Read Barracoon Online

Authors: Zora Neale Hurston

Barracoon (9 page)

XII

Alone

O
ne night Seely wake up in de night and say, ‘Cudjo wake up. I dream about our chillun. Look lak dey cold.' I tell her she think too much. Go back to sleep. It hurtee me, 'cause it a cold night in November in de 1908 and I 'member how Seely used to visit de chillun when dey was little to see dey got plenty quilts, so dey keep warm, you unnerstand me. De nexy day, she say ‘Cudjo, come on less we go see our chilluns grave. So I say yes, but I try not take her 'cause I 'fraid she worry 'bout dem. So I go in de church and makee lak I busy so she furgitee de graveyard. When I come out de church, I don't see her nowhere, so I look cross de hill and I see her in de family lot. I see Seely goin' from one her chillun grave to de other, lak she cover dem up wid mo' quilts.

“De nexy week my wife lef' me. Cudjo doan know. She ain' been sick, but she die. She doan want to leave me. She cry 'cause she doan want me be lonesome. But she leave me and go where her chillun. Oh Lor'! Lor'! De wife
she de eyes to de man's soul. How kin I see now, when I ain' gottee de eyes no mo'?

“De nexy month my Aleck he die. Den I jes lak I come from de Afficky soil. I got nobody but de daughter-in-law, Mary, and de grandchillun. I tellee her she my son's wife so she stay in de compound and she take de land when I go wid Seely and our chillun.

“Ole Charlie, he de oldest one come from de Afficky soil. One Sunday after my wife left me he come wid all de others dat come cross de water and say, ‘Uncle Cudjo, make us a parable.'

“‘Well den,' I say, ‘You see Ole Charlie dere. S'pose he stop here on de way to church. He got de parasol 'cause he think it gwine rain when he leave de house. But he look at de sky and 'cide hit ain' gwine rain so he set it dere by de door an' go on to church. After de preachin' he go on home 'cause he think de parasol at Cudjo house. It safe. He say, “I git it nexy time I go dat way.” When he come home he say to one de chillun, “Go to Cudjo house and tellee him I say sendee me my parasol.”

“‘De parasol it pretty. I likee keep dat one.' But I astee dem all, ‘Is it right to keep de parasol?' Dey all say, ‘No it belong to Charlie.'

“‘Well,' I say, ‘my wife, she b'long to God. He lef' her by my door.'

“I 'preciate my countrymen dey come see me when dey know I lonely. Another time dey come to me and say, ‘Uncle Cudjo, make us another parable.'

“I bow my head in my hands, den I lift it up again. (Characteristic gesture when he begins a story.) Den I
talk. ‘I doan know—me and my wife, we been ridin. I think we go to Mt. Vernon. De conductor go to her and say, “Ole Lady, where you goin' get off?” She say, “Plateau.”'

“‘I look at her. I say, “How you say you goin' get off at Plateau? I thought you goin' to Mount Vernon wid me.”'

“‘She shake her head. She say, “I doan know. I jes know I git off at Plateau. I doan wanna leave you, but I got to git off at Plateau.”'

“‘De conductor blow once. He blow twice, and my wife she say, “Goodbye, Cudjo. I hate to leave you.” But she git off at Plateau. De conductor come to me and astee, “Ole man, where you goin' git off?”'

“‘I say, “Mount Vernon.”'

“I travelling yet. When I git to Mount Vernon, I no talk to you no mo'.”

I had spent two months with Kossula, who is called Cudjo, trying to find the answers to my questions. Some days we ate great quantities of clingstone peaches and talked. Sometimes we ate watermelon and talked. Once it was a huge mess of steamed crabs. Sometimes we just ate. Sometimes we just talked. At other times neither was possible, he just chased me away. He wanted to work in his garden or fix his fences. He couldn't be bothered. The present was too urgent to let the past intrude. But on the whole, he was glad to see me, and we became warm friends.

At the end the bond had become strong enough for him to wish to follow me to New York. It was a very sad morning in October when I said the final goodbye, and
looked back the last time at the lonely figure that stood on the edge of the cliff that fronts the highway. He had come out to the front of his place that overhangs the Cochrane Highway that leads to the bridge of that name. He wanted to see the last of me. He had saved two peaches, the last he had found on his tree, for me.

When I crossed the bridge, I know he went back to his porch; to his house full of thoughts. To his memories of fat girls with ringing golden bracelets, his drums that speak the minds of men, to palm-nut cakes and bull-roarers, to his parables.

I am sure that he does not fear death. In spite of his long Christian fellowship, he is too deeply a pagan to fear death. But he is full of trembling awe before the altar of the past.

Appendix

Takkoi or Attako—Children's Game

A memory test game played by two players. One player (A) the tester, squats facing the diagram which is drawn on the ground. The other player whose memory is to be tested squats with his back to the figure. A grain of corn is placed in each of the 3 circles between the lines. Each of the lines (1, 2, 3) has a name.

No 1 Ah Kinjaw Mah Kinney

No 2 Ah-bah jah le fon

No 3 Ah poon dacre ad meejie

A points at line 1 (at W) and B says, “Ah Kinjaw Mah Kinney.” A points to line 2 and B says, “Ah-bah jah le fon.” A goes on to line 3 and B says, “Ah poon dacre ad meejie.” Then A points to circle No. 1 and B says, “Corn.” A removes the grain of corn from the circle and goes back to
line 1 at W. B recites the name again. A goes to line 2 and 3 as before then to circle 1. B says, “No corn.” Then A points to circle 2 and B says, “Corn.” A removes the corn from circle 2 and returns to line 1 (W), 2, and 3 and B gives the names as before. Then A goes to circle 1 and B says, “No corn.” To circle 2 and B says, “No corn,” to circle 3 and B says, “Corn.” The corn is removed from circle 3 and A returns to line 1 at W and goes through the three lines and circles as before. Of course, if B remembers that there is no corn in any of the three circles, A then points to line 1 at X and B says, “Ah Kinjaw Mah Kinney” and A goes on to lines 2 and 3 and then on to circle 1 between X and Y and B says, “Corn.” A removes the corn and returns to line at W and goes through the empty circles to lines at X and the empty circle. B says, “No corn” and A goes on to the next circle where B says, “Corn.” The corn is removed then back to line 1 at W and the game keeps up until the twelve circles have been emptied of corn if B's memory is good enough.

Another game seems to be akin to both billiards and bowling. Three balls are racked up and the player stands off and knocks them down with seven balls in his hand. The top ball of the three must be hit last with the seventh thrown ball.

Stories Kossula Told Me
1

There are no windows in Kossula's house. It was a cold day in December and the door was closed. The little light
came from the pine knots in the fire place. It is crude, but suits his needs very well indeed. There are two pieces of iron slanting slightly upward in each inside wall of the fire place. It is an African idea transplanted to America. They are placed there to support the racks for drying fish. Kossula smokes a great deal and tamps his pipe quite often. All of his pipes have tops that he has made himself to keep the fire from falling out as he works. The pipe lids are just another of the evidences of the primitive, the self-reliance of the people who live outside the influence of machinery.

There is something in the iron pot bubbling away among the coals. We eat some of the stew and find it delicious. It is a sort of stew of all flesh shredded in some way.

Kossula lights his pipe again. “You want me to tell you story 'bout Afficky? I done fuhgit all dat. I been in Americky soil de sixty-nine year last Augus'. It been so long I have anybody talk wid, I fuhgit. You don't be mad wid Uncle Cudjo if he fuhgit, Baby? I wouldn't hurty yo' feelin' fuh nothin' in dis world.”

I assure him that I can never be angry with him, no matter if he never remembers a word, but praying strongly within that he remembers. We sit for a long time in silence. I tell him a few stories, after giving him a chance to think, and he is delighted. Finally he turns eagerly towards me, his face alight.

“I gwine tell you disa story:—

“Tree men, you unnerstand me, dey agree dey ain' goin' tell one on de udder.

“One day dese tree men dey say, ‘We ain' got no meat—less we go in de woods and fin' a cow and 'vide it up.'

“Dey hunt till dey fin' a fat one and dey kill hit. Dey all git roun' it. One say, ‘I want a hind leg.' Other say, ‘I want a hind leg.' Third one say, ‘I want a hind leg.' (A beaming face is turned to me to see if I get the point that three men can't get a hind leg off of one cow. He is very happy that I appreciate the dilemma in the tale.) Dey 'gin fight and fight. One say, ‘I killee you.' (Very expressive gesture of conflict.) Other say, ‘I killee
you
.' (Very hearty laughter, the struggling gestures continue.) Dey fight till dey come to de highway and de officer see dem fightin', you unnerstand me, and he say, ‘Lookee heah, whut y'all fightin' 'bout?'

“One de men he say, “‘If you don't foolee me, I won't foolee you.'”

“He axed de other. He say, ‘If you don't foolee me, I won't foolee you.' De third man he say de same thing, so de officer he go to de king an' say, ‘I found tree men dey fight, but when I axee dem whut for dey fight, dey all say, “If you don't foolee me, I won't foolee you.”'

“De king summons dem tuh 'pear befo' him and he say. He say, ‘Whusa matta you tree men?' Dey all say same thing agin. (Hearty chuckling.) Den de king he say, ‘Something dey do, dey doan wanna tell. Dey is men of strong friendship.' Den he give dem ten coats, ten shoes, ten of everything and sent dem off. Dey went back and 'vide de cow ekal.”

Mirthy tears ran down the cheeks of Kossula and he shook with chuckles long after the tale was finished. But he could not be persuaded to tell another that day. “You come agin Tuesday, nexy week an' I tellee you somethin' if
I think. But Uncle Cudjo gittin' ole. I been in de Mericky soil since 1859. I fuhgits.”

On the Tuesday after the New Year, I found Cudjo in a backward-looking mood. He was with his departed family in the land to the west. He talked about his boys, he grew tearful over his wife.

“I so lonely. I los' my wife de 15 November 1908. We been together long time. I marry her Chris'mas day, 1865. She a good wife to me.”

There was a long, feeling silence, then he turned to me and spoke, “Ole Charlie, he de oldest one come from Afficky, came one Sunday after my wife lef' me and say, ‘Uncle Cudjo, make us a parable.'

“Den I axed dem, ‘How many limbs God give de body so it kin be active?'

“Dey say six; two arms two feet two eyes.

“I say dey cut off de feet, he got hands to 'fend hisself. Dey cut off de hands he wiggle out de way when he see danger come. But when he lose de eye, den he can't see nothin' come upon him. He finish. My boys is my feet. My daughter is my hands. My wife she my eye. She left, Cudjo finish.”

It was two o'clock, and Kossula excused himself that he might work on his fence before dark. “Come see me when tain cold.”

Two days later I sat beside his fire in the windowless house, and watched him smoke until he was ready to speak. I told him a story or two and finally he glowed and stirred.

“It a man, you know, he got a son. Six men, you unnerstand, dey follow him all de time. De long runnee, de
ole man say, ‘Son, dese men always in yo' house. You know whut six men do to you?'

“‘Dey don't do nothin' to me,' dat whut de son say, an' always de seven men be together till he git grown, and de time come for him to marry.

“De ole man, he want to try dese six men. So when de son marry, he hide de girl an' den he take a ramma (ram) and he kill hit an' cut off de horns. He fix it an' make it look like de girl.

“Den he say to de boy, ‘Go tell your friends dat you marry de girl las' night and she fell dead an' I don't want de king to know; an' dig a grave (he wants the friends to dig the grave) an' bury her. Perhaps she was too young an' never had know no man.'

“Well, de six men come to dig de grave, but only two stay to finish dig, an' four went spread de news, clean till it reached to de king.

“De king den sent for de ole man an' say to him, ‘Yo son jus' married a girl. Where she?'

“‘She at home,' de ole man say to de king, an' he say, ‘Where yo' house? I wants to see.'

“De king goes wid him to de house an' he show him de girl. Den he say, ‘Well, whut you bury in de hole?' He say ‘De ramma.' But de king want satisfied and he hafta dig up de grave and let de king see de ramma hisself. Den he tell de king how tis.

“‘I aska my boy 'bout these six men and he say dey all right. All de time dey sleep an' eat an' go wid him. I want know dey friendship so I killa de ramma.'

“De king say, ‘You have knowledge,' an' so he paid the
two whut stay dig de grave an' don't say nothin' an' killed de four men whut talk an' betray dey friend.”

The Monkey and the Camel

One day—I tellee disa one—de
uthucudum
(weasel) went up de melon tree to eatee hisself some fruit. De camel, he lak melon all de time; so when he see de weasel in de tree, he go aska him throw him some. De weasel throw
him
some, den he come down and go in his house.

De camel, he still wantee some more melon, so he wait. After while, de monkey he go to de melon tree to gittee him some too. De camel, he hurry up under de tree and say to de monkey, “Gimmee some de melons too,” and de monkey throw him some.

Den he aska de monkey to throw him more and he eata dat, den he aska for more and more till de monkey he git tired. He want to come down from de tree an' go home to dinner wid his fruit, so he tell de camel he too greedy and if he want more melon, let him clam' de tree hisself and gittee some.

Dat make de camel mad so he say dat de monkey is a very moufy animal wid an ugly red behind, and ver' ugly nose.

Now de monkey he know dat his nose is ugly and he is very shamed for the camel to speaky 'bout it, so he say dat de camel is a creature widee no hindquarters.

De camel gittee so mad at dat, till he reach up de tree and grab de monkey and carry him off.

Well, after he walk a while, he meeta de rhinoceros and he aska, “Camel, how come you seize de monkey?”

De camel say, “Let him tell himself.”

De monkey, “Well I was up de melon tree eatin' some fruit and de camel come 'long and aska me throw him some. I
did
throw him some, and more and more, but when I was tired and want to go home he says dat I am a beast wid ugly nostrils and sunken eyes, and I got very mad say dat de camel is a beast widout a rump and he done seized me and tote me off.”

De rhinoceros said dat de monkey was wrong to speak of de camel so and told him not to let him go, so de camel carried him on.

After a while, dey met de leopard and said, “O camel, what makee you seize de monkey? Is he done you wrong?”

“Let him tellee you hisself what he done.”

De monkey, “Well I was up de melon tree eatin' some fruit an' de camel he come up under de tree and aska me to throw him down some fruit. Well, I throw him some, den some more, den some more till I gittee very tired den I say he is a lazy animal dat worries other animals when dey go to git fruit, let him clam de melon tree hisself. Den he say I am a creature wid no manners and a red behind, and I say dat he is a beast wid no behind at all, and not enough tail to hide de place where his behind ought to be; den he grabee me and bring me here.”

De leopard say dat de monkey was wrong to speak thus of the camel and that the camel must not let him go; so de camel carried him on.

After a while dey come to de house of de weasel, and he was sittin' outside de do'way. He seen de camel wid de
monkey and he aska de camel, “O camel, how come you seize de monkey? Whut he done wrong?”

De camel say, “Let him tell it hisself.”

De monkey say, “Well, I was up de melon tree gittin' fruit for my wife, and de camel come under de tree and aska me to throw him down some fruit, I done throw him some, den more, den more, till I was tired, and I said he was a greedy beast whose rump looked lak he been drinking kainya (a powerful laxative) and he grabee me and bring me here.”

Now de weasel he feel sorry for de monkey and he know hisself dat de camel is worrysome under de fruit tree, so he set a while den he say, “I will be de judge 'twixt you two,” and dey both say, “All right, you be de judge for us.”

De first thing, he say, “You monkey, come set here on my right side, and you camel set here on my left whilst I decide de question.”

Dey both done whut he say, and he set dere quiet for a while. Den he open his mouf, “O monkey, I sentence you, for speaking so to de camel, to leap up dat tree, whilst I run into my hole,” and he done dat and de camel was lef' settin' where he was. After a while he went away.

Story of de Jonah

Whut you want me to talk, Jonah?

Who and whut kinda prophet is Jonah, I doan know. I couldn't tellee you dat.

God speakee unto Jonah, go tell Ninevah to turn to me 'cause they sins it come befo' me. Jonah say no, I ain'
gwine. Jonah say well, being I here, he gointer torment me, I goin' git away from here.

So he went dere, you know, in de vessel ship to go to Joppy—dat a country, you know, where God ain' gwine bother him. Listen, Cudjo say so, he didn't know it, God is everywhere. And so he went onto de ship to go to Joppy and God lookee at him. God see Jonah in de vessel and so when he went to de vessel God
lookee
(gesture of a penetrating look) at him. He see de Jonah dere.

He
see
de Jonah dere, so God went to de east and (gesturing of unlocking and flinging wide a door) unlockee de storm room, say to de storm, “Come out” (hand uplifted in a kingly commanding gesture) and de storm started. Den God went to de west, unlockee anudder storm room. (Gesture.) “Come out! Come outa dere!” Den God went to de north, unlockee dat storm room, tell it to come out! Den he went to de south, unlockee anudder storm room, and anudder storm in de south. All storms come meetee together! All storms comee meetee together, and de vessel can't go no where.

Now! Whut did de captain say? Dat whut I go tellee you now. De captain say, “Dats not de first time I go travel in de sea. Something wrong!” And de man say, “Captain, dere's a man in de boat and den he pay his fare.” De captain say, “Where 'bouts is he?” Dey say, “He way down in de bottom of de boat.” He say, “Go tell him to come here.”

Other books
A Poisoned Mind by Natasha Cooper
Highfall by Alexander, Ani
Vanished by Tim Weaver
Pretty Twisted by Gina Blaxill
Ace's Key: Book 1 by Abbie St. Claire
Betray The Bear by T.S. Joyce
The Nethergrim by Jobin, Matthew
Love Isn't Blind 2 by Sweet and Special Books