Here’s the result of another exercise. My protagonist’s wife, Jo, will play a big role in the novel and I needed to figure out what she stands for.
The first thing she noticed was the smell. It was dusty and sweet, like a rotting peach. She yawned as the staff ushered her to the front of the line and through the doors at the front of the building. She walked down a flight of stairs to the kitchen and took off her coat. Winter mornings in South Central Los Angeles were cold before the sun came up.
Jo signed in, put on the disposable gloves and hairnet, and asked Rita, the manager of the food kitchen, what shift she wanted Jo to take today.
“Apples,” Rita said, and motioned her to a food prep table where a box of apples was waiting to be washed and cored. “We makin’ applesauce today, girl.”
Jo’s grandma approached Jo and Rita. “Where you want me?” She asked.
“At the line with me, of course, “ Rita said with a smile. “Peoples is sad today. They need you to cheer ‘em up.”
Jo watched in admiration as her grandma and Rita stood behind the counter, filling trays up with hot oatmeal and banana halves. The homeless, the poor, the needy would smile at them, thank them, and turn to take a table. They would eat with their heads hung low, not making eye contact with anyone. Jo was always surprised to see how little the food kitchen customers would speak to each other.
Later in life, Jo would recall the faces of people lined up for food. She saw looks of pain, of hope, of despair and despondence. Those faces stuck with her. She was barely nine years old when she entered this routine with her grandma.
An hour later, Jo bussed any trays left on the tables, cleaned up the spills, and put the dining area back in order. Her grandma joined her.
“They’s somebody’s child, somebody mama. You lookin’ at somebody’s uncle or auntie. They’s your brothers and sisters.” Her grandma looked up and through the wall, along a dusty trail, decades long, back to her childhood home in southeastern Georgia.
“Our folks was poor too, you know. We lucky we made it out. Thems that’s still back there, they’s not doing so good. Most of them need help. That’s why we here. That’s why I brung you.”
Jo and her grandma moved in silence as they wiped down the seats and mopped the floor. The scent of old peaches mixed with bleach, making Jo’s stomach turn. She wanted to leave but her grandma’s mind was still lost in thought, somewhere between South LA and Georgia.
“We have to take care of them, Jo. It’s our duty. We jus’ have to.”
This left a lasting impression on Jo.