"Driving Ms. Veta."
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"Driving Ms. Veta"
Car interior: grey cloth seats, with the silver hood visible from the inside of the car. JAKE and MICHAELA are dressed in light jackets and casual clothes, JAKE is wearing shorts and MICHAELA is in pants. Over the course of the drive, the road changes from neighborhood to local road to highway, then reversed.
MICHAELA: Thanks again for letting me tag along.
JAKE: (laughs) Thanks for skipping class.
MICHAELA: (laughs) Thanks for giving me the excuse. (pauses) Does she know I’m coming?
JAKE: I told her I was inviting you. She’s been waiting for you to come by, anyway.
JAKE: She thinks you’re going to interrogate her.
MICHAELA: No, I just wanna hang out. She seems interesting enough on her own without me having to ask a bunch of questions. Why did you guys start driving her, anyways?
JAKE: So she wouldn’t have to take the bus.
MICHAELA: Oh, wow.
JAKE: Yeah. I used to drive her a lot, but now I only sometimes get to drive her in the mornings. I’m too busy at nights, when she really needs the ride.
MICHAELA: So does she normally take the bus in the morning?
JAKE: Yeah, but if she took it after she got off work at night, she wouldn’t get home until 1 AM, and then she’d have to be on the bus by 8AM the next morning at the latest, so this way we can get her home by 11 or so. Usually a little earlier.
JAKE: What do you want the project to be like?
MICHAELA: I don’t know. Like I said, I mainly want to hang out with her, get to know her. I thought her time in Jamaica would be cool, but I know those kinds of stories can be hard, so I wasn’t going to press it unless she brought it up.
JAKE: (nodding) That’s smart. She doesn’t really talk about it much.
MICHAELA: Do you know why?
JAKE: (shaking his head) Like I said, she doesn’t talk about it much. I think it has something to do with a family store, but I’m not sure.
MICHAELA: She has a daughter, right?
JAKE: Yeah, she does. Her daughter is the reason we gave her the Keurig for her birthday. We were going to get her new glasses, but it took us too long to get the money together so her daughter bought them before we could, and we still had all this money, so we bought her about a hundred K cups and the coffee machine.
MICHAELA: I remember you telling me about that.
JAKE: Yeah, she deserved it. She does so much for everyone else.
MICHAELA: So you have the way to her house memorized?
JAKE: Yeah, I drove her a lot freshman and sophomore years, but I’ve only gotten lost once, and she knew it.
MICHAELA: She did?
JAKE: Yeah. She knows pretty much how long it’s supposed to take us to get to and from her house from CNU, and we’re supposed to text her when we get back safely; otherwise she calls us to make sure we’re okay. Sophomore year I had dropped her off, and on the way home I had the radio on and was really into whatever song was playing so I missed my turn. I got all turned around, and it took me an extra thirty or so minutes to get home, and she called me after I was ten minutes late texting her and asked where I was. When I told her I got lost, she laughed at me, then told me how to get back to CNU from where I was driving around at.
(Both laugh, then pause)
MICHAELA: Isn’t this the way to Buckroe?
JAKE: Yeah, she lives a couple of blocks away from it. We’re almost there now.
The rest of the car ride is silent, except for the faint sound of the radio playing. The scene ends when JAKE puts the car in park, the shifting gears audible.
Jake and I pull up to a small house in Hampton. The outside is plain, with a neat yard and a chain link fence surrounding it. “Ready to go in?” he asks. “She’s probably not quite ready to go yet, but we can hang out for a little bit.”
I nod, a little nervous. I’ve heard a lot about Ms. Veta, but have not spent more than a few minutes talking to her before. We walk up the concrete path to her front door and Jake knocks.
It’s a few minutes before Ms. Veta answers – she’s still got her hair up in its wrap and her glasses aren’t on yet. “You’re early!” she exclaims, her Jamaican accent barely noticeable.
“C’mon in, come on,” she says, motioning to Jake as she wraps me in a hug around the waist, moving me from the welcome mat to the rug covering the hardwood in her living room. I laugh, and she laughs with me, letting me go. “Sit,” she orders, pointing at a chair. Jake and I both obey.
Ms. Veta makes small talk, asking Jake how school is going, how his girlfriend is, commenting about how she only puts the television on, which is tuned to Rachel Ray, when guests are over. “They talk too much,” she says. I smile and nod politely, silently chastising my inner introvert for not being able to make small talk, but grateful that it doesn’t seem that I’ll be able to get a word in edgewise with Ms. Veta anyways. I listen as she talks to Jake, getting caught up on details I already know, as I take in her house.
There is a lot of personality in one room here - books piled everywhere, but neatly, most of them with her name scrawled in an unsteady hand on the side pages, claiming them. Not a speck of dust in sight. Bright, happy colors in the furniture - lots of blues and greens - and walls - pale yellow coming in from the kitchen or crisp white in the living room where Jake and I sit - with pops of greenery here and there, and pictures of Ms. Veta with her family.
She bustles in and out of the kitchen, packing her lunch. She is diabetic, she says, so she cannot eat the food in the dining halls. “Too many spices,” she claims, shaking her head.
“All you need is salt and pepper,” I say, laughing as Ms. Veta vigorously agrees with me, nodding her head and saying, “Yes, honey, das all you need!”
She bustles around in the kitchen for a few more minutes, then pokes her head out from around the corner of the wall separating the living room from the kitchen - she is too short to get her head over the counter in that same wall that makes a window, and there is a potted plant blocking her view anyways. “Do you want some coffee?” she offers. I shake my head no, smiling, and Jake says no, thank you. She pulls her head back around the corner and keeps talking. “My boys got me this Keurig,” she says, so proudly I can hear the smile in her voice.
“I know,” I say, “Jake and Connor told me about it.” She comes back around the corner, opening a crystal container sitting on the sill of the window in her kitchen wall, full of the wrapped hard candies I associate with grandmothers, so a part of me also expects there to be a puff of smoke from a cigarette coming soon, but her house smells too clean for her to be a smoker. She turns and shakes a finger at Jake, lovingly. “They scared me half to death, waiting for me in the cold to sing to me and give me this and too many cups.” Jake smiles, abashed, but argues back at her that she deserves it. She walks back into the kitchen, shaking her head. “You too good to me,” she says.
“We love you, too, Ms. Veta.”
I smile, listening to them interact. I wish again that I was better at small talk. The small conversation she is making with Jake is more than that, but we don’t know each other yet, and I don’t know how to get past that without jumping on something she might not want to talk about. Instead, I keep silent, watching her totter around her house, getting ready for work, playing off of the conversation she and Jake are making when I can. I don’t feel uncomfortable like I had expected. Ms. Veta asks about me, invested primarily in Jake, but she is so happy and easygoing it would be impossible to be truly on the edges in her home. It’s a reflection of her - welcoming, warm, and comforting. It is a beach house without a beach, just as she is an island girl without her island.
After a few last moments of bustling around, she is ready to go. She pulls on her jacket, a big, puffy thing, and says, “I still can’t handle the cold here!” She pats her head, settling her hat over her hair, and grabs her lunch box. Jake opens the door for her, but she ushers me out first, following behind me after Jake closes the door and she locks it. We flank Ms. Veeta down her walkway and I pull the gate open for Jake so he can open the car door for her when and she is almost in when she pats her head again. “Oh no!” she says, “I forgot my glasses!”
She turns around and totters back towards the house, coming back out just a few minutes later with her glasses perched on her nose. “Okay,” she says as she sits in the passenger seat, breathless, “We can go now.”
Back in the car. JAKE and MS. VETA are in the front seats, MICHAELA is in the back.
MS. VETA: (to MICHAELA) Aren’t you going to ask me questions?
MICHAELA: (laughs) No, I’m just here to hang out.
MS. VETA: Okay then! (turns to JAKE) How’s ya girlfriend?
JAKE: She’s good. We’re both busy.
MS. VETA: As usual. Turn here.
JAKE: I know how to get back to school from your house, Ms. Veta.
MICHAELA: Do you though?
MS. VETA: He only forgot once. Made me worried sick!
JAKE: (laughing) I figured it out.
MS. VETA: You all my boys though, I gotta make sure you okay.
JAKE: I know, I know.
MICHAELA: Ms. Veta, how long have you worked at CNU?
MS. VETA: I think ten years now. A long time.
MICHAELA: Do you like it?
MS. VETA: I don’t like being so far away for the bus, but yeah, I like it. The people make it. The kids. I don’t like the dining halls though.
MICHAELA: Why not?
MS. VETA: Already told you too many spices. Y’all gettin good food, but it could be better.
JAKE: Oh, yeah?
MS. VETA: Yeah. Like with bananas. (turns to face MICHAELA) Have you ever been to Jamaica?
MICHAELA: No, I have not. I want to, though.
MS. VETA: You should go, it’s beautiful. Blue water, white sand, good people, and the fruit!
MS. VETA: Oh, yeah, hunny, oh, yeah. Pick ‘em right off the tree, and mmmmmmmm. Nothing like the bananas you eat here. No where near as good as from Jamaica.
MICHAELA: That sounds amazing.
MS. VETA: Oh, it is, hunny.
(There is silence in the car for a few minutes. JAKE turns the radio on.)
MS. VETA: You’re not very talkative, are you?
MICHAELA: (laughs) I’m just tired. I need more coffee.
MS. VETA: I asked if you wanted coffee, and you say no!
MICHAELA: I know, I know. I thought I was okay!
MS. VETA: I’ll make you coffee next time you come over. (turning back around, huffing) Should have made you coffee anyway.
MICHAELA: Thank you, Ms. Veta.
JAKE: You use it a lot, then?
MS. VETA: Every morning. Mostly the tea, though.
JAKE: Good, I’m glad.
MS. VETA: I gotta, it’s gonna take me ages to use all the K-cups you boys gave me!
JAKE: You spoil us often enough, it was our turn finally.
MS. VETA: You too good to me.
JAKE: Not at all.
MS. VETA: Jonathan gets his new car soon?
JAKE: Yep! He’ll be able to drive you again.
MS. VETA: But you still too busy for me.
JAKE: Unfortunately. You know I miss you though.
MS. VETA: And you my dinner date now.
JAKE: You bet I am.
MS. VETA: Oh, we almost there! (gathers her things)
JAKE: Who’s driving you tonight?
MS. VETA: Connor, I think, and one of the new boys. I don’t know which.
JAKE: Okay. Call me if you need anything.
(MS. VETA and JAKE unbuckle, opening and closing their doors. They walk to the front of the car, still talking, but the sound is muffled through the car’s exterior. JAKE hugs MS. VETA, and she kisses his cheek, smiling. When she turns to walk into work, JAKE gets back in the car.)
MICHAELA: Is that what it’s like every time?
JAKE: Believe it or not, she is usually even MORE talkative, especially if you haven’t seen her in a while. You’ll see the next time you come.
MICHAELA: I can’t wait.
"Driving Ms. Veta"
a nonfiction play by Michaela Dunow
I WAS INTRODUCED to Ms. Veta by the brothers of Kappa Delta Rho (KDR), a fraternity on Christopher Newport University's campus. From the outside, Ms. Veta seemed like a sort of adopted grandmother that the fraternity brother’s had picked from the dining staff at CNU, which ended up not being far from the truth.
Ms. Veta is the fun aunt, the doting grandmother, and the overprotective elder sister, all in one. Ms. Veta is an overwhelmingly loving and caring person, the kind of person you want to befriend.