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SONNY S BLUES

as though he or she couldn’t wait to get out of that courtyard, to get those boys out of their sight and off their minds. I started collecting my stuff. I thought I’d better get home and talk to Isabel.

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SONNY S BLUES as though he or she couldn’t wait to get out of that courtyard, to get those boys out of their sight and off their minds. I started collecting my stuff.
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The courtyard was almost deserted by the time I got downstairs. I saw this boy standing in the shadow of a doorway looking just like Sonny. I almost called his name. Then I saw that it wasn’t Sonny, but somebody we used to know, a boy from around our block. He’d been Sonny’s friend. He’d never been mine, having been too young for me, and, anyway, I’d never liked him. And now, even though he was a grown­ up man, he still hung around that block, still spent hours on the street corners, was always high and raggy. I used to run into him from time to time and he’d often work around to asking me for a quarter or fifty cents. He always had some real good excuse, too, and I always gave it to him, I don’t know why.

But now, abruptly, I hated him. I couldn’t stand the way he looked at me, partly like a dog, partly like a cunning child. I wanted to ask him what the hell he was doing in the school courtyard.

He sort of shuffled over to me, and he said, “I see you got the papers. So you already know about it.”

“You mean about Sonny? Yes, I already know about it. How come they didn’t get you?”

He grinned. It made him repulsive and it also brought to mind what he’d looked like as a kid. “I wasn’t there. I stay away from them people.”

“Good for you.” I offered him a cigarette and I watched him through the smoke. “You come all the way down here just to tell me about Sonny?”

“That’s right” He was sort of shaking his head and his eyes looked strange, as though they were about to cross. The bright sun deadened his damp dark brown skin and it made his eyes look yellow and showed up the dirt in his kinked hair. He smelled funky. I moved a little away from him and I said, “Well, thanks. But I already know about it and I

got to get home.” “I’ll walk you a little ways,” he said. We started walking. There were

a couple of kids still loitering in the courtyard and one of them said goodnight to me and looked strangely at the boy beside me.

19

 

 

JAMES BALDWIN

“What re you going to do?” he asked me. “I mean, about Sonny?” “Look. I haven’t seen Sonny for over a year, I’m not sure I’m going

to do anything. Anyway, what the hell can I do?”

“That’s right,” he said quickly, “ain’t nothingyou can do. Can’t much help old Sonny no more, I guess.”

It was what I was thinking and so it seemed to me he had no right to say it.

“I’m surprised at Sonny, though/’ he went on—he had a funny way of talking, he looked straight ahead as though he were talking to him­ self—“I thought Sonny was a smart boy, I thought he was too smart to get hung.”

“I guess he thought so too/’ I said sharply, “and that’s how he got hung. And how about you? You’re pretty goddamn smart, I bet.”

Then he looked directly at me, just for a minute. “I ain’t smart/’ he said. “If I was smart, I’d have reached for a pistol a long time ago.”

“Look. Don’t tell me your sad story, if it was up to me, I’d give you one.” Then I felt guilty—guilty, probably, for never having supposed that the poor bastard had a story of his own, much less a sad one, and I asked, quickly, “What’s going to happen to him now?”

He didn’t answer this. He was off by himself some place. “Funny thing,” he said, and from his tone we might have been dis­

cussing the quickest way to get to Brooklyn, “when I saw the papers this morning, the first thing 1 asked myself was if I had anything to do with it. I felt sort of responsible.”

1 began to listen more carefully. The subway station was on the cor­ ner, just before us, and I stopped. He stopped, too. We were in front of a bar and he ducked slightly, peering in, but whoever he was looking for didn’t seem to be there. The juke box was blasting away with something black and bouncy and I half watched the barmaid as she danced her way from the juke box to her place behind the bar. And I watched her face as she laughingly responded to something someone said to her, still keeping time to the music. When she smiled one saw the little girl, one sensed the doomed, still-struggling woman beneath the battered face of the semi-whore.

“I never give Sonny nothing,” the boy said finally, “but a long time ago I come to school high and Sonny asked me how it felt.” He paused, I couldn’t bear to watch him, I watched the barmaid, and I listened to the

“s o n n y ’s b l u e s ”

m u s i c which seemed to be causing the pavement to shake. “I told him

it felt great.” The music stopped, the barmaid paused and watched the juke box until the music began again. “It d id”

All this was carrying me some place I didn’t want to go, I certainly didn’t want to know how it felt. It filled everything, the people, the houses, the music, the dark, quicksilver barmaid, with menace; and this

menace was their reality. “What’s going to happen to him now?” I asked again. “They’ll send him away some place and they’ll try to cure him.”

He shook his head. “Maybe he’U even think he’s kicked the habit. Then they’ll let him loose”—he gestured, throwing his cigarette into the gut­

ter. “That’s all.” “What do you mean, that’s allV’ But I knew what he meant. “I mean, that’s all.” He turned his head and looked at me, pulling

down the corners of his mouth. “Don’t you know what I mean?” he

asked, softly. “How the hell would I know what you mean?” I almost whispered

it, I don’t know why. “That’s right,” he said to the air, “how would he know what I mean?”

He turned toward me again, patient and calm, and yet I somehow felt him shaking, shaking as though he were going to fall apart. I felt that ice in my guts again, the dread I’d felt all afternoon; and again I watched the barmaid, moving about the bar, washing glasses, and singing. “Listen. They’ll let him out and then it’ll just start all over again. That’s what I

mean.” “You mean—they’ll let him out. And then he’ll just start working

his way back in again. You mean he’ll never kick the habit. Is that what

you mean?” “That’s right,” he said, cheerfully. “You see what I mean.” “Tell me,” I said at last, “why does he want to die? He must want to

die, he’s killing himself, why does he want to die?” He looked at me in surprise. He licked his lips. “He don’t want to

die. He wants to live. Don’t nobody want to die, ever.” Then I wanted to ask him—too many things. He could not have

answered, or if he had, I could not have borne the answers. I started walking. “Well, I guess it’s none of my business.”

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