living here, but Jackson, Mississippi, be filled with two hundred thousand peoples. I see them numbers in the paper and I got to wonder, where do them peoples live? Underground? Cause I know just about everbody on my side a the bridge and plenty a white families too, and that sure don’t add up to be no two hundred thousand.
Six days a week, I take the bus across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge to where Miss Leefolt and all her white friends live, in a neighborhood call Belhaven. Right next to Belhaven be the downtown and the state capital. Capitol building is real big, pretty on the outside but I never been in it. I wonder what they pay to clean that place.
Down the road from Belhaven is white Woodland Hills, then Sherwood Forest, which is miles a big live oaks with the moss hanging down. Nobody living in it yet, but it’s there for when the white folks is ready to move somewhere else new. Then it’s the country, out where Miss Skeeter live on the Longleaf cotton plantation. She don’t know it, but I picked cotton out there in 1931, during the Depression, when we didn’t have nothing to eat but state cheese.
So Jackson’s just one white neighborhood after the next and more springing up down the road. But the colored part a town, we one big anthill, surrounded by state land that ain’t for sale. As our numbers get bigger, we can’t spread out. Our part a town just gets thicker.
I get on the number six bus that afternoon, which goes from Belhaven to Farish Street. The bus today is nothing but maids heading home in our white uniforms. We all chatting and smiling at each other like we own it—not cause we mind if they’s white people on here, we sit anywhere we want to now thanks to Miss Parks—just cause it’s a friendly feeling.
I spot Minny in the back center seat. Minny short and big, got shiny black curls. She setting with her legs splayed, her thick arms crossed. She seventeen years younger than I am. Minny could probably lift this bus up over her head if she wanted to. Old lady like me’s lucky to have her as a friend.
I take the seat in front a her, turn around and listen. Everbody like to listen to Minny.
“. . . so I said, Miss Walters, the world don’t want a see your naked white behind any more than they want a see my black one. Now, get in this house and put your underpants and some clothes on.”
“On the front porch? Naked?” Kiki Brown ask.
“Her behind hanging to her knees.”
The bus is laughing and chuckling and shaking they heads.
“Law, that woman crazy,” Kiki say. “I don’t know how you always seem to get the crazy ones, Minny.”
“Oh, like your Miss Patterson ain’t?” Minny say to Kiki. “Shoot, she call the roll a the crazy lady club.” The whole bus be laughing now cause Minny don’t like nobody talking bad about her white lady except herself. That’s her job and she own the rights.
The bus cross the bridge and make the first stop in the colored neighborhood. A dozen or so maids get off. I go set in the open seat next to Minny. She smile, bump me hello with her elbow. Then she relax back in her seat cause she don’t have to put on no show for me.
“How you doing? You have to iron pleats this morning?”
I laugh, nod my head. “Took me a hour and a half.”
“What you feed Miss Walters at bridge club today? I worked all morning making that fool a caramel cake and then she wouldn’t eat a crumb.”
That makes me remember what Miss Hilly say at the table today. Any other white lady and no one would care, but we’d all want a know if Miss Hilly after us. I just don’t know how to put it.
I look out the window at the colored hospital go by, the fruit stand. “I think I heard Miss Hilly say something about that, bout her mama getting skinny.” I say this careful as I can. “Say maybe she getting mal-nutritious.”
Minny look at me. “She did, did she?” Just the name make her eyes narrow. “What else Miss Hilly say?”
I better just go on and say it. “I think she got her eye on you, Minny. Just . . . be extra careful around her.”
“Miss Hilly ought to be extra careful around me. What she say, I can’t cook? She say that old bag a bones ain’t eating cause I can’t feed her?” Minny stand up, throw her purse up on her arm.
“I’m sorry, Minny, I only told you so you stay out a her—”
“She ever say that to me, she gone get a piece a Minny for lunch.” She huff down the steps.
I watch her through the window, stomping off toward her house. Miss Hilly ain’t somebody to mess with. Law, maybe I should a just kept it to myself.