with my wife, and Jesus say: 'How come you ask me that, John? You ain't thinking 'bout doing nothing to them, is you?' I say, 'No, Jesus, I ain't gonna bother 'em, but this man, he's married just like my wife, and I ain't going to be responsible for what might break out between him arid his wife,' and Jesus say, 'Don't you worry, John, there's always going to be some left.' '

Suddenly they were lit by a flash of lightning, which showed up a second man on his knees directly in back of the fascinated church sister. He held a safety razor blade between his right thumb and forefinger and he was cutting away the back of her skirt with such care and silence she didn't suspect a thing. First, holding the skirt firmly by the hem with his left hand, he split it in a straight line up to the point where it began to tighten over her buttocks. Then he split her slip in the same manner. After which, holding the right halves of both skirt and slip firmly but gently between the thumb and forefinger of his left hand, he cut out a wide half-circle down through the hem and carefully removed the cutout section and threw it carelessly against the wall of the church behind him. The operation revealed one black buttock encased in rose-colored rayon pants and the bare back of one thick black thigh showing above the rolled top of a beige rayon stocking. She hadn't felt a thing.

' 'Anyone who commits adultery, makes no difference whether it be man or woman, breaks one of my Father's commandments,' Jesus say: 'Makes no difference how good it is,' ' John said.

'Amen!' the church sister said. Her buttocks began to tremble as she contemplated this enormous sin.

Behind her, the kneeling man had begun to cut away the left side of her skirt, but the trembling of her buttocks forced him to exercise greater caution.

'I say to Jesus, 'That's the trouble with Christianity, the good things is always sinful,' ' John said.

'Lawd, ain't it the truth,' the church sister said, leaning forward to slap John on the shoulder in a spontaneous gesture of rising joy. The cutout left side section of the skirt and slip came off in the kneeling man's hand.

Now revealed was all the lower part of the big wide rose-encased buttocks and the backs of two thick black thighs above beige stockings. The black thighs bulged in all directions so that just below the crotch, where the torso began, there was a sort of pocket in which one could visualize the buttocks of some man gripped as in a vice. But now, in that pocket, hung a waterproof purse suspended from elastic bands passing up through the pants and encircling the waist.

With breathless delicacy but a sure touch and steady hand, as though performing a major operation on the brain, the kneeling man reached into the pocket and began cutting the elastic band which held the purse.

John leaned forward and touched her on the shoulder like a spontaneous caress. His voice thickened with suggestion. 'But Jesus say, 'Commit all the 'dultry you want to, John. Just be prepared to roast in hell for it.' '

'He-he-he,' laughed the church sister and slapped him again on the shoulder. 'He was just kidding you. He'd forgive us for just one time,' and she suddenly switched her trembling buttocks, no doubt to demonstrate Jesus's mercy.

In so doing she felt the hand easing the purse from between her legs. She slapped back automatically before she could begin to turn her body, and struck the kneeling man across the face.

'Mother-raper, you is trying to steal my money,' she screamed, turning on the thief.

Lightning flashed, revealing the thief leaping to one side and the big broad buttocks in rose-colored pants twitching in fury. And before the sound of thunder was heard, the rain came down.

The thief leapt blindly into the street. Before the church sister could follow, a meat delivery truck coming at blinding speed hit the thief head-on and knocked the body somersaulting ten yards down the street before running over it. The driver lost control as the truck went over the body. The truck jumped the curb and knocked down a telephone pole at the corner of Seventh Avenue; it slewed across the wet asphalt and crashed against the concrete barrier enclosing the park down the middle of the avenue.

The church sister ran toward the mangled body and snatched her purse still clutched in the dead man's hand, unmindful of the bright lights of the armored truck rushing towards her like twin comets out of the night, unmindful of the rain pouring down in torrents.

The driver of the armoured car saw the rose-encased buttocks of a large black woman as she bent over to snatch something from what looked like a dead man lying in the middle of the street. He was convinced he had d.t.'s. But he tried desperately to avoid them at the speed he was going on that wet street, d.t.'s or not. The armored truck skidded, then began wobbling as though doing the shimmy. The brakes meant nothing on the wet asphalt of Seventh Avenue and the car skidded straight on across the avenue and was hit broadside by a big truck going south.

The church sister hurried down the street in the opposite direction, holding the purse clutched tightly in her hand. Near Lexington Avenue, men, women and children crowded about the body of another dead colored man lying in the street, being washed for the grave by the rain. It lay in a grotesque position on its stomach at right angle to the curb, one arm outfiung, the other beneath it. The side of the face turned up had been shot away. If there had been a pistol anywhere, now it was gone.

A police cruiser was parked nearby, crosswise to the street. One of the policemen was standing beside the body in the rain. The other one sat in the cruiser, phoning the precinct station.

The church sister was hurrying past on the opposite side of the street, trying to remain unnoticed. But a big colored laborer, wearing the overalls in which he had worked all day, saw her. His eyes popped and his mouth opened in his slack face.

'Lady,' he called tentatively. She didn't look around. 'Lady,' he called again. 'I just wanted to say, your ass is out.'

She turned on him furiously. 'Tend to your own mother-raping business.'

He backed away, touching his cap politely, 'I didn't mean no harm, lady. It's your ass.'

She hurried on down the street, worrying more about her hair in the rain than about her behind showing.

At the corner of Lexington Avenue, an old junk man of the kind who haunt the streets at night collecting old paper and discarded junk was struggling with a bale of cotton, trying to get it into his cart. Rain was pouring off his sloppy hat and wetting his ragged overalls to dark blue. His small dried face was framed with thick kinky white hair, giving him a benevolent look. No one else was in sight; everybody who was out on the street in all that rain was looking at the body of the dead man. So when he saw this big strapping lady coming towards him he stopped struggling with the wet bale of cotton and asked politely, 'Ma'am, would you please help me get this bale of cotton into my cart, please, ma'am?'

He hadn't seen her from the rear so he was slightly surprised by her sudden hostility.

'What kind of trick is you playing?' she challenged, giving him an evil look.

'Ain't no trick, ma'am. I just tryna get this bale of cotton into my cart.'

'Cotton!' she shouted indignantly, looking at the bale of cotton with outright suspicion. 'Old and evil as you is you ought to be ashamed of yourself tryna trick me out my money with what you calls a bale of cotton. Does I look like that kinda fool?'

'No, ma'am, but if you was a Christian you wouldn't carry on like that just 'cause an old man asked you to help him lift a bale of cotton.'

'I is a Christian, you wicked bastard,' she shouted. 'That's why all you wicked bastards is tryna steal my money. But I ain't the kind of Christian fool enough not to know there ain't no bales of cotton lying in the street in New York City. If it weren't for my hair, I'd beat your ass, you old con-man.'

It had been a rough night for the old junk man. First he and a crony had found a half-filled whisky bottle with what they thought was whisky and had sat on a stoop to enjoy themselves, passing the bottle back and forth, when suddenly his crony had said, 'Man, dis ain't whisky; dis is piss.' Then after he'd spent his last money for a bottle of 'smoke' to settle his stomach, it had started to rain. And here was this evil bitch calling him a con-man, as broke as he was.

'You touch me and I'll mark you,' he threatened, reaching in his pocket.

She backed away from him and he turned his back to her, muttering to himself. He didn't see her wet red buttocks above her shining black legs when she hurried down the street and disappeared into a tenement.

Four minutes later, when the first of the police cruisers sent to bottle up the street screamed around the corner from Lexington Avenue, he was still struggling with the bale of cotton in the rain.

The cruiser stopped for the white cops to put the routine question to a colored man: 'Say, uncle, you didn't see any suspicious-looking person pass this way, did you?'

Вы читаете Cotton comes to Harlem
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