All Stories, General Fiction

Varda May Atkins by Frederick K Foote

Samson LeBlanc, the Black son of a field worker father and a maid mother, was drunk on the arrogance of perceived acceptance and blinded by the blazing promise of equality.

He raised his cup with the elite rowing crews at Princeton, Harvard, and Yale and bonded with the offspring of billionaires, presidents, statesmen, and celebrities.

His hope for the future was boundless, and his ambition was an endlessly accelerating rocket.

That is until Varda May Atkins, the scrawny, nappy-haired, large-lipped, Black girl from Yazoo, Mississippi, showed up in his first class in his first year at the Yale Law School.

Samson was fortunate to be sitting next to and chatting with Lyra Sharp, the daughter of Magnus Sharp, the founder of Sharp Weapons and Munitions (SWM) and one of the wealthiest men in North America. Samson knew Lyra from Princeton, where they received their undergraduate degrees.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the bare-footed, scrawny, nappy-headed dark-skinned Black girl dressed in a red and yellow summer dress ramble into the classroom, looking slow and country. The second she saw Samson, she waved, smiled, and headed straight for the empty seat on his right. Samson gave her a quick, please don’t bring your Black ass up here look and said a silent prayer for the Black girl to implode without a trace. All in vain.

Varda May plopped down next to him and offered him her rough hand and an even brighter smile exposing her horse-sized teeth.

“Hi, cousin, I’m Varda May Atkins. I’m from Yazoo, Mississippi, and I’m so glad to see another Black face up in here.”

As she shook his unwilling hand, she smiled at Lyra and greeted her, “Hey, girl, I love your outfit to pieces. The green goes with your eyes.”

Lyra blushed. “Thank you. I love your dress also.”

“Naw, girl, this ain’t me at all. I just wanted to try and fit in on the first day, you know?”

Lyra smiled. “Me too. I’m Lyra Sharp, and my suddenly mute classmate is Samson LeBlanc. We attended Princeton at the same time.”

Samson forced a poor imitation of a smile at Varda May. “Glad to meet you, Varda May. Varda May is an unusual name. I don’t think I have ever heard that moniker before.”

“Oh, Varda is an old family name. They say Varda means; ‘the valiant will not be deterred.’ It is my grandmother’s name, and it sure fits her. I don’t know if I can live up to that name, though.”

Lyra responded. “That is a wonderful name. The fact that you are here shows you are living up to your name.”

Samson reluctantly nodded in agreement.

“Lyra, you so sweet, girl. It is kind of you to say that. You make me glad I turned down Harvard and Princeton. My granny told me to follow my heart.”

Samson asked, “You were accepted at Harvard and Princeton?”

“I was. But I have people in Waterbury, and I need to get to know them. I mean, my home is with my people, right Samson?”

Samson was saved from responding by Professor Orkin calling the class to order. Orkin asked William Gustin to recite the facts of Liebeck v. McDonald’s.

Gustin responded immediately. “Stella Liebeck was a 79-year-old New Mexico woman who received third-degree burns to her groin area that required hospitalization and skin grafts when she spilled a cup of McDonald’s coffee in her lap.  McDonald’s served its coffee at 180 to 190 degrees which was 30 to 40 degrees hotter than other restaurants. Liebeck attempted to settle with McDonald’s for $20,000, the approximate cost of her medical bills, before suing MacDonald’s. McDonald’s was well aware of the dangers posed by its scalding hot coffee because of other burn incidents.”

Orkin turned to Yin Kim to provide the holding in the case.

Kim leaped to his feet. “The jury found Liebeck 20% responsible for her injuries and held MacDonald’s responsible for 80% of the injuries and awarded $200,000 in compensatory damages and $2.7 million in punitive damages. The parties settled for an undisclosed amount.”

“Varda May Atkins sum up the lessons of this case for us.”

Varda scratched the back of her head, pursed her lips, and said, “A farmer gives a Bo Weevil in the cotton more respect than McDonald’s gives its customers. The law and the courts lick the asses of the powerful and shit on ordinary people. After this case, Congress and the courts made it more difficult for people like Liebeck to sue. “

There were blank faces, surprised looks, wide smiles, snickers, giggles, and laughter and someone shouted, “Right on!”

Professor Orkin raised his hands for silence. The class complied immediately and completely.

“Anything else, Ms. Atkins?”

Varda gave Orkin her best smile. “The lesson is don’t be poor or colored or different on this here American corporate plantation.”

Now it was so quiet that you could hear a mouse fart, as Varda May would say.

Orkin’s face was traffic light red, his mouth was open, and his finger was suspended about to make a point long forgotten.

And right then and there, Varda May was a Yale Law School legend as she spent the next forty minutes defending her position with wit, southern charm, and sparkling smiles against the professor and all comers.

Samson had never been so embarrassed in his life to be associated with a Black person. He prayed to become invisible, to sink through the floor, to be abducted by aliens.

He wanted to confront and defeat Varda May for his classmates, but his proximity to her drained his energy and dulled his intellect. Samson gritted his teeth and thought, “That fucking country-ass, Black bitch has ruined my career at Yale. I will forever be associated with her.”

Samson didn’t have to worry about students associating him with Varda. Most students were concentrating on Varda and her claim that the law, and the courts, were persecutors, not protectors of the poor and people of color.

And to add to his disaster of a first day, Lyra attached herself to Varda and sat next to the nappy-haired Negro in the rest of their classes.

“Why you so quiet today, Sampson? You don’t look like the wallflower type to me.” Varda has caught up with Samson as he is walking down the law school steps with home and bourbon on his mind.

Sampson stopped quickly as soon as he heard her voice. He turned to face his unwitting protagonist, but her smile was disarming, and the look of concern on her face appeared real. “Why are you in law school if you don’t believe in the law? What the hell are you? Are you a professional provocateur?”

His words came out hotter and angrier than he intended.

Varda smiled like a sunrise. “Good God. Godamn, Brother. I knew you had some fire in you.”

Samson gritted his teeth. “And shoes. Where are your shoes? Aren’t you going a bit overboard with this poor country girl thing?”

Varda giggled. “Yeah, I might be laying it on a little bit thick. But tomorrow, I will wear my overalls, and I might just put on some brogans just for you. How you like them apples?”

Sampson shrugs.  “I don’t understand you at all. Who the fuck are you?”

“Well, how about coffee? My treat, Mr. LeBlanc.”

Sampson couldn’t imagine spending another moment in the presence of this loudmouth Black menace to society, but curiosity got the better of him, and he agreed to have coffee at the on-campus coffee shop.

As they walked, Sampson asked. “Did you really get accepted at Princeton and Harvard?”

Varda gave an impish grin. “Could be. Surely could be.”

“Whoa, did you lie to us today? Why?”

Varda took his arm. “You know that lies of omission are as slick as snot on a doorknob.”

Sampson stopped again and yanked Varda to an abrupt halt. “Please, cut out the corny country shit and give me some straight answers.”

Varda tried to look serious but broke out in giggles. “Okay, okay, don’t go all caveman on me. I been applying to colleges since I was 15. I was accepted at all 15 colleges I applied to.”

“Bullshit! I don’t—how old are you?”

“Eighteen.”

“What?”

“Eighteen and three months and 13 days.”

“When did you do your undergraduate—you do have a bachelor’s degree, don’t you?”

“In chemistry, mathematics, and philosophy.”

“Bull—from where?”

“Stanford.”

“Varda, I, I—can you prove any of this? I mean—”

Varda pulled her wallet from her backpack and showed him her California driver’s license verifying her age as 18.

She replaced the license with her phone and showed him a picture confirming her three degrees from Stanford.

Sampson walked in stunned silence as she towed him to the coffee shop.

They sat as far away from other customers as they could.

Varda asked Samson, “So, good-looking, why are you in law school? Are you going to follow in Thurgood Marshall’s, Obama’s, or Clarence Thomas’s footsteps?”

“What? I’m, I’m—I just. I’m interested in ah, business and finance like Warren Buffett, and maybe politics later, I guess. You’re only 18. That’s hard to believe. I mean, I’m having a difficult time—you are a genius?”

“Samson, I have a brother, Chad. He’s 21 and writes plays and music and wins boo coo awards for both. Chad didn’t finish high school and never even thought of college.

My sister, Ada, is 12 and beats me, Chad, and our mom and dad at chess. In my family, I’m not the brightest bulb. What’s your family like?”

“So, what’s with the country barefoot, girl front?”

“Oh, that’s no act. My mom works for NASA, and my dad is a brain surgeon, but they are piss-poor parents. They ain’t got a lick of common sense between them. We were all raised by our grandparents in Mississippi on a farm. And we didn’t wear shoes until it got cold.”

Samson pinched his nose in frustration. “You are full of surprises. Were you poor? Why did you say you were poor?”

“I never said I was poor. You and Lyra and the rest of yawl just assumed if I was Black and from Mississippi, I was poor and deprived. We weren’t poor, but my grandparents survived poverty, and we were a rowboat of prosperity in a sea of despair.”

Varda was serious and somber for a moment. “That’s why I’m here at Yale. The law has rarely been the friend of Black people in this country, especially in Mississippi.”

Samson fiddled with his coffee cup and thought about his parents and how hard they worked, and how they were disrespected and demeaned by their employers. “My father was a farm laborer, and my mother was a domestic. We didn’t have a rowboat. We had a raft that we barely kept afloat.  But mom and dad held us together, and I don’t know how they got three Black boys through school alive and healthy. None of us brothers have been to jail or in any real trouble.”

“Samson, I would trade your parents for my parents any day. Being smart doesn’t make you a good person or a good parent. Like old folk say, it’s easy to be too smart for your own good.”

“Varda, I’m sorry about how I treated you earlier.”

“Not to worry about that. We all judge a book by its cover every now and again.”

“So, Varda, what area of the law are you interested in?”

“Well, none. I’m going to MIT next year. I’m just doing this first year for fun.”

“For fun? I don’t understand?”

“Samson, I want to stir things up. Maybe someone will wake up and see the law for what it really is. If I do that, my work here will be done.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

“Oh, I do have family in Waterbury, and I’m going to spend as much time as I can with them.”

“I see. So, this year in law school is like a trip to Disney World or Seven Flags for you?”

“Not exactly. I get to meet new folks and make new friends.”
Samson hisses, “Really?”

They talked for hours about family, professional goals, being Black in the USA, dating, hip-hop, football, and the blues.

Samson started to see some of Varda’s frustration, fear, doubts, anger, loneliness, and isolation. Varda’s comment about being smart stuck with him. “If folks see you as too smart, it’s like being a polecat at a family reunion.”

Varda begins to understand Samson’s desperate need to be accepted by the White establishment as an equal and his anti-Black attitudes. She was surprised by his statement about being Black. “Being Black is the state of mind that has kept us back.”

In the wee hours of the morning, they hugged each other good night and agreed to talk again soon.

Samson LeBlanc, the Black son of a field worker father and a maid mother, called his parents around 8:00 am their time. He told them that he had made a new friend on his first day of law school, and he was starting to see the law in a different light.

Samson’s father had to remind his son to keep his eye on the prizes of income and status.

“Samson, son, you our retirement plan, our health care funder. Don’t go get turned around up there and forget your obligations, hear?”

Varda called her Granny Varda to report on her first day and received a curt response typical of her grandmother. “Hum, well, you don’t need more degrees to certify you. You need to move on to the real work. You markin’ time up there, baby.”

Varda and Sampson took deep breaths and got ready for day two of law school.

Frederick K Foote

Image by Nikolay Georgiev from Pixabay 

4 thoughts on “Varda May Atkins by Frederick K Foote”

  1. Hi Fred,
    I think it says lot when you think, ‘I would love to have known someone like that.’
    This is an excellent piece of character writing with so many other topic offshoots.
    I’m so glad that we got this.
    All the very best my fine friend.
    Hugh

    Like

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