by Raji Singh
…when last we see Uncle Vanya’s ‘Sweet Willamina’: It’s 1850’s, America.
Instantly Willamina transforms into dastardly ‘Dollar Bill’, thief extraordinaire, scourge of the west. The quick change artist is William/Willamina AKA ‘Golden Boy’ Golden, adventurer, best selling writer for Fiction House Publishing. He uses this talent as an Abolitionist, committed to the Underground Railroad. On this day, the Dollar Bill persona serves to thwart a half-dozen slave catchers trailing an escaped family he and Vanya transport.
* * *
From the girlhood accounting of my great grandmother; how her world traveler Uncle, Vanya became a worthwhile cog in the machinery of American Abolitionism.
When Dollar Bill fires a warning shot at the slave catchers, the wagon’s draw-horses whinny nervously. From the seat, Uncle Vanya steadies them with the reins. “Eee- ya! Eee-ya mine fine steeds.” He peeks through the wagon flap, hoping the noise doesn’t frighten the children so they might scream out. The adults hold them tightly. ‘Do not quiver little darlinks,’ Vanya’s eyes coax. ‘Not be afraid.’ To the tightly kinked gray haired family patriarch, whose yet muscular arms encircle daughter-in-law and grandbabies, he wants to make a promise he knows he cannot keep. ‘Somehow, I’ll not let them take you.’
‘You must jump this vor (thief), Dollar Bill, Vanyak. Your only hope, it is in wrestling away the rifle. Nyet! Do not think of the fact that never ever even have you touched a weapon of destruction. Examine him closely and see how he handles it. You will know what to do when the time comes. Da! You must take the chance. For this vor will kill us, surely as the catchers will steal the family from freedom’s grasp.’
Uncle Vanya watches and records mentally as William steadies his long weapon. He forces the men to dismount slowly and even more slowly strip away their firearms. “Put ‘em, oh so carefully on the grass,” orders William.
“Now, amble away from ‘em, gents. Thirty feet’ll be just fine. Wouldn’t want anyone to be tempted to go reachin’ and for me havin’ to waste ammunition blowing some heads off. Good. You’re movin’ just fine. Now lie face down.”
The nattily dressed plantation overseer lemons his lips. “There’s been a herd ‘a cattle through here. “You’ll have us residing in piles of…”
“Well, whattaya’ know ‘bout that. Guess it’s true what they say, ‘like attracts like’.” William laughs derisively, motioning them downward with the tip of the rifle. Slowly they comply, closing their eyes, scrunching their faces. The fetid, sun-baking plops haven’t yet crusted.
William’s plan is simple from this point onward: Gather the weapons, vamoose, and leave the slavers to walk – stinking – to the nearest town, twenty miles back, with nary a waterhole for washing betwixt. ‘They’ll never even know we had our human cargo.’ All would have come off without a hitch if my Uncle Vanya hadn’t…
He jumps from the wagon seat and wrestles William down. Everything now happens in just seconds. William and Uncle Vanya scuffle briefly. William is atop him. The weapon fires accidentally, into the dirt, inches from Uncle’s face.
Vanya opens squinting eyes. “Willamina?”
“Quiet!” William orders. ‘Don’t come out of the wagon folks. It’ll expose my ruse. I can handle all this.’
The gunshot had made the slavers look up. Quickly they rise to rush to their guns. They slip, slide on the manure, only for seconds. But that’s just long enough for William to raise, kick poor Uncle Vanya in the stomach to take his wind away so he can’t say or do something else stupid. He re-aims his rifle at the men. “Back down in your slop gents. Surely, you didn’t think a little challenge from a greenhorn could stop me. He looks briefly down at Uncle and bluffs for the sake of the slavers. “Rightly I should blow yer brains out greenhorn. But then who’d I have to unload your merchandise when came time for me to sell it.”
William leaves Uncle lying breathless in the dirt, and then loads the weapons into the wagon. The grandpa stacks them quietly and carefully away from the children, and whispers. “Other Abolitionists told us all about your rusings, Sir. We trust what you do.” William smiles.
After a minute, Uncle’s air returns. William drags him to the wagon, props him onto the seat, then gets on. “Giddy–yap.” He leans back to the men lying on the ground, and now almost completely manure-caked. “You gents have a find day now, hear. But don’t let me see you rising til I’m out of sight. I can shoot the eyes outta rats from a quarter mile off.”
A mile or so down the road Uncle Vanya rubs his eyes and stares at William. “I…I…cannot believe it.”
“Here, Vanya.” He hands Uncle the reins, and then he stands. “I told you earlier, you might not find me so pleasing to your eyes, when you opened them wide enough.” William twists around, once. As he does, his hands move repeatedly up and down his torso. Where was William, ‘Dollar Bill’ seconds before, now, is Vanyak’s sweet Willamina.
“How…How you do that?” Uncle Vanya puzzles.
William repeats the motions, but in the opposite direction. Voila! William, again. “The HOW – that doesn’t matter, Vanya. I can, and that is all that matters,” William says, sitting. “It is the WHY that is important.”
A lump forms in Uncle Vanya’s throat. An hour ago, he was in love; thought he was in love. ‘Good-bye Willamina.’ He restrains himself from stroking Willamin…William’s hand.
William looks straight ahead. He knows he doesn’t have to tell – the WHY. He’s talked with Vanya long enough to know he feels the same way about Russia’s vile system of peasantry as he does about America’s vile slavery. “Our team could use you Vanya,” he proposes. “No better pairing for our cause than a greenhorn Muscovite trader-salesman and his ever-lovin’ sweet Willamina, who’s got the ability to disappear in a twist and a turn. What say, Vanya? We’d make an undefeatable duo.” William puts out his hand to Vanya.
Vanya takes it, grasps firmly, and shakes it.
(Join me every Sunday night at the Fiction House, your place for short story, lark, whimsy, and merriment. Meet the many residents as I archive their lives and centuries of adventures. You can read of their origins in my novel TALES OF THE FICTION HOUSE. They are completely different stories. My novel is available at Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.)
©2013 Raji Singh