Sweet Saturday Samples

This week’s excerpt for Sweet Saturday Samples is taken from Chapter 34 of Adicia’s story, “Changing Lives.” It’s now September of 1966, and while Ernestine and their friend Betsy are starting high school in Greenwich Village and Allen and Lenore are enjoying being newlyweds, Adicia is starting junior high in Hell’s Kitchen. Her junior high experience was based more than just a little on my own. Here she’s meeting a fellow outcast on her first day of school. Marjani was never a planned character in my original outline, but I’m glad I created her. She’s going to be the subject of my M day during the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge.

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“Would you like to eat with me?  I don’t have no one to sit with either.”

Adicia looks to her right.  A pretty African-American girl with a blue dress, red leather shoes, and her hair in what looks like braids is smiling at her and holding a Barbie lunchbox.

“Sure,” Adicia smiles back. “What’s your name?  I’m Adicia Troy.”

“I’m Marjani Washington.  Are you in seventh grade too?”

“Yes, it’s my first day.” Adicia feels a little jealous of Marjani’s relatively new lunchbox, while she’s still carrying around the same lunchbox she’s had since she started first grade in 1960 and started going to school all day long.  Her lunchbox is also just a plain metal one.  None of the Troy children except Tommy ever merited a lunchbox with toys, cartoons, or movie or television characters. “You said your name’s Marjorie?”

“Marjani.  It’s Swahili for ‘coral.’  My parents wanted to give me a nice Black name instead of some name that didn’t reflect our heritage.” Marjani sits down at the end of a table where a couple of other outcasts are sitting alone or in small groups.

“A what name? You mean a Negro name?”

“We don’t use that word in our house anymore.  My parents explained that it seems offensive these days, after all those struggles we went through in the last ten years to get equal rights.  I know you didn’t mean no harm in using that word, though.  It’s not like it’s one of those other words like darky or coon.”

“My mother uses those words, but my sister Lucine told me those are very bad words.  She hates how my little brother has non-white friends, but at least she doesn’t forbid him to play with them, so long as he doesn’t take them home.  What kind of apartment do you live in?  We live in an old tenement.”

Marjani puts down her thermos. “Are you serious?  Ain’t that against the law nowadays?”

“It’s a post-1901 tenement, not onea the ones that got all that bad attention in the old days.  We used to live in a much bigger tenement in the Lower East Side.  That’s my old neighborhood, where my family lived for over a hundred years.  We had a kitchen, a bathroom, a living room, three bedrooms, and one tiny room we used as another bedroom.  It was only so big ‘cause it used to belong to the landlord and his family when they lived there years ago.  We lost that place in a big fire in June of ’62.”

“Gee, my family lives in a nice modern apartment with three bedrooms.  The building itself ain’t so nice, but at least it was built within the last twenty years. How many brothers and sisters do you have?”

“I’m the seventh of nine.  I have four older sisters, two older brothers, a younger sister, and a younger brother.  There were almost ten of us, but our mother lost her sixth pregnancy.  Only three of us are left at home now.  My older sister Ernestine’s starting high school today, but she’s lucky and lives with some friends of hers in the Meatpacking District.  She goes to school in Greenwich Village.  I still go to visit her a lot.”

“That’s a lot of kids.  My sister Subira’s fifteen and my brother Zuberi’s nine.  How old are your siblings?”

“Gemma’s twenty-four, Carlos, who’s been crippled for four years, is twenty-three, Allen’s twenty-two, Lucine’s twenty, Emeline’s eighteen, Ernestine’s fourteen, I’m twelve, Tommy’s ten, and Justine’s seven.  We also just got an awesome sister-in-law, Lenore, who’s nineteen.  She’s married to Allen.  Me, Emeline, and Justine used to live with them, and Ernestine and her friends lived in the basement, till our mean mother ruined our Christmas four years ago.  She got all mad ‘cause she assumed they were living in sin.  She also thought Lenore was a girl of ill repute ‘cause we met her at a bus stop.  My mother is crazy.  By the way, I like your braids.  If I had longer hair, I’d want to wear mine in braids.”

“They’re called cornrows.  It’s a traditional African hairstyle, even though mosta the Black girls and women I know straighten their hair to look white.  Your mother sounds awful.  What kinda Scrooge ruins Christmas for her own children?  And who automatically assumes every girl at a bus stop is some immoral woman and not just someone waiting for a bus?”

“Yeah, she’s kinda nuts.  She’s also a cocaine addict and a drunk.  I can’t wait till I can get away from her.”

Marjani reaches down to get her schedule out of her schoolbag. “What are your classes for the rest of the day?  Maybe we have a class together.”

Adicia gets out her schedule. “Biology, art, home ec, and typing.”

“I’ve got art sixth and home ec seventh too.  Are your teachers Miss Elliott and Mrs. McKenna?”

“They are. I guess I’ll be seeing you again later today.”

“If you want, you can come over to my house after school sometime.  Unlike your mother, my parents don’t care if I bring over friends who ain’t the same race as us.  What is your ancestry, by the way?  I know there’s a city called Troy upstate, but I don’t know the origin of the name itself.”

“I’m French on my dad’s side and Belgian on my mother’s side.  My first name is Greek, after the Greek goddess of injustice.  My mother thought it was an injustice to be given a fifth daughter.”

“What a horrible, horrible woman. The name Adicia is pretty, but who deliberately gives a name with a negative meaning to a kid?”

“If you ever meet my mother, you’ll find out just how nuts she is.  Not that I’d wish meeting her on anybody.”

“Well, I’m sure you’ll like my family.  They’re nice to people, don’t use drugs or drink, and don’t think it’s awful there are more girls than boys in our family.”

Adicia still hates having to go to this depressing junior high and suffer through two years with a lot of unsavory elements, but now she feels that getting through the next two years might be a little more bearable with a new friend.  She doesn’t care what color Marjani’s skin is, since all that matters to her is that she’s a nice person who likes her.  Mrs. Troy can hem and haw about it all she wants, but Adicia will take Marjani up on her offer to come over to her place.  That miserable woman certainly hasn’t done anything over the past few years to prevent Adicia and Justine from regularly visiting Allen and Lenore or Ernestine and her friends.