Chapter 3 Behind the Gates
The Westerlynne hotel was where Manny was ordered to report this morning. Manny was hoping to get himself checked in and get his aunt on her way with little to no incidents of embarrassment. Pulling up in the noisy hoopty had already chipped away at those hopes. Still, he couldn’t believe he was finally behind the gates of Westerlynne. Just as Manny thought, all things were better here. The houses looked even bigger up close with lawns a shade of green Manny had assumed came only in boxes of Crayola. He could’ve swore the bird were singing a different tune. The sun even looked to be shining brighter. The buzzing coming from his aunt’s Jetta also sounded louder than usual as if it, too, wanted to be noticed.
Aunt El was a mess. As much as she claimed not to give “two fucks” about these “uppity niggas” she went out of her way not to look poor. In the wee hours of the night she decided to set her hair with rollers, to create a cascade of curls and waves that came to a halt at her shoulders. Her lips were stained dark red, which really stood out on her caramel face. A mauve blush shone on her cheeks and made them look like satin. She even traded in her pants with elastic at the waist for ones that buttoned. She wasn’t Gladys or Patti but for Aunt El, this new look was a major improvement. Manny thought she looked good, made him wonder how her life might have been different without him in it. Dewy skin and shiny hair always gave way to the notion that at one point in time his aunt was bad. Today it shown through. That was, until she started crying. She had at least waited to unravel until after the light skinned cutie at the front desk had taken Manny’s paperwork and escorted them to a close-by office. Now, between the black eyeliner that had ran down her face and the dark colored lipstick all over her mouth, which she had smeared when she wiped snot from her nose with the tissue, she looked as if she were melting.
She looks like one of them Muppet’s off Sesame Street, Manny thought!
“Aunt El, come on, pull it together” Manny said, shaking his head.
“Okay Baby. I’m okay,” she barely sniffled out. She wiped her nose again with the ragged tissue.
They stood in a small overly clean room that had only a desk and one chair. There were no extra chairs for guests. A single window let in natural light and warmth from outside. On the wall opposite the window were perfectly hung pictures of previous interns with their name and their attending years engraved into the frames. The last frame was empty. Manny smirked at the blank space, assuming he’d be the one to fill it.
Soft footsteps echoed from the hallway outside the room they stood in.
“Someone’s coming,” Manny whispered, fixing his posture and praying his aunt would follow suit. Aunt El sniffed a final time and quickly blinked her wet lashes.
A lady built like a teapot, with skin the color of banana pudding, walked into the now overcrowded room. She sported a neat gold fade. The neutral toned attire she wore which worked well with all the browns and greens in her eyes, a clue that her hair color was probably natural and not dyed. The red folder tucked under left her arm stood out like a stain on her blazer. She held out her right hand and smiled.
“Hello Emmanuel. I’m Mrs. Lemon. I am the president of Westerlynne’s It Take A Village foundation.” Manny shook her hand. He recalled the raspy voice from the voicemail.
“Hi,” Manny replied.
Mrs. Lemon was one of those types who talked with their hands, she pointed one of her tan painted nails at Manny. “Young man, I want to congratulate you again.” She pressed her pretty hands to her chest , “I am very excited to have you here with us at Westerlynne. You have very much earned your place here.”
Aunt El, rolled her eyes and sucked her teeth dramatically, “Earned?! Ain’t that about a bitch,” she said under her breath. Mrs. Lemon conveniently switched her focus to the red folder.
“Looks like you have everything signed and ready to go in here,” she said slowly as she skimmed through the signed contracts and closed Manny’s folder.
Manny was ready to part ways with his aunt. Ready to fully take in this awesome moment. Ready to forget where he came from and to act the part. Metamorphose himself into a Westerlynne resident. It was time for Aunt El to go.
As if Mrs. Lemon could read his mind she said, while smiling at Aunt El, “And if there are no questions?”
“Well, I did have some questions, actually,” Aunt Els tone shut the bullshit down quick.
“Aunt El,” Manny tried to interrupt.
Aunt El pushed on, “I just wanted to make sure he would be able to call home every night,” then she added softly, almost pleadingly, “and could I come maybe to visit once and while. I mean, three month is a long time.”
Mrs. Lemon placed her hand on Aunt El’s shoulder, partly to console her and partly to begin walking her out of the office. Speaking as if she were consoling a child, she said, “Ohhh. Aunt El, is it?”
“Elaina Wright,” Aunt El stated, not nearly as sweet and broken as she had sounded just seconds earlier. She promptly brushed Mrs. Lemon’s busy hand away from her shoulder. She stood still, back straight, chin up. She would not be escorted anywhere. She would leave when she was good and ready.
“Elaina,” Mrs. Lemon began.
“Ms. Wright” Aunt El corrected her.
Now that’s petty. Don’t nobody call her ass Ms. Wright except the bill collectors, Manny thought. He was in awe and entirely bothered. His aunt was cutting up.
“Ok. Ms. Wright,” sighed Mrs. Lemon. You could now see the creases in Mrs. Lemon’s forehead. She was clearly bothered, as well. “This is an internship,” she spat, trying her hardest to not let the top off of her own truth and accidentally spill ghetto from her mouth. Instead it exited through her hands as she went on, “So, it will for the most part be treated as a job. Emanuel will have a schedule with people to meet and places to go each week. However, in his off time he can do as he wishes.”
“Ok, and will I be able to see him?” Aunt El asked curtly.
“Emanuel will be allotted a driver that can take him on home visits when he is not busy. However, you, mam, will not be allowed back into the community, for security purposes.” Mrs. Lemon fingernail pointed towards Aunt El, and Aunt El’s raised eyebrow threatened to break it and all of its wicked counterparts off with one snap. “The invitation is for Emanuel solely.”
Damn, that’s deep, Manny thought. They don’t play.
Aunt El wasn’t in the least bit impressed. Her cheap makeup had dried in all the wrong places, making her angry look crazy. She turned and addressed Manny now, as if they were the only two in the room. “Hey, Boy, look at me,” she said as she reached up and grabbed her nephews long face. Manny gave Aunt El his eyes. He knew that resisting her would only lead to more ghetto antics. He needed this part to be over sooner than later.
“Yes, Auntie?” He asked respectfully.
“If you need me, you call me,” Her tone quiet and serious. “Remember what I’ve taught you, everything that glitters, ain’t golden. You didn’t earn your spot here, it’s your God-given right. Ain’t nobody here bleeding diamonds, they bleed just like you and me. And another thing, ain’t not one nigga here stopped by to offer a dime to help me raise your skinny, yellow ass. It Takes A Village my ass…”
Manny couldn’t bare another word. “Auntie, Auntie, I get it,” he interrupted! “I’m going to call you tonight, as soon I’m settled in.” He stared down into his aunt face. Saw her pain and wanted to stop it. “I’m coming to visit you too. Every chance I get,” he added with a smile.
“You promise, Manny?” she asked him. The tears were coming back. She placed two fingers in both of his dimples.
Of all the hard times they had gone through together, Manny had never seen Aunt El look so troubled. Aunt El was always able to see a light at the end of the tunnel. However, leaving Manny at this guarded property without a promise to give him back, without surety that he’d want to come back, took her there. Manny could see it in her eyes. She was worried.
“Yes, Auntie, I promise,” Manny said, this time really meaning it. Aunt El brought the face she held down near hers so she could kiss it.
Mrs. Lemon was pretending not to listen while she fingered through the papers in the red folder a third time. The room was too little, and Aunt El’s whisper attempt was too loud for her not to hear. The air was still a little stiff but Aunt El broke through the silence like it was her profession. “Ok,” she sighed with a new found joy. “I’m gon’ go on home. Aileen, you take care of my nephew. I want him back just how I gave him to you.”
Manny wondered if his aunt realized that that included broke and parent-less. Mrs. Lemon nodded but didn’t smile. Just perfect for Aunt El.
“I think I can find my own way out of here,” Aunt El said, before she added, “I mean, if it’s okay with security, that is?”
Mrs. Lemon’s facial expression read that she would rather Aunt El drop dead but instead she insisted, “That is perfectly fine.”
Aunt El sauntered off proudly, as if she had achieved something. Manny watched as his family, in its entirety, left the room, surprised at the immediate sense of lonesomeness he felt. He would miss her. He would call her. He would visit.
Mrs. Lemon, on the other hand, felt only relief. She let out a loud sigh and smiled at Manny.
“Now, Mr. Wright, let me show you to your suite.”
Manny followed Mrs. Lemon to the elevators just outside the small office. They got on.
“During your internship, each morning promptly at 8 am, you will report to the room we were just in. That is my personal office. I will give you your job for the day as well the tools it will take for your complete it if you do not have them.” Manny imagined he would need every tool they had to offer.
“Today, your afternoon is completely free, Emmanuel. There will be a welcome party at six o’clock. Dress code is casual.” She stopped to check out Manny’s current attire. His first-day-behind-the-gates outfit. She took in the stiffly pressed black pants, the soft blue dress shirt, and black dress shoes. “What you have on now is fine.” Here at Westerlynne we don’t do fashionably late, so be on time.” She shook her finger up an down.
“Where is it?” Manny asked. Wondering would he be utilizing his personal limo tonight.
“Right next door, Dear. At the banquet hall. You can’t miss it. The lights are beautiful at night.”
The elevator doors opened with a “ding!” They stepped off and following Mrs. Lemon’s lead stood to the right of the elevator.
“Your suite is at the end of the hall. Room 314.” Mrs. Lemon said pointing down the hallway. She handed Manny a magnetic key card. “Make yourself at home. Get comfortable. If there is anything you need, if you realize you’ve forgot something or lose your room key, just call down to the front desk.” She nodded her head at Manny to ask him if he understood. He nodded his to let her know he did. “Today I think I saw Raele working. Tomorrow morning, it’ll be Louise. Both ladies are awesome at their job, and will be glad to assist you. As a matter of fact,” Mrs. Lemon paused and gawked at Manny from head to toe, twice. “You two may hit it off quite nice, Raele and you,” She grinned. She winked one golden eyelash at Manny. Manny smiled back to be courteous. However, the last thing he wanted was to come to Westerlynne and hook up with the help.
Copyright © 2017 by Aja Brown Crowder