Gretchen P. Lewis is the new girl in town in Toni Cade Bambara’s short story “Raymond’s Run.” By her sheer presence she alienates Hazel Elizabeth Deborah Parker, who is known as Squeaky, from a number of her friends. These so called friends, are known as Gretchen’s'sidekicks." Squeaky’s cantankerous attitude toward the others does contribute to the rift.
So I’m strolling down Broadway breathing out and breathing in on counts of seven, which is my lucky number, and here comes Gretchen and her sidekicks: Mary Louise, who used to be a friend of mine when she first moved to Harlem from Baltimore and got beat up by everybody till I took up for her on account of her mother and my mother used to sing in the same choir when they were young girls, but people ain’t grateful, so now she hangs out with the new girl Gretchen and talks about me like a dog; and Rosie, who is as fat as I am skinny and has a big mouth where Raymond is concerned and is too stupid to know that there is not a big deal of difference between herself and Raymond and that she can’t afford to throw stones.
When Squeaky encounters the group of girls, they all participate in a bantering session except for Gretchen. She stands quietly eyeing Squeaky, but she never says a word knowing that she will have her chance to let her running ability do the talking. At this point, Gretchen is happy to be leader of the girl group.
Then Gretchen puts her hands on her hips and is about to say something with her freckle-face self but doesn’t. Then she walks around me looking me up and down but keeps walking up Broadway, and her sidekicks follow her.
On the day of the race, Squeaky takes care of Raymond by getting him situated in the swings prior to the race. She scans the grounds for Gretchen, who is nowhere to be seen until the start of the race. Gretchen arrives at the starting line before Squeaky where she shows off her form. The girls run a tightly contested race, but Hazel Elizabeth Deborah Parker is declared the winner. Gretchen comes in a close second.
“In second place—Miss Gretchen P. Lewis.” And I look over at Gretchen wondering what the “P” stands for. And I smile. Cause she’s good, no doubt about it. Maybe she’d like to help me coach Raymond; she obviously is serious about running, as any fool can see. And she nods to congratulate me and then she smiles. And I smile.
Gretchen is magnanimous in her loss. She knows that she is a good runner, and so does Squeaky. Although, Squeaky finds it hard to relate to other girls, she realizes that she and Gretchen have established a mutual respect for each other. They share a genuine smile, which Squeaky does not think is possible for girls. But, this smile is born out of mutual respect and that makes all the difference.