Phoebe brings Janie "a heaping plate of mulatto rice" in "a covered bowl". Janie has just returned to town after a long absence, and Phoebe, who is a good friend, goes to greet her, and takes the food for the simple reason that she thinks Janie might be hungry.
Phoebe's action comes from the heart, and is presented in direct contrast with the actions of the rest of the women who are observing Janie's return. These women have nothing good to say about Janie, and are angry because she did not stop to talk with them, and essentially tell them "all her busines,s" so that they can gossip about her. Janie had left town awhile back with a younger man, and the women talk about her with self-righteous indignation, but Phoebe, recognizing the hypocrisy in their words, sticks up for her friend, telling the women that the underlying cause of their resentment is envy. She then goes to get "some supper" to take to Janie.
Janie is happy to see Phoeby, and very thankful for the meal. It is evident that the two women are close friends. Phoeby is curious about what has been happening in Janie's life, but does not pry, not wanting to seem nosy. Her curiosity is genuine, however, based on a longing to "feel and do through Janie;" to add a little excitement and adventure to her own limited life. As it turns out, Janie is eager to tell Phoeby about her experiences while she has been away, but Phoeby warns Janie that the women in the town are resentful of her, and are just waiting for any bit of gossip they can get their hands on. Janie tells her friend that she does not care, and that Phoeby can tell them what she says if she wants. Phoeby loyally responds that she will tell them only what Janie wants her to tell them (Chapter 1).