I take a few steps up to my apartment when the stack of books I’m holding onto tumbles out of my arms, hard and soft covers flying in every direction. On the next landing, an Asian woman in her sixties or seventies, wearing an apron, picks one of them up and flips through the pages.
“Um, hi,” I say.
She glances up, startled, but doesn’t respond, so I reach for what’s mine. She hugs it to her chest and stares at me with eyes covered in the slightest haze from cataracts.
I try again as I finish picking up the mess I made. “So… Are you Grace? Maid service?”
She nods. “I clean free… for this?”
As if she thinks the request wasn’t clear, she taps the cover with her index finger again, “For this?”
“Do you work for Faereview Maid Cleaning?” I ask, ignoring her question. What kind of person trades a hundred-dollar service for a book that’s written in gibberish? Her interest in it is strange, almost as strange as the homeless person who gave it to me when I was eight—a person with the most memorable eyes I’ve ever seen: one blue, the other green. Yet, I still shudder when I think of what he whispered in my ear: You must protect against yourself.
Perhaps this is the opportunity to give it away, to leave memories of that day behind.
“Yes, yes,” she says. “My sister is manager. I clean. I trade with you?”
I reluctantly nod and usher her upstairs. She flips through the book again and starts muttering to herself. Peeking from behind, I see her on the first page, running her fingertips over my name that’s scrawled in cursive with a marker: “Belongs to Elysia Beth Daghan.”
I was nine when I did that. During one of my mother’s rage-filled attacks, she threatened to take away what I cherished—books, clothes, art supplies. I thought scribbling my name on this would shelter it from her threats. Looking back, it was the stupidest thing I’ve ever done, but I guess that’s just what a nine-year-old would do. It was the only thing I could do.