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By DONALD GOINES
HOLLOWAY HOUSE CLASSICSCopyright © 1972 Donald Goines
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFrom what I been told it is easy to imagine the cold, bleak day when I was born into this world. It was December 10, 1940, and the snow had been falling continuously in Detroit all that day. The cars moved slowly up and down Hastings Street, turning the white flakes into slippery slush. Whenever a car stopped in the middle of the street, a prostitute would get out of it or a whore would dart from one of the darkened doorways and get into the car.
Jessie, a tall black woman with high, narrow cheekbones, stepped from a trick's car holding her stomach. Her dark piercing eyes were flashing with anger. She began cursing the driver, using the vilest language imaginable about his parents and the nature of his birth. The driver, blushing with shame, drove away, leaving her behind in the falling snow. Slush from the spinning tires spattered her as she held on to a parked car for support. She unconsciously rubbed her hand across her face to wipe away the tears that mingled with the snowflakes.
Two prostitutes standing across the street in the Silver-line doorway, an old dilapidated bar that catered to hustling girls, watched her curiously.
Before she could move, another car stopped behind her. She turned and stared at the white face leering over the steering wheel. The driver noticed as she turned that her stomach was exceptionally large. Guessing her condition, he drove on. She stood holding her stomach and watching the car move down the street until it stopped near a group of women in front of a bar. She started to move towards the sidewalk, but her legs gave out on her, and she fell into the slush in the street.
From the darkened doorways, prostitutes of various complexions ran to the stricken woman's aid. Before, where there had been closed windows, there now appeared heads of different shapes and sizes.
"Bring that crazy whore up here," a stout woman yelled from a second-story window. While four women half carried and half dragged Jessie up the stairs, a young girl, still in her teens, yelled to the woman in the window, "I think she goin' have that damn baby, Big Mama."
The large woman in the window looked down at the girl, amused. "It's about time she had it, gal. Seems she been sticking out for a whole year." Big Mama started to close the window, then added, "You run down the street and get that nigger doctor, gal, and don't stop for no tricks."
The young girl started off for the doctor, muttering under her breath. She ducked her head and pulled up her collar in an attempt to cut off the chilling wind. When a car stopped and the driver blew his horn, she ignored the call for business and continued on her errand.
Big Mama's living room was full of prostitutes sitting and standing around, gossiping. It was rare for a woman to have a baby on the streets; also, it gave them an excuse to come in out of the snow.
"What the hell Jessie working out in this kind of weather for? Ain't she and her man saved no money?" a short, brown-skinned, dimpled woman asked. The room became quiet until another woman spoke up.
"You know goddamn well that black ass bastard she had for a pimp run off last week with some white whore," she said harshly. "He jumped on Jessie and took all the money she been saving to get in the hospital with, too."
This comment started up gossip on the merits of various pimps—then suddenly a slap and the sound of a baby yelling came to them, and everyone became silent.
Big Mama put out the few girls who had remained in the bedroom, then took the baby from the doctor and carried it towards the bed. Her large face was aglow with happiness as she smiled at the woman lying in her bed.
"You can be glad of one thing, Jessie, this baby don't belong to that nigger of yours that's gone," she said while turning the baby around so the mother could see it. "Looks like you done went and got you a trick baby, honey, but for a child as black as you, I sure don't see how you got one this light."
Jessie raised herself and stared at the bundle Big Mama held. "Oh my God," she cried and fell back onto the bed. Big Mama stepped back from the bed, shocked, and held the baby tighter. Her dark face, just a shade lighter than Jessie's, was filled with concern. She had never had a child of her own. Like many women who have been denied offspring, she had an overwhelming love for children. Her voice took on a tone that all of the prostitutes working out of her house respected. When she spoke this way they listened, perhaps because she weighed over three hundred pounds and had been known to knock down men with one swing of her huge hands. She spoke and only her voice could be heard in the house.
"If you don't want this baby, Jessie, I'll take him." Her eyes were full of tears as she looked down at the tiny bundle in her arms. "You can damn well bet he'll have good taking care of, too."
The small, elderly, balding doctor cleared his throat. He held out a birth certificate. "I'll have to get on to my other calls, so please give me a name for the little fat fellow."
Jessie stared at the bundle Big Mama held. All the black curls covering the baby's head only in- flamed her anger. Her eyes were filled with blind rage as she turned and stared at the doctor. He stepped back unconsciously. Here, he thought, was a woman who had been badly misused by some man. He hoped that he would never again see so much hate in a woman's eyes.
Jessie laughed suddenly, a cold, nerve-tingling sound. Big Mama shivered with fear, not for herself, but for the tiny life she held in her arms.
"Well, Mrs. Jones," the doctor inquired, "have you decided on what to call your baby?"
"Of course, doc, I've got just the name for the little sonofabitch—Whoreson, Whoreson Jones."
The doctor looked as if he had been struck by lightning. His mouth gaped, and he stared at her dumbfounded.
Big Mama was the first to recover. "You can't do that, Jessie. Give the child a good Christian name."
"Christian name hell!" Jessie replied sharply. "I'm naming my son just what he is. I'm a whore and he's my son. If he grows up ashamed of me, the hell with him. That's what I'm wantin' to name him, and that's what it's goin to be. Whoreson!"
Chapter TwoThe slum I grew up in seemed to me to be the most wonderful place in the world. My early childhood was pleasant and it was a rare occasion when I saw something in a store that my mother couldn't buy for me. Jessie saw to it that I always had money for the candy store. Whenever I lost the marbles she had previously bought, she'd quickly give me money to buy some more. Most of us kids loved the backyards and alleys that we played in with our slingshots made out of discarded tire tubes. We overturned garbage cans in the hope of startling a good-sized rat so we could shoot at it with our homemade slingshots. Between the alley cats, dogs and us, we kept the alleys, yards, and rundown barns clean of rats during summer daylight hours. When night fell it was the other side of the coin. The rats came out in full force, and many children were bitten because they had slept out on the porch to beat the evening heat.
We lived in an upper flat on the second floor. Besides my mother and me, there was a big tomcat that we just called "Cat" who shared the flat with us. Before Jessie would go to work at night, she always managed to run Cat down and toss him in my bed with me. For me to mention sleeping out on the front porch at night was taboo, so I would play with Cat in my large bed until I fell asleep. I didn't know it at the time, but she did it because of her fear of rats. After tucking me into the bed she would ruffle my hair and kiss me on the cheek.
"Well, little pimp, I got to go and catch 'em now. You be good and I'll let you count the trap money in the morning," she'd say before turning out the light and leaving me on my own until she came back sometime in the morning.
On a few occasions she didn't get back in the morning. When this occurred one of my mother's girlfriends would be in the bed with me when I woke up. When this happened, I'd know that Jessie wouldn't be home until later that day, so I would go downstairs and have my breakfast. The woman who lived under us had a bunch of children, so one more mouth didn't make too much difference. When we played in the backyard the boys next door would call them "the welfare's pride and joy." If I'd laugh too much, the little girls who stayed under me would remark, "Ain't no sense you laughing, fool, 'cause your mammy ain't nothing but a whore."
I'd look at them and grin. "You're the fool, girl. You and your sisters and mammy need to get off welfare and become whores." This would cause all of the kids in the yard to laugh and I'd join in with them. At the age of five it's pretty hard for a child to understand the meaning of "whore."
If my mother wasn't home after I ate lunch, I'd wait till the woman upstairs woke up, and then she'd take me over to Big Mama's to stay. This made me think I was the most fortunate boy in the world. Instead of one mother, I had two. Big Mama and Jessie.
With the passing of summer my small world began to change. A big event in my life was my first trip to the neighborhood barbershop. Jessie dressed me with care. She had me put on my new suit and shoes, then marched me out of the house. She had always cut my hair at home, but since I was going to start school in the fall, she decided to have it done at the barbershop. The men sitting around the place stared at us when we entered. I didn't care. The barbershop was a foreign place to me. I stared around in wonder. The tall chairs with men sitting in them getting their hair combed, the glittering mirrors that surrounded the walls, all of this was a new world for me. The loud music from the jukebox made my feet sway with the beat, as I danced along beside Jessie, keeping up.
She seemed unconcerned as she walked me up to an empty chair. She spoke to a short, fat, balding barber. "I want you to cut it off the back real good, but don't take much off the top."
The barber sighed, "Why is it, girl, every time one of ya bring in a red nigger, you always say just cut a little off, but when you bring in a black boy, you want it all cut off."
Jessie stared at him coldly. "Nigger, all you got to do is look at your head in the mirror, then look at his hair. But that ain't here nor there. I ain't got nothing to do with how you cut some little black boy's hair. What I'm worried about is how you cut my little red nigger's hair. So you pay heed, nigger, this red one is mine, and you cut it like I say." She whirled on her heel and stalked out.
The men lounging in the shop laughed loudly. One heavy-voiced man roared over the noise. "I'll bet you cut that boy's hair right, Lew." Lew seemed to take it as a joke. He smiled, displaying a row of yellow stained teeth. "That's just what I was telling you boys the other day. A nigger couldn't give me no black woman. They is the most meanest woman God ever put breath in." He continued, "You damn near got to be crazy to fight with Jessie anyway. She fights like a man."
Another bystander spoke up. "Shit, man, consider yourself lucky if she fights, and don't do no cutting. That black girl there is sure 'nuff mean with a razor."
The barber rubbed my head the way Jessie did sometimes before he started to trim my hair. After he finished with my haircut he bought me a pop and sat me up on top of the shoeshine stand. "I wonder where your ma went?" he asked offhandedly.
One of the idle bystanders spoke up. "She probably caught a trick, Lew." Lew shook his head for the man to remain silent, but the man continued. "Hell, Lew, don't you never think that boy don't know what his mother does. Ask him what his name is."
"I know what his name is," Lew answered. I was too young to understand the pity the man had for me, but his kindness was understood. Jessie came through the door, walking as though the world belonged to her. Her high-heeled shoes rang louder than the taps on my heels as she took that long stride of hers. She stopped and swayed, her hands on her hips. Every eye in the barbershop was on this tall black woman who carried herself with such pride. "Well, Lew, I guess I won't have to make you knock down one of these walls getting out of here this time."
Lew grinned. "I'm sure glad you ain't goin' to do me no harm, Jess. I sure started to cut a little more off the top, though. You damn near got this boy looking like a girl with all this hair on his head."
Jessie reached up and removed me from the shoeshine stand. She picked me up with the same ease that Lew had shown.
"I'm glad you didn't, Lew," she said. "I know how I want my pimp's hair to look, and this is the only pimp I got." With a vigorous shove, Jessie started me towards the door. I ran out of the shop into the street I loved so well. There was not much difference between the daylight business and the night business on Hastings. The street was full of slow-moving cars, the drivers being more interested in the colored prostitutes in the doorways than on the traffic moving in front of them. I waved at the various girls I knew standing in the gangways. Some of them yelled across the street at me. "Look at Whoreson, ain't he sharp today!"
Jessie caught up with me. "You take your fast ass home and get out of them new clothes." I crossed the street on my way home, and one of the girls came out of a doorway and caught me. She gave me a hug, then pressed a quarter into my hand.
"Let that boy go on home, ya ain't doing nothing but spoiling him," Jessie yelled. I grinned, kissed the girl on the cheek, and went home.
Chapter ThreeMy first days in school were uneventful except for the shock my first name had for my teachers. Of course they quickly solved this problem by simply using my last name. However, this didn't stop my classmates from calling me Whoreson on all occasions, causing my teachers to curse my mother's choice of names. At this stage of life, school was wonderful. On the way to school we used to steal from the delivery trucks making their morning stops.
On a few occasions some prostitute who was still up working, or just coming out, would yell at me, "I'm telling your mammy on you, boy, if you steal that junk."
I don't know if they ever told, but if they did, Jessie never said anything about it. Because the whores always yelled at me, it made me popular with my gang. They commented on the fact that all the prostitutes on Hastings knew me.
My best friend, Tony, would put his arm around my shoulder. His mother sometimes worked with Jessie, so we spent a lot of time together. "Me and you, Whoreson," he would say, "we goin' to be the best pimps in the whole goddamn world."
I would look up at Tony's dark face and grin. He was taller than me, and I was tall for my age. Tony could outrun, plus outfight anybody in our gang except Ape. Everybody knew couldn't nobody whip Ape. He was big, dumb, and strong. There were a lot of grown men who wouldn't tangle with Ape.
We always waited on the corner in the mornings for everybody in our gang before going on to school. If somebody wasn't going, there was always some kid in the gang who knew about it. Tony would stop by for me, then we would stop and get Ape. This way, everybody came to the corner with somebody. After nine or ten of us got together we would start for school, looking for something to steal on the way.
After my ninth birthday I began to really understand the meaning of my name. I began to understand just what my mother was doing for a living. There was nothing I could do about it, but even had I been able to, I wouldn't have changed it.
There was a boy in our gang named Milton, whose mother wouldn't allow Tony or me in her house. She didn't even really want her son to play with us, but he found out it was easier to run with us than to get whipped on the way to school every day. I once heard her yell at him while we were waiting on the sidewalk:
"Milton, if I catch you giving that junkie bitch's son some of your candy, I'll kill you when you get home. That goes for that little half-white nigger they call Whoreson, too. You hear me boy? I mean it now, you take this quarter and save some change for school."
Excerpted from WHORESON by DONALD GOINES Copyright © 1972 by Donald Goines. Excerpted by permission of HOLLOWAY HOUSE CLASSICS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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