The Migration Suite: A Study in C Sharp Minor

(Content Note: Use of racist slur.)

First Movement: Creation

The lights dotting the night sky filled the hunter with wonder and terror. He did not know what they meant, nor why they hid during the day. But each night he stared up at them, waiting. A fallow emptiness always settled on him after a hunt, so he rested here to appreciate the smell of the forest after a heavy rain or the smoke from the flames they had harnessed. His band depended on him, for he was their best hunter. If they knew of his habit of pausing at this site with his curiosity and questions, they would call him something else.

His band walked the land their ancestors walked and would be moving on soon, uprooting as the days grew shorter. The boundaries of his people ran from the great sands—endless and harsh where little grew—to a stretch of grassland with only a few scattered trees. In between, along the river, was fertile land full of game. His people would follow the river away from the coast. They were free, but he wanted more.

He wondered if the night lights were the spirits of his ancestors looking down on him. And about what came before. Perhaps…

…before life roamed across the earth, there was nothing except the vast black blanket of the night sky. Then the First Light appeared, carving out space in the darkness. Its light revealed something shapeless beneath it, vast and empty, formless like an endless stretch of water. The First Light ruled the sky, but was alone, so it split itself in order to have a companion. The Second Light—powerful and mysterious, with a deep understanding of all things—ruled the great below. Together, they birthed a son, mighty in form, to govern the shapeless in-between, the expanse of water separating the sky and the great below. Soon their band grew, the lights scattering seed into the sky to create more lights in the darkness, all bending to and living with the First Light.

One day the First Light pondered the grayness of the bleakness separating him from the great below. He wanted to go to his son to petition that there should be life. But as time passed their realms had grown distant. The Second Light, who understood the secrets of existence, created a deep tunnel, a hidden path, for him to reach their son. The First Light descended along the passage from his realm in the sky with only the whooshing, much like waves, to mark his passage.

Together, he and his son brought forth land. They planted a huge tree whose branches stretched across the entire land. At the base of the tree, the son dug a hole. Its roots ran deep into the earth, into the great below, and animals and people used them to climb out. With that, the world was finished, and the First Light returned to his band in the sky.

Feeling a melancholy relief from a story well crafted, the hunter foraged for a large stone. He wanted to one day gather his people, a mighty band, in one place. Where he could grow old and watch the young play. Though he had no word for it, he dreamt. And if he chose a name for himself, it would reflect that. He erected the stone on his remembrance site, to mark his people’s passage, to remind the spirits that they had been here, and to look favorably upon his people.

The hunter who dreamed of more returned to his band and for a time they were happy.

The billowy movement begins as a prelude in a major key with the tinkle of plaintive notes rising to create lush chords for an innocent tone poem full of hope and promise.

Second Movement: When We Were Kings

Mansa Dinga Cisse just wanted the right to be. Dinga Cisse was no mansa who sat on a throne growing fat while sending warriors out to do his bidding. He accompanied his men, leading from the front. The day he was unable to do so was the day his spirit would join his ancestors.

An ominous rumble echoed out as the roof of a stockade collapsed. A tumult of shrieks cut through the air. More buildings crashed to the earth, billowing dust into the air like so much brown fog. The gates of a byre of conquered peoples shuddered with their release.

The kraal heaved at the footfalls of the approaching warriors and stirred wrath of a vengeful father. Dreams of wealth filled the other tribe’s bellies. Dinga’s heart, however, burned at the thought of the loss of his firstborn son. The sun-dappled meadows around the kraal became killing fields. The constant thrum of bowstrings resounded in the trees like a swarm of bees deciding to learn a new song. Warriors flooded over the kraal, naked fury in their eyes; a fury which hadn’t spent itself. A hail of assegai cut down the warriors guarding the prisoners. The remaining ones were cut down and discarded like goatskin dolls tossed onto the cookfire. By the light of burning huts at the main gate, the smoke column rose like worship incense.

Night whispered as they neared their home in Wagadu. The group passed their own cattle byre, which had been moved outside the town to make room for more people. The commoners resided in the densely packed part of the great city. The outlying thick walls enclosed huts piled upon huts, all crammed along the base of the hill.

“What word do you bring?” Anasa the Forgotten asked. A Wise One rumored to have been born in Nok—a land of artisans, magic, and secrets—he was the griot of the village. A contingent of agoze trailed behind him, anxious to learn his mystic ways.

“Our neighbor deals with the Strange Ones,” Mansa Dinga said.

“Curse them for fools. The Strange Ones whisper in their ears like milk-skinned trickster spirits. Until their coming, that tribe measured their wealth in cattle and cowrie beads. Now they pan gold from the hills to the north and hoard ivory, glass beads, and cloth.”

“They trade in kinsmen.” Mansa Dinga sucked his teeth in disgust. “What kind of man sells his own kind for profit?”

Anasa the Forgotten held out his hand. Within it was a stone. “We all have our parts to play and journeys to take. You have a hard road ahead to maintain Wagadu. A delicate balance to remember who you are. Empires change forms and adapt based on who conquers them. However, even when a group frees themselves, they may take on the example taught them by their oppressors.”

One of Anasa’s agoze stepped forward, a young girl with her hair styled into two lobes—the “ears of the caracal”—held in place by combs of ivory. Wearing a short shirt of lion pelt with sacred cowrie shells around the hem, she raised her face to him, with soft brown eyes fit to capture men’s souls, and said, “Tell us of tomorrow.”

Anasa the Forgotten cleared his throat, allowing time for his agoze to gather around him. Dinga smirked at the performance. When he was ready, Anasa began in a hushed, reverent tone.

“‘Four times Wagadu stood there in all her splendor. Four times she turned her face.’ So the ancients always began the tales of old. The third time Wagadu will disappear will be through greed. Many believe Wagadu was built on the strength of its gates, one facing each direction, but her true strength, why she endured, did not matter if her foundations were stone, wood, or earth.

“There will be a mighty mansa, a teacher, and his two sons will disagree about who will succeed him. The oldest will make a pact with a serpent with seven heads and promise it a sacrifice once every year in return for victory over his brother. When the two brothers fight, the oldest will win.

“The serpent will make the country wealthy with gold and good rains. But one day, a man will rise up who was engaged to the woman selected to be the next sacrifice. The young man will cut off the serpent’s head. Seven years of drought will follow and Wagadu will begin its decline, its people abandoning it in the Great Dispersal. But it is said that Wagadu resides in the hearts of her people, always connected. Wherever they go, the people carry Wagadu in their hearts. The third time Wagadu will change her name it will be Ghana. Thus, the ancients always close with the reminder: ‘Four times Wagadu changed her name. Four times Wagadu disappeared and was lost.’”

Tomorrow would come for his people soon enough, Mansa Dinga knew.

The melody turns into something foreboding. A heavy backbeat as sweet voices rise over the melancholy movement, building rhythmic density. A broad sweeping melody tinged with regret, the song turns ominous. Sorrowful and slow, its tone melodies close as black bodies pressed together in cargo holds, depending on each other’s breath to survive their dark, harrowing passage.

Third Movement: Runaway Journeys

I believe all our journeys are to be celebrated, mourned, and remembered.

The cold night air brushed against my skin, slicing through my blouse. My eyes finally adjusted to the malefic darkness. Crouching behind a row of bushes, the brittle moonlight painted the shadow of the leafy bush onto my face like a shadow mask of war paint. I waited, waited, waited. Nervously I started to hum some tuneless melody that sounded more like a field rhyme than anything else. Salty sweat wetted my lips as it trickled along my face. Drawn by the heat, gnats swarmed uncomfortably close, buzzing about my ears. My muscles, sun-baked and worn, poised to spring. Even dressed as I was, people eyed me with suspicion. The Fugitive Slave Act made it illegal for anyone to help or harbor slaves. Any white person in any free city could accuse any black person of being a slave and drag them against their will—city officers could offer me no protection—back below the Mason-Dixon line. More restrictions to control movement and power.

The rustling of the underbrush signaled the moment of revelation. Exhilaration and trepidation convulsed my heart and unleashed a storm of thunderclaps in my chest. He emerged from the shadows and milled nonchalantly against the stolid cliff face, overgrown with its own vegetative mat. His threadbare shirt, little more than a burlap sack with arm and neck holes, hung over pants, frayed just past his knees, held up by a cord of hemp. His body was a contour map of blood-clotted patches and a series of bruises. Collecting their stories—and all our stories were too similar—I knew his feet were thick with calluses. His back throbbed with a dull ache. His shirt was glued to it by sweat and congealed wounds. Each step ripped open a partially-healed gash, causing him to suffer every tear of his long history of pain. A freshly cleared dirt road separated me from him.

“Moses,” I whispered.

“Jordan,” a hoarse voice replied.

Opening my lantern to further illuminate the furtive figure, the light revealed a body striped from lashings. I recognized the treatment, the wounds rubbed with salt, vinegar, and hot pepper. His weight collapsed into me. I helped him to a nearby clearing.

“What are you waiting for? Hurry up!” the man from the clearing whispered as loudly as discretion allowed. We bolted from the blind toward the entrance. The man grabbed him by the arm. “We risk everything to help you. Don’t betray us by your carelessness.”

The escaped slave wrenched free of the man’s grasp, expending what little strength he had left before collapsing onto the ground. My other compatriots tended him with food, drink, and treatment of his wounds. Scowling at the first man, I returned to my post to await any other strays I might find. I wasn’t expecting any others, but as my heart raced, I used the time to calm myself. To be reminded of being so desperate to leave behind a system which brutalized and exploited. To risk capture and punishment. Because all our stories were the same.

It was said that my mother was a conjure woman. She gave me this stone before I left, calling it a spirit stone. She placed it on a necklace within a small box shaped like a miniature coffin. The daughter of a previous plantation owner, my mother had often told me that her prior master had been mild until his first wife died. When he remarried, his second wife’s cruelty—borne of jealousy for she saw my mother as a threatening rival—knew no bounds. Without warning, my mother was ripped from her family and sold to another to “keep her in her place.”

Because of her beauty, the overseer’s whip rarely tasted her. Which was no comfort for her since she’d found the favor of her master’s amorous attentions instead. I was born so light complexioned that I was often confused for one of my master’s white family. Eventually, his wife became so troubled by my presence—I suspect because one too many times folks commented on how I favored her other daughters—that I continued my family tradition: on my eleventh birthday I was given as a wedding gift to their oldest daughter and her husband, a physician named Besamoon who also lived in Mississippi. That was their mistake.

They drilled “nigger” into me so thoroughly, they didn’t have to be around to keep me in my place. I’d stare at the hills and the master didn’t even have to be around for me to hear his voice remind me that I’d better not think about running off. I heard the whip crack in my sleep. I knew how to keep my eyes down and mouth shut when they were in the room. But selling me off only instilled a deeper fear: that one day I might have a child. All thoughts of running away were wrapped up with my attachment to friends and relatives. But out at the Besamoon’s, I had no attachments, one less chain entangling me. All I took with me was my mother’s spirit stone. I knew I was meant to be free.

Forming a resolution that I would escape, my planning began immediately. As a house slave, I knew I’d be called upon to make frequent trips out of the house. Having run errands for her mother—least ways til the whispers burned in my mistress’ ears—I knew how to interact with clerks, salespeople, and busybodies. On one occasion the most audacious idea burned my spirit. My preparation began by “accumulating” a little money either from my errands or their pocketbook. When I was ready, I slipped into my mistress’ bedroom and stole a floral dress with matching bonnet.

Wrapping my arm in a sling, I walked down to the station to purchase a train ticket. My clothes signified status; my sex—and I daresay my beauty—was my weapon. I became invisible. The idea that one of us could pretend to be one of them would be a threat none of them could begin to conceive. Still, I tempered my heart as I neared the counter.

“It is a very fine morning, sir,” I demurred.

“It is indeed. Where to, ma’am?” He tipped his cap to me.

“Parsons, Indiana to visit my ailing aunt.” That was the sort of detail they loved to hear from unaccompanied young ladies. I needed to head north, but not far so as to rouse suspicion. Southern Indiana was more south than free no matter what its state government said.

His eyes fixated at my bosom. “That’s an interesting necklace.”

“It’s a… reliquary. An antique passed down in our family. A way of remembering our stories.” I kept my eyes down and my mouth shut, but my ears were always open. I thrived on words. Always had to learn them.

“You are so articulate.” The way he pronounced “articulate” I feared he saw the colored girl masquerading in a bonnet. Then he smiled and he slid a piece of paper toward me. “Just sign here.”

“You flatter me, sir.” Echoes of my mistress’ timbre filled my voice. I took on her affect so completely it surprised me. I raised my bandaged arm. “But I fear that my writing arm was damaged. It was my own fault really. It was a poor day to go horseback riding.”

“It must be a very great deprivation. Can you make an X?”

“Yes.” I grasped the pen with my free hand. “I hope I am not too much trouble.”

“No, ma’am. Have a good day, ma’am.” He signaled for a porter to help me with my bag.

I made it as far as Kentucky and settled. Despite the dangers—believe me, I had no inclination to return to bondage—I became a conductor along Underground Railroad. I realize that slave narratives have become all the rage in the literary circles, but that wasn’t why I wrote. We fought to be recognized as human in a place that didn’t want us. So, despite the danger to myself and risks those I write about, I keep this diary of their passage. Thus, I subscribe these words myself, Esther Besamoon. For those left behind. For those who search. For those who hope. All our journeys are to be celebrated, mourned, and remembered.

The song slows into a broad sweeping melody with a languid tempo with furtive notes. Clashing with a mode of dissonance, a reconstruction, which adds a piquant quality to the melody. An intensely beautiful sonority with no steady beat, changing time and tempo freely, before shifting into 7/8 time, fast and breathless.

Fourth Movement: Northern Migration

The Negro presence has always been framed as a problem.

Politicians stumped for votes on their backs, scaring their white constituents with tales of The Negro Problem. The Crime Problem. The Welfare Problem. The Drug Problem. Endless codes to remind the Negro that they weren’t wanted… even though their culture was. But bribing them once they were elected, or their uniformed bag men they called police, were only a minor annoyance and simply another cost of doing business for Patra Besamon. Her entire life built toward this night: the opening the Besamon Café.

Her momma used to tell her that their name used to have two O’s—Besamoon—but they lost one due to a spelling error on a receipt when they were sold. She used to say, “They wouldn’t even let us keep an extra letter.” The reign of King Cotton had ended and world wars created job shortages. That was the thing about moving. It was always the folks best able to take advantage of the risks of leaving their communities for the unknown. Folks who had it so bad, they had little to lose. When their family moved up to Indiana from Kentucky, they thought the north would be the Promised Land. But southern Indiana was sympathetic to the South. Many families moved on to Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, or Newark. Anywhere others had gone, where they had clustered.

Patra’s mother used to work for A’Lelia Walker, Madame C.J. Walker’s daughter, first as her personal secretary, working her way up to become a corporate manager. Her mother followed Coltrane and Davis the way my father followed the Clowns, the Grays, and his other favorite baseball teams. Patra learned to play her mother’s piano.

At Crispus Attucks High School, Patra specialized in works of Negro piano composers. Harry Burleigh, Samuel Coleridge Taylor, William Grant Still, Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges. And she dreamt of being like them folks in Harlem, the ones who called themselves The Niggerati. Those cats were just about being their fabulous black selves. They knew what it meant to fight and struggle, not letting anyone define for them who they were and what they were to do. Which was why, after opening up her beauty shop, Patra became a policy woman, running numbers out the back room.

In Indianapolis, people lived on top of one another and out loud. Hung out on each other’s porches, walked the street, or congregated at a café like it was church and the pastor was serving up Kentucky oysters. And they loved their numbers.

Folks betting as little as three cents on a gig, playing the 200-to-1 odds, on betting slips designed to look like baseball score cards. Columns for runs, hits, and errors for them to place their gigs, while she used the daily report of the Indianapolis bank clearings and debits to determine the winners. The other thing her mother taught her was that property equaled power. Needing to do something with the bales of mazuma she made running numbers, she bought up several of the shanties on the north end. It seemed like every other house was one of her peashake houses. But her true goal was to open up a spot on Indiana Avenue.

Indiana Avenue. The Avenue. Black Man’s Downtown. The Street of Dreams. The eight blocks of the diagonal street that jutted from the heart of downtown Indianapolis, from the pawnshop to the hospital, that was theirs. In between were beauty parlors, barbershops, BBQ stands, cafés, soda fountains, taverns, and nightclubs. A gauntlet of the smells of fried fish, the cool plume of weed, backroom dice throws, and alleyway switchblades—from The Missile Room, the Red Keg, the Two-John’s Theater, George’s Bar. Patra’s real training came with the “cutting contests” after hours at those joints. Each player topping each other’s riffs and licks. Errol Grandy. Melvin Rhyne. Leroy Vinnegar. Everyone knew who those cats were, but there were no secrets in the jazz world, and no one would book her.

The Sunset Terrace over there on Indiana and Blake Avenue was the real spot. They had all the top acts: Basie, Fitzgerald, and some of her personal heroes like Louis Jordan and Roy Brown. But there were two problems. First, booking at the Sunset Terrace or even the Cotton Club over on Senate, Vermont, and Indiana Avenues meant dealing with Denver or Sea Ferguson, her rivals in policy-making. Besides, them Sunset Terrace crowds didn’t play. Rumor had it that when a fight broke out, they threw bottles at Duke Ellington, and he’d refused to ever come back. But, in the end, it all boiled down to the dreams a person wanted to carve out for themselves. Denver Ferguson lived too loud, driving his gold Cadillac around like his was Jack Johnson or Stagger Jackson. His brother Sea wasn’t any better, running around as the duly appointed mayor of Bronzeville. She had bigger dreams: wanting to take center stage.

Tonight was her night.

With its 75-foot neon sign, fluorescent pink lit up the night, a striped canvas awning shielded the bustling crowd, a brick façade, double bronze doors, and French windows, the Besamon Cafe Theater felt the way a church was supposed to feel. They entered hallowed ground, a sacred space. From the barroom with billiard tables, to the ballroom and bandstand, it spoke hope into their lives. The Indianapolis Recorder covered her opening, calling it “Bronzeville nightlife in parade.”

More nervous than she thought she’d be, her hand gripped the copper railing. The center stage rose three feet above the dancefloor. Tucking her dress under her, she controlled the room, building the anticipation by making a show of setting a book beside her. The Second Book of Negro Spirituals, published in 1926, signed by James Weldon Johnson himself. A treasure of her mother’s, inside it was a bookmark. A leather thong with a small box attached to it. When Patra was little, she couldn’t resist prying it open. Inside was a small stone. Her mother spent money they didn’t have repairing the heirloom.

Patra raised her left arm held sideways, a style she developed as a child since she couldn’t quite reach the keyboards. She started on the right side of the keyboard, cross-handing her way up the keys to her left. The music was a dream…

…built on treble variations over a repeated rhythmic figure, stirred along rising and falling chords. A rollicking pounding, furious and exuberant, blues in double tempo, a triumphant march taking a gospel flourish as it climbs to the mountaintop. But the dream is cut short, fading into an elegy, a patient simmer caught up in an undertow of resistance waiting on a chance for the harmonic sequence to soar.

Fifth Movement: Interstellar Migration

They say we were in the midst of the fifth great migration, but our family, our people, have always migrated. Sometimes by force, sometimes by choice, sometimes by necessity. Our journeys shape our culture and our stories.

I clutched the handholds along the seat carapace securing me into place. I was never a good flyer under the best of circumstances. A trip to the moon, preparing to touch down, made me doubt my faith in…everything. To mark the 400th anniversary of when the first slaves arrived in America, Ghana designated 2019 a “Year of Return” for all African-Americans and the Diaspora. They also began pouring resources into their private interstellar shuttle conglomeration, Outer Spaceways Inc. It was almost like they knew what was coming.

Outer Spaceways Inc. ran extensive advertisements in key U.S. black markets. First to invite folks to Ghana, then to encourage them to embark on an adventure to travel to the abandoned lunar colony, First World. Some roads on the colony took the names of well-known streets back on Earth. Lennox Avenue. Indiana Avenue. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Everybody wanted to go.

A Liberation Investment Support Cooperative official awaited us at the gate. Anytime I saw a LISC agent in my community, I grew wary. They were a Trojan Horse. It wasn’t long from when they pre-enacted us out of our neighborhood to when they pre-enacted us off the planet. Like living tableaus, LISC staged performances of what a neighborhood “could” look like. “Celebrating” our history and presence while looking toward the future. Without us. It felt like “Thank you for your service, now get the fuck out.” Legislation moved through the city’s chambers. Developers zoned and rezoned areas. My neighborhood drifted into their crosshairs. Landowners and speculators seizing any opportunity. My family had already received several offers on our home. Several of the faces of my neighbors had changed in the last two years alone. What started off as a local initiative spread statewide. Everywhere our people lived was being gentrified, reclaimed for the great good and vision of the state. People were being systematically pushed out of their communities.

“Name?” the LISC representative asked without making eye contact.

“Keegan Besamon.”

“Anything to declare?”

“Only if you count a book.” I set the copy of my grandmother’s The Second Book of Negro Spirituals on the counter. The strange bookmark marked her favorite song. Our family’s reliquary, so the story went, a monument to mark and remember our passage. She often reminded me that while people may not always be with us in our journey, but we could carry the memories of them with us.

“Duration of visit?”

“I don’t know yet. Hopefully permanent.”

“Part of the clean-up crew, eh?” The man smirked.

“No.” Ice fueled my tones. A space flight from America and I was still only seen as janitorial staff. “I’m a professor at the Thmei Academy.”

“Then you’re heading the wrong way. If you’re going toward the disaster area, not away from it, you’re on clean up. That’s the only reason you’ve been allowed clearance to stay here.” He studied his monitor, no longer looking at me. “This is my last week and them I’m out of this shithole space.”

Allowed. Like they were unaware of the negotiation with the United Nations before its collapse. As the world’s banking structure, LISC had more pressing concerns that black people living in bombed out squalor. For them that was business as usual. Especially after the discovery that changed how humanity interacted with each other: the rumors of alien contact. Of course, the reaction to the reality of life being out there was a mix of religious fractioning (the aliens seen as the fulfillment of various apocalyptic narratives, led to America, the Middle East, and Europe becoming embroiled in wars over which dogma/traditions to hold on to in a rapidly changing world) and panic (as the 1% fled to Mars to start life anew in the wake of societal breakdown and uncertainty). The wars left people divided and scattered. The perfect opportunity for the national and international governing bodies to stage pre-enactments of what life could look like on the planet. Without us.

Collecting my things, I moved on without comment. My mother was a Maroon. The Maroon were always a free people, having never been colonized. An organized enclave of warriors and sometimes fugitives, who managed to always maintain their culture. And she was an obeah woman, so magic traveled with us. When she moved from the Caribbean to Indianapolis, she was one of the first black people to move into that neighborhood. Several of her immediate neighbors placed “For Sale” signs up within weeks, to flee the contagion, the decline in their neighborhood, she represented. And taking the perceived value of the community with them.

Now we clustered on the First World lunar colony. The unwanted were always free to settle abandoned places. From the founding of Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose to now. Off-world and forgotten—no longer “their” problem—like interstellar Exodusters, with all the promise of trade agreements, taxes, and sovereignty. The moon harkened back to a recently opened Oklahoma Territory, with First World its Langston City. I feared its fate might one day mirror Greewood, Tulsa; our new Black Wall Street eventually razed to the ground in a tide of resentment.

I ran my hand through the regolith, seeing only the potential of what could be. First World was originally the pilot for what would become the Mars colony. Now it was largely abandoned after the Pence Incident. Though it signaled the end to the interfaith wars, people couldn’t flee fast enough. Mars’ terraforming ramped up as a more long-term viable option for a significant population after the failure of First World. I was curious how it was working out for the black 1%-ers who emigrated there. Founding another Bronzeville, optimistic about carving out their own space, but still functionally a black town in a white state. Not like here. First World would be all ours. Some people already dubbed it “Blacktopia.”

Maybe one day.

Right now, the Citadel had to be repaired. The place had a lot of history, but most of those folks left, leaving nothing but a memory. It marked the oldest section of First World, where early inhabitants preserved the original footprint from the inaugural moon landing. Like a multi-rayed temple, though I appreciated the length of its colonnades, its infrastructure mostly extended underground to protect its population from the bolide rain of micrometeoroids and the wild temperature swings of 123o C by day to -233o C at night. Perhaps carbon nanotube material could fashion domes around villages for protection, creating homes like cloister vaults. They’d house three to four families, intergenerational homes of a community living almost on top of each other. Messy and loud, like family.

“What do you think?” A small cadre of revolutionaries had gathered in the commons area of the Citadel. They turned to me. I ain’t never been in a space where I didn’t have voice.

“The dust could plant coconut trees, my mom would have said.” I ran my hand along the counter. “But I’m ready to spot up and do this shit.”

There were questions and arguing, but that would happen with a blank slate. That was what we had and who we were. We could do whatever we wanted and had a chance to start over. To dream about possibilities. We work from a vision, not from a plan. We had a responsibility in this moment to ask the hard questions: where did we want to be? Who were we meant to be? How were we to live with one another as we moved about in the world? This was our space to tell our own stories. We’d have a lot of failures within the next few years, which we’d need to embrace. This was our space, we were here. We might have lacked the power to secure it, but we could control it. Most importantly, we reclaimed the idea that we could dream. Live. Breathe.

The fourth time Wagadu changed its name…

“We’re free. Wherever we go, whatever we do, we’re free. That’s the culture we create. We will make this place our own and rechristen it on our terms, adopting a name based on who we are, announcing to everyone else that here was who we were, here was what we stood for. I know I want to get rid of my slave name and select a name of my choosing to assume the power of the named.” I dipped my hands in my cup of water and sprinkled myself with it. “I want you all, my community, to bear witness. Surrounded by my brothers and sisters, as I leave old Earth behind me, I claim citizenship in this, First World. And henceforth, my name shall be Khamal Dimke.”

Our story began with creation. Our story didn’t end there. Magic travels with us.

The music reaches a quasi-psychedelic climax, a flourish of fluid bass accompanied by lush orchestral strings. A mix of hard boyish horn lines against an Afro-Latin polyrhythm. Then the coda winds down, returning to an elegant, crystalline melody above a gentle backbeat, with the echoes of a prelude.

(Editors’ Note: Maurice Broaddus is interviewed by Caroline M. Yoachim in this issue.)



Maurice Broaddus

A community organizer and teacher, his work has appeared in magazines like Lightspeed Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Asimov’s, and Uncanny Magazine, with some of his stories having been collected in The Voices of Martyrs. His books include the urban fantasy trilogy, The Knights of Breton Court, the steampunk works, Buffalo Soldier and Pimp My Airship, and the middle grade detective novel, The Usual Suspects. His project, Sorcerers, is being adapted as a television show for AMC. As an editor, he’s worked on Dark Faith, Streets of Shadows, and Apex Magazine. Learn more at

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