Maya comments on the changes that occur in San Francisco after the U.S. enters World War II. Provincial black migrants, not dissimilar to the people Maya knew in Stamps, flow into the city, working side by side with illiterate whites in the defense industry. The black workers replace the Japanese, who have been unjustly interned by the U.S. government in camps. Maya notes that no one ever speaks about the Japanese displacement. She says the black community unconsciously pays little attention to the Japanese because blacks focus on advancing themselves in the face of white prejudice.
The constant aura of change and displacement in wartime San Francisco makes Maya feel at home for the first time in her life. Upon her entrance into school, she automatically gets promoted a grade and later transfers to a white school where she is one of only three black students. The white students appear aggressive and better educated. Maya remembers only one teacher from school, Miss Kirwin, who never played favorites and never treated Maya differently for being black. When she is fourteen, Maya receives a scholarship to the California Labor School where she studies dance and drama.
The owner of numerous apartment buildings and pool halls, Daddy Clidell becomes the only true father figure Maya ever knows. She loves his strength and his tenderness. He is dignified, but not haughty. He has no inferiority complex about receiving little education, but he also lacks the arrogance usually associated with men of great accomplishment. Daddy Clidell introduces Maya to his con-men friends who have learned to swindle bigoted whites. They once conned a racist white man from Tulsa who had a history of cheating blacks into paying $40,000 for a piece of property that did not exist. Maya cannot regard the con men as criminals because she says the deck has been stacked against them from the start anyway. Ethics, she notes, depends upon necessity and are therefore different in the black community.
Big Bailey invites Maya to spend the summer with him and his girlfriend, Dolores. Dolores and Maya exchange letters and anticipate incorrectly each other’s physical appearance. Both Dolores and Maya are shocked when they meet for the first time. Big Bailey has promised to marry Dolores, but he keeps postponing the wedding plans. Much to Maya’s surprise, they live in a low-class mobile home. Nevertheless, Dolores tries to maintain the home in prim-and-proper style, and Maya’s messy nature disturbs Dolores from the beginning. Big Bailey watches the mutual discomfort between Maya and Dolores with amusement.
A fluent speaker of Spanish and an avid chef both by trade and in the home, Big Bailey makes frequent trips to Mexico supposedly to buy groceries. One day Big Bailey invites Maya on one of his shopping trips, inciting Dolores’s jealousy. During the trip, he jokes with a guard by offering Maya to him as a wife. He drives past the border towns and stops outside Ensenada. Women, men, and children greet him warmly. Big Bailey becomes a different person. He relaxes and stops putting on airs. Maya, who knows a bit of Spanish from school, begins to enjoy herself, but when she cannot find her father later in the evening, she becomes frightened and sits alone in the car, waiting for him. Eventually he staggers out drunk and passes out in the car. Maya drives fifty miles back to the border even though she has never driven a car before, let alone one with a clutch. She has a minor accident at the checkpoint. Big Bailey regains consciousness and settles the matter before driving the rest of the way home. He is neither surprised nor angry about the accident. He does not seem surprised that Maya could drive, and Maya dislikes the fact that he does not appreciate the magnitude of her achievement. They ride home in silence.
After returning home, Maya overhears an argument between Dolores and Big Bailey. Dolores feels that Maya has come between them. Big Bailey leaves the house in a huff, leaving Dolores sobbing alone. Maya approaches Dolores and tells her that she never meant to come between them. Maya feels strong and honorable doing her good deed, but Dolores rebuffs Maya’s peaceful gesture and insults her, calling her mother, Vivian, a whore. Furious, Maya tells Dolores she is going to slap her and then does so. Dolores retaliates and Maya realizes that Dolores has stabbed her with scissors. Bleeding, Maya runs out of the house and locks herself in her father’s car. Big Bailey hears Dolores screaming and returns to investigate. He takes Dolores inside the house then drives Maya, who feels empowered by the events, to a friend’s house, where a woman bandages Maya’s wound. Afterward, he drives her to the home of another friend, where she spends the night. Big Bailey visits her at noon the next day and gives her some money, promising to return later that evening. Dreading having to face her father’s friends, Maya packs some food and leaves. She cannot return to Vivian, however, because she would never be able to hide her wound. Telling Vivian would only precipitate trouble between Vivian and Big Bailey, and Maya guiltily remembers Mr. Freeman’s death all too clearly.