Our New Voices story for today seeks to lay bare the depth of human feeling in a moment of subtle discrimination. Michael Broida’s “The Road to Damascus” softly and carefully leads us through a young person’s road trip home, the car filled with friends and less-than-friends. These city kids arrive in a small town, where the subtle peace of the last few hours quickly evaporates as our protagonist finds himself the only person of color for miles around.
“Time unwound in his mind, the relational cracks mended, and undone was the certain loss of the people they had been once, in that car.”
It was four days before Christmas, as cold and dark and dry at five o’clock as the world had ever been, out in the corn near the wild stretches of Wooster, Ohio. The town’s lights blinked in the distance like an elusive mothership, calling Jordan onward. The rest of the car had fallen quiet—his friends, Maria and Peter, slept in shrouded bundles in the back and Simone, next to him, seemed still awake though gazing absently ahead as Jordan drove. The radio bleated soft static. The road had narrowed before them, a tunnel amid the dead corn as the wind swirled the wisps of salt over the scarred asphalt. Five hours in with five more to go, Jordan found himself thinking of nothing more than home, on this, the longest evening of the year.
“Why are we off the highway?” Maria asked from the back.
“Fuel,” Jordan said.
“For me or the car?” Peter asked.
Jordan could see them gently unwinding into separate entities, a splitting of the atom as Maria gave Peter a quick strike on the shoulder. White faces sprouted from under blankets.
“Both, I bet,” Simone said, turning to rub Jordan’s head with her knuckles. “Whaddya say? One big stop before we push on home?”
Jordan jerked his head away—an old reflex—leaving Simone’s half-fist hanging in the air.
“Just for something quick,” Jordan said. “Not sure what we’ll find, anyway.”
Wooster, Jordan believed, was one of those towns straight out of black-and-white television, the “Welcome” sign rearing up in the headlights, proclaiming its namesake as Revolutionary General David Wooster, and its status as the hometown of the Wayne County Fair and the mid-Atlantic Wooster Warriors hockey club. The cold evening had apparently buttoned up the place, with the exception of a few poor souls fumbling to string candy-caned banners in the dark. As they pulled onto the broad, main drag, the street lamps seemed like matches on end, flickering in the wind. He knew his mother would give him hell if she knew he was in some strange little town so far off the highway, as if Jordan had forgotten the color of his own skin.
“All these folks know about black people is what they see on TV,” his mother liked to tell him during their road trips. “We’re not stopping.”