On a perfect night for walking, New Orleans evacuee Sandra Franklin and her three-year-old son Santanna step outside the Washington, D.C. Armory. Before she gets three feet, a young woman hurries up to her. Franklin pauses to listen, holding tight to her fidgety child.
“I want to open my home to you; I’ve got a place in Gaithersburg. It’s clean and dry and your kids can play. You know, get away from all these people.” The woman is waving her hands.
Franklin, 36, is still. She nods and agrees to think about it, but doesn’t take the woman’s information. She walks away.
A few steps farther, she’s approached by a reporter. Franklin stops briefly to listen, picking her son up in her arms. Then she resumes her walk.
She arrived at the shelter from New Orleans with seven others, cousins and friends. She’s worried about her mother, who refused to leave when the storm hit. She doesn’t know what happened to her mother or her five other children, who stayed with their father. She gave their names to the Red Cross. They’re handling things. She’s waiting. Passing time.
A couple of men standing on the corner of East Capitol Street call out to her. “Want box-seat tickets for the Nationals game?” No.
A reporter plays off that: “Are you planning on taking your son to a baseball game while you’re here?” No.
Spotting her green plastic armory ID tag, a passerby on 19th Street calls out: “Y’all from New Orleans? Welcome to D.C.!”
A few feet later, another guy says: “Glad you made it here, baby. You take care.”
She nods and smiles a small smile, then heads into the corner store. She grabs a Budweiser. She buys Santanna a bag of candy. She heads back to the armory as the perfect night is hitting its full pitch. She lights up a Kool and takes a long drag.
“Are you going to stay; are you going to go; will you try to find a job?” a reporter asks.
“I don’t know,” Franklin says. “Depends.”
She finishes her cigarette and pours out her unfinished beer. She pauses yards short of the main gate. She doesn’t want to go in the front. “Too many people be coming up to me. I’m just like, let me get my head together.” She flicks her cigarette to the ground and steps on it.
A reporter nods.
What is there to do when there’s nothing to do but wait? Maybe a little of what you did back home. Walk over to the corner grocery store. Grab a beer, some candy. Gather your thoughts and enjoy the promise of sweet healing on a late summer night.
But for an evacuee, privacy, and even the still of the night, are all casualties of the rescue.
She heads inside, telling Santanna to say goodbye, which he does.
Franklin promises to call a reporter the next morning. But she never does.
Lonnae O’Neal Parker is a feature writer for the Washington Post and author of I’m Every Woman: A Black Woman Remixes Stories of Marriage, Motherhood and Work (October, 2005, Amistad).
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