The first time I was ever called ugly, I was thirteen. It was a rich friend of my brother Carlton's over to shoot guns in the field.'Why you crying, girl?' Constantine asked me in the kitchen.I told her what the boy had called me, tears streaming down my face.'Well? Is you?'I blinked, paused my crying. 'Is I what?''Now you look a here, Egenia'-because constantien was the only one who'd occasionally follow Mama's rule. 'Ugly live up on the inside. Ugly be a hurtful, mean person. Is you one a them peoples?''I don't know. I don't think so,' I sobbed.Constantine sat down next to me, at the kitchen table. I heard the cracking of her swollen joints. She pressed her thumb hard in the palm of my hand, somthing we both knew meant Listen. Listen to me.'Ever morning, until you dead in the ground, you gone have to make this decision.' Constantine was so close, I could see the blackness of her gums. 'You gone have to ask yourself, Am I gone believe what them fools say about me today?'She kept her thumb pressed hard in my hand. I nodded that I understood. I was just smart enough to realize she meant white people. And even though I still felt miserable, and knew that I was, most likely, ugly, it was the first time she ever talked to me like I was something besides my mother's white child. All my life I'd been told what to believe about politics, coloreds, being a girl. But with Constantine's thumb pressed in my hand, I realized I actually had a choice in what I could believe.
I worked for Miss Margaret thirty-eight years. She had her a baby girl with the colic and the only thing that stopped the hurting was to hold her. So I made me a wrap. I tied her up on my waist, toted her around all day with me for a entire year. That baby like to break my back. Put ice packs on it ever night and still do. But I loved that girl. And I loved Miss Margaret.Miss Margaret always made me put my hair up in a rag, say she know coloreds don't wash their hair. Counted ever piece a silver after I done the polishing. When Miss Margaret die of the lady problems thirty years later, I go to the funeral. Her husband hug me, cry on my shoulder. When it's over, he give me a envelope. Inside a letter from Miss Margaret reading, 'Thank you. For making my baby stop hurting. I never forgot it.'Callie takes off her black-rimmed glasses, wipes her eyes.If any white lady reads my story, that's what I want them to know. Saying thank you, when you really mean it, when you remember what someone done for you-she shakes her head, stares down at the scratched table-it's so good.