Look Alive

by Madison Esshaki
Look Alive

June 4th, 1857 

The sky is crying. So am I.

The rain drowns the small blue flower in my hands. I let the petals wash away, one by one.

I stare at the brown heap in front of me, praying that my father will jump out from the dirt and hold me safe.

He ain’t even breathing, I remind myself. How could he stand and hold you? 

His funeral is small, and not a proper one. I am the only one who mourns him. Most people do not bother with the lives or deaths of slaves. Our master certainly didn’t. The way that man beat my father will forever haunt me.

Tears fall as I relive the memories. I’ve run away from that life of slavery, and I have sworn in my heart never to return.

I glance down again at the disheveled flower in my hand. It is like me; tattered and blown by the storms of life. It is broken and missing petals, no doubt, but it’s still alive. I let the last of my tears fall onto the dirt mound covering my father. With a final sniffle and swallow, I rise.

I have no words.

I feel I won’t for quite some time.

Grief has buried them like I have buried my father.

I shall live like the small blue flower. Broken and silent, but alive.

I place the ruined bloom on the mound, construct a speechless goodbye in my mind, and walk out of the woods with my mouth sealed.

May 1, 1861 

Springtime in New York is busy.

The streets are crowded with people, and with talk. Markets and shops line the streets, and crowds come and go from them. The humid air sticks to my throat and smells of dirt and flowers.

I do my best to blend in with it all. People hurry past me.

I reach into my pocket and feel the few coins within it. Money is a constant worry since my father died and I ran away. Selling flowers is the only way I provide for myself. My father taught me never to give up, so I haven’t.

I watch from the alleyway as men scurry in the streets. Some fight, others just show they are willing.

The day is warm, and my flowers begin to wilt. I know the feeling.

Suddenly, someone taps the back of my shoulder. I whirl around, eyes wide and muscles tense.

“Those are beautiful flowers, miss,” a young man says, smiling. His eyes are brown and kind, and his skin is like my father’s. I fiddle with my flower basket and wonder if I should trust him. I take a step back.

The man clears his throat. “I didn’t mean to startle you,” he says. “The name’s Carther.” He holds out his hand for me to shake. I accept. He smiles again, a gap-toothed smile with snow-white teeth.

Carther hands me a yellowed piece of paper; a flier.

 

JOIN THE FIGHT FOR FREEDOM FOR ALL AMERICANS, BLACK AND WHITE 

NO MILITARY EXPERIENCE REQUIRED, WE ACCEPT MEN AND WOMEN

 WE REVOLT AT NOON TOMORROW 

JOIN US, HISTORY IS WATCHING. 

 

I stare at Carther. Revolting for freedom?

He stares back. “Have you not heard the news? The Southern States attacked Fort Sumter less than a month ago. We’re fighting against slavery!”

My heart stops for a moment, and my mind travels back in time, to the memory of my father being beaten.

“Will you join us?” Carther asks.

I hold his stare and shrug.

His eyes are confused, and I can tell he doesn’t understand.

I tap my throat with my fingers.

His eyes snap with realization. “You don’t speak?”

I nod.

Carther looks down at the pile of fliers in his hands, then back at me. “May I buy a flower?” he asks.

I tilt my head to the side.

“A flower,” he repeats, pointing to the blue in my hands. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out three pennies. We exchange treasures. “It will stand as a good reminder to my men,” he says.

Placing my flower in his pocket, Carther walks closer to me.

“Please join us, miss. Even if you can’t use your voice, we can use all the beating hearts we can get.”

My heart beats, all right. It pounds in my chest as I contemplate his offer.

Freedom is something my father always spoke of, always wanted, but never received.

I’ve hardly interacted with anyone in four years. Am I about to join this revolution?

I swallow.

Is this my chance at a family again?

Slowly, I nod my head.

Carther beams with joy, and I wonder how his smile fits on his face.

“Wonderful! Meet us at this square tomorrow,” he says, turning away. “Oh, one more thing.” He turns back. “Will you write me your name?” My hand shakes as I take the pencil he is holding and turn over my flier.

I write what my father named me in messy writing. I haven’t had much practice.

“Caroline,” he reads, and it feels strange to hear my name again. “That’s lovely. I’ll see you tomorrow, Caroline.” He tips his cap to me before he leaves.

I stand alone, puzzled by my choice.

What am I getting myself into? 

I can only wonder as I try to sell the rest of my flowers.

May 2, 1861 

There are so many people in the square, and my stomach churns at the sight. I feel as if I’m drowning amongst angry men.

I wander, feeling out of place. I don’t match their energy.

Finally, I find that gap-toothed smile. Carther waves at me as he climbs atop a statue. I swallow hard as he addresses his crowd.

“Today may not go down in history,” he begins. “But we must fight and speak for those who cannot.”

He meets my eyes, then continues.

“Those who have a voice, use it! Those who don’t, keep your eyes peeled and use your fists. Never forget what we fight for!”

The crowd roars, and begins marching and yelling. I am not entirely sure what the crowd fights for, but I silently follow, clinging to that vague dream of the freedom that my father wanted.

Carther makes his way through the crowd to me.

“Thank you for reminding me that flowers can be beautiful, even after hardship,” he whispers.

I’m not sure what to make of that.

***

For the next two hours, the yelling and marching continues.

Carther and his friends help me warm up to this idea of fighting. I learn to pump my fist in rebellion.

As we pass through town, I see a man lurking near the crowd. He keeps his distance, with a look of curiosity on his face. I wonder if he wants to join us, but is intimidated.

Slowly, I walk towards the man. He stares.

I smile, motioning for him to join, but he backs away.

I understand how it feels to be unsure of who to trust.

Reaching into my pocket, I pull out a flower. The corners of his mouth turn up into a smile as I hand it to him.

I pump my fist and he does the same. I see Carther smile out of the corner of my eye as I lead the man into the crowd.

As our paths cross, Carther flashes me a smirk. “What is your story, Caroline?” he asks.

I shrug.

“How old are you?”

I hold up all ten of my fingers, then bring down six. Fourteen.

“Ah,” he says. “Do you have any family?”

The question causes me to stop in my tracks. My pulse quickens as I bury the memories.

I shake my head and continue to walk, keeping my eyes on the ground.

There is a beat of silence before Carther clears his throat.

“I’m sorry,” he mutters.

After another pause, Carther speaks again. “Whether you realized it or not, what you did back there showed true leadership.”

I raise my eyebrows. Me? A leader?

“You know, I could use someone like you by my side.”

I stop, taken aback by the offer. Fear enters my mind.

I can’t, I think, voicing my thoughts with a head shake and sorry eyes.

Carther looks down. “Very well, I understand.” His voice is gentle, and I try to ignore the strange feeling of guilt in my stomach as we continue walking.

***

As we move into the city, there are hundreds of people crowding the streets.

This, Carther warns me, is when it gets difficult.

We pass by an enslaved man who is chained up by a man in a uniform. He is crying, and I want to help. The uniformed man drags him into a carriage and locks him up before I can.

My pulse quickens.

Carther commands us to be louder.

A group of men with white skin punch a brown man and make him bleed. They call him horrible things.

More men attack ours. People are falling to the ground.

I am terrified. Why am I here?

My breath catches in my throat as a gang of uniformed men head towards us. “It’s the police!” someone shouts. Men from both sides scurry away.

I don’t know what I can do. Carther is commanding louder than ever, telling us to persevere.

I scream internally as a policeman grabs his shoulders.

Carther lets out a gasp and struggles to escape. I watch in terror as they beat him and drag him away. They shove him into a cell at the back of a carriage.

With the crack of a whip, they start to drive away.

I run faster than I have in years to keep up with the carriage in motion, where Carther is locked up inside.

When he sees me, he crawls close to the bars.

“Caroline!” he says. “Lead those men!”

Tears roll down my face as I run. I shake my head.

I can’t, Carther! 

He frantically reaches into his pocket and pulls out my rumpled flower. “Still beautiful, still alive,” he says, handing it to me through the bars.

He stares me in the eyes, pleading like the first time I met him.

“Caroline, do this so that other girls can grow up with fathers.”

This hits me hard in the chest. I stumble back, unable to keep up any longer.

“Our fight brings them hope!” Carther shouts as I falter behind. He flashes me a sad, gap-toothed smile.

Before I can gather my thoughts, the carriage rolls out of sight.

A group of our men crowd near me. They seem discouraged and unsure of the next steps.

I am out of breath and dazed. I realize how selfish I’ve been.

I look around at the faces who have fought and bled for others. I look down at the flower in my hand and think of the difference I could make.

Of the lives I could save if this revolution succeeds.

I let the realization seep into my skin, into my heart, and into my voice.

I swallow the selfishness and dryness.

“Gentlemen!” The sound that escapes my mouth is raspy from years of silence, but I know that my voice must be heard.

“Look alive!”

 

Madison Esshaki

Madison Esshaki is a fifteen year old aspiring author who lives in Michigan with her parents and eleven younger siblings. She loves musical theatre and art as well as writing. Find more from Madison at madisonesshaki.com!

Madison Esshaki

Madison Esshaki is a fifteen year old aspiring author who lives in Michigan with her parents and eleven younger siblings. She loves musical theatre and art as well as writing. Find more from Madison at madisonesshaki.com!

3 Comments

  1. Abby

    Wow! This was so vivid. I felt like I was there. I wish this was longer so I could have stayed in the story longer. Very well done, Madison!

    • Madison

      Thank you so much, Abby, I really appreciate it! I love your work as well. 🙂

      • AbbY

        You are so sweet! Thank you! 🙂

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