I was the kind of kid in school who read books when I wasn’t supposed to be reading. I often got chided for this by my teachers, but after a while, they stopped trying to change it, because they realized I’d already done my work and was just bored and in need of stimulation. However, I was barred from bringing my own books, so I would take my literature textbook and read from there. That’s how I came across the favourite book I read in school, which I read after finishing a project about The Secret Garden.
Thank You, Ma’am, by Langston Hughes, is more of a short story than a book. I read it when I was in grade 7, and it’s stuck with me since: Everything from the type of shoes Roger wanted (Blue suede) to the name of the woman who confronted him after he tried to rob her: Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones.
The story is simple, a story of giving a second chance and letting someone think over what they’ve done. Rather than taking Roger to jail after he tries to steal her pocketbook to buy a new pair of shoes, Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones takes him home, shares her dinner with him, and talks, nothing personal, nothing about him, just about her life as a worker in a beauty parlour.
She doesn’t try to force him to beg forgiveness for stealing, or offer a story about why he steals, or his life circumstances. She treats him like a human being, and then gives him something quite valuable, not the money to buy what he wants, but something better:
“Now, here, take this ten dollars and buy yourself some blue suede shoes. And next time, do not make the mistake of latching onto my pocketbook nor nobody else’s—because shoes come be devilish like that will burn your feet. I got to get my rest now. But I wish you would behave yourself, son, from here on in.”
The story ends as Roger utters the story’s title, but the door shuts before it’s clear that Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones heard him. We don’t know what Roger does with the money, if he heeds her advice, or anything else about who he is or what he’ll do. When I first read it, the story struck me with its simplicity, lack of judgement, and minimalist descriptions of the characters and their thoughts. As you can probably tell from Day One of this meme, I have a soft spot for stories which have a lot more going for them than you can tell at the surface level which deliberately undershare, and I do believe this story started me on that path of appreciation.