Story: The Little Madonnas

A short, short story, originally published by Southern Voices 2.  I often use it in my storytelling programs, too.

Update: I’ve revised and illustrated this story.  You can see the new version here:
The Little Madonnas
By Joy Corcoran
It was a hot sticky day and I was waiting for a bus that was supposed to arrive 15 minutes ago.  I wasn’t too upset.  I had my bottle of water.  It was the first of the month and I’d cashed my social security check.  I’d done some shopping and it looked like financial ends were going to meet for the month. 
The bus stop was down the street from Memphis Tech, one of those last-chance high schools.  While I waited with a crowd of others, two girls in school uniforms joined us.  I say uniforms – but they had tied their shirts above their waists and hiked up the skirts so they showed plenty of leg.  They came cussing, gossiping and laughing.  Bling was the style that year, and the girls were wearing their hair in elaborate sculptures of swoops and curls studded with gold and silver combs, and fake diamond barrettes.  Their hair was piled so high it almost hid the fact they hadn’t grown to their full height.
They were each burdened with a massive backpack for their school work, a massive purse for their appearance work, and a big pink sling to carry their babies.  Tiny baby girls nestled in the slings, each with pierced ears and pink ribbons tied artfully around their sweet bald heads.  They looked serene, rocked in the bough of their flashy, trashy mothers.
I rolled my eyes at the other people waiting for the bus.  We all shared that sneer people tend to develop as they age – like an allergic reaction to the youth of today.
Time passed.  It got hotter.  Then to make matters worse, a crazy lady dodged traffic and crossed the street to join us.  She cussed at the cars as they swerved to avoid hitting her.  She was dressed in such thin clothes you could see every bony contour of her famine thin body. 
She carried a plastic shopping bag filled with rags, cans and something jingly.  She quieted when she got to our stop and so did we.  She smelled of dumpsters, alleys, and urban decay.  I looked down to avoid eye contact and saw her long brown toenails sprouted through her thin canvas shoes.
“Anybody here got a green dollar?”
I had plenty green dollars but wasn’t about to open my wallet in front of that woman – or those girls, for that matter.  I looked down the street and tried to conjure up the bus that just wouldn’t come.
“All I want is a green dollar.  I got change for it.”  She flashed a snaggled smile.
In unison, the girls shifted their baby slings to the side and their purses forward.  They both opened their wallets and each took out a dollar.
“Oh, I just need one,” the woman laughed.  She reached deep into her bag and drew up a handful of coins.  She picked up a few then moved the coins from one hand to the other, trying to count them out but not quite able to.
One of the girls took the woman’s filthy hand and said, “It’s alright, ma’am, I can count it for you.”  She picked out a dollar in dimes and nickels.  “Now put the rest back in your bag so you don’t lose it.”  The woman obeyed and the girl pressed the dollar into her hand.
“You need some more money, ma’am?” the other girl asked.  “I can spare this.”
“Oh no!  This is plenty.”  She started to walk away.
“Hey, the bus’ll be here in a minute, don’t go now.”
“I don’t need no bus.  I just needed a green dollar.”
“You got somewhere to stay, ma’am?  I know a place where you can….”
“No, no.  I’m a rich girl now.”  She sauntered away singing,
“I got a green dollar,
Ain’t no need to holler.
You got a dollar in your hand,
You can make it in this land…”
The girls took out their wet wipes and cleaned their hands.  They unbundled their babies and held them tight.
We all waited in silence for the bus.  We waited and waited and waited.
When it finally came, the driver said there was an accident downtown and everything had to be rerouted.  I sat down and let the air conditioning breeze over me. 
I only had a short ride, but the little Madonnas had miles and miles and another transfer to make before they reached home.
French Black Madonna
Little Madonnas by Joy Corcoran

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