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Featured Writer - Roland Watson-Grant. Works by: Sharon Millar, Geoffrey Philp, Lisa Allen-Agostini, Alicia Valasse Opal Palmer Adisa, St. Hope Earl McKenzie, Andrew Stone, Tamaya Tate, Joanne C. Hillhouse, Carlyon Black, Dara Wilkinson,

Issue 1, June 2014


Susumba’s Book Bag is a quarterly digital magazine dedicated to showcasing writing of the highest grade from new, emerging and established Caribbean writers at home and in the Diaspora. The magazine is an offshoot of the Caribbean arts and entertainment online magazine Susumba.com We will publish poetry, fiction, flash fiction, interviews as well as reviews of Caribbean books. Occasionally, we will also publish one-act plays and monologues. Currently, we do not offer remuneration for the writings we publish, but we believe that writers should be paid for their work, and so we working on a way to do that in the near future.

Submission Guidelines We accept a maximum of 5 poems and 2 short stories at a time and we have no problem with simultaneous submissions but ask that you notify us immediately if the work is accepted elsewhere. We have no bias of genre or style. Our only requirement is that it be good, so send us your best stuff. Short stories should range from 2,500 to 3,500 words while flash fiction is from 10 600 words. We prefer our poetry to err on the side of Mervyn Morris, the shorter the better. We do accept longer work but if your poem is at the 33 to 64 line tipping point (longer than a page), please only submit two poems at a time. We try to keep our response time to a month, but alas we are human and so it may go beyond that. If you have not heard from us in 90 days, please feel free to send us a query. Though we publish quarterly, we currently accept submissions throughout the year, except in December. There is no reading fee, and submissions are only accepted via email. Send submissions to info@susumba.com Subject: Lastname-Firstname-Submission. Send your work as an attachment, not in the body of the email. Works sent in the body of the email will not be accepted. Send submissions to info@susumba.com Subject: Lastname-Firstname-Submission

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Growing up is hard. You know this. You not sure you can manage it at all. Who in their right mind could? You?

ALL OVER AGAIN

by ADZIKO SIMBA GEGELE 1st prize Burt Award for Caribbean Literature

“An endearing, enduring paean to youthful joys, All Over Again resonates deeply,... ” Trinidad Guardian

An exuberantly hilarious coming of age novel! www.facebook.com/BlueMoonPublishing PO Box 5464 Liguanea PO, Kgn 6, Ja.

“Makes you want to read it all over again!” The Gleaner

@blumoonbooks www.blumoonbooks.com

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Blouse & Skirt Books


SUSUMBA’SBOOKBAG June 2014

Editor’s Note Read. Write. Live. Tanya

Tanya Batson-Savage Editor in Chief

Contents 6

The Gayelle

Sharon Millar

10

Chapter One Calamity

Andrew Stone

11

The Savvy by Night rock

Lisa Allen-Agostini

12

Blessed are the Meek

Geoffrey Philp

17

The Market, Snapshot

Joanne C. Hillhouse

18

Fat Is The Art of War: Food Stories I Older Women and Young Men

Carlyon Blackman

19

To Grandma Nezlin

Tamaya Tate

21

Insurance - Named Beneficiary

Dara Wilkinson

24

Mango Blossoms Signs Creatures in a Storm

St. Hope Earl McKenzie

Marooned Spirit at La Sorcière Messages to Bus Children Fleeing

Alicia Valasse

29

Stilletos

Opal Palmer Adisa

31

Yeah Write!: An interview with Roland Watson-Grant

Tanya Batson-Savage

36

Off the Island

Roland Watson-Grant

27

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SUSUMBA’SBOOKBAG June 2014

A publication by Blue Moon Publishing

Cover Illustration: ‘Busta’ by Matthew McCarthy Editor: Tanya Batson-Savage tanya@susumba.com Sales Scarlett Beharie info@susumba.com

PO Box 5464, Liguanea PO, Kingston, Jamaica W.I. www.susumba.com 5


SUSUMBA’SBOOKBAG June 2014

The Gayelle by Sharon Millar

His mother stands parallel to the window. Her space carves a dark silhouette against the outside light, her long neck funnelling into the belly that holds the baby. If he squints and looks through shielded eyes, the baby is floating under the skin, womb bound only by the thick cord that his mother grows to anchor the things that grow within. “If you fight the cock, it will lose.” She makes this declaration with a finality that seems bound to her tightly held hair and her smooth forehead. It has come to this because it is now February and the roosters have stopped their moulting. Soon the path to the Gayelle will be smooth and dry; the handlers, thin men like his father, squatting around the pen while the roosters jump and stab with their spurs. In the second week of February, the weather shape shifts in the night. All along the island, thick rivers drink the sea and turn their growths to the sun. At night they glow blue under the hard moon. When they visit his mother’s family on the banks of the Ortoire River, sometimes he swims in the brown river, throwing the water into the air, glowing beads spreading their inflorescence into the night. His father had a wife before his mother but she died in the childbed. When Mannie first heard this term, he imagined his father’s first wife climbing into a small bed and dying. As if tiny pillows and soft blankets could choke a grown woman. It was only later that he understood that the babies killed her as they pushed their way to air. They tore her up like an old bed sheet; he heard his mother whisper to his aunt once. There had been three in all; three babies that lived for less than a week. His father’s wife had bled out on the bed. When his mother came, driving herself in the red pick-up, the tray packed with suitcases, aloe plants, and a ram goat; she’d insisted that the room be blessed before she would step foot in the house. His father had even burnt the bed. The first wife was buried in the big cemetery in Mayaro, the one that crested the hill as you rounded the corner, coming out of the forest and moving away from the river. The cemetery ran along with the road rushing up to the blind corner. Here his father’s first wife lay, her grave not yet flat but still mounded and rounded with soil that has only just begun to lose its freshness even though it is nine years old, one year older than Mannie. Sometimes when they visit, the grave has been decorated with the bright red canna lilies that grow wild in the thick, swampy mud of the coast. She was very beautiful, his father’s first wife, and her mother is said to be comforted that her daughter can hear the waves when the tide is in.

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The Gayelle Sharon Millar

Mannie’s mother is also very beautiful. Some say she is more beautiful than her cousin but Mannie cannot say because there are no photographs of his father’s first wife. The babies lay under the silk cotton trees on the Sangre Chiquito estate, just out of line of sight of the house. Mannie’s father dug the graves himself and the wet nurse had been inconsolable. How Mannie knows these things he cannot say. The stories grow with him, stretching and changing as easily as his skin. His mother turns her head. Almost as an afterthought, her torso follows, sluggish in the heat. Her hair is held with two turtle-shell clips. He’s never seen his mother’s hair loose but he knows from the strands that he finds in her small toothed comb that each strand is long and fine, the shiny black of cockroach wings. The combs were made by his grandfather. His grandmother gave them to his mother when she was sent to replace her dead cousin. He didn’t think his mother minded too much. He’s overheard her talking to her sisters when they come to visit Sangre Chiquito and lie in her bed all afternoon, laughing and rubbing her feet. She whispers things to them that make them laugh and cover their mouths and she shushes them when he comes into the room. Mannie’s father is a small, fair complexioned man, more Spanish than Indian and he is not old. Today he wears a stained pair of khaki shorts and a white merino vest. Three beads of blood spot his freshly shaved jawline. His parents share a razor, an old fashioned silver thing without a safety guard. Beyond the window of the small bungalow, silk cottons, immortelles, pouis, and teak stagger their way down to the river. In the dry season, the season of the fighting, the leaves fall and fall until they settle ankle deep in rustling layers; his mother says that below the leaves lies not just hard earth but the pineapple backs of sleeping mapepires and the pale brown of scorpions. At the beginning of each year, his mother collects scorpions, hunting them under rotten logs and behind abandoned tools before roasting them. She feeds the ground paste to Mannie, blowing in his face to stop his gagging. This way, she says, he will not die if he is stung by the lightning strike of a curved tail. Two babies have slipped from her womb after Mannie. He knows that his mother blames her cousin, the beautiful first wife, lying in her grave listening to the sea and wanting placenta grown babies. Mannie’s baby shoes sit on a shelf in his mother’s drawing room in Sangre Chiquito. When the douens came, he was still yearning for the smell of his mother’s skin. Little things they were, hiding behind the trees and calling with strange whooping cries. It is only when they run ahead of him that he sees their toes winking but he is young enough to accept extraordinary things as commonplace. No one need tell him that his halfbrothers have grown in the loamy soil. The trio utter no words but beckon him with webbed fingers and run backwards up the hill. His mother has had the parish priest bless him and he wears the small gold cross around his neck to ward off the evil that lies deep in the forest. It is the douens who introduce him to the game roosters. It is the douens who teach him to stroke them so that the spurs lie quiet and the roosters relax, dazed and sleepy, their spurs at ease. When the douens stand next to Mannie in the coop, the air is chill, the only sound the soft clucking and gibbling of the birds and the even sound of Mannie’s breath. At night they wail below his window, mewling like kittens.

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The Gayelle Sharon Millar

Mannie’s mother knows of the things that live in the forest and she worries about the souls of the tiny babies that lie buried under the silk cotton tree. When she finds the shattered shells of the water crabs, the red manicou crabs that come from the mountain rivers, she visits the old woman in the market to buy blue soap. She lathers Mannie with the thin foam from the blue balls and she untangles her mother’s chaplet and places it over the small cross around Mannie’s neck. No risk can be taken with maljeaux. Sometimes when the douens appear, they double and triple like mirages on waves of shimmering heat. Mannie’s mother tells him that he was born with the caul over his face. We had to peel it off so you could breathe. Mannie’s mother is afraid of the cocks. On the day her cousin died, nine Februaries gone, a champion cock, the last of the Spanish line, had fought his last. His father trains the cocks where his mother cannot see. Even when she walks she avoids the path that leads to the coop. Only recently has Mannie joined his father. With the cocks, his father is gentle. He weighs them, meticulously recording the weight of each bird on a chart that he tapes to the bare brick walls of the shed. There are ten new ones, five pullets and five stags. It is the stags that will take up most of his father’s time as he grooms them into roosters. Some are belligerent and aggressive and some are courtly, almost gentlemanlike. The tradition has come down five generations, Mannie’s father tells him proudly. In Venezuela and Puerto Rico they still fight the cocks. They understand the importance of tradition. The rooster that will fight on Sunday has won many competitions. A noble creature and now his father is handing him over to Mannie. They will fight their first fight on Sunday in the Gayelle. If you fight the cock, it will lose. We will lose. On the night before the fight, the douens mewl and cry under a new moon. Mannie’s mother sits on the gallery and draws pictures for her husband. Mannie can see her through the wooden louvres of his door. She draws the house in which they live. She draws the river and the silk cotton tree. She draws a beautiful fighting cock with regal plumes and a bright shining eye. Between these things, she draws arrows and lines, connecting things and places, adding crosses and small words. At the bottom of her drawing, she carefully sketches three tiny faces, and behind these she draws a river of babies, sketching quickly and lightly until the babies fall off the page. There are things of which we must not speak. The champion is plumed, crested, and combed with a keen eye. His father shows Mannie how to clip feathers with a small scissors, how to shave the tiny pin feathers from the fine legs of the bird so that when it strikes there will be no drag on the air. After he trains the birds at the height of noon, Mannie’s father rubs their legs with bay rum to cool their blood. Their champion has been training for months; swimming in the barrel, running on the wheel. He has never lost a fight. On Sunday the handlers squat in the dust. Over in the far corner are the Venezuelans who have come with their birds. Look at their hats, says his father. The men wear peculiar triangle shaped hats that Mannie has never seen on his island. The men under the hats have hard lined faces and smoke

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The Gayelle Sharon Millar

with cigarettes balancing in the corners of their mouths. Their roosters lie panting and leashed in the shade of the forest trees. To get into the Gayelle, they must pass a man who only lets them in when they whisper a secret word. From the beginning Mannie can tell his rooster is in trouble. He is in the pen with a Venezuelan bird and Mannie knows there is a lot of money riding on each spurred kick. The skin under their bird’s throat opens suddenly, like a third eye. Mannie enters the ring and handles the bird gently, taping the wound before coming out of the ring to squat silently next to his father. With each flap and kick, their rooster goes back in for more and Mannie’s father begins to cry soundlessly. Mannie has forgotten the douens until his rooster begins to die before him. His father is crying openly and the rooster has fallen limp in the ring. From the opposite side, the Venezuelan handler is moving in to retrieve his champion. Mannie must walk into the ring and collect the bundle of feathers and the dimming eye. If he looks into the forest, behind the triangle hats, dangling cigarettes, behind the noise of these earth bound men, he is sure he will see the river of them with their small mouths and hidden feet, the tiny bones twisted. He will remember how much they loved the chickens. It is night by time they arrive home, his father still weeping silently behind the wheel of the red van, the dead rooster in a box on Mannie’s lap. The road in the forest twists to the left before entering the clearing where their little bungalow is set back from the forest’s edge. To the right, his mother’s goat looks out of his pen and the pack of pot hounds that follow his mother everywhere run out into the headlights of the truck, barking and jumping in and out of the beams of light that sweep across the dark house. When Mannie is an old man, his children tell him it is impossible for the river to send her blue water to the forest. But Mannie remembers the beads of blue luminescence, the drizzle of sapphire that rained gently on the house when his father stepped out of the truck calling for his mother. She is cooking in the dark by the light of the kerosene lamp. The smell in the kitchen makes Mannie’s mouth water. On the stove, the pullets and the stags bubble in their fragrant broth. There is a pot on all four burners of his mother’s new stove. As the birds stew, she holds under her belly, supporting the head of the baby that wants to fall.

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Andrew Stone Chapter One Thick clouds wrap around the morning locking out the early light. A mosquito coil glares from its single eye, The blue smoke filling his lungs seeping into his core. He rolls a rizzla to settle the mind and take the taste of last night from his mouth, but it does not shake the hot stink of blood oozing from gunshot wounds or still a mothers’ siren like wailing. The image of an eight year old boy shocked and silent, plays like the closing shot of a movie, setting up the sequel.

Calamity …is the hard sound of a sauce pan falling to the ground from a hand still shaking, clutching at air, memory shook loose from calcified despair, the cacophony sliding past amnesia, a sliver of light slicing her, bringing water and blood. Acquiescence! Branded by an incubus; and she, carrying this cup buried in her chest, bends to retrieve the spill. She will not break today.

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Lisa Allen-Agostini The Savvy by night wind punished the sloop’s sail speeding alarmingly, whipped over waves the red boat tilted till horizon, faint in darkness slipped below the hull’s edge phosphorescent wake flew behind us under a star spattered open sky we dozed on deck like swans i marveled how friendship could make a pleasure of terror

rock beneath the beige battlements of L’Anse aux Epines beyond its moors and mangroves is the igneous rock on which this place was built the Atlantic crashes against it spume skyscrapers dissipate black rock glistens stands

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Blessed are the Meek by Geoffrey Philp Sitting on the edge of his verandah, Godfrey looked up at the hills and shook his head, for he knew when the sky cracked, the sun turned a viscous red, and archangels poured out Jehovah’s wrath on mankind, he would not be among the “great crowd” of witnesses who would live in God’s favor for all eternity. He would have deserved any punishment because of the sins that had blackened his soul and had exiled him from God’s love. And it would be good. For God was good all the time. Godfrey believed this with his mind, heart, and body. For as long as Godfrey could remember, there wasn't a time when he didn’t believe. He was destined to believe. His mother had named him Godfrey when she learned it meant "God's peace.” And the Lord knew that Joan needed peace in her life. When Godfrey's father, who after years of promises to leave his wife, learned that Joan was pregnant, he told her to “abort the little tar baby”. "A promise is a comfort to a fool," she’d often whispered to Godfrey. "But you, my little preacher, are my answer to the world.” And Godfrey had become a mighty preacher. Joan had raised him on religious books from the Rosicrucians to the Mormons, and on every Sunday, their home echoed with Billy Graham’s signature signoff, “This is Billy Graham from Minneapolis, Minnesota.” That was until Joan found the “Truth” of the Jehovah's Witnesses. Then, everything changed. Whatever happiness Joan had possessed, drained out of her. There were no more birthday parties, Christmas celebrations, nor Easter egg hunts. Joan's life was dedicated to Jehovah, and Godfrey from sixth birthday followed in her footsteps. By the time he was sixteen, Godfrey was a missionary in the field of Jehovah. Godfrey's fifteen-minute lectures were always well received by the congregation and based on the applause, rivaled the hour-long sermons of Brother Symanski, the head overseer for Kingston. And although Godfrey knew that he should have been humble, “Pride goeth before a fall,” as Brother Symanski warned him, on the night before he'd felt a wave of admiration from the brothers after he had finished his presentation on David and Bathsheba. The congregation clapped loudly. Brother Symanski had risen from his chair while the usually placid Sister Symanski scowled in her chair. Joan beamed when Brother Symanski put his arm around Godfrey and

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Blessed are the Meek Geoffrey Philp

hugged. But adulation was the last thing on Godfrey's mind.

“I need to see you,” he pleaded with Brother Symanski. “Come by my office tomorrow afternoon,” said Brother Symanski. “It's not the same girl problem is it?" "Yes. And it's gotten worse." "I'll be waiting for you." Those five words had lifted a weight from Godfrey's shoulders. As he stood on the verandah that Friday morning, he was confident that everything would be resolved. From his verandah, Godfrey looked at the cleft in Long Mountain covered by trees and then, across to Penelope's house. Although the pouis were in full bloom, he could still see the jalousied windows in the kitchen where every morning she made breakfast and in the evenings where she washed the dishes. From the moment her family had moved in and Penelope stepped out of her father’s car, Godfrey although he would never admit it, had fallen in love with her. Then, one evening as Penelope walked home from school, wearing the white uniform of Immaculate Conception, Godfrey mustered the courage and welcomed her to the neighborhood. He told her about the annual fair and the football games at the community center, but when Penelope discovered they were studying literature and history for their GCE A-level exams, an easy friendship began. At first Jenny's father, who still wore the remnants of an Afro, did not like a half-caste bwai visiting his daughter. But Godfrey soon won him over. Godfrey impressed her father with his understanding of local literature, especially the work of Jamaica College Old Boy and international poet, Dennis Scott. After her father’s long talk with Godfrey and he found out that they shared the same alma mater, Penelope’s father agreed to chauffeur them to the UWI library where his wife worked. As the exams got closer, their relationship changed. One afternoon as Godfrey admired the obsidian sheen of Penelope’s skin under the banyans of Mary Seacole and she explained the metaphor in ‘Snake’ by D. H. Lawrence, Godfrey kissed her. Penelope returned the kiss. It was heaven. Godfrey swore it would never happen again. That had been a week ago. It had happened again. Godfrey checked his school tie and picked up his schoolbag. It was no time for daydreaming. He was late for class and as a prefect, the principal had told him he needed to set a better example for the boys in the lower school. Packing his battered copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover into his schoolbag, Godfrey noticed a copy of the Watchtower in the side pocket. This was Joan’s doing. She was worried that Godfrey had forgotten that he should “be in the world, but not of it.” If his mother only knew how far he had strayed, she would have doubled her prayers for him. And he would have welcomed them.

Godfrey picked up his bag and headed through the door without looking over at Jenny's house. He walked up Plumbago Path, down Daisy Avenue and then, across Hope Road where he entered the

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gates of Jamaica College. Walking past the stained glass windows of the chapel, dwarfed versions of the ones at St. Dunstan’s, Godfrey went straight to Simms Hall and up to the second floor where he had history. He sat in the back while he pondered his meeting with Brother Symanski. Thank God, he didn't have to face Mr. Armstrong that morning. Mr. Armstrong, his literature teacher was very good at noticing his moods and would surely have asked him if anything was wrong. He'd have to lie. More sins. For the rest of the day, Godfrey stayed away from the library and the other places on campus where he could accidentally bump into Mr. Armstrong. By the time school was over, he was ready to meet Brother Symanski. As soon as the bell rang, he rushed to his locker, shoved his bag inside, and ran down to Hope Road where he caught a mini-bus to Half-Way-Tree. When he got off the mini-bus, rude songs from the jukeboxes rattled the sides of the bus stop and followed him down the narrow streets marked by weeds and potholes. It was an unbearably hot day, but he refused to remove his tie. For as long as his alma mater stood, he would never abandon her. The noise buffeted his ears and he remembered something Mr. Armstrong had once told him. "If you don't count Lagos, Half-Way-Tree is the loudest crossroads on the planet." Nothing Mr. Armstrong said could be trusted. Everyone knew about his fornications with prostitutes in the master’s cottage. Godfrey caught another mini-bus that took him to him to the front of Brother Symanski's law office. He climbed the steps to the third floor. A caustic scent of bleach slithered between the plastic ferns in the foyer. "Godfrey, it's good to see you," said Sister Gordon, one of the most pious sisters in the congregation. Brother Symanski hired sisters because he could never trust "the women of the world with the secrets of his office." "I'll tell Brother Symanski you’re here." Godfrey had never gotten used to seeing Sister Gordon in the colorful print dresses that she wore in the office, a stark contrast to the drab ankle-length dresses that she wore to the Kingdom Hall. Her work clothes, as she once explained to Godfrey, were a “necessary evil”. "Brother Symanski will soon be with you." Sister Gordon’s piety always made Godfrey awkward, so he smalled-up himself in a far corner by a table covered with magazines. Copies of the Watchtower with premonitions about what the next year, 1975, would bring, vied for space with Newsweek, National Geographic, and Golf Digest. The latest copy of Time caught his attention: "India Launches Nuclear Weapon” Godfrey turned away from Sister Gordon and patted down his hair. He didn't want to look anything like those “long-

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haired hooligans,” who Brother Symanski had said were responsible for the moral decline of Jamaica. "It always begins with hair," Brother Symanski had said, and ran his palm over the blond stands that fell over his forehead. The congregation had laughed. "Godfrey, how are you," said Brother Symanski. "Sister Gordon, hold my calls.” Brother Symanski ushered Godfrey into his office, lined from the floor to the ceiling with gilt-edged law books. On a shelf beside the door, Godfrey recognized Aid to Bible Understanding. He had once given Mr. Armstrong a copy as a gift. Despite his worldly ways, Godfrey wanted to warn Mr. Armstrong about the errors of his ways before the War of Armageddon. "Godfrey, have you forgotten: ‘Earth’s the right place for love.’ ” Godfrey hadn’t forgotten. He handed Mr. Armstrong the book which he pledged to read, but never did. "Sit down, Godfrey,” said Brother Symanski. “Would you like some water?" "No," said Godfrey. He slumped into the chair. "It can’t be that bad? How did it go?” "I kissed her." "You what?" "I kissed her." "Is that all?" "Yes, I swear." "You don't have to swear.” "Yes, Brother Symanski." "You've made your task more difficult, but I know you are up to it." "I know. ‘For what fellowship can light have with darkness?’” "Well said! These women of the world do tempt us. But you don’t want to be like Adam. He loved Eve more than he loved God and that was his downfall. Do you want that to happen to you?" “No, sir.” "If you keep going down this path, especially now that you've kissed her…did she kiss you back?" "Yes." "It's worse than I thought. What will happen to you when the War of Armageddon begins? Will you be like Lot's wife who was turned into a pillar of salt because she desired the “things of the world”?” "I’ll make things right," said Godfrey. "Thank you, Brother Symanski." "No, thank you, Godfrey. Paradise on earth wouldn’t be the same without you.” Godfrey shook Brother Symanski's hand. Brother Symanski patted Godfrey on the back and opened the door for him.

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Sister Gordon looked up at Godfrey from behind her desk and smiled discerningly. Had she been eavesdropping? Did she know what had happened? Godfrey left quickly. Scampering down the steps and back into the heat, he joined the surging rushhour throng headed toward the crossroads. But now nothing could bother Godfrey. His redemption was at hand. Godfrey jostled beside wide-hipped women with multi-colored handkerchiefs which they used mop their sweaty bosoms. Yet he was apart from their petty lives and miseries: the soot and grime of the Jolly Joseph buses staining the collars and underclothes of the myriad of faces caught in the exhaust of taxis; the smoke rising sluggishly from the gutters and standing pools of gray water blotting figures in the crowd, destined to become nothing. A mini-bus, blaring a song of slavery and revolution, pulled up beside Godfrey. He jumped in and squeezed between a woman with garish make-up and a bearded man with callused hands. Godfrey ignored them. He rehearsed everything that he would say to Penelope. She would cry and he probably would too. But he would be strong and resolute as Paul had been in the face of Roman persecution. Penelope would die in the "Great Tribulation.� She had not found the "Truth" as he and his mother had. And then, Jehovah would provide him with a suitable mate. Godfrey got off the mini-bus and walked quickly home. At his gate, Godfrey glanced over his shoulder. Jenny, her silhouette was framed by the window, was washing the dishes. Godfrey looked away and went back to his verandah. Love would have to wait until a paradise on earth.

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To Market, Snapshot by Joanne C. Hillhouse

It was mid-summer and everything was in season: guava, mango, gynep, plum. He had eyes for her only, his new bride, as he walked the length of the public market, wooden stalls and lady hucksters on either side of them. It felt like a wedding march. But they’d done that already, recently enough that everything felt new, even a mundane Saturday morning shopping expedition. “John,” a dark, duckasay woman called out. Her feet were spry as she approached, looking much as she had three years ago during his mother’s farewell at Eve’s burial ground, where people who looked like them were laid to rest. She wore the same thing all market women wore: a lived-in, but clean, cotton dress that fell about mid-thigh; over that, a paler full-body apron with deep pockets; and a head tie which doubled as a catta for balancing their baskets and buckets of things. “Ms. June,” he responded doffing his broad-brimmed hat. She’d known him since he was a little boy hanging on his tanty’s voluminous skirt. Now, he was like a scarecrow standing over her. She was short, even for a woman; and he was tall and engling. Still, as she set her arms akimbo and assessed him and his new bride, he felt shadowed by her. The noise of the market quieted around them. The bride he’d squired in the Cuban cane fields might not speak a word of English, but as sure as she’d known, on seeing the mischief in his eyes and the loneliness it hid, that he would bring love and adventure into her life, that she would bring family back into his, she knew this woman was important. Or so it seemed to John as she waited with him, her brown, callused hand in his. His other hand slapped the hat against his thigh, his leg jiggled a bit. Finally, Ms. June nodded, and smiled, speaking woman to woman; “Keep him in line, hear?” She loaded them up with fruit, and John returned his hat to his head as he swung the crocus bag on one side, his wife’s hand on the other, as they continued down the market aisle, together.

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Carlyon Blackman Fat is Each year my mother grows smaller and smaller. As resident hoarder, chief cook and bottle washer I am her doppelganger - plain, brackish, with hints of sweet and savoury when she feels ambivalent. She doesn’t flavour me with lying anymore. She never considers how her words, skewered and tart --- why you getting so big and out of shape for --pierce my crackling resolve, congeal my pigskin heart into pounds of resentment that won’t dislodge their hooks from angry flesh, or invoke the god of hunger pangs to redeem emptiness with extra helpings. Between the orgy and the binge, she punishes me with secret keeping but when I offer myself to her stuffed with aloe & bitters she will not bite, she’s on a slimming diet, and holding fast.

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Carlyon Blackman

The Art of War: Food Stories I volley of scrambled eggs or fried jam or butter on fractious toast mute apology sat down, tried one last evening’s dinner of martyred spuds, brussel sprouts and rump roast

Older Women and Young Men ...when a tuber reaches maturity the eyes begin to show just as aerial views of sweet potato vines running over a furrow align symmetry with purpose in a pose utterly delightful (for a spud!) but for the labourer used to tricking weeds and turning out bugs it is a frightful test of what sacrifice is borne to get the best of mud.

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Tamaya Tate To Grandma Nezlin Melton and Jilly are dead but you remember them in the creases of our conversation. I tell you how young you look, you burst my bubble, saying: “Pickney something wrang wid yuh yeye dem.” I meet your foggy gaze, watching as you laugh away years of age. Aunty Annie says you’re very feisty. I waited months to see you. Hold your wrinkled hands, wipe the matta from your eyes, feed you mommy’s sweet potato pudding. Nezlin, I counted cruel hours, folded them into days, just to hear you call me Mrs Tomlinson. Perhaps one day that will be my name.

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Insurance - Name Beneficiary by Dara Wilkinson Joe was just a rookie but had become an insurance salesman because of the freedom it afforded, and already he liked it. Aside from the Monday morning Agents’ meeting, he could drop into office whenever he chose and make his own hours, seeing clients whenever was convenient to him and them, and grouping his sales visits area by area. He didn’t mind the cold calling for prospects. He didn’t mind reporting on the use of his time to generate business, on the time-income control sheet. He didn’t mind the filing, or generating quotes and preparing brochure packages, or keeping a record of clients’ birthdays so he could send them birthday cards. He did get a bit nervous though when Mr. Gruffalo MBA, his boss, said he needed to accompany Joe on his sales calls to help him improve his pitch. That he minded. Early Tuesday morning they set out in Joe’s six-year-old red corolla. He had washed it that weekend but the hubcaps were still grimy and Mr. Gruffalo nudged him as they opened the rear door to put their briefcases in the back. “Yuh slipping, Joseph” he said, pointing it out. “It’s the flippin dirt roads I live on,” said Joe simply.

Like all rookies Joe tapped into his network for sales and referrals. That week therefore he had planned to visit some schoolmates, both close buddies and lukewarm friendships of the former years: the aye-how-yuh-going-yuh-know-how-long-I-eh-see-you-boy-it’s-been-years kind. When Joe got to Samson’s house, Samson wanted to pop open beers and put on oldtime calypso. Mr. Gruffalo glanced at his watch to confirm the obvious – that it was indeed only ten in the morning – declined with a smile but good-naturedly thumbed through the cd case Samson presented him with and chose Brigo’s “Mama look a Booboo,” even chanting out a few bars to win a smile of accord from Samson who then said “ai-ai-ai!” “So, Soe Foot here is the new man on your team?” Joe winced. “Soe Foot?” asked Mr. Gruffalo. 21


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Insurance - Named Beneficiary Dara Wilkinson

“Yeah, dis man, Soe Foot. You know, like when your foot sore. Like allyuh have no criteria for this thing or what? Anybody at all could get in?” “It’s just an old high school nickname. It’s nothing,” said Joe. “Everybody had a name they give you back home. Mine wasn’t the most terrible.” “Yeah. But yours was true,” said Samson. Joe laughed nervously. Mr. Gruffalo’s eyes darted from one man’s face to the other and he shifted in his seat as if he were trying to control stomach gas from escaping. He had a look of utter dissonance on his face. “Let me tell you how he get the name Soe Foot. Well, I wasn’t there, to tell the truth, but what I hear is that his mother ban him from playing football in the street but everyday he still outside down the block playing small goal barefoot in the road. All ah we was bout fifteen then and playing big man. But Joe father used to walk home at five o’ clock every evening. And as Joe see he father coming down the street Joe used to fake like he get ah injury and start limping and all ah we go say ‘wha happen Joe’ and he go say ‘ah damage mih foot’ so he would go off on the side, but as soon as he father pass he go bawl out ‘aye, ah walk it off, so ah back in.’ We know what he doing, and he know that we know what he doing, but none ah we eh saying because if that’s the game he playing to keep on playing the game he playing then so the ting does go. “But one day, I wasn’t there so I didn’t see, Joe father walk by early and Joe didn’t make him out as he was coming up, and when they spot each other so, Joe stop running the ball and start to limp to the side. But he father was too quick and pull off he big belt-strap and start to blaze Joe tail in the middle of the road in front the whole small goal side. Well, that was the end of Joe and football, but the name Soe Foot stick.”

Mr. Gruffalo MBA, laughed too loud then sniffed and looked embarrassed for them all. It was all part of boy-days he supposed but he himself had grown up in hushed carpeted rooms of lattice-work and Bach on the ivorys, and had picked up his only sport, golf, as an adult. “Before we get down to business, that Shandy’s running straight through me,” said Joe, and excused himself to Samson’s bathroom where he whipped out his phone and made a call. The three men then talked about pensions and death benefits, waiver of premium for annuities and critical illness coverage – the full spectrum of their offerings – to see what would fit Samson’s financial needs. As they got back into the car Joe said, “I thought next we could go touch base with one of my best clients so far, Dr. Timothy. He might have some referrals for me.” “Another colourful football buddy?” said Mr. Gruffalo in a jocular tone. “A friend,” said Joe.

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Blessed are the Meek Geoffrey Philp

Dr. Timothy greeted them with a warm handshake and invited them to sit in an expansive living room of dark woods, decorated with African masks and other sculpture. Mr. Gruffalo, eager to get on with the business of the business-liming before the business-dealing said, “So you’re an old friend of ole Soe Foot, here? Ha ha!” “Soe Foot? Wow. Boy, it’s been years since I’ve heard that name. But if I tell you the story behind it, you would be amazed at the calibre of gentleman you have in your employ. May I tell it? No, don’t be embarrassed Joe – I’ll tell it … “You see, once there was this really poor elderly lady who lived on our street as boys. And she had nobody. The paint on her house was faded and peeling and she caught rainwater in large blue tubs outside. Anyway, everyday as we were going to school Joe here would convince me to go in there to her house and give her half our lunch, half of his and half of mine, everyday. And she would say, ‘Thank God for this soft-heart boy.’ Anyway, one evening we passing back with the fellahs and as we passing Joe wave at her and she call out ‘Good evening Soft-Heart.’ She say it just so, like ‘sorff-fahtt’ and the fellahs start to say ‘What’s that she call yuh? Soe Foot?’ And of course from there the urban legends start because Joe never tell anybody how he was helping the old lady. And you know in this town when a name stick on you, the name stick for life. So you see … this is the measure of man you have working for you … he taking care of people life since he small.” “Yuh letting out trade secrets here pardnah,” said Joe, lifting his hand playfully at Dr. Timothy. “Don’t worry. Nobody here posting it on You Tube,” grinned Timothy. “Plus, I’m sure you can take it,” said Mr. Gruffalo, patting Joe reassuringly on the back. With the rapport established, the three of them spoke a bit more, tossing around names of potential referrals after some gentle cajoling. Then Timothy walked them to the gate. As they were leaving and about to jump into the shiny red corolla with the grimy wheels, Dr. Timothy turned to Joe and said, “It’s my birthday next week. You won’t forget me will you? Pop around for some drinks and perhaps we can wrap up today’s business. By then you might owe me some finder’s fees… or at least a thank you note…among other things.” “I won’t forget,” said Joe. How could he? He had his filing, and his time-income control, his quotes and brochures and his cold calling and his well-kept birthday records. That part of the business he did not mind, in truth.

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St. Hope Earl McKenzie Mango Blossoms

Once they were a promise Of summer’s fructose festival, And the orgy of sweet flesh. Now in February, In the winter of sickness, They are blossoms of danger. It is a fruit forbidden. But I can still enjoy A song that is ending, While leaving the dance Of full abandon To others.

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SUSUMBA’SBOOKBAG June 2014

St. Hope Earl McKenzie

Signs Peadoves detect morning In the darkness Unerringly. Winged ants shame weathermen In predicting rain. They read their signs And I read them. So after the peadoves, I say farewell to night, And anticipate The streaks of daylight on the walls. And I remember the ants When the rain splashes my windscreen And the dark asphalt glistens. I read them reading their signs; Now someone is reading me.

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SUSUMBA’SBOOKBAG June 2014

St. Hope Earl McKenzie

Creatures in a Storm Awakened by the kind of thunderclap That makes you understand The belief in angry gods, I heard the unlocated mewing of cats. Morning revealed the silhouette Of two kittens, One black and one white, Behind the frosted window To the lower slab roof. They were pressed close to the glass, Seeking shelter, With their protective mother Looming large From time to time. I watched With nothing to offer But empathy For fellow creatures in a storm.

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Alicia Valasse Marooned Spirits at La Sorcière Let the unruly sound of the swaying treetops be tamed, As the warm tears of condemnation from vengeful spirits Devour the people who sleep between two ridges – The people of emancipated Iyanola. Weep for yourselves Your children, Not for them; The vengeful few Who frown at the tranquility you’ve found in anarchy, The glamour in the torture and the execution of your kind. They watched … Unmoved by the mutation of your humanity, Undisturbed by the banishment of your defeated soul, And they weep As you willingly slay your once celebrated ancestry The tanbou Which sounded Iyanola’s freedom, The sacred brotherhood in the koudmen And the pride was Iyanola’s children. They watched … They know … Their pain hidden by the dark greenery of La Sorcière; Their cries Muffled by the rehearsed duets of songbirds.

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Alicia Valasse

Messages to Bush Children - Fleeing Bush children Motherless and wild Flee from Sorcerer’s Mount. Go to the big bay, And hide your innocence In the sands of godliness For they will come; The people who live Between two ridges. They will come To haunt your dreams; Taint them with visions Of blood and death Your sleep – They will steal To enslave its peace with warlike chains – Away from tired, lowly eyes. Tick! Tock! Tick! Tock! Time runs

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Alicia Valasse

But sleep stays imprisoned Under Morpheus’ wings. You will grieve for laden eyes Alone. You will pray for death’s visit When dreams walk and talk In daylight – Alone. But death will never come.

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Stilletos by Opal Palmer Adisa “My woman rocks these,” Idren declared, the patent yellow stilettos held close to his chest, the heels pointing outward as an offering to his peers in his drawing class. “Respect,” said the girl who showed a thin, non-descript beige tie as her contribution. “They look like my size.” She walked over and inspected them. “And I guess you like them too,” said Max, the art teacher, who had assigned everyone to bring an object that could be easily identified with the opposite gender to share. Max walked over to Idren, peered down at the stilettos, and a smile like a hand-held fan waving, covered his face. He rubbed his three inner fingers across the surface of the right shoe, then pulled them away as if they were scorched. Moving away from Idren, Max commanded: “Draw your object and pair it with an object from one of your classmates.” Idren sat at the drawing bench, the stilettos perched, humming birds beaking a hibiscus. Idren loved how Sellasa, his IT girlfriend, looked in her stilettos, especially when matched with the slip, she found in the antique clothing store that she sometimes wore as a dress. He had invited her over the night before and had her climb on the table and model the shoes for him as he snapped with his I-phone more than twenty shots, from different angles, all the while Maxi Priest’s voice blared in the background. After the photo shoot, Sellasa sat in a chair, one leg raised and he cradled the heel of her shoe in his palms before licking them, and then he guided her to use the pointed toes to caress his groin as he stood pressed up against the wall. His body shivered and tingled. Idren was embarrassed at how much he enjoyed the sensation. He had not thought himself to be like one of those men in the movies who like to fuck women in stilettos. But he did fuck Sellasa. Pushed her up against the fridge, and all the while he was glancing over his shoulder, down at the stilettos, and thinking she was the great Queen Sheba, the yellow stilettos, a bucket of gold. His erection lasted the longest he had ever remembered, and they were both bathed in sweat. When he took off the condom, and Sellasa went into the bathroom, he squeezed his sperm on the shoes and rubbed them to a sheen. Feeling self-conscious, he had glanced around to make sure Sellasa had not come out the bathroom and was watching him, but she wasn’t. A pang of

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Stilettos Opal Palmer Adisa

disappointment flooded him, and Idren realized that he had really wanted Sellasa to be watching him, but pretending she wasn’t. Before leaving for class, after grabbing the stilettos, Idren had sniffed them deeply and immediately his crotch bulged and his face flushed. He wanted to hang them from his rearview mirror but they were too large. Several times Idren ripped off sheets of paper and started again. His brow knitted, jaws tight. “Just focus on the emotion; the shoes are enough,” said Max, who had been floating around the studio, making suggestions to various students. He took the charcoal from Idren’s hand, and in no time outlined one stiletto lying on its side, the toe pointed downwards. Idren briefly closed his eyes and imagined Sellasa using the tip to glide up and down his leg, a small Jamaican flag wrapped tightly around her body just above her breast and extended to her groin, exposing a little of both. His hand danced across the sketch pad. There wasn’t time for critique, but Max ordered them to hold up their sketches and made brief comments. Of Idren’s composition, one stiletto pointed downwards and the other aimed inward at a 45 degree angle with drops raining from the sky, Max beamed “I can feel the emotional charge!” He nodded affirmatively, a grin as bright as a lantern when the power is out, stamped on his face. Several of Idren’s male cohorts mumbled, “Respect,” as they walked by his table and paused to inspect his sketch. After securing his supplies, Idren placed the stilettos on the high window-sill. Everyone had left. He was the only one in the dimmed studio. Reaching into his satchel, he pulled out the black, green and yellow flag. The woman with ample posterior that sat high on her frame, and wearing a gele with a lion insignia in the center, appeared instantly. Idren winked. She slipped on the shoes, ordered him to bend over, and very deliberately, but gently, slid the pointed toes in the opening in his anus, while sipping on a Red Stripe beer. What sounded like a moan floated from Idren’s mouth.

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FEATUREDWRITER Yeah Write!: Roland Watson-Grant Interviewed by Tanya Batson-Savage

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Yeah Write! An Interview with Roland Watson-Grant

Roland Watson-Grant is one of the hot new voices emerging from the Caribbean. His debut novel Sketcher was released last year and the sequel Skid is about to hit bookstores, the author talks about reading, writing, the Ministry of Imagination & how a character saved his life. Watson-Grant reads at Calabash 2014 SBB: Sketcher is a part of a trilogy. Where are you in terms of writing the three books? RWG: I started on the third book last month, lining out some issue on the short treatment in terms of where it needs to go. Skid comes out in June. SBB: That’s pretty prolific. RWG: (laughs) Pretty desperate. Pretty fast. I think I was ready for it. Sun Tzu in the Art of War talks about the Pull Back (I call it the pull back because I don’t remember the Chinese term he used). The more you pull back on the bow and the more force you have. So, I’ve pulled back for a very long time so when it was finally released, I had a lot of stuff, lots of feelings to go on. So, it was very easy to have a lot of force to go with. There were a lot of notes stored, lots of reading and lots of religious books. SBB: Notes from where and when? RWG: My own notes. Going back as far as perhaps 1987, before that. I did six years of just committing things to journals. I have a chest full of journals that i wrote something in every single day. They were just thoughts and ideas and scraping the mind for samples of what you thought about. And a lot of those things, I admit, ended up being harvested. SBB: Does the trilogy have a name? RWG: My editor is calling it the ‘Swamp Trilogy’. But it really has no name. I think it’s really the ‘Broken Things Trilogy’, but every name you use gives a different impression of what it’s about.

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Yeah Write! An Interview with Roland Watson-Grant

SBB: So is it safe to say it’s been gestating for a while? RWG: I definitely had a half-written manuscript. But the difference is Skid. Skid came out of nowhere and disrupted all my notions of being conservative and being respectful of everything. SBB: Why? RWG: Skid is the person who I wanted to be when I was 9. SBB: So what happened to that boy? RWG: That boy grew up in a fundamentalist church and while that has its benefits, one of the side effects is that you question your own freedom of thought, the freedom to think for yourself and create for yourself. So Skid rescued me, sort of. SBB: Does he (Skid) grow up? RWG: He never gets past 17. After 17, our eyes get jaded. We lose the light in our eyes. We start to think about things like taxes and rent. It’s horrible, the world of a grown-up. SBB: Do you worry that you may be too married to the story? RWG: No, because I’m already writing the fourth book. It’s completely different. It will pull no punches. The trilogy has many instances of comic relief. This will have none. Intrigue, but no comic relief. SBB: This may well be a ‘badmind’ question, but where do you find all that time to write? You churned out, and I use that word advisedly, almost three novels in three years, and you are writing a fourth. What’s up with that? RWG: It’s the same pull back thing. I’ve written something everyday for the last 18 years. It’s my escape, I think. SBB: What are you escaping? RWG: The mundane. What better way to overcome the drudgery of life than to just write the drudgery of life into a book. Who wants to hear about how to skin a catfish? Nobody. Am I gonna write it in a book? Yes. I’ll write it down. I think Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was like that. I have a date, 3 o‘clock every morning I write until sunlight. SBB: How does reading play into your writing? RWG: I like to read random things like electronic magazines, magazines about tractors, heavy machinery, lots of guy stuff, that I don’t particularly like, but I find them intriguing. I don’t want to learn plumbing. I don’t want to fix my own faucet. But I’m reading that because it’s a way of making the writing more authentic. You’re speaking about something incredibly mundane or esoteric and it makes the writing so much more mundane and genuine.

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Yeah Write! An Interview with Roland Watson-Grant

As it pertains to literature, there is Earl Lovelace, Derek Walcott, Olive Senior, Gabriel Garcia Marquez simply because I find a bizarre kind of beauty in the things that they say. These are foundation elements, and I would actually mention those writers before I mention writers like James Joyce and Virginia Woolf and Mark Twain. Those four or three, that’s the Caribbean writer’s Holy Grail. SBB: As an emerging writer (and with your second book coming out you may already have emerged) how do you contend with that Holy Grail of Caribbean writing? RWG: I think I try to imagine the challenges they were up against. What were the zeitgeists of their time. When you actually plug into their zeitgeist you actually realize what was the world influencing the writer at the time and then you ask yourself the same question: What are we up against? What’s our scourge? And it helps you to find your own mind. Because it’s easy to go off and say oh the classics told this, so therefore I need to write something that sounds like the classics which is furthest from the truth. If you get behind the actual writing of the classics and find out what was influencing the writer, then you can parallel this with your own life and you might come up with something. SBB: So do you think it is important to contend with the large issues of our time? RWG: No. I find that the large issues are so large they find themselves into your writing or the writing finds itself in them. I don’t think I need to set out to write a book about the new scourge in the Caribbean, because then I’m grasping at stuff and the writing becomes hijacked by the issue. The issue becomes the thing that drives the story. But no, the story is about a particular person who lives in a particular place at a particular time. If the issue gets involved in it, it’s just incidental. I can make a point out of it, stick my writerly opinion in there (to be struck down by some editor) but I find that the issue will show itself. It is relentless, so I don’t need to start out with the issue. SBB: Let’s focus a little more on Caribbean writing. One of the two things that seem to be your ‘writer’s soapbox’ issue, at least thus far, is Maas Joe. Tell me, what is your problem with Maas Joe? RWG: First of all, Maas Joe is reductive. Maas Joe is a caricature and he needs to die, because these people are professionals and they have a lot to teach you. SBB: But why does Maas Joe have to die? RWG: Because, as I said, 1) It’s reductive and 2) its one-dimensional. Maas Joe is someone who ties out the goats in the morning and brings it back in the evening and has a little ground provision just around the corner, and he has a little straw hat on and he wipes his brow, leaving a little streak, and he speaks with no expertise, no understanding, it speaks to a shadow of what that person actually is. I’m not saying that he shouldn’t exist. I’m saying we should upgrade the guy.

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Yeah Write! An Interview with Roland Watson-Grant

SBB: But no, you actually said, kill Maas Joe. RWG: Yeah. Kill Maas Joe but upgrade the farmer. He’s incredible. SBB: So, it has nothing to do with the romanticizing of a particular character. RWG: No. Not really. It’s that the character doesn’t humanize us. He’s always happy. A lot of times if you watch certain commercials you think we’re all coconut vendors with really white teeth. A lot of times we see ourselves through the eyes of people who see us and romanticize us. That is reductive. Why is he always smiling? He has issues. He has frustrations. I don’t think writers should be influenced by the Tourist Board vision of what their country is. There are real instances of beauty that cannot be denied but it’s very easy to get into the caricature version that has been offered to us by others. SBB: And that takes us to your second issue. You have argued that writers are the Ministry of the Imagination. Who else is in that ministry? RWG: I think people in the creative industry lead the Ministry of the Imagination. And then to think of it in a wider sense, anyone who creates and imagines himself, herself, over his or her challenges they are a part of the ministry of imagination. The ministry of imagination is an idea which encourages just thinking through challenges. SBB: If you were giving advice to someone who wants to write but hasn’t got around to it yet, what would you say to them? RWG: Read National Geographic. Watch National Geographic. Read other people’s work for things like structure but also log into what it is you really love, that is not a story but is something that can inform a story. Be honest as you can be. Be honest until it hurts. SBB: Do you define yourself as a Caribbean writer? RWG: When somebody says you’re a Caribbean writer, it speaks to what we’ve come to understand as the Caribbean. I love Usain Bolt. I love Bob Marley. I love our singers and DJs who’ve mande an impression on the world. But I need to write a fiction that is independent of how fast our runners are or any other contemporary excitement about the country I live in because my country is more than that. SBB: And finally, how do you define writing? RWG: Writing is an act of genesis. You are the god of the story. It’s a divining experience. You’re actually divining stuff. You’re finding things where there was none, like water in a desert. But you’re also calling things into being, like Creation Week. So writing is a divine exercise and you should treat is as such. It’s holy and those who don’t create are sinners. All of them.

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Off the Island by Roland Watson-Grant We were on a power trip so to speak, because at that time, in that part of Seaforth, my family’s house was the only one with a generator. So while we watched TV, read books and sipped cool drinks at night, everything further inland was a tangled mess of bush and black, waiting for the sun to come and sort things out. Our only competition was the Harris family. Mr Harris was an executive at the Cement Company and he had swooped into Seaforth and constructed a concrete house on the rising overlooking the main road. Now, if our house was the beacon on the beach, the Harris’ house was the city set on a hill. The place was fully powered by real, live electricity with sparkling lights even the fishermen said they could see for miles off the coast. Now, Mr Harris’ son, Dwayne, we went to the same school and everybody knew that his family traveled on planes more often than they took the bus. And that is how the problem started. See, Mr. Harris and his family were going overseas. Again. Not Cayman. Not Curacao. Am-er-ica. It was the third time that year and as usual it was a BIG deal. Every few months, our Grade 4 teacher at Seaforth Primary, Mr. Charlton, would stand in front of the class and announce that "Dwayne Harris is traveling overseas again and we should all wish him well". The first announcement in January depressed my father. The second one made him decide not to give up rum for Easter, but the third time was too much. "Overseas? Again?" he said that evening. “You sure Mr. Charlton said overseas?” And as usual he launched into the difference between "overseas" and "off the island". "Look, when you see people say they goin' overseas, that mean America. But if they say "off the island" then it could be just Curacao or Cayman or some small place". My mother said he really should stop bad-mouthing people in front of his son. He asked me if I had enough sense to know it wasn’t bad-mouthing if he was telling the truth. And the truth was, since the last PTA meeting, he realized that Dwayne Harris' father was a damn showoff. He said the man made a point out of announcing in front of all the parents at the meeting that his family travels very regularly, even to America. Of course, after that my father had to spend some time putting Mr. Harris and America back into their rightful place. Well, my mother couldn't bear to hear him.

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Off the Island Roland Watson-Grant

So she saved her money and bought one hell of a three-speed blender. Whenever my father would come around maligning people, she would find something to put into it and press chop or grate to get rid of him. He never caught on, poor man, but I'm sure some of the neighbours in close proximity wondered what was wrong with that woman in the board-house toward the beach. I used to imagine them all coming to their windows by lamplight, discussing how we were showing off: first with our generator, then with a TV, and now with a blender that was obviously activated by my father’s voice. "Look, Sylvie, (chop) I give you a better example of how this man showoff ”. (grate) “Mr Harris can easily afford to send Dwayne to a prep school in town”. (Chop) “But him decide to send him to Seaforth Beach Primary, just so that him can look better than everybody else when him drive up in the Isuzu to drop off him son." Well, I didn't know about that. What I knew for a fact was that Dwayne Harris had a MultipleIndefinite United States Visa. He took the passport to school and showed it to all of us. It was just a serious looking stamp at the time. That's when we were friends though. I stopped talking to him round about the time my father started bad-mouthing Mr. Harris. That doesn't mean I agreed with everything my old man said. But I still didn't know what the big announcement in class every few months was all about, except to make people like me feel bad about not having a visa. Now, the five minutes after morning registration, Mr. Charlton used to call that period "Vocabulary Class". He timed it by the clock on the classroom wall. Every day, he would write a new word on the board in beautiful cursive and we would explore its meaning. I stopped caring about Vocabulary Class when most of the words he wrote on the board, words like: "I-M-M-I-G-R-A-T-I-ON: Immigration", were obviously inspired by Dwayne Harris’ trips abroad. And that’s the next thing: to be honest Dwayne wasn't really the one singing most of the praises of going to America. It was his disciples. Yes, the entire back row in class who worshipped the ground his Nikes walked on: Everton Greenwich, Errol Travis and Maxwell French. They all faithfully followed him to the canteen, got his lunch for him and sat with their mouths wide open while he fed them stories that they exaggerated to impress people, even though they themselves never got as far as the airport gate. Well, all summer holiday long I prayed for a miracle. Maybe there would be a hurricane or a school-fire of unknown origin. Yes, it was that bad. Well, God decided to fling my bad-mind prayers in the bin, because as my mother always said: “September morning is as sure as the coming of the Lord”. And it was horrible. Dwayne Harris’ disciples and some girls had made a glorious "Welcome Back" banner out of blue cartridge paper and silver sparkles and they unfurled the thing along the full length of the classroom wall. Sure enough, before long you could hear the Isuzu churning up the marl track with no consideration that we had just removed one summer's worth of dust from the chairs and benches. It roared up the slope and groaned as it got to the top, no doubt overloaded with colourful tales from America. Mr. Charlton told everyone to stay inside and away from the moving vehicle.

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SUSUMBA’SBOOKBAG June 2014

Off the Island Roland Watson-Grant

Then he came back struggling under the biggest bag of Wrigley’s chewing gum and sweat socks you’ve ever seen. He handed it over to Dwayne's disciples promising to personally share them for the class at dismissal time. Meanwhile Maxwell was given the honourable task of marking the register. The rest of the class was happy to be back at school. In Mr. Charlton's absence they chose to chorus "present” for each person as Maxwell called out the names. Well, when we got around to 'H', we realized that Mr. Charlton had quietly come back and was standing in the doorway, his shadow made elastic by the morning sun. The Principal was beside him. We all stood quickly. I remember the Principal's heels on the concrete as she walked to the front of the classroom. Then they both looked at us for a long time. And the Isuzu engine that had gone quiet outside, it rattled up again and just sat there, sounding like something out of breath. Mr Charlton spoke first. "Dwayne will not be here today". Now, on any other occasion this would have been, for me, a cause for celebration. But something in the way he said it, and the fact that his eyes had begun to match the principal’s crimson scarf, made me think again. “Tomorrow?” Everton got nervous and needed to know, but the principal was busy biting her lower lip. Maxwell, looked down at the register. Now here’s another disciple who can’t help himself: "Dwayne Harris?" he called out, as if the name spoken out loud would make his friend appear in the flesh. All faces turned to the door, waiting for another form to fall inside the entrance, but only sharp sunlight sliced across the floor. The sea, a merciless mirror, was pitching a harsh glow into the room. The sea breeze caught the cartridge paper banner and shoved it onto the floor. It startled the seagulls out in the yard and they leapt into the sky, white wings gleaming. Fear is a massive thing. It took up space and forced us together in hugs. I remember the wailing that came in waves and the clock on the classroom wall that kept ticking through the tears. And without even knowing all the details, all I could hear was that clock, like my mother's five-speed blender, chopping up time, tearing up time, turning time into trash. The principal spoke for a few minutes. Then she left and Mr. Harris drove away. My father had said Mr. Harris was a showoff. Maybe Mr. Harris was just a man putting the best on the outside. Maybe Dwayne had been going to America every few months to live it up. Or maybe just to live a little longer. Well certainly, Everton Greenwich, Errol Travis and Maxwell French were lackies. Or perhaps they were real friends helping someone who was getting weaker by the month. And that blue cartridge paper "Welcome Back" banner that stretched itself across the classroom? Maybe that is what hope looks like. Hope that once again Dwayne would come back to class. I think I grew up that Monday. We all did. That day, after the signing of the register, Vocabulary Class was the last class we had. It was the first time I saw Mr. Charlton write across the board in capital letters. It was the first time I ever heard the word: L- E- U- K- A- E- M- I- A. Leukaemia.

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