Jackson, Mississippi, has a population of 200,000. Six days a week, Aibileen crosses the Woodrow Wilson Bridge by bus to the neighborhood called Belhaven, where Miss Leefolt and her white friends live. The white people have plenty of room in which to sprawl; the colored part of town has nowhere to grow. Since it cannot spread out, that part of town “just gets thicker.” The bus that afternoon carries nothing but colored maids going back home at the end of their workdays. Minny is regaling everyone with the story of Miss Walters, “her white lady,” whom she found standing naked on her front porch. When the others call the woman crazy, Minny defends Miss Walters—no one can make fun except her. When Aibileen tells her what she heard that afternoon, Minny gets angry and Aibileen thinks perhaps she should have kept her mouth shut.
Several mornings later, Aibileen arrives at the Leefolts’ home and sees an old lumber truck with two workers in it sitting in front of the house. They are here to build a bathroom. The Leefolts are arguing. Mr. Leefolt tells his wife the idea is ridiculous, they cannot afford it, and they do not take orders from Hilly Holbrook. When Mae Mobley enters the kitchen in the silence after her father’s outburst, he bends down to her and tells his daughter she will not be going to college so her mother’s friends do not have to use the same bathroom as the maid; then he slams the door as he leaves.
The child is upset because she thinks she has done something wrong, but Aibileen keeps her from crying. Miss Leefolt complains that Mae Mobley has gotten out of bed three times this morning already, and Aibileen tells her it is because the child needs changing. Miss Leefolt had not noticed. As she takes the little girl to change her diaper, Aibileen is furious at the careless mother who had not thought to change her daughter’s diaper since eight o’clock last night, though she is careful not to let her anger show to Mae Mobley.
Aibileen earns $172 a month working for the Leefolts. After paying all her bills, she has a mere $13.50 left each month for groceries, getting her hair done, clothing, and tithing to the church. And now the bus has gone up to fifteen cents a ride. Minny calls her this evening and tells her Miss Hilly is sending Miss Walters to a nursing home and she is now out of a job. Aibileen is not surprised, unfortunately, because having a smart mouth is the second worst thing a maid can do. Stealing is first. Hilly hints that she might hire Minny, but Minny knows that would be a disastrous move.
The construction is still in process the next morning, and Miss Leefolt is on the telephone when Aibileen arrives. Mae Mobley has got a red, sticky face and is trying desperately to get her mother’s attention. Aibileen swoops the child up and tries to clean her, but Mae Mobley wriggles free and goes straight to her mother, yanking the phone out of her mother’s hand. Her mother is furious and smacks her hard across the back of her bare legs and tells the maid she is supposed to keep her from such interruptions. Aibileen is fuming but does not want the little girl to think she is mad at her. Mae Mobley hits her in the ear out of anger, but Aibileen understands where her frustration comes from and simply takes her away to soothe her.
Later that afternoon, one...
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of the older construction workers comes to the door and asks for a glass of water; he is also embarrassed to ask for a place to relieve himself. Ironically, there are two working bathrooms in the house and one under construction, but there is not a bathroom he can use. He is relegated to the bushes behind the house. The next afternoon Miss Leefolt feels nervous and anxious and keeps a watchful eye on the men working outside her house. Once the men leave, she sighs with relief and drives to do whatever she does when she is not watching her property. The phone rings and Minny tells Aibileen why she is unable to get another job—Miss Hilly has told everyone Minny stole from Miss Walters. In a low voice, Minny says she did something with a pie that “give her what she deserve” but will give no details. Minny worries that her husband, Leroy, is going to be angry at her and then hangs up without saying good-bye. Aibileen is worried about her friend.
At home that night Aibileen listens to “juke joint blues” and thinks briefly about her husband, Clyde, who left her twenty years ago for another woman. She takes out her notebook to write her prayers, something she has been doing since her seventh-grade teacher told her she was smart and needed to read and write every day if she wanted to “keep sharp.” That was her last day of school because she had to quit to help her mother. Aibileen puts Mae Mobley at the top of her prayer list, and she now considers adding Miss Skeeter to the list, but she knows she will never tell her what happened between Miss Skeeter’s mother and their maid, Constantine. Aibileen has been told that people believe she is close to God because her prayers seem to get answered in extraordinary ways. In real life, though, Miss Leefolt is building her a bathroom because she thinks Aibileen is diseased, and Miss Skeeter thinks changing Jackson, Mississippi, is as easy as “changing a lightbulb.”
The next day Aibileen has the opportunity to recommend Minny for a maid job. Celia Foote is married to Miss Hilly’s former boyfriend, and she is a shy and rather frightened woman who wants to help Mrs. Leefolt with the Children’s Benefit. When she calls the house, Aibileen tricks her into thinking Miss Leefolt recommends Minny to her as a maid—something Celia would rather not tell her husband, anyway. Aibileen tries to call Minny to tell her about the job, but by the time she is able to reach her friend, Miss Walters has talked to Celia. Minny feels dejected because Miss Walters probably told Miss Celia what Minny did to Miss Hilly—something Minny will not even tell Aibileen.
Minny has been a true friend to Aibileen. She brought her meals every night for three months after Treelore died and disposed of the rope the despairing mother nearly used to kill herself. Aibileen wonders if she should go to Minny’s house tonight to see if there is a rope she needs to get rid of for her friend. Later in the afternoon, Miss Leefolt tells Aibileen that she has a surprise for her—her very own bathroom in the garage. She tries to make it sound like some kind of gift, but Aibileen understands her employer’s intent perfectly: the colored maid is to use the outside bathroom and the inside one is to be bleached thoroughly and only to be used by white people in the future. Aibileen feels the “bitter seed” planted in her chest after Treelore died. She does not know what to say to Miss Leefolt and could not say it anyway. Miss Leefolt is not saying exactly what she would like to say, either. Neither of them speaks, but they are having a conversation nevertheless.