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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I started feeling as though someone had erased me off the blackboard. Girls who looked like Thomasine always made me feel that way. I’d never had a roomful of men smiling at me. But then I didn’t have skin the color of peaches or delicate features, and my hair didn’t blow in the wind. I chatted with them for a few minutes, then I made an excuse and went home.

Maybe some of the English lessons started to kick in because as the months passed, Gilda began speaking more. When she came in she’d say good morning to Fern, Opal, Winnie, me, and even Hattie, who’d whistle something back. She asked us how we were doing and said fine when we asked about her. She wasn’t having conversations, though I could tell by her expressions that she understood a lot of what people were saying. She didn’t smile, not with those teeth of hers. But she was trying. Sometimes one of the women might bring in something to eat and share it with the rest of us. Gilda always refused anyone’s food but her own. "I must eat special food," she told me. "It must be cooked a certain way." I learned that she was from Poland, but when I asked her how she came to be here, her eyes got that empty look, so I let that be. During those first few months, the only time I ever saw her laugh was when the children came to see her.

We had both finished our shifts, I was headed out the door and so was Gilda. All of a sudden we heard childish voices calling her name. When I turned around she was bent down and the boy and girl were hugging her. There was a stern-looking woman standing behind them, the mother, I supposed. Gilda looked up and saw me. Her eyes shifted to the woman’s face, and something about her expression told me that she wouldn’t introduce me, that she couldn’t. Later I would remember that troubled glance, but I didn’t care then. Really, I didn’t notice too much other than Gilda’s face. It was the first time I knew that she still had a spark inside her, that her soul’s light hadn’t been completely extinguished by whatever she’d gone through. She was still able to love. Sometimes that’s the only power on earth that will heal you.

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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