Cast the First Stone

Free Cast the First Stone by Chester Himes

Book: Cast the First Stone by Chester Himes Read Free Book Online
Authors: Chester Himes
Warren gave me a job sweeping off the wheelbarrow tracks. It was an easy job.
    That afternoon I was transferred into the school company to teach school. The chaplain had charge of the school. He sent for me and told me he had heard I was a college student. I told him I’d attended the state university. He asked me how would I like to teach school. I said fine. He had me transferred.

    T HE 5-6 DORMITORY , to which they transferred me, was the coal company dormitory over again, only it was long and narrow. It was housed in the north half of the wooden building which housed the 5-5 dormitory to which Mal had been transferred.
    There were the same double-decked bunks and the same center aisle, with the wooden tables with attached benches, and at night there were three poker games instead of one. There was a blackjack game and a Georgia skin game which the colored convicts played. There were also colored convicts in this dormitory.
    The outside door was at the end of the dormitory which was the middle of the building, adjoining the door to 5-5. The dormitories were separated by a thin wooden partition. At the back a hole had been cut in the partition through which notes and money and messages were passed from one dormitory to the other. Once or twice each evening Mal sent for me to come to the peephole so he could talk to me. The colored convicts bunked down at the end of the dormitory and the latrine was down there also.
    I was assigned to a lower bunk on the center aisle next to the guardstand. “Right under the gun,” Mal said when I told him. “I’m glad—you won’t be able to get into any mischief.”
    On awakening each morning I had my choice of looking at the convicts dress in their grayed and sweat-stained underwear and sweat-stiffened socks which they wore from week to week and their bagged stinking trousers which they wore from year to year, and their gaunt and patched coats which the officials seemed to think never wore out; or I could look underneath the sagging upper mattresses out of the west windows at the back of the hospital, weather-stained and still asleep, housing tuberculosis and syphilis and cuts and lacerations and contusions and infections and operations and skulls cracked by guards’ sticks, and death. With mattresses lying out beside the front entrance, almost every morning, which would be taken away and burned because the convict who had last slept on them would not need them any more; or need anything else any more except a six-foot plot in Potter’s Field and the soft, close embrace of mother earth. Or, displeased with that, I could look across the aisle and over the unmade bunks, out of the east windows, at the stretch of dark gray wall against the darker sky, cutting out the smell of burnt gasoline; and a home at night with a mother and a father, and the tinkle of ice in tall glasses, and the unforgettable perfume of a woman’s hair.
    Or I could lie in bed and pretend I wasn’t going that morning, and watch the others spread their sheets and make their bunks and join the ragged soap-and-towel procession down to where the washtroughs were located, by the latrine. No matter how early you arose the colored convicts would have a skin game roaring down by the latrine, as if it had never stopped all night.
    At night I could lie and watch the nightly latrine brigade with their open drawers and felt house shoes stolen from the hospital. Or I could read by the eternal droplight overhead; or listen to the steady, planted stride of the night guard making his rounds; or watch the furtive slitherings of those bent on degeneracy and maiming, and sometimes even murder—as was in the case of the colored convict called Sonny who slipped up on another colored convict called Badeye, while he was asleep, and cut his throat from ear to ear.
    It was a sort of gurgle that I had heard, for it was late and quiet. When I got down there, peering over the shoulders of the convicts in front of me, I saw Badeye

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