By the next day or two, all but one person in the caravan was infected; some with sniffles, some with sneezes, some feverish and flushed with irritations. Baby Ndella, the unaffected, climbed and kicked the air above her swaddle, gurgled and drooled to her heart’s content. The adults had no such easy passage. Come a gray and dreary morning, unable to concentrate on driving their ATVs, they sensibly agreed to park for a few and deal with the sickness.
The Fordings were most anxious. Junith in particular. One thousand times she thought to explain herself to big brother Whitey, maybe even to Bailey. A thousand and one times her defiant, independent side squashed the impulse. Still though, with Bailey suffering symptoms worse than the others, she worked at being nice to him. Made a point of it.
“How ya doing, Bailey” she’d ask with feeling in voice and manner.
“I’m okay,” he’d croak, and she loved to see a brief glow appear on his vacant face, a glimmer in his soft brown eyes.
Then she’d wander away and worry about whether she should have, or not. Bottom line, so alone and hopeless she was, many a time her sniffles had nothing at all to do with the infection.
Still in this miserable mood, Junith was in the lead of the caravan proceeding along a paved road through what might’ve been wheat fields when her intercom came on. “Hey, Juney,” said Whitey, “wha’ yer seein’ up ahead?”
Junith had been too engrossed in her sorrows to have noticed anything. She looked now, saw what seemed to be a group of uniformed figures standing in the shade of a copse of tall trees. She slowed the ATV, forcing the others to do the same. Then she stopped altogether. “Maybe a bunch of soldiers?” she suggested.
Annabel jumped in, “No. They don’t have headgear. Nor weapons. And they’re not standing in a disciplined pattern. No, they’re not soldiers.”
“And they’re not big, I mean tall enough,” added Bailey. “I think they’re kids. Children.”
Junith started the caravan moving again, but slowly. They approached the group and saw that Bailey was right. It was a group of children, some with their arms about each other. School children in their school uniforms. Boys and girls who in age ranged from maybe six or seven to twelve or fourteen. Just off the roadway, the taller kids on the outside, they formed a loose circle on trampled bulbs flowering yellow and pink. A bedraggled lot of damaged children they were. Silent but for their eyes that stared at you, comprehending your curiosity, but unwilling to return to that part of memory they worked every minute at trying to obliterate.
Junith stopped, reached back and rummaged in her storage, fingers selecting by feel and shape. She found what she sought—a jar of peanut butter. “I’m gonna give them something to eat,” she said to the intercom.
“Careful,” chorused Whitey and Bailey.
Junith lowered her side window, stuck out the jar of peanut butter.
As one, the children closest to her shrank back, never breaking the circle. The sight made Junith teary. Still, braved and determined, she opened the door, got out and one hand gesturing it was okay, the other offering the jar, she approached the kids. She took three steps forward before their protective circle, still as a whole, retreated that same distance. Like amoeba would from danger. All the while she felt their hard eyes on her.
She surrendered, stepped backwards to the roadside, put the jar of peanut butter on the ground, got back into her vehicle. She slid the window up. Perhaps to avoid these stolid faces that’d never cry. These kids who stares were like stones thrown. These children for whom the pretty flowers coloring the roadside were mournful. For whom sunshine is cold, if they stand in its brilliance they shiver.
Junith drove on out of there, parked a few hundred yards further on and sobbed her heart out.
Kelvin Christopher James gives a glimpse of the deterioration of world affairs and climatic conditions through the lives of a few people: a diverse group of billionaires, a family of southern Rednecks, a Black lawyer, an attractive female manipulator, and a trio of teenagers. Their voices tell this rollicking, rambunctious tale of contemporary circumstances gone awry—of the consequence of rich peoples’ greed and selfishness; of a scrambling Missouri family forced from their homestead as a result of fracking that moves to New York where they have to adjust and acquire new ways of living; of the enormous influence of billionaire visions; and of the subtle workings of women’s soft power to make ‘things’ better.