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Toward the Sun
I’s only love two people in this world. They be my sisters. I ain’t love my mama ‘cause all she do is smoke her cigarettes and listen to ole records a gospel music. She don’t care fo us kids. If we wants to go in the alleys and streets in our New York neighborhood, she don’t care. So I take care a my little sisters and they the only ones who take care a me. Them names is Aretha and Goldy. Goldy is short for Gold Finder since my mama dated an African who said her baby would take on characteristics a her name. But when they find no gold when Goldy be born, the African lef my mama. If he woulda stay longer, he woulda find it cause I know I did since her hair be gold and silky. I always say I’s jealous a her gold hair cause I gots the thick, black hair that looks like a horse tail that go down my back.
“Holly?” Goldy turns to me while I is walkin’ her home. She and Aretha the only ones who call me Holly. It short for Mahalia, who was a gospel singer. “Why are you and me different?” I never woulda thought she would say this, but it is true. She has blue eyes and gold hair and I has brown eyes and black hair. She almost taller than me and I six years older than her.
“We different ‘cause we got different daddies,” I tell her. Then, she smile up at me and be all goofy like she usually is. We got to spend time doin’ somethin’ anyhow since it always takes us long to get home with my limp. People at school imitate me, but it ain’t my fault that one leg is shorter than the other and I waddle like a duck. Goldy jus walk slow with me.
When we gets home, mama’s already up in the air with somethin and she won’t come back down for us. Her gospel music plays in the background and it’s the same ole track a Mahalia Jackson. Mama ain’t eva been religious, but she always loved them black people singing. She pays more attention to her CD than she do to us.
Aretha ain’t in the room when we gets home. She around the apartment building visiting her 6 year old friends. She knows more people than any a us do in this building. Wheneva I’s out with her, she always introduce herself to all the clerks and I jus admire her. I can’t even speak to teachers in class. And when they speak to me, I jus mumble and lower my head. They mus think I’s stupid. I is the only white girl in the entire class, and I is the stupidest. I ain’t speak or write good and I certainly can’t read for no good nothin’. Plus, I ain’t fit in.
The kids at school probably can smell me from a mile’s distance. I take my sisters to shower at the homeless shelter down back the street only once a month. Plus, I always wear the same pair a overalls every day eva since mama and I lived in a shelter and some ole woman tell me I’s cute. That be my only compliment til today. I mus be used to the smell tho ‘cause I don’t smell anythin’.
Anyway, I make all a us supper right when Aretha comes back. Mama always gobbles down her supper like she ain’t see food for weeks. And after supper, Goldy and I play cards while Aretha watches since they the only fun things we have.
“Goldfish,” Goldy says proud. I stop telling her it was Go Fish and not Goldfish. Aretha then jumps up and opens the door and walks out. But three seconds later, she’s back.
“Holly! There are policemen coming up the stairs!” She yells to me. I trained the girls years ago for this moment. We all run to the closet and scrunch together to close the door. Mama still sit and smoke in her chair, without moving. The closet door is almost closed, but I can still see what is happening through the crack.
As soon as we hear three pounds at the door, Goldy begins to cry. But mama is calm and stays seated. Then a man shouts something that I don’t remember. He waits about three seconds before he busts the door down. Goldy grabs my hand and holds it tight.
“Joyce Jackson,” the policeman yells at our mama. Soon enuff, he has her in handcuffs and is walking her out the door. I jus sit still and watch since Goldy crying on my chest, full a fear. I jus rub her head and tell her it’s alright even tho it ain’t.
We grab our stuff jus like we had practiced, and we put it into bags. Aretha wants all her clothes and dolls in there until Goldy yells at her to stop. Then, Aretha be the one crying.
I jus focus on getting us outta this nasty place.
As we step outside, we catch a glimpse a our Mama in the police car as it moves further and further away from the sun. So we go the opposite way and walk toward the sun. We keep walking and walking toward it, but we never get close enuff. As soon as my leg start hurtin’, we stop to find a place to sleep. I use a few bucks from the jar we had at home to get us a room. It ain’t the best room eva, but it a warm room.
At night, Aretha jump up and down on the bed while I hold crying Goldy as she mutters “Mama” every second. Soon enuff, we fall asleep on the ole bed, entangled in each other. I play with Goldy’s silky hair as I think about our next step. Whateva we do, I knows we ain’t seperatin’. And as long as I love my sisters, I knows we’ll make it.
The next mornin’ it Saturday and we’s already on our way out the door a dat room. I’s still don’t know what we’s goin to do but it need to be quick. I remember the shelter I lived in before mama met the African man and Goldy be born. That place would only take us back to our mama tho.
“Holly, where are we going?” Aretha asks. She speaks betta than me since she been in school when she was six and I ain’t.
I think a what to say but nothin’ come to me. I jus walk out the door and tell them to follow me.
I look in my pocket to see that we spent most all the money on the hotel and we ain’t got enuff for breffust. I figure maybe the church be open to feed us that is further down the street. And so I waddle while the girls dance and sing. They musta forgot last night. They probably jus happy it the weekend and we walkin in the street.
“Holly, where are we going?” Aretha asks again.
“Breffust,” I say.
“Oh yes, I love breakfast!”
I don’t tell them it food for homeless cause they don’t need tah know we homeless. Me and Aretha skinny enuff to look starving, but Goldy big and tall like her father and she don’t look starving. But wif us two lookin’ hungry, I bet we can get pity.
I see a big line ahead a us full a mostly men and there a big sign that says “Grace Methodist Church” in front a the line. They gots tables out with bags a food and they handin them out. Easy enuff. I tell the girls it a game.
“Now look here, you see all those quiet men? They is quiet because they playin a game. You wanna play a game?” I ask. Aretha jump up and down. “If theys quiet the whole time they wait in line, they get a bag full a food. It a breffust game. That how we pay is by bein quiet. So be quiet.”
Turn out they believe me. I don’t need to worry bout Aretha tellin all them our life story. If we look hungry, we hungry. It don’t mean nothin.
After breffust, me and girls start walkin again. I tells them we lookin for place that empty to stay. We walk all round New York all day til Aretha soon enuff see a park and runs to it to play. I ask girls if they want to stay here and they say yes. They think it fun. Tho I see Goldy lookin at me funny and tryin to be grown up with Aretha. She order her around like she the oldest sister now.
“Who say you in charge?” I ask Goldy.
“You in charge of me and I’m in charge of Aretha,” she states. I jus smile and retie my hair into a pony tail.
Without lunch or dinner dat day, we sleep in the tunnels a the playground. It funny how we all fit in there. I ain’t sleep at all cause I ain’t wanna wake up to see my sisters gone. Knowin Aretha, she run off on her own. So I lay by Goldy and hold Aretha. Feelin them breathe the most incredible thing.
The next day, we walk more toward the sun. Hopefully we find a place for children far enuff so Mama and her friends ain’t find us. Soon enuff, we find a place for homeless dat bring us in. Goldy the only one who understand dat we homeless now. But she make sure Aretha ain’t know by creatin all these games.
I finally get another set a clothes ‘sides the overalls. The people there make me wear them. Aretha already playin wit all kinds a kids now. She fit in right away while me and Goldy go back to playin “Goldfish”. It like nothin aint happen at all. And at night, we still all lay side by side and breathe as one. Still ain’t nothin separate us and we make it. We make it.