(My Hero’s Blog Hop post is here.)
This week’s excerpt for Sweet Saturday Samples is from Chapter 49 of Little Ragdoll, “The Flight of Justine.” Adicia’s would-be husband Seth broke into the Troys’ apartment and threatened Justine and Tommy, and Justine was saved by the appearance of Mr. Straussler, who runs the bakery downstairs. After staying with the Strausslers and the van Niftriks, she’s now gone to Adicia’s friend Marjani’s apartment. Marjani’s very opinionated little brother Zuberi has already annoyed Mrs. Washington by assuming Justine must be a missionary and then using the word “chicks,” and now he’s feeling even more put-out by how he’s being asked to escort Justine down to Penn Station.
While Zuberi is ranting about Nixon and the Vietnam War, Mrs. Washington makes a fruit salad with apricots, mangos, peaches, oranges, and apples, black-eyed bean pancakes, and a stew with potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and chicken. Justine’s mouth waters when she sees all the food being set before her. She still isn’t used to having enough to eat at every meal, and being served actual food instead of some fly by the seat of one’s pants recipe like melted processed cheese mixed with hamburger meat and canned vegetables or chicken breasts wrapped in bacon and cooked in ketchup and orange slices.
Marjani and Subira come back while Justine is rapaciously shoveling stew and black-eyed bean pancakes into her mouth. She guiltily puts her utensils down, embarrassed to be seen feeding herself like a pig by her hosts.
“You can go back to eating,” Marjani says. “We know all about the starvation rations your pitiful parents make yous guys eat. Boy, your sister’s gonna eat like a queen from now on, since she married that cute rich boy. I wonder if they’re having caviar and stuffed sea urchins, or some similar rich people food, for lunch right now.”
“I’m Subira,” Marjani’s older sister says, extending her hand. “I don’t think I ever met you. I’m twenty-one and an incoming senior at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Marjani’s going there as a freshwoman in the fall.”
“What kinda stupid word is freshwoman?” Zuberi scoffs as he flips through The Village Voice. “I’m all for women’s lib, but not for making up stupid words just so you don’t hafta use a masculine root.”
“I ain’t a man, or at least I wasn’t last time I checked,” Marjani says. “Why should I be called a freshman when I’m clearly a woman? I’m glad that finally women are waking up and questioning all this so-called default masculine, androcentric language. There’s no logical need to use a diminutive feminine suffix or prefix neither unless it’s absolutely necessary, like priest versus priestess or lion versus lioness.”
“A very excellent point,” Subira nods.
“So, Justine, I guess you came up here to ask me if I knew where Adicia went. Well, you’re in luck, since she called me from her new house earlier this morning. Did you go to see Betsy and her parents already?”
“I just got a taxi from their place after I spent the night there. I was with Mr. and Mrs. Straussler, who run the bakery below our apartment, over most of Friday and Saturday after Seth broke into our house, threatened me and Tommy, and tried to beat us.”
“What! That evil degenerate came into your home and did that? Why don’t he learn to pick on some people his own size?”
“With any luck, Tommy did him some permanent damage when he kicked him in the head with a roller skate. Seth was tryna pin him down on the davenport to spank him or beat him, and while Tommy was struggling, he managed to land a really good kick. Mr. Straussler came upstairs while this was going on, and managed to make Seth leave. He said the cops called him at the bakery and asked him to get me out of that house.”
“I hope he’s arrested,” Subira says.
“Right now Betsy and her parents are papering Chelsea with flyers broadcasting what Seth is really all about. They’re hoping to put him outta business. I can’t imagine any sane person would wanna continue patronizing his store if they knew it was run by a convicted murderer. At least Carlos wasn’t actually aware he was starting a fire or that twenty people died in the fire he accidentally started.”
Marjani goes over to the phone for Adicia’s contact information. “Adicia’s up in a place called Hudson Falls. There’s a city called Glens Falls just to the west of it, maybe a couple of miles away. She suggested you could get a Greyhound or train up there and then find a taxi into Hudson Falls. They got a phone hooked up in their new house on Friday, only one day after they bought it. And they bought a car yesterday. Her husband’s onea the good rich guys. He’s using his money for practical purchases, not flinging it around on stupid stuff like parties and sports cars. It must be nice to have that much money. When you’ve got a lot of dough, it talks. They’d probably still be hanging around in a hotel or cheap apartment if he didn’t have so much money stored away.”
“Zuberi, you’ll be walking with Justine to the bus station,” Mrs. Washington orders. “It’s not safe for a girl her age to walk around alone, particularly not when she’s carrying luggage. It makes her look like even more of an open target. Justine, how much money do you think you’ll need to cover the trip?”
“Oh, no, I can’t take your money away from you,” she tries to protest.
“How much cash do you have?” Subira asks.
“Three bucks, I think. They might offer a discount ‘cause I’m only thirteen.”
“You’re going to take ten extra dollars just in case, and don’t bother trying to pay us back later. It’s yours to keep. Zuberi, you’re going to stay with Justine till she gets on that bus and the bus pulls out of the station. Adicia obviously knows our number, so you’re going to call us once you get there. You should call Betsy’s parents too, and the Strausslers.” Mrs. Washington goes into her room for her purse.
“I can take you over to Penn Station and get you on a train,” Zuberi suggests. “Sometimes it’s harder to find a bus that leaves past this time on a Sunday.”
“I hope I don’t get lost,” Justine says. “What if I have to change trains and get on the wrong one?”
“Zuberi can ask someone there to sit with you. They have a service like that when younger people are traveling alone on an aeroplane.”
“Do you really think they’re gonna do anything some fifteen-year-old kid with an Afro tells them? They might even think I’m kidnapping her. I don’t think it’s right, but that’s still what a lot of folks think when they see a Black guy with a white girl.”
“I don’t care what they think when they see you as my escort,” Justine says. “All I want is to get on some train or bus somewhere, anywhere, that will take me to Adicia. She must be worried outta her mind about me by now.”
“The justice of the peace didn’t flinch when I signed as onea the witnesses,” Marjani says. “Your cowardly thinking only holds us back from complete equality with the white man. Change never happened ‘cause people just sat down and accepted the status quo.”
“And we don’t live in the South,” Subira says. “I don’t think they’re gonna do to you what they did to Emmett Till. This is New York City, not Alabama or Mississippi.”
“My pampered sixteen-year-old brother could kick an intruder in the head with a roller skate,” Justine says. “I think you can do your part in looking out for me by taking me to a train or bus station.”
Zuberi puts down the paper in resignation. “Guess I’m outnumbered by all you chicks. I’ll do it.”
“Zuberi, what have I told you!” Mrs. Washington shouts. “Girls and women are people, not ‘chicks’!”
Zuberi rolls his eyes.