Black and White © 2011 Helen Ying Chapter 1 There was something about the situation that just made me want to collapse into a hysterical, wailing heap. A funny sound escaped my tightly clenched lips – something halfway between a laugh and a shriek of frustration – as I struggled to remain straight‐faced and sombre, a difficult feat in the present circumstances. A few faces turned towards me, annoyance scrawled across them. I quickly forced out a composed look, twitching my mouth into an apologetic almost‐smile. The faces turned back to the front. Mr and Mrs Forrester got up to make a speech. I watched them, the corner of my mouth twisting into a wry smile. Leanne had been virtually a stranger to them in the last three years of her life. What could they possibly say about her? “Our daughter Leanne was a beautiful girl. She was clever, talented... the apple of our eye.” A typical graveside admission. Things like this never meant anything. “Leanne was so bright and cheerful. She brightened up our lives...” At this point, Mrs Forrester just couldn’t go on. Her husband took over for her. “And now she’s gone.” All I could think was, ‘No shit, Sherlock’. It didn’t take a genius to work that out. She’d died on Tuesday. Today was Sunday. She’d been dead almost a whole week and this was all he could come up with? Mr Forrester wasn’t done yet. “She’ll definitely go to heaven, God bless her soul, but I can’t say the same for the people who brought this untimely death down on her. They sit here today among our congregation, they have the temerity to turn up and pretend to mourn her death. Their hearts are as black as their skin, they have no pride...” I tensed. I hadn’t anticipated this at all. I never thought he would dare, at his daughter’s funeral, to accuse us of killing her. The boys simply looked at each other wearily. They weren’t going to stand up for us, I realised. They were just going to let it go. I stood up. A hush fell over the people. I was trembling with rage. How could he just stand there and blatantly lie in front of so many people? “You never even knew her. How can you just make assumptions like this?” His eyes widened with fury. I, a black teenager, still just a girl, was challenging him. Challenging him and his white authority. “I beg your pardon, young lady. I knew my daughter perfectly well. It was you and those boys who turned her against us three years ago. You killed her when she tried to leave your gang.” “She never wanted to leave us! You tried to make her leave us; she was run over on the road in front of your house when she tried to run from you!” “Get out of here, you little bitch!” Mrs Forrester had found her voice again. “You and all those black boys over there next to the wall! We don’t want anything to do with you! You’ve already done enough damage!” You’ve already killed Leanne. The unspoken message rippled through the church. Men got up to throw us out. The women cowered away from Jackson and the boys as though they were going to pull out a knife and start stabbing people at any second. We were frogmarched ungraciously out, dumped in the foyer to listen to the rest of the speeches if we liked as long as we stayed away from the rest of Leanne’s family and her white so‐called friends. I glanced at the boys, sitting with their backs to the wall. Every now and then, one of them would give a frustrated sigh and run a hand through his hair or bury his face into his hands. Be strong, I wanted to tell them. Be as strong as you’ve always been. Jackson caught my eye and gave me a weak sort of smile, then turned away. “...ashes to ashes...dust to dust...” I grimaced at the words. It was almost as though I could see Leanne catching fire then crumbling into dust. I swallowed hard, forcing myself to breathe slowly. In and out. In and out. In and... I choked as I imagined Leanne’s ashes floating through the air and into everyone’s lungs. * * * * * Home was a welcome relief. The house was still, enveloping me in a solid cocoon of silence. I went up to my room, looking at the soft toys on my shelves. So many of them triggered memories of Leanne. She’d gone overseas every holiday with her family, and spent all her time buying presents. A soft toy for every holiday we’d been friends. There were eleven sitting on my shelves. The last empty space would be empty forever. I cried.
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