Austin I Pullé


He pushed the door marked “Exit” with all his strength but it did not budge. Seventy years imprisoned in the Bardo, ever since that fateful hot Mississippi evening in 1955. He was terrified that he was doomed to spend eternity in this dismal place watching the flat screen TVs and make futile attempts to escape. 

A bell chimed heralding a newcomer.   As Carolyn Bryant entered, he could not at first recognize her.  But then as he looked at her closely the years seemed to peel off her gnarled eighty-eight withered frame and wrinkled skin and he saw her as she then was on that fateful evening with those piercing eyes, the two-time winner of a high school beauty pageant.  Her face paled when she saw the ghostly apparitions, leering skulls and heard the screams of anguish. She pinched her nose to ward off the smell of rotten eggs.

He accosted her.  

“So we meet again,” he said moving within two feet in front of her.  She looked at him puzzled and not a little scared but then finally recognized him.

 “You!” She gasped.

“Yes me,” he said.  He tried but could not control his bitterness that scorched his guts.  He wanted to scream at her but said in an even but menacing voice, “You bitch, you smashed my dreams, dreams of going to college, dreams of going to Howard, dreams of marrying my sweetheart. You robbed me of all those dreams.  Instead, I was sent here for what I still don’t know.”

She couldn’t disguise that scornful look that he remembered. “Dreams? More like fantasies,” she said. “You would have joined a gang, sold drugs, and died from an overdose or from a gunshot.”  She smiled, a knowing patronizing smile. He wanted to seize her by the throat and squeeze and squeeze but the first rule in the Bardo was, “Whatever the provocation, no violence or else”.  Instead, he clenched his fists and glared at her.

“Look,” she said after a while with downcast eyes. “Those times were those times. The world has changed and so have I. So must you.”

“So no regrets?”

“Regrets? Of course. I should have tried harder to stop Roy but he had a short fuse.  I begged him to let it go. He promised.”

“You know I didn’t whistle at you. You know I didn’t say the things that you said I said. Why?”

“I was bored. I knew Roy was having an affair with Juanita, his brother’s wife. I wanted to make him jealous.”


“OK, not jealous but to make him mad. The very idea of an uppity black teenager ravishing a white woman was his idea of hell. I wanted to draw a picture in his angry white man mind.  Something for him to think about instead of how to use his fists again on my face.” She shook her head. “If it makes you feel better, I was excited by that fantasy.” 

“And what a picture you painted with your vile lies! So vivid that Roy and his brother would torture and kill me.”

“Get real. Black lives never mattered then, they don’t matter now. They never will.  Lynching then. Now death for driving while black or cops kneeling on your necks.”

“The world has changed.”

“I was a daughter of my times. Can’t you understand? It was years before Ole Miss even admitted James Meredith, its first black student.”


“If black lives matter, how come so many blacks kill blacks? ”

“With the guns that your white politicians put in their hands.” 

“A lot of people have guns because it’s their right. They don’t use them to slaughter people.”

 “Rights to carry assault rifles that should only be carried by soldiers?”

She looked around and shivered. Someone who had designed the creepiest Halloween scare chamber could not come anywhere near the décor in the Bardo. Pink, lime green, and yellow smoke arose from fissures in the floor, disembodied voices of agony were everywhere and skeletons festooned with cobras leering at them moved in circles. The stench of decaying flesh made her nauseous. Pink streams of slime slid by.

“There is a room. Over there,” he said pointing to a door that was on fire. He whistled. “Sounds familiar?”

“And behind the door?” she asked.

“Your husband, his brother, the all-white jurors who acquitted him of my murder,” he said.

“Emmet,” she said. “Emmet. Please no. I’m sorry what they did to you. I don’t want to join them.”


“Forgive me.  Never had a night’s peace. How could I’ve known?”

He met her watery eyes that looked away.

He suddenly felt sorry for this once beautiful Carolyn whom time had changed into a pathetic crone.

He made a move towards her. She screamed and stepped back. A pair of skeletons glowing green engaged in a macabre dance stopped to watch.  He said, “I won’t hurt you. I need to hug you.” She seemed petrified and was rooted to the ground.  She reared back remembering the stories she had heard about the unquenchable lust with a total absence of impulse control of black males that imperilled white women. Then she relented and came into his arms. He held her sobbing body. He smelt her apricot shampooed hair which fire would soon singe. As he held her, he felt sympathy for the poor woman.

“Your mother should never have displayed you in the open casket. She didn’t respect your dignity,” she whispered as she hugged him. He gently disengaged.

 “An open casket where the world saw my mangled body?  But it got MLK and his civil rights crusade moving even allowing him to bed multiple white women much to Hoover’s rage!” He paused as one inhabitant tried to eavesdrop. He then said, “If parents allowed TV to show the pictures of their dead school children killed by ARs, Americans will for a moment stop being mesmerized by the Kardashian backsides and know the true costs of ARs. It will do to gun violence what the sight of my pulped body in the open casket did for civil rights.”

 “Why am in this awful place! I paid the price for my sins.  Why punish me further!”

“It is not me but the fates that decide who gets punished and who gets a pass.”  

He said, “Only if Obama would know what he owes to Rosa Parks and me.” As Carolyn sobbed in his arms, he was overcome by compassion for her. Nothing else mattered.  At that moment, a huge weight was lifted off him. It felt as if a stream of liquid lead was escaping through his belly button. So this was how the journey that began in Money, Mississippi in August 1955 was ending. He suddenly felt light as a hummingbird’s feather.

 “I forgive you. You didn’t know what you did,” he said as the Bardo clock chimed the hour. He looked up.  “Times up,” he said and walked towards the Bardo exit. Would it continue rebuffing him, he wondered. 

“Emmet! Emmet Till, take me with you, please I beg you,” she wailed a few yards behind her. He was about to turn back and take her hand when he remembered his grandmother‘s story about Lot’s wife. It took all his willpower but he forced himself to not look back.  Carolyn’s wailing grew fainter. She began to scream his name imploring him as if he was a Catholic saint. He strode towards the exit unsure whether the iron door would open.  But as he walked toward the exit, lighter and more confident and drained of that burdensome hatred that had camped in his belly, the heavy iron door dissolved.  Emmet Till kept walking toward the pillar of shimmering white light that beckoned welcome and freedom.