"Okay, child," Bibi began as she poured a splash of milk into an empty mug and took one pink packet of sweetener out of a drawer. "Well, when I was a girl 'bout your age, there be a man we call Mad John who walked up and down Kincaid Street causing all kind'a commotion. He be shouting, "a woman tek all meh money!" to no one in particular and he be punching himself, like this."
The coffee maker stopped its gurgling and popping and Bibi filled her mug to the top and poured the sweetener in. She left the mug on the counter and stood in the middle of the kitchen, squatted, and then crossed her eyes and pretended to punch either side of her head. Penny giggled and a rivulet of milk ran down her chin which she tried to catch with a cupped hand.
"Now it never be clear who the winner be, in all this fighting. Let's just say that Mad John had what we call a split personality, which I shall call 'He' and 'Himself,' so as not to get you too confused.
"Now, 'He' and 'Himself' were always going at each other but never producing a clear winner. One day it might be 'He' who be on top and then the next day the tide would turn and 'Himself' would be top dog," Bibi paused in the story to take a sip of her coffee. She liked it hot.
"One morning though, Mad John was all sprawled out in front of Picken's Market, fast asleep under a tree, when all of a sudden, 'Himself' raises an arm," at this Bibi put the mug back down, closed both eyes and dramatically raised one fist high in the air, "and delivers a cold knockout punch to 'He'. After that, people say Mad John don't sleep more than an hour at a time; he must be waiting all the time for another sneak attack from the other side of himself."
"I wonder what ever happened to Mad John, Grandmamma..."
"Oh, honey child, I never did get to find that one out."
* * *
"Ms. Mohammad! Ms. Mohammad! Do you need a ride?"
Out of the corner of her eye Bibi read YOU SHALL NOT MAKE WRONGFUL USE OF THE NAME OF THE LORD YOUR GOD, which of all the Commandments extended the longest across the side of the van. She sucked her top teeth so fiercely that she surprised herself by extricating a little string of chicken from last night's dinner. She continued to walk determinedly ahead, arms clutching the straps of her brown pleather shoulder bag.
"Aw, come on! Don't be like that now! It's gonna be a hot one today! I promise I am not going to try to convert you..."
Five years ago, after Bibi had moved out of the Danzinger's fourteen room Fifth Avenue apartment, Archie Donovan's van had given her pause. Working for the Danzingers had caused Bibi to have a 'breakdown'—not her term for that brief episode in her life, but she'd made peace with the name others had given it. Her daughter Angelique, then pregnant with Penny, and her son-in-law Vikram, had moved up from Guyana to help her, and with the help of her cousin Marilyn had decided on the house without her. They were lured to Bellerose by its ethnic makeup ('18% Asian Indians' said the broker commonly mistaking their brown skin as being from a different continent), good schools, and proximity to Creedmoor Psychiatric Center. The house itself was a modest affair; three square bedrooms, one full bathroom, dated kitchen, screened-in porch, busted washer and dryer in the unfinished basement, but the taxes were low, the down payment could be covered by Bibi's savings, and the grassy backyard was spacious by city standards.