The Diary of An Untold Story
Ever since my father and I moved into this old townhouse in Philadelphia about two weeks ago, he’s been having dreams. He said that from the first night in his bedroom he’s been experiencing entire stories revolving about this house, its owner and its past from many decades ago. I didn’t know what to think of it at first, but his attention to detail and the vividness of it all made me wonder about this untold story. It seemed too true to be made up. Every Sunday morning at breakfast I got excited for my father to continue to reveal other snippets of the story:
I poured my father a cup of strongly brewed coffee and offered a freshly baked croissant I had bought at the bakery around the corner. “Tell me again when the story took place, dad.”
After he took a bite and a big gulp of his coffee, he sparked a cigarette. “I believe it was set in the 1940’s maybe early fifties. So far, the dreams or rather visions are about a Nigerian immigrant family that moved to this town.”
“So, like us, they lived in this house?” I asked.
“No, unfortunately this family lived in the poorer parts of Philly. A white racist cop lived here.”
“Oh…” I murmured.
My father had a pensive expression. He took one last drag from his cigarette before stubbing it out with a sigh: “The odd thing was that twice a week the fifteen maybe sixteen-year-old son of the immigrant family would go over to the cop’s house and sit by his table just like we are now in this very kitchen many decades ago. I think the young boy’s father was a butcher. I don’t remember all of the details, and the old cop looked like he was retired. Either way, it was quite controversial that the boy struck a friendship with him.” He said.
I puckered my brows and wondered: “why would the young black kid be friends with a racist?”
“You see, the kid was smart, and the cop saw and appreciated that. The cop taught him how to play chess, God knows why, but there was something endearing about it. All my visions are in black and white like those old movies. Only when they played chess was the scene set in colour.” He explained. “So, once a week the young kid, let’s call him… William? Would play a round of chess with the cop. And, on every Sunday, Will would leave his neighbourhood to go tutor a white upper-class family’s kids in French at this townhouse.”
“Do I just imagine the parents releasing their children to the racist cop’s house to be tutored by the African kid?” I snorted slightly sceptic.
“Precisely,” my father snapped his fingers.
I nodded. “Okay, you gotta admit that that is an interesting set up.”
“Right? I can’t make this up, truly bizarre.” He took a giant bite from his croissant and whilst
chewing continued to tell the story: “Now the oldest daughter from that upper-class family was an interesting character. I just found out this morning after I woke up remembering more of the dreams or visions, --- though this story feels like someone else’s memory to me, --- that this daughter, -- and this will make you laugh!”
“This young lady, let’s call her…”
“Elaine?” I offered out of the blue.
“Sure, Elaine was the only one in the entire town that could beat the bastard cop at chess!” My father chuckled.
I smiled. “That is funny.”
“Right?” He ogled me with an amusement I only knew innocent children could muster. “What do you think happens next in the story?”
I poured myself a cup of freshly squeezed orange juice and shrugged. “I feel like this is going to turn into a love story. Perhaps William and Elaine struck up a friendship too while he taught her and the rest of her siblings French. Maybe it was slow burning at first and then when Elaine saw that Will was smart and had a lot to say about the world, she took an interest in him?”
“Though she was a few years older than him, that’s exactly what happened!” My father rejoiced, he looked so happy for a couple that merely existed in his mind or perhaps he was channelling old memories from this ancestral townhouse. “My darling daughter, pour me another cup of coffee please… and two sugar cubes, thanks.” He stirred a bit of creamer into his cup and took a sip. “Friendship turned into a young love all through the letters they would be writing to each other in French. Not many knew the language in town and so in those letters they were adorably candid about their feelings to one another.”
“Mhmm,” I mumbled as I finished my breakfast. “I can vividly imagine that happening right before my eyes.”
“Me too,” my dad sighed, “me too.”
“Soooo…. They fell in love?”
“Yeah, an extremely controversial love this was.” He nodded.
“Aaaaand?” I coaxed.
My father cranked a curious brow at me. “And, what?”
“Well don’t tell me I am completely caught up to the story so far!” I scoffed.
He shook his head. “Not quite.”
“What else do you remember?”
“Ahhh….” My dad inhaled sharply and stretched his back deeper into the wooden chair around our kitchen table. He rocked his head back, closed his eyes and took a moment to collect his thoughts. “I remember two events.” He squinted an eye at me then held his index finger into the air: “For one, the boy was almost lynched.”
“No!” I gasped, then rolled my eyes. “Is this turning into a Romeo and Juliet tragedy?”
“Ha!” My father laughed quietly. “No, but it was a very poignant scene to witness.” He frowned, then scratched his greyed beard in contemplation of his next words. There was a certain sadness written on his face while he slouched his shoulders. He began twirling his empty coffee cup between his hands on the table. “On one Sunday morning after taking the children to church, William would return them to this house waiting for them to be picked up by their parents. Normally, Will would leave inconspicuously through the back door to go back home. He was accustomed to this behaviour during those times, you see. He didn’t want anyone to take notice or arouse attention to him. William took his duties very seriously.”
“Is this the racist part in which the cop has a play in it?” I blurted.
“Ah-ah! Shhhh, listen…” My father reprimanded and shot me a warning glance not to interrupt his story again. “As Will made his way to the back door to discreetly vanish, Elaine caught him before he could.” My father clacked his tongue. “The young lady was not having it.”
“Let me guess, she was sick and tired of him not seeing his own self-worth the way she saw him.” I stated and said: “She wanted him to stand up for himself against the oppression his race experienced?”
“Shhhh, but yeah… something like that.” My father admitted with a nod. He smiled at me: “And two; can you imagine that they kissed on the staircase of the main entrance of this very house!”
“Oof, scandalous!” I gasped.