Bait

It was my fault. Mama always said, “Don’t leave the baby alone. Night time is pretty to look at, but don’t you go out and leave that baby alone.” I never knew why I had to watch after her, but when Mama made a rule, I followed it.

There was a big party in town for the Mayor’s birthday. Big Sir took Mama with him because she’s so pretty and he likes to show her off. She could pass for one of those Creole ladies on a good day. I couldn’t go cuz’ I was too little and “too nappy”. I ain’t wanna go no way, cuz it was a pretty night and I wanted to go look at the moon dance off the swamp. But I knew I wasn’t supposed to leave the baby, but the baby was fine. She was sleepin’ so good cuz the breeze was blowin’ the wood chimes against the whippin’ post, making a soothing noise to sleep to. She was gon’ be fine.

I kissed her sweaty forehead and snuck out of the shack. It was easy that night, cuz all the white people were gone and all the niggas was asleep. When I got outside, I heard the bugs screamin’ and followed em down to the water. Then I heard some screamin’ of another kind. They were little screams, whimpers like a puppy. It wasn’t no words, but scared yelps echoing through the bayou.

I thought an animal was hurt or somethin’, so I went to see what’s the matter. Down this muddy hill, near the river, I saw a rusty cage. The little screams were coming from it. Then I saw a white man, and some rope. Another white man with a flashlight. Another white man with a gun.

I got closer and hid behind a willow tree, being as quiet as I could. It’s not so bad being dark skinned when it’s night time cuz people can’t see you.

I saw what was inside the screaming cage. It was full of negro babies, naked and crying. There was a bucket of pig fat next to it. The white man grabbed a baby girl out of the cage, greased her up, and tied the rope around her neck, really tight. The moonlight made her shiny skin glow as she screamed as loud as she could. The white man threw her into the water and she tried to swim for a minute before she started to drown. I had moved to the other side of the tree by now to see what he was fishing for. The white man just stood there, spitting snuff and making small talk with the other white men. “That party’s prolly a lot more fun than catchin’ gators.”

“Yeah, but dis’ enough to hold us over til the next one.” Another white man held up a brown jug of liquor and took a big gulp.

Then out of nowhere, a giant gator came and snapped down on the rope. Hard. “Shit!” the white man yelled. One of his buddies took the gun and shot the gator straight in the head. Like a habit. The water stilled and the gator waded until the white man went in, opened its dead jaws and took what was left of the baby out. He threw her out into the swamp.

I couldn’t hear what they were saying after that. I didn’t realize that I was screamin’ now too. I ran as fast as I could toward the shack. They didn’t chase after me though. I turned and saw that they was still just standing there, doing their business. I started screamin’ again, but nothing was coming out. They ain’t hear me the first time, neither.

I ran to check on the baby. But she was gone. They took her while I was gone! I ran back outside and couldn’t see anything cuz my eyes were burning. I ain’t wanna go back down to the swamp so I just fell to the ground and cried.

A second later, a sweet voice startled me. “Child, what you doin’ out her makin’ all that fuss for?”

It was Mama! She was holding the baby, still sweaty and sleepin’.

I got up and held onto my Mama. “I went to the swamp, you told me not to! I saw what they did to the babies.”

“Hush girl!” We went back into the house and Mama sat me down on her lap, with the baby in her arms.

“Ms. May caught you runnin’ down, so she came and took the baby to her shack.” Mama was calm, but still scary to me.

I wiped my eyes and tried to catch my breath. “I’m sorry Mama.”

“What I tell you? Don’t leave that baby alone. Now you know why, dontcha?”

 

Zuri McWhorter

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