When I heard the secret knock at the door of the unidentified dorm room I was stationed in, I knew my investigation into the University of Missouri Underground Railroad was about to get interesting.
I gained access to Mizzou’s Underground Railroad after a week of talks with its leaders. After gaining their trust, I was allowed to observe the complex underground system that helps students of color escape the atrocities they face on the University of Missouri campus.
My contact, who goes by “Harriet” was in charge of the unidentified dorm or “station” that I was permitted to stay in. Harriet was a short caucasian female student with short brown hair, thick black rimmed glasses, and a lifetime of white guilt “How many?” asked Harriet quietly through the door in response to the secret knock.
“Two,” said a muffled voice on the other side.
Harriet turned the deadbolt and opened the door. A tall, slender African-American male with dreadlocks rushed in the station with two African-American female students. One of the girls was unconscious; the other was in shock.
“Are you crazy?” asked Harriet as she quickly closed the door behind them. “It’s barely dark out! What were you thinking Edgar?”
The conductor’s name was Edgar. He ran victimized students from station to station until they could reach the designated safe place. “I’m sorry,” said Edgar. “It was an emergency; it couldn’t wait.”
“Did anyone see you? Were you followed?” asked Harriet as she turned down the lantern that was in the window and made sure the curtains were tightly shut.
“No,” replied Edgar. He placed a blanket over the young girl who was unconscious. He stared at her, kneeled down and whispered, “She’s been through a lot.” Edgar looked at Harriet. “There was a pack of white students in the parking lot; they were eating a baby. But they didn’t see us.”
“Who’s this?” asked Edgar looking at me. His eyes narrowed in suspicion as he stood up and took a step away from me. “Did you check him for privilege?”
“He’s ok,” said Harriet. “He had some European cultural identity when we met, but we’ve cleaned him.”
It was true. I never knew how oppressive my existence was until I met Harriet, but she showed me that redemption can be found in guilt. I told Edgar that I was sorry for my genetic atrocities and he shook my hand nervously. “We’ll see,” he said.
I asked what happened to the girls he brought in. Edgar said they were roommates at Dogwood Hall, one of Mizzou’s most dangerous dormitories. They went down to the lobby to get a snack when a feral white girl came out from the shadows and complemented their hair. The girls tried to defend themselves but the microaggression was too powerful. The female ghoul slipped back into the shadows before help could arrive. By then, the girls were barely alive.
“That’s how I found them,” said Edgar. He sat down on a beanbag chair, exhausted, and rubbed his eyes. “We have to get them to the safe place before it’s too late. They’re getting weak.”
Harriet prepared some ramen noodles for the girls. “You have to eat something,” Harriet said to the victims, but they wouldn’t take a bite. Some microaggressions cause the body to shut down. Edgar was right, they needed to get to the designated safe place soon. But it was risky. Harriet said she had a friend who heard from her roommate’s cousin that a group of feral white males were sighted in the area driving around in a pickup truck with a confederate flag bumper sticker. An encounter with them would certainly be fatal for the girls.
Harriet told Edgar there was a station at North Hall that had access to Hot Pockets. “There’s no guarantee they’ll eat anything,” said Edgar. He paced around the dorm. “We can’t risk losing precious time. I’m just going to run them directly to the safe place.”
“You’re going to need help,” I told Edgar.
“I’ll do it alone,” Edgar said avoiding eye contact with me. He began to pack supplies: a crucifix, a wooden stake, and an afro pick. “I ain’t taking no chances.” I understood why Edgar didn’t trust me. My people have been betraying his people for billions of years. The souls of our ancestors fight a never ending war through our hearts – I fight to unconsciously destroy him and he fights to survive.
I grabbed Edgar’s arm. He tried to pull away but my grip was forged with the strength of absolution. “Trust me,” I said looking into his eyes.
“Alright,” said Edgar. “I don’t really have a choice. But if you double-cross me – I promise – I’ll go on a fake hunger strike until the next university president resigns, do you understand me?”
I shook Edgar’s hand, put one of the injured girl’s arm around my neck, lifted her to her feet and made for the door. “Good luck,” said Harriet. She raised a fist into the air. Edgar subtly rolled his eyes and raised one of his in return. “Remember what I said about the pickup truck,” Harriet added before she closed the door behind us.
We made our way out to the parking lot. The whites were gone – all that remained were the bones of the baby that were licked clean. They’re eating their own now, I thought. That’s not good. We stuck to the shadows from lot to lot. Edgar wouldn’t tell me exactly where the safe place was, but he said we were getting close.
The girls were getting weaker. We stopped near an athletic field to rest. Edgar was struggling to keep moving, the girl he was carrying was practically dead weight. Although she was breathing, she offered no help to walk. “We’re not far,” said Edgar out of breath. I lowered the girl to the ground and sat down next to Edgar.
“And you wanted to do this alone,” I reminded him with a smile.
He smiled back. “You’re not so bad,” he said. We both laughed quietly. Edgar looked up at the stars; a sense of peace overcame him. “Do you know what the best part of the safe place is?” asked Edgar. “It’s being able to have all of your craziest ideas, thoughts, fears, and paranoia go completely unchallenged – it’s freedom from reason, logic, even truth.”
I thanked Edgar for confiding in me. He said he may have told me too much, then Edgar’s eyes got wide, his sense of peace escaped as he rushed to his feet and asked, “Did you hear that?”
The faint rumble of an engine could be heard in the parking lot. Light from headlights littered the grass to the left of us. We watched the light move slowly toward us as the engine grew louder. We couldn’t move; frozen in fear, we watched each tuft of grass betray us as they lit up blade by blade until we were exposed. A Luke Bryan song drummed from the speakers of an oversized pickup truck as it stopped in front of us. With two unconscious girls to protect, running was not an option.
The music was cut off and everything was silent – with the exception of the footsteps of three silhouettes that were heading our way…
End of Part One