When the lights come up onstage, Bynum and Mattie are eating breakfast while Bertha works over the stove. Bynum talks to Mattie about the charm cloth he gave her, but Bertha tells him to hush. He obeys and leaves the kitchen as Herald enters. When Herald sits to eat, Bertha advises Mattie to not listen to Bynum. “That kind of stuff,” she says, “Even if it do work for a while, it don’t last.” She also suggests that Mattie not worry about Jeremy, who ran off with Molly. “I seen it coming,” Bertha says. She assures Mattie that Jeremy isn’t worth worrying about, and that she shouldn’t waste time wishing for men to return. “You get all that trouble off your mind and just when it look like you ain’t never gonna find what you want…you look up and it’s standing right there. That’s how I met my Seth.”
Whereas Bynum believes every person is part of a “grand design” and that this design can be helped along with certain rituals, Bertha believes the future is best left untouched. What’s interesting is that this mindset actually reinforces the determinist viewpoint Bynum espouses, since Bertha invests herself in the idea that what’s meant to be will inevitably take place. This notion ultimately aligns with Bynum’s ideas about existing in a “grand design,” since Bertha’s belief in inevitability emphasizes the fact that people are part of something bigger than themselves.
Seth comes inside, sees Herald, and reminds him that it’s Tuesday. Annoyed, Bertha pulls her husband out of the kitchen, leaving Herald and Mattie alone. They talk idly about how Loomis needs to find his wife to get a “starting place in the world,” and Mattie says she hopes he succeeds. “I been watching you,” Herald admits. “I been watching you watch me.” He moves closer, saying, “Come here and let me touch you,” and Mattie says, “I ain’t got enough for you. You’d use me up too fast.” In response, Herald says, “Herald Loomis got a mind seem like you a part of it since I first seen you.” He reaches to touch her, lightly putting his fingers on her but suddenly stopping, apparently unable to embrace her. “I done forgot how to touch,” he says.
The fact that Herald has forgotten “how to touch” illustrates the extent to which his experience with Joe Turner has cut him off from leading a normal life. Still feeling the effects of hatred forced upon him by a white tyrant, Herald’s ability to relate to others is stunted. In this moment, the audience senses that this is perhaps part of the reason why he needs to see Martha’s face and thus start his “own” world again; he needs to remember how to love. Having been taken from his wife, his conception of romance and human intimacy has essentially been paused. As such, he can’t bring himself to “touch” Mattie, since he’s still beholden to Martha even if it’s been years since he’s seen her.