Priscilla Good Henley, Episode 2 - By Howard Schneider

Waiting to pay for a pound of mushrooms, Goody responded with anger when she realized a young woman was running off with her canvas bag near full of the fruit and vegetables she'd purchased that morning. "Stop her!" Goody yelled, "she stole my bag." A security guard happened to be nearby and after a short chase caught the thief at the exit gate of the farmers' market and held her until Goody got there seconds later. Goody took the bag from the woman, looked at her for a brief moment, then turned to walk away. She didn't want to make a scene—the thief could deal with being caught on her own. 

"I need that food more than you do," the woman yelled when Goody had taken only a few steps. "Let me go," she then snapped at the guard, slapping his hand where he held her arm. 

Goody stopped and turned to the guard. "Leave her be. I'm not going to press charges." Then she looked at the woman again, this time taking in what she was, who she was: a medium-height black woman, maybe in her twenties, thin but wiry, wild hair, an attractive but dirt-smudged face with intense intelligent eyes staring directly into Goody's. "Are you that desperate, or are you just a common thief?" 

"I'm hungry. That's what I am. And I don't have any money. Don't have anything. My stuff was confiscated yesterday—chased out of where I was camping—I've got nothing besides these clothes I got on." She held her arms out toward Goody, showing her the filthy sleeves of her thin shirt. "Least you can do is give me one of those apples. You wouldn't miss it. Not rich as your must be," the woman added bitterly, glancing at Goody's expensive purse and elegant jacket. 

The woman's truth caught Goody off-guard, striking a chord she was ill-prepared to hear. But being the kind person she was, her first thoughts was, She's right. I should help this unfortunate woman. I must help this unfortunate woman. But then her practical nature prevailed. But how? Money or food would only be a temporary fix. There must be better way—a permanent fix. As her brain continued to process the situation, a new thought surfaced: A fix that would serve our mutual benefit? But how? That's the dilemma. But  supposed to be solved? Then it came to her, Treat her as an equal. After all, she is. She's just facing monumentally different circumstances. "Let me treat you to breakfast," Goody said. "If I'm going to help you," as if that were already an established fact, "I need to know more about you. Who you are, what you need. Come on. I know a good breakfast spot on Halsey. We can get to know each other. My car's parked on the next block." 

The thief took another step back, confusion clouding her face. Help me? What the hell does she mean by that? She was taken aback by Goody's offer. But knowing an old lady like her was no threat, she said, "All right, but you better not try anything funny." With no response from Goody other than a friendly smile, the woman followed Goody out the exit without further comment, wondering what this take-control, elderly white woman might be up to. 

Their orders given to Mary, a waitress she'd known for more than ten years of patronizing this café, Goody looked across the red and white-checkered tablecloth and ask, "What's your name?" 

"Jackie. What's yours?" 

"Priscilla. But everyone calls me Goody." 

"Why do they call you that? They think you're that good?" 

"No, of course not. My middle name is Good, after my maternal grandmother. It's just a nickname, that's all." 

"Why'd you bring me here?" Jackie barked, changing the subject abruptly. 

Goody was quiet for a moment, then said, "I'm not sure. Maybe just to help a fellow human being in need. I really don't know." She took a drink of her coffee. "Tell me about yourself. How'd you end up living on the streets?" 

Jackie hesitated, wondering if she should share the horrendous events of her life with this stranger—an old woman maybe so lonely she's grasping desperately for any source of human contact, even if only from a scruffy, homeless black woman like her. But looking into Goody's eyes, she recognized sincerity, and compassion. "It ain't a pretty picture," she said, tears suddenly welling up in her dark eyes. 

Goody reached across the table and placed her hand on Jackie's. "Tell me. I want to know. And don't worry. I've dealt with some tough events in my life. I assure you I can handle it, whatever it is."

Leave a comment