He's a bad man.
I scrub myself clean after he's gone. The water is shivering cold. He says my feet feel soft like a baby's, but blood flows from where I scraped them raw on the slab beneath the pipe.
That's Mambo. She can scream. I'm gonna get thwacked for sure. As if I ain't sore enough.
'Arletta, feed them chickens, and feed them good. Arletta, what the hell ya doing? Don't go washing ya hair in the evening time girl, that's how ya get chilled all the time and what do I get? A poorly child!'
'How many times I tell ya girl?'
'All times, Mambo.'
'Well, one of them times it gonna be real fine if you just do as ya told. Go on now. Feed them chickens and then get y'self right on o! to bed. Ya hearing me, Arletta?'
'And come on in here, so I can dry that hair. Come on now.' Mambo's fresh home from wherever she's been and it ain't long before she's taking right o! again. She's wearing her fine dress, o! meeting some new beau I s'pose, now her old one found me and don't want her no more. Times I feel I got a Mambo who don't seem to care for me at all. She don't seem to care what he's doing to her daughter. I tried telling her about the first time he come at me with his doing, but I got me a thwacking and tell't not to be telling lies 'cause of him being white folks, and right high and mighty and all she says.
'He's a man with what they call a profession Arletta, that's a right high and minded kinda job. Ain't no messing, and y'all need a be washing ya mouth out. Go on! And I'm gonna rub that block of carbolic on ya tongue if ya start talking bad on folks. Where ya get that from, Arletta? Ya know somebody got a daddy meddling with them or what?'
'And them whites ain't gonna give us no say-so at all if they hear ya talking that way. Ya knows that, don't ya?'
'Then just quit with them kinda stories Arletta. We gonna be in a fine set of trouble if folks hear that talk. I don't know what ya thinking.'
'But he '
'I'm tellin' ya, Arletta, Mr McIntyre's got one good and proper job. He's working in a bank and all, and even running it now, from what I'm hearing. And look what ya doing to what folks think on him. He's got what folks call a reputation. Ya know what that is?' 'Well, no, I ain't know nothing about that. I ain't know nothing except he's a bad man, Mambo.'
'Enough girl, or ya gonna find y'self stretching from the branch of a tree, and me dangling 'longside ya, and all them white folks thinking they's having themselves a picnic.'
She sure ain't listening to me, so I'm just glad Mr McIntyre's gone and got himself all spent out already for today and won't be coming back as soon as she takes o! again.
She's wearing a bright red bandana wrapped up on her head so high like she means business. She's got pink flowers pinned down one side, says it's the fashion, and she's wiggling o! down our track in that tight dress, the one I says gotta be a size too small and showing o! everything she got. Up top that looks like plenty after she's done shoving them up, this way and that way, and pulling that frock down so a nipple pops right out first stretch she makes.
'Oh my,' she always says, 'just look at that. Pardon me, won't you now.' And she reckons that's fine for getting folks giggling.
Excerpted from What the River Washed Away by Muriel Mharie Macleod. Copyright © 2013 by Muriel Mharie Macleod. Excerpted by permission of One World. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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