I looked out the bus's window, and watched the
ever-darkening sky as I listened to my radio
headset. "Storm watch," they kept saying; my heart pounded
with profound dread and
apprehension for of all weather phenomena, I hated the
violent weather that's so characteristic of
the Midwest. The severe "supercells" with their heavy
winds, vivid lightning, pounding
hailstones, and the dreaded tornadoes, were presently
pounding west-central Indiana. Within a
matter of minutes, the storms would sweep through the city,
bringing destruction to thousands of
The reports that trickled in from Rockville, from Terre Haute --- 'stinky Terre Haute' was what I called it when Claude and I drove through the town the previous summer --- were not pleasant. Already there were reports of baseball-sized hail, high winds, heavy downpours (flash flood watches abounded), and of course, tornadoes. I trembled when it was reported that such a storm had touched down near Danville -- Damn, that's less than a half-hour away, and dead to the west of us!
The bus driver had said that the last time we experienced such violent weather, "They called us from the garage and made us pull over. Man, that wind was howling and the rain poured down in sheets! Can't drive a bus in that! I feel sorry for the folks out walking -- Imagine someone gettin' hit by a falling tree!"
Once again, my body trembled with fear, that same fear I
felt that spring when a similarly violent
storm ripped through the Far Westside. I was only four at
the time and we were visiting my
grandparents; it was an experience I've never forgotten. As
I recalled, we -- Vernice, who had just
turned two, and I -- were playing in the backyard; then
Momma rushed outside to get us.
"Come on, Nisha; come on, Vernie, we have to go to the storm cellar."
As ususal, even at an early age, I had to question everything. "Why do we have to go inside Momma? I don't like the cellar. It's dark and scary."
"Danisha LeShawn Wood! If you don't hush up and do what you're told!"
When my mother said my full name, and used that
tone of voice, I knew I had to shut up and
move quickly. Just before we reached the cellar, I looked
back and saw it: The black funnel cloud
twisting along the ground, sucking and scattering dirt and
debris. "Momma, is that paper flying
around that thing?"
"No, baby, those are doors and windows and parts of automobiles -- Enough with your questions! Come on down here!" My preschool mind tried to fathom what Momma said about the storm; I had a tough time understanding just how destructive a tornado can be.
Doors and windows? Off of houses? Safely locked away deep in that musty, cobweb-filled cellar, I shuddered as I sought the shelter of my father's arms; the deafening roar of the storm itself, and the crashing of trees and glass still haunts me to this day. I'll never forget the mad scene that greeted us when we emerged from our underground refuge. Nor will I forget Grandma's wails and moans upon seeing the roof ripped from the house, and that stately old oak that I loved to sit under in the summer split in two. Its once-proud limbs that sparrows and robins called home laid lifeless in the dirt. Then there was Daddy's car, or what was left of it, perched high up in what was left of the old oak.
"Did the storm do all this, Daddy?", I asked.
My father, his face the very picture of despair, only replied, "Yes, Nisha, the storm did all this, but don't hate nature because of what you've just seen. Love the natural world, Danisha, and respect everything that's in it. Do you understand, honey?"
"I think so, Daddy."
"Fifty-Sixth and Illinois Streets!"
The driver's words jolted me to the present; I knew this was my stop. So what circumstances forced me to take public transportation when I was perfectly aware that the weather was about to turn ugly?
My car had been acting up for over a month, so I decided to take it back to the dealer for a thorough inspection. I knew that the 'device' on my car wouldn't be a problem as Jacki and Tony removed that time travel device, "For a few minor adjustments." OK, so I won't get to visit Claude after all; I really need his company right now, especially since I had another 'run in' with another close-minded . . .
I had hoped to travel to the 15th Century,
just to see my 'sugarbritches', but the time traveler
(Jacki and Tony are still working on a brand name) was
currently undergoing repairs. I felt it best
not to trouble Claude with my minor problems. They
are minor -- You've dealt with this
so what's so difficult about this one?
What was so difficult was that I knew -- or at least thought I knew -- this person. He and I were lab partners back in high school; I can still remember the time I got squeamish when we had to dissect a frog, and he helped to ease my fears. But things happen over the debris of twenty years -- things that would change this young man's attitudes toward people of different persuasions, be they color, religion, or political beliefs.
Anyway, after I dropped off my car at the dealer, and
since it would be nearly an hour before the
bus came, I walked through the neighborhood in search of a
place to eat. Now, I've seldom
traveled to this part of town, except that time I bought my
car. Never did I expect the treatment I
would receive at the hands of a former 'friend'.
I walked into this tiny neighborhood variety store and picked up a bottle of Coke and bag of chips. When I went to the cashier, the man ahead of me went off on a tangent denouncing "If it wasn't for them I'd have a job! Dammit! It's gettin' so that we aren't first in anything anymore!" I didn't need an explanation; I knew exactly what he was talking about.
Of course, having heard such trash all my life too many times, I just let his bitterness bounce off that tough armor that Momma and Daddy provided me. But for today, there were chinks in that armor, chinks that developed from years of neglect and complacency. I wasn't prepared for what came next.
The man spoke belligerently. "Excuse me, but I was here
first." I turned around to look at this man and recognized
him at once.
"Phil? Don't you remember me? I'm Danisha, your old biology lab partner . . . ," I began but Phil cut me off, just like that.
Phil eyed me up and down; he made no effort to hide his disgust. "Danisha Wood? I remember you all right! Smart-assed little b____, thought you were better than everyone else just 'cause your daddy was a bigshot department head and on the School Board! Oh yeah, I remember you, talkin' 'bout your new house on Washington Boulevard and all those fancy parties your folks let you have. You know what? I never wanted to be your lab partner! Mr. Lowell paired us up 'cause he knew I was failing -- Hell, you knew I was failing!"
Now I kept my cool; no way was I going to play into his
hands. Such people always take that
extra step just to see how far they can push; I think it
makes them feel special when they get
otherwise more rational folks on their level.
"Phil, Mr. Lowell paired us because he thought I could help you academically and you could help me be more at ease handling the animals. I thank you for that, because now I can handle almost anything with getting nauseous." I smiled when I said that.
That may very well bring him down off his high horse. Claude said that was what won over so many Parisians -- my ability to smile and speak a kind word or perform a kind act. "Or else they would have never let their children near you, Danisha. When I think back to that time, when I first laid eyes on you, it was that smile that touched my heart the most."
But Phil, unlike Claude, never bought the smile or the
kind gestures. He just glared hard at me
and said as I paid the cashier, "I was being nice to you
because Mr. Lowell told me to, that's all!
Sure, I passed the class but barely! You got straight A's!
You people've always gotten the breaks,
and we suffer for it! I was this close to gettin' a job
this morning, but I got passed up because
they needed 'more color'!"
Again, I said nothing but offered up a silent prayer for Phil. He needed to deal with his anger and the bigoted remarks that erupted from his mouth only pulled him deeper and deeper in the quagmire of hatred. I looked at Phil dead in the eyes and said, "Phil, I wish you well in your job search." To that Phil replied, "Go to Hell! Better yet, go back to Africa where you all came from and maybe there'll be some real jobs left for REAL Americans!"
"I can't believe he said that," I thought as I unlocked my backdoor. Those thoughts were pushed from my mind as more important matters took precedence.
The late spring sun that brightened everything only a
few hours ago; was now completely
obscured by the blackened clouds that rolled in from the
west. Even though it was still late
afternoon, darkness had fallen over the city, and the cool
burst of wind portended of things to
come. Now I wish Claude was here, or I was with him. I
hate storms, even though I'm grown, I
still get scared.
Now that I was the proud owner of a stately Meridian Street mansion (courtesy of Claude), I was especially apprehensive that a tree could fall on the house. The fine leaded glass windows could shatter under the force of 70+ mile-per-hour winds. What if the power goes out? I bought all that food for my party . . . I was to invite Claude . . . What if the roof caves in . . . ?
All these thoughts swirled about in my head as I -- all alone in that big house -- watched helplessly as dark, downwardly bulging clouds spanned the sky. Now I wish he was here . . . I'm really getting scared . . . no, really frightened.
I tried to call my mother, but when Momma answered I got
a very stern lecture about using the
phone during an electrical storm. "Danisha, how many times
have I told you never to use the
phone during a thunderstorm? Honey, you can get shocked.
Now baby, do you have flashlights,
candles, batteries, a radio, extra food . . . "
That's my mother, being just that -- a mother.
After I finished my very brief conversation, I switched on the TV so I could at least follow up on the weather reports. I saw it all: the radar screen showing all those red and orange blotches which denoted the brunt of the storm. And it was heading directly for us. A head-on hit! I went to the front window again only to see the trees wildly bending and bowing in the wind; the traffic light swinged and swayed madly in the storm's approach. All I could do was wait and pray that this would be over, and soon.
Just then, I saw a flash of white light coming from what
I could tell was the kitchen. Don't tell
me the house has been struck by lightning! I dashed to
the kitchen totally unheeding the
ominous rumblings of thunder and the howling of wind.
When I reached the kitchen, I was in for a very pleasant surprise. Well, the house wasn't on fire, but my heart was inflamed. And this is one storm that will be easy to ride out, now that he's here.
He swept over to me, took me into his arms and tenderly kissed my lips. He then began to speak, "My love, my darling Danisha. Why didn't you contact me? My dear, this weather..And I understand Jacqueline has yet to repair the time traveler. No matter -- I'm here, Nisha; you no longer have to ride out this storm alone."
All I could do was throw my arms around him and kiss his
lips over and over, saying, "Claude Frollo, you don't know
how glad I am to see you!
And yes, the time traveler may be out of...Hey! How did you
get here if the thing's on the blink?"
Claude laughed, then removed his hat, replying, "Darling, I made this trip just before Antoine and Jacqueline dismantled....My love, she sent a message, something about a 'storm watch'. Naturally, I was truly worried and wanted to be with you." Claude sighed and held me tightly saying, "Danisha, I love you, and I won't let you suffer through this alone."
He can be so gallant, so wonderful. Claude Frollo dropped everything and traveled over five centuries just to be with me....and he made that trip just in time...
"Well, sugarbritches, you might as well make yourself at
home. I have plenty of provisions in
case we should..." My words were interrupted by the wail of
tornado sirens. Claude seemed
rather alarmed, for his eyes widened upon hearing the
ominous blaring of the sirens.
"Whatever is that?", he asked somewhat nervously.
I replied, "Tornado warning--That means they spotted a tornado somewhere in county. Even though it may be miles from here, I think we should head for the basement. Come on, Claude," I tugged at his sleeve as my heart beat faster and faster. Claude sensed this and lightly touched my cheek, then my hands. "Nisha, you're trembling; your palms are sweating profusely. I am aware of your fear of storms but never have I seen you in such a state."
Then he smiled, placed his arm around my waist and asked, "I trust you have candles and other emergency provisions in your cellar." I silently nodded, paying no attention to the tears that tricked down my cheek. Claude kissed me again, saying, "Nisha, my love, I do believe there's something else on your mind besides the storm. To the cellar, my sweetness."
What would transpire during that storm would also bring
back a flood of memories -- some wonderful, a
few quite painful. Over the next twenty four hours, Claude
and I would delve into our past and
learn a few lessons along the way.
First, I would learn how Fern prepared Claude Frollo, and the rest of Paris, for my initial arrival. Then I would find out exactly what was going through Claude's mind when he laid eyes on me the first time.
To Part 2
©Copyright FrolloFreak FSM #14, 1998.