What was it about a little girl’s screams that awakened the fight in her? It was the only time her own daydreams didn’t block out the commotion going on down the street. Wanda blew a breath, her knees bent as she lay face-up on the cot and tapped her feet on the floor. No box springs. No bed rails. No headboard. Just a twin-sized bed in the middle of the floor. In the corner of the room, black garbage bags filled with her clothing fell clumsily, one on top of the other. And the fan blew hot air in from the window along with the sounds of arguing. But Wanda didn’t hear a thing. Something was always going on in this house. It was why she’d mastered the art of tuning everything out. She didn’t hear the noise unless she wanted to hear it. Miss Cassaundra called it creepy and got tired of calling her more than once. Wanda smiled despite herself. Miss Cassaundra was the woman she mostly wanted to tune out. Nonetheless, she didn’t hear the noise flying into her window from whomever it was, doing whatever it was outside. Even when she stood up from her cot on the floor to stand by the open window, her arms folded, she heard nothing until the screams wafted through the openings of the fan and into her ears.
“Come on here, girl,” said the voice.
Wanda lifted the window up higher and grabbed the handle on the white boxed-sized fan, lowering it to the floor. She took its place, sitting inside the crook of the windowsill, watching Anna Mae pull and yank her daughter's arm, propelling her to walk faster. The girl’s tiny feet kicked up dust on the New Orleans road.
Every country town was the same. Acreage of land separated houses and trailers, the gas station or corner store, not seen for miles. It was too far to walk, though many did. Too many non-working cars parked too close together as children played in the middle of the road, running when the cars came. Either they ran to the side of the road, thick with trees and grassland, or onto the other side where the family trailers sat on cinderblocks. Horns honked as voices laughed and a relative scolded them.
“Get ya’ll lil asses out the street.”
Most likely, an uncle or cousin. Everyone either knew one another or was related in some way. Most of the families survived off the money they got for the land their trailers sat on. The oil companies profited off the ignorance of the poor. Ten thousand dollars a year sounded like a lot of money to people who have never had anything. That combined with Food Stamps and welfare could make some hood rich. Meanwhile, the oil companies raked in millions off the land as it sucked out all its nutrients and fed its owners pennies. St. Bernard Parish was no different. The first, third, and fifteenth of the month—because Miss Cassaundra got three checks—were like holidays. Fights were common, and everyone’s business was in the street—literally.
“And don’t come back,” yelled the man to the woman’s back. Anna Mae spun around, causing the girl to feel dizzy and fall at the sudden change of pace.
“You think I need this? I don’t need you or ya raggedly….”
“Eh, watch yo mouth, girl!” yelled the man as Anna brushed the dirt off her daughter’s clothing, talking as she did so.
“Don’t you dare. Okay? Don’t you dare.”
“You heard what I said.”
“So what? She ain’t yours, no how. Come on here, girl,” she said, grabbing the girl’s hand again.
“Damn,” whispered Wanda under her breath, fanning herself with her hand. It’s gonna be some good gossip about this later.
The man stood back as if someone had thrown something heavy his way and it landed in the center of his chest like a gust of wind so strong it almost knocked him down. His lips turned up and his head tilted before he turned to walk away.
The little girl blinked and wiped the dirt from her hands as the walking began again. She was thankful for the break the fall created. Her little legs were tired, and she hoped for some rest. As mother and daughter walked on, the man charged up behind the two, and grabbed the woman by her hair.
“Oh shit,” said Wanda, standing back from the windowsill as she watched.
“Mike! Mike, please!” screamed the woman.
It took the little girl a while to notice that the sound was coming from her mother. The man was now dragging her down the road by her hair.
“Mom!” the girl screamed. The commotion caused the neighbors to exit their homes and Wanda to rush from the window. The scream had awakened something in her. Something that would later save her life.
“You gonna stop playing games,” said the man.
The little girl screamed as her body was being swept up into the air. It felt like she was flying.
“It’s okay, baby girl. I got you now,” said a voice and the girl’s cries quieted. She wasn’t flying. It was just a neighbor, running with her in her arms.
“Mama,” she cried again.
“Shhh,” the woman cooed as they made it to the house. She put the girl down in front of a big-boned, golden brown-skinned woman, sitting on the couch.
“Go ahead now. I got it. Make the call.”
“Yes, Miss Cassaundra,” said the woman, scurrying away as the girl cried.
Wanda had stopped running when she reached the front room. She watched as Lavenia came rushing into the house, baby girl in her arms, and watched as she put her down in front of Miss Cassaundra, sitting on the sofa as was her custom.
“It’s alright now child. Everything gonna be alright,” said Cassaundra, pushing the girl into Wanda’s arms.
“Take her in the back, please. This fool out here making a scene again.”
“Wanda!” called Cassaundra, jolting her from her daydream.
“You heard what I said?”
Confusion washed over Wanda’s face and Cassaundra frowned.
“Take her on in the back. I’m tired of repeating myself.”
Wanda cut her eyes. She had hoped no one saw her standing there, so she could go back to her room. She adjusted her pink t-shirt and scratched at her hair before taking the girl’s hand. Unlike the rest of the women in the house, Wanda was not half-naked.
“Come on, it’s okay.”
“Go on now, child. Ya safe now. Miss Wanda gonna take care of ya.”
I am? Wanda sighed. Here we go again. I watch the kids and she pockets the money.
“I want my mama!” cried the girl.
Cassaundra rolled her eyes. I'm too old for this shit. “Ya mama be back soon. Now go on," she said.
Wanda held onto the girl’s hand, and Cassaundra watched as the two walked down the hall. The double-wide trailer was long with extra rooms, and a back deck and front porch had been installed. Wanda and the little girl bypassed several half-dressed women coming in, through the kitchen from the backdoor, into the extra rooms Cassaundra had built specifically for her guests. Men followed closely behind the women, some holding onto their hands as they led them. Various conversations and laughter could be heard throughout the house.
“Lottie,” called Cassaundra.
A tall, brown-skinned, older man, leaned against the wall. He had been silently watching the show and picking his teeth with a toothpick. He turned to face Cassaundra.
“Make me a drink,” she said, leaning back into the sofa.
The man nodded like an obedient servant who questioned nothing and began walking down the hall. He bypassed Wanda and smacked her butt. She turned around quickly.
“What I tell you about yo nasty-ass hands!” she yelled, startling the girl.
“Lottie” called Cassaundra, “leave that girl alone and bring me my drink.”
Wanda shook her head. I can’t wait to leave this house.
Thank you for reading chapter one of my book!