The Midnight Knock by Mary B. Banks

The little girl showed up on my crumbling doorsteps looking like a tragic tattered ghost baby doll. Her French braid was undone. Blood was smeared on her cheeks. When she opened her mouth, I saw that both of her front teeth were completely gone. A gash was on top of her left eyelid. Her eyes were fiery. Fierce. Unapologetic.

My first instinct was to not open the door but to call the police. It was midnight and the moon was full. Ma always said that crazy things happen when there is a full moon—like witches flying in the air on their wooden broomsticks and weirdos appearing on your front steps.

I stood in my doorway wearing my pink pajamas and a red bandanna tied around my hair—trying not to show my fear. I was scared shitless.

A million thoughts raced in my mind like a marathon: Why was this little Black girl knocking on my door? Where did she come from? Where were her parents? The poor girl looked like a disaster. An utter mess.

At first, I thought she was a troubled angel who had come to rescue me. An angel sent from Ma. Ma had a warped sense of humor like that. Only she would do something as mischievous like that. Bring me an angel who needed more help than me. ‘Cause Lord knows I’m a walking nutcase. I haven’t slept for days. My eyes look like two dark shadows. I look like Casper the Friendly Ghost. I haven’t showered in days nor brushed my teeth. I’d been wearing the same dingy pajamas for two days in a row.

It was my first Valentine’s Day without Ma. Before the girl knocked on my door, I had spent the first part of the day stretched out on my cold bathroom floor contemplating slitting my wrists, but I ended up drinking hard liquor and vomiting instead. While everyone was getting booed up, getting their bikini areas waxed, shopping at Victoria’s Secret, having the best sex ever, I was sitting on my bathroom floor listing the reasons why I should live.

On a piece of notebook paper, I scrawled in blue ink: One, I’m too young to die. Two, I have to live. Three, I want to have children. Four, I don’t want to let Ma down. Five, I don’t want my body to rot without anyone finding me. Six, I’m too chicken to kill myself. Seven, who would bury me? Eight, I don’t have life insurance. Nine, I don’t want a crappy funeral. Ten, I hate death. Eleven, Jesus died on the cross for me. Twelve, Ma would be pissed if I killed myself. Thirteen, I can’t let Satan get the victory. Fourteen, maybe things will get better.

After I felt a little better, I had pulled out the old photograph books and gazed at me and Ma. Ma was beautiful and feisty. Ma would have probably slapped me silly if she knew I wanted to kill myself. She’d say, “Girly, don’t you know you got your whole life ahead of you? Besides, I’m having a ball up here.”

I imagine her partying with Jesus. Singing with the angels. Being someone’s guardian angel. Ma was a trip. A trip to Wonderland. She was my Aladdin’s magic carpet. Every day she would take me to a magical fun place. No pain, only laughter. No tears, only smiles. Damn, I miss those days when the world was like “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

Ma was always the life of the party. Men loved her and women wanted to be her best friend. She was short and had long brown hair. To me, she looked like an American Indian, but she swore she was as pure White as they come.

On Valentine’s Day, we would shove cheap chocolates down our throats and get drunk off of wine. Ma was fun like that—she had me when she was sixteen. She and my father were high school sweethearts. Their relationship was a taboo back then. There was no President Barack Obama. Segregation was the law. Colored folks over there. White folks over here. Whites on top. Blacks at the bottom. Whites always right. Blacks always wrong. Whites made the laws while Blacks had no laws that protected them. The land of the free it was not—not if you were Colored—more like the land of bondage.

Ma’s Baptist father disowned her once it was found out she was in his words “a nigger lover” and kicked her out of the house when he discovered she was pregnant with me. He called her all kinds of horrible names. He even called me “the bastard monkey child.”

Ma was a bit heartbroken, but she got over it, but I think after that she had a disdain for religion because she saw the hypocrisy.

She’d ask me in-between bites of ice cream, “How can the so-called godly say that they love the Lord, but hate their brothers and sisters?” And, “Do you think there are two Heavens—one for Whites and one for Blacks?” Boy, how I miss Ma.

Ma had died in her sleep from a heart attack. I knew something was wrong when I didn’t hear her fiddling in the kitchen like she usually does. Or smell pancakes, bacon, and eggs. It was quiet. And Ma is not quiet. So, I go in her bedroom with her neon pink walls and her Jimi Hendrix poster hanging over top of her headboard. I shout, “Ma,” really loud. Nothing. I shake her. Nothing. After screaming her name and shaking her for ten minutes, I realize she’s dead. Dead gone.

“Gone to meet the Lord,” as her father would say.

I never met Grandpops.

It seemed like he regretted kicking his only daughter out. The one that everyone said looked just like him and had his ways. On his deathbed, he asked Ma would she forgive him. Ma said she would have to think about it and walked out. The next day he died holding Ma’s senior portrait in his clenched fist. The nurses said they had to pry the photo from him because rigor mortis had set in. It took them five minutes to remove the photo from his hand.

Ma cried and cried. She said that she had caused his death. In fact, she had gone to the hospital to let Grandpops know that she had forgiven him, but now it was too late.

Too late.

Before Ma’s death, I was happy-go-lucky. I always had a smile on my face. I smiled so much that I got the nickname Smiley. Not anymore. Every day is dark and forlorn. Every day feels like a drab funeral. Every day I want to cry, fight, pray, and curse God. I’m a mess. A walking disaster.

I was in the middle of watching Bishop T. D. Jakes, the preacher from Dallas when I heard the knock on my door. I was playing one of his DVDs. I had made a five dollar donation to T.D. Jakes Ministries.

While searching for ways to kill myself, I decided to type, “ministry.” Then, I found myself on T.D. Jakes’ website submitting a prayer request:

Lord, please help me. I don’t want to die, but life without Ma seems unbearable. Please strengthen me and bring joy back into my life.

Ma would have probably rolled over in her grave to know I had given money to a TV preacher. She didn’t believe in giving your hard-earned money to pastors. A Black one at that. Even though Ma had married my father, she could be a bigot at times. I guess it runs through the genes.

She’d say, “Girl, don’t go giving all your money to the church.” Then, she’d say something silly like, “If you want to give to the Lord, throw your money in the air and let the Lord keep whatever He wants. What hits the ground is yours.” That was Ma.

But at the end, it seemed like she knew she was going to go. She had begun to read the Bible and quote scriptures. She bought a prayer shawl from John Hagee’s Ministries and walked around the house with it draped over her head. I thought that Ma was going through a midlife crisis. I never ever saw Ma open a Bible, let alone quote a scripture in my entire life. She even stopped cursing and smoking and drinking her gin and her gossiping and having her occasional one night stands. I guess it should have been a sign when she gave Pastor Edwards one hundred dollars when she went to church with me.

Ma was a sight. She wore white lace gloves and an embroidered prayer cap (apparently, it was now sinful for women to go to church without their hair covered). The cross that hung around her neck was huge. Her skirt swept the floor of the church like curtain drapes.

When I saw her slip the Benjamin Franklin in her tithe envelope, I nearly fell out. Ma would reprimand me for putting three dollars in the collection plate, and here she was giving away one hundred dollars!

I barely noticed the knock at first. I thought it was the wind, but then it grew louder and faster. I became scared. I looked through the peephole, and to my surprise, it was a little girl. A Black little girl.

The little girl’s clothes were ripped. Her frilly, pink shirt was torn. She looked like hell. One shoe on, one shoe off. I took the little girl in and asked if she were cold. She said yes. Her brown eyes pierced straight through me like a butcher knife. She said she had been in a car crash. Both her parents had died, even her baby sister, who was only a month-old. She said it calmly. The same way she had said she was eight-years-old. Her calmness frightened me. I bit my lower lip, which is something I do when I get nervous.

I offered her hot chocolate. She clung on the Mickey Mouse mug tightly. One of Mickey’s ears was chipped. Desperately. Like she was clinging to her life. Poor little girl, I thought. She was worse off than me. An orphan with no family.

“Do you go to school?” I asked the girl, trying to make small talk. I knew I needed to call the cops, but I wanted to comfort the girl.

“I don’t go to school. My Mama homeschooled me,” she mumbled.

After she drank the hot chocolate, she was now sitting on my raggedy couch that I got at the yard sale after Miss Annette got evicted. Ma picked it out for me and even paid for it—twenty dollars to be exact. Those were the good old days. Me and Ma hanging out, shooting the breeze, shopping, eating at restaurants, and talking shit.

Everyone said we could be twins. Although I was brown, and she was white. But we did look alike. We had the same gap-toothed smile. Freckles around our eyes. We were often mistaken as sisters.

“God is a way maker,” boomed T.D. Jakes in the background. The sweat on his back made it look like he had angel wings.

“Who’s that?” asked the little girl.

“That’s T. D. Jakes. Ever heard of him?” The little girl shook her head no.

By now, I was expecting the little girl to cry. But she didn’t. She was a tough little girl.

“You live alone?” the girl asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“Do you like living alone?”


The little girl became quiet. She said nothing else. She simply stared into the empty mug like it contained all the answers to the world’s problems.

“Will I ever see my parents and little sister again?” she asked.

“You’ll see them again,” I managed to say.

Shortly, the police came knocking on doors to inquire about the deadly accident that occurred in the wee hours of the morning.

I watched as the little girl answered the police officers’ questions. She seemed scared.

The police then asked me questions. They wanted to know why I hadn’t called them right away.

I told them I wanted to make sure that the little girl was okay.

As the little girl was escorted out, I watched as she brushed the tears that were rolling down her face. Before she stepped out the door and out of my life, she turned around and waved goodbye to me.

Be sure to keep up with Mary B. Banks on Instagram @marybankswriter and Twitter @mbanks6

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