Mom was a leap year baby, and today she’d be 68. Nearly five months have passed, and not a day goes by that I do not think of her. This weekend we’ll place fresh flowers on her grave.
Going through my old manuscripts, I found this little two-pager. So I’ll let it see the light of day…
The traffic light flashed “Walk” before Jamal reached the curb. He ran the last few steps to the crosswalk, and slowed abruptly to a stroll, behind the old lady ahead of him. In the blush of Sunday afternoon sunshine, he ambled across, his hands in his pockets, tennis shoes scuffing against the pebbly asphalt. He should have called Calvin and made sure he was home. But he’d probably be there since his car wasn’t running anyway. That meant killing a six-pack and watching basketball on television. Perfect.
The old woman ahead of him cast a sidelong glance back. He glimpsed the turn of her sallow, veined cheek. She traveled fast, her cane not slowing her down any. She probably wanted to make it across before the “Walk” started flashing, before the two lanes of idling cars were ready to roll. Her quick stepping, the cane crunching smartly on the pavement, reminded him of the way his Grandma Vivian used to cross the road, her cane stamping along briskly like this old lady’s. Ain’t no thing, mama, he thought. They ain’t gonna run us over even if you still crossing when the light changes.
But he could see why she was hurrying. They never gave you enough time to cross these long intersections before the light began blinking. If you were old and couldn’t move too fast, there you were, trying to get across with everybody staring at you. He wasn’t hurrying. He would get to the other side when he got to the other side. That’s all there was to it.
He caught her looking back at him and looked behind himself. Nobody behind him; nothing to see. What’s up with her?
Wherever she was going, she must be running late. She ought to have somebody taking her around, but he guessed she didn’t. Otherwise she wouldn’t be out here with her cane trying to get to the store, or wherever, and home before her knees started hurting her.
Right on cue, the “Walk” light winked frantically. Jamal tsk’d, watching the old lady quicken her steps as best she could. They must know how many steps it took to get to the middle, and then they made you nervous, tried to rush you across. They ought to put a little more time on the clock for old people. He glanced at the waiting cars, didn’t hurry his walking in the sunshine pace. They’d just have to wait.
The old woman reached the curb and looked back at him. Sunshine flashed on her wire-framed glasses. Her mouth trembled, lips parted as if she were about to say something.
Did he know her? Did she know him? Was she one of the ladies who shopped at the FoodMart, who came through his line regularly? He smiled at her, but let it crumble as her look struck him like a hard flick of sand in his face. He stepped past her, staring at his shoes, away from her frightened gray eyes, away from the sharp clefts at the corner of her thin lips. The sun fell hot over him, its heat barely cut by the flat brush of breezes. He didn’t want to look back, didn’t want to care, but he felt her gaze burning the back of his neck. He turned his head, looked back anyway. Her glare slapped him like a clop of thrown mud. Calvin’s house was another block down the street. That first beer was going to taste too good to be true. He was just taking a walk, going somewhere like she was going somewhere. It didn’t mean a thing. He strode on, but her face hung in his mind, white and glaring like the sun.