Jimmy surprised me by being the one to ask Virgil about this.
“Don’t get me wrong—I’m all for being a part of this,” he prefaced. “But, Virgil, I’m just wondering what good it does to have us here. I mean, the governor of Kansas isn’t going to back down just because we’re in his town, right? We can’t really change his mind, can we? Or intimidate him. So why, really, are we going to stay here?”
Mrs. Everett clucked her tongue a little, but Virgil was game to answer.
“All those people who are coming forward with information about the governor,” he said, “where do you think they’re finding the strength to come forward? Our man Stein—what do you think is giving him the strength to fight this instead of sending in all the lawyers? All the people who are at the state capitols—why do you think they’re staying put? It’s because of us. Every single one of us. As one great mass, we’re doing something presidents and kings and queens and governors and mayors and teachers and parents are all supposed to do: We’re leading by example. I agree that the governor is probably too stubborn a man to back down just because we’re here. But it’s because we’re here that the right things are going to happen. It’s because we’re here that injustice will not win. Because they know we’re watching. They know we won’t just go along with whatever they try to do to us. They weren’t expecting a fight, but by golly they’ve gotten a fight. And in that case, there’s strength in numbers, and a lot of that strength comes from the numbers. We lead by example, the truth’s gonna follow. Just watch. If we leave, then they think they’ve won, and that means they think they can keep doing whatever they can to win. We’re not gonna let them think that. Because, thank goodness, it just ain’t true. We get up, stand up for our rights. We won’t give up the fight.”
As soon as he finished, a roar began to spread through the crowd. Green banners were held aloft and flown. Teenagers jumped up and down. I thought I even saw one girl cry.
Much to my horror, Holy Ghostwriter was taking the stage.
All revolutions have to have music. It’s rarely noted in the documents and organizations that follow—the Declaration of Independence doesn’t have a tune; the United Nations doesn’t have a theme song.
And the music is never really what you’d expect. Take, for instance, the flute. Who would ever expect revolution to come out of a flute? But right there next to the little drummer boys and girls, you’ll usually find a flute larking like the voice of better times, of innocence made to suffer for the greater good.
Or the trumpet, which can be so full of mourning and jazz, rouses itself into a Glory, Glory, Hallelujah! with one great blast of breath.
Holy Ghostwriter didn’t have any flutes or trumpets. In fact, there were many people (myself and Jimmy included) who doubted its members played any instruments at all. But still, the minute Abraham Stein said their name, they received an orchestral response.
“We’re here,” Apostle, the lead singer, said, “because we believe that good must triumph over evil. Even though Stein is not of our faith, he is still a man of faith, and we have faith in that. I’ve been up all night writing this song for you. It’s not much, but I hope it sums up why we’re all here, and the nation we want to see. It’s called ‘4 the Future.’” (We knew it was 4 and not for because Apostle held up four fingers as he said the word.)
Apostle nodded, and suddenly there was a blast of sound as harmonic as it was loud—a euphony of synthesizer and string. Apostle nodded as it amplified over us, stretching his arms out wide. Then he returned the microphone to his lips and began to sing his anthem for us.
U R 4 Me
And I M 4 U
That is what
He’d want us 2 do
Love 1 another
It’s what we’re here 4
2 True 2 B 4-gotten
He does not ask 4 more
U R 4 Me
And I M 4 U
Brothers and sisters
We’ll see this thru…
By the third time Apostle repeated it, everyone was singing along. I felt absolutely ridiculous, but when Janna reached for my hand and everyone else started to hold hands and sing out the words, I couldn’t deny what was happening. And the word I thought was united. How powerful it was to be in a country whose adjective was united. How strong to be in a moment where everyone felt united.
Janna and Mandy looked rapturous with every chord, while Jimmy (on the other side of me) looked like he was about to rupture from holding his laughter in.
I leaned into him and said, “Hey, you could take it a little more seriously.”
“I love it.”
“Well, then, I have a confession to make.”
His eyebrow raised. “Yes?”
“This is your birthday present.”
“Yes. You would not believe the things I had to do in order to get them here to sing for you—or, should I say, 4 U—on your birthday.”
“What did you have to do?”
“I can’t tell you everything. But prostitution was definitely involved.”
“You slept with the members of Holy Ghostwriter?”
“The members and their members. Yes.”
“Apostle twice. But one of them was for free, so that doesn’t really count.”
“U really do love me, don’t U?”
“U R the 1 I’m living 4.”
“U R 2 good 2 me.”
At this point, Janna yanked me away from Jimmy and told me to shush—Holy Ghostwriter was about to perform her favorite ballad, “1 + 1 is 3” (“1 + 1 is 3 / Because there’s no love the Lord can’t C / I’ll gladly B / a part of your Trinity / Together U ’n’ me / will make 1 + 1 into 3”).
I let go of Janna’s hand, Jimmy let go of Gus’s, and we kissed like schoolgirls.
“You guys,” Janna muttered.
Jimmy and I watched as Holy Ghostwriter continued to perform. Some screens were still showing the names of all the people supporting us from afar. Others showed the concert, and every now and then they’d pan across the crowd, showing all the faces underneath the green banners. Usually I couldn’t care less about crowd shots, but this time was different, because I felt a connection to each and every face they showed.
Then the camera showed an attractive woman with night-black hair, inch-long eyelashes, and near-perfect cheekbones.
“That’s my father!” Sue cried out. “That’s my daddy!”
Like a shot, Sue was picking up his things and heading off to find his father. We tried to figure out which part of the park he was standing in, but there weren’t very many clues, and the camera cut away from him after a few more seconds.
“He must be near the front,” Keisha volunteered.
“Probably near the stage, since most of the cameras are up there,” Mira agreed.
Some of us volunteered to go with him. But Sue said no, he wanted to do this alone. He took our numbers so he could call if he got lost. And then, as we showered him with encouraging words, he was gone.
“Kin always gravitates toward kin,” Mrs. Everett observed.
“Do you have any kin here?” Flora asked sweetly.
“Why, no,” Mrs. Everett replied, just as sweetly. “I consider y’all my kin.”
Virgil just sighed and started humming the “U R 4 Me” song.
It wasn’t long after Holy Ghostwriter exited the stage that Sara reappeared.
With everything that had happened, I’d almost forgotten about her. But neither Keisha nor Mira had. As soon as she showed up, they went careening in different directions.
“Wait,” Sara said. “No. I have something to say to you both.”
She looked like her thoughts hadn’t slept at all since she’d left. Her hair, which had always been immaculately settled, was now haphazard and free. Her eyes had shadow both below and within them. She closed them for a moment before speaking again.
Keisha and Mira hovered, waiting. We all waited to see what Sara would say next.
“You don’t have to—” Flora started. But Sara waved her off.
“No, I want to do this. Since I seem to have dragged everyone into it, everyone might as well hear what I have to say. I want to apologize to you, Mira. And I want to apologize to you, Keisha. I should’ve known better than to do what I did. I should’ve been an adult.
“But I wasn’t. And one of the things that’s burning me the most is the thought that I’ve broken the two of you up. I know that doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t make much sense to me, either. Except that it’s true.
“I know this will sound strange, but I never meant to come between the two of you. I just wanted to be off to the side. I wanted a part of it. I got caught up in everything—the campaign, the way we all are together, the sight of the two of you being so happy. And I wanted a piece of that.”
“What are you saying?” Mira challenged. “I don’t understand what you’re saying.”
“I’m saying it was my fault. And if I could take it back, I would.”
She didn’t mean it. It was so obvious to me—she didn’t mean it. She was doing this for Keisha.
How could I tell? Maybe it was the way she wasn’t really looking at them. Maybe it was the way she seemed so much smaller than life. Maybe it was because I recognized the sound of someone still in love, since that was the way I talked, too.
She wasn’t coming right out and saying she’d never loved Keisha. She couldn’t betray everything. But at the same time, she was giving both of them an out—a way out of this mess and into a new beginning.
Finally, she looked at Mira. “I started it,” Sara said. “I bullied her into it. I took advantage of my position. I said all the right things because I knew they were the right things. She never intended to leave you. She was confused. She always loved you. The whole time, she loved you.”
This was where Keisha could have denied it. This was where she could’ve told us all about being in love with two people at the same time.
But instead she stayed quiet. Said nothing. Let the story stand. Because she had always loved Mira. And now Sara was saying that Mira was the one for Keisha.
Sara turned to Clive and said, “I need the keys. I need to get my stuff. I’ll get another ride back.”
“I’ll go with you,” he said.
Sara shook her head. “No, I can do it alone. I’ll call you when I’m back and I’ll hand over the keys. I won’t come back here.”
When someone is hurting enough inside, you can see it on the outside—they hunch like a heart attack or grimace like a knife has just gone into their side. With Sara, it was as if her legs had become sticks—each step was its own effort, a teeter rather than a flow. But still she walked on, without looking back.
Keisha watched her go, then turned to Mira and said, “I guess we have to talk.”
“Well, guess again,” Mira said. Then she, too, walked away. Not so far, but far enough for the distance to be known.
“What do I do now?” Keisha asked us all.
No one had an answer.
On stage, Alice Martinez quoted Martin Luther King, Jr.:
“‘Cowardice asks the question: Is it safe? Expediency asks the question: Is it politic? Vanity asks the question: Is it popular? But conscience asks the question: Is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular—but one must take it because it is right.’”
It was colder today than it was yesterday. We began to feel it. And we began to feel hungry, and unwashed, and tired.
“I didn’t think this would be easy,” Gus said, “but I didn’t think it would be so uncomfortable.”
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