by Shauna Washington
I watched the two women dressed in purple, yellow, and white stomping to the beat of the trumpets, trombones, and saxophone horns while waving their handkerchiefs back and forth. They grabbed at the giddy, willing patrons, engaging in a two-step while walking through the lobby of the hotel. Not wanting to be grabbed myself, I quickly slipped out the front doors and into the sweltering heat that was so oppressive I felt like I could cut the humidity with a knife. It was no wonder that the shuttle bus driver from the airport had a smirk on his face as he dropped me off at this place.
So this was Louisiana, I reflected, and more specifically, New Orleans. I’d heard so much about the South, and the city, that I was anxious to see it, but I wasn’t quite prepared for just how hot and sticky it was. I felt my hair go from a Beyoncé flat iron to a Diana Ross blowout.
Big hair don’t care, I thought. The natural look suited my mood anyway. I was channeling my inner Pam Grier from one of those old movies.
I looked up and down the cobblestoned street, but saw no sign of Faith, who was supposed to pick me up here at this designated landmark. It was too bad she didn’t book our rooms here. We’d been friends since back in the day at UNLV and had lots in common. Two Black girls there on track scholarships, both studying fashion, who ended up rooming together our senior year. After graduation she made the permanent move to Los Angeles and ended up being a wardrobe designer for some sitcom. But her roots, she said, would always be in New Orleans.
Like me, she’d come from humble beginnings. Her grandmother, Magnolia, and Magnolia’s daughters, Shamae and Janaye, had worked for more than forty years combined at the former plantation called the Devereaux estate. The whole thing was more complicated than a Tyler Perry movie on steroids. Shamae got pregnant and died giving birth to Faith. She was raised by her grandmother, and later her auntie, Janaye, whom Faith called Naye Naye. She also talked a lot about a woman she called Lady D, otherwise known as Elizabeth Devereaux. Even though Naye Naye and Faith’s mother and grandmother all worked for the Devereauxs, and the family was what you’d call Southern White Gentility, Faith said Lady D always liked her and treated her right, spending time with her while Naye Naye worked there as a housekeeper.
Faith said she felt genuinely sad when the old lady passed last week. And that was the actual the reason for this trip, about which I was already having misgivings.
“I got notified that I’m in Lady D’s will,” Faith had said to me on the phone. “I can’t imagine why.” Her voice broke when she added, “But she did come to my auntie’s funeral. That was the last time I saw her and that was a year ago.”
She’d finished with a plea that I could hardly turn down: “Stacey, you’ve got to come for the reading of the will. I can’t face all those white folks alone.”
After hearing all that, how could I turn her down? And so here I was, my first time in the Big Easy, my hair expanding outward and already starting to sweat through the tan silk blouse I’d worn on the plane, and me getting ready to stand by my friend and face down a bunch of rich, entitled white people.
Just then I saw Faith pull up in a red MINI Cooper directly in front of the hotel’s entrance. I quickly adjusted my backpack, grabbed my carry-on suitcase, and headed for the car, hoping that she had the air-conditioning on high. She rammed the gear into park, jumped out, and ran around the front of the car to greet me.
“Stacey,” she called out.
“Hey, girl,” I said in my most fun, carefree tone.
Faith, who was a head-turner, had everyone, including the women, staring our way. She was a cocoa-skinned girl with a slender yet curvaceous build. She had natural, soft jet-black curly hair. In college, people used to accuse her of wearing a wig. Today she had it braided on both sides up in a Mohawk letting all those tight black curls loose. It looked edgy, like a lead singer in a rock band. She was wearing a Josephine Baker T-shirt with distressed holes throughout, ripped, acid-washed jeans, and black combat boots. She gave me a big hug and giggled excitedly.
“I can’t believe I beat you here,” she said. “My plane flew out of LAX.”
“Ain’t no clocks in Vegas,” I said. “You know that.”
Hotel security rolled by and the officer told us to remove our car from in front of the hotel. As we were loading my suitcase into the rental car, I caught a glimpse of an older Black guy in a straw fedora standing off to the side, leaning against a building and smoking a cigarette. He looked about forty, was dark skinned, and had on what looked like a pair of old-fashioned glasses with some kind of sunglasses connection that flipped up like Dwayne Wayne’s on A Different World. He was staring at Faith and me as we got back into the car.
Luckily, the air was working fine and turned on max.
I leaned back and let the coolness drift over me. I glanced back as Faith took off and saw the Black guy in the hat hailing a cab. Something about him gave me the creeps.
“You know that guy?” I asked.
“The scary dude in the sunglasses and hat.”
“I didn’t notice him,” she said.
I figured I was letting my imagination get the better of me. “So where we headed now?”
“To grab something to eat,” she said. “You got to be starving.”
Despite the plentiful restaurants on the street, she pulled into a chicken shack. I thought to myself I didn’t come all the way to the South to eat chicken wings, but she assured me it was listed on Triple D’s good eats list. Once we got settled with our food, she filled me in on the situation.
“The reading’s set for tomorrow at ten,” she said. “I’m so nervous seeing all those people again. I don’t really know any of them all that well. I mean, I haven’t seen Curtis in years, and his mother never liked me.”
“Curtis?” I asked.
“Lady D’s grandson by her son, Stewart. He was killed in a car crash way back when I was born. Curtis and his mother, Ruth Ellen, stayed on at the plantation. Lady D insisted, since the boy was the sole Devereaux heir. Eventually Ruth Ellen remarried, but they all stayed on living at the Devereaux Estate with her new husband and little Curtis. We were the same age. She’s a real witch, always telling Naye Naye and me to call her Mrs. Devereaux-Braxton.”
“Her new married name.” Faith smiled as she picked up her iced tea. “She hyphenated it. Guess she wanted to make sure she didn’t lose out on any of that Devereaux money.”
I smiled, too, but I wasn’t looking forward to this thing tomorrow.
“Any idea what she left you?” I asked.
Faith took a drink from the straw and shook her head.
“Not really,” she said. “Unless it’s that old music box that I used to play with as a kid. It’s made of wood and had this little gold crank and tiny drawers. I can still remember the song it played. ‘What a Wonderful World.’ Ever heard of it?”
“Of course, but not since Kermit sang it on Sesame Street.” I laughed. “I love the Louis Armstrong version too.”
I got up to get a refill on our drinks and saw someone in the next booth turn away quickly, ducking his bald head downward and hunching his shoulders. I made a point of watching him out of the corner of my eye as I refilled our cups. After doing a quick peek, I was sure it was the same man I’d seen in front of the hotel. Sure enough, the straw fedora and clip-on sunglasses attachment sat on the table next to his basket of food. I took out my phone and texted Faith to leave the stuff on the table and meet me in the bathroom right away. When she got the text, her face scrunched up and she looked over at me, but I shook my head and pointed. Shrugging, she got up and headed for the restroom.
I went in after her and said, “Call me paranoid, but that same creepy guy’s sitting close to us on the other side of that partition.”
“What creepy guy?”
“From in front of the hotel. The one that was staring at us.”
She laughed. “Well, we do look good, sis. Plus there a lots of weirdos out here. Just like downtown on Fremont in Vegas.
I laughed too. “Well, just in case, take a look at him while we’re leaving.”
But when we came out, the guy’s table was empty.
Maybe I was imagining things.
Our hotel, The Shamrock Inn, wasn’t in New Orleans proper, but rather in someplace called Lafayette Parish. Why it had that designation, I didn’t know, but the way Faith explained it Louisiana had parishes instead of counties. The Shamrock was more motel than hotel to my Vegas-girl sensibilities. It was an L-shaped, two-story building where you parked your car right in front of your room. The parking lot was mostly gravel except for a portion of weathered asphalt by the office. The only saving graces were an outdoor swimming pool that was loaded with a ton of kids and a restaurant next to the building. We went inside, freshened up a bit. Faith seemed a bit preoccupied so I figured I’d have to do something to cheer her up and take her mind off what was coming tomorrow.
“Well,” I said, “since the reading’s not until tomorrow we have time for some retail therapy like the old college days.” We both loved to shop. There’s something about going into a department store and getting a discounted item that you otherwise couldn’t afford, and what fashionista doesn’t need another pair of shoes?
“OMG,” she said, smiling. “Yes, yes, yes. And I know just where to go. The riverwalk.”
I had no idea what the riverwalk was, but it sounded kind of cool.
She drove there and explained that it was in the heart of New Orleans, right off the Mississippi River. It was a quaint looking outlet mall with lots of neat little shops. My credit cards were hovering on the endangered species list just making this trip here to back her up, but I bought couple of souvenir T-shirts and new pair of shoes anyway. Faith struck out, saying her credit cards were already way too close to being maxed out.
That night, when we got to the French Quarter, we commenced walking about the street with frozen drinks in hand. Faith had a strawberry daiquiri and mine was a 190 octane. This place had more than a few crazies. One was this well-built dude with a tree trunk body and a six-foot snake wrapped around his neck. We avoided him and immediately crossed the street only to see an old Creole woman in a metallic turban and a muumuu dress in an open tent. I could see her gold rings and bright nails caressing the globe on the table. She was to engage anyone too curious or staring too long.
“Let me read your future,” she chanted.
I definitely wanted no part of that.
“Not today, devil.” I laughed as we entered the first bar we found. We bar-hopped most of the night, dancing and doing karaoke until our throats were sore, trying to avoid the happy drunks and scantily dressed women twerking and spilling their drinks on my new shoes.
“This is wild,” I said. “Is it always like this?”
“You should see Mardi Gras. It’s like Fremont unhinged.”
She looked around and sighed. I caught a glimpse of a tear hanging on her eyelashes.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“I was just thinking,” she said.
She scrunched up her lips and wiped at her eyes.
“Coming back here. I remember when I was a little girl, living in that small apartment in the Ninth Ward, and then getting to go with Auntie Naye out to that mansion and seeing what all those rich people had.” She dug in her purse and pulled out a napkin. “It was so hard, always being on the outside, looking in, and knowing that I was there for the day but didn’t really belong. Not that Lady D wasn’t nice to me. She always treated me good—called me her ‘other grandbaby,’ and played games with me.” After wiping her eyes again she smiled and looked at me. Her mascara was streaking all down her cheeks.
“Girl, you look a Tammy Faye mess,” I said. “We better find one of these bars with a decent bathroom so you can clean up.”
Faith wiped at her eyes and smiled wistfully.
“Just think,” she said, “back in my grandmother’s day they had separate bathrooms, benches, and drinking fountains for whites and the coloreds.”
The way she emphasized the word with air quotes, I knew she felt the same way about it as I did.
“Good thing it’s not like that now,” I said. “I don’t like riding in the bus at all, much less having to sit in the back.”
We stopped under a street light, giggling, and I glanced around.
A male figure—a dead ringer for that Black guy wearing the fedora, darted into an alleyway.
I grabbed Faith’s arm and said, “I think that man’s following us again.”
“The one from the hotel and the restaurant.” I told her to stay there and I worked my way through the crowd of people to the alley I’d seen him go down. Cautiously, I peeked around the corner, but saw no one. I felt a hand on my arm and jumped.
It was Faith.
“Didn’t I tell you to stay back there?” I said.
Her eyes crinkled with a laugh.
“Girl, that settles it. No more Fat Tuesdays for you tonight. We’d best get back and sleep it off or else I’ll be too hungover tomorrow to hear what’s going on.”
I glanced around and nodded. “You’re right. Let’s go.”
As we made our way back to where we parked, I kept looking over my shoulder.
Maybe it was the alcohol.
Anyway, I’d had enough of the night scene.
The next morning, the sun was a bright glare in the eastern sky as we made our way down the long, narrow, curvy road to the Devereaux Estate. There were all sorts of trees—bald cypress willows, water oak—and lots of marshland. It looked like we were driving for at least three miles through a swamp. I lowered my window and stuck my head out like a dog. I must admit there was something very peaceful yet eerie about this area. The air felt warm but the breeze felt light and cool. It was a soundtrack of birds, crickets, and whatever else, I wasn’t sure. As we approached the main house, the swampy area seemed to fade in the distance. Now we were looking at a wooden picket fence. It was the longest fence I’d ever seen. The edge was lined with wild dandelions, lavender, and indigo flowers, almost like they were planted there on purpose. We made it to a one-lane road that led directly to the main house. I saw a two-story French Colonial style mansion with eight gigantic columns lining the front. It was all white with yellow plantation shutters. The double doors were yellow as well.
“Why do I feel like we’re driving onto the set on of Gone With the Wind?”
“It’s almost as bad,” Faith said. “Prepare yourself.”
There were three cars parked in front under the carport: an older white Cadillac, a gold Toyota Camry, and a purple Corvette that had a personalized license that read whodat.
“So who all is supposed to be here?” I asked.
Faith leaned backed in her seat and sighed. “Well, the lawyer Marlon Wellsby, Lady D’s grandson Curtis, and his annoying mother Ruth Ellen. That’s got to be Curtis’s souped-up muscle car there.”
“Looks like they beat us here.”
“Unfortunately,” she said, as she pulled around and parked on the far side of the entranceway. I noticed another car, a black Chevy Malibu, parked off to the side of the mansion. There was an outside staircase leading up to the second story, where I saw a silhouette of a figure descending the steps.
Faith was pointing out different things as we walked toward the house: the bougainvillea, the trellises, the huge bubbling fountain with an array of birdbaths.
“When I was a little girl I used to toss pennies into that fountain and make wishes,” she said. “I used to pretend that the naked lady there would grant all my wishes.”
The water looked clear and frothy as it bubbled out of a vase that a mermaid was holding.
“So what did you wish for?”
“The usual things,” she said. “Fame, fortune, a handsome prince.” She laughed as we ascended the steps. “I don’t mind telling them to you because none of them came true.”
“Not yet, anyway,” I said.
She rang the doorbell, and I heard the sound of a car door slamming. I glanced toward the sound and saw the Malibu tearing away from the side of the place in a hurry. The windows were tinted and I couldn’t see who was driving. Finally, the door opened and an old Black man in a formal butler’s uniform stood there with the most gracious smile on his face.
“Miss Faith,” he said. “So nice to see you.”
The skin at the corner of his eyes crinkled, and Faith jumped forward to give him a hug.
“Benjamin,” she said. “I was hoping you’d answer the door.”
“One of the last times I’ll be doing that,” he said.
Faith moved back and looked shocked. “What?”
The old man’s smile faded a bit and he half closed his eyes and nodded.
“It seems with Lady D’s passing,” he said, “my time here’s come to an end.”
“But you’ve lived here your whole life,” Faith said. “Your place is out back, I used to come there for tea leaves and honey.”
The recollection made the old man’s smile broaden once again. He took both of her hands in his and started to say something, but was interrupted by a loud voice. “Well, well, who do we have here?”
I looked and saw a tall, muscular white guy standing there. I figured him for his late twenties, the same as Faith and me. He had a baby face with a wide mouth framed by a blond mustache. He wasn’t exactly dressed for success: He was wearing a tight white V-neck, but it wasn’t Hanes; the material looked expensive. Plus he wore True Religion jeans. I hated those jeans. All that thick stitching and horseshoe emblem—yuck, but it seemed to go with his chain necklace with a gold alligator charm.
“Faith? Is that you?” he asked, smiling as he extended his hand. “It’s been a while.”
Faith smiled and shook his hand. “Hi, Curtis. How’ve you been?”
“Oh, getting by.” His eyebrow rose a bit as he looked me up and down. “Who’s your friend?”
“This is Stacey Deshay,” she said. “We roomed together in college.”
“Glad to meet you.” He extended a large open hand toward me. “I’m Curtis Deaveraux-Braxton.”
I shook hands as quickly as I could, but the power of his grip gave it a little more squeeze than was necessary, or desirable. He must have seen me grimace slightly and he quickly apologized.
“Sorry.” He flashed his engaging smile again. “I used to be a gymnast in college and my grip’s kind of a reflexive action. You lose your hold on the rings or bar and you can take a real bad fall.”
“And we wouldn’t want that to happen,” I said, smiling back. He may have been one of the privileged class that Faith had mentioned, but despite his lack of fashion sense I had to admit he was a fine specimen.
“Miss Faith,” old Ben said. “Come out back and see me before you go, please. I’d like to say goodbye.” He leaned toward her and whispered. “I got something for you.”
She stepped forward and kissed his cheek. “Sure thing.”
Curtis stood by watching and smiling as the old man shuffled off.
“He’s the salt of the earth,” Curtis said. “Always has been. Such a nice gentleman.”
“Where’s the reading at?” Faith asked.
“It’s in the study. Want me to show you the way, or do you remember?”
Faith laughed. “I remember. It hasn’t been that long, and I did grow up here.”
“Right,” he said, the smile still on his lips. He turned and held out his arm, indicating we should go first.
As we walked Faith leaned close to me and whispered, “I just didn’t have the silver spoon.”
If Curtis heard her, he made no indication. We went inside the house.
There was antique lighting throughout, but it was dim compared to the rest of the place. On both sides of the white walls were vibrant paintings of trees, birds, and reptiles.
“What beautiful paintings,” I said.
“I know. Lady D used to sit outside her bedroom balcony and paint what she saw. I was fascinated just watching her. Sometimes she’d let me try to touch something up.” We came to a portrait of an elegant-looking woman with electric blue eyes seated by a rolltop desk. Faith gazed at the portrait. “I remember her working on this one during one of my last visits.”
“Who is it?”
“Self-portrait.” Faith smiled wistfully, and then looked down the hallway toward a set of doors with colored glass panes. “Come on, we’d better get in there.”
I could tell she just wanted to get this over with.
Once reaching the end of the hallway, Curtis took a few large strides, overtaking us, and pulled open the door.
“Here,” he said. “Allow me.”
We both stepped through the doorway. He seemed polite enough. Too bad he didn’t have a clue about fashion.
He opened the etched-glass French doors that led into the study. The walls were lined with books from floor to ceiling. It even had one of those sliding ladders connected to the shelves. In the middle of the room was a glossy, rectangular, mahogany wood table that was at least eight feet long. There were six cream leather chairs. Three along each side, with enough space between them to do a cartwheel. At each end of the table were captain’s chairs. One was empty. The other was tilted forward. On the table in front of that chair was a white lace cloth and an eight-by-ten picture in a gold frame. Adorned around it were a bed of leaves with daisies and wildflowers. It must have been a mini memorial for Lady D.
The far side of the table was full. From Faith’s description of who all was supposed to be there, I pretty much figured who was who.
“Ah, Ms. Le Fleur, so nice of you to join us,” a heavyset man with a mane of silver-white slicked back hair said. He was seated near the head of the table, and his upper body was the size of a beer keg.
“Nice to see you again, Mr. Wellsby,” Faith said.
“Have a seat and we can get started,” he said, then glanced at me. “Ah, and who is this?”
“This is my friend,” Faith said. “Stacey Deshay. I asked her to come with me.”
“This was supposed to be a private reading,” a slender, middle-aged man blurted out. He had the look of somebody who spent half his time inside a bottle and the other half trying to crawl out.
“Hush, Todd,” the woman next to him said. She was rail thin and the features on her face seemed frozen in Botox mode. From what Faith told me, she had to be Ruth Ellen Devereaux-Braxton. Her lips slowly drew apart, exposing some ultra-white teeth, in what half passed for a smile. “How nice of you and your friend to join us in our time of sadness, Faith. And now, Marlon, if you don’t mind, I’d prefer to proceed at this time.”
The heavyset man with the slicked back hair grunted as he moved forward.
“Certainly.” He put on a pair of readers and picked up a document from the table. After clearing his throat, he began. “As the duly authorized agent and attorney for the Devereaux estate, I hereby read what is the last will and testament of Elizabeth Harriett Sharon Devereaux.”
His voice droned on through a bunch of what I assumed was legal mumbo jumbo, detailing the establishment of a small foundation to preserve the bayou and wetlands area on the southern section of the estate, while leaving the rest of the family fortune to the rightful heir, Curtis Allan Devereaux, the only child of Stewart Edgar and Ruth Ellen Devereaux, as established by bloodline demarcation. The amount of the family fortune was immense, and I was thinking that it looked like silver-spoon Curtis was going to buy himself a whole fleet of new muscle cars. The lawyer’s voice droned on and on and I started to fade out when my ears perked up at the mention of Faith’s name.
“And to Faith Le Fleur, the descendant of our faithful servant, Shamae Le Fleur, I bequeath the Hollenbrook Music Box that she played with as a child.”
Faith and I exchanged glances. Obviously, this music box had a special significance to Faith, but probably had little monetary value. At least I got to spend some time with my friend and see New Orleans; I’d seen about all I cared to of the Devereaux-Braxton plantation.
The lawyer was winding things up and mumbled something about this will being superseded should any other definite heirs to the Devereaux family lineage be discovered, blah, blah, blah. I was actually on the verge of dozing off when the lawyer slapped the papers down onto the big table and said, “And this concludes the reading.”
Everyone sat in silence for a few seconds, and then Todd Braxton let out a laugh that sounded like a donkey braying.
“Wow,” he said in a voice loud enough to rattle glass. “Maybe we should buy the Saints next time they come up for sale.”
His lips slid back into a grin and he got up and immediately went to a crystal decanter of what looked like bourbon sitting on a mahogany
cart with wheels. He removed three glasses and poured some in each glass.
“This calls for a celebration,” he said, lifting his glass to his lips and draining it before pouring himself another. He then handed a glass to his wife and one to Curtis. He started to hold it up in a toast, then stopped. “Oh, forgive me. Marlon, would you like to join us?”
He didn’t even look at Faith and me, but I didn’t expect he would.
The lawyer removed his glasses, cast a sideways glance at us, and then shook his head.
“It’s a bit too early in the day for me,” he said, “and after all, I am working.”
“Suit yourself,” Todd Braxton said, and lifted his glass. “To continued success and good fortune.”
“Mother,” Curtis said. “What about Faith and her friend?”
Ruth Ellen paused and gave us an oblique look.
“Oh, you’re quite right, darling,” she said. “This is the time to be magnanimous. Todd, get two more glasses.”
“No thanks,” Faith said.
“I’ll pass, too,” I said, playing coy. But the truth be told, I was in no mood to join them folks either.
Todd didn’t wait for the others before it was bottoms up. Curtis did the same, while Ruth Ellen took only a dainty sip from hers. Maybe her Botox face prevented her from slamming one down. Her husband poured himself another one and winked at the attorney.
“Let’s make plans to draw up a contract with those oil people as soon as possible,” he said. “It’s time to get moving on that.”
The lawyer shifted in his chair and handed a business card across the table. “Ms. Le Fleur, why don’t you contact my office with your address and we’ll have the music box shipped to you as soon as we locate it.” His smile looked very perfunctory. “All property in the estate is going to be catalogued for auction.”
“Auction?” Faith said. “You’re selling everything?”
Wellsby nodded. “I’m afraid so.”
“But what about the bird sanctuary?” Faith asked. “Didn’t Lady D leave some provision for that to be continued?”
“Don’t worry ’bout that none,” Todd Braxton said, grabbing the decanter again. “Once the drilling starts, all them dere birdies will be flying the coop anyway.” He refilled his glass to the brim as he turned his back on us.
“Daddy, please,” Curtis said.
His stepfather frowned and went back to his drink.
Again the lawyer looked at the three of them busily talking among themselves. His head rotated back toward us, and he repeated, “I’ll have the item shipped to you.”
Faith picked up the lawyer’s card and stood. So did I.
As we walked to the door, the room was erupting into a combination of loud laughs and loose talk. I saw a glint of sadness in Faith’s eyes as we went through the French doors. I looked back in disgust. That was all I could do since this wasn’t my neck of the woods.
“This is not what Lady D would’ve wanted,” Faith said as her eyes filled with tears.
“You okay?” I whispered as we stepped into the hallway. I let the door close behind me.
“Yeah,” she said, wiping at her eyes. “I was just kind of sad thinking that I’ll never see Lady D or this place again.”
From what I’d seen in that room, I wondered why she’d want to, but that wasn’t for me to say. I just walked beside her and hoped that me being there had made the whole situation a little easier for her.
But somehow, I doubted it.
“Do you know that lawyer?” I asked.
She shrugged. “Not really. At my auntie’s wake he paid his respects and introduced himself. He seemed extra curious about me, but I just thought he was being nosy. That’s how everybody is out here.”
I thought the guy looked like a Colonel Sanders look-alike in a dark suit, but said nothing. This whole scene was just weird.
“Come on,” she said, giving her eyes a final wipe. “Let’s go say goodbye to Benjamin.”
Benjamin Croupe, who’d been a permanent fixture during her childhood, lived in a small cabin not far from the back of the mansion. I assumed the term “servant’s quarters” applied, but it could have just as easily once been the slave’s quarters. He’d fixed the place up enough so that it actually looked kind of nice. It wasn’t a very long walk, and the way was paved by a trail of large flagstones embedded in the red dirt. The rear yard was full of big hibiscus trees, weeping willows, and tons of birdhouses. As we walked toward what I could see was a stone cabin, birds chirped and swooped away from us.
Faith smiled. “Lady D loved the birds. She used to hold her hand out and this one hummingbird would actually come and sit on her finger.”
As she said that, I saw two hummingbirds hovering in space, their wings fluttering so fast they almost looked like a cartoon. Just then I thought of Cinderella.
“Lady D would have never allowed them to tear up this landscape with some oil drilling,” Faith said. “I hate to think what’s going to happen around here, and it’s not like they need the money.”
“I guess you can never be too rich,” I said, watching as the hummingbirds fluttered away, as fast as a flash of sunlight filtering through some trees.
We stopped at a solid-looking front door of the stone cabin and Faith knocked, calling out Benjamin’s name. We heard a voice say something from inside and the door swung inward. The old man smiled at us, stepped back, and motioned us in.
Three suitcases sat on the floor of a small living room. The adjacent room was a kitchen with a high table, a refrigerator, and a stove. The place looked simple, but cozy.
“I’ve got so many good memories of this place,” Faith said. “And of you.”
The old man smiled. “You got so much of your mother’s look to you. Your auntie too. Two beautiful hardworking women, rest their souls.”
They talked for a few minutes and Faith asked where he’d be going. Benjamin replied that he had a niece up in Shreveport and would be going there tomorrow.
“I’ve got all my goods packed up,” Benjamin said. “Otherwise, I’d offer you and Miss Lady some hibiscus tea and honey.”
“That’s okay,” Faith said. “We’re ready to leave anyway.”
That sounded like the best plan to me.
The old man and Faith embraced and wished each other blessings and hope, and exchanged cell phone numbers. But as we headed for the door, he called out to her.
“Wait. Lord help me, I almost forgot.”
He strode to a cabinet, opened the door and removed a small wooden box about six by four inches. Holding it with both hands, he gave it to her.
Faith’s face lit up and she accepted the box.
“Lady D gave this to me right before she—” His voice trailed off and an expression of sadness came over his face. “Well, she made me promise to hold this for you and make sure you got it.”
Faith lifted the lid and the sounds of “What a Wonderful World” chimed from the box.
“Oh, thank you so much, Benjamin,” she said. “I loved this box so much. We used to send each other secret messages in it.”
His face creased with a smile, then it quickly faded again.
“Strange,” he said. “She was so adamant that I keep it here, with me, and make sure I gave it to you. Almost like she knew her end was coming soon.” He slowly shook his head. “I still can’t believe it. I remember finding her at the bottom of them stairs. Don’t know how something like that could’ve happened. After all these years, to die like that.”
Faith closed the lid and gave the old man a hug.
As we walked back to the car I saw someone standing on the second floor landing. From the size of his belly, I figured it had to be Marlon Wellsby, the attorney.
Faith wound the key on the bottom of the music box a few times and lifted the lid again, playing the song. The melody followed along with us as we walked. I looked back and saw good old Marlon watching us. I felt like waving, but I didn’t.
“What a wonderful world,” she said.
But was it . . . ?
Copyright © 2023. Bayou Blues by Shauna Washington