The Warning Sign

Fiction by Joel Worford

Whenever I’m in a hurry, I’ll go ahead and start walking across the road before the cars stop. I always make sure they’re far enough away so they have plenty of time to decelerate, and every time, they do. Some drivers shoot me annoyed looks; one or two will flick me off, but most just stop and play with their radio. A few even smile at me. After all, I have the right of way.

I always know when not to chance it, though. There are three clear signs: A sticker on the approaching car that says “Make America Great Again” or “Blue Lives Matter” definitely means don’t try it. The other is a Confederate flag. That’s a definite warning sign.

Any of those three mean that I’d best wait for this driver to wave me through. Even then it can be risky, but there’s really only so much you can do at that point. I know it may seem paranoid, but you never really know who you’re dealing with. Sure, they’re not all racist, but do you go picking up every snake you see lying in the grass because they’re not all poisonous? I just figure it’s safest to wait.

Liberal America is trying to kill me. They don’t know it, but they are. They want to take away one of my warning signs. They want to make it illegal for the racists to wave their flag that says, “Hey little Niglet, you’d best not chance it with me.”

They’d rather see me die than lose, these libs. That’s what it is. It’s not about keeping me safe; it’s about winning. None of them think about the repercussions of their “victories.” I mean, sure, the Confederate flag is a sign of disrespect and disregard for an entire people’s history, well being, and comfort in this country, but does anyone ever stop to consider the consequence of getting rid of the thing for someone like me? I can already see it happening: me, cheerily walking up to some house after my car breaks down in the middle of the night, little do I know, there were Confederate flags plastered all over the yard just days ago, before the law made people hide them. Next, it’s a blur, and I wake up tied to a chair in some basement, surrounded by a group of knife-wielding Klan members ready to do their part in making America great again. I’ll be one more martyr for all my fellow millennials to build their social media walls and profile pictures around, while my death becomes a means to further compromise the safety of black people. Taking power on behalf of the oppressed, but never giving it to them: that’s how we all die. I guess their hearts are in the right place, these Libs, but for God’s sake, as long as you can’t protect me, at least leave me my warning signs.

When the bill went to Congress, I started to worry.

“Isn’t this great?” they asked me, with their fake glasses, untrimmed beards, and tight man buns shining under the new day’s sun. “We can finally get rid of it.”

“No,” I responded. “This is terrible.”

They looked at me as if I were clinically insane and then walked away. None of them understood, not even the other black people.

“This is wonderful, this is a time to celebrate,” they said, wearing gold head wraps and Dashikis made in China.

“I bet if Zimmerman had worn his Confederate flag that night, Trayvon Martin would be here to celebrate too,” I responded.

They looked at me as if I were crazy as well.

When the time came to protest, I was the first one there. I stood with my “save our flag” poster and waited. Slowly they filed in, racists and conservatives alike, forming a loose cluster outside of the downtown courthouse. The day was bright and the sun cast shadows of picket signs and flags against the white pavement.

It didn’t take long for the protest to catch momentum. Within an hour of my arrival, it had to have been at least two hundred strong, both young and old, yelling up the marble courthouse steps, where the legislators hid behind tall white columns and locked doors.

“Heritage not hate!” the protestors cried. Searching the crowd, I’d never seen so much camouflage worn in one place. I wondered if they knew people could still see them.

An assortment of conservative types you’d expect were present: polo wearing preps, teenagers with bronze skin from long workdays in the sun, women wearing cowboy boots and jeans. There were even a few you wouldn’t expect: local college kids with a confederate flag in one hand and a Toni Morrison novel in the other. Regardless, the majority was certainly held by scruffy, overweight men, well past their forties, who clearly hadn’t seen a day of “easy living” in recent years. Regardless of these differences, here, the people united.

“Southern lives matter!” They joined in together.

Confederate flags flew above the crowd in numbers so great, they covered the sky, repainting my upward view in colors of red, navy blue, and white. For the most part, the group had a single-minded focus. Still, there were a few protestors who must’ve gotten confused and come to the wrong rally.

“Pants up, don’t loot!” they yelled. I did my best to hide my annoyance. I was there for one purpose and one purpose only: to save my warning sign.

Never before, in my life, had I gotten so many confused and suspicious glances. I wasn’t even the only black person: there were a handful of others waving Confederate flags and yelling, “heritage not hate,” along with the other protestors. They were doing a much better job at protecting our warning sign than I was. “Wow, they’re good,” I thought to myself.

While many of the protestors looked uncomfortable and wary of my presence, I also had some of the nicest interactions with people, nicer than I’d ever had before in my life.

“God bless you,” one old woman said to me, smiling. She took my hand and looked into my eyes. There were tears in hers. “It’s great to see young people like you that know what’s right, what this really means.”

I had to shout to be heard over a man with a megaphone on the courthouse steps yelling something about “our heritage.”

“I’m just here to protect my warning sign,” I replied.

The little old woman looked taken aback, but she still held on as she said, “well, thank you for your patriotism.” She gave my hand a pat and then released it to shuffle back over to her husband who tipped his “Make America Great Again” hat at me.

A few other protestors approached me, mostly to say something along the same lines as what the old woman said. It was almost as if they knew they were doing something wrong, and I was a little beacon of hope, showing that maybe they weren’t such terrible people. I made it clear to them that I was only there to save my warning sign. Some walked off looking confused, others disappointed.

I could tell who the really racist protestors were, because they were the ones that didn’t say anything. They just glared at me as if I were trespassing, even though we were fighting for the same thing. I met their glares and smiled at them. I knew they were really trying to protect me. These people were the reason I needed this flag, and there they were, making sure I had it.

As the day went on and the protesting reached its peak, the cameras started to show up. They came straight for me.

A female reporter with short, blonde hair approached. Preparing her microphone, she looked around apprehensively at the protestors as if one might jump up and bite her. A bearded, hippie- looking camera guy circled around and stood by her side. They pointed their weapons at my face.

“Can you tell us what you’re protesting for?” the reporter asked me. She glared at me with her eyebrows furrowed and lips pulled tight.

I leaned down into the microphone. “I’m just here to protect my warning sign,” I said.  

I don’t think she got it. She shouted her follow up question at me over the chanting protestors.

“And what would you say to people who might call this flag ‘racist’ and ‘hateful’?” she asked, emphasizing the “racist” and “hateful.”

I leaned back in to answer her.

“Well, that’s why I’d say we need it,” I responded. The reporter gave me a long, hard look.

“Great, thank you,” she said finally, putting away her microphone. She shook her head at me before walking away, towards a group of middle-aged women, wearing “You Can Grab Me By The Pussy” t-shirts. I shrugged and moved back to join the other protestors.

The rest of the day was relatively calm. At one point, a group of college kids showed up to form a counter-protest and ended up getting maced by the local police officers. I almost jumped in to help them. The officers, that is. After that, things were pretty uneventful. People started to file out in the evening time.

I went home, considering my work a job well done. Someone needed to go out and represent our people. The members of Congress needed to see what danger they were putting us in. But they didn’t.

A month later, the bill passed. No more Confederate flags. There were riots and more protests, but I didn’t go. I couldn’t risk it. The racists and the conservatives, they all looked the same.

I haven’t been to a crosswalk since they took my warning sign away. There’s no way to tell if it’s safe. I don’t go outside for days at a time, sometimes weeks. It’s too dangerous. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I keep a Confederate flag in my house, just in case there’s an uprising and they attack.

“I was there that day,” I’ll say. “I was there when we fought for our flag.”

Joel Worford is a writer and musician from Richmond, VA. His short story “The Naked Eye” appears in the 2017 edition of Good Works Review.

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