“Mommy ’ave some good news!” Patsy says to Tru at the Tastees Restaurant in Cross Roads where Patsy takes her after picking her up from school. Workers from nearby businesses sit on benches near them, devouring beef patties and cocoa bread. Tru and Patsy sit at one of the plastic tables that face the road. Tru is looking at her, blinking as though there is dust in her eyes from the construction work at the gas station. Her eyes are a lighter brown than her skin, with the sun at their centers. She has been studying Patsy like this lately — like she’s years older with the wizened observation of a woman with experience. Miss Gains has suggested that she skip a grade. Patsy has given it much thought, fearful that her daughter might be too small to exist among the bigger children, though her intelligence is the same as theirs, if not higher. But that is all Patsy fears. Deep down, she welcomes the idea of Tru’s skipping a grade. It will only make her mature faster, frog-leaping over milestones that will relieve Patsy of the burden of raising her. But she’s quickly overcome by guilt for feeling this way. Her daughter’s face holds within it a conviction — a darkness and a mystery that Patsy fears, which sometimes causes her to look away or fix what doesn’t need fixing. Like now. Patsy reaches her hand across the table to wipe the patty crumbs from her daughter’s mouth. For good measure, she smooths Tru’s bushy eyebrows with a finger and tugs at the tips of her plaited pigtail, held by white bubbles and clips shaped like bows. When she runs out of things to fix and touch, Patsy’s movement slows.
“What is it yuh want to tell me, Mommy?” Tru asks, chewing with her mouth open, the space where her two front teeth used to be visible.
“Is a surprise.”
“Yuh got me a football to play wid so I can be like di Reggae Boyz?” Tru asks, her eyes getting larger.
“No. Is a biggah surprise.”
“Albino Ricky say dat nothing is biggah than di Reggae Boyz,” Tru counters.
“Dat’s Ricky’s opinion. And how many times I tell yuh not to call di dundus boy dat? Dat’s not nice. I hope yuh don’t call him dat to him face.”
“And I hope yuh not letting nobody tell you what to think.”
“I want you to grow out of dat tomboy ways of yours. Good girls keep dem self neat an’ clean. Like those Wilhampton High School girls. Dey don’t play wid boys an’ dirty up their nice white uniforms. Dey are well-behaved an’ obedient. Can you promise me dat? Promise me dat you’ll—” She catches herself when she notices her daughter’s eyes fall away from hers. Patsy takes a deep breath and changes the subject. “All right. If I tell you my secret, promise me dat yuh won’t seh anyt’ing to Grandma.”
“I promise!” Tru says, animated again, bobbing up and down in her seat with the excitement of holding a big secret.
“Yuh sure?” Patsy asks, half-smiling.
Tru nods with such vigor that her plaits shake.
“I don’t t’ink yuh big enough to handle secrets.” Patsy leans back and playfully folds her arms across her chest. “Only big girls keep secrets,” she says, echoing what her Uncle Curtis used to say to her when she was Tru’s age.
“I’m a big girl!” Tru shouts.
Patsy laughs despite the uneasiness knotting inside her stomach. “All right. I’m going to America,” Patsy says finally, crushing the napkin in her palm. But something else small yet significant slips from her grasp.