Early the next morning I found the old man smoking a pipe. He was sitting a comfy chair, letting a puff of white smoke curl up towards the ceiling every few minutes.
“Good morning,” I mumbled, rubbing the sleep from my eyes. I sat down across from him, avoiding the awful smell coming from his pipe.
“What are you fixing for breakfast?” he asked, a casual tone to his voice.
“What do you mean?” I asked with suspicion.
“Won’t you be fixing us some breakfast? You’re the women of the household, right? It sure ain’t my job!” He retorted.
I narrowed my eyes. Since when was I the slave? I thought with annoyance. Finally, I answered, “Yes, I’m the only girl here. But I’ve never cooked anything in my whole entire life. My maid, Ms. Sarah did it all before- breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”
“Your mother didn’t do the cookin’ and cleanin’?” he asked, setting down his pipe. “It’s her job, or at least was back in my day. Have things changed?”
My eyes started to burn with hot tears. Why did everyone have to mention the mother I didn’t have? It wasn’t my fault that she died when I was young! “My mom died!” I burst out.
Unpleasant silence filled the room. After a moment, the old man’s face softened. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. Standing to his feet, he walked over to me and tapped my arm. I looked up, my face embarrassingly red. I noticed he didn’t have his pipe this time.
“What do you need?” I whispered, my voice as loud as a mouse.
“I didn’t know about your mother. Really. I’m truly sorry. We can get some bread and preservatives to eat. You don’t have to cook that, you know.”
I sniffed, then thanked him, smiling through my tears. “Now can I have a handkerchief?”
The old man nodded, quickly pulling out a tired old piece of cloth. I gave it one glance, then blew my nose and handed it back to him. It felt kind of- wet. Probably because he just washed it, I thought with relief.
The old man dropped it right back into his pocket, not minding that someone else had just blown their mucus into it. I scrunched up my nose.”Do you wash that?” I asked.
He shook his head innocently. “No, do you?”
My stomach churned. Breakfast no longer sounded that great.
To be continued…