Merry tied, then retied her shoes, thinking fast about what she was going to say to Mr. Sammy.
Mr. Sammy, a gray eyed cracker with dirty blonde hair and a mean streak, was the head deacon of the white folks church in town and the owner of most of the farms in Locust Grove, including theirs. Merry was too young to figure it out, but somehow she knew that something wasn’t right about Mr. Sammy.
It wasn’t just the fact that he kept the Colored sharecroppers in debt to him, robbing them blind every week and barely giving them a slave’s share of the profits from the bags of cotton and other crops they broke their backs picking. That, and Mr. Sammy being a Southern white man in 1944 would have been enough for Merry not to like or trust him.
But it was more than that. Something deeper.
“Merry? Merry Paine, is that you, gal?”
Automatically, Merry lowered her eyes to the ground, then slightly peeked up at Mr. Sammy sitting high in the wagon seat to flash him her best smile. He was wearing his true and tried straw hat and chomping on tobacco. Nothing out of the ordinary. Except that Merry couldn’t tell if he was smiling back or not, because of how the sun was hitting him. It was hanging at an angle in the sky behind him, and the way Mr. Sammy stopped on the road made him look like a hillbilly Jesus with a halo over his head, his face in shadow.
“What you doin’ this far away from home? Dora know you gone from the farm?”
“Yes, suh, she sent me into town tuh fetch some medicine. She ain’t been feelin’ good.”
“That ain’t gone ‘fect how much you pick, now is it? Dora owes me the same number of sacks ‘gardless and I ain’t gone have no mercy when you fall short tomorrow just ‘cuz Teenie and everybody’s gone and you say Dora’s sick again.”
“Don’t worry, suh. We gone have our sacks and den some. Me and Johnson takin’ up the slack. Johnson mostly.”
Mr. Sammy nodded, lifting the brim of his hat. One look at his money-grubbing face told Merry all she needed to know. She had succeeding in assuring him that he would get his money by using the magic word – Johnson.
“You and Dora takin’ care of my boy, Johnson? Feedin’ him good?”
“Yes, suh. He growin’ like a weed.”
“Good. Good. Alright now, hurry on to town, so you can get back to pickin’.”
“Yes, suh. I’ma hurry.”
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