“No boys of mine was meant to run.”
She said this to Lamar. She said this to him as though she didn’t know his father.
“We’s kings. We’s Pharaohs.”
Chin up. Neck long. Back straight. Look like you command respect. Don’t carry yourself like a servant.
She said this. She cleaned other families’ homes every day. She cooked for them. Some called her a maid. Lamar saw her more as a fixer. Whatever they needed done around the house, she got it done.
She served their every need.
But every morning she left the house with her chin up. Her neck long. Her back straight.
She put more emphasis on this than grades or classes. When Lamar stood before his teachers looking like the son of Neondra Pharaoh, they didn’t regard him as royalty. They saw his body as threatening.
Lamar was at best a sometimes okay student. He talked too much. He took few things seriously. But he was never threatening, not if you weren’t afraid of him.
His teachers were afraid of him.
And so was the man chasing after him now.
Lamar knew he shouldn’t run, but he figured standing still would do little to keep him alive. He had long legs for a reason.
Lamar’s father ran. Mo Mo Pharaoh. That wasn’t his given name. Lamar never heard that name. His father’s name was Mo Mo since long before Lamar came into the world.
The only thing regal about Mo Mo was his last name. The man spent more time in liquor stores than the people who worked there.
One day he left a liquor store running. They said he stole something. They said he was stupid enough to do it with the law right there. The only nice thing people had to say about Mo Mo was how far he got on foot before his body wound up flat on the concrete with red holes in its back.
Mo Mo’s father ran. He survived the war in Korea, but home was something else. He found no respect from his wife, and he certainly found none from Uncle Sam. He started off protesting about what was due him as a veteran. But times were changing, and as young people started demanding more, he thought it was time he did so, too.
He ran when the hoses and dogs came out. He never fully recovered from a blow he took to the head.
Lamar’s great grandfather also ran. He ran numbers. He ran contraband. When the police cornered him one day, he ran from them, too. The beating they gave him left him with a limp.
He was grateful for that beating. It meant he didn’t have to serve in the war. He considered that a good trade. The Japs had never done anything to him. Far as he was concerned, they shared a common enemy. He saw no need to go kill them, and he saw even less need to go die.
Lamar’s great great grandfather didn’t get very far. Someone said he had eyes for a white girl. By the time he started running, the rope was already around his neck.
He didn’t even find white women attractive. Surely never saw one he was willing to risk his life over.
He didn’t get to outlive his old man, who continued to work a piece of land that was never meant for him to afford. He had spent his early years working the acres of other folks’ fields. Then the day came when he could get his own, but he would never see numbers come in that looked anything close to his debt.
They said he lost his mind when he lost his son. It was unclear if he drank away his spirit or if his soul had spent so much time running from life that it finally got away.
His father was born enslaved. He worked harder than any other man in his corner of the world. But he always kept his chin up. Neck long. Back straight. No matter who spoke to him.
They broke him for that. It didn’t come quickly. And before they could get him to stop seeing himself as man, he ran off into the woods. When they found him, they broke his body then and there. But his mind died free.
His name was lost to time. But the others that worked the land, black and white alike, they called him Pharaoh.
When the men who had enslaved him had their bodies broken and a semblance of freedom came to Pharaoh’s only son, this was the family name he chose for himself.
This was as far back at Lamar’s people could remember. It was a miracle, really, that the story had traveled this far in time. The Pharaoh men weren’t much for holding on to life, but the Pharaoh women were.
But even they didn’t know that Pharaoh men had been running since long before the name Pharaoh.
Generations before the man called Pharaoh was born, an ancestor ran after losing in battle. He was captured and sold.
Feet like Lamar’s had been pounding the soil for centuries.
Lamar took after his father in some ways, only one of which became part of the story passed down. He made it pretty far.
But one wrong turn led him to a fence too tall to jump. He thought about trying. His people had been running into walls all their lives. Some would search for a way around them. Some would sit there and begrudge their lot in life. Some had the nerve to stare them down.
When Lamar faced this one last wall, he stopped being his father’s son. He was his mother’s. He turned around with his chin up. Neck long. Back straight.
And then the bang.