She couldn’t remember how she started life but in later years realized she was alone from the first or at least until she started playing on the banquette where one day she spied Madame Ju-Ju coming toward her dressed in her flamboyant best, or so she would learn after they became acquainted and especially after she was taken into the little house where everything meant for a body to wear was the color of rainbows. Madame Ju-Ju let her try it all on, and she loved nothing more than to see in the mirror how she might compare with the tall frail woman she soon knew everyone in New Orleans with whom she came in contact either feared or at least respected.
Even though she had a place to stay now, she walked all over town, especially outside the city and into the areas where the shotgun houses were occupied by people who looked like her. She would go along listening and pretty soon when someone addressed her she imitated the sound of that voice, echoing back to the one the sound that was theirs. Invited into the house for a soda pop and a sweet, she looked everything over, usually in a long sweep of her eyes, as she listened and echoed back and even sometimes started talking in what she discovered was one way she sounded when she grew tired of her echo. She would go into houses only where women were, though she was not even aware how she felt about men because here the women lived alone during the day, the only time she walked around because she beheld the night with great respect and was not too young to help but fathom the reasons why she feared what as yet she had no evidence to go by.
Still, she did go everywhere and never stopped walking as long as there was daylight. She went into bars and at first never stayed long, men were too eager to dandle her on one knee and try to get her to straddle the other leg and once she felt a hand under her and screamed. Every man in the house looked around in fright and the women who happened to be there, if there was one, came to her rescue, and invariably socked the guy in the jaw, who was usually too drunk by then not to fall off his stool from the force of the blow. Yet even that did not discourage her from sitting in a corner by herself and having the bartender bring her a soda on the house while she listened to the men on the bandstand make their music.
She went into cafes and there was one in particular liked to feed her beignets and give her stick candy when she got ready to leave. These were the first men she liked and when she was older she began to wonder if her father might have been one of them. They were always loving and never tried to keep her there, never acted like the drunken ones in the bars. These men were calm, not wild. Most of all, she loved animals. By now she had seen at least one snake, and wanted to be like the four-leggeds fleeing when the slitherer took up pursuit.
Other children were easily friends. The little boys too. That’s how she learned to like men, as boys. When she became a blossoming girl she loved to look back on certain moments when she played with boys on the banquettes–how she learned there were such things as children’s games, just as she discovered in her body’s blossoming it felt good to touch and be touched, and how it occurred to her she was the only one in her body who was alive.
(5 October 2011)
copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander