Even though Liberty and Tay prepared Quan for Mama’s visit, Quan still feels like he’s going to be beheaded. Whatever she’s here for has to be really bad, since she hasn’t visited in 21 months, hasn’t sent any letters or packages, and never answers when he calls. Quan stops in the doorway, staring at Mama. Her chin is quivering.
Quan doesn’t feel like Mama loves or supports him, given that she hasn’t made an effort to stay in contact. Because of this, he assumes that there must be something wrong that will affect him or someone else he loves—otherwise she wouldn’t bother coming to see him.
Quan thinks back to the prep meeting he had with Liberty and Tay. Their desire to protect his mental and emotional health shook him. Liberty explained that Mama had called and asked about visitation hours. The woman at the front desk reached out to Liberty, who reached out to Tay. For the next hour, Quan discussed the visit with Liberty and Tay. They asked if Quan had questions for Mama. There are a lot, like why now, what does she want, and if this means she still cares—but he didn’t ask them. He just wants to know what happened.
Though the woman at the front desk only receives a passing mention, it’s significant that she reached out to Liberty. This implies that there might be even more people in Quan’s corner than he thought. He might not even know who those people are, but they’re there if he’s willing to look. Tay and Liberty also seem to grasp the significance of Mama’s visit, a reflection of how much they care about Quan. They’ve been listening to him and his fears about Mama for months now, so they know this visit is important.
Quan half wants to flip the table over as he sits down across from Mama. She looks tired and unwell. After a long silence, Mama says that Gabe misses Quan. Quan is furious, but he still wants Mama to love him. He asks her to please tell him what’s going on, knowing if he says more it won’t be nice. Mama says that Dasia was just diagnosed with leukemia. Quan tries to speak, but Mama spills the whole story as fast as she can. The first doctor gave Dasia a few months to live and said chemo was pointless, but Dasia’s stubborn. The second doctor was a Black woman who seemed to care, but cancer is still cancer and treatment is expensive. They have insurance now, but Mama lost her job last week.
More than anything, Quan wants proof that Mama, Daddy, and his biological family still care about him. He needs to know that Martel and Black Jihad aren’t the only ones, aside from Justyce and his support team in prison, who care. But as Mama speaks, it becomes clear that she’s not here to convey her love. Rather, she appears to see the visit as her duty, not necessarily something she’s doing out of love or care. But when Mama describes Dasia’s experiences with doctors, it becomes clear that Dasia is going through much the same journey Quan is. It takes finding someone who actually cares about seeing them live and thrive for the kids to get the help they need.
Mama says that right after she lost her job, one of Quan’s friends came to check on them. It was Trey. Quan feels guilt, anger, and fear. He hasn’t heard from his friends, but does this mean they haven’t forgotten about him? Mama continues her story. She ended up telling Trey everything, and Trey insisted that all of Quan’s friends would take care of them. Hours later, some guys showed up with groceries, cooked dinner, cleaned, and left her with money. Mama seems to come back to herself. She looks away, apologizes for scaring Quan, and says she just thought he should know.
Quan is going on two years in prison at this point, and he hasn’t heard a word from Trey or any of the other Black Jihad boys, other than Martel’s offer of legal counsel early on. Quan seems to have taken this silence to mean that they don’t care about him anymore, but hearing that they’re stepping in to help Mama and Dasia challenges this belief. Hearing that they’re feeding and caring for Mama shows Quan that his old friends do care, they just aren’t showing it in ways visible to Quan.
Quan knows Mama won’t look at him again. He asks if Dasia knows Mama is here, but he already knows the answer—she didn’t want Quan to know. Mama says that Gabe does miss Quan. With a smile, Quan says he misses Gabe and will see him soon. Mama stares at Quan skeptically. She’s done with the conversation. Quan chokes up as she says things are alright and walks away without looking back. He wants to ask her how things can be okay when his being in prison is so wrong.
Mama has clearly stopped believing in Quan, as her behavior here implies that she doesn’t believe he’s getting out. Some of this might be self-preservation on Mama’s part. She may be unwilling to trust yet another man who has since let her down. But the fact remains that she’s not there for Quan when he needs her, and for Quan, this is heartbreaking and offensive.