I am at once shamed, awed, and irritated beyond good manners. Helen speaks as one having wisdom; yet, she admits to knowing virtually nothing about ‘them computers’. I want to write her off and be on my way. But she is now my accomplice in all this. I need her support, which in itself annoys.
“What can I do to prove I’m not trying to make a name for myself? I mean, I told you I wouldn’t make money on your story. I told you I want to raise awareness.” I take another cherry pastry to feed my mixed emotions.
“I’m an old lady, but not one who believes in deep down goodness. I’ve seen my share of people from every imaginable walk of life try to elevate themselves. If you’re honest with yourself, you know good and well that you want this for yourself more than anybody else.”
“You know, I truly don’t think that’s right. I want to help people.”
“You don’t have to prove a thing to me, but if you need to prove it to yourself, then go ahead without your name. Find a way to get the stories out without tying your name to them. Then you might also convince me of goodness again.”
We finish our snack quietly. To say I’m conflicted is an understatement. I have bills to pay, after all. My philanthropy bears constraints tethered to the first levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy.
“How about we check on Virginia?” Helen says. She clears the table and hands the pastry box to me.
“You keep these. I’m leaving later today.”
Helen accepts my feeble gift, and we take our leave.
Virginia sits in a rocking chair when we enter her room.
“Good morning, mama,” she says. Her face clears of storm clouds. I wonder if I’ve ever seen fresher eyes.
“This is my friend,” Helen says of me.
“Of course, we met yesterday. Apologies, I don’t recall names.”
“You look well today,” I say.
“Yesterday I felt so scared. This morning feels…brighter.”
“I’m so glad,” I say, and I mean it.
“Can I come home with you?” she asks Helen.
“Not yet, girl.”
“Not yet,” Virginia repeats. Her brow furrows. She clouds over briefly before the sun returns.
Together, the three of us walk to the cafeteria for lunch. I force myself to eat protein. My sugar rush and fall cause my head to spin a bit.
Virginia whimpers at odd intervals. Other times she purrs with contentment. The longer we sit chatting, the more she reminds me of a mournful kitten. A nurse comes with medication, though, and Virginia changes. She speaks with surety. Her head high, she asks the nurse to recite medication names and dosages. The nurse responds kindly. This has happened before.
Even after the nurse goes, Virginia remains changed. She articulates her desire to be set free. Instead of the mewling promises to be good, she makes a compelling argument towards her own best practices. Helen accepts the changes in stride. I am the only one without a script.