another bad imitation (langston hughes this time)

Thank You, Ma’m

            She was on her way home from work at the Wilkensons’. Anne was sick again so she stayed late for the second time that week. The buses didn’t run that late to her part of town. She had missed the last one and had to walk.

She was a large woman with a large purse that had everything in it but a hammer and nails. It had a long strap, and she carried it slung across her shoulder. It was about eleven o’clock at night, dark, and she was walking alone, when a boy ran up behind her and tried to snatch her purse. The strap broke with the sudden single tug the boy gave it from behind. But the boy’s weight and the weight of the purse combined caused him to lose his balance. Instead of taking off full blast as he had hoped, the boy fell on his back on the sidewalk and his legs flew up. The large woman simply turned around and kicked him right square in his blue-jeaned sitter. Then she reached down, picked the boy up by his shirt front, and shook him until his teeth rattled.

“God Lord boy! Do I look like some fool walking here? Didn’t your Ma teach you no better? Lordy!”

He was as thin as she was big, ragged and embarrassed. “No ma’m,” he said.

“I’ve half a mind to whip you with this here strap! Who’s gonna fix this, huh?”

“Dunno,” he said. He slouched in the street, too scared to run away like he had planned to.

Hands on her wide hips she glared at him. “Look here, you’ve gone and made me drop my dinner. Good leftovers they were too. Now they’re all good and dirty.”

The boy’s eyes gleamed in the dark. “I don’t care about dust.”

“Fine then. You’re going to help me carry my bag home. Don’t you be trying any funny stuff. I ain’t afraid to knock you down again.”

He reached down and scooped up the bag into his scrawny arms. “Yes ma’m.” he said, quiet.

“Don’t you be sassing me boy.” She replied.

They walked along the railroad tracks to her little house, the boy a little behind the woman’s large frame. He stared at his dirty bare feet in the dim moonlight. It was late when they arrived at her house, but the lights shone bright through the windows and he could hear laughter inside. The woman opened the door and her figure blocked the light. The boy blinked as she walked inside and the light fell over him.

“Well shut the door boy, don’t just go standing there.” She said. She plopped the bag on the table with the broken strap slung over the edge. A loaf of bread tumbled out. “Go on, sit down.” Already at the table were two girls, sixteen or seventeen, who turned to stare at him better.

He hesitated for a moment but pulled out the chair at one end of the table. A soup pot sat in the middle of the table. One of the girls got up and fetched the bowls and spoons. She put one in front of him, still staring. The woman spooned out a bowl’s full for herself and he did the same. She tore the bread in four pieces. They ate without talking; the boy quickly and looking at his bowl, the woman and her daughters without hurry and staring at him across the tiny table. When his bowl was clean and mopped up by the bread, pushed back his chair against the wooden floor.

The boy stood up quick like a jackrabbit. “Thank you, ma’m.” he said. He picked up the bowl and spoon and ran to the door, slipping out into the darkness.


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