When Jim Fallows arrived in Orogun village with Tara in search of Tim, he was haunted by the event that had happened a few years back and he wondered if it accounted for his frenzy to investigate the Foresters.Maybe it was his own projection of denial. Guilt, as he once told Tim, had its virtues. Tim did not hesitate to call him an interloper.
It happened in May 1975. Jim Fallows did not know how to say goodbye to his fellow passenger. He did not know how to look at him, or whether he should look at him. Rob Fallows’s tale had shed an ambiguous light on dark regions of his memory.
“Okay Rob, it was nice meeting you,” was Jim Fallows’ polite way of telling Rob Fallows that he was glad the plane touched down right on time. Rob Fallows, on the other hand, was merely puzzled at a certain fidgety air around his fellow passenger. Jim unlocked the seat buckle while the plane was still taxiing. Then he made a false start at rising to his feet. His face betrayed a comedy of a half-smile and half-fear that might have been ominous if the plane was airborne and roiling in unruly clouds. Rob thought he was on a roll, reeling out ream after ream of the family tree, and waiting for Jim either to reinforce his story or unveil a new tree.
“Have a good one,” Rob replied simply.
Jim was the first to express curiosity when, by a strange working of fate, Rob sat on the aisle seat and he on the window seat. It was a flight from Atlanta to Pensacola.
“I see that we share the same last name,” Jim said and Rob expressed superficial delight at the coincidence. Rob had met quite a few Fallows in his lifetime of about forty years, and he knew there was nothing to the name. Given the diversity of their history, quite a few American names were a corruption of their original. He had met a Fallows whose name had been chiselled out of a German name of about six syllables.
Barely ten minutes to landing, Jim wanted to know if his Fallows was related to a man he had met at college in Cincinnati. Rob said he did not know any Fallows in Cincinnati. He said all his Fallows resided in the south and California and he traced the name back to antebellum America.
“My parents told me our name was forced on us by a family that owned a big plantation near Savannah in Georgia,” he began. He did not want to use the word slave in 1975 America. He went on to tell how the family, once known as Ebulu, or Obulu – he was not sure which – had a baby girl with striking beauty. She bore a child for a master and the boy was married into the family when he was barely twenty. He was so white he could pass.
Rob paused then and tried to impress his listener with a flourish of recollections, naming almost fifteen of the relatives in the family and explaining who they were and what they did during and after slavery. Those that received kindness. Those that were lashed to death. Those who shone as intellectuals in their own rights. Those that became pastors. One was an unsung inventor in the days of the cotton gin.
Rob was generous in his telling. As he spoke of the orator, so he revealed others like the fool, the sluggard, the trickster, the thief. A famously fat woman in particular was noted for the sonority of her insolence. Her name was Bev. Her treble tamed any choral rivalry in the church. She knew how to insult people, white or black, as though she sang. It at once disarmed and infuriated the plantation folks. But her womb was no less fecund. She birthed twelve children.
“I descended from her,” Rob said. It was at this point that Jim’s ears twitched.
“This woman…” said Jim
“Bev,” cut in Rob.
“Did you say she had a dozen children?” asked Jim.
From his own recollections of his family tree, Jim knew of a woman who had at least ten children and, true indeed, their plantation was near Savannah and he also knew of a notorious female slave with a great voice. No one told him about her insults. He was not clear in his memory if the great voice and the at least ten children belonged to the same person. But he had heard enough.
Rob was one of those light-skinned Americans whose features were white enough to pass. Jim also knew that, in those days, his family married some fruits of interracial union to a cousin of the white Fallows to keep the race inviolate.
After disembarking from the plane, Jim walked far ahead of his fellow passenger and namesake. He thought he had been delivered from this tribulation of memory. But just before he stepped into the cab in Pensacola, Rob yelled out. “Not all of us bear Fallows now. Some bear Obulu and others Ebulu.”
Jim smiled as he crumbled out of sight into the car.