It is 1957. I will be 4 soon. I am in the playroom at the department store. My mother is shopping for a dress.
All the toys and books are for babies and I am bored. My pink dress is scratchy and I cannot sit still.
I wander out the door and down the hallway. There are lots of doors and one is open. I look inside.
A man sitting at a desk says, “Well, hello there, young lady.”
He walks out from behind the desk and picks me up. He sets me on top of a big metal box with handles on it.
His hair is slick and oily and seems too small for his head. He looks at me like I am some kind of bug. I think he would like to crack me open like an egg and see what is inside me.
“Mr. Crenshaw?” A woman’s voice comes from the doorway.
“Is something wrong?” she asks.
The man says, “Hey, Miss Beulah. This little girl was rubbing her eye. I thought she might have something in it.”
“I’ll take care of her, Mr. Crenshaw,” Miss Beulah replies.
She pushes past the man and scoops me up. I have never seen anyone like her. One of her arms is as big as my body. Her skin is dark brown and she smells like she was just starched and ironed. Also there is something inside her that feels like iron. She does not seem to like me much. But I think I like her.
One thing is for sure: she doesn’t like Mr. Crenshaw.
She holds me without moving. I don’t move, either. We both watch as Mr. Crenshaw ambles toward the store and out of sight.
She takes me back to the playroom and sets me on a bench. She looks at me for a minute.
She says, “Don’t go out there again.”
But I have already decided I won’t.
When my mother comes to pick me up, I run to hug her. Then I turn around and run to Miss Beulah and I hug her.
Miss Beulah jumps. She looks scared for a minute and she looks at my mom. Then she looks at me and her eyes get red and shiny.
“Goodbye, baby,” she says. “You be good now.”
I will try.