Sing Sweet Sparrow
Angela J. Townsend
Publication date: January 12th 2016
Genres: Historical, Romance, Young Adult
With the odd disappearance of her parents, Gussie Gibson has lived her entire life with her granny on a peaceful pecan orchard, owned by the meanest man in all of Georgia—Mr. J.P. Combs. Granny teaches Gussie many valuable life lessons as a black woman growing up in the still-segregated south. Mr. Combs is an evil underhanded banker who takes liberties beyond his privilege. When Granny dies, Combs informs Gussie she owes him back rent—but he wants much more than money for payment—and more than Gussie can live with.
After defending herself against his sexual advances, Gussie flees to escape certain vigilante justice when she meets a charming, handsome stranger, Sam Johnson, who is just returning from World War II.
Gussie and Sam’s friendship is short-lived when Mr. Combs hunts her down and drags her back to Green Ridge, driven by his craving for revenge and a grudge too deep to comprehend. Gussie fights to return to Sam and his love, but it seems, no matter where she runs, danger follows close on her heels, in the troubled South where cruelty disfigures the human spirit and love is a dim beacon of hope.
No one on this earth deserves to die more than Mister J.P. Combs.
Mister Combs is the vice president of the Green Ridge Union Bank, and the nastiest man in all of Georgia. He robs from the old, the poor, the sick, and the weak. Granny and I been working for the Combs family for as long as I can remember. Granny taught me how to wash their silver and fancy china so it comes out shiny, how to iron the tablecloths, and how to fold the napkins just how Missus Combs likes it done.
Missus is a nice woman. She treats Granny and me right. On Sunday she takes her coffee into the kitchen to visit with us after church. But not Mister. He hates colored folks. He says we don’t know our place.
Mister never takes his eyes off of me. It’s like he’s making sure I don’t stop to take an extra breath while I’m working, so he’s getting his money’s worth. Granny and I tend the Combs’ house for just sixty-nine cents an hour. That’s a lot less than most maids. The trouble is that Granny is old, tired and slow. Her feet don’t work so good no more. We got to take what work we can get.
Mister comes home early every Friday. He likes to lean against the stove while he peels an apple with a buck knife. He chews the pieces and leers at me while I polish the silver. I’d love to stuff that apple in his mouth and stick him in the stove. I gotta learn to control my temper, sometimes it’s hard, especially when Mister’s at me. Don’t know from one day to the next what’s gonna happen. Somedays I wish I could explode and blow up the whole world.
Granny knows I got a bad temper. It worries her. She takes me into Mister’s parlor and stares at me with her brow all crinkled up. “Gussie child, you keep outta Mister’s way,” she whispers. “I don’t like how he looks at you.” Granny shakes her head in disgust. “You’re only sixteen years old. Don’t you let him get close. You stay by me—you hear?”
I can’t look at Granny. My cheeks burn with shame.
Granny takes hold of my hands. “You listening to me, child?”
I nod. She leans in real close, her bottom lip quivers in a two-tone brown. I stare at the wrinkles around her mouth, and at her bottom row of teeth all worn down. I worry about how much longer she’ll live. I don’t want her to leave me. “I see the way he’s been looking at you,” Granny says. “Like you the hottest thing on the lunch menu.” Granny lifts my chin so that our eyes meet. “If he comes round, and you alone—you tell him you got chores to do.” Granny squeezes my hands tighter. “His heart ain’t nothing but a thumpin’ gizzard. He’ll hurt you if he has a chance. You stay away from him. You understand me, child?”
I nod again. “Yes, Ma’am.”
The lines around Granny’s eyes soften. She cradles my head in her knobby hands. “You the only thing I got in this world, Gussie. I done lost my boy. I don’t plan on losing you too.”
My lips tremble. “I know Granny, I’ll be careful.” I cross my heart. “I promise.”
She hugs me round the waist, but I don’t hug her back too hard. She’s so frail, I worry that she’ll break. I press my face into her chest. Her heart pounds against my ear and I feel her shaking. All this worry isn’t good for her old body. I don’t want to let go of her. I bury my head into her shirt collar. She smells like shea butter and sweet ginger. Granny runs her hand over my head. Her fingers untangle the curls in my hair, the ones she makes with the pressing comb heated on the stove every morning. Granny pulls away from me and sits down. She never sits at Mister’s house. She looks so tired.
“Granny, you okay?”
She closes her eyes for a moment, placing a hand on her chest. “Take me home, child.”
I help her up, and hold tight to her thin hand as she walks unsteady beside me. My heart twists over Granny working so hard at her age. How she worries over me.
We head outside and make our way down the path through the pecan grove. The path is uneven and it’s hard for Granny to walk. Her toes are twisted like tree roots with arthritis. I wish I could carry her home so her feet don’t have to hurt. She holds onto my arm as I help her up the front steps of the shack we rent from Mister.
We go inside but Granny won’t rest. She puts supper on the stove, and waves me away when I try to help. She lowers herself onto her rocking chair while the beans boil on the back burner. Granny releases a heavy sigh, closes her eyes and stops rocking. I touch her hand and she don’t move. I can’t breathe. My soul dissolves into darkness. I know she’s gone but I can’t face it. I run to Mister’s house. Missus lets me use their telephone and I call for help.
Half an hour later, Granny’s church ladies come and take her away while my heart rips into pieces. I sit in the dark staring at her empty chair, at her shoes, at the knitting needles sticking in the ball of yarn. I close my eyes willing it all to be gone, for the day to start over with Granny alive. I wish life could be like a chalk board where you can erase the bad parts and start over. Hours pass with nothing but the ticking of the clock. I look out the window surprised to see the world still going on even though Granny isn’t.
After the funeral, I lay up in the bed and pray that God kills me so I can be with my Granny—the only mother I’ve ever known—the only person I ever loved. I don’t sleep. I don’t eat. I don’t go to work. I just don’t care about living anymore. When Granny died, something came apart and broke inside me. Fell off a shelf and shattered to the floor. And I just can’t put all the pieces back together.
A week passes and Mister comes looking for me. He’s mad that I haven’t been to work. He yells his fool head off, saying I gotta pay the rent or get out. I don’t got no money and nowhere to go. I don’t know why God don’t come down and take me to Granny. What kind of a life do I have to look forward to anyhow. I don’t want to be stuck in some white man’s kitchen the rest of my life.
Mister comes back the next day, but I already got my bags packed. He looks at me and frowns. “Where you think you’re going?”
I just shrug.
“You come on home with me. You can have a room in exchange for looking after the house. You got that, girl?”
I nod my head. I don’t know what else to do.
I don’t got no choice.
A lonesome sparrow hatches inside of me, flies out my mouth, and pulls out my insides as it leaves, taking all my happiness with it.
Angela is a multi-published, award-winning author of young adult and middle grade books. She has a motion picture based on her award-winning novel, The Forlorned, coming out soon, and a second motion picture project in production for River of Bones.