The prompt for the Chatham Writers Group this week was to focus on the importance of aromas in your character’s life. The story I wrote involves the character, Ezra Bond, whom I wrote about a couple of weeks ago in the story titled “Uncommon Bond”. This story focuses on the events that led Ezra Bond to his situation at the naval stores camp near Vicksburg, MS.
Uncommon Bond – Uncommon Scents
Jackson, Mississippi. Summer 1938
“Just follow your senses,” his parents always told him. Ezra Bond always felt that two or more of his senses worked in partner with each other, but felt his sense of smell dominated all other senses. As a child, his sense of smell detected the fire that started in his aunt’s summer kitchen. The first hints of smoke he smelled aroused his sense of danger, because there were no food smells in the smoke, it had a combination of paper and cloth. He alerted the adults and sure enough, a spark from the bread oven had ignited a curtain. The fire was extinguished before any real damage was done. There were other instances Ezra could remember where his sense of smell helped him avoid danger, or led him to discover more pleasant situations. So, on this particular morning, it was his sense of smell that led Ezra Bond down from his bedroom to the kitchen where his mother was bent over the oven, poking a couple of pecan pies with a butter knife to see if they were done. The aroma was intoxicating. He definitely didn’t smell anything this good during his undergrad years at Tuskegee University.
“Oh, my. The smell of those pies woke me up, Mama. I believe I was drooling in my sleep!” Ezra hugged his mother, Mavis, and kissed her on the forehead.
“Good morning to you Ezra, you just missed your papa. He has a load of patients to see today.”
“In four years time, I’ll be able to help lighten his burden.”
In less than a month, Ezra would be off to Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a family practice physician. The few white doctors willing to treat black patients did so grudgingly and sparingly, and there were too few black physicians to tend to the needs of the nearly 20,000 black residents of Jackson. He hoped to provide some small amount of relief to that situation by joining his father’s practice.
“How soon will those pies be done?” asked Ezra.
Mavis squinted and pointed the butter knife at him, “It don’t matter how soon, they are for the pot luck supper after tonight’s chorale concert!”
“If you’re going to stab me with a butter knife then, I’ll opt for one of your biscuits then.”
Ezra took his biscuit and a glass of cool milk into the parlor and sat down in front of the piano to rehearse. He would be part of the orchestra accompanying the singers in the chorale concert that evening at the Baptist Church. His sister, Josephine, or Jo, would be performing the Flower Duet with her friend Bettina. Jo had applied to The Juilliard School in New York City. In a chorale group of excellent voices, Jo stood out. Two representatives of the school would be in attendance that evening, at the insistence and invite of the chorale director. The Bond’s were excited and nervous, apparently this concert would essentially be Jo’s audition for the conservatory.
The concert, as anticipated, was hugely successful. Munching on a piece of his Mom’s pecan pie, Ezra saw his sister and parents huddled in a deep discussion with the Juilliard contingent. Suddenly, Jo spun around to look at Ezra, a huge smile on her face. His father leaned his head forward into the palm of his right hand, his eyes were squeezed tight, his shoulders shaking. Was he sobbing? His mother’s hands flew to cover her mouth, tears streaming down her cheeks. Jo sprinted over to Ezra.
“The Juilliard people want to come to our house to talk about admissions and a scholarship! They want to hear me sing some more!
Ezra picked Jo up in his arms and spun her around. “You’re gonna be a big city girl! Look at you!” Full of pride, he beamed at his sister.
“Momma and Poppa said we should scoot home and bring a couple more chairs into the parlor,” said Jo, breathlessly, “they want to hear Bettina and me sing again, I’m going to round her up.”
Ezra walked down the front steps of the Baptist Church, Jo and Bettina each with an arm looped through his. Turning in the direction of the Bond house, all three were in the middle of a song when Ezra slowed their pace. He stopped singing. He smelled cigarette smoke, specifically Camel cigarette smoke. There was only one person he knew who smoked Camels. His sense of danger spiked.
“Ezra, what’s wrong?” asked Jo.
“Let’s cross the street, ladies,” was all Ezra said.
Out of shadows of an alley appeared a group of four white men. When they reached the yellow light of the street lamp, they stopped, one man slightly ahead of the other three. A trail of smoke drifted up from a Camel cigarette in his left hand. The neck of a bottle protruded from a brown paper bag gripped tightly in his right hand. He took a swig, and pointed his cigarette at Ezra’s group.
“Yo! Boy!”he slurred, “You peddlin’ them whores?” He pronounced the word “hooers”.
Ezra’s fears were confirmed, the man talking to him was Tate Jeffords oldest son of Doc Jeffords, head of the largest whites only hospital in Jackson. Tate was a know bully and treated black people with a malicious malevolence . Several of Ezra’s acquaintances had fallen victim to Tate’s fists, boots, and belt buckle. The drunker he was, the more sadistic he became.
“I as’t you a question, boy! You peddlin’ them bitches?”
“No,” Ezra replied, not making eye contact. “I am escorting my sister and her friend back home from the chorale concert at the church.”
“Oh! They’s sophisticated bitches then,” slurred Tate. The three other men giggled. “Oh, wait! They’s those singers that them Yankees is fussing about! My sister sings a far sight better than any colored girl. She’s the one they should be talking too.”
Ezra attempted to rush his sister and her friend ahead, but the drunk men moved surprisingly fast and blocked their path. Tate pitched his cigarette in the gutter and a pulled a knife from behind his back. The women screamed, Ezra gasped.
“They won’t sing worth a shit with no tongue,” Tate spat and he stepped towards Jo.
Ezra screamed “No!” And instinctively shoved Tate away. The drunk Tate stumbled backward and tripped over the curb. He came down hard on the back of his head and didn’t move. His three friends rushed to help Tate, but in their drunken state, tripped over each other and ended up in a heap next to Tate. One looked up and snarled, “You’re dead boy!”
Ezra raced his sister & Bettina to his house. Jamming a few things into a satchel; he kissed his sister goodbye.
“Wait! Where..?” She cried.
His voice breaking with emotion, Ezra said, “I can’t stay here. I’ll write as soon as I can. Then he was gone.
Staying in the shadows, Ezra jogged to the railroad tracks. Running along side a westbound freight train, he spotted a car with its doors open. Hands reached from the open door and pulled him up and in.
The Chatham Writers Group