At a recent book signing I was asked about some stories that appeared in my third book, I Wish You Had Been There, buthad not been presented as a Story of the Month. So, over the next few months I will share some of those stories. Two stories.
She comes to me by invitation
Some days I spend a few fleeting seconds with a special lady. She visits by invitation, and she is invited when I sometimes close my eyes and just imagine her outstretched arms inviting me to a momentary cradle of comfort. When I recognize the lingering smell of Octagon soap on the hands of a wash woman, her spirit is confirmed.
Her name was Melissa, a name as lyrical as her vision. Miss Melissa was an old lady whose face was as black as the tar on the edge of the highway where she waited each morning to greet two dozen of us on our way to school. For us her presence was as certain as the steeple on the church three doors from her doorstep. On those cold days as we walked to school, we needed that assurance.
Despite her old age, her nimble fingers moved so adroitly as to suggest that her greeting and care were her sole purpose in life. Each child received the same salutation, “Hello Honey,” and a smile that warmed us from forehead to feet. Then she embraced each of us, and something unusual happened. Within that brief close encounter Miss Melissa’s agile fingers “re-did” each child. She re-buttoned, re-wrapped, and re-positioned hats and gloves with such speed and deftness that almost seemed magical. Having been “re-done,” we positioned ourselves for her gentle valediction, a warm kiss on the cheek.
And now, in my reverie, I hear, “Hello Honey,” and I open my eyes. My time is up. There is a long line behind me.
It was wash day for both of us. As my first load tumbled through the rinse cycle, she was finishing and was carefully folding blouses and skirts into neat little piles. And then she took a seat facing the parking lot. For the next twenty minutes her attention shifted back and forth from the clock on the wall to the driveway, the mannerism that telegraphs expectations of something overdue. After another fifteen minutes she got up and began to pace, and she showed signs of anxiety, which made me uncomfortable. I calmly approached her and started a conversation, choosing a topic that allowed her to accept or reject my presence. Her smile issued an invitation for me to sit near her, and I deliberately chose a seat that left an empty space between us. Finally, just as I was about to ask who she expected, she wondered aloud what might be keeping the taxi that she asked to pick her up at least forty-five minutes ago. She counted on the same taxi driver returning, since he knew her address, and she was an old lady who also needed to be recognized as worthy of a promise being fulfilled.
She fumbled in her purse for change to use the pay telephone but pay phones in many public places were a convenience of yesterday. The space on the wall where one once hung was now used for other gadgets. I intervened and offered to use my cell phone to call another taxi, and I promised that I would stay close at hand until it arrived.
When the driver came, I signaled him to get out and assist me in helping her and her bundles into the car, a gesture intended to give her respect and to let both her and me get a good look at her new driver. It also gave me space to examine the name on his operator’s medallion and both the taxi and license plate numbers. And I addressed him by the name, just to give her further assurance that I could identify him if necessary.
Finally, when she was comfortably settled in the taxi, her eyes suddenly appeared to be so much younger and brighter. It seemed an eerie physical transformation. Just before the taxi started to leave, she fixed her focus to mine, and she said in a voice that also seemed much stronger than her earlier tone: “Thank you. We’ll meet again.”