They told her that it would be a quick meeting and in her words she expected to be “in and out.” My mother’s jaw clenched as they escorted us to the visiting room. There wasn’t much in there. A couple of wooden chairs, a table, a stuffed toy chest, and a television that flickered on the wall. She didn’t say much but her eyes did. She squinted, something she would do only when she was uncomfortable or smiling, but this time she sure wasn’t smiling. They darted from the door to my aunt and back to me. She was nervous. I could tell because she kept scratching at the mole in the middle of her right hand. I tried sitting on her lap, but her legs constantly shook so I just joined my cousins at the wooden play table.
Social workers came in to ask to speak to my aunt alone, then to mother, then the both of them together. Their smiles all seemed frozen on their faces. The high-pitch greetings and clicking heels made my mother and aunt suck their teeth. It cracked me and my cousins up and we would mimic them for fun. We loved the stickers and snacks they brought us, though. I tried to focus on the wooden train track in front of me, wondering if it could carry me far away from this room. Auntie told me to stay out of grown folks’ business. I could tell by the low whispers between my aunt and mother that this was for grown folks. A male social worker came in and motioned for them to step outside of the room for a “quick second.” It seemed more like hours.
Eventually, they both returned. My mother kept adjusting the wig we both picked out at the store for her to wear today. All the important wigs had names. She named them or she would ask me to. This one name was Whitney, after her favorite singer. Whitney was special because she only came out when my mother would get fancy for court, church, or coming down to Children’s Aid Society. This was her least favorite place to go. My mother and my aunt sat on the opposite sides of the room, not speaking or looking at one another. The room was so silent, I could hear the music out of my older cousin’s headphones.
There was another knock at the door. I looked away from the flickering channels to see a slim woman with big green eyes enter. Her stare made me feel like I was the only one in the room. My cousins stopped and watched as she sat down at the wooden table with us.
“Hey, sweetheart!” she grinned as if this wasn’t our first meeting. Her hair was in a messy bun, brown like her eye shadow. “Hi, I’m Heather.” She held her hand out for me to shake.
I looked at my aunt, who was now standing next to my mother. She shook her head.
“I’m your new social worker.” Heather rested her elbows on the table and her face in her hands. “Can I ask you a few questions, Aubrey?” She didn’t wait for me to answer. Heather stood and motioned for me to grab my purple book bag and follow her.
“Where do you think you’re going with my child?” My mother leaped from her chair. She was now face to face with Heather, her arms crossed across her chest. My aunt grabbed my hand. Heather adjusted the vanilla folders in her arms. Her green eyes seemed to turn dark as she dared to stare my mother down. She motioned for me to come, but I could feel my aunt’s grip tighten. Heather motioned for me to come to her and walked towards the door again. “Where the fuck do you think you’re going with my child?!” my mother’s voice shook the room. My cousins and I covered our ears.
“Auntie Yolanda…no!” My oldest cousin removed her headphones and stood up. She stood between Heather and my mother.
“I want to know where she’s taking her!” my mother yelled, now knocking the folders from Heather’s arms.
Security came into the room and asked my mother and everyone to have a seat. I sat on my mother’s lap as her leg trembled with anger.
“Ms. Williams, I didn’t want to do it this way.” Heather bent to pick up her files. “Not in front of the children, but yes we are taking her tonight. She will not be returning home with you … or your sister.” Heather remained stone-faced as the whole room erupted. My aunt screamed so loud me and my cousins covered our ears again.
I laid my head against my mother’s chest and wrapped my arms around her. I could smell the vanilla perfume she sprayed on her neck this morning. I could hear her heartbeat pounding against her ribcage. She didn’t hug me back as Heather’s cold hands tried to pry me off of her. Heather begged me to let go.
“No! No! Mommy, please! Mommy tell her no!” I kicked and screamed. I slid off my mother’s lap onto the floor, still flaring. I grabbed one of my mother’s ankles. She avoided looking at me. I screamed for her but she just rocked in her chair, digging at the mole on her hand. I searched the room for my aunt.
“Auntie don’t let her take me! Please!” My Aunt Sheryl’s tears and cries merged with my cousins. The security guard who came in earlier, now lifted me off of the floor and over his shoulder. I banged my tiny fists against his back, I spit and forced boogers out of my nose.
“Sheryl, don’t cry. There’s no need to cry,” were the only words I heard my mother say as they carried me away.
I was placed in a different room, that looked like an abandoned office. The walls were painted a light gray. The dim ceiling light made it hard for me to see what was in the corners. There was a computer and fax machine with dust on it next to the only window in the room. I clicked the switch to a lamp on the table. I could now make out chairs stacked in the corner that had just as much dust on them too. Heather came in with a box of tissues and a children’s happy meal from McDonalds. I was hungry but didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of feeding me. I glared at the kid’s meal box and wondered what my cousins were eating for dinner tonight.
“I need you to breathe and calm down.” Heather placed the food in front of me, and placed her hand on my shoulder. I shrugged her off.
“I know you must hate me right now. I am sorry you had to witness that.” Her sad green eyes pitied me and I hated her for it. She handed me a tissue. I wiped my nose, and stared at the Christmas decorations on the Kleenex box.
“When?” I asked, looking at her for the first time since she came in the room. I noticed her face was still flushed red.
“When?” she asked. “I am not too sure, but we are looking to see where we are going to place you for tonight.” She made a weak attempt at a smile.
“No, when did you become a social worker? I can tell you’re new because you’re still nice.” It was true. I have had my fair share of case workers and most never even greeted me, let alone knew my name and not just my case number.
“You’re very intelligent for a nine year- old.” She winked. A male social worker I had seen speak to my mother and aunt earlier knocked on the door and peeped his head in. He gestured for Heather to step into the hallway. I took that opportunity to fish for a fry out of my happy meal. It was cold.
Heather came back in the room after a couple of minutes, and I quickly tried to wipe the salt off my lips. She laughed and pointed to the side of her mouth to let me know I missed a spot.
“Good news!” she exclaimed, one hand on her hip. “We found your new foster home and we can head there as soon as you finish your food.” I finished my fries while replaying Heather’s words in my head.
“What do you mean new foster home? I never been in a foster home.”
“Oh no darling, I understand that your Aunt Sheryl is family, but she was your foster mom too. Her home with your cousins would be your first foster home, even though she is your biological-real, aunt.” Heather liked to talk with her hands I noticed. She also cleared her throat a lot.
She told me that I would be placed with a Hispanic couple who lived in the Bronx. She seemed truly excited to let me know I would have my own room with a phone in it. She said that I could call my family as much as I wanted. I was glad that the couple lived in the Bronx. My aunt just moved from Harlem to Simpson Street in the Bronx. I could find my way around, since I’d started taking the train alone for a year now. I planned to run away.
There was a knock at the door again. The same social worker who had come previously peeped his head in again. He mouthed to Heather can he come in. She nodded.
“Hey, kiddo!” he put on his best rehearsed smile and voice. “Feeling better? I just wanted to drop in to give you this,” he pulled a black and yellow walkman player from behind his back. I immediately recognized it as my older cousin’s.
“She wanted me to give this to you to take to your new home.” He then snapped his finger as if he suddenly remembered something urgent. “Heather, the Gonzalez family could not come through tonight. So we have a couple in Queens who has given us the ok...whenever you’re ready you can head out.” They both nodded in agreement. I was confused. They didn’t want me either?
Heather didn’t go into detail as to why I couldn’t go to the Gonzalez family. She explained that placing children at the last minute was always a bit difficult but assured me that I would like my new home. There was an African-American couple that offered to take me in. They lived in Queens. Their names were the Alstons. She said that they were a bit older, in their eighties. I imagined having to rub Vicks vapor rub on Mrs. Alston’s feet just like I had to do when I visited my Nana.
“Well, can you ask her does she know how to braid?” I pulled at the two month old cornrows Auntie Sheryl had put in my hair. Heather assured me Ms. Alston said she knew how to braid very well. For the first time that night, I smiled.
The yellow taxi approached the building as soon as we stepped outside. Heather held my hand and climbed into the back seat with me. We rode into the night. I watched the lights of the cars speed by, and Heather pointed out the different bridges we had to cross. I pulled my cousin’s headphones over my ears, closed my eyes, and dreamed what Queens would be like.