing this. He's used to this type of weather, he is," said Corydon.
"That one-" Hartog turned to Duwa who met eyes with him. The old man pivoted on his better leg. "That one-," he started again, "must learn fear before he's given slack."
"I'll learn him," Corydon said rising to his feet.
"Look, Corydon, see, watch how that black devil's eyes meet my own!" Suddenly feeling a chill, Hartog hobbled through the back entrance to his grocery. His head popped back out through the door, "I know exactly how many bricks are there, Corydon!" and then muttering to himself, "Irish're worse than the Darkies."
He was gone.
Corydon cursed him under his breath. Sweat ran off the fat man's neck in streams. He sneered at the sky, then Duwa.
"Enjoy your doll-making," he said, "while you can.
Finished carving the figurine's wooden head, Duwa reached into his pocket for Corydon's lump of brown wax. It had softened in the midday heat. He began to kneed the waxball, inserting the small wooden head into its center. As he worked the wax, he studied Corydon's round physique. A fat torso with two spindly legs was fashioned from the wax.
Daniel crept into the back toting a large sack of oats over one shoulder. Off balance, the small boy teetered as he walked. The large sack, which he managed with great difficulty, obstructed his view of Corydon who snatched Daniel as the boy drew near.
"Well now, if it isn't me little mate Daniel," Corydon laughed.
Daniel dropped the Oat sack and twisted himself trying to get free. Corydon tightened on the boy's arm. Duwa looked up from his figurine.
"Stop struggling!" Corydon snapped, "That was smart, real smart what you done yesterday."
With his free hand, Corydon searched his own pockets. Daniel, eyes wide, fought even more violently to escape.
"You know what happens to you who can't learn their place?" Corydon asked, "Well, someone has to learn 'em what their place is."
"Sorry!" Daniel screamed, "Please!"
Corydon still searched his pockets. Metal jingled. Daniel's body jerked, leading Corydon all over the yard. Corydon was tossed off balance as the boy pulled in every direction.
Corydon: "Ah, here we are!"
He produced a wooden handle from his back pocket. Raising it to his mouth, Corydon pressed his lips to unhinge the blade from its holster, then regarded various parts of Daniel's body.
Daniel tugged even more wildly, taking Corydon with him.
"Stop struggling-," Corydon started, "else I won't make a clean cut."
Corydon raised his blade, and in a brief moment of realization noticed the sandy dirt patch beneath his feet. Corydon's back exploded with fire. His knife flew across the yard into the tall grass. Turning in the direction of his pain, Corydon felt Duwa's iron chain link loop around his neck and tighten about his throat.
"You-!" Corydon let out. Speech left him. Duwa tightened the chain until Corydon's fleshy skin puckered out between the links. Daniel ran across the yard. He pushed through tufts of tall grass, searching for Corydon's knife.
"Look who stands in the dirt, now!" Duwa whispered in Corydon's ear.
Corydon sputtered. Veins pulsated on his temples. His face glowed as red as his red hair.
"We live if you die, do you understand?" whispered Duwa, "I have seen this. You cast the death shade."
"It is you or us," Duwa continued.
"I'm in the habit of protecting my investments, brute!" yelled Hartog. The old man stood, quaking, with a musket pointed at Duwa and Corydon. "Tell him, do not make me ruin a good investment," Hartog told Daniel.
Daniel stood frozen. Corydon's eyes bulged as Hartog's finger quivered at the trigger. Duwa kept the chain close around Corydon's neck.
"Tell him!" Hartog yelled.
"Tell him Master Hartog is an honorable businessman," Hartog continued.
"Tell him," Hartog paused, "Tell him he is a very important investment to me."
Daniel told Duwa this and Duwa smiled, staring Hartog directly in the eyes.
Hartog's legs buckled a little.
"Anambra boy!" Duwa shouted, "When I walk to the living world, leave this shell in an empty tree, but what you see here today, keep it with you, keep it with you."
With all his power, Duwa again punched a section of Corydon's back and released the chains from around his neck. Corydon fell like a rag doll, gasping for breath. He rolled through the dirt to fresh grass and sprawled out there.
His mouth foamed. Glaring at Duwa, Corydon tilted forward. He tried to curse, but only harsh, garbled mono-syllables erupted. Globs of mucus shot from his tongue, and he lay back on the grass wincing as he massaged the fiery section of his back where Duwa had twice hit him.
"I am no such 'investment' ," Duwa declared to Hartog in the Kwa dialect.
Daniel was motionless. Hartog lowered his musket in time for his legs to give out. As he fell, his finger pulled the trigger and he blew apart the chicken coop.
"Reggie! Reggie!" White yells. The young boy continues his conversation with the girl under the streetlight. Crabs leans with his back against the pole. She flickers her eyelashes, as she softly talks with him. Crabs' baseball cap is tilted to one side.
"Crabs!" White yells, once more. At this Crabs glances at him standing on the stoop a few yards away. Crabs snatches a piece of paper from the girl, leans in for a kiss, and strides up the stoop into the powder-blue rowhouse.
"You heard me calling you," says White, "This is the fourth night in a row. Rebecca from Foster Care stopped by and you know I couldn't even tell her where you were! How does that sound?"
Crabs keeps walking, straight back to the darkened kitchen.
"I thought you was going out tonight with the boys," starts Crabs, "Yow go out cruising and shit. Ain't that what yow be calling it? Cruising?"
Crabs laughs to himself.
White follows him into the kitchen.
"I'm through putting up with your bullshit," yells White, "We had a deal."
"Think I wanna sit 'round here and watch you sneak drinks all night?" asks Crabs. He opens the refrigerator. Shifting his weight onto one hip, Crabs peers in and frowns. The light from inside the box illuminates his face.
"Crabs, we had a deal, remember?" says White.
Crabs: "Yeah, yeah."
"Your curfew? School night? You remember. School in the morning."
"Oh, school, right," says Crabs, "I won't do it again. I'm thirsty," He slides a carton of milk to his lips. White looks on silently for a moment as the boy gulps down the container. In a quick motion, he knocks the milk from Crabs' hands, drenching the boy's shirt, and sending the carton to the floor. Crabs hops back, wiping milk from his chin.
White: "I got your attention, now? Good. They dropped you off here three months ago and all you've been giving me since is grief. Enough! I know I'm not your father, but you will show me respect. Change starts here!" White turns to exit the kitchen.
That next moment Crabs, from behind, jumps on his back. White is forced down, the two scramble on the floor. Crabs' legs kick out kitchen chairs. He grabs at White's head as the older one maneuvers into a headlock on the younger one. Crabs screams, struggling harder.
"Think you can take me?" says White.
"Huh?" says White tightening his grip.
The boy jerks his head forward, but White's hold is steady. Crabs' body now twists from side to side. He reaches around trying for White's face, then tries to stand, but slips in the milk and thuds back to the floor. White restrains his hands.
"No!" Crabs yells.
"Come on Crabs, you're so bad," says White. The boy's anger subsides to a whimper. His expression goes blank.
"Don't hurt me, Papa," Crabs starts, "I'll be good. I'll be good."
White's shirtsleeve grows damp from Crabs' tears. He releases the boy who scampers underneath the kitchen table, sobbing. White's face freezes.
"Crabs? Crabs?" White says, "What did you-?"
Tears fly from Crabs' eyes. White slides closer to the table, but the boy flinches. Bracing his back against the refrigerator, White sits there on the floor watching the boy decelerate and melt into a restless sleep.
He dreamed in color, seeing himself much older with a wife and children. A white building with a needle on top sprouted from the ground like a tree. Inside, dark-skinned people sang, holding hands. This place, which he would help build, had a name. The harder he tried to focus on it, the fuzzier it all became until the footsteps from upstairs brought him out of it.
Daniel sat up from his mound of straw. He yawned, stretching his hands above his head. Cocking an ear to the ceiling, he heard muffled voices and feet shuffling. The boy climbed the cellar steps to the store above him.
He crept to the store's backroom which housed Corydon's bunkbed. The voices grew more clear. He peeked around the corner and saw Hartog and another young White man standing over Corydon's bed.
"There is no one to notify here," said Hartog, "Mr. Corydon's wife- or widow- is back in Dublin with their family."
"He had no relatives in the Colonies?" the Doctor asked.
"He was my storekeep. I paid for his passage to New York City in exchange for his services."
Daniel stepped halfway into the room. The tight space was already hot. A menacing odor caught his nose which he clasped a hand over. Moving further into the room, he glimpsed Corydon's hands rigidly clasped over his chest.
The Doctor continued, "Oh, I see, well you have no responsibility for the corpse. I must admit, it is a most strange occurrence."
"How did this happen?" asked Hartog, "Not scarlet fever?" He pressed a white handkerchief to his mouth and stepped back.
"I don't think so," said the Doctor. He leaned over Corydon to pull the bedsheets and roll him on his side. A swollen black blemish marred Corydon's otherwise ghostly pale back. Hartog grimaced, pulling his handkerchief tighter.
"My God," said Hartog.
"Look here," the Doctor said poking the blemish with a straw, "See?"
"He had complained about his back all yesterday evening after suffering a confrontation with my new Negro. In fact that very spot, all puckered up, is exactly where he struck him."
"This boy here?" said the Doctor, nodding at Daniel.
Hartog placed a hand on Daniel's head, rubbing it lightly. He leaned less heavily on his cane.
"No, no, this one's mild. The other's out back," replied Hartog.
"The one hanging from the tree?"
"Hanging from what tree?" coughed Hartog.
Daniel's eyes shot to Hartog's.
"Yes, I thought of mentioning it, but then I assumed you must have known," said the Doctor, "But, you didn't did you?"
Hartog: "I did not!"
Daniel turned on his heels, speeding out the back door to the yard and Duwa's dirt patch.
It hung in mid-air, suspended by the iron chain which had been flung over one of the Oak's branches. The body had been beaten, perhaps tortured, before being hanged. It twisted a little to the left and then back again to the right, as if it was doing a dance. Daniel turned away for a moment, then went back to the sight, taking it in.
"Ah, God!" cried Hartog as he and the Doctor emerged from the door, "That vile Irish bastard Corydon must have done this last night after I retired!" He limped up to the body, inspecting it as if there was a chance to repair the damage.
The Doctor: "Indeed, your Corydon must have attended to this duty and then lay straight to his own deathbed."
Hartog kicked at the dirt, approached the Doctor, and leaned into his face.
"Corydon!" he fumed, "That simple idiot held no value whatsoever for a good investment! No one does these days!"
"Quiet yourself, Mr. Hartog, "I've seen enough death for one day," said the Doctor, leading the old man by the arm back to the store.
"I tell you this: I'm better to be rid of his sort," said Hartog.
A cloud of flies started to buzz around the body.
Hartog, his back to Daniel: "Let him down, boy! Let him down," and as the two White men returned to the store, "First my storekeep, then my property! If I have another week such as this, I'll be ruined!"
The Doctor agreed, "It never pays one to do business with the Irish."
"Oh, tell me about it!" Hartog shouted.
They vanished through the backdoor.
Something was half-buried in the dirt patch. Daniel knelt to pick up Duwa's wood and wax figurine which lay there neglected. He studied it, noticing the tiny pin-prick eyes and heavy brow, the fat torso, and spindly legs. The tiny hands were rigidly clasped over its chest in a death embrace.
"Anambra," Daniel whispered to himself, placing the figurine in his shirt pocket. The body swung from side to side now. He looked away from it, to the air that surrounded him. A deep breath cleansed his lungs.
In Kwa he shouted , "Duwa! I will leave your shell in an empty tree as you asked," he listened for a moment, "So you can be with your Moon Brother!" He still heard nothing, and so walked like a man over to the Oak to let it down.
"Robert?" the voice on the phone inquires, "Is this Robert White?"
"This is Dr. White," he confirms.
"Hi, Robert. This is Keshia," she says.
White's face is blank.
Keshia continues, "From the Clinic?"
"Oh, yes, yes. I -" White glances at Crabs, chatting with Shanice in the Excavation Room. White gets up and shuts the door. "I didn't realize I gave you my work number," he continues.
"Oh, it says here: Home. You must have wrote down the wrong one when you filled out your card with us," she says.
"I often get them confused," White says, "I spend so much time here." He chuckles quickly, again glancing into the other room.
"Is this a bad time?" asks Keshia.
White: "What is it?"
Keshia answers, "I want to invite you back to our sessions. It's been a long time since we've seen you."
"I've been busy," says White. He rubs the dark splotch on the back of his hand.
"I see," she says. There is a long pause. "Well, I just thought you might want to stop by, check your count-"
"There's no need to worry," White interrupts, "I've been doing what I need to do, and I feel fine- great, actually."
"I'm sure you feel fine- physically, especially with all these fancy new drugs- but how do you really feel, Robert?"
There is another long silence.
Keshia says, "See you next Tuesday. Okay?"
"Okay," says White. He tells her thank you before hanging up the receiver.
White looks to the ceiling, closing his eyes, "Tracy, I'll be damned if I'm not making the same mistakes you did."
He enters the Excavation Room in time to see Shanice handing Crabs a small piece of paper. When she sees White, her eyes pop, then she smiles.
"Dr. White, I'm heading home unless there's something else?"
"Okay, you catalogued all those new teeth, Shanice?"
"I did that this morning," she says.
Shanice straps on her bookbag, squeezing White's arm on the way out of the lab.
" 'Bye, Crabs," she smiles and is gone.
White pulls up a plastic chair and sits down next to Crabs. Crabs diverts his eyes. White tosses a manila folder to him. Crabs catches it, but continues to look around the lab. He observes the rows and rows of labeled artifacts and bones.
"What you do with they teeth?" he asks, setting the folder on a table.
"We can tell what their diet subsisted of by studying their teeth," White says, "Chemical absorption." He rises from his chair and begins picking up. His stomach growls.
Crabs picks through a few of the labeled bins. He is careful, delicate with each button, each bone fragment. He lifts the pieces to the light. He examines the contents of the plastic bin marked: "New York/ African Burial Ground/ July 12/ Artifact Shipment." Inside is a figurine carved and molded from wood and wax. The figure's tiny pin-prick eyes are covered over with soot. Its small arms are clasped over its chest. It is blackened with age.
"Yo, this cat was ugly," he laughs, setting it back in the bin.
"Aren't you curious about where you're from?" White asks pointing at the manila folder he handed the boy earlier, "Shanice damn near had a fit when she found out her genetic background derived from the Ivory Coast."
Crabs walks over to the folder, opening it.
"I know where I'm from," he says.
"You do?," White asks.
Later, it is dusk. White and Crabs walk home.
"Anambra?" Crabs repeats, "Why I got to be from Anambra, yo?"
White laughs, "I told you, yo, it's in Nigeria. Lots of us came from there."
"I ain't no slave," says Crabs, "Anambra, huh? You have an interesting job, Whitey."
Crabs face is pensive, deep in thought. White's stomach growls, again. A booming system comes and goes in the distance.
"I'm tired and hungry," White announces.
"I'm starving, yo," says Crabs.
"What do you want? My treat."
The boy's face brightens: "Can we get some crabs?"
White pauses and for the first time he really looks at Crabs who ambles along, shoulders hunched, mind fixed on crabs. His bowed face turns to White's and in his eyes, bubbling behind their surface, White sees a man.
"So, why 'Crabs'?" White asks finally.
Crabs pauses a moment: " 'Cuz that's what I like."
They crack up.
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