“Smile Sugar, giv’ me a nice big hug. They wants this picture, we gives it to ’em.” Sophie grabbed the small girl around the waist and smiled a big toothy grin. “I ain’t never gonna figger out white boys. But they pays for whats they gets. I bets they shows ‘em to their buddies, real proud they keeps comp’ny with niggers.”
Sophie had been around the woods a million times and was going to show the smaller one the ropes. She was as big and robust as a basket of harvest tomatoes and almost crushed the girl as her hands engulfed her.
She took the girl’s hand and started to lead her away from the rocks and towards the sandy beach. The small girl didn’t put up any fight, as if she were a leaf being carried by the wind. She wore a loose fitting sleeveless dress that clung to her body in the summer’s heat. Her full lips were covered ruby red and you could tell in an instant that the paint was put on awkwardly, as if she had never seen the stuff before.
Sophie, still tugging on her, winked and said, “Let’s sees if we can slip away for a spell.” Calling to the two men who were busy unwrapping a basket of food on the beach, “Boys, you minds if me and the little one goes for a stroll? We be back soon, I promise.”
The men waved them on and continued their argument over who was going to be with whom on this beautiful sunny day. They paid no attention to the girls as they climbed along the rocks.
Sophie was strong and led the little one, practically, lifting her off her feet. “Sees, we gets to make the best of a sit’wation. I says takes yo’self a stroll whiles you still can. There’s plenty a’ time for messin’ ’round.” Sophie sucked in a deep breath of the fish fryin’. “Why I aint bin’ here since my Uncle Chester, God rest his soul, gone and died on us. He was crazy for the sea, spent ev’ry minute of his life just sittin’, starin’ at ’em waves.”
The little one watched Sophie closely with her big questioning eyes, taking in every word Sophie said. “I ‘spect he gone looney in his last days. We spreads his ashes over ’em waves. My whole family, must have bin’ twenty of us out here sayin’ goodbye to the ole coot.” Sophie laughed out loud. She had a laugh you could hear clear across town if you listened real hard. “Oo wee, he was a strange one, my Uncle Chester.”
“You like the sea, girl?” Sophie asked the smaller one.
“Yes’m, mam,” she answered with little hesitation.
“You ever bin’ here ’fore?”
“No mam, not here, buts I bin’ to the beach once.”
Sophie chuckled, “Why you keeps callin’ me ‘mam? I aint your mamie, I’s Sophie. What’s your name honey? You sure is quiet.”
The little one looked up from the sand and shyly replied, “Name’s Elvira, ’mam. Oh I means Miss Sophie.”
“Elvira, well that’s a right pretty name. How ole you girl?”
Elvira puffed out her chess and proudly answered, “Be fourteen this winter.”
With a sound of surprise in her voice, Sophie said, “Why you aint nothin’ buts a child. What brings you to this place? Wheres you comes from girl?”
Elvira answered, “Charleston, Miss Sophie.”
“That’s a far piece from here. How comes yo’r out here with me and the boys?”
Elvira looked a bit shaken by this question but she decided to tell the truth. Sophie seemed a nice enough person to her. “Don’t rightly know, Miss Sophie. Came up North lookin’ for my cuzzin’ Digger. My moma says I mights get me some work here. I gets here, he’s gone. I ask me the man at the bus depo’ wheres I might finds me a nice place to sleep. And he sents me to Miss Aida’s place.”
Sophie seemed so angry when she heard that. The lines around her forehead began to crinkle up and she answered, “Oo wee, that nigger don’t know nothin’. Sendin’ a child to Aida’s place. He should be ‘shamed of his self. Lets me tell you, I layed with just ’bout ev’ry kinds of man, good ones, bad ones, ones that turns yo’r head right ‘round, but I plum don’t know whats goes thru ‘em minds som’time. Guess the best way’s not to figger ’em out. Just takes their money and I runs with its.”
Sophie put her big hands around Elvira’s shoulders and gave her a nice big hug. “Sophie’s gonna takes real good care of you. I takes good care of my sisters’ kids when she ran off. But I gots me this feelin’ you aint never done this work ‘fore. You knows what you’s in for, don’ts you?”
Elvira was getting a bit worried by this but turned to Sophie and quickly said, “No, Miss Sophie, buts I sure can try. I can do most an’thing. My mama says so.”
Sophie got a big kick out of that and started to roar. She gave Elvira a big pat on the back and with a wink said, “I bets this aint the kin’ a work your mama sets her mind on for you’s. But I bets you can do an’thing. You’s pretty ’nough. The boys like that. I was pretty once myself. Cans you tell?”
Elvira decided she better make Sophie feel good, “You’s pretty now, Miss Sophie.”
And with that Sophie turned and gave Elvira another big hug, “Oo wee child, I can tell you’s and me gonna be best a’ friends. But right now we best be goin’ back to ‘em boys. Theys be itchin’ for us ‘bout now. You’s ready?”
Elvira wasn’t sore just what she was getting ready for but she answered just the same, “Yes’m Miss Sophie.”
Sophie took Elvira’s hand again and started to lead her back to where the men were waiting. “Come on Sugar, you just watch me. I shows you whats to do. ‘Em boys are easy. Theys just so tickled to taste a real woman. Don’t never gets whats they wants from their wives. That’s whats keeps us in bis’ness, and that’s the truth. Now you’s just grabs yo’self a san’wich and gets yo’self som’in to eats. You gots to fatten yo’self up, aint no’body wants no skinny whore.” Elvira looked at herself up and down as if this was going to be the last time she’d ever look. She had never been called a whore before and she surely never did think of herself as skinny. But she supposed that standing next to Sophie, anyone would look skinny.
“Are you with me girl?”
Elvira took a deep breath and answered, “Yes’m Miss Sophie.”
Sophie grinned a big toothy grin, “They’s wavin’ at us, time to gets to work.” She put her arm around Elvira one last time and shook her head, “Oo wee, it’s a good thing Sophie dones find you first. ‘Em white boys just eats you ’live if I weren’t here. Yes’m, you’s and me gonna he best a’ friends.”
Elvira answered, “Yes’m Miss Sophie.”