Excerpt from What You Owe Me by Bebe Moore Campbell, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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What You Owe Me

by Bebe Moore Campbell

What You Owe Me by Bebe Moore Campbell X
What You Owe Me by Bebe Moore Campbell
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    Aug 2001, 496 pages

    Sep 2002, 528 pages


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He didn’t rise when he saw me. But then, I didn’t expect that. He glanced up, then turned back to what he was doing. "Yes, Hosanna?"

"Mr. Weinstock, I was just wondering about Gilda."

"What about her?" He mopped his forehead with a dingy handkerchief, then took off his glasses to reveal small dust ball eyes, rimmed in red.

"It’s not my business, sir. I’m just curious. Did her husband die in the war, something bad like that?"

He put down his paper and looked at me. "Is she doing her work?"

"Oh yes, sir, she does a good job. It’s just, she always looks so sad."

"There are lots of sad people in this world. Do you like your job, Hosanna?"

I wouldn’t have put it that way. "Yes, sir."

"You want to keep it?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then do your work and mind your business."

"Yes, sir."

Toward the end of the month, maybe the last day, Gilda didn’t come in. We had the kind of jobs where if you didn’t show up, you missed that day’s wages. Most people only took off work if there was a dire emergency or almost life-and-death illness. Gilda was back at the hotel the following day, and she didn’t look any the worse for wear. A week later, in mid-October, she missed another day. When she returned, I pulled her aside. "You all right?" I asked her.

"Yes," she said. "I am fine."

"Why didn’t you come to work?"


"What holiday?"

"Yom Kippur. Jewish," she added, then, seeing my puzzled face, "It is the day of atonement. We ask God to forgive our sins. We do not eat during the day. At night we have a feast."

The idea of dedicating one day to say you’re sorry to God for everything you’ve done wrong and then having God wipe the slate clean appealed to me, but I had my own religion to think about. When I woke up on Sunday I was anxious to go to church. Singing always rejuvenated me, and I was a soloist in Mt. Olivet’s choir. When I took off my choir robe after church, it felt good wearing a nice dress, a hat, and my only pair of high heels.

That Sunday, as usual, I met up with Tuney downstairs in the fellowship hall. "Hey, girl," he said. I could smell his aftershave when we hugged.

"How’s it going?"

"All right. I got another interview this week." Tuney had been trying to get from behind a broom ever since we’d arrived in Los Angeles.


"Fountain. I’d be building airplanes."

The California Eagle had run an article the previous week on how the aerospace industry was beginning to hire back some of the Negroes who had been displaced after the war ended. I prayed that Fountain would give him a chance.

Being in the church basement was like warming our hands over a little ember of Inez. Home folks were standing around in clumps, talking and laughing, hugging and shaking hands, munching ginger cookies and sipping red fruit punch. Our pastor, Reverend Pearl, had gone to the same one-room schoolhouse with my mama and daddy.

Tuney and I spent a few minutes getting caught up with what was going on in Texas, pretending we weren’t homesick. Then I mentioned Gilda. He said, "I told you that after the war things would change."

Just then I noticed some of the men smiling, and when I looked up a tall, pretty girl with wavy hair that hung past her shoulders was headed toward us. "There you are," she said, and slipped her arm through Tuney’s. She smiled at him and then at me.

"Hosanna, this is my friend Thomasine."

"How do you do?" I said. My brother’s motto was: New week, new woman. He’d been that way since his voice changed.

"Very nice meeting you," she said, sounding proper.

Reprinted from What You Owe Me by Bebe Moore Campbell by permission of G. P. Putnam’s Sons. Copyright © 2001 by Bebe Moore Campbell. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

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