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steel… But even as the pain took hold of my hand with the car s ¿ounce and rattle, my spirits began to lift, a small glow of assurance wanned me as Everett s words echoed far back in my m ind„ ., Let’s go, we got to get this nigger to a doctor. Within the urgency, the humorous pky and idiom, was a suggestion of alliance, kinship, acceptance: I hadroade it a little way through the barrier. /

I turned to Wesley. “That was some powerM Panama Red last night.” /

Wesley nodded solemnly, “I can dig it.” /

A thin white scar remains, riding the ridge of the knuckles like a badge of initiation, an emblem of brøle.

I never scored the big touchdown, never made it all the way through to the other side—none of us^whiteys do—but ten years later, when I was house pianist at the hungry i in San Francisco, a middle-aged black man approached me in the bar following an entr’acte medley of Duke Ellington tunes. He said4ie had enjoyed the music and that I must have grown up or spent a Lot of time around Harlem to play like that, I told him I had been boriAnd bred in eastern Massachusetts. *Gkay,” he said, “but somewhere ilong the line you mustve eaten some okra and sweet potato pie.” /

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ipng/files/2010/08/Baldwin-Sonnys-Blues.pdf

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Sonny’s Blues

James Baldwin

I read about it in the paper, in the subway, on my way to work. I read it, and I couldn t believe it, and I read it again. Then perhaps I just stared at it, at the newsprint spelling out his name, spelling out the story* I stared at it in the swinging lights of the subway car, and in the faces and bodies of the people, and in my own face, trapped in the darkness which roared outside.

It was not to be believed and I kept telling myself that, as I walked from the subway station to the high school And at the same time 1 couldn t doubt it. I was scared, scared for Sonny. He became real to me again, A great block of ice got settled in my belly and kept melting there slowly all day long, while I taught my classes algebra. It was a special kind of ice. It kept melting, sending trickles of ice water all up and down my veins, but it never got less. Sometimes it hardened and seemed to expand until I felt my guts were going to come spilling out or that I was going to choke or scream. This would always be at a moment when I was remembering some specific thing Sonny had once said or done.

When he was about as old as the boys in my classes his face had been bright and open, there was a lot of copper in it; and he’d had wonderfully direct brown eyes, and great gentleness and privacy. I wondered what he looked like now. He had been picked up, the evening before, in a raid on an apartment downtown, for peddling and using heroin.

I couldn’t believe it: but what I mean by that is that I couldn’t find any room for it anywhere inside me. I had kept it outside me for a long time. I hadn’t wanted to know. I had had suspicions, but I didnt name

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JAMES BALDWIN

them, I kept putting them away. I told myself that Sonny was wild, but he wasn’t crazy. And he’d always been a good boy, he hadn’t ever turned hard or evil or disrespectful, the way kids can, so quick, so quick, espe­ cially in Harlem. I didn’t want to believe that I’d ever see my brother going down, coming to nothing, all that light in his face gone out, in the condition I’d already seen so many others. Yet it had happened and here I was, talking about algebra to a lot of boys who might, every one of them for all I knew, be popping off needles every time they went to the head. Maybe it did more for them than algebra could.

I was sure that the first time Sonny had ever had horse, he couldn’t have been much older than these boys were now. These boys, now, were living as we’d been living then, they were growing up with a rush and their heads bumped abruptly against the low ceiling of their actual pos­ sibilities. They were filled with rage. All they really knew were two dark­ nesses, the darkness of their lives, which was now closing in on them, and the darkness of the movies, which had blinded them to that other darkness, and in which they now, vindictively, dreamed, at once more together than they were at any other time, and more alone.

When the last bell rang, the last class ended, I let out my breath. It seemed I’d been holding it for all that time. My clothes were wet—I may have looked as though I’d been sitting in a steam bath, all dressed up, all afternoon. I sat alone in the classroom a long time. I listened to the boys outside, downstairs, shouting and cursing and laughing. Their laughter struck me for perhaps the first time. It was not the joyous laughter which— God knows why— one associates with children. It was mocking and insular, its intent was to denigrate. It was disenchanted, and in this, also, lay the authority of their curses. Perhaps I was listening to them because I was thinking about my brother and in them I heard my brother. And myself.

One boy was whistling a tune, at once very complicated and very simple, it seemed to be pouring out of him as though he were a bird, and it sounded very cool and moving through all that harsh, bright air, only just holding its own through all those other sounds.

I stood up and walked over to the window and looked down into the courtyard. It was the beginning of the spring and the sap was rising in the boys. A teacher passed through them every now and again, quickly,

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