Gertrude got off the bus in the big city. It didn’t take her long to find out where the well-off lived, and she headed immediately for that part of town. The big city. There were more shops here than she had ever seen in her lifetime. And people! Black people dressed like she never knew they could. And women in high heels and make-up. It made her feel unattractive and primitive. She’d never look like these women who swung their hips and pouted, touching their styled hair and talking back to the men who stopped to enjoy the sight of them and whistle nastiness. Look! There was a black lady with a little bitty dog on a lead. A dog. On a lead. She wore a long blonde wig, tottered along in her gold high-heel shoes and the men were just about going crazy over that blonde hair and them high heels. One stopped his car in the middle of the road, hung his head out the window, Hello lovely, wha mek yu no get in it, lek me give yu a ride. She said No, she didn’t want a ride, she knew he did, she chose to wiggle on her way, sweet-smiling to a chorus of tooting, of whistling and “pussy sweet!”. Gertrude stood there in her country frock and chunky plaits. Me is a quashie; a real country bumpkin. Closed her eyes and sighed. Never. If she had finished school and got into nursing college… but she pushed the thought back to where it belonged, out of her mind.
Two parts of town Gertrude had to go to. The well-off black district and the well-off white district. She could have taken a bus but she had time. Besides, the one case she had wasn’t even heavy. A bashed-up, scratched-up, thrown-out-by-some-indulgent-white-man-seemed-like-centuries-ago old brown suitcase that had been in Gertrude’s family longer than she herself had. Some grandparent or great-grandparent had brushed it off and taken it home. A woman, no doubt; the men too proud to sully their fingers with a handout however badly they might need it, nevertheless making full use of it and only too quick with the word my when it went missing and they went crazy, threatening to bust up the cabin and bust in heads if it didn’t turn up that minute. Ruby had taken it with her when she had left. Weren’t nobody in that house going nowhere apart from her. Apart from downhill. She had given it to Gertrude when the latter had brought home the best grades in the whole school together with a letter of congratulation from the headmaster. One-son wouldn’t be needing the case, the way things were going, Ruby figured. Ricky, neither, so she had given it to Gertrude, unceremoniously, telling her; wen is time fi yu go away an learn some more, yu gwine need a case put yu tings inna. One of the hinges was loose and the handle was fraying, so you couldn’t load it too much. As Gertrude walked down the street, the suitcase tap tapped reassuringly against her leg with every other step.
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