The Watchful Eyes of Zora Neale Hurston, Chapter 6

In this visual story, a young, down on her luck white West Virginian woman crosses paths with Zora Neale Hurston in Miami in 1958.

NOTE: Okay, a very dear friend and confidante of mine took me aside and told me I needed to lower the insanity on my text… a little. 🤣 I realized he was right, and that I needed to do it on a more subtle level, accenting only the most important words or phrases. The thing is, my intent isn’t for accented words to shout in your head, but for them to act as hyperlinks — not ones you click, but that you take a moment to contemplate.

Chapter 6

TO BE CONTINUED IN CHAPTER 7

The Watchful Eyes of Zora Neale Hurston, Chapter 2

A young, down on her luck white West Virginian woman crosses paths with a discouraged Zora Neale Hurston in Miami in 1958.

Fotosearch / Archive Photos / Getty Images

Chapter Two

Someone was fighting with the hotel room’s lock. Hattie opened her eyes; it was still day, or maybe it was the next morning; hot, thick blades of sunlight crashed through the creaks in the curtains, the room was even more orange, like the inside of some pulsing gastronomical organ. Was someone trying to break into her room? She realized that whoever was out there was also knocking – but this sound had been subsumed in the cacophony of the tantrum of the front lock. And whoever was out there was speaking, in a woman’s voice. 

“Housekeeping!”

Realization and terror slashed across Hattie’s chest – it was the next morning. She had fallen asleep, and the night had passed like some darting, half-imagined bird; her sanctuary was breached, the long hours she had counted on had blown out of her hands. She was trapped. The lock succumbed; the door swung open, thick torrents of sunlight surged into the hotel room, blinding Hattie. A figure stepped through the door, and Hattie’s eyes adjusted; it was a saggy but strong-looking black woman in a maid’s uniform. She had caramel colored skin and her hair was cut into a few short waves somewhat disheveled but also as timeless as the Parthenon. A flock of freckles nestled across the woman’s cheeks and nose, and her brown eyes revealed a bemusement her flat lips hid. 

“Housekeeping, girl,” the woman said, as she saw Hattie. “It’s past ten. You should be checked out.” The woman dragged her maid’s cart into the room, as though finding someone in it was a common occurrence. She pulled a bottle of cleanser and a crisp rag from the cart. “C’mon. You have to go, girl. I have work to do.”

“Please,” Hattie, said, her voice weak, her fingers shaking. She didn’t know what to say, what to ask. How could she explain? 

“I’ll call the manager,” said the black woman. “You’re not supposed to be here this late.”

Hattie bit her lip. Her heart was pounding. “I don’t have anywhere to go,” she pleaded. 

“That’s none of my concern.” The maid pulled open the drapes in a loud fabric shout. “Now get up, child. I’ve got a job to do, and I’m going to do it.”

Hattie pushed the covers off. She was lightheaded. She pushed herself up into a sitting position. “Please, ma’am. I don’t have any money.”

The black woman did not reply. Instead, she imperiously walked to the bathroom and picked up Hattie’s dirty towel. 

“Please,” begged Hattie. “Can’t you pretend the room is empty? Just for one more night. I’ll be quiet. You won’t get into any trouble.”

The maid raised an eyebrow. 

Hattie continued her case. “Please ma’am, please…” She peered at the name stitched on the woman’s uniform. “Please… Zora… I’m desperate.”

The maid still didn’t reply, but was obviously agitated and nervous. She started spraying cleanser on the sink, ignoring Hattie. A thought whirled through Hattie’s mind. “Zora is a strange name,” she mused, momentarily distracted from her troubles.  “I’ve heard it before. There’s a Negro writer named Zora. Zora… Neale Hurston. Have you heard of her? Do you read?”

Zora turned to Hattie, her face in the throes of a combination of astonishment and exasperation. “Heard of her?” repeated the maid, incredulous. “I am her.”

Hattie gasped. “But she’s a famous author and you’re just a…”

“Just a what?”

Their Eyes Were Watching God,” Hattie remembered. “I read that! How can you… be her?”

“I don’t need to explain myself to you,” said Zora. “And I’m not that famous.” Zora thought to herself for a moment. “How did a…girl like you read my book?”

“My Mama gave it to me. Back home in West Virginia, my Mama teaches coloreds at school. She said the book would open my eyes to the Negro perspective.”

“And did it?” Zora was skeptical.

“Yeah…” said Hattie, hoping her answer would help her situation.

Zora raised her eyebrow again and tossed Hattie a dubious grimace. 

“Look, Ms. Hurston,” Hattie pleaded. “I won’t bother nobody, I promise. Just give me one more day to figure things out. I beg you!”

The old black woman did not immediately reply. Hattie caught Zora looking at herself in the mirror for a moment, like she was weighing an answer, or herself. A low grunt escaped from Zora’s lips. 

“I’m going to clean up. You stay out of the way.”

“Thank you!” Hattie exclaimed. Warm, invisible light flooded her body. “One day is all I need to make up my mind and all.”

“I don’t want to hear your troubles,” Zora said. “You keep to your business, and I’ll keep to mine.”

Hattie sat in a chair as Zora made the bed and vacuumed the floor. This would give Hattie more time. Maybe things weren’t so bad after all. 

When Zora was finished, she gathered her supplies and pointed at Hattie. “Now, don’t make a mess. I cleaned the room. You weren’t here. You came back after I cleaned. If you’re still here tomorrow when I show up, I’ll tell the manager.”

“I understand,” said Hattie.

TO BE CONTINUED IN CHAPTER 3