My rescue came late into the evening, well after the sun had set and the stillness of night arose. It came in the figure of a thin white woman with long blond hair, standing at the beginnings of a dense forest just a short walk from the plantation I had called home for over twenty years. I heard stories of her; she was a legend amongst those enslaved in our parts. But here she stood looking at me with a kind face and stern glare.
People called her Clara. We didn’t know her real name. Rumor was that in her earlier years, Clara married a man who went into the slave business after marriage. He was a cruel man who showed no kindness to those he enslaved and refused to let his wife show any either. Kind-hearted and generous before marriage, Clara became the opposite.
I reckon one day Clara realized what had become of her. The vulgarity of a soiled soul became too much. And soon after, she took the underground railroad path and escaped with an enslaved woman from the plantation. Then she vowed to dedicate her life to helping enslaved people.
We walked through the forest mostly in silence for much of the night until dawn, when we came upon a small house. “That’s where we’re staying,” Clara said.
“Are you sure it’s safe?”
“The family living here has housed hundreds of people escaping. The man of the house has been harassed, attacked, and fined. And he still keeps helping. It’s safe.”
Even with Clara’s help, and a few others coordinating my escape, I still struggled to fathom people helping. That wasn’t the way of life. But Clara’s eyes held a truth to them. And an appeal. I didn’t know it then, but learning to trust people would become an important part of life that she was now teaching me.
“How long will we be here?”
“Probably a day or two. Until we’re told it’s safe to continue.”
“Ok,” I replied.
We went inside, where an older man with a long white beard and a bald head greeted us. He approached with a wide smile and his arms out. And then he hugged me. “Welcome,” he said in a voice laden with care. A warm meal came next.
The two days we spent in this home were joyful and tense. I had never experienced such kindness. The people were warm and jovial, bringing me food throughout the day. One of the children, a precocious teenager, took it upon himself to begin teaching me the alphabet. “You have to know how to read and write,” he said with the wisdom of an elder.
However, worries of capture sat atop of mind the whole time there. Once word came that continuing north was safe, Clara and I left.
“Why do you do this?” I asked Clara as we walked.
“Because it’s the right thing to do.”
“You aren’t afraid?”
“I am. But that’s part of life. You have to learn to live through fears. I wish life was simple and easy, without worry. It isn’t though. And I want to help.” You could see the sadness and dedication in her eyes.
We kept walking. Then Clara said with a slight smile, “you’re in the north now.”
I didn’t know what feeling to expect when crossing the imaginary line that held so much significance. A brief moment of relief came over me. I stopped and stared out. The trees and the path looked the same, the air just as fresh and the sky just as blue. But the rules were different now.
“We have to keep walking. It still isn’t safe here.” Clara said.
We arrived in a charming town where people smiled at me and said hello. All the locals seemed to know Clara. Clara gave me some money and a map. She circled a town in New York. “It’s a good place, people there will help you and they protect each other,” she said.
“Thank you. Your kindness, I’ll never forget.”
“Clara’s Kindness” is a work of historical fiction about a man escaping enslavement via the Underground Railroad. While based on real events, the story, characters, and incidents are fictitious.
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