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 ain’t know why I always had to watch after her, but when Mama made a rule, I followed it.
There was a party in town for the Mayor’s birthday. Big Sir took Mama with him cuz she’s so pretty and he likes to show her off. She could pass for one of them Creole ladies if she made her lips red and combed out her fluffs. I couldn’t go to parties 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 with the swamp.
I know I wasn’t sposed to leave the baby. But the baby was fine. She was sleepin’ so good cuz the breeze was blowin’ the chimes against the hangin’ tree, makin’ a nice 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 was gone and all the niggas was sleep.
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, just scared yelps bouncin’ 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 was coming from it. Then I saw a white man, and some rope. Another white man with a torch. Another white man with a gun.
I got closer and hid behind a willow tree, being quiet as I could. It ain’t so bad bein’ dark skinned when it’s night time cuz people don’t see you good. Then I saw what was inside the screamin’ cage. It was full of nigga babies, naked and cryin’. 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 ‘round her neck, real tight. The moonlight made her shiny skin glow. She screamed loud as she could.
The white man threw her into the water and she tried to swim before she got too tired and drowned. I was on the other side of the tree by now to see what they was fishin’ for. The rope man just stood there, spittin’ snuff and makin’ talk with the other white men.
“Dat party prolly a lot mo’ fun den catchin’ gatas.”
“Yeah, but dis’ gon be ‘nuff tuh hol’ us ova til de next one.” I think that was the torch man.
The rope man held up a brown jug of liquor and took a big gulp. Then, outta nowhere, a giant gator came and snapped down on the rope. Hard.
“Shit!” the rope man yelled. The gun man took a shot straight into the gators head. Like a habit.
The water stilled and the gator waded until the rope man went in, opened its dead jaws, and took what was left of the baby girl out. He threw her out into the swamp.
I couldn’t hear what they was sayin’ after that. I ain’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 they was still just standin’ there, doin’ they business. I started screamin’ again, but nothing was comin’ 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 nothin’ cuz my eyes was burning with scared sweat. I ain’t wanna go back down to the swamp so I just fell on the ground and cried. Then a sweet, whisper startled me.
“Chile, 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 do to the babies.”
“Hush girl!” We went back into the shack and Mama sat me down on her lap, with the baby in her arms.
“Miss 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 is a Black lady writer from Detroit, MI, USA. Focusing on the things that drive us to be human – patience, humor, redemption, love.