Their Eyes Were Watching God

Chapter 17

A great deal of the old crowd were back. But there were lots of new ones too. Some of these men made passes at Janie, and women who didn’t know took out after Tea Cake. Didn’t take them long to be put right, however. Still and all, jealousies arose now and then on both sides. When Mrs. Turner’s brother came and she brought him over to be introduced, Tea Cake had a brainstorm. Before the week was over he had whipped Janie. Not because her behavior justified his jealousy, but it relieved that awful fear inside him. Being able to whip her reassured him in possession. No brutal beating at all. He just slapped her around a bit to show he was boss. Everybody talked about it next day in the fields. It aroused a sort of envy in both men and women. The way he petted and pampered her as if those two or three face slaps had nearly killed her made the women see visions and the helpless way she hung on him made men dream dreams.

“Tea Cake, you sho is a lucky man,” Sop-de-Bottom told him. “Uh person can see every place you hit her. Ah bet she never raised her hand tuh hit yuh back, neither. Take some uh dese ol’ rusty black women and dey would fight yuh all night long and next day nobody couldn’t tell you ever hit ’em. Dat’s de reason Ah done quit beatin’ mah woman. You can’t make no mark on ’em at all. Lawd! wouldn’t Ah love tuh whip uh tender woman lak Janie! All bet she don’t even holler. She jus’ cries, eh Tea Cake?”

“Dat’s right.”

“See dat! Mah woman would spread her lungs all over Palm Beach County, let alone knock out mah jaw teeth. You don’t know dat woman uh mine. She got ninety-nine rows uh jaw teeth and git her good and mad, she’ll wade through solid rock up to her hip pockets.”

“Mah Janie is uh high time woman and useter things. Ah didn’t git her outa de middle uh de road. Ah got her outa uh big fine house. Right now she got money enough in de bank tuh buy up dese ziggaboos and give ’em away.”

“Hush yo’ mouf! And she down heah on de muck lak anybody else!”

“Janie is wherever Ah wants tuh be. Dat’s de kind uh wife she is and Ah love her for it. Ah wouldn’t be knockin’ her around. Ah didn’t wants whup her last night, but ol’ Mis’ Turner done sent for her brother tuh come tuh bait Janie in and take her way from me. Ah didn’t whup Janie ’cause she done nothin’. Ah beat her tuh show dem Turners who is boss. Ah set in de kitchen one day and heard dat woman tell mah wife Ah’m too black fuh her. She don’t see how Janie can stand me.”

“Tell her husband on her.”

“Shucks! Ah b’lieve he’s skeered of her.”

“Knock her teeth down her throat.”

“Dat would look like she had some influence when she ain’t. Ah jus’ let her see dat Ah got control.”

“So she live offa our money and don’t lak black folks, huh? O.K. we’ll have her gone from here befo’ two weeks is up. Ah’m goin’ right off tuh all de men and drop rocks aginst her.”

“Ah ain’t mad wid her for whut she done, ’cause she ain’t done me nothin’ yet. Ah’m mad at her for thinkin’. Her and her gang got tuh go.”

“Us is wid yuh, Tea Cake. You know dat already. Dat Turner woman is real smart, accordin’ tuh her notions. Reckon she done heard ’bout dat money yo’ wife got in de bank and she’s bound tuh rope her intuh her family one way or another.”

“Sop, Ah don’t think it’s half de money as it is de looks. She’s color-struck. She ain’t got de kind of uh mind you meet every day. She ain’t a fact and neither do she make a good story when you tell about her.”

“Ah yeah, she’s too smart tuh stay round heah. She figgers we’se jus’ uh bunch uh dumb niggers so she think she’ll grow horns. But dat’s uh lie. She’ll die butt-headed.”

Saturday afternoon when the work tickets were turned into cash everybody began to buy coon-dick and get drunk. By dusk dark Belle Glade was full of loud-talking, staggering men. Plenty women had gotten their knots charged too. The police chief in his speedy Ford was rushing from jook to jook and eating house trying to keep order, but making few arrests. Not enough jail-space for all the drunks so why bother with a few? All he could do to keep down fights and get the white men out of colored town by nine o’clock. Dick Sterrett and Coodemay seemed to be the worst off. Their likker told them to go from place to place pushing and shoving and loud-talking and they were doing it.

Way after a while they arrived at Mrs. Turner’s eating house and found the place full to the limit. Tea Cake, Stew Beef, Sop-de-Bottom, Bootyny, Motor Boat and all the familiar crowd was there. Coodemay straightened up as if in surprise and asked, “Say, whut y’all doin’ in heah?”

“Eatin’,” Stew Beef told him, “Dey got beef stew, so you know Ah’d be heah.”

“We all laks tuh take uh rest from our women folks’ cookin’ once in uh while, so us all eatin’ way from home tuhnight. Anyhow Mis’ Turner got de best ole grub in town.”

Mrs. Turner back and forth in the dining room heard Sop when he said this and beamed.

“Ah speck you two last ones tuh come in is gointuh have tuh wait for uh seat. Ah’m all full up now.”

“Dat’s all right,” Sterrett objected. “You fry me some fish. Ah kin eat dat standin’ up. Cuppa coffee on de side.”

“Sling me up uh plate uh dat stew beef wid some coffee too, please ma’am. Sterrett is jus’ ez drunk ez Ah is; and if he kin eat standin’ up, Ah kin do de same.” Coodemay leaned drunkenly against the wall and everybody laughed.

Pretty soon the girl that was waiting table for Mrs. Turner brought in the order and Sterrett took his fish and coffee in his hands and stood there. Coodemay wouldn’t take his off the tray like he should have.

“Naw, you hold it fuh me, baby, and lemme eat,” he told the waitress. He took the fork and started to eat off the tray.

“Nobody ain’t got no time tuh hold yo’ grub up in front uh yo’ face,” she told Coodemay. “Heah, take it yo’self.”

“You’se right,” Coodemay told her. “Gimme it heah. Sop kin gimme his chear.”

“You’se uh lie,” Sop retorted. “Ah ain’t through and Ah ain’t ready tuh git up.”

Coodemay tried to shove Sop out of the chair and Sop resisted. That brought on a whole lot of shoving and scrambling and coffee got spilt on Sop. So he aimed at Coodemay with a saucer and hit Bootyny. Bootyny threw his thick coffee cup at Coodemay and just missed Stew Beef. So it got to be a big fight. Mrs. Turner came running in out of the kitchen. Then Tea Cake got up and caught hold of Coodemay by the collar.

“Looka heah, y’all, don’t come in heah and raise no disturbance in de place. Mis’ Turner is too nice uh woman fuh dat. In fact, she’s more nicer than anybody else on de muck.” Mrs. Turner beamed on Tea Cake.

“Ah knows dat. All of us knows it. But Ah don’t give uh damn how nice she is, Ah got tuh have some place tuh set down and eat. Sop ain’t gointuh bluff me, neither. Let ’im fight lak a man. Take yo’ hands off me, Tea Cake.”

“Naw, Ah won’t neither. You comin’ on outa de place.”

“Who gointuh make me come out?”

“Me, dat’s who. Ah’m in heah, ain’t Ah? If you don’t want tuh respect nice people lak Mrs. Turner, God knows you gointuh respect me! Come on outa heah, Coodemay.”

“Turn him loose, Tea Cake!” Sterrett shouted. “Dat’s mah buddy. Us come in heah together and he ain’t goin’ nowhere until Ah go mahself.”

“Well, both of yuh is goin’!” Tea Cake shouted and fastened down on Coodemay. Dockery grabbed Sterrett and they wrassled all over the place. Some more joined in and dishes and tables began to crash.

Mrs. Turner saw with dismay that Tea Cake’s taking them out was worse than letting them stay in. She ran out in the back somewhere and got her husband to put a stop to things. He came in, took a look and squinched down into a chair in an off corner and didn’t open his mouth. So Mrs. Turner struggled into the mass and caught Tea Cake by the arm.

“Dat’s all right, Tea Cake, Ah ’preciate yo’ help, but leave ’em alone.”

“Naw suh, Mis’ Turner, Ah’m gointuh show ’em dey can’t come runnin’ over nice people and loud-talk no place whilst Ah’m around. Dey goin’ outa heah!”

By that time everybody in and around the place was taking sides. Somehow or other Mrs. Turner fell down and nobody knew she was down there under all the fighting, and broken dishes and crippled up tables and broken-off chair legs and window panes and such things. It got so that the floor was knee-deep with something no matter where you put your foot down. But Tea Cake kept right on until Coodemay told him, “Ah’m wrong. Ah’m wrong! Y’all tried tuh tell me right and Ah wouldn’t lissen. Ah ain’t mad wid nobody. Just tuh show y’all Ah ain’t mad, me and Sterrett gointuh buy everybody somethin’ tuh drink. Ole man Vickers got some good coon-dick over round Pahokee. Come on everybody. Let’s go git our knots charged.” Everybody got in a good humor and left.

Mrs. Turner got up off the floor hollering for the police. Look at her place! How come nobody didn’t call the police? Then she found out that one of her hands was all stepped on and her fingers were bleeding pretty peart. Two or three people who were not there during the fracas poked their heads in at the door to sympathize but that made Mrs. Turner madder. She told them where to go in a hurry. Then she saw her husband sitting over there in the corner with his long bony legs all crossed up smoking his pipe.

“What kinda man is you, Turner? You see dese no-count niggers come in heah and break up mah place! How kin you set and see yo’ wife all trompled on? You ain’t no kinda man at all. You seen dat Tea Cake shove me down! Yes you did! You ain’t raised yo’ hand tuh do nothin’ about it.”

Turner removed his pipe and answered: “Yeah, and you see how Ah did swell up too, didn’t yuh? You tell Tea Cake he better be keerful Ah don’t swell up again.” At that Turner crossed his legs the other way and kept right on smoking his pipe.

Mrs. Turner hit at him the best she could with her hurt hand and then spoke her mind for half an hour.

“It’s a good thing mah brother wuzn’t round heah when it happened do he would uh kilt somebody. Mah son too. Dey got some manhood about ’em. We’se goin’ back tuh Miami where folks is civilised.”

Nobody told her right away that her son and brother were already on their way after pointed warnings outside the café. No time for fooling around. They were hurrying into Palm Beach. She’d find out about that later on.

Monday morning Coodemay and Sterrett stopped by and begged her pardon profusely and gave her five dollars apiece. Then Coodemay said, “Dey tell me Ah wuz drunk Sat’day night and clownin’ down. Ah don’t ’member uh thing ’bout it. But when Ah git tuh peepin’ through mah likker, dey tell me Ah’m uh mess.”


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This work (Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston) is free of known copyright restrictions.