This is an excerpt from my forthcoming novel. It takes place at the 30th anniversary reunion of a group of former Black student radicals.
A tingle of panic snaked across my skin as my brain registered the view below. The fourth floor might as well have been the fortieth. Oblivious students milling about down in the quadrangle looked like doll-house miniatures. Tie dye tee shirts, faded bellbottoms and huge Afros turned the quad into a psychedelic garden. But the texture of the pavement was ominously clear to me, and not at all groovy. The breeze made my eyes blink with tears, which was just as well—the blur kept me from seeing my way-too-short life passing before me.
I stretched dangerously out the window, but the tail of the banner slipped from my reach again. The Temptations new hit, “I Can’t Get Next to You,” threaded through my mind as I clutched the window frame, gulping for air. A few students were starting to look up but there was still no sign of campus security or the Boston cops.
I could make out CL Leonard and Tank Butler, two other members of We Is Power, on the far side of the quad. CL was his usual elegant self—banlon shirt, sharply creased slacks and haughty attitude as if he had not been at the last WIPs meeting where we voted on the building takeover that was in progress fifty feet away. Tank, ever dependable, was waving down the “Say Brother” news van as it pulled up. At least the press relations part of Sheila’s plan was going right.
“Don’t look down!” Sheila called from the fifth floor window where she hooked the top end of the red, black and green banner to a radiator inside the window.
Swinging my gaze back up toward the symbol of Black Power flapping in the breeze, I did my version of a prayer.
If I screwed this up just because I’d skipped all those phys. ed. classes I wouldn’t have to worry about being expelled for helping We Is Power, lock down Cabot Hall. I’d die of embarrassment first.
I would never disappoint Sheila like that! I dropped the olive-drab jacket off my shoulders to the floor of the Provost’s office so my arms could be free in my ‘Free Mandela’ T shirt. I tugged feverishly at the West African fabric lapa wrapped around my waist. What was I thinking?! Only I would pick three yards of bright red and yellow cloth as the bottom half of my revolutionary uniform. It was flapping more than the banner and the two of them were conspiring to send me to my death below. I glanced over my shoulder as if the Black Nationalist police might be watching, unloosened the traditional wrap of my West Africa lapa and tied the ends in a good, old-fashioned square knot, securing the outfit tighter than a parachute.
Digging my toes practically through my Frye boots into my perch—the top of the radiator just inside the window—I stretched out again, certain that if I went down the skirt was going with me.
“Shit” became my mantra as I pushed my fingers higher, climbing the gray brick wall like Spiderman.
How could this happen? We’d negotiated the support of the student, ad hoc, anti-war caucus. We’d gotten members of WIP into Cabot Hall with enough food for a week—maybe. We’d managed to chain all the exits and get word to the press. Our ally group—Edie ‘Ziti’ and her boyfriend from Brandeis—was distracting college security across campus in the parking lot. Tank was getting the word out to the press. Now, if I could just get the damn banner!
I exhaled and shoved myself against the window frame like it was the last man I’d ever have and reached out one more time. Still no sirens. Good sign. The bottom of the red, black and green banner waved beyond my fingertips.
Pretend it’s George Wallace’s neck, I chided myself. Grab it!
From the floor above Sheila’s force of will pulled me up. Shit, if only I had those fake nails like Blanche, I’d have…
Sheila’s face was covered by a smile of relief like sun breaking through clouds.
“We is Power!” She shouted.
“Right on!!!” I exclaimed through clenched teeth.
A voice beside my ear!?
The vivid accuracy of the dream was holding me in a tight grip, like my subconscious tugging on my sleeve to tell me something. My stomach quivered as if I were still perched in that window or this was supposed to be some kind of portent or sign. But the take over of Cabot Hall was in the past; what did that have to do with the…?
“Whazzup, sugar?” A familiar voice beside me in the bed inquired, dragging me into wakefulness and tipping me even more off balance.