Alva saves Raoul and makes a lifelong friend.
Kitty applied herself with rigorous dedication to the task Alva had set for her. For seventeen years she had been trained in the art of obsessively ordering columns of numbers and sorting through volumes of seemingly unrelated paperwork. Now she took on the challenge of Alva’s last twelve years as a small ant will carry a locust fifty times its size, over rocks and logs, up and down hills, repositioning itself time and again to get a better grip on its prize. So Kitty pushed and tugged until she brought order to Alva’s mountain of chaos.
“Alva,” Kitty called out to her one morning as she sat at her makeshift desk in the downstairs hallway outside the bathroom that had served for so many years as a depository for all the papers Alva chose to ignore.
“I’m on my way to the café, Honey,” Alva answered. “Can it wait? I just talked to Benny and he’s carryin’ that man by again for breakfast. I gotta see that man. It’s just been on my mind all the time and I gotta see him now.”
Alva started to get into her coat, which always looked a bit like a contortionist trying out a new routine. The days had turned from crisp to cold and Thanksgiving was just a week away.
“No, Alva, this cannot wait. I have to ask you some questions,” Kitty said, waving her hand at the papers.
“Oh, girl, I know you think them papers is all the most important things in the world but they ain’t. They been there years and years and one more day ain’t gonna make no difference.” Alva put her hand on the front doorknob. “But I’ll be back after lunch. And then I’ll set witchoo and you can ask me anything you got on yore mind.” And she was gone.
Alva walked the few blocks quickly, humming to herself. When she arrived at the café, Benny’s taxi was parked at the curb. She could see Raoul behind the counter where Benny and McSweeney sat on low-backed barstools with their backs to the door.
The first time she had met Raoul he had been arrested for fighting in a bar six blocks from the mission. She had gotten a call at two in the morning and run down to the station, a coat thrown over her bathrobe and gown, bail money in her pocket and sleep in her eyes. She was well known at the station. She made frequent appearances on behalf of whoever needed a helping hand. She had taken one look at Raoul’s busted up face and decided on the spot that he was worth rescuing, even though he was still drunk, sitting on the floor of a semi-lit cell and muttering about some woman named Jasmine.
She took him home and nursed his wounds, scolding him and making pot after pot of strong coffee until dawn. Finally he had fallen asleep on the couch. Alva never did find out who Jasmine was and she felt it was better not to know. She did, however, hear all about Raoul’s career in the ring and how he had refused to throw his last fight. Losing the mob’s money was not exactly a brilliant career move, and after that he’d had no goals and no one to keep him on the right path. These days he not only ran the café but had learned how to cook everything from Russian borscht to French soufflés. He could make corn pone and grits, roast a turkey with chestnut stuffing and bake the best meatloaf on Seventh Avenue.