She saw her neighbor in the hall as she left for the diner the next morning. The woman was frog marching a young man Fay assumed was her son down the stairs all the time lecturing him on how important it was to get an education. When they got outside Fay saw that the woman was carrying a backpack and did not let go of the boy’s arm. She propelled him to a rattletrap sedan, shoved him into the passenger seat, got behind the wheel, and drove away, giving Fay a terse “good morning” as she went past.
“Good morning to you, too,” Fay said to the one working brake light as the sedan slid past the stop sign on the corner.
Fay kept an eye out for the woman’s car in the lot and when she saw it, she sat on one of the benches outside that evening to try and meet her. “Hi,” she said when the woman she had seen that morning came out into the twilight with a book and can of soda. “Come sit by me.”
The woman looked at her suspiciously, took one step toward Fay and said, “Why?”
Deciding that honesty would get her farther with this lady than some fantastic story, she said, “Because I am new in town, my car is in the shop until I can make enough at the diner to ransom it, and I need a ride to the mall to get some things. I see you have a car. I will pay for gas if you will take me.” She stopped talking. “Oh, my name is Fay. What is yours?” She held out a hand.
“I am Naomi.” She slightly raised her full hands. “Sorry, let me sit down and we can shake if you want.”
“Whatever.” Fay moved over to make room.
“Hell, I am not that wide. You do not have to perch on the edge to give the fat woman room.”
Fay’s hands flew to her face. “Oh, I did not mean anything. It is just a reflex to slide over when I invite someone to share my bench. At least you have some padding; my ass is so bony I get bruises if I sit too long. No offense meant.”
Naomi sat down and put her book and soda can between them, then folded her arms across her chest. “Now, you need a ride to the mall?”
“And you chose me why?”
“Well, at first, because you have a car that runs.” She looked at Naomi who was staring off into space with a slight frown on her face. Fay got the distinct impression that the other woman’s bullshit meter was switched on and working overtime, so she kept on with the truth. “Then I realized that the way you were talking to your…son?”
The other woman nodded.
“Your son, that you were just the kind of woman I needed to meet. Someone who values honesty and does not take any crap off anybody.” Fay stopped talking and let the silence between them stretch out.
Finally, Naomi turned to face her. “Most people think women who live in a place like this are tramps, whores, and thieves. How come you do not?”
Fay reached over and patted her on the elbow. “Honey, I have lived in places like this my whole life and I have never once been a tramp, a whore, or a thief. Well, on second thought I might have had a few tramp-ish times in my life, but not recently and not so you would notice.” She noticed that Naomi’s arms were not folded quite so tightly. “I know all about wanting to live in a better place and not being able to afford it or get to it or find it or, worse still, not being allowed to leave a bad place.”
Naomi’s head was nodding agreement.
“So,” Fay said, “I thought you and me might have something in common.”
“My boy Marcus is fourteen. He thinks he is a man and wants to lay around and do what he thinks men do, which is not work and drink and carouse all night. It is all I can do to keep him in school and out of trouble. I can not find a job that would let me keep track of him, so I am still on welfare. And I hate it. I am glad my mama has passed. She would paddle me good if she knew.”