Maria had never been in love. But when she first saw a tiny sprout push its way through the tile floor, she felt something tighten inside her belly. She sat in her father's wooden rocking chair, his ... [+]
She was watching the red-brick houses on Brigham Street glide by when her phone rang. She didn't recognise the number.
"Hello? Who's this?"
On the other end she heard the sound of heavy traffic, followed by a man's gravelly voice.
"Yea, it's nurse Wallace," she said. "Speaking . . . Who's this? . . . No. How'd you get my number? . . . No, I don't remember you . . . You shouldn't be calling me . . . You shouldn't be calling me . . . No . . . No . . . You're welcome . . . It's my job, you're welcome . . . I'm glad, but it's my job to be nice to everybody. And ain't everybody call me on my private number. D'you know this is illegal? Jean-Baptiste? I don't, I'm sorry. I'm going to hang . . . There's a lot of people coming through those doors . . . Celtics? . . . No, I'm sorry. You ain't the only one with your head split open coming through those doors. I'm going to hang up now. I'm . . . Don't do that . . ." She lowered her voice. People were looking over. "Don't go saying things like that. You think that's okay? Saying things like that? Calling an old woman who you ain't supposed to be calling and saying things like that? I got to report this. If you're serious, I got to report this . . . Well, if you don't want me to report it then you can't be serious . . . You're not serious? . . . Saying things like that . . . Okay, take a deep breath, hold it for four seconds . . . Three. Four. That's it. Breathe out slowly. Okay. Do that a few times, go on. Hold up. Hold up, I got to get off."
Mrs Wallace grabbed a rail and pulled herself up. She was the only one getting out at the stop. Passengers watched and waited as she squeezed her way through.
"Are you there?" she said down the phone again once she was out on the street. "Jean-Philippe? I'm sorry, Jean-Baptiste, that right? . . . Don't go saying things like that . . . Where are you? You got any family? You got somewhere you can go? . . . I got to go to work and you cannot be calling me . . . I can't do nothing for you . . ." She looked up at the sky and tutted. "I can't answer that. How can I answer that? How old are you? . . . There. You a grown man, Jean. You a grown man and you should know right from wrong. And you can't be calling an old woman, saying things like that. What am I supposed to do? You thought about that? Where are you? . . . That a highway?"
Mrs Wallace looked at her watch, then took a seat on a nearby bench.
"You been drinking, Jean-Baptiste? . . . I can hear it on you. Course you going to go feeling like that. You got the liquor in you. Why you want to drink? Huh? . . . No? . . . Now you lying? . . . Why you want to drink? . . . You smoke? . . . Why you want to smoke weed? . . . I don't put that in my mouth. I don't put the devil's grass in my mouth . . . Go to school . . . Go to school . . . Get a job . . ." She laughed. "No, I ain't your mama, but I could be your mama . . . I ain't your mama but I could be . . . World don't care about little black boys, especially ones who been drinking and smoking . . . Yea . . . You got any family? . . . Well, if you don't like what I'm saying . . . Let me . . . Jean, let me tell you something. Let me tell you something . . ."
The man spoke without stopping, without a pause or a breath between his fast sentences.
Mrs Wallace raised her eyebrows.
"I speak English. In this country I speak English. And you got to as well. God gave me a nationality and I'm grateful . . . No . . . No. Ain't nobody give a damn about that . . . The way you say that you sound just like my boy . . . That's right. Just like him. He went chasing the liquor and the weed too, chasing the girls, and now he dead. And ain't nobody bat an eyelid when a black woman bury her son, Jean, you hear me? And I'm not a young girl anymore. I'm not twenty-five, not thirty-five, not forty-five. So don't go saying things like that. Where are you? . . . It's ok, it's all right," she reassured him. She stood and hitched up her purse. "Where are you? . . . I don't give a damn . . . God understands and so will they . . . No . . . That's right, I ain't. But I could be."
She laughed and crossed the street, then hailed a bus going in the direction she'd come from.