sixty               

            "Gimme dat."

            "Ketch it."

            "Josh ovah dere."

            "TATTLETALE!"

            "Pour sorghum on dat thing, I STILL wouldn' eat it."

            "JuJu, lookee; cockerroaches 'neat' de poach."

            "Le's squash 'em."

            "Smell."

            "Pugh-wee!"

            "Gwon, lick it."

            "Lick my butt."

            "I tellin' Mutha Moss what you jist said."

            "Tell an' yo'all be sorry."

            "Dat mine."

            "Charmayne gots de cooties!"

             "Watch."

            "Mine squirts furthah."

            "Don't."

            "Do, too."

            "Don't."

            "DO, TOO!"

            "YOU CHILLUN HUSH!"

            The din falls silent. Bare feet halt mid-stride. The alleyway goes deferentially still, as pint-sized heads tilt upward at the fire escape, its landing the matriarchal source of what is taken by all to be an inviolable command. Enormous in her low-cut purple gownbeige bosom mushroomed, plucked brows furrowed, orange wig looking more incongruous by day than it normally does by night, Mother Moss emerges like a diva onto her balcony cum proscenium. She has spoken. She means business. There will be no contradiction. In the post-traumatic void, routine sounds  become conspicuous: a drainpipes' drip, an open sewer's gurgle, assorted grunts and groans from dry-rotted scaffolding. What functions as a playground for a raucous band of urchins is the back side of an infamous Beach Street tenement, Port of New Orleans. Filth is pervasive, the stench of human excrement everywhere apparent. And though a square of sky gives promise of light and a breath of Gulf coast air, the atmosphere below is dim and rankly stagnant. En masse, the cream-to-chocolate-coloured imps renew their anticsquietlyas Mother Moss withdraws from her over-lording perch... the din henceforth re­building, albeit cautiously, as if a vestige of the reprimand lingers in abeyance.

            "Yo'all must please excuse me that unseemly interruption, gent'men. Let us recommence negotiations. Now then, Mother not disputin' yo' girl comely; her is that. But they is two things have to modify yo' askin' price. One is that her pregnant—as you heard, us over-stocked." The traders cast furtive looks at Jewel's inflated belly. "And two is, though her comely, her black as night with a hood."

            "Three thousand firm; the child she's carrying is white."

            "Excuse me, but It be some while fo'e the truth o' that born out."

            Mother chuckles at her pun, though notes it is wasted on her avaricious guests; neither cracks a smile. She looks again to the girlface averted, head hung, shoulders meekly bowed.

            "So what's your offer?"

            "Mother never makes a offer. Mother buys, o' Mother don't. If yo'all insistin' on three thousand, Mother don't."

            The two men confer. They have no papers; not usually a problemif the Negress buys. There are alternatives of course, especially if the girl indeed is fertile—but typically none as lucrative as selling to Mother Moss.

            "We'll go two-five."

            "Us talkin' then 'bout a sale what fully documented?... No?... I see. In that case, gent'men, let me say goodday."

            The Negress stands. The men flash urgent signs at one another.

            "Two thousand even."

            Mother Moss, with a grin, resumes her seat.