7. Take Over of Policy Meeting

Claraberta walked ahead of the others in the class. Ginny hung back with Lula, her only ally only because her deep Christianity made her be kind to all, especially to the outcasts. The other students wanted to be on Marina’s side and saw Claraberta as Marina’s second in command. Marina lagged behind. She was wanting to talk lightly with Ginny, to reestablish their old relationship.
Marina, Ginny and Lula were alone as the group climbed into the subway. Just ahead of them was a young woman with long cornrows and Marina, just that moment, remembered her migraine epiphany. It all came clear. She said to Ginny, “O my God. Things changed between us after you braided my hair.” Ginny turned to face her. Her face was doughy and heart shaped, a permanent baby. Marina had the impulse to lift her into her arms and press her to her chest. Lula was nodding. Marina wanted to say, I thought you liked me. I was so happy you took me into your home, sat me at your mother’s small table in the middle of the kitchen in the middle of the project apartment.
“Forgive me for being so stupid, tell me I did wrong.”
Lula rubbed her thumb against her index finger. “It wasn’t Ginny that cared that you didn’t pay her or even offer to pay.”
Ginny was almost in tears. “It was my Mother. She hit me and told me I was stupid. Why was I giving anything away. Why did you come with nothing in your hands for me. Really, for her.”
“Praise the Lord. You let your Mother read the stories and she took it into her head that Teacher was with the Devil. That she was writing indecencies about a servant of the Lord as if any servant of the Lord would marry his own daughter.”
“What can I do now?” Marina looked to Lula. Ginny had walked ahead past the turnstile and joined the group of children from the day care center where she did her work assignment. Jimmy welcomed her with a hand slap and a hug. Why did the children like Ginny? There must be a loving side she showed only to them. She watched Ginny kneel beside a young girl who was handing her the sign on a stick she’d gotten tired of carrying. LOS NINOS NACEN PARA SER FELICES. Ginny rushed into the train with the children’s contingent and left her adult education program classmates behind.
“Will this problem with Ginny ever end? Is there another side to it?”
Lula smiled. “Ginny’s a troubled child. Her mother beats her.” Lula looked into Marina’s eyes. “Maybe the story in the class was too close for comfort in that family. That’s what I’ve heard in the church. Ginny’s mom has lots of children. One was born when she was 12.”
Marina could see Lula wouldn’t say more.
“What can I do?”
“This is already in the past. The worst is over. Give this time and this will blow away.” Lula and the other women from the class were pushing through the turnstile as fast as they could while Claraberta held open the subway door. Lula took Marina’s arm. “That’s the past. But for the future, pay more attention. We’re not just stories.”
They ran to the subway door and joined the other women from the class clustered around the balance pole. Marina closed her eyes. It wouldn’t do to cry. Half the time her mind was not on what she was doing. Ori often said to her, “No estas en lo que estas.” She was thinking about Danny or Hal or Jimmy, whatever demon lover embodied her frozen longing for her Papi. Did she ever stop to consider the impact of the words she chose to scribe out of the sea of oral language being produced by the women in the class? It might have been a different thing if she had chosen the incest story line for a reason. But she had chosen it unawarely. If she was thinking at all her thought had been the words were charged and the women would be more likely to remember them.
When she opened her eyes her vision was blurred and there was a glow around the passengers. Within seconds her stomach turned numb and brickhard and a pain climbed up from her right jaw to her right eye. For one moment she thought she would throw up.
They arrived outside the Council building where people were beginning to file in for a hearing of community views on new childcare regulations that would charge high fees to families that received government subsidies. Jimmy was on the steps with the children and Ginny. Marina nodded and he led the children upstairs with the mothers right behind. They’d come early so their contingent could be at the front of the hall but already most of the front seats were taken. Jimmy motioned to the children and sat them on the floor. He glanced at the two guards. Marina wondered why they were allowing this. But for now it seemed they were.
Within minutes the hall swelled with parents, advocates, community agency heads and children from other day care centers. All the children were allowed to sit down on the floor. Jimmy explained this was the custom under the head of the newly formed mayor’s End Poverty Task Force, Amanuel Cole who was just walking in. He was a tall, round faced, athletic, dark skinned man in a dark blue pinstripe suit and red tie. His smile most would read as sincere. As soon as he opened his mouth Jimmy’s children broke into song. “We deserve it all. A future and a present. Give us love. Give us care.” Marina worried about Jimmy’s job. But later she learned this too had become a tradition under Amanuel. He allowed the children to be cute in the beginning of the meeting.
“I count on you to tell me where it’s at. I’m nothing without you.”
He looked at everyone, somehow managed to lock gazes for the smallest fraction of time with each person, at least each person in the first few rows. “You may come to know that there are actually smart people in government, as smart as you, and we can work together. Being adversaries…
“You’re not going to bamboozle me.” Ginny stood up, dragging two children up with her by the hands. “You and I are not on the same side.”
Ginny had made her point and there was a chorus of “We are not on the same side.” The guard pressed her shoulder and pushed her back down.
Amanuel Cole kept his smile. “We need that passion. We need your caring for the children…”
Claraberta whispered to Marina standing beside her… “who are our future…” seconds before Amanuel said, “who are our future.” Laughing made Marina's right temple throb.
She could make fun of Amanuel and feel about to vomit at once. She was able to be in pain and keep going. This state of pain and nausea was familiar. Much of her childhood school day had been spent in this state, bruised from a beating the night before, her right eye throbbing, her stomach about to turn.
She thought the hearing would never end. They only had until eleven when the children had to return for lunch and nap and the women were scheduled for job training in the computer lab. Marina found herself alongside Jimmy who took one look at her face. “You’ve got a migraine.” That he knew her so well made her cry. He let her lean into his chest. As usual she smelled the cigarettes and last night’s beer and was torn the way she always was by wanting to love him and not knowing how not t
Marina rose from the couch, climbed upstairs to the bathroom, knelt by the bowl and stuck her index finger down her throat. She hated the up close view of the pink toilet, the stench of male urine that never seemed to wash off, but still, she couldn’t vomit. Her stomach was a solid brick of terror.
She heard the door and Machi’s voice telling Cristal, the young girl who helped Elena at the Pinocho Home Day Care after school, that nobody was home. It was Ori’s turn to pick up Machi and he’d arranged for Cristal to bring him home.
It wasn’t right for Machi to be home alone for hours when Ori worked late.
She called to him and he raced up to where she stood by the bathroom door. The moment he saw her he threw down his backpack. The first instant of happiness at seeing her was replaced by a wave of rage that she wasn’t there every day, that she was gone. He threw himself on the floor. He began to scream and pound his legs and fists. “I don’t want you I want Papi. I don’t want you I want Papi.” She wanted to cry or scream or tear out her hair. She wanted to hit him…give him something to cry about. Was that how her mother had felt? Her right eye throbbed. An image came to her of an anglo Mother she’d once seen on the subway platform. Her son was tantrumming and she’d knelt beside him, made a circle with her arms, enfolded him and held him while he raged. She knelt on the flo