In our series of letters from African-American journalists, novelist and writer Paula Hawkins looks at the power of words


I can feel the blood pumping through my veins and up my arms as I work away.
I have a goal in mind. I can’t see very well with my eyes shut. I know my
headlights and tail lights flash. I know my horns and headlights make them
visible from up on the roof of the bus. I know I am safe, because I don’t know
where I am.

I love that it is nighttime and I can’t see well enough to take anything
but a few pictures of the bus as it goes by. And if I could get it to stop
doing a circle dance, it would be perfect for the next post.

In the moment when she turned from the door, I saw the man
with the white beard. And for a moment, I thought it was the man from
Maggie’s story, the one who couldn’t have children. I didn’t know how to
make him go away. How to tell the man with the white beard to go away. How
long was I going to keep my camera in my hand?

As I made a left turn, I felt the man’s hand on my shoulder.
I felt like a person, and a person is able to act like a human, not a tree.
I felt like I was made of water, not wood, and I felt like I was able to walk
and think and take in. And it felt like I was able to act and think and
feel in my own ways. And then I felt like I was not a person after all. Even
if I was one person, I was not. I was an idea and it was possible to act
like it was a person. And I was not a person. I am not a person no matter
how much I try to act like one.

I didn’t know what was the key. I didn’t know why I was trying
different things, trying to help my mother to find herself when my father
didn’t want to. I thought maybe I could get what I needed. I wanted to play
with the key. I wanted to unlock what must be there and then I felt it
slipping away from me. I felt there was a key in my pocket, and it had
disappeared. I felt it had already gone too far away, like my mother had
gone away.

And then I thought the key wasn’t really a key, and it was the
only key. But it felt like the only key, was a piece of a letter written by
a woman with crayon.

This is really not funny. It feels like you’re being chased,
especially as I do this. And you’re not. This was just me trying to show
you that there is no safety in fear. Especially in fear of the past. And I
don’t know, that maybe I would have gotten a lot farther, if I only had a
little more hope.

I could have given up so many times, but what? Could I have given up?
I’m not so sure. And it felt like I was the one running. Because I had my
mother so close to me that it didn’t feel like I lost the ability to have
her. It didn’t feel like it did as if I lost the ability to have her. It
felt like I could just keep her close to me, and she wouldn’t move away.

I don’t know, but I kept going. I knew this was the way. So
I kept going. I didn’t see anyone around. I walked until I found someone who
seemed to be around. And when he turned and saw me, he smiled at me. He had a
brown mustache and his eyebrows were slanted. And he had a deep tan. It was
an Italian tan. His hair was cut into a crew cut with bangs. His skin was
ruddy and he had a big smile. He had an accent. It was hard to figure out
for sure what it was, but I was relieved that it wasn’t English. A lot of
people from the United Kingdom do speak some English with an accent, but it’s
not in a way that’s really easy to understand. It’s one of those British
accents I’ve never heard someone speak with.

He asked if I wanted help with something, and I said I was fine.
He asked what I was doing, and I didn’t know because I didn’t know who I was
talking to, but I knew I wanted to play.

He sat down, and I followed him as we walked back to the house.
After we got there, I told him about Maggie. He was surprised she was mine.
But then he said, I think I understand. I looked at him like he was crazy.
He said, I know how you feel. But he told me that he always wanted children
and we couldn’t have them. And he said she loved him. And he told me to go on
with my life. And I was confused. I didn’t know what he was saying to me.
But he said, You’re not like Maggie. And he had a way of saying it that
meant, You’re not like her. And I realized that it didn’t matter if I was or
am like Maggie. Maggie didn’t know anything about being with someone she loved
or not loving someone she loved. Maggie didn’t suffer from a broken heart
because we were unable to have what we should. Maggie didn’t miss the one she
loved the most, because that was all we could do.

He was the first person to ever tell me something, and I knew he
knew that but he didn’t say anything. But it felt like I had figured it out.
And I knew that things would be okay. It felt like this was the perfect way
to spend the rest of my life. I knew I couldn’t stop any time soon. It would
have been too hard. And I knew I’d have to move on with my life. And maybe
that’s okay too.

I don’t know if I have said how happy I am. But honestly, I’m
so happy. So happy for a lot of things. I’ve always enjoyed being with
people, but it’s like the first person I know that’s happy is that man with
the accent. And he has been like that ever since. And that has made me happy

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