On balance her preference would have been to take a giant step across time and follow her dream of playing the part of Ilsa Lund opposite Bogart’s Rick Blaine in the ‘oh so romantic’ Casablanca. Sadly, that was never to be. Not that it mattered that much, picking cotton on a plantation in the days long before the Civil War was all right, save that it was more than a little repetitious. Mississippi’s steamy subtropical longest summers vexed, yet not as much as the beatings. The ‘raw-hide’ whip thrashings she could do without. It was hardly her fault that she was scatter-brained.
Daydreaming when she should have been gathering, the thought struck that perhaps if she had been nabbed by the Bedouins and whisked off East to the golden harem of some aged yet kindly Sultan anywhere in Arabia, at least she would get to take a regular bath and being a sexual commodity could not be any worse than her present calling. In any case, she would never know, for she had been snatched by the Great Brits and carried away across the giant sea, westward to this place, this place where those same Great Brits were heartily globalising the ‘once upon a time’ cottage industry that was, still is, the trade in human flesh.
On the occasion she found what she would in another guise come to know as a book…a great big leather bound one at that…she was open-mouthed. A cursory exploration of its structure led her, quite rightly, to conclude that the book was not food, nor was it something to wear and most definitely it was not a pillow. She rather wished it had been a pillow.
In the event, and in this life, she never did discover what it was so she placed it back in the hole in the ground where she had found it, a thing that was probably for the best. You see, the book had been written by altered minds on behalf of an angriest Supreme Being and the text was full of risible rules the conscious ones should follow on pain of death and damnation.
I met with her ghost just the once in St Petersburg, 1991 I recall, not long after the name Leningrad had thankfully been ditched. She was busking in the Palace Square outside of The Winter Palace. She sung from the heart and was quite the most adorable, sweet apparition.
I could not but help to ask of her how she came to be in the Venice of the North. Her world-weary riposte, “Today this place, tomorrow someplace else.”
The words she sung that day are now cemented within. Whereas I shall simply vanish off the face of the earth one day, her vision will not take of its rest until the reward of universal freedom from oppression for all is won. May good fortune never abandon Her.
A surreal muse upon the evil of slavery
Strange Fruit, a song full of tears sung by Billie Holiday