Story Corner

Tomorrow Night

After planning for a long time, an enslaved family risks everything to live together and be free.
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Illustration by Alleanna Harris

“Shhh, pack quietly. Just pretend with your little sister that you’re playing a game,” Mama said.

Mia is only 4 years old. I’m her 8-year-old sister, Bibi. Mama always says I’m the boss when she’s away.

“I’m almost packed, Mama. Where are we going?”

“We can’t talk about that here, Bibi. Someone might hear.”

“What if someone hears, Mama?” I asked.

“Bibi, stop asking questions. Pack quickly.”

Mama said we were going to meet Daddy in a field a few minutes from here. He lives on another plantation not far away, but our enslavers never let us visit him. Mama said they don't care if we ever see Daddy.

Mr. and Mrs. Burns are awful. They make Mama work all day and often at night. Sometimes I hear them yelling at her. When they get real angry with her, the Burnses don’t allow us to eat dinner. Mr. Burns hits Mama sometimes too. When Mama comes home crying, I ask her why and she pretends to stop. She doesn’t want me to know she’s sad. Mama said we were going to meet Daddy in a field a few minutes from here. He lives on another plantation not far away, but our enslavers never let us visit him. Mama said they don’t care if we ever see Daddy.

Very late on the night after we packed, we took the few things we had and left for the field where Daddy would be waiting. Even though we didn’t have a lot, our things were hard to carry. We were weak from starving for three days now. 

I could see sweat on Mama’s face. Soon we heard dogs barking in the distance. Mama stopped us. “Stay very still,” she whispered. Mama said Mr. and Mrs. Burns might have found out we left. She worried that their dogs might follow our scent and capture us. Mama said that if they or any other enslavers caught us running away, they might punish us with beatings, or worse. What could be worse? Living with them was already the worst. After a few minutes, we couldn’t hear dogs barking anymore. Mama said it was safe to walk.

It was very dark. At home, I use the lantern for light. Out here, I had no idea which way to go. 

“Mama, how do you know where to meet Daddy?” I asked. 

“I have been planning our escape for a long time, Bibi. Your daddy and I have been practicing this route for months whenever we could sneak away from the plantation. Remember when I would play our drum and we would sing? That was my way of telling Daddy to meet me.”

My legs were tired and my shoulder hurt from carrying our things. I wished Mama would carry me like she was Mia.

“We have to move faster and get to Daddy,” Mama said. “We have to get far away before sunrise.” 

Finally, we made it to where Daddy would meet us. We waited for a long time. Daddy was supposed to show up before daylight, but he never did. With the sun coming up, Mama decided we should hide in a ditch in case people were looking for us. 

My stomach began to growl. Although we had food, Mama said we couldn’t eat until nighttime. She worried that dogs trained to track fugitives like us would smell our food.

When night came, we could finally eat. Then Mama told us to take a nap while she went to look for Daddy. 

“Be very still and silent,” Mama said. She kissed us before she left. I was scared. Soon I heard someone running toward us, fast. I put my arms tightly around Mia. 

It was Mama. Breathing hard, she said she heard growling in the dark. She ran. Then a branch cut the side of her leg. She sat on the ground, wiped the blood with her skirt and cried. After a while, Mama said, “Don’t worry. He’ll show up. We just have to wait a little longer.” But she seemed very sad.

An hour later, we saw Daddy walking toward us. We were all so happy. Mia started to squeal when she saw him. Mama covered Mia’s mouth and told her to quiet down. We hugged each other and whispered to Daddy that we had missed him very much.

We returned to the ditch to sleep a little. It seemed like Mama woke us up right after we dozed off. She said we had to keep moving.

Mama unfolded a piece of paper her friend, Sara, gave her before we left. It was supposed to help us. Mama stared at the paper. 

“What does it say, Mama?” I asked. She shook her head.

“Mr. and Mrs. Burns did not allow me to learn how to read,” she said.

Daddy took the paper. He knew how to read, a little. One of the men who’d been enslaved with him had taught him. “It says it will take us six weeks to get to Canada, where we will no longer be anyone’s legal property. No one will ever separate us again.” We picked up our things. And as we walked, we talked about all the things we dreamed of doing when we were free.

Note: This is an abridged version of “Tomorrow Night.” The full version is available in our Student Texts Library.

Questions for Readers

Right There (In the Text)
Why are Bibi and her mother packing?

Think and Search (In the Text)
Why was it important that Daddy knew how to read?

Author and Me (In My Head)
What kinds of things do you think Bibi and her family imagined they would do when they finally arrived in Canada and were free?

On My Own (In My Head)
Bibi’s parents made a plan to keep their children safe even though it was dangerous to do so. Who is a person you know or have learned about who has done brave things to help people live better lives?

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