At seventeen, I was all alone in the world. Right before my seventeenth birthday, my grandmother died. She raised me after
my mother went to jail for armed robbery. My father died years earlier in a car accident when I was five.
The only stable person in my life was my grandmother, Caroline Waters.
Nana, which is what I called my grandmother, was my world.
The day after my grandmother’s funeral, my mother’s youngest brother showed up at my grandmother’s small bungalow on Detroit’s Westside with a duffle bag and told me he was moving in to help take care of me. I knew that it was going to be a bad setup,
but my aunt Mattie assured me that she would keep an eye on my uncle and me.
The arrangement worked out for a while. Then the shut-off notices for the lights and gas arrived in the mail. My unemployed uncle had drunk up the little bit of insurance money that was left from the ten-thousand-dollar life insurance policy.
My only other option was Aunt Mattie, my grandmother’s sister. I told her that I wanted to stay with her after Nana died, but she was in her seventies and lived in a senior apartment building. Her building didn’t allow relatives living with her under any
circumstances, so my only choice was to stay where I was—with my uncle Pumpkin.
Most mornings when I opened the refrigerator, there was nothing in there to eat.
In fact, the day I met the man who would change my life, the only things in the refrigerator were a jar of sweet relish, a can of beer, and some mayonnaise.
All I could dowas drop my head and say a prayer. I asked God to please send me some help.
I was smart enough to realize that help wasn’t coming right away, so I closed the refrigerator, grabbed my book bag, and headed out the door to school. If I got to school early enough, I could get something to eat for free through the free lunch program.
Before I went to bed the night before, I told my uncle I was hungry. He stared at me blankly and said, “What do you want me to do about it? I guess you need to get a job or something.”
I woke up that morning thinking about what he had said to me about a job. My grandmother had insisted that I focus on school and refused to let me get a job, but a job would help fix some of the problems that I faced.
In the winter months, I always dressed in layers. I kept in mind that you never knew what kind of weather you were going to face in Detroit. If I dressed in layers, I could always take something off if it was warmer than I expected.
It was cold and snowing outside, so my layering technique kept me warm that day as I walked to the bus stop. I prayed the bus would be on time. If I was late for breakfast, the other kids would eat or take whatever was left. Another reason I was getting to school
early that day was so I could take some food home with me. Knowing my uncle like I did, there still wasn’t going to be any groceries in the house when I got there.
As I walked down Grand River Road, I could feel eyes watching me. I was used to people looking at me strangely. The strange looks started when I was about twelve. Men stared at me, not because I wore tight clothes or anything, it was because of what Nana called my too-too. My butt stuck out no matter what I wore because I had a small waist and bow hips. Nana had raised me right, and even though she had died, I was determined to behave the way I thought she would have wanted me to. So, I continued to dress as \decently as I could. I always wore a long top when I wore pants, especially when I wore blue jeans or fitted pants. It didn’t stop the guys from cat calling at me from their cars though.
Once I reached the bus stop, I rocked back and forth, trying to stay warm. I tried to think happy thoughts, like how much fun I was going to have once I got to college.
When I graduated from high school, I planned to get the hell out of my grandmother’s house. My counselor had already told me I would qualify for financial aid, so I knew I would be able to pay for college. I just needed to keep my grades up.
My thoughts were interrupted by someone yelling at me.
“Hey, little momma,” the voice said.
A silver BMW with tinted windows pulled up in front of me. The passenger window was down, allowing the already booming sound system to spill out of the car.
The driver leaned over and smiled at me with a mouth full of pearly white teeth.
“I know you hear this a lot, but can I please give you a ride? A babe fine as you
shouldn’t be out in the cold,” the man said to me.
As usual, the bus was late, and an hour had already passed since I had arrived at the bus stop. Even with two pairs of socks and an extra sweater, I was still freezing. My home training and my hood upbringing told me it wasn’t safe to get in a car with a man
I didn’t know, no matter how cold I was. Plus, it was all over the news about women in
the area being abducted and killed by a serial killer.
“Thank you for the offer, but my bus will be here in a minute,” I told him.
“Come on, baby girl, I’m not going to hurt you. Plus, it’s cold out here, and you’re too cute to be standing out here by yourself. I would hate for something to happen to you before I got a chance to get to know you.”
“Thank you, but I’m all right. The bus will be here shortly.” I backed up when I
realized he could reach his hand out of the window and grab me. “How about this? I’ll pay for a cab to take you wherever you’re going. Will you let me do that for you, pretty girl?”
I looked up and down the street, hoping to see the bus coming, but before I could answer, he opened his door and got out of the car. He reached me in three long strides.
Gripped by fear, I stumbled backwards and fell into the freshly fallen snow. My brain was screaming at me to get up and run, but my legs were ignoring my commands.
“Relax, I’m not going to hurt you,” the man said, extending his hand to help me
I looked at his hand, trying to decide if he would hurt me or not. The cold snow helped me make my decision. Reluctantly, I took his hand and clumsily got to my feet.
“Are you all right?” the man asked.
“Yes, I’m okay,” I replied.
“You don’t have to be afraid of me, but I understand. This is the D.” He still smiled
I was mesmerized. From inside his car, I couldn’t really get a good look at the guy.
But once he stepped out of his car, my mind was blown. Oh my God, he was fine. He was tall, at least six feet. He had a beautiful smile with coal black eyes that seemed to see straight through to my soul. His dark brown skin was smooth, enhancing the appearance
of his neatly trimmed mustache and beard, making him look powerful. Without thinking, I looked away and giggled childishly.
Men had offered me rides before, but they were usually old and ugly, or they gave off the weirdo vibe. This man was clean cut and dressed fly in a leather bomber jacket with a fresh pair of red dragon jeans and brown Timberland boots.
“What school do you go to?” he asked, looking at my book bag.
“Redford High,” I told him.
“What grade are you in?”
I hesitated, trying to think of how to answer him. Even though I was a senior, I wouldn’t be eighteen until June of next year. I was sure that if he knew I was under aged he wouldn’t be interested in me. But what was I going to do with a grown man anyway?
My grandmother would kill me if she caught me with a guy his age. Like a brick, it hit me—my Nana was gone. She had left me to deal with everything on my own, but dead or alive, I wouldn’t want to disappoint her.
I looked up into the man’s face, and our eyes met. I tried to make my mouth open and my lips move, but nothing came out.
“That’s cool, ma. Let me get you that cab so you won’t be late for school,” he told me with a smile.
His eyes said he understood. Suddenly, I felt warm inside.
He turned and looked both ways, up and down Grand River Road. The man walked toward his car and began to wave at an approaching yellow cab. The cab stopped in the middle of the street, and the cabbie rolled down his window.
“Where are you headed?” the cabbie asked.
“Redford High School,” the man said.
“All right,” the cabbie replied.
“Come on, baby girl,” the man said, waving me over to the cab.
On shaky legs, I walked toward the cab. When I reached the man, I turned and
“I don’t have any money,” I said.
“I told you I was going to get you to wherever you were going. I got this, ma,” he
“Why are you doing this? You don’t know me, and I can’t pay you back.”
“Don’t worry about it. Just do your best when you get to school.”
Reluctantly, I got into the cab. Before he closed the door, he leaned in close to my
face and said, “What’s your name?”
“My name is Michelle, but everyone calls me Muffin,” I replied with a giggle. With a sexy smile plastered on his face, he closed the door. He reached in the front passenger side window and gave the driver a fifty-dollar bill. He stepped back and
banged on the car door to let the driver know to take off.
As the cab cruised down Grand River Road, I realized that I didn’t even know his name. How stupid could I be? But what difference did it make? After I had giggled like a little girl, it was obvious I was an under aged chick. A dude like him wasn’t interested
in someone like me anyway.
I leaned my head back against the seat and closed my eyes, trying to forget my empty stomach. The only thing I could find to eat the night before was a can of potted meat and some oyster crackers. I had money hidden away, but if my uncle had known about it, he would have taken it from me. Plus, I would have had to sneak back out to buy something because my uncle insisted that I came straight home after school. I thought about saying I needed to go to the library to do my homework, but he wouldn’t have
believed me. It also didn’t help that in Detroit it got dark at six p.m. in October.
I hated to admit it, but Pumpkin was right; I needed to get a job if I was going to continue to live decently in the small house on Winthrop Street or for that matter have enough money to move when the time came to leave.