“You hankering after your own family."
When Kitty first moved into Alva’s house, she didn’t have the nerve to venture out at all. After making the big decision to leave her life behind, she closed up like a turtle, unable to face any further challenges. At Alva’s, it was enough just to sit by her bedroom window looking down at the jumble of life in the back garden. Once the cold set in outside and the garden turned brown, Kitty’s unease in her new environment began to evaporate and she did go out. Tentatively at first.
She walked to the corner and looked up and down Seventh Street. It was busy and noisy. Lots of stores and restaurants with all kinds of signs. Different types of people walked around – at least different from what Kitty was used to seeing. And then, there were so many of them. Like that first day at the bus terminal. She walked back to the house and went upstairs to her room and just sat there thinking.
The next day she went down to the other end of the block and stopped. It was as if some unseen hands were pulling her back. Again she looked up and down the street. She looked at the houses on her block, at the little gardens and the trees and the steps and doors and windows. She heard a dog barking and saw some boys on skate boards. She heard the sounds of children playing somewhere. And she even heard a rooster crow. Right there in the city.
She hurried back to the house again. And, after a few days of this, a strange thing happened. Something she never would have imagined. Something perplexing and a little frightening.
She began to think about her husband. And, for some inexplicable reason, to worry about him. What was he eating? Was he searching for her? Who was doing his paperwork? Did he know which dry cleaner had his shirts ready? Was he having trouble with her filing system? Was he buying the right groceries? Was he lonely? Was he sleeping well?
These thoughts made her feel guilty for leaving. She even began to consider going back. She picked up the phone a couple of times and began to dial the convent to tell them she had reconsidered and was never going to arrive. But she hung up before it rang and went back to thinking about her husband, all alone in that house, without his son there, without anyone to control, anyone as a counterweight to his own emptiness. Because by then Kitty had realized that he only isolated her because he felt so isolated himself. That he was controlling her in the same way that Chinese men had bound their women’s feet so they could not run away. They only told them it was to make them more beautiful, because feet were so ugly. But what could be uglier than deformed stumps for feet? Or someone who had lost the ability to control where her own feet could take her?
Of course Alva put her to work right away and that helped her make the transition, giving her something to concentrate her mind on, providing a focus for her days. But when Alva was not there and when the work was finished for the day, these thoughts came back upon her. In the kitchen one morning she talked with Alva about it.
“You serious, ain’tchoo?” Alva asked.
“Yes, it’s really bothering me,” Kitty said.
“You think he cain’t fend for hisself?” Alva asked. “That you the indispensiliss person in the world?”
“No. But he did depend on me,” Kitty said.
“Well, I don’t want to argue wichchoo none. But just answer this one thing. If you so worried about hisself then why’d you leave in the first place?” Alva pulled out a chair and sat down to a cup of tea Kitty had placed in front of her.
“I know. You’re right. I don’t want to go back there. But still … ” Kitty mused.
“You know what’s really hungering your soul?” Alva asked.
Kitty looked at her blankly.
“I tell you what,” Alva said and took a sip of tea. “You hankering after your own family. Your real family. Them brothers and sisters and your own mama. That’s what you really hungry for. And maybe for that boy who left his papa for the same reasons you done. Because he didn’t give you no room to breathe your own breath or think your own thoughts. Not a person in this world can live like that. Nossir.”