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"Girl," by Jamaica Kincaid (1978)

Author: Jamaica Kincaid

Kincaid, Jamaica. "Girl." Literature: a Portable Anthology, edited by Janet E. Gardner et al., Bedford/St. Martin's, 2017.

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Photograph by Nina Leen / Time Life Pictures / Getty
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Wash the white clothes on Monday and put them on the stone heap;
wash the color clothes on Tuesday and put them on the clothesline to dry;
don’t walk bare-head in the hot sun;
cook pumpkin fritters in very hot sweet oil;
soak your little cloths right after you take them off;
when buying cotton to make yourself a nice blouse, be sure that it doesn’t have gum in it, because that way it won’t hold up well after a wash;
soak salt fish overnight before you cook it;
is it true that you sing benna in Sunday school?;
always eat your food in such a way that it won’t turn someone else’s stomach;
on Sundays try to walk like a lady and not like the slut you are so bent on becoming;
don’t sing benna in Sunday school;
you mustn’t speak to wharf-rat boys, not even to give directions; don’t eat fruits on the street—flies will follow you;
but I don’t sing benna on Sundays at all and never in Sunday school;
this is how to sew on a button;
this is how to make a buttonhole for the button you have just sewed on;
this is how to hem a dress when you see the hem coming down and so to prevent yourself from looking like the slut I know you are so bent on becoming;
this is how you iron your father’s khaki shirt so that it doesn’t have a crease;
this is how you iron your father’s khaki pants so that they don’t have a crease; this is how you grow okra—far from the house, because okra tree harbors red ants;
when you are growing dasheen, make sure it gets plenty of water or else it makes your throat itch when you are eating it; this is how you sweep a corner;
this is how you sweep a whole house;
this is how you sweep a yard;
this is how you smile to someone you don’t like too much;
this is how you smile to someone you don’t like at all;
this is how you smile to someone you like completely;
this is how you set a table for tea;
this is how you set a table for dinner;
this is how you set a table for dinner with an important guest;
this is how you set a table for lunch;
this is how you set a table for breakfast;
this is how to behave in the presence of men who don’t know you very well, and this way they won’t recognize immediately the slut I have warned you against becoming;
be sure to wash every day, even if it is with your own spit;
don’t squat down to play marbles—you are not a boy, you know;
don’t pick people’s flowers—you might catch something;
don’t throw stones at blackbirds, because it might not be a blackbird at all;
this is how to make a bread pudding;this is how to make doukona;
this is how to make pepper pot;
this is how to make a good medicine for a cold;
this is how to make a good medicine to throw away a child before it even becomes a child;
this is how to catch a fish;
this is how to throw back a fish you don’t like, and that way something bad won’t fall on you;
this is how to bully a man;
this is how a man bullies you;
this is how to love a man, and if this doesn’t work there are other ways, and if they don’t work don’t feel too bad about giving up;
this is how to spit up in the air if you feel like it, and this is how to move quick so that it doesn’t fall on you;
this is how to make ends meet;
always squeeze bread to make sure it’s fresh;
but what if the baker won’t let me feel the bread?;
you mean to say that after all you are really going to be the kind of woman who the baker won’t let near the bread?

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DMU Timestamp: September 11, 2019 18:32

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