Night Bird Flying - Chapter 1: Freedom
"Way down Louisiana close to New Orleans,
Way back up in the woods among the evergreens,
There stood a log cabin made of earth and wood.
Where lived a country boy named Johnny B. Goode." - Chuck Berry
And Johnny couldn't have despised this life more. He stood outside on the front porch, looking out at the clearing within the trees in front of his house with total disdain for everything his gaze fell on. Dressed in a sleeveless T-shirt, the strings still hanging from the thread where it was torn and a large bandage patch on his left arm, Johnny kept his eyes ahead sourly. His jeans were worn out and there were holes torn into the knees. He was barefoot and he leaned against the column nearest the front step lazily, his hands in his pockets.
Jonathan Goode was a 17-year old African American teenager. He was now sporting a large Afro; it formed into loose curls which spilled over his head into thick bangs that rested over his eyebrows. His skin was caramel-colored and his eyes were a piercing light brown, strikingly efficient in catching a passerby's attention by their unusual nature alone. Johnny was skinny, very skinny but with a slight muscle build visible due to southern hard life. He reached up to scratched his head, revealing an enormous hand with long, slim, spider-like fingers that dug into the jungle of wool above his cranium.
“John!” screamed a strong female voice from inside the house. “You think I was jokin'!? I didn't mean stay out there and sulk on the porch, then come in when you feel like it. When I say leave, I mean GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!!”
“ALL RIGHT!” Johnny belted with a deep voice that shook the floor. His thick almost white southern accent faded in and out to a proper dialect at various times, usually changing with his emotions. Disregarding his mother, he walked into the house and paced into his room, slipped on his shoes, grabbed his packed bags, and held them together tightly in one hand. With almost everything he needed with him, he searched around the desolate black room, then he saw what he was looking for. A black Gibson Les Paul; slick and beautiful with a strap attached, designed with an abstract but colorful pattern. He grabbed it and slung the guitar across his torso, picking up the amp that lay beside it and holding it in his other hand. He turned to walk out of the door, when a large black woman blocked the exit.
“Where you think you going with that gui-tar?” she asked with a raised eyebrow. “You leavin’ that here.”
“The hell I am,” Johnny said with agitation. “It's mine.”
“I'm the one that paid for it, so its mine and you gon' leave it here.”
“Dad paid for it. I worked to get it when he purchased it, so it was mine when he bought it.”
“Don't speak nonsense in my face, boy!” his mother spat vigorously. “Leave it on that bed and get the hell out of my house!”
Johnny smacked his teeth. “Bullshit,” he muttered, under his breath as he slipped past her.
“Boy, bring yo' ass back here!” Johnny's mother yelled, but Johnny was already out of the house with the guitar across his back and his bags in hand. “You tryin' to kill me, ain't ya? You tryin' ta get my blood presha all high. You ain't nothin' without me, boy! You just goin' to drop out a school and be a bum like everybody else in this family. Go on, get out a here!”
He didn't need to be told. In fact, he was already strolling down the dirt road that ran adjacent to their house. Fuck her, he thought. Fuck this town; there’s nothing there for me, not anymore. Everything that his mother yelled at him from her porch miles away went into one ear and out of the other swiftly, without a loss of momentum. He was going to prove her wrong. He just needed to plan out how he was going to do it. He made a note to make sure it didn't involve the type of tactics that he used to get himself in this situation in the first place, walking down a country dirt road, unemployed and homeless, headed into a world of either endless possibilities or countless misfortune.
Just hours before, Johnny was sitting in the principal's office of Brooks High School. He was now wearing a brown leather jacket, khakis and a pair of sunglasses placed firmly on the top of his head, arrogantly chewing a thick wad of gum as the man in front of him began to lay down some discipline. He was showing no immediate reaction to any of the man’s addresses. Johnny let his eyes wander about at the spectacles that filled the room. It was relatively boring; a traditional office that displayed the school colors of green and silver, illuminatingly brown with an oak wood interior all around the room, and a collection of trophies on one side of the wall. There was a display case holding the principal's most prized possession: a baseball bat, a testament of his glory days, when he was the MVP of Brooks High School's baseball team years ago. Johnny looked at it lazily. He did not feel nor did he give any respect to the principal. Respect needed to be earned, and Johnny had not seen any evidence of the principal's entitlement to this as of yet.
“Do you know why you're here, Jonathan?” the principal asked patiently.
“I believe I do,” Johnny said, gently knocking down his sunglasses to the bridge of his nose.
“Mr. Goode,” the principal said, looking down at his papers. The man, who looked as if he were in his mid 50's, grabbed a pair of reading glasses, slid them on, then squinted down at the papers once again. “You have been absent from class 32 times this semester, tardy 12 times after being caught and forced into class by a truant officer, and you've been proven responsible for the desecration of school property through means of graffiti. Your GPA is 1.8, yet its been proven that you know the material in the classes you take as if you had already taken them before. You have amazing potential but virtually no work ethic. What seems to be the problem with you, Johnny?”
Johnny stopped chewing his gum and his expression turned from complete apathy to seriousness. “I don't think the problem is with me,” he said with a touch of sarcasm. “Have you ever thought about it? I mean really thought about the reason why I do this? Did you ever stop to think that maybe its just the simple fact that it's you I'm targetin' my anger on because of how you're tryin' to ruin me and everybody here? Do you know the drop out rate for this school? When you were first employed in 1997, it was 14% and now 10 years later, its fuckin' 51%. You didn't think I knew that, did you? So what did you do? You hire truant officers. Seriously? For a damn high school? When you could've simply gone to the Board and asked for a change in curriculum, maybe employed better teachers or somethin'. Because to be honest with you, a contributin' factor for why I don't come here is because of your emotionless, unbearably borin' teachers who don't teach us shit in the first place, your stupid rules that don't accomplish anythin', and your overbearin', arrogant attitude. So here's your homework for tonight, Mr. Principal. Why don't you think about ways of improvin' your corrupted ass school and your own worthless life, then maybe you'll hit two birds with one stone and solve my problem too.” Johnny finished off his speech with a smile as he clapped his hands together with a look of accomplishment.
The principal was not amused at all. He pulled his reading glasses from his face and gave Johnny an intense look. “Do you think you're smart, Mr. Goode?” he said, his face growing stern. “Because you're not. The only reason why you're here in my office right now and not an arrested convict or out on the streets like the rest of your kind is because of my intervention.”
“My kind,” Johnny repeated, raising an eyebrow.
“Yes your kind and you know exactly what I'm talking about. I pray you're at least smart enough to understand that. Now....I have a proposition for you. We can make this all go away. The tardies, the absences, the tainted record; it can all be forgotten. We'll even throw in a few grade changes. All of this can be yours if you do one thing for us.”
“And what's that?” Johnny asked, unconvinced.
“Leave Rebecca,” the principal stated plainly. There was a short pause before Johnny responded.
“You mean break up with her?” Johnny asked, his anger swelling and his confusion growing. “You want me to break up with my girlfriend in exchange for a clean record? Why?”
“Because in the bible, it clearly states that intercultural marriages are forbidden and being the God-fearing man that I am, I like to abide by the spiritual law, whether you like it or not.”
“So what you're sayin' is, you want me to break up with my girlfriend because of my race. Because she's white and I'm black.”
“That is the idea,” the principal said, his expression unchanged.
“I don't believe this,” Johnny chuckled humorlessly. “Okay, first of all, I'm not married to Rebecca. We're only dating. Second, the passage about interracial marriage was in the Old Testament, which has numerous contradictions, including how you can sell your daughter into marriage and/or slavery. Third, that passage was originally directed towards the Jews and Gentiles. Fourth, who are you to call yourself a God-fearing man when you‘re clearly judgin‘ me? When the bible that you claim to know so much about mentions that all men are created equal, you consider me to be inferior. You don't fear God. You're challengin' him with your own beliefs. If God struck you down right now, you'd still deserve worst, you racist bastard.”
The principal smirked. “I'm not going to try to convince you, Jonathan. This isn’t about me, it’s about you. Now will you accept my proposition or not?”
Johnny glared at the principal and chewed on his gum twice as hard, hoping that his anger would dissipate along with its flavor. It wasn't helping. He was done. He had been pushed over the edge. He jumped out of his chair and spit his gum into the principal's face.
“Fuck you,” Johnny said forcefully before reaching to the side of the principal's desk and sweeping his arm across it, knocking everything off.
He picked up the black Les Paul that had been leaning on the side of his chair, which he now carried around everywhere he went, even at school. He swung it across his torso onto his back with the neck pointed to the ground and walked to the side of the room, where he spotted the principal's prized baseball bat in its display case.
“What are you doing?” the principal asked, tension growing in his voice.
“Doing God's work, Mr. Principal,” Johnny chuckled, grabbing the display case recklessly and pulling it from the shelf.
“No!!” he yelled, jumping from his chair. But it was too late. Johnny slammed the case onto the ground and it shattered to pieces as soon as it made contact. He quickly reached down to pick up the bat and turned around with it threateningly as the principal stopped his charge toward Johnny. The principal reared back and cowardly hid behind his desk. Both fortunately and unfortunately for him, Johnny had other plans.
He walked to the exit, lifted his leg and forcibly kicked the wooden door off of its hinges. With it, the seal that locked away his wild side flew off as well. As soon as he left the office, he came out swinging, literally. At the first sight of glass, Johnny curved the bat and smashed it. He started with fire extinguisher cases then moved on to classroom door windows, jogging down the hallway as he went.
“Stop that boy!” The principal yelled at the top of his lungs, pointing at the out-of-control teen. Johnny screamed and laughed as he sprinted down the hallways, slamming the precious bat against the lockers as hard as he could. Most of them were now dented beyond repair. Johnny kept going. He was enjoying himself for the first time at that retched school. He had had enough of its rules, its intolerance, its negative environment. It was time to lay down some anarchy.
As he continued down the hall, two security guards came around the corner and grabbed at Johnny, one wrapping his arms around his torso. Johnny used the bat to pry the guard from him, then swung it into the his cheek. The blow was powerful enough to knock the guard unconscious as he collapsed against one of the lockers. As the second guard charged forward, Johnny turned the bat around to the handle side and jabbed it into the guard's knee. In the same motion, he directed the top of the bat into his face, causing him to fly back. The move ultimately gave Johnny more time to flee.
Johnny was ecstatic. He grazed the bat across the surface of the lockers as he passed. Teachers and students began to exit their classrooms, searching for the source of all of the commotion. Johnny gazed over his shoulder. No one was following him at that moment. He stopped running and looked down at the bat. He couldn't see what was so special about it. It was a worn out piece of wood; its decals and designs were worn out beyond recognition. Why should the principal miss it any? He thought. So he lifted it high above his head and a scream rang out behind him.
“STOP!!” Yelled the principal who had just turned the corner to witness Johnny's travesty against him. He mustered all of his strength and slammed the bat as hard as he possibly could onto the floor. Splinters of wood exploded into the air and the booming sound was as deafening as a thunderstorm. With it now smashed to pieces, he threw the useless handle away from him and looked back at the principal, who's spirit had broken along with his prized bat.
“NO!!” The principal was on his knees, crying in agony. What a bitch, Johnny thought as he turned back on his path. He laughed almost maniacally as he continued along the hall, beginning to plan his escape. He soon found the boy's restroom down the next hall he turned onto. There was a window in there that could be opened and would lead outside to the campus. He took a turn and busted in, heading towards the closed window. He lifted it open as quickly as he could, surveying the area before making his escape as he slipped off the Les Paul and held it in one hand to avoid it obstructing his departure. He prepared to climb through....until he heard someone's voice.
It was a female's, very familiar to Johnny's ears. There was heavy breathing and the sounds of flesh caressing against flesh. Johnny stopped in his tracks. He walked backwards focusing on nothing but the sounds he heard, which were obviously coming from one of the stalls. He picked one and kicked it in. Inside, a girl was locking lips with another student and the two were half-naked. They broke away and looked at him in surprise but their looks combined could not match the shock and terror on Johnny's face.
“R-Rebecca?” he stuttered, his voice trembling.
“Johnny....” was all the young brunette could say. Johnny couldn't believe his eyes. There she was, his girlfriend, naked from the waist down and making out with some ugly kid he could give a fuck less about. He'd just torn through the school, causing mayhem, and essentially throwing his life away, all for her. Now it was all pointless. He'd rampaged through the school for nothing. He gripped the neck of the Les Paul so tightly, he could feel the veins protruding from his forearms.
Suddenly, the bathroom door swung open and several security guards rushed in. It snapped Johnny back into action. Gone was the image of his girlfriend fucking another guy. Gone were the thoughts of her entirely. The only thing on his mind was to avoid getting caught. He ran forward, dived through the open window, and stepped into the outside world. The natural aroma of the deep south swelled inside his nostrils, bigotry and all. It was putrid but it didn't stop him from sprinting across the school campus and down the street towards oblivion.
Johnny stepped into his mother's front yard to see her sweeping the front porch. He slowed his run as she glanced up at him quickly, then looked back down at her work. Did she know what he'd done? Had the school already informed her of his destruction? He walked onto the porch, careful not to step on any piles of dirt that she had swept into place to be scooped up later.
“I called your uncle up just now,” she said, keeping her eyes on the straw of the broom as she swept.
Johnny hesitated in answering as he slipped off his leather jacket to reveal his sleeveless t-shirt. “Uncle Chuck?”
“Yep,” she said. “He's gon' be expecting you. So go pack ya stuff,” she stopped sweeping and finally looked up at Johnny, “and get outta my house.”
Uh oh. “The school called, didn't they?” Johnny asked quickly.
“You think you can just go off and go wild in somebody's school like that without punishment? Uh-uh. You gots to go now. You done already got ya arm all tatted up, why don't you gon' 'head and live on the street like the hoodlum you tryin' to be.”
“It's one tattoo, ma, how are you still mad about that?” Johnny asked, rolling his eyes. His mother confronted him and slapped him on his left arm, whichh was holding the bandage helping his tattoo heal. “Ow!”
“Boy, what’s wrong with you?! This ain't about that damn tattoo, its about yo' blatant disregard for authority! You 'sposed to respect them men up in that school and what you gon' and do? You slippin' in and outta class, spray paintin' yo' little devil messages all up on the walls. If you actually learned how to respect somebody up in this place, maybe yo' daddy would still be alive to keep yo' stubborn ass on track today. Its too late now, though. You gon' have to gon' and get from 'round here, before I mess around and hurt yo' ass.”
And so he began to pack. And now he was walking along the lonely dirt roads of Louisiana with his bags in one hand, his amp in the other, and the guitar wrapped around his torso as the sun began to set behind the trees. He knew he needed to change for the better but that definitely did not involve the interference of others, he kept thinking. He'd be changing himself; in no way would he let someone else dictate what he should become or not. He knew he wasn't happy with the way things were at that moment, but once he found himself in a state of mind that he was content with, he would keep things that way and let no one tell him otherwise.
Johnny put down one of his bags and reached in to grab his MP3 Player. He put the headphones in his ear, then the player itself into his pocket as he grabbed his things and moved onward to the rhythm of the music. The genre varied from time to time but consisted mostly of classic music, from rock, metal, to old school hip hop, the blazing guitar selections in the songs being the consistent factor of his playlist. Music was his solace. He needed to stop thinking and let the beautiful sounds form his thoughts for him. He had a long road ahead of him and what better way to pass the time than through an inner cinematic montage.
Freedom by Jimi Hendrix