Their Eyes Were Watching God
Janie learned what it felt like to be jealous. A little chunky girl took to picking a play out of Tea Cake in the fields and in the quarters. If he said anything at all, she’d take the opposite side and hit him or shove him and run away to make him chase her. Janie knew what she was up to—luring him away from the crowd. It kept up for two or three weeks with Nunkie getting bolder all the time. She’d hit Tea Cake playfully and the minute he so much as tapped her with his finger she’d fall against him or fall on the ground and have to be picked up. She’d be almost helpless. It took a good deal of handling to set her on her feet again. And another thing, Tea Cake didn’t seem to be able to fend her off as promptly as Janie thought he ought to. She began to be snappish a little. A little seed of fear was growing into a tree. Maybe some day Tea Cake would weaken. Maybe he had already given secret encouragement and this was Nunkie’s way of bragging about it. Other people began to notice too, and that put Janie more on a wonder.
One day they were working near where the beans ended and the sugar cane began. Janie had marched off a little from Tea Cake’s side with another woman for a chat. When she glanced around Tea Cake was gone. Nunkie too. She knew because she looked.
“Where’s Tea Cake?” she asked Sop-de-Bottom.
He waved his hand towards the cane field and hurried away. Janie never thought at all. She just acted on feelings. She rushed into the cane and about the fifth row down she found Tea Cake and Nunkie struggling. She was on them before either knew.
“Whut’s de matter heah?” Janie asked in a cold rage. They sprang apart.
“Nothing’,” Tea Cake told her, standing shame-faced.
“Well, whut you doin’ in heah? How come you ain’t out dere wid de rest?”
“She grabbed mah workin’ tickets outa mah shirt pocket and Ah run tuh git ’em back,” Tea Cake explained, showing the tickets, considerably mauled about in the struggle.
Janie made a move to seize Nunkie but the girl fled. So she took out behind her over the humped-up cane rows. But Nunkie did not mean to be caught. So Janie went on home. The sight of the fields and the other happy people was too much for her that day. She walked slowly and thoughtfully to the quarters. It wasn’t long before Tea Cake found her there and tried to talk. She cut him short with a blow and they fought from one room to the other, Janie trying to beat him, and Tea Cake kept holding her wrists and wherever he could to keep her from going too far.
“Ah b’lieve you been messin’ round her!” she panted furiously.
“No sich uh thing!” Tea Cake retorted.
“Ah b’lieve yuh did.”
“Don’t keer how big uh lie get told, somebody kin b’lieve it!”
They fought on. “You done hurt mah heart, now you come wid uh lie tuh bruise mah ears! Turn go mah hands!” Janie seethed. But Tea Cake never let go. They wrestled on until they were doped with their own fumes and emanations; till their clothes had been torn away; till he hurled her to the floor and held her there melting her resistance with the heat of his body, doing things with their bodies to express the inexpressible; kissed her until she arched her body to meet him and they fell asleep in sweet exhaustion.
The next morning Janie asked like a woman, “You still love ole Nunkie?”
“Naw, never did, and you know it too. Ah didn’t want her.”
“Yeah, you did.” She didn’t say this because she believed it. She wanted to hear his denial. She had to crow over the fallen Nunkie.
“Whut would Ah do wid dat lil chunk of a woman wid you around? She ain’t good for nothin’ exceptin’ tuh set up in uh corner by de kitchen stove and break wood over her head. You’se something tuh make uh man forgit tuh git old and forgit tuh die.”