Morning, Brightleaf Plantation: Haney cleans the schoolroom – sweeping floors, scrubbing tables, washing windows. Soon she’ll rouse the children, get them dressed and fed, tell the tutor they’re ready. The other slaves are already toiling in the hot sun, but Haney is surrounded by books, maps, alphabets and sums on slates. For a minute, she imagines that she too could be a student, and sees a little room nestled inside a world of books, a young woman earnestly studying.
Morning, University Library: Christa’s in her study carrel, working on her dissertation. In a few months she’ll be finished with school and ready to work. She can almost taste the excitement of teaching eager young minds. For a minute, she’s visited by a different vision – a grown woman with a clean white apron and starry, determined eyes.
Evening, Brightleaf Plantation: The children are in bed, the tutor’s downstairs practicing piano, Haney’s back in the classroom. She picks up a piece of chalk and a clean slate, laboriously forms an “H”, then a crooked “a”. What comes next? A voice whispers, “Next is ‘n’. Down, up, curve, down.” The unexpected visitor smiles, shimmers, disappears.
Evening, University Library: Christa falls back into her chair, stunned by the meeting. She can still feel the deep commitment to learning, see the resolute hand guiding the chalk. She’s blinded by grateful tears. She was born to teach this extraordinary woman.
Graduation, University: “This University was built on the site of an old tobacco plantation, where Haney, a woman born into slavery, created a special school for slaves, indentured servants and other underprivileged women. Her passion has inspired generations of our graduates.” Christa looks at her watch, willing the speaker to wrap up soon. It’s getting late. Haney will be pacing the floor, eager for their nightly lesson. She tip-toes out of the auditorium, fills her pockets with bits of chalk and slivers of chocolate, and arrives at her carrel just as the gateway starts to glow. She slips through, shushing Haney’s welcoming cry. “Tonight, we explore the exciting world of verbs,” she exclaims, grabbing the nearest slate.