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The Promise

blackberries-5-1 When I was in the second grade, we lived in an apartment complex. Next to the building, there was a big empty lot with a bunch of tall grass and bushes. There was a little girl in my building who I used to play with. We’ll call her “Anita”. If I remember correctly, she was a year younger than me. It’s not time for that part of the story yet, but remember Anita for later.


One day I was outside by myself and I decided to go exploring, so I walked over to the empty lot and I discovered there was a massive blackberry bush growing near the edge of the tall grass. I was so excited to see it because I loved blackberries, but I didn’t have a container to put them in. So I hurried back up to our apartment, grabbed a plastic bowl, then went to my friend Anita’s apartment to ask if she could come outside. When she came to the door, I told her about the hidden treasure of berries I’d found & asked if she wanted to come with me to pick some. She went back into her apartment, got a cup, and together we rushed over to the empty lot.


I can still remember it like it was yesterday. We were both so excited, filling our containers, and randomly stopping to show them to each other,

“Ooh! Look at this one!”

“Hey! Look how big this one is!”

“Ugh! This one is all dried up.”

“Hey look, a raspberry!”

“Girl, that ain’t no raspberry, that’s a blackberry, but it’s not ripe yet.”

“Nuh-uh!”

“Yuh-huh! Taste it if you don’t believe me!”

Followed by my laughter at the face Anita made when she bit into the berry and saw that I was right about it. I continued to chuckle as she scowled, spit out the bitter berry, and smacked her lips trying to get the taste of it out of her mouth.


Just then we heard a man’s voice call out to us, “Hey! What are you girls doing?” The smile disappeared from my face as we both froze while looking at the man. He was standing a few yards away from us in front of the door of the corner apartment. I don’t know why, but my initial thought was that we were in trouble for picking the berries, even though they didn’t belong to anyone. But that thought left almost as immediately as it had come to me, because right after he said that, he smiled. He was a tall slender man, with brown skin and straight black hair that was cut to his ears. He spoke with a accent that was foreign to me at the time, and he looked like he was probably from India. He didn’t look dangerous to me, but even as a child, I knew that something about him was off.


“We was just pickin’ some blackberries” I explained. Anita just stood there. The man pointed at the open door of his apartment with his thumb. “Oh, you girls hungry? I got some snacks in here.” “No” we replied in unison. He persisted, “It’s ok, you can come in, eat some snacks, listen to some music, it’ll be fun.” Right when he said that, another man emerged from behind the apartment door. He looked a lot like the man who’d invited us in, perhaps he was a relative of his. The look on his face was one of curiosity as if he was wondering who the man was talking to. When he stepped from behind the door and saw that it was two children, he looked at the man, snickered, shook his head, and went back inside. Once the other guy was back in the apartment, the man continued to try to get us to come in and “hang out” with him. I was getting scared, and I was pretty sure Anita was too, so I yelled, “WE SAID NO! COME ON ANITA!” as I grabbed her hand and we took off running.


Later that day I told my mother in front of my stepfather about the creepy ordeal with the guy in the corner apartment (who nobody in our apartment building knew by the way). She pretty much just told me that I did a good thing by refusing to go into the man’s apartment, and not to go over there picking blackberries anymore. In retrospect, what should have happened is that my parents should have told Anita’s parents, and the four of them should have gone to the man’s apartment together with the police so that he could be clear on the fact that it’s not cool for grown people to be inviting people’s kids into their homes to “hang out” like that. There’s a reason why they brushed the incident off so easily, but that’s another story for another time.


Weeks later I was at Anita’s apartment. We were just sitting around talking, and she told me that she’d gone by herself again to the empty lot to pick berries. She said that while she was over there, the creepy guy had seen her and invited her into his apartment again. I asked, “You didn’t go in there, did you?” She nodded. “Did he hurt you?” The way she explained it to me was that he touched her privates “with his hands and his mouth”. I asked her, “Why didn’t you try to run or anything?” to which she replied, “I couldn’t stop him.” I asked, “Did you tell your momma?” and she said no, because she thought she might catch a whooping, which at the time made total sense to me as a second grader. As ridiculous as it sounds to me now, as a seven year-old it made sense to me that her mom would be mad at her for going to the empty lot alone, and for going into the strange man’s apartment, and it made sense to me that Anita was probably right that her mom would probably spank her instead of being mad at the man for touching her. So she asked me to promise I wouldn't tell anyone what happened, and I did. As a child I thought I was being a good friend to her by doing so, but as an adult I know now that that's a promise I shouldn't have kept.