BLESSED IS THE FRUIT | EXCERPT
A World of Canes
Listen to a reading by Robert Antoni
WE BEGIN WITH love? Doudou, I ain’t know what we begin with. What you call that? Bullying. You call that bullying. We begin with bullying, meet up with little love. Maybe little bit. Una could suppose.
I could remember the first time. I did had but thirteen years then, and Berry, he did had about sixteen. Thirteen and sixteen, two children, nothing more. We wasn’t nothing more than two children then. I did just finish at the elementary school. I got to look for work now. I can’t go at high school, ain’t got nobody to send me at high school. Buy me books and different things. I got to look for work. So my grandmother, she arrange for me to go by a woman does do needleworks. I go by this woman to learn the needleworks from she, Mistress Bethel. But to get from Sherman to Mistress Bethel house now, I got to pass crossroads, you know, got to pass he house, where he living, this Berry. Well that ain’t nothing. Ain’t nothing in that. I ain’t fraid for the man, I ain’t thinking nothing about the man. I just keeping to myself, go long about my business. My grandmother, she buy couple dresses for me, you know, to go at needleworks, I press them and I make them neat and thing. So I walking, my little bag, my clasp and my earring. Looking pretty, real pretty now, and I pass this Berry sitting relaxing pon he gallery. Big wide porch front the house. Well this Berry stand up and he watch at me, you know, ogle me every time whilst I pass. I was thinking, What this man watching at you for? What he watching at you for like that? But he ain’t tell me nothing, and I ain’t saying nothing to he neither.
Then one time I had to go up crossroads in the night, there where he was living. I had to go up with a cousin of mine to meet with she friend. She friend uses to work at this shop, grocery shop, selling groceries. This shop close at seven o’clock, you know seven o’clock dark. This girl fraid to walk home by sheself come seven o’clock. So we gone to meet with she, you know, keep she with company. We leave home about six, six o’clock come already you can’t see you hand front you face. So we gone over. We making plenty noise, bunch of we walking together must be about five-six, we going over to bring my cousin friend. You know must be two-three miles from Sherman to crossroads, but all is canes. Canes canes and more canes. That place. And so dark. So we got to pass by this man house, coming and going.
When we get there now, when we approaching this Berry house, you know he got a lot of little pups. Lot of little pups. Like he had a slut-dog or something, uses to got pups all the time. And he just keep the pups, raise up the pups. But anyway, he must be had about a dozen pups. We did frighten enough for them dogs, oh yes, but long as he there, you would think, Well he would call them back. If he there he would call them back, them dogs ain’t going be out in the road. Well anyway you more scared of he than the dogs. You prefer the dogs to he! Cause you could ring a rock in the dogs, you could do that, but you couldn’t ring a rock in he. He more dangerous than the dogs! So we approaching now, little before where the house is. I see he light on, I say, cause we uses to call he the beast, that’s the name we did call he by. I say, “The beast, the beast light on.” So we, we shut we mouth now, easy, we passing to this side he living to this side, you know how frighten we is for he? Oh, yes! And he there a-waiting. The beast there a-waiting we.
We going quiet now we tipping, we tipping so silent them dogs can’t even hear. All in a sudden I feel somebody grab on me, my arm, grab my arm tight tight. I say, “Wha?” When I look, is the beast-self grab me. I say to myself, Oh my Jesus what this man want with you now? What he going do with you now? He make the rest a sign like that, he fist in the air. You know, go-long! get! So they all gone a-running. They take-off! Gone a-running and left me, poor me, left me there with this beast, this trap-man. I say, My sweet Jesus don’t let this man kill me! Don’t let this man murder me tonight! I say, and I talking up aloud to he now, I say, “What you? What you want with me?” He did pushing me forward, shoving me like that, big tall red-man. You know, red-skin negro and tall. He say, “Una walk. Una just walk. Or I going let go all these pon una.” This time he got he pockets full with bombs, full. Cause it was getting to November now, Guy Fawkes time. And you know before Guy Fawkes they does start to selling the rockets, and the starlights, and the bombs and different things. Well we got to settle for little pack of starlights, maybe a bandit, pack of bandit, but this Berry, he got the works. He aunt bring it from town for he. This Berry got he pockets full with these bombs. You know the bombs you does hit down? The ones with the flint? When you hit them down that flint hit you all up in you foot. And I did frighten for them things so bad, so harsh! I say, “What you going do with me? When them children come back, you would let me go home? You would let me go home with them?” Cause I know they had to come back going the next way. He say, “Don’t ask me nothing. Don’t ask me what I going do with you, you just wait and see.” I say, “If you kill me they would find me tomorrow, and them children know you is the body carry me!” I start to wriggle now, wriggle-out, he say, “Don’t you wriggle neither. Don’t you wriggle neither or you going wriggle in two of these. In you backside I going put two of these bombs!” Bombs with the flint, oh my Jesus that thing does hurt so, scorch you all up in you foot.
I just want to get way. I did fraid so bad when them other children leave me, and I just want get home. I say, “What you going do better start doing now, cause it getting late.” He say, “Got to do in the patient.” I say, “What?” He say, “Got to do in the patient now.” I say, “You, you wouldn’t patient with me already! What you going do, do now. And let me go. Cause when them children reach home they would tell my grandmother where I gone, and she would call police pon you!” He say, “I ain’t killing nobody.” I say, “Look how you got me holding! I ain’t give you consent to touch-up me!” He was walking me straight, direction of them canes. So we reach in the dark now, this where the canes start. He say, “Stop.” I say, “What you stopping for? You going shoot me?” He say, “You see I got gun?” I say, “I ain’t know what you got, nor I ain’t want to know neither.” He say, “You know what I want.” I say, “I ain’t know what you want, and you better, you better don’t touch me!” He say, “You done touch already.” I say, “Done touch already, but never by no vagabond like you. Never by no beast!”
Well we reach in the canes now. Deep in the deep of them canes. I can’t see where I going, just walking in the blind wherever he push me, shove me. I say to myself, Ain’t no cause to fight he. Big tall red-man. Just let he do what he want, then you could go home. So then, then he stop. He lie me down, lie me down in them canes. You know, things happen, he just do he business and that is that. Wasn’t no pain, that terrible pain searing. Wasn’t nothing. Nothing to not-like nor like neither. Just what you got to put up with. What you got to bear. And you getting accustom to that already anyway.
So he finish, he get up, I get up, I want run now. But still he holding me, holding my arm. He say, “Where you run and going?” I say, “I going home.” He say, “You expecting to go cross that road by youself?” I say, “More happy going by myself than going with you.” He say, “After what happen you ain’t trust me?” I say, “No. That could happen to anybody. That ain’t nothing. That’s just something got to happen.” He say, “You’s a stupid woman.” Just like that. I say, “Well I like to be stupid.” That’s all I did answer he, “Well I just like to be stupid.”
So we walk. We walk in them canes, he holding my arm. He ain’t saying nothing, nor I ain’t saying nothing neither, only, “When I get home I going tell my grandmother, that’s all.” He say, “Well you tell you grandmother and let all you cousins hear what you do, then you name going be out in the street. Ain’t nobody would bother with me, but they all going talk about you.” And that’s the truth. Cause you know when a girl do anything like that, when people hear, they call you nasty. Oh Lord they does call you so bad! You got to keep that thing in the secret. I say, “But if I don’t tell them, if I don’t tell nobody, you would tell them. You would tell them cause you’s a slut.” He say, “You ain’t got nothing to say to hit me with, who you calling a slut?” I say, “You.” Just like that. He say, “When I going see you again?” I say, “You ain’t never going see me again. Never. Me and you ain’t no company.” I say, “Why me? All we going up crossroads together, other girls there and thing, why me? Why you picking pon me? Is cause my family can’t, cause we can’t come up? Cause we poor?” He say, “It ain’t money. It is people. People. You understand?” I say, “That ain’t true you know better than that. You and me ain’t no company. And you ain’t never going see me again.” He say, “When you going up crossroads tomorrow, going at needleworks, you stop me from seeing you. Try and stop.” I say, “All right, see you tomorrow. Just let me go home, and I would see you tomorrow.”
I get a job ironing out the clothes with my Uncle Arrows. He father is Mr. Bootman the Panama Man, and Mr. Bootman got he business to wash out the clothes for the sailors. Sailors that come in off the ships. American and English ships. Cause whole lot of American and English ships uses to come in in Corpus Christi then, come in from the war. Mr. Bootman would pick up the nuniforms from off the ships in the harbor, and he bring them back in he car for Arrows to wash them out. So Uncle Arrows would mind the machines turning to wash and dry the clothes, but then he got to iron out the seams. I tell he I could do that. I say, “Chups! Arrows, man, I could do that!” Was one of them heater-irons he had, you know, the kind with the coals. So pon my way in the morning I just buy up two pound of coals, light the coals, and when them catch up good, cover it down. Cover that iron down tight tight. Cause it could go a long time like that. That’s one them big iron I could tell you, with handle, and heavy. I could scarce even pick up that thing. Doudou, you know the amount of pants and thing I scorch and had to throw down in the toilet before my uncle miss them, and Mr. Bootman!
So I ain’t seeing Berry again. Must be about three-four months. I ain’t going at crossroads so ain’t got to see he. But this Berry making it he business to come in now, come in by Sherman where I living. He get to know a fellow name of Lewey, this Lewey live facing my grandmother house. So Berry, he would come early pon evenings, you know, cook and different things with Lewey. They playing draughts and thing. Making a racket. But still I ain’t had no confrontation with the beast as yet, not since the first time. I didn’t even uses to be at home most the time pon evenings.
Cause my grandmother, she uses to go at church regular pon evenings. Church meeting, or choir practice, something so. You know she always doing something in that church. My grandmother go with she boyfriend, Lambert, and I uses to go with them and visit with my cousin whilst they in the church. Cause my cousin living cross from the big Baptist church, and I could visit with she. So when ten o’clock come, and my grandmother and Lambert going home, they call me out from my cousin house, I just run and catch the bike and I go long. Cause Lambert uses to drive bicycle, and he would, you know, put my grandmother to sit pon the front, pon the crossbars, and he riding the pedals and they going long like that.
Well I say to Lewey now, cause I know Lewey he living cross the street from me, I say, “Lewey, man, why you drive this man bike for me to hold on like that? You know I ain’t want nothing to do with this beast.” Lewey say, “He pay me to do it. He give me money pay me and you know with money, anything goes. You know that!” Berry jump off the crossbar now and Lewey gone, was Berry bike Lewey did driving. Lewey gone and he take off like that, left me there with this vagabond. I think to myself, This man gone and hold you again? You got to go through this thing again? I say, “I ain’t talking with you. Ain’t talking with you no matter what you do me.” He say, “Wait! I go through all this to get to you, dress up myself in ganga, and you ain’t going talk with me?” He say, “You think that I would go through all this, and let you go so easy?” This time I thinking, Well you can’t fight with he, big tall man like he, and strong. I say, “Talk then. Talk then what you want cause I can’t fight with you.”
So then he talk talk talk. He talk. But I ain’t answering he nothing. I ain’t speaking a good time. Last I say, “You does bully everybody to talk with you like this?” He say, “No. I don’t does bully people.” I say, “Well what you doing with me now then? You don’t call this bullying? This is bullying, this ain’t love.” He say, “I does feel something for you.” I say, “Well I ain’t feel nothing for you. I just feel when I look in you face hatred like I want kill you! Or you going kill me!” He say, “You just keep quiet, or let me cuff you in you mouth.” I say, “I know you going cuff me in my mouth that’s all you could do is cuff.” He say, “Why you keep telling me them things? Why you keep telling me them things make me mad, and running from me? Why you keep running from me for?” So I say, “I fraid for you to cuff me.” He say, “Not so easy. Not so easy.” I say, “What you going do with me now?” He say, “I ain’t going do nothing more than I ain’t do already.” So I say, say like the last time, “Well you just do it quick and let me go. Cause onliest thing I want is to get way from you.” He didn’t answering nothing to that, and I didn’t talking nothing no more neither. He just pushing me walking through them canes, push me deeper in them canes. So now I thinking, Well look, you could just give up. Cause he so tall, and strong, you can’t do nothing to get way from he. And plus I was thinking, Well if he could put heself so low, so low as that to dress up heself as woman, dress up heself as ganga, only to get to you, maybe something there? Maybe something there in that?
Then he lie me down again pon some dead canes, he find someplace soft in them canes for we to lie. Now he start to feeling me up, but not so rough, more gentle this time, and I kind of relax. I say, “Leastest thing you could do is take off that wig. That broadhat and them earring. You look like a fool.” He did embarrassed now, so he take off he ganga-clothes, he start up again. I just relax more into it, don’t fight with he too much, and I did start to like it this time. You know, he was feeling me up but gentle, gentle now, and I just go soft inside. Down there. I just go all to waters. Deep blue and purple warm wistful waters, and he raise up and he go inside, he, whole of he warm deep inside, and I just melt down soft into it like that. Easy. Not fighting now. And it did feel good this time. And he did know I was liking it too.
When he finish, you know, he laugh and thing, I laugh, I feeling good now. Not so bad. We talk and thing, we laugh little bit, he ain’t holding me no more but I ain’t running neither. We say, well he ask me if I want to go in town. I say, “No. I can’t go in town. I ain’t got no money to go in town. What little few cents I could catch from the ironing got to give my granny. Or take and buy the things that I need. I ain’t got no money to go in town. You know how it is?” He say, “Well I could give you money to go in town. You could be my girlfriend.” I say, “Don’t you, don’t you laugh at me!” He say, “Ain’t laughing at nobody.” I say, “You and me is different kind of people. Where you come from and where I come from is different kind of people. So you got to look for you kind of people, and I got to look for my kind of people. That’s just the way.” He say, “Who is my kind of people?” I say, “People that got money. Got education. People that go at high school and got car and big house and thing.” He say, “It don’t be money. It don’t. Is just people, understand?” He say, “Just let we, just tell me if you would be my girlfriend, and you could see me. I ain’t want to dress up in ganga-clothes all the time to come looking for you.” Well I laugh at that. I just had to laugh at that. He laugh too. We laugh so hard! We laugh till we belly hurt. Now we ain’t saying nothing a time. A long time. Just sitting there in the silent. Listen in the silent to them breeze brushing through the canes, all them canes a-creeking, kerrack, kerrack-kak, and smelling green, and earth wet. And feeling the cool. Feeling far off. Like we did far off from everybody. Last he say, “Man, do, say something!” I say, “All right. All right then. I could be you girlfriend. You ain’t got to walk behind me dress up ganga, but you, don’t you bully me!” He say, “I ain’t going bully you. I ain’t. You going see. I going be all right.” So then we, we do it again. He ain’t hold me this time and I ain’t run this time neither. We do it again and I hold he. Hold on tight to melt in them warm, wistful waters. And I did like it good enough this time.
So he tell me where to meet he and I go. We meet. Time to time. You know, I still did doubt, I still did had it pon my mind. I ain’t in love with the man so good as yet. But then he did behaving heself ok. The beast did behaving heself ok. I start to like he. Well, more than like, and he too. Time come when I just couldn’t miss he out from my eyesight. Nor he couldn’t miss me out from he eyesight neither. We did going together, a time, we go in town a Saturday evening, take in a picture-show, things like that. And we go in the canes, always in the canes.
But then my grandmother get to find out, find out about we. Sweet Jesus! My grandmother give me so much of struggle, so much of struggle over this man. Tell me I hang my hat too high, and when I go to reach it down it going fall and hit me pon my head. I trying to come up too much, I should mind my station. All them kind of thing. My grandmother say, you know, he too big for me and thing. And then he father get to find out, Berry father did. Well he was more worse than my grandmother. He tell Berry I ain’t no good, no class, I ain’t no class for he. Berry father say I’s low-down people, call me monkey, molasses-monkey, all them kind of thing. Oh Lord we get the works. So much of struggle. He get it from he side and I get it from my side. When I go in the canes at night with Berry, my grandmother shut me out the house. Lock me out. I got to sleep under the cellar. You know that house was standing pon posts, groundsills, and underneath open. We call that the cellar. And that place so damp, and so cold. When I sleep under the cellar my eyes swell up. Catch cold in my face.
We meeting in the canes about every night now, sexing all the time, and feeling good. Reach a point we ain’t want to go home not for nothing, he to hear from he father, me from my grandmother. One night we stay out most the whole night, and didn’t get scarce no sleep neither. That morning I scorch up must be about a dozen the sailor pants. You know I was working two heater-irons now, two going at the same time, steaming up, ironing out the seams. I smell this thing scorching and I turn round, I throw off the iron quick quick and sprinkling water pon this pants, time as I turn round again, next pants a-scorching. On and on again and again till I must be scorch up about the entire American Navy! Me one. And is not Uncle Arrows come in that morning to find me, is Mr. Bootman the Panama Man. When that Mr. Bootman the Panama Man come in to find me with all these sailor pants a-scorching, near went after me with them iron! He say, “Man, you know who nuniform this is? You know who nuniform you got the privilege to hold in you hands? This garment near sacred. You don’t play with Uncle Samson like that already!” I just take-off and I running. Take-off and I ain’t looking back.
Now I got to find more work. I say to myself, What you could do? Ain’t nothing you could do. So then I watch at my grandmother. She does work estate, work in the fields doing labor. Not cutting canes. She work pulling grass, pulling grasses from between the canes, keeping the canes clean. So I say to myself, You strong as she. You could do that good as she. I ask my granny, “I want to help you in the field.” Granny Ansin say, “I ain’t want you coming behind me. I ain’t want you nowhere near behind me. I ain’t even want you in my house!”
So things carry on like that. I work two weeks and then I rest awhile. Cause that’s hard work you working them canes, you can’t go like that all the time. I rest and I work some more. They pay me sometimes three dollars, three-fifty for two weeks. That can’t buy you scarce nothing that three-fifty. Maybe couple yards of cloth to make a dress. Jar of cream, Pons cold cream, something like that. Two weeks for jar of cream. But that’s the only work you could get, so you got to do it. Berry, he ain’t want to hear nothing about me working in them canes. Cause that’s poor people work, that’s the work for poor people. And plus, he know when I in the canes working all the day like that, I ain’t going back in the night. I say, “Chups! Man, next thing I be living in them canes.” I say, “I tired, man. I too tired!” But he know I still like it good in them canes. Like it good enough.
Then one time my grandmother went pon excursion, church excursion. You know how the church have excursion to visit some other church and thing? We call that mission day. Well this mission day was my grandmother turn to cook. You know, preacher give she money to make the picnic. So my grandmother bake and cook and all kind of thing, and she make this big picnic basket for this excursion. Big basket. I wasn’t going, but I tell my grandmother that I would carry the basket for she, with all these cokes and food and different things. I know me and Berry would get chance to be together the whole day cause my grandmother ain’t going be there. I say, “Ansin, let me carry the basket. This a big basket, and I could carry it I stronger than you. Let me carry the basket up the hill.” So she say I could carry the basket. I raise it up pon my head to carry, we walking with them other women going up crossroads to catch the bus. I tell my grandmother, “You go-long. Go-long up in front and catch the, you know that bus would come soon so you go-long and catch and I would come up fast behind.”
So I walking long and I reach up my hand throwing out the cokes now, two for him and one for me. I throw out some sandwich, about six-eight sandwich, cakes, about three different kind of cakes I throw out, coconut cakes and chocolate, different fruits and thing. He did hiding in the canes, following behind me but sticking to the canes, and when I throw out, he just run and he collect-up. The things I throwing out. One time like my grandmother, like she catch me, she wait for me to come up and she say, “What happen with you? You very far back.” I say, “Feel so tired.” She say, “You go-long home! Give my basket and you go-long home.” I say, “No. I going carry it to the bus.” Cause I did feel so shame now to give she back that basket. She say, “I feel something going happen with you today. I got a presentiment for that.” I say, “Ain’t nothing going happen with me. You go-long have youself a nice time in the picnic.” Anyway, bus come, my grandmother gone, she climb up in the bus and she gone. Ain’t even notice the basket empty. Near empty. But when this man come out the canes now! So many things I throw out, near about everything was in that basket. Well we running we can’t scarce carry all this food and cokes and different things, can’t scarce wait to get weself inside them canes. So then we sit down and we start and we eat. We eat eat eat. Eat cakes and different things, eat banana, we must be eat about six banana each. Now we take a break and we do little something, we do little something and then we eat some more, eat some sandwich and drink a coke, take a break and do little something more, eat some more, eat a coconut cake, or chocolate, off and on and off and on like that whole morning long. My sweet Jesus that was picnic we make that day! We did start from early morning, about eight o’clock, we doing just how we feel. Everything! So reach now about two o’clock, I say I going home and bathe and change, he say he going home and bathe too, and he would meet me back there in the canes about four o’clock.
So I going home now, but before I go and bathe I pass by a friend of mine cause I did feel so thirsty. After we eat so early and so much, eat till all finish, cause we ain’t stopping till ain’t nothing more to eat. So this girlfriend of mine, where she living had plenty coconut trees, tall coconut trees. Coconut trees with water-coconuts. Them trees so tall the coconuts stand and get big big, you know everybody fraid to pick them coconuts cause they fraid to climb up so high. But doudou, this day I feeling I is boss. I is boss, and I going climb up them tree. I put this big ladder up in the tree, and I start to climbing up in that tree till the ladder get a belly like, a belly of sinking, but I keep climbing. I keep climbing, and just when I get at the center, just when I reach in the center of that belly, plaks! the ladder break, and all I know now is I flying. Doudou, I flying! Flying through the air. Ain’t even know when I hit, when I hit the ground. Cause all I could remember is that flying.
When I wake up must be about three-four days later. I ain’t even know how I reach in the bed. All I know is my body so stiff, so stiff. I couldn’t even raise up my head off the pillow. But he come and he stand pon me. Berry did. He come and he stand pon me every day, and soon I start to feeling better, getting back pon my feet. You know he bring eggs, and malt, iron, build back up my nerves. He buy block of iron, you know that black thing? He just chip off some in the milk, and milk start and turn just like iron. Taste, shew! real bad, but it good for you, good for the nerves. I lie there in the bed, he looking down pon me, I looking up pon he face, I say to myself, Well let you look and he real good now. Look at he good, cause you only ever see this rat mostly in the night, darkness of them canes. And he was handsome too. He with he long nose, and them freckles on it. That man handsome in truth. Then my grandmother, one morning she come to me and she say, “Like he a nice boy. Like I did treating he wrong.” I say, “I know he gavering nice to me. He gavering nice to me a time.”
My grandmother turn bad pon me again. Treat me so harsh. Worse even than when she uses to lock me out the house, and I got to sleep under the cellar. Worse even than that. Then one day I went up crossroads, catch the bus, and Berry father hold me front everybody. Hold me and curse me front everybody. Say, “I would give you one kick in you belly kick that child through you mouth! Get you whoreself way from my son!” Say worse than that. Oh my Jesus I did feel so bad, so shame. And, doudou, I did crying. I cry so much for that. I say to myself, Lord, what I gone and do? What I gone and do to get this? I tell Berry, I say, “Look, man, you just go about you business, and forget, let me go about my business.” Berry say, “You can’t tell me that. You can’t. Cause that what you got in you belly that belong to me too. We just got to make out. We just got to make out together.”
So Berry gone now and he apply for fireman. Gone and apply for fire service. You know you got to sit exam to do that, cause that’s government thing. So Berry sit exam and he come out all A’s. All A’s! Cause he very very smart, he very smart and he could write so pretty. They tell he he come out all A’s. So he gone and he drop from the high school, cause he going join in the fire service now. Hat and cape and everything. We find weself this little house to rent. Pay down the first month. Six dollars. Only a little one-room board-house, but it got in the bed, and two chairs, and little table.
We had it plan. How we did do. You know Berry gone and he buy the bucket, water bucket, and I gone and I buy you the cup. Little white metal cup for you. And little spoon. Cup and spoon and water bucket. And we own house to live in. Doudou, that afternoon we did think we own the sky! We own the sky and earth both, so much of things we had! So next morning when Ansin go in church, and Berry father out driving the bus, we move in all we things inside the house. Yesterday. That was only yesterday we movin’ here. Seem like a month! This little house. But, doudou, ain’t so small. Cause you know what you daddy tell me? He say, “Vel, the thing I like mostest of this house is the yard.” I say, “Yard?” I say, “Onliest thing we got for yard is the street. Pothole and puddle!” Berry say, “I talking about the back yard. You ain’t notice the back yard?” He say, “We got the whole world of canes for we back yard.”
“…an extraordinary and, I strongly suspect, enduring work of art.”
HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY, INC.