Bailey could count on very few punishments for his consistently outrageous behavior, for he was the pride of the Henderson/Johnson family.
Maya describes Bailey as the golden child who can do no wrong. Maya sees him as her loyal protector, and to the family, he has a quick mind and a clever tongue. Even people in Stamps laud his attractive appearance. Bailey exists at the center of the family, yet he remains unfulfilled. His desire for a greater connection is evidenced after Vivian returns to the children’s lives, and he feels continuously tormented by the need for her affection.
Bailey on his part fell instantly and forever in love. I saw his eyes shining like hers; he had forgotten the loneliness and the nights when we had cried together because we were “unwanted children.”
Maya describes their first reunion with Vivian, noticing Bailey’s heightened and passionate response to her. While Maya and Bailey have had a close relationship, bonding in light of their abandonment by their parents, now Bailey turns the full force of his love on their mother. From that moment until he leaves home at sixteen, his relationship with Vivian shapes his personality and all the life choices he makes.
We were on the train going back to Stamps, and this time it was I who had to console Bailey. He cried his heart out down the aisles of the coach, and pressed his little-boy body against the window pane looking for a last glimpse of his Mother Dear.
On the train back to Stamps, Bailey experiences tangible heartache at leaving his mother. Unlike Maya, Bailey developed a close attachment to Vivian, and now he is being sent away through no fault of his own. Notably, Vivian is absent from the scene, highlighting how Bailey must feel: abandoned for a second time. Once again, the children are pawns in the machinations of the adults who should be protecting them.
Just after our return he had taken to sarcasm, picked it up as one might pick up a stone, and put it snufflike under his lip. The double entendres, the two-pronged sentences, slid over his tongue to dart rapier-like into anything that happened to be in the way. Our customers, though, generally were so straight thinking and speaking that they were never hurt by his attacks. They didn’t comprehend them.
Maya explains how, after their return to Stamps, Bailey takes out his anger at his displacement by subtly mocking the residents. He uses words and ways of speaking to make fun of the townspeople, who, unaccustomed to such insincerity, do not understand his scorn. Bailey makes himself feel better by showing off his superiority but he does so in isolation, for only Maya understands his game.
On the way home he stopped at the railroad tracks and waited for the night freight train. Just before it reached the crossing, he tore out and ran across the tracks.
Maya describes how, after seeing a movie starring a white actress who looks just like Vivian, Bailey scares Maya with a near-suicide attempt. Since returning to Stamps, Bailey has been unable to fit in. He believes he is more refined and smarter than the people around him, and he continues to idealize his mother. Seeing the white actress reminds him of what he lost when his mother sent him away from St. Louis.
He explained when we were smaller that when things were very bad his soul just crawled behind his heart and curled up and went to sleep. When it awoke, the fearful thing had gone away.
Maya shares one of Bailey’s truths, which helps explain Bailey’s personality: Rather than deal with a problem, he chooses to hide until the problem or pain has passed. As a child, his world fell apart when his parents sent him away. To cope with his reality, he developed a manner of hiding away from whatever issue plagued him, only reemerging when he felt sure the issue had passed. Even as he matures, he continues to employ this same strategy, for instance, at times when he faces the violent incoherence of racism.
Bailey was much older too. Even years older than I had become. He had made friends during that youth-shattering summer with a group of slick street boys. His language had changed. He was forever dropping slangy terms into his sentences like dumplings in a pot. He may have been glad to see me, but he didn’t act much like it.
Maya recalls how, after she returns from her father’s home, Bailey has taken up with a group of tough kids, which estranges him from her. In the course of a few months, he has grown into a man and has chosen to follow the path laid out for him by Vivian’s gangster friends. In allying himself with this crowd, Bailey hopes to compete with the older men for his mother’s attention.