Sample text for The bicycle man / David L. Dudley.
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Summit, Georgia, 1927
I might never have met Bailey if Poppy hadn"t decided to climb the
magnolia tree. She had insisted we have a tea party with my doll, Zillah, in
the "cave" formed by its low branches, which came all the way to the ground.
Back when I was ten, the cave was my favorite secret place, and Zillah and I
had played pretend there a lot. Now Zillah spent her time sitting on a shelf by
my bed, except when Poppy came over. Poppy didn"t have a doll of her own,
even though she always bragged on how her mama gave her everything she
asked for. I tried to tell her that tea parties didn"t interest me anymore, now
that I was twelve. She got that half-hurt, half-mad look that spelled trouble,
so I gave in, as long as we could look at a book and not just talk baby talk to
Zillah. Poppy agreed, so there we were, sitting in the shade under the tree,
having our party.
"Drink your tea," I told her. "It"s good."
Poppy sipped from her mug and made a face. "It ain"t sweet," she
complained. "I want sugar in mine."
"Mama said we can"t have any sugar. Besides, it doesn"t need
any. Doesn"t it make your mouth feel cool?" I had made our tea by crushing
some mint leaves in a bowl and stirring them up with well water.
"It"s nasty," Poppy said. "Ain"t even hot."
"Zillah likes it." I held my mug to her mouth. "Don"t you?" I felt
stupid offering a drink to a cloth doll, and annoyed with Poppy for being
ungrateful about the tea.
Mama had made Zillah for my sixth birthday. She had been beautiful once,
but her face and arms, made of brown cloth the same color as my skin, were
faded and stained now. Her black yarn hair, braided into two pigtails, just like
mine, was all frizzy because the yarn had frayed. I guess Zillah didn"t know
how shabby she looked. Her pink embroidered mouth remained frozen in its
happy little smile.
"I don"t want no more tea," Poppy declared, putting down her mug
on the bare ground.
"Then I"ll read to you."
"The one about the boat."
"That"s the one you made me bring."
Poppy smiled, showing the gap where she"d lost both her front
teeth. Mama asked her once if she"d knocked them out by running and
falling, or by walking on a fence and crashing face-first onto the ground.
Poppy said no, they"d come out on their own, with just a couple of yanks.
Mama shook her head and told Poppy she was a mess. That"s what Mama
always said: "That girl is a mess, and her mama is sorry."
Looking at Poppy now, I had to agree. Her hair looked like nobody had tried
to wash or comb it in days. It was brown with dust, and there were bits of
leaves and grass in it. At the moment, Poppy"s knees and elbows were
crusted with dried mud, and the spaces between her toes were dark with
dirt--leftovers from yesterday, when we"d played in mud puddles. Her dress
needed washing, and so did her face. But Poppy didn"t care, and neither did
"Read," she said.
The book was titled My Adventures on the Seven Seas, by
Howard W. Armstrong. It had pictures, showing places he had visited all
around the world, places with exotic names like Bora Bora and Madagascar
and the Cape of Good Hope. Mr. Armstrong"s ship, a schooner with tall,
straight masts and white sails that puffed in the wind, was named the
Pegasus. But even more than the Pegasus and the different lands, I loved the
pictures of the ocean. Poppy did too. We had never been to an ocean or
seen what Mr. Armstrong called "the majestic combers cresting and dashing
downward during a squall at sea, only to rise yet again and hurl themselves
forward, as if at the command of Old Neptune himself." That sentence had
sent me to the dictionary at school to look up several words. My teacher,
Miss Johnson, remarked that the author could have used simpler ones just
as well, but I liked the sound of the fancy ones he had chosen.
"Chapter Four, "Storm at Sea,"" I began.
Just then there was a crash from inside our cabin. It was probably
Mama, knocking pots and pans together on the cook stove. She had been
angry all morning. The dog next door had killed one of her chickens and now
we were down to three. There had been ugly words between Mama and Mrs.
Washington, the hound"s owner. Mrs. Washington had offered to buy Mama
another pullet when she got the money together, but Mama had yelled that
Mrs. Washington wasn"t going to ever get any extra money because no one
had any money. When it was over, Mrs. Washington had gone off saying how
stuck up Mama was and how she should understand that sometimes dogs
just get full of themselves and do that kind of thing. Mama had stalked into
our cabin, complaining about how much she hated Summit and the South
and wished we were back north where we belonged.
"Your mama still some mad," Poppy declared.
"I know. Be still now, and let me read." The Pegasus had gotten
caught in a hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean.
"Show the pictures."
"When I come to them," I said. "Can"t you wait?"
The minute I started reading again, Poppy jumped up and headed
for the trunk of the tree. She grabbed a branch, pulled herself up, and started
"I won"t read if you"re going to play."
No reply. Poppy reached for the next higher branch and
"You"ll fall," I told her. She just kept going.
I closed my book, put it on the piece of cloth I"d brought to keep it
from getting dirty, and stood up. "Come down right now!" I shouted. "That"s
"It fun! C"mon."
"I can"t. Mama says if I climb a tree I"ll fall and break my neck.
Branches high up in the tree rattled.
"I"ll tell Mama and you"ll get in trouble."
Poppy only laughed. Now she had disappeared completely,
hidden by a mass of glossy, dark-green leaves.
I crawled out from our cave and went into the road, where the red
clay felt warm under my bare feet. I craned my neck upward, trying to spot
"Carissa!" she called.
"Where are you?"
"Up here. See me?"
"I"se waving right at you."
"Don"t wave! Hold on! You"ll fall and kill yourself."
"I can see Fifteen-Mile Creek."
"No you can"t. It"s too far away."
"Can too. Up here you can see the whole world. I sees
Swainsboro over yonder."
"You"re lying!" I shouted. "That"s eleven miles! Deacon Braithwaite
"How he know? He ain"t never been up this high. Ohhh! There"s
Atlanta, way yonder."
My patience was gone. "I"m telling Mama!"
"Afternoon," said a voice just behind my left shoulder.
I jumped because I hadn"t heard anyone coming. Beside me was an old
man--older even than Granma. He wore a crumpled hat and was clenching a
battered pipe in his teeth. He needed a shave--silver bristles covered the
deep brown skin of his cheeks and chin--but his eyes were gentle. The man
looked like a tramp with his faded shirt, baggy pants, and patched jacket. He
carried a pack on his back--a bedroll.
We had been seeing a lot of tramps. Mama said times were hard and some
people were poor, even poorer than we were. But this man was different. He
was standing in the dirt road holding the handlebars of the newest, shiniest
blue bicycle I had ever seen.
"Hey!" Poppy called from her perch high above us. She waved.
"She won"t come down," I told the man. "She"s going to fall and
break every bone in her body."
"That so?" the man said. He didn"t say it like he was worried.
"She always runs and climbs and does what she shouldn"t. That"s
why she always has cuts and bruises. Mama says one day she"s going to
kill herself. Maybe today is the day."
"I doubt it," the man said. "Folks spry enough to git up so high can
usually figure a way to git back down without bustin" anything. Air nice up
there?" he called to Poppy.
"I can see Atlanta!" she crowed.
"Quit lying," I demanded. "Come down right now."
"Get away from her, you old tramp!" shrilled a voice from our front
porch. Mama came striding toward us, wiping her hands on a feed sack
towel. "Go on! You"ve got no business bothering a child."
"Afternoon, Missuz," the man answered pleasantly. "Mighty hot for
September, ain"t it?"
"Look there." I pointed to the top of the magnolia.
"Hey there, Miz Lorena," Poppy called.
Mama clapped her hand over her mouth. "O my sweet Lord Jesus.
That girl"s final day has arrived at last. You, Poppy!" she shouted. "Quit
playing the fool and get down here this minute!"
"Shhh," the man told Mama. "No need for that. If we stay nice and
calm, she"ll come down."
"I don"t know you," Mama shot back at him. "Who are you to be
telling me my business?"
"I ain"t tryin" to do that. But it seems to me that youngun" is havin"
herself a high ol" time, bein" the center of all our attention. If we let her be,
she"ll come down soon enough."
"But what if she falls?"
"She ain"t gon" fall. Besides, what can we do about it if she does?
There ain"t no way I can climb up and help her down. No, ma"am. She"ll find
her own way, just like she did goin" up."
Mama looked him up one side and down the other, like she was
trying to decide whether to listen to him or not.
"Let"s go over into the shade," the man suggested. "Take away her
audience." He started wheeling his bicycle back toward the magnolia tree.
I was surprised when Mama followed him. "Come on," she told me.
When we were in the shade, Mama faced the man. "Where"d you
get that bicycle?" she asked suspiciously. "Stole it, I reckon."
Was Mama right? I"d been too interested in the bicycle itself to
wonder how the man had gotten it. He didn"t look like he had enough money
to buy his supper, let alone pay for a fancy bike.
"No, ma"am. It"s mine. Bought and paid for from Sears, Roebuck and
Company in Chicago."
"How"d you get to Chicago? That"s hundreds of miles away."
"I ain"t been there myself, but a man can order from a catalogue."
"Where"d you get the money for a bike like that? No colored folks I
know have that kind of money."
I couldn"t tell why Mama was asking so many questions. But now
I wanted to hear the man"s story too.
"Hey," Poppy called from her lookout.
"Don"t answer her," the man said. "I earned the money myself,
"Doin" odd jobs here and there." He pulled out a frayed
handkerchief and wiped his forehead. "Might I trouble you folks for a drink
o"water? It shore is hot today, and I"ve been on the road since dawn."
Mama looked him over again, and then studied the bicycle. So
did I. No colored child I knew had a bicycle, and the bikes owned by the
white children in town were dented and scratched from rough use. But this
one gleamed as if it had come straight off the train from Chicago not fifteen
minutes ago. I didn"t know how to ride a bicycle because no one had ever
offered me a chance to learn. Besides, if I did try, I"d surely fall off and hurt
myself. Maybe break my arm. Still, I wanted to touch it, feel the smooth
metal under my fingers.
"You weren"t messing with my daughter?" Mama asked.
"No, ma"am. I was comin" along, and I saw her in the road, talkin" to that
magnolia tree. "What"s goin" on?" I asked myself. "Must be somethin" strange.
Little girls don"t usually talk to trees.""
"Where ya"ll go?" Poppy shouted from above.
The man put his finger to his lips.
Then Mama made her decision. "Carissa, go get the man a dipper of water."
"What a pretty name," he said.
That stopped me in my tracks. Nobody in Summit had ever said a thing
about my name except to tell Mama--right in front of me--what an odd name
I had. They told her nobody they knew had such a strange name, and they
wondered what Mama was thinking when she branded me with a name that
folks would talk about my whole life. Then they wanted to know how old I
was, and when Mama told them, the next thing they"d say was, "Isn"t she
mighty small for her age?"
"Where"d you get such a pretty name?" he asked me.
"Mama picked it."
"It means "dearest,"" Mama noted with pride. "From a Latin word.
Carissima. I read it in a book once and thought it sounded real pretty."
"Shore "nough?" The man thought a moment. ""Dearest." Fits,
Mama eyed me skeptically. "It fits most of the time." Then she
recollected herself. "Why are you standing there like a statue? Didn"t I tell
you to get the man some water?"
I scampered round back. When I returned, walking slowly so as
not to spill it, he took the dipper and drank it dry in one gulp.
"Do you need more?" Mama asked.
"If it ain"t too much trouble." So I was sent again. When I came
back this time, there was Poppy, standing in front of Mama, who had hold of
the back of her dress so tight that she couldn"t move.
I gave the man the dipper; he drank again and said he was satisfied. Then he
looked at Poppy. "Welcome back to earth," he said. "Glad to make yo"
Poppy held both hands to her face and giggled like she was all embarrassed
to meet a stranger.
"You just about gave me a heart attack," Mama declared. She turned Poppy
around and glared at her. "If I ever catch you in that tree again, I"m going to
wear you out, even if you aren"t my own child. I reckon someone has to try to
pound some sense into you. Do you understand?"
"You say "Yes, ma"am" when I speak to you!"
"Yes, ma"am," she whispered.
"Now go home. I"ve had enough of your mess for one afternoon. And don"t
ask if Carissa can come down later on, because she can"t. Or tomorrow
either. It"s a big wash day and I"ll need her all day. Now get going!"
Poppy backed toward the road, and as she passed the blue bicycle, she ran
her hand over the fender.
"Who said you could touch that?" Mama cried. "Go!"
Poppy grinned at me and took off down the road.
Mama looked after her, shaking her head. "What a mess." She turned to the
man. "I appreciate your advice," she said. "You were right. As soon as we
ignored her, she came down on her own without any trouble."
The man didn"t say anything, as if he was waiting for Mama to continue. She
didn"t, though. The three of us just stood silent under the magnolia
tree. "Well, I"d better be gettin" on," he said at last. "Thank you for the water.
Nice to meet you, Carissa." He wheeled his bicycle to the road, swung his
leg over, and began to push off.
"Wait," Mama said. "I reckon you"re hungry."
He stopped. "Reckon I am."
"What"d you think you were going to do for supper?"
"I got some pork and beans in my pack. Thought I"d open "em
when I get down the road some and stop for the night."
"I can fix you a plate," Mama told him.
"I"d be much obliged."
"I"ll bring something out. Carissa, come help."
I followed Mama inside. As I went through the door, I saw the man
still standing over the bicycle. He winked at me.
Mama cut some corn bread and put a pot of beans on the cook
stove to heat. It was plenty hot in the house. We had two rooms, the bigger
one for cooking and sitting. A door in the far wall opened to our back yard.
To the right of this room was another, smaller one, where Mama and I shared
a rickety old iron bed and hung our clothes on pegs hammered into the wall.
The cook stove made the kitchen room so hot in summer that I couldn"t
stand it, but Mama said that being uncomfortable was part of life, like
disappointment and unhappiness. You just had to accept the heat because
there was not one thing you could do about it.
"Get a plate, a spoon, and a cup," Mama directed me. She poured
some syrup on the corn bread and dished up some beans. "Get some water
and tell him to come to the porch."
I filled the mug with water from the bucket and carried it onto the front porch.
The man had brought the bicycle into the yard and was standing in the
shade, fanning himself with his hat.
"Mama says come on the porch," I told him.
He did. Mama came out of the door with the plate of food. "Here,"
He took the plate. "Thank you, Missuz. Much obliged. Mind if I sit
"Help yourself," Mama told him, nodding at a weather-beaten
"Come on, Carissa." Mama motioned me to come inside.
"Why didn"t you invite him in?" I asked as Mama dished up our
"I can"t have a strange man in the house. What"d folks say? We
don"t know a thing about him. I shouldn"t even have given him supper. Don"t
know why I did. Can"t spare it."
After a while, there was a knock on the door and Mama went. She
took the plate and mug and I heard her tell the man goodbye. Then she
stood looking out the door for a moment before she came back to the
table. "He"s gone," she said. "I still bet he stole that bike. A man that age on
something like that sure does look ridiculous."
I wished I could have seen him riding it. But by the time I finished
my corn bread and helped Mama wash up, I knew he was long gone.
That night I dreamed about the Bicycle Man. He was riding his
blue bicycle through the streets of Chicago. Of course I had no idea what
Chicago actually looked like because I hadn"t been there--or anywhere else
that I could recall. Summit was all I knew, except for Swainsboro, where we
went once in a while on shopping days.
I had been born in the North, in Philadelphia, where Daddy had gone to find
work and where he met Mama. She had been raised in an orphanage run by
white people and was working in a store when she met Daddy. They got
married and had me, but when I was only two, Daddy enlisted and got killed
in France. "Your daddy was a hero," Mama always told me. She said I must
never forget he died fighting for his country and that I should be proud of him.
After Daddy was killed, Mama was in bad trouble. She had no money and no
job, so she wrote to Daddy"s mother in Georgia, asking for help. Granma
wrote back, inviting Mama and me to come stay with her for a while. Mama
accepted, and Summit had been our home for ten years.
I lay beside Mama, dreaming that the Bicycle Man and I were
parading down a Chicago street, while people stared at that handsome
bicycle and asked whose it was. And he would say, "It belongs to this dear
little girl. Want to see her ride it?" I would climb on, and he would push me.
Off I would go, flying down those crowded streets.
A sound woke me up. It was after dawn--the faint light coming
through the window told me that, as did the crowing of a rooster off
somewhere. I knew the sound: the chopping of wood. It was so close that it
seemed to be in our own back yard.
I slipped out of bed, smoothed my nightdress down over my legs, tiptoed to
the back door, and peeked out. There was the Bicycle Man at the woodpile,
chopping away and singing to himself while he worked. He had already
made a good-size stack of split logs. The bicycle leaned against the catalpa
"Mama," I said, hurrying back to the bedroom. "Mama, wake up."
"What is it?" she asked groggily.
"The Bicycle Man."
"Who?" She sat up and I knew she heard the sound now too.
"The Bicycle Man. He"s chopping wood for you."
Mama jumped out of bed, pulled on her wrapper, and went
barefooted to the door. "What do you think you"re doing?" she asked him.
""Mornin,"" he said, tipping his hat. He"d taken off his jacket, and
there were dark patches under his arms where his shirt was wet.
"I asked what you are doing," Mama repeated slowly. "There"s no
place for a man here. I can"t afford to feed you, and I can chop wood myself."
"Missuz, I had to repay you for my supper."
"I thought you were long gone," Mama shot back. "When you rode
off last night, you should have kept going."
"That was my plan, Missuz. Then when I made camp, I said to
myself, "Bailey, you can"t just eat a poor woman"s food and not repay her.
That ain"t the way you was taught.""
Bailey. The Bicycle Man had a name! I liked it. Mr. Bailey. Or
maybe Bailey was his first name.
"I don"t care how you were taught," Mama said. "Nobody asked you to chop
my wood. Now please go. There"s no place around here for you."
"Today"s wash day, ain"t it?"
"How do you know that?" Mama sounded suspicious.
"You said so yourself, yesterday evenin"."
"What does wash day have to do with anything?"
"If you"re gon" wash, you got to have wood for the fire. So here"s
some wood. But you"re gon" need more, I"ll bet. As much wash as you do."
"How do you know how much wash I do?" Mama tied her robe,
went down the steps, and planted herself in the hard red clay at the bottom.
"You wash for the white folks, don"t you?"
"Who told you that? Have you been sticking your nose into my
business, talking to folks about me?"
Mama"s voice was rising, the way it did when she was ready to
fight. But Mr. Bailey hadn"t done anything wrong, as far as I could tell. I
hoped there wasn"t going to be a shouting match. Scenes like that scared
me. Mr. Bailey didn"t seem like a man who would yell at a woman, though.
He was too polite.
"Missuz," he said, "I ain"t asked no one about you. But I got to figurin". I ain"t
seen no man "round the place, and a colored woman alone with a child got to
have some way of makin" a living. "Round here, she got two choices: cook for
the white folks or wash for "em. Maybe both. You do wash. Lots of it, I bet."
"What if I do? I can manage my work myself. Now put down my
axe and please go away."
Just then there was a knock at the front door. "That"s your
granma," Mama told me. "Go let her in and tell her to come right here."
Granma stood on the porch, panting, the sweat running down her
face, making little channels through the coating of fine dust on her cheeks.
Reaching for a bandana tucked in her apron pocket, she mopped her
face. "It"s right hot already," she gasped. "Bendin" over dat boilin" pot all day
is gon" be like sufferin" de torments o" hell." Bailey was right: Mama and
Granma did wash for several white ladies, and Monday was their day for
doing sheets and towels.
Granma was dressed as she was every day, except Sunday, in a long-
sleeved cotton blouse that buttoned up the front, a skirt that hung to her
ankles, and heavy work shoes that once had been brown but now were
stained the same orange-red as the clay road. A blue gingham apron with
enormous pockets was tied about her waist.
"Mama says go to her," I reported.
"Says? Since when do Lorena order me to do somethin"?"
"I mean she asks if you could please go to her."
"Where is she?"
I nodded, and followed Granma across the room to the back door.
"What is it, Lorena?" she asked.
"I made the mistake of feeding an old tramp last night, and now
he"s here chopping wood and won"t go away. I told him to leave, but he won"t."
Bailey tipped his hat, but said nothing.
"Lorena, come up here," Granma commanded. "I needs to talk to yuh."
When Mama got to the top of the steps, Granma yanked her into
the room. "Mornin"," she called out to Bailey. "Wait dere a minute." Then she
pulled the back door closed. "Yuh wants to run him off?" she asked Mama,
as if it was the craziest notion she"d ever heard.
"Of course I do! I can"t have a man around here."
"At least let him chop all de wood he want. An" what"s so bad
about a man "roun" de place?"
"Miz Rachel, what are you talking about? He"s a stranger. I"ve got
no work for him to do and I can"t feed him. Besides, it"s not right for a widow
to have a man around."
"He too old fer yuh anyhow."
"Then you take him," Mama retorted.
I was used to hearing Mama and Granma go back and forth like
this, but they never really got mad and stayed mad.
Granma chuckled. "Mens is hard to come by, Lorena. Young
mens gone north or married to no-account local gals. Ol" men all dead or
crippled or crazy in dey minds. An" yuh"s gon" turn away a able-bodied man
who wants t" chop wood without bein" asked?"
Mama looked disgusted. Granma opened the door. "You dere,"
she called. "You finish choppin" wood fer us, we fix yuh some breakfast."
Soon it was time to do the washing. In the yard, Bailey already had a fire
going under the wash pot, which he had filled with water from the
well. "Thought you ladies could use some help," he said.
"We can manage on our own," Mama declared. Granma poked
her in the back.
Bailey seemed not to notice. "By the way, Missuz, that was a
mighty fine breakfast you cooked."
"There"s nothing special about grits and biscuits with syrup."
"Excuse me, Missuz, but could I know your name?"
"I don"t see why. You"ll be gone from here in a few minutes, now
that you"ve been fed."
"Her name Lorena Hudson," Granma broke in. "And I"s Miz Rachel
"Please to meet you both," Bailey said. "And of course I already
"What yo" name?" Granma asked.
"Bailey," Mama told her.
"That"s all," he answered.
"Dat yo" first or last name?"
"First. Had a last name once but it came from the whites that
owned my daddy, so when I left home, I dropped it and decided to go by plain
Bailey. It"s always been enough."
"You can"t order anything from a Sears Roebuck catalogue with
just a first name," Mama said triumphantly.
"You can if a postmaster knows you. He wrote "Mr. B. Bailey" for
me. Bailey Bailey. Guess that"s my full name."
"We thanks yuh for yo" help, Mr. Bailey," Granma said.
"You welcome, Miz Rachel."
"And now you can be on your way," Mama added. Granma poked
her again. "Quit it, Miz Rachel. It is time for him to go."
"Mr. Bailey, I "pologize fer mah daughter-in-law"s bad manners,"
Granma said. "She don"t mean nuthin" by it. We ain"t got much, but what we
got, yuh"s welcome to a bit long as yuh kin work fer it."
Mama turned away.
"I appreciate that, Miz Rachel," Bailey answered. "I see y"all ain"t
got much. Who has? And I couldn"t take nothin" for free. But I kinda like
it "round here, and the place could use some work."
Bailey was right about that. The fence needed fixing, the
henhouse wall had a hole big enough to let in a hungry fox, and our roof
leaked in the bedroom. Mr. Thompson, who owned our cabin, was supposed
to fix all that. Mama kept on asking him and he kept on saying he would, but
he never did. Mama said he was "sorry." She said she hoped and prayed that
one day we could go back north where colored folks could live decent lives.
Sometimes at night, Mama and I would lie in bed and talk. "We won"t always
live here," she told me more than once.
"Where will we go? Philadelphia? Is that a good place?"
"Better than this."
"Are people nice there? Would I have friends?"
"Of course you would, sugar. And up there, you don"t have to
know everyone and everyone doesn"t know you. There are way too many
folks for that to be possible. So you can choose your friends and nobody else
has to know your business."
"When can we go?" I"d ask.
"Soon," she would always tell me.
But "soon" never arrived . . .
Bailey was standing there, axe in hand, ready to help, but Mama
wanted to be rid of him. I didn"t understand it.
"We can make it on our own," she told him again. "So thank you,
and now you can be moving on."
"Lorena, I needs to speak to yuh," Granma said. ""Scuse us, Mr.
When she had tugged Mama back into the house, Granma said
firmly, "Lorena, don"t be a fool. De man is offerin" to stay around fer a while
an" help us, but you"s tryin" yo" hardes" to scare him off."
I was happy to hear Granma say that. Doing the laundry was backbreaking
work. We had to build the fire, bring water from the well, and fill the pot, then
let the clothes boil before we scrubbed them. Then we had to rinse them in
cool water, wring them as dry as we could, and hang them on the line. After
that came the starching and ironing. Granma was right. Mama should be glad
for any help anyone wanted to give.
But there was more to it than that. Bailey was something new. Most of the
time, my life was dull, what with the same few people to talk to, the same
few places to visit, and the same endless chores to do. Bailey might make
the world more exciting. Besides, he seemed to be a kind man. I couldn"t
say why, exactly, but I liked him a lot.
"Miz Rachel, how can I feed him?" Mama asked. "A big man like
that needs plenty of food. And where is he going to sleep?"
"He kin sleep in de shed. Put a pallet in dere, clean it up some,
an" it be fine fer him."
Mama looked at Granma hard. "Maybe he could stay at your
place," she suggested. "Maybe you"ve just found that husband you"ve been
looking for all these years."
"Maybe," Gramma replied calmly. "I jus" knows I ain"t gon" turn
down a blessing jus" "cause o" mah pride."
"What"s wrong with pride?"
"Nothin", "cept when it"s too expensive."
"What do you mean?"
"Lorena, pride is like dat red hat in Hall"s store I been wantin". I
love dat hat an" shore would like to have it, but it cost too much. No matter
how much I wants it, it ain"t fer me. Same"s true "bout pride an" every colored
woman I knows. Pride be nice to have, but we can"t afford it."
"It seems to me that pride is the one thing I shouldn"t have to
buy," Mama retorted. "It"s the one thing I know I have, and no one is going to
take it from me."
"That"s a high-soundin" speech, but pride never chopped me no
Mama set her jaw and didn"t answer.
"You keep yo" pride, honey," Granma said, patting Mama on the
shoulder, "if it"s dat important to yuh. But we gotta live in dis world too. You
need some help. So do I. Bailey say he like it here. It kin all work out. Let
him stay. If yuh don"t, I am gon" invite him down to mah place an" den we"ll
see how folks talk."
"All right," Mama sighed. "But this is going to make trouble."
Beaming in victory, Granma opened the back door. I stood beside
her, but Mama turned away and added some more wood to the cook stove.
"Mr. Bailey," Granma said, "mah daughter an" I agrees dat if yuh wants to
stay here fer a few days, yuh"s welcome. You kin sleep in dat shed dere, an"
if yuh help us "round dis place an" mah place down de road, we kin feed yuh
some. But dat"s all. We ain"t got no money to pay yuh. Agreed?"
"Thank you, ma"am. I can earn my keep. I know how to do all
kinds o" work, and the place does need some fixin" up."
"You"s right about dat. Summit is jus" down de road three miles,
an" wid yo" bicycle, you could get dere in no time. Maybe you kin pick up
some jobs right in town."
"I"ll see "bout it. Thank you for the advice."
"We can"t stand here talking all morning," Mama broke in. "My
laundry isn"t getting done by itself. Carissa, bring those bags of sheets so we
can get them into the boiling pot."
"Let me," Bailey offered from the yard.
Bailey kept the fire going all morning, lifted steaming laundry from
the water, and even helped hang sheets and towels on the line. When it was
late afternoon, he insisted on pulling the wagon while Mama and Granma
delivered towels in town. The sheets would have to wait until they had been
ironed the next day, when we would also wash shirts, dresses, and
I didn"t usually go to town, because I wasn"t needed and it was six miles
there and back, but that day I did, to see what people would do when they
saw a strange man with us. The whites didn"t even seem to notice Bailey
standing silently in their yards while Mama and Granma delivered towels to
back doors and took their money. It was the colored people who turned to
look at us when they passed us on the road and came to front porches to
stare and whisper as we went by. Mama said we"d make a week"s worth of
As Mama and I got supper that evening, Bailey swept the shed in
the yard. Then he went up to Granma"s to bring back a pallet she wasn"t
using. When supper was ready--beans, greens, a bit of fat meat, and bread--
Mama had me take a plate out to where he sat on the back steps, smoking
"My little place is gon" be right comfortable," he said, putting his
pipe down and accepting the food. "I can build a frame for the pallet, to get it
up off the floor, and make me a table and a stool. Soon as I earn some
money, I"ll buy a lantern. Maybe even try to find an old stove, just a small one
for heat. Run a stovepipe through the back wall, if your mama"ll let me."
"I"m glad you"re staying," I told him.
"What a sweet thing to say! I "preciate that."
"It was nice of you to help us today."
"Glad t" do it. Never hurts to lend a hand when you can. Kindness always has
a way of comin" back to you, sooner or later."
"I like you," I said.
"But your mama ain"t so sure about me."
I said nothing.
"It"s all right. She"s a cautious woman. Ain"t nothin" wrong with
that." He paused. "Where"s your daddy?"
"Dead. He was killed in the war."
"We"re not from around here," I added. "Mama wants to go back to
Philadelphia, but we don"t have enough money."
"I see," he said, spooning up some beans. "Maybe we can help
"Let me think about it."
"Carissa, get in here and eat your supper," Mama said from the
"I don"t want you to get friendly with that man," she told me as I sat down to
eat. "Stay clear of him. We don"t know a thing about him, no matter what Miz
Rachel says. The sooner he goes, the happier I"ll be."
"He"s nice," I said.
"And how do you know that? A stranger gives us one day"s work and
suddenly you"ve decided he"s nice? You"ll find out that folks can act nice
one minute, then turn around and do you dirt the next."
"Why don"t you trust him, Mama?"
She thought for a moment. "A lifetime of disappointments, that"s why. And
why are you so sure that Bailey is nice? Tell me, because I"d really like to
Now it was my turn to stop and think, but I couldn"t explain. "Just
a feeling," I said at last.
"Humph," Mama said. "Feelings have cost a lot of people a lot of
heartache, I can tell you. Better use your head and put your feelings on the
I wanted to answer, to defend Bailey and my own sureness that
he was truly good and kind. But Mama was right. All I had to go on were my
feelings and Bailey"s one day of help. Maybe that wasn"t enough.
© 2005 by David L. Dudley. Reprinted by permission of Clarion Books/
Houghton Mifflin Company
Library of Congress subject headings for this publication:
Country life -- Georgia -- Fiction.
African Americans -- Fiction.
Single-parent families -- Fiction.
Georgia -- History -- 20th century -- Fiction.