There's a patch of sand like a waning moon around one side of the pond. The pond's just within earshot of the manor, and about half a mile of open field away from the tree line. It's an oasis of cool on the hottest Georgia days, with a roof of maple and dogwood, providing all-day shade. The white boys have a small wooden boat that they'd play with for hours, but I never had the nerve to touch it. I'm not even allowed to be there, but sometimes at night I sneak over to listen to the almost-silent water.
The first time I ever went there was when I was just learning to talk. I was plenty old enough to understand that I was absolutely not allowed to be there, but the cries of joy from the boys drew me there, and I was powerless against my imagination. It was daytime, and I wandered over while the boys were playing some kind of boat war game. There was a sign nailed up on one of the maples, it probably said something like "Niggers Keep Out", but I don't know how they expected any of us to know how to read it.
I stood and stared for about five minutes before the boys noticed me. They jumped up in the boat like animals frightened into shock. After a moment they dove into the water, scrambled to shore, and ran back to the manor. I didn't think to run, so I just kept staring. The daylight sparkled in patches on the water. The disturbed boat rocked back and forth, sending ripples from one end of the pond to the other. I had never seen something so inviting. I knew then that something so welcoming couldn't posssibly be available to me, so I stood still, simply appreciating it from a distance. The birds sounded more joyous, the trees were taller, and the grass was proud and soft.
There was a corner of my "home" where I slept that was MY place. It was where I kept MY clothes and MY old shoes (and that was it). I had a corner, but I was amazed that those boys were able to say things like MY pond, MY trees, MY soft grass. I had a corner, but they had a manor. They were beautiful trees, but they would never be mine. The water wasn't mine; I couldn't touch it, I couldn't even look at it. Brown hands aren't meant for owning, they're meant for working. That seems now like a very difficult thing for a boy that young to have to realize. The corner and the clothes weren't really mine... I just used them.
I woke from my thoughts at the sound of a gun firing into the air. It was the clean father of the clean boys, and I was just a dirty little kid intruding on their clean pond. I ran.
Now it's nighttime, and I'm looking out on that same water, now mostly still. On the opposite side of the pond there's a frog, and I can hear his jumps and his calls. I have to be quieter than that frog, and move even less. If the father comes out now, it won't be the air he'll shoot. I'm too old now to be cut any slack. There's nothing I enjoy more than soaking in the lazy peace in this oasis. Enjoyment is a privilege not given to me, so I take it in the dark. I take the moment to slip away, to sit like a hiding, exiled king in that patch by the water. There are chains over my head, and I sit by the pond with my knuckles in the sand.