(Read the previous chapters here.)
“Estella,” Kehinde began, “let me go on record to say I don’t know if I’m totally onboard with this foster parent endeavor of yours.” I resisted the urge to tell him to then feel free to go ahead and jump overboard.
“Why’s that, Kehinde? Why shouldn’t I do my part to provide guidance to a child who desperately needs support?” I knew I was coming off as self-righteous, but in this instance I felt the righteousness was mine to claim. This wasn’t because the foster care workers had made a special effort to let me know what I was doing was important, essential to changing the lives of these children. The decision to become a foster parent meant I could still be a mother. And I didn’t have to go all Darwin and make the very best selection about who to mate with, either. I just had to be committed to providing a loving and nurturing environment for my child.
“Well, it’s a lot of work, but even so,” he said, handing over the bag he had at his side. “Here are some items, safety notions, I hand on hand.” I looked into the bag and saw that it contained everything I had been set to purchase. The only thing I needed was the safety gate.
“Thank you. This is very thoughtful of you, Ken.”
Kehinde nodded. “There’s a safety fence in my trunk. I wasn’t sure of your foster child’s age, but it’s yours if you need it.”
“Well, yes. Thank you.”
“You already thanked me, Estella. No need to repeat yourself,” he said, sounding more like the Kehinde from the night before, the one who had dropped me off saying only, “Perhaps now you can get the sleep you seem so desperately in need of – sleep well,” before driving off. That Kehinde sat in my living room, sticking a finger under his horn rimmed glasses, to rub tired, hazel eyes.
“Well then, the purpose of this visit,” I said, taking a seat on the sofa opposite him. “Oh, I still don’t know how much I should expect to pay for these consults. Is it the $175 per half hour? Because if it is…”
“That’s as discussed last night and has been determined. So why don’t we proceed as I see fit, if you think you can let me do my job–if this is possible.”
I had dealt with men like Kehinde. Those “internationals” and, of course, those born in the States who always wanted to make a point of calling out a woman for being assertive, as if that were some kind of fatal flaw. Those quick to lecture that if women were smart, knew when to feign a little helplessness, then we’d see how much better our lives would be with a man at the helm. Then we wouldn’t all be manless; then we wouldn’t have to be on the phone telling sad tales to bill collectors; then the grass wouldn’t be allowed to grow wild and high, and our beds, at least the empty sides, wouldn’t be so cold. I had had my share of Kehindes.
I sat back onto the sofa and slipped off my Sketchers, lifted up my feet and tucked them underneath me. I took off my baseball cap, the one Francisco said made me look like I worked on a three guys moving crew. I removed the rubber band looped around my ponytail and shook out my hair, letting the mass, shoulder length waves and ripples fall about my face. Then I sat back and waited for Kehinde to say whatever the hell he had made his special trip to say.
Obviously pleased, he said, “Well, um…good. Since you don’t want to make them an offer, settle, then the next best thing would be to come at them the way they came at you. You can get them for the nonpayment, harassment, invasion of privacy,” he put his hand up, silencing me. My mouth open, I was no longer sitting back, and had my feet firmly back on the floor.
“Yes, harassment, Estella. Didn’t you say this woman and her husband said they came here expressly to get information on “da hood”? Didn’t this make you feel uncomfortable, racially stereotyped? Uncomfortable in your own home that you generously opened and welcomed them into? Didn’t you fix a wonderful dinner for them, where they expressly said they had no dietary restrictions only to have them refuse to eat the food you prepared with your own lovely brown hands? Refusing to eat one bite you came in contact with. Didn’t they embarrass you further by then cooking and eating only food they prepared?”
I sat back and raised my feet again.
“So there you have it. This would be your plan of action, along with, of course, a media blitz with the usual online support venues. He ran off a list of online sites frequented by blacks and other people of color.
“But, of course, you could just settle, which I still think is the preferred action plan.”
“Okay, no. I think the countersuit is the way to go.” I liked the idea of being able to exact the same pressure on the Minnesotans that I had been made to endure. And, if things went well, perhaps all concerned would be happy to retreat to separate corners and call it a draw. “But, what’s this going to cost?” I said, slipping back into my shoes and settling my baseball cap snugly on my head.
Kehinde got up as though headed for the door. “First things, first, Estella,” he said, finally sounding like someone hired to do work for me. “I’ll put in a call to their lawyer, lawyers,” he quickly corrected himself, “and let them know that you have no intention of backing down.” I nodded. Once again he had me committing to moving forward without knowing what I had to pay for his services. “That’s how we’ll proceed,” he said, hand extended to shake. “If this sounds right to you?”
“Sounds good,” I said, ready to shake his hand, when the phone rang. “I should get that. Do you mind letting yourself out?” I asked.
“Not at all, Estella. We’ll talk soon.”
I ran for the phone. “Hello?”
“Hello, Miss Tinsdale. It’s Myra from the church, how are you doing today?”
“Fine, and yourself?”
“Fine, ma’am. I’m calling to let you know that all your inspections and clearances checked out.”
“Yes, and we were hoping that you might be willing to take a child in sooner rather than later?”
“Tomorrow,” the woman said, not saying another word.
“Um, well, yes, sure. That’s fine. Matter of fact, I just got the child proofing items,” I said, running down the list in my mind, including the safety gate, which Kehinde said was in his car. “Damn.”
“No, nothing at all. Just something I need to see to.”
“Oh, well, you asked to be matched with a girl, and that’s what we did. Her name is Penelope. And she’s very well behaved. She came into care after her parents found that they couldn’t take proper care of her.”
Penny. I didn’t know any Pennys except for Janet Jackson’s Penny on Good Times, who if I remembered right, had been adopted by the next door neighbor, Willona.
“So, her primary issues have to do with her parents not being able to take care of her, and not…” I had heard the stories of children, born to parents with addictions, crack cocaine, alcohol, their tendency to be fascinated by fire, reckless and risk taking behaviors, all manner of problems.
“That’s right. Her issues are totally the product of her parents not being able to take care of her to the level the state requires. She has no known mental deficiencies. She’s tested quite high, for her level of development. I think you two will be a wonderful match.”
“When will she arrive?”
“Well, we’d like to bring her by sometime in the afternoon. Perhaps, two or three?”
“That’s fine. Oh, and how old is she?”
“I don’t have her file in front of me. Once the head office called to say they needed emergency placement, I wanted to call you to make sure this would work for you. But she’s in the age range you said you preferred.”
“So, tomorrow works for you, Miss Tinsdale?”
“Yes. I can’t wait.”
“Great. Unless you hear from me to say different, a case worker will bring her tomorrow between two and three, okay?”
“Thank you, Miss Tinsdale. We need more people like you willing to step up, open their homes to our kids. Bye.”
I hung up the phone, returning back to the living room where Kehinde had retrieved the child safety gate and left it propped up against the stairs. I picked up the gate, unfolding it, wondering as my fingers were snapped and pinched by the contraption, if it should go at the top of the stairs or at the bottom. I placed it back where Kehinde had laid it. Kehinde had almost everything on my list, but I still needed to go to the grocery store so the kid would have something to eat when she got here.
There had to be a thousand other things that I should have done in those next couple of hours. Instead I sat, looking down at my feet, fingering those items in the bag Kehinde had brought, wondering how he came to have everything I needed, exactly when I needed it.
to be continued…
Willett Thomas is the president of Write of Passage, Inc. She earned her MA in writing from Johns Hopkins. She has received artist fellowships from Blue Mountain Center and the Millay Colony. She was selected as a Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation fellow for the District of Columbia, and is the recipient of the 2008 Maureen Egen Writers Exchange award for fiction.