Cris Eli Blak
When I was growing up, my mother was the only Black person on the block who would blast David Bowie music. She listened to it all the time. I didn’t understand how special her tastes in music were until a kid I knew approached me, asking me why my mama liked listening to “white people music”. She didn’t care what people thought so I didn’t care. Her favorite song was one called “Space Oddity.” My mother told me that she was listening to that song when she gave birth to me and that is why my name, much like the one featured in the song, is Tom.
Those are the memories that strike my mind – – my mother dancing, her voice bouncing off of every wall, her smile piercing my eyes, and then that same smile fading away when I told her that I’d be going off, off not to another city, but into the sky, following my now-achieved dream of being the first Black captain of a major mission to foreign locations in the upper-atmosphere. I was granted that dream with orders to explore the Outer Ring with my crew – – Jerry, Kayla, and Shawn. All of these thoughts. Then I open my eyes, and there’s nothing but dust. The memories are replaced by confusion, then panic, then a combination of the two. I can’t breathe. I was so eager to leave earth because so many of my people were crying that they couldn’t breathe and I didn’t want to become the billionth victim yet here I was, not able to breathe. I had to take off my helmet, but who was to say that the air was clear, that I wouldn’t immediately die from toxins? I can’t breathe. My oxygen is depleted. I have no choice. I remove the helmet, taking a large inhale of whatever the heavens offered, then exhaled it all back out. Looking around I don’t see my ship, let alone my crew. Then things start coming back – – mission control lost, Jerry, crying, Kayla floating away, Shawn giving up.
I’m alone. Without my mother’s smile or music or cooking.
I hear movement and realize that there’s a patch of something in the distance – – it’s grass. Real grass. Living green grass. I remember having a fascination with grass, learning about how it’s believed that the government intentionally leaves the projects as concrete jungles. But here, on this unknown planet, this unknown place, there’s grass; beautiful grass, which means, there must be life. And there is. One by one they show themselves. They’re people. They’re Black, and Brown, people. They look like uncles and aunties and sisters and cousins, but their skin has a royal shine to it, they smell like pure power and they breathe with confident lungs.
One of the individuals steps up, a woman draped in what appears to be gold. She smiles warmly, filling me with immediate comfort.
“Welcome to our home.”
“Are you in danger?” I ask.
“Of course not,” she chuckles. “We are where we belong. You are where you belong.” I find myself half-distracted by someone standing near the back, who is running her hands through a large natural ‘fro, but come back to my senses as the woman, who I come to know as Donya Shala, continues to speak:
“We escaped here in secret decades ago, in 1968…” She tells me the story, the magical, unbelievable story, of how two farm workers in Tennessee started building a ship of their own on their land in secret after the assassination of Dr. King. They knew the turmoil was only going to worsen and they figured if they could care for the acres of land on the farm, they could start a whole new civilization somewhere else, somewhere new. And apparently, that’s exactly what they did, bringing along members of their small community with them. In the process, they created a whole new world, which I am now being shown; one with seemingly endless greenery and produce, where at night everyone watches comets flash by, calling them their “lucky angels.”
I start thinking about staying, and I am invited to do so.
They tell me about their families, about their homes, which, strangely, makes me miss mine, down below. My ship. It has to be somewhere. I could still reach someone, possibly. My mother. My mother must be worried. She must be on the floor right now, tears dancing down her cheeks, praying to the skies, where I am. But here, in this brand new world – – there is quiet, peace, solitude, acceptance, love, naturalism. But my mother. I turn to look at the community I’ve made myself acquainted with. This could be home. Just as the decision feels settled and sure, someone starts singing a song.
“This is ground control to Major Tom/I’m stepping through the door/And I’m floating in the most peculiar way/And the stars look very different today…”
I feel a teardrop and my mouth starts moving – – “Can you hear me Major Tom?” My mother doesn’t hear me. And I know what I have to do.
For the next few months, the community helps me build a new ship, all from natural resources and materials, using parts from the original ship that shot them up way back in the day. I grow closer to everyone there, learn of traditions, cultures, and stories. But still, my mother.
One day we are done and everything is prepped for me to go. Before I step onto the ship I give one parting glance to my people, better than the people in my home. Meanwhile, in the sky, there are people who are keeping our culture alive in the most beautiful ways. I make a promise to myself never to tell anyone what I saw. I want them to stay this beautiful.
I want them to stay breathing.
Cris Eli Blak was the recipient of the 2020 Christopher Hewitt Award for Fiction, a Pushcart Prize nominee, and has had poetry, stories, monologues and plays published in multiple collections and magazines. He strives to tell stories of different cultures and creeds through words on the page.
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