Pearl on the Mississippi
The cliffs hugged the Mississippi River, as though it was a lover's caress, carrying her around the curved bend in a flowing fashion. Sending ripples of small waves outward, as though her dress needed room for its elegant train to cast its sparkling beauty. The moon was bright and starry in the clear sky reflecting tiny shards of star-lights shimmering over the waters that coursed toward the Gulf waters of Louisiana. A quaint little town called Concordia is nestled alongside the river.
Once, long ago, it was the crown jewel of Mississippi, but now it's a tourist attraction selling its historical past. Atop the bluff overlooking this scene was La’trese Pearl. Yours truly. I was enjoying the warm summer breeze that blew over the water as it caressed my smooth cocoa chocolate skin. Lost in thoughts of the future now that I owned my dream business. My vision was to one day serve my community with fresh foods for a healthy body, and to depict creative images of beautiful scenes that told the stories of the people and places of our community, for a healthy mind. Laying on a grassy slope, away from the commotion and noise of my daily life, I closed my eyes and breathed in. Deeply, slowly. Relaxing my mind and body, I allowed myself to enjoy the stillness, peace, and quiet. I began reflecting upon the past four years of my life.
It's 1992. I was 23, and life had begun to take shape and come together. I was working two jobs. Cashiering at Wal-Mart and flipping burgers at Wendy's. The money I earned was added with the money my father's associates had given to me after his death.
Late night online classes for business had equipped me with the working knowledge of corporate building, and my reservoir of street knowledge learned at my daddy's side taught me people building from watching and listening as they moved through the poverty-stricken neighborhoods filled with hustlers, dope, sex, and gambling. Where everyone was contending against each other for deals and steals to help scratch out a living from their sordid lives of being disenfranchised and poor in Mississippi.
Charles Pearl was my Dad. He stood six feet, four inches, and weighed 265 pounds when he died eight years ago of a massive heart attack. I was 15. Charles had a charcoal complexion, his skin was etched from fingertip to shoulder with an array of tattoos depicting his life's journey. Six-point and five-point stars dotted his right shoulder to down below the elbow. Birds were scattered across his upper arm, seeming to fly in concert with the winged ghost-face who's crown bore the letters C-O-N to symbolize Concordia. His birth place. Red hearts, teardrop shaped blood-drops ran the length of his left arm, with the words “Strange Fruit" to symbolize his birth-country's savage history of murdering Black people. His brown eyes, dimpled cheeks, and two gold teeth were revealed whenever he smiled. I could still hear him say "The world is cold, and the people are colder, Baby Girl. No one can stand in your way, unless you allow them to do so."
Charles came up in the era of gangs and drugs with his childhood friends, Ronnie and Louis. Ronnie stood five feet seven inches, weighed 160 pounds, had tattoos covering his body like Charles with crosses, stars, horns, pitchforks and tails. Louis was six feet two inches, weighed 210 pounds, and had no tattoos marking his creole light skin. He also had two gold teeth. They were raised on the South side of Concordia in an alley just off St. Catherine Street and Franklin. Charles, Ronnie, Louis and Deon, who is Charles' younger brother, formed a street gang committing criminal acts that binds them together as brothers. Born in blood, bound in death. My Uncle Deon Pearl has been in a Mississippi prison the past 25 years for murder. My daddy told me once that the police had framed Deon because of some woman and the illegal crimes they were in on together. Granny Pearl talks about him regularly and talks to him daily by phone. He has a son, whose mother moved away to Texas when I was three years old. Granny Pearl says that Deon had street fever the day he saw the church pastor drinking whiskey during a Sunday sermon. Then she'll laugh and say "the devil woke him up and took his soul that day." The streets love him. He wants for nothing and only has five years left to serve out his 30 year sentence.
Now, it’s 1996. I feel a cool chill sweep through my bones, making me shiver and breaking my reverie. "Someone's walking on my grave," I thought. At age 27, I stand at five feet seven inches tall and weigh 105 pounds. I have the body of a well-toned muscled and lithe athlete with a beautiful cocoa chocolate complexion. Walnut coloured eyes glittered with my thoughts about the past. My lips curled into a smile that displayed a dimpled cheek. I am wearing a wife-beater T-shirt with faded jeans. Baby curls covered my head down past my shoulders and black leather sandals covered my feet.
The bars and saloons that line the bluff "under the hill" are open. So I turned left and walked down the hill slope where a western style saloon with bat-wing doors sits between a bar and grill on the left, and a bait and tackle fishing shop on the right side. People are milling about talking and eating. I step up to the bar and grill service window and order a meat, cheese, tomato sandwich, with fries, and an orange soda. My food having been delivered and paid for, I walk to the water's edge and sit on a cement block. Feet dangling in the cool waters of the river. I began to eat. First the cheese, then the meat, and then tomatoes. Tossing fries into the river as fish food. I rotate the order of eating, cheese, tomatoes, then meat, until the food is gone. Only then do I open my orange soda to drink. Aunt Cookie crossed my mind, so I called home to check on her because she's a "mother hen” and tends to worry when I'm out at night. Aunt Cookie answered on the second ring. Her sweet, thick southern accent sounded like a warm embrace that made me tell her that I was sorry to be calling and I love her so much for caring about me.
Joesph Patri Brown is of Black and Natchez Indian heritage, a father of one daughter and five grandchildren. He was born on the river of Natchez Mississippi, and he has been challenging his wrongful conviction for capital murder of a store clerk. “On the Bayou” is Joesph’s first adventure in writing creatively. As La’trese would say, “It’s whatever.”