Catalina looked around uncertainly as she entered the restaurant. It was not the kind of place she’d frequent but felt the need to follow through with her curiosity about this young man Figit. The woman had given her a description as to what she’d be wearing, and it was something that couldn’t possibly be missed. She spied her deep inside the crowded restaurant. Conversations stopped as she went by and those at each table studied her warily. Her smart clothes showed she didn’t belong there. All watched in silence as she made her way through and waited for the woman to invite her to sit. The woman studied her as she approached and indicated the seat opposite at the table.
“I wondered if you’d have the courage to step inside when I saw you take it in at the door. This is not your scene is it Miss Lawyer?”
Catalina felt out of place in this unfriendly environment but didn’t show it. She was surprised at the cultured voice of the woman opposite. “My name is Catalina and I’m happy you agreed to see me. What shall I call you?” She extended her hand in welcome, but it was ignored.
“Everyone calls me Ma Black in our black community Miss Lawyer.”
Catalina tried another approach. “Sounds like you’re a teacher Ma as you have a wonderful way of expressing yourself.”
The woman laughed scornfully. “You’re surprised we are articulate? If I don’t fit the profile you expect then I’ll try the vernacular of the slums to satisfy you for this meeting. Ah sees ya com with ya fancy impressins bout us all.” She laughed.
“Please Ma Black believe me. I came with no preconceived ideas about you and I came with a good purpose of seeing how I could be helpful to lift Figit up, so he has a chance in life. If I come across as appearing to think I’m superior to you it’s not that way at all so give me a chance to show my sincerity. I hope someday to use my law experience to represent people on the streets who have nothing to give me in return.”
The woman’s face softened. “That was a good thing you did to see Figit was reimbursed properly for the work he did at your apartments on the East River. Wes has been taking advantage of my boy and Figit is just too good natured to see through that white leach. I’m surprised you would take the part of a black man against one of your own.”
Catalina was indignant. ”Ma Black I don’t make any difference between people on the basis of race. People to me fall into two categories the good and the bad and I think you’ll agree with me those classes are well represented in all ethnic groups.”
Ma Black laughed. “I think you have a good point there girl so perhaps we can be friends after all. What did you say your name was? Perhaps I need to call you that instead of Miss Lawyer.”
“OK Catalina let’s talk.”
Over the next hour Catalina learned a lot about the area in New York Ma Black lived and worked in. Ma Black had arrived from Jamaica to further her studies. Her parents were wealthy and had given her the best of education there and in the US. But Ma Black had seen the plight of her people here and chosen not to return to Jamaica where she’d have enjoyed a comfortable life without the prejudice she’d experienced here. She’d sacrificed the comforts of home for the squalid conditions in the place she’d volunteered to teach on completion of her MA degree. The government had been happy to employ her and had facilitated her eventual application as a full citizen of the US. She told of the conditions those without opportunities lived under, the crime some resorted to out of expediency rather than choice. She told of those she’d taught in school who’d been abandoned by parents and she’d taken into her own crowded quarters rather than see them live on the streets. Most had disappointed her and left to disappear into the underbelly of New York never to be seen again. But some like Figit had come through it and been loyal to her as their benefactor living an exemplary life. He’d known no love from his own family but discovered love through her selfless care and she found fulfillment in her mission.”
Catalina tried to hide the tears rolling down her face at the conclusion of Ma Black’s life report, but the old woman noted that, and her heart went out to this girl who she’d initially despised and insulted. She reached over the table and patted Catalina on the hand.
“You have an honest heart girl.”
“Figit is an unusual name, why choose that name?” Catalina dabbed her eyes with her handkerchief now that the old woman had noticed her tears.
“He was obviously physically abused when I took him in after watching him struggle at school. He was always nervous and on guard so would be constantly fiddling with his hands in his nervousness. I think love in the home has cured him of that but the name he was given at school has stuck and he seems happy with that.” Ma Black shrugged.
“I’ve got to be getting home now Catalina. I’m sorry I gave you a bad time when we first met but couldn’t imagine someone from your class sincerely having an interest in a poor black young man. So, I apologize for my rudeness.” Ma Black stood to leave and headed for the counter to pay for their food and Catalina was horrified.
“Ma Black please let me pay for the meal it was supposed to be my treat.”
Ma Black held up her hand to stop her. “I don’t accept charity Catalina. This one is on me for the pleasure of your company.”
Catalina watched silently as the woman paid, then put her arm around the old lady as they left the restaurant watched with interest as they passed each table.
To be continued
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