It didn’t seem like much at the time, but Rose would reflect, years later, that it was this one small act that had kept Troy in her mind for days after they first met, and prompt her to seek him out at the student union and the school food garden, to ask her friends what they knew about him, and to stop seeing Barack.
They were at a meeting of the food garden club, which she had just joined a few weeks earlier, hoping for extra credit in her food security class. It was a bright, sunny day, just after the noon lunchtime, and she still hadn’t bought a wide-brimmed hat for gardening, partially because she was broke and too embarrassed to ask anyone to borrow a hat or for money to buy one. So Rose sat in her uncomfortable plastic chair, listening to one of the lead gardeners talk about how much watering was allowed and how the garden beds were assigned, holding her hands over her head to shield herself, otherwise her pitch-black hair would absorb all the heat of the sun like a dry sponge soaking up water. She was starting to sweat, and glanced around to see if there was any shady spots she could escape to, when someone tapped her on the shoulder. She turned and saw the biggest pair of caramel-colored eyes she’d ever seen, in a brown, smooth-cheeked and handsome but unsmiling face. His head was close-shaven, as if he’d just come from a barber or the military.
“Yeah?” she said, not understanding. Then she looked down, saw the straw hat he held out to her.
“Take it,” he said. “You need it more than I do.”
It was more command than request, and at first irked her, but she had been raised to be polite.
“Thanks,” she said, taking the pale yellow hat from him. It smelled both grassy and soil-like, and she wondered how old it was, but put it on her head anyway, grateful for the relief. She turned back around, heard the man behind her’s chair creak as he no doubt leaned back again. This small act allowed her to actually pay real attention to the speaker, and she took notes about the chore schedule and who to contact if any problems came up. She made a mental note to thank the man behind her properly, and to introduce herself when she gave him his hat back, but when the meeting was over and she turned around, the man was gone.