Debt/ Mama


 I ain’t say nothin’, just plucked that chicken rememberin’ what happen’ that day Mama took me to the general store.

We ain’t have nothin’ on the shelves that mornin’ and nothing in our stomachs for better part of a week.  Mama woke that mornin’ determined to change that. She woke me early. “Wake up Syreet,” she whispered in my ear so not to wake my little sister and baby brother sleepin’ next to me.

 “Mama,” I say, rubbing my eyes. “What’s wrong?”

She put her finger to her lips. “Don’t wake the chilren, get up and get dressed.”

I nodded and moved slowly out the bed. I quickly got dressed and followed Mama out the room. It was dark in the house but she had a candle lit on the table. Her head was down when I walk in the room. I ain’t seen Papa, but I’s heard him snorin’ from the back.   I walked over, thinkin’ I heard Mama cryin’. But when I’s come up beside her she raised her head. “Syreeta.” Her eyes glazin’ in the candle light.

 “Mama, you okay?”

She kissed my face. “Let’s take a look at you,” she said, smilin’. It wasn’t a smile that reached her sad brown eyes.  But Mama was always sad.  She stood. “Here wash your face and rinse your mouth, I brought in some water.”

That was my job to fetch water for the house. I known then that whatever was goin’ on it was important. “Yes ma’am.”   I did like she told me, then she sat me down to comb my hair.

 “Where we goin’ Mama,” I asked, needing to know somethin’, but she shush me.

 “Got to go to town, do some business.” She whispered, “We needs to look presentable not like we’s poor.”

  Everyone knows we’s poor, Papa don’t wurk and when he does it ain’t for long. He ain’t wurk in weeks. Mama havin’ to go out and wash clothes for white folks, but they ain’t paid her.

 When she done, Mama looks at me. “You’ll do.”  She said and kissed my face again.

It was still dark when we walked out the house. The air was full with the scent of honeysuckle and cow dung.  Mama grabbed my hand and we started the long walk up the road to town.

The road was dark, and quiet for the most part. Mama seemed caught up in her thoughts. An owl hooted, then went silent as it caught wind of its prey. The sounds of night creatures welcomed our path of silence.  I picked up a stick and was breakin’ up any ant hills along the way as I walked behind Mama.

She cased a long shadow in the moon light. Mama was tall, but not like a man, with soft dark skin mournful eyes and beautiful broad features. She plaited her thick hair in cornrows; and wore her old flower dress that shirted the top of her thick worn booths.

The sun was a peekin’ it’s head from the horizon when Mama decided to stop just out of town. “Go pee Syreeta,” she told me, as she headin’ for a tree herself.

“But I’s ain’t got to go,” I told Mama.

“You know we’s can’t go in town.” She was makin’ sure I peed be’foe hand.  Mama said, “Ain’t no tellin’ how long we’s be standin’ around out there waitin’ for Mrs. Washington to let us in, best go now.”

She waved her hand for me to go, so I’s went behind a tree too. When I come out, Mama waitin’ there for me. “Syreeta we’s need to talk,” she said. It look’ did like her eyes got sadder.


We sat down on a stump and Mama took my hand. “Baby, I’s known you understand things, you got eyes you see.” I nodded, and she smiled. “I suspect better than your Papa and me with all you learnin’.

I smiled too. “I like school,” I’s tell her.

“I know baby,” she stopped smilin’.  “That’s what I’s want to talk about. You know Papa ain’t found wurk and I don’t know if’ven I get paid. We’s goin’ to town to see Mr. Washington.”

 I knew he’s the own the general store; we were goin’ get some food. My mouth watered, I’s was hunger from the walk.

“I’s goin’ ask to see if’ven he’ll give us some credit.”

I’s nodded.

“You understand if’ven Mr. Washington don’t give us credit I’s don’t know what we’ll do come winter. I suspect your Papa could go huntin’ but he  gon’ need buck-shot for the rifle. Then there’s meal and sugar, beans… ” She was wonderin’ off in thought.

“ Mama I’s understand, you go’ ask Mr. Washington for credit for the winter.”

She turned to look at me strange like, “No baby, you don’t understand.”

 Tears swim in her eyes now. “I’m a’ask, but I’s don’t suspect they’ll give us what we’s need. Your Papa….” She stopped, decidin’ not to say what she plan to say about Papa. “ Times a’ hard all around Syreeta,” she continued.  “We’s need you to help.”

“I’ll help Mama,” I’s told her quick. “I’ll look after the chilren, I’s always do.”

“And you’ve don’ a fine job, but… the family needs you to wurk Syreet.”

“Wurk! I’s got to leave school!”

 I ain’t want to leave school.  Mama and Papa, they were slaves; they couldn’t learn ‘causin’ they Master said they couldn’t. But I’s free!  I’s can learn just like white folks!

I started crying.

Mama nodded, tears a river down her face too. “I’s know baby, lawd knows I know. I ain’t never been schooled. I’s  proud to have my child read to me, teach me words and all. But times a’ hard Syreeta.We need you to help.”

She reached over and held me. “I’s sorry baby.”

 We’s cried together as the sun lit the mornin’sky.


Copyright © 2013 Glynis Rankin


  1. This just broke my heart! Such a touching story of poverty, helplessness and making difficult choices to survive. Growing up in India made me see this and much more. My heart goes out to the little girl and her family. That is the power of your writing!

    1. Thank you so much TZ!

      So many around the world make hard choices in order to survive this world. It’s sad. I wanted to show that in this part of the story. I called it Mama, because so many mothers make those decision. I’m glad it came across.

      Your words honor me TZ, thank you!

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