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It was a hot day, of course. We were sitting in Granny’s house sweltering, but loving the heat. The heat means you’re alive. It means you should be only too grateful you can go outside on any day of the year and tan your smooth brown or white or black skin, and feel the sweet pleasure of the sun reaching his tentacles across the sky and stinging your arms and legs and all over. Some people freeze to death in the night. But not us, man. We were alive. I remember going to Accra beach with my family and pressing my toes in that yellow sand and loving that sand so much I ate it, because I wanted to assimilate that freedom that absolute luxury of lying under the command of the sun every day and letting the water wash over my skin and cleanse it, and cling to it, and call it closer into the cool blue. And we were all sitting, fighting, playing, calling each other names. That’s what cousins do. Noel would sit and cock his eyebrows at everything the adults said and open his brown eyes wide like if he wanted to suck it all in, and I would watch him, of course, because he was bigger and I wanted to learn from him. “Settle down nuh you gine gi me a heart attack!” Granny said sternly. I immediately sat still and gazed up at her blue, blue eyes. I wanted to be those eyes as much as I wanted to be the sand but I was perplexed because I didn’t know how to get them. She flipped her long golden ponytail aside and smiled, showing sparkling white teeth. I watched the sun reflect off of her gold hair, making it seem to flow down her shoulders like a thick waterfall of pure, molten, rich gold and I wanted it I wanted her straight blonde hair. I crawled up into her lap and pressed my ear against her heart. “Tell me what’s inside, Granny.” I whispered. I wanted now to feel inside her, because that was something I could not see, and I wanted her to tell me what was inside, so that I could possibly know we were the same inside, if not outside. “What you mean, sugar? Inside is a heart and soul.” “I mean….” I wasn’t sure really what I meant…perhaps in my heart and soul I did but my little mind was too young to explain it. I closed my eyes and breathed in deep, resting my ear above my Granny’s lungs so I could hear her inhaling at the same time. “Tell me my stories.” “Which stories would you like, chile?” Granny ran her frail, thin fingers through my knotty hair. “My stories.” I beamed at her and Noel jumped on me. “Our stories Granny. Tell us our stories.” “What makes the stories yours, babies?” “Because you said they were. You said they belonged to every one of us.” I looked straight up into her blue as the ocean eyes, bewildered, frightened I might not get my story, but she smiled. “Dese stories in yours any more dan dey mine. They belong to each an every one a we equally, because is we story.” Granny lit a cigarette and breathed in deep, preparing to tell us our story.

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The man pressed his backside into the smooth leather interior of his BMW. The cloth was pulled taut against his pasty skin, yet still managed to crease a wedge up into his behind. He was sweating profusely already, yet he had only been outside for twenty minutes. He started up the engine and moved off, fat white fingers gripping the classic black leather covered steering wheel. Sweat poured in thick droplets down his face, running over his white stubble like a polluted river through slashed and burnt forests. He was speeding down the road, didn’t he own it since he had a big fancy car? He swerved to avoid a pothole and cursed the government for its incompetence when his brand name left tire barely missed it. His air conditioning was up as cold as it could go, working still too slow on drying up the sweat collecting in yellow pools like urine in his armpits. It was one o’clock in the afternoon, and the sun was reaching its peak in the clear blue sky, emitting tortuous rays to anyone who dared to step outside. But driving his cool BMW the man was safe from that. He congratulated himself on a good sale he made that day. Hundreds of thousands of dollars, not all legal, would be coming in to his company today. He smirked contentedly, thinking of maybe a new car, or a sailboat. He did not think of the children in this country starving, their eyes so yellow with fever and their bellies scraping against their backbones like a knife on an empty, rusty old tin can. His own belly was sitting in his lap, full of roast beef and ham and cholesterol that would choke a horse. It was pushing happily against his pressed but sweaty brand name shirt, like a full bladder. The man indicated right and took the road home. There was another man pushing a cart full of coconuts, sweat from toil running down his black back like a waterfall, a tourist attraction. He pushed and each sinewy muscle glistened in the hot afternoon sun. It was cruel, that sun, if you were a native and you had to work every day under its whip. But it was glorious for the tourists who lay out lazily by chlorine infested pools and let their skins turn brown on purpose, dropping thick ten dollar US bills every now and again to fully dressed waiters who brought them their drinks and mimicked their American accents. Anything for a little extra cash to put our pickneys through school. Those same pickneys skipped school and went to the beach, trying to pick up a little fare from the tourists. It is the boys this time, young and full of bright minds, ready to embrace a little education but instead they get lured to prostitution by the overweight white ladies on the beach, offering them a little money for their African groins. There’s no hope for them now. A little education is what would have saved them but there’s no turning back from a quick trick and a sugar momma to buy you nice jewelry and clothes and all you have to do is let her try the sugar cane…one of our natural resources you might say, and laugh. There was the man pushing his cart. He was of about 35 and already there were grays in his head and too many grand-pickneys to count. Working every day for your life makes you older than you should be, he would think, if he had any spare time to reflect on himself and see the deprivation he suffered every day. He had to push his cart up and down every day on this road in the hot merciless sun, sweating blood and tears because that was all he had left. His pants were ragged and holy, parts showing that would have ashamed him, if he had time to feel ashamed. He worked as a mechanical object, tediously pushing his cart so that he could maybe feed his mother and children and grand children. No time to worry about himself. That’s a man’s job, to provide.

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Honking furiously, a sleek gold BMW flashed by and overtook him, sending a cool breeze across his tormented black skin. But he didn’t notice, because he didn’t have the time to stop and think. The gold BMW man was thinking though, his brow furrowed in deep rivets, like rows of planted but still ungrown corn. He never stopped considering his paycheck and considering his future plans and investments and considering his new purchases. His brain was constantly ticking ticking propelling him forward to buy and sell and work and now he was considering what to do about his empty house. Who is poorer? The man who is fully capable but never bothers to take the time to rest himself and admire the beauty all around him or the man that cannot stop because if he did he would fall completely apart and into a perpetual black hole of poverty?

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Cherie looked out of her window and sighed. There was that damn dog playing with the laundry again. She rushed outside quarrelling, hoping that Granny Momma wouldn’t notice and fret. She scared the damn dog away and hung back up the sheet. It was once a pretty tender blue, but from being washed so many times it had faded to a clear white. We are all damned, she thought. Damned to be so black and so poor. Shaking her braided head she sighed. Why waste life living in resignation? Birds can never do anything but fly and make nests and they still sing. “Cherry! That dog troubling the laundry?” Granny Momma called out, her voice crumbling with age but still strong. “Yes Granny Momma but I chase him way.” She could hear Granny Momma suck her teeth in reply. Except Granny Momma was so old she was sucking on gums with a loose wrinkly tongue. Gums which sang praise to the Lord for life and reprimanded small children for not cleaning their hands and feet. Cherie went back inside to try and cook some dinner. But what? What is there to make when there is nothing to make it on and nothing to make it with? Cherie tried to think positively as always, refusing to go her mother’s route and give up on life, tying a big rockstone around her neck and swimming in the Dead Man’s Pool. She had only added one to the many bodies found in the pool, some by accident but most on purpose. These are the people despaired by these hard times we find ourselves in. Cherie remembered her mother as an emotionally frail woman, who had her heart broken once by love but many times by a hard hand. She remembered the sweet stories her mother would recant of her father, a hard working Haitian who had fled from Haiti, wooed her, wed her, and then got deported back. She also remembered her mother’s countless companions, who came, took what they wanted, beat the shit out of her mother’s sweet face and skin, and then left. Seven was too many. Twelve was too many. But at the fifteenth try at finding something stable, Cherie’s mother cracked and crumbled like a delicate China doll. Her long, curly hair grew limp, and her brown eyes sank and melted into two puddles of mud. She simply left one day in her silky almost see through nightie and drowned herself. Cherie shook her head over the trials of a black woman. But she was different. She was stronger than her mother. She never let a man come near her, and she tried to pay attention in school. She needed to do something with herself. She needed to overcome the gruesome obstacles that had plagued her life. She was thankful to God for all the gifts she had, her health, her brain, and her Granny. “Yes,” she said. “to be born a black woman is to be born strong, with two iron fists and eyes of coal.” “You talking poetry again Cherry?” Granny Momma shouted from the next room. Her hearing was perfect when it needed to be, but failing when was convenient. “Yes, Momma I’m speaking the words of truth.” “My sweet girl if your father could see you now he’d be proud. You learning chile, an learning woulda save you mudda from the lake of fire. If only that woman had a bright brain like you she coulda help she family. But it’s jes me and you sweet ting and we gine mek every moment and every day brand new and sparklin.” Granny Momma always seemed to have an obsession with clean. She loved to scrub and scrub back in the days when her back was stronger, and she would starch Cherie’s Sunday dresses so crisp she felt she could have stepped out of them and they’d

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still be walking alongside her. She paused and remembered the way her gnarled black fingers would curve over the soap and wash her body so hard she was sure she took off an extra layer of skin. “Got to be clean.” She would say. “Can’t have my little baby running around like a dirty chile…gotta be clean and sweet and fresh like baby Jesus. Got to be fit to enter the church, to enter heaven, to eat at a white man’s table. Got to be clean.” And so she would rinse Cherie’s skin ‘til it was pale and shriveled. But she didn’t care because she loved it. And Cherie’s mother, Eudalene, would sit and sing songs outside and draw figures in the dirt. Granny would frown of course, but she knew not to waste her breath on Eudalene. Eudalene was a lost case, in her opinion. A wild card that got played only once in a while, not because it was so special, but because it was useless. And so Cherie touched her Granny’s hand and whispered that she was a strong woman. Granny smiled, because she knew she had only accomplished this strength with old age and pain and grey hair, but for Cherie the strength came steadily from the inside. Cherie was brought back to reality, it was Sunday, and there was nothing to eat, and the dog was pulling the once blue sheet down again. Racing outside she wished she had a protection force of some kind, to keep misfortune from knocking at her door every day, and all the time. She was strong yes…but how much could she really take? Granny drew a last breath from her cigarette and pressed it down into the ashtray, choking the burning tobacco ‘til it also drew its last breath. I watched the smoke rise, as though it was heading for heaven. “You had enough.” She looked at me especially, and Noel snickered. “No I wanna hear de story man Gran please!” I whined, and Noel smirked behind me, pretending not to care. But I cared because I loved hearing my Granny speak, listening to her sing song accent leaping about her words in ways that were unique to her. “I want to know why Cherie sad.” “I never said she was sad.” Gran said, and resumed. Cherie rode the cramped bus to town. There were far too many people in it, she could feel at least six sweaty bodies pushed up against hers, swapping body fluids and touching her in ways she felt most uncomfortable. There were all different body parts connecting with her everywhere, she felt as though she were in a morgue, filled with miscellaneous arms and legs from victims of terrible accidents, and she had to swim her way out from them. She was relieved to get off, but she could still feel the warmth and sweat of the other passengers. Her dress was starched, and walking alongside her like a guardian angel, giving her strength to complete her task. She had heard of a wealthy white man who needed help in his home. Couldn’t she, Cherie, cook and clean and do all of these things that would be necessary? She was a black woman, wasn’t she, made to toil and work and clean excrement from the bowels of the earth. It is a mistake to choose to be a woman. But, she told herself, we are given these roles by God for a reason. She approached the white house, its gates looming over her, tall, taller than her galvanize fence and stronger than it too. It was iron, she was sure, and painted cream so as to not look so menacing. But for some reason, that made it seem cold and uninviting. The wall was low down, and also cream. She wondered if to open the gate and walk right

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in or to stand outside. She saw a little button and pushed it, waiting to hear anyone’s voice. “Hello?” She said, unsure as to how to communicate with a button. “Yes, Um, Hello, is that the, uh, um,” “Cherie Mt. Pierre.” She said proudly, always so proud of her French name, like she was the daughter of a King Louis that she had learned about in school and not the daughter of a deported Haitian. “Yes, yes um, Cher, come right in.” She flinched as he pronounced her name wrong, erasing all of her pride and sending her plummeting into the earth. She gently pushed open the gate and stepped inside the yard. It was bigger that hers and her neighbour’s and her neighbour’s neighbour’s and ten lots put together. The lawn was green everywhere even in the dry season and neatly trimmed. There was a marble stone path leading up to the front door, a magnificent black sculpture with grotesque markings. It creaked open, and a large white man rolled out. “Come in, come in,” he said, waving his flabby arms. “Tell me again, what is your name?” “Cherie.” “Yes yes yes it’s a pleasure to meet you. So why don’t you tell me a little bit about yourself Miss?” My mother drowned herself. I went to school to learn but I still haven’t escaped the cruel tentacles of poverty that have wrapped themselves around my ankles and pulled them down as stones around my mother’s chest. “Well I live with my grandmother, and I love writing and looking after the home.” The brief sentence made Cherie feel uncomfortable, as thought that was all that could be said about her, or worse, that was all she knew how to say. “Can you cook?” So that’s what he was interested in then. Not her personal life but skills which may have been of use to him. “Yes mostly anything. I enjoy cooking.” But there’s never any decent food in the house, and worse, I know families who have less than that even. “Tell me a little bit about your job experiences.” And so the interview continued, Cherie becoming more and more comfortable and beginning to pay more attention to her surroundings. It was luxury all right, fancy furniture and paintings covering the well manicured walls, but it was empty. It was too neat, as though some thing was missing. The room was full of the physical yet empty from any emotional influences that made a house what it really was. The rooms of a house tell stories of what has happened in them, whether love has been made or fights have been fought. Cherie felt a loneliness seeping through the walls and into her heart. It felt like a house, not a home. She wondered if anyone had ever laughed in that room, but she doubted they had. The man was staring at her with eager eyes, wringing his hands nervously as he spoke. Cherie wondered if he actually was nervous. Sweat was beginning to form in drops on his forehead. His skin was an odd colour, she remarked, almost pink. She was almost disgusted by his lack of pigment, but then she realized he must have been thinking the same about her. The man showed her around the house, which to her seemed like a frozen ice palace. She was mystified by it.

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When she left she felt as though the day’s proceedings had brought her some kind of progress, and she was right. Cherie returned home to find Granny Momma sitting outside on the porch, rocking her rickety rocking chair. Her nearly hairless head was covered in a yellow piece of cloth, shining bright like a halo contrasting with the dark frown wrinkling her old forehead. “How was you interview chile?” Granny reached out her strong arms in case Cherie had sad news. “It went good Granny. He axe me if I can cook and clean, well of course I can. Is black it black my skin?” “Lord in heavens.” Granny murmured, closing her eyes and leaning back in the chair. She touched one divine hand on Cherie’s plaits. “Lord in heavens. I’m feeling good feelings from you Cherry. I’m feeling success at last. All you hard work paying off tomorrow chile. Baby Jesus has come to us in robes of snowy white. I know you gine get de job, my sweet ting. Go inside and scrub youself and starch you best clothes. I gots to rest tonight.” “You really feelin so Granny?” Granny nodded, not opening her dry lips to speak. Her eyes were closed peacefully and her face was strong and wise. Cherie was pleased to have her Granny Momma’s blessing, and went inside quietly to bathe, and prepare a small dinner. All night she tossed and turned on her old bed. There was a rat in the house somewhere, she could hear it. But tonight, unlike most nights, she did not rise to chase it outside with a broomstick. Instead she lay in bed and pictured the man’s house. So many rooms. So many pretty things. There would be no dirty rats there. She pictured his family. Would they be fat like him? She thought the children might be, but his wife she pictured slim and lovely, like a doll. She had long straight blonde hair, and a slim waist with almost no behind. She would have soft, clear skin, white and pure. And she would speak softly and gently, with a faint British accent. Cherie’s eyes began to shut, and sleep crept over her body like a shadow in the night.

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There was a circle of men around the fire. All that could be heard was their mighty voices and chirping of crickets, announcing the midnight hour. The fire was small, a tin can with papers burning, but it was ritual, as the men liked to see the orange red flames gulping furiously at the can, but never being able to escape. As one being, the eleven men formed one circle, chanting and humming in one voice. They shook their long dreadlocks in unison, heads rising and dipping, rising and dipping. As one Ras brought the marijuana cigarette to his lips and as one He pulled and exhaled white smoke into the air. As one Ras closed his yellow eyes in content and sighed. Ras raised his throaty voice and sang sad songs of suffering and worship to The Most High I and I, and as one Ras dreamt of better times, of peace in the world and the unification of all. Ras pulled on his spliff, red cherry burning brightly in the cool night air. The taste flew into his lungs and swirled, then crept up into his mouth and away into the sky. Ras turned to his brother and put an arm on his black back and said Yes this is a good thing. Ras commented on the waste of youth, their disrespect for elders and disrespect for their nation. Killing, littering, polluting their minds with American Rap music and talk of hate. Ras shook his locks. Too bad for the nation. What is a brother to do? Ras raised his eyes to sky and thanked Jah, meditating on the waste of the youth. They waste themselves and they waste their land. Their potential, all gone, destroyed by disrespect and hate. No hate just love, Ras says. He nods in agreement. Love for everyone to share, to cultivate the fertile land in our hands and hearts and give praise. Ras agrees. He lifts the weed to his black lips, lips which speak of prophecy and truth and a future, and he inhales the sweet meditation. But there is no one to teach our children the right ways. The ways of evil are everywhere in our society, every way you turn there is hatred. Ras agrees. In town there is garbage and pollutants littering the streets and infestations of filth strewn in the gutter. Men are sleeping, clutching their only possession, their wrinkled and emaciated bodies, and they hope not to wake up. Ras continues. Yes, and they are the panorama we contribute to. We all are guilty. Ras shakes his head in despair, long locks shaking and reaching out to the fire. One man can do nothing but as one man can do everything. Ras is wise when he says this. His lips speak the truth and he nods. His yellow eyes are windows to a burning soul, a soul that knows the answer to life, and that is peace. Yes town is the place that breeds the most filth. There is prostitution of men and women and homosexuals and homelessness and yes even death and corruption. Those who have the power do nothing about our shame and despair. Ras pauses. Those who are in power have to save us…yet they don’t, they only look out for themselves. What can we do? Ras looks around and Ras searches for an answer. It is up to them with money them with control and them with power to help those without. It is the white men with the riches and wealth keeping us down with new age slavery. A black man can’t succeed because it’s the white man that still owns this world. Ras sounds so young and bitter when he says this. But in age and wisdom, Ras disagrees and parts his old truthful lips to speak. It is not the white man. It is the man in control. Mostly but not always they are one in the same. Worse than a rich white man oppressing a poor black man is a rich black man oppressing his poor black brother. There are many black men with power today. Ras pauses to take a drag on his joint, to speak the words of

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wisdom. These black men are worse. They deny their blackness, their negritude and they keep us down, at the bottom of a long dark well. At least the white man will provide us with a little light to see the sky at the top of the well, and encourage us to climb if it benefit them. Ras shakes his locks in agreement. Forward ever, backward never. We must embrace the past to embrace the future. What has happened to our forefathers, ripped from Africa and enslaved here is the past. We cannot forget our motherland, the breast we suckled for so long, but now we are weaned and cannot suck the nipple lest we bite it. Ras says this with confidence. He is right. The fire in the can has been fighting to escape, but now it is tired, and lies down to rest. Flickering solemnly for a few moments in a last desperate attempt to escape, it disappears. Ras watched the fire go out and nods. All things come to an end. They each stand, and give respect to their brethren before they head their separate ways to sleep, rejuvenating their souls for a new day.

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“Cherie you dun it girl! Cherie de man want you wuk fuh he!” Jameela came racing around the galvanize fence while Cherie was planting in her garden. “What?” Cherie said in amusement. “Man, gal, I thought you was always wastin you time and talking folly when you said you wanted a education and get a big job and ting, when you said agriculture was a load of nonsense, but Mr. Mayhew like he want you wuk fuh he!” Cherie laughed at Jameela’s quick and chirpy voice, screaming so loud she knew the neighbours would hear. “How you find out?” “Well he went and tell Jacko, you know how Jacko does gardenin fuh he, dat to tell Ms. Mt. Pierre –das you Cherie gal!- that he want you wuk fuh he!” Cherie felt a warm feeling crawling through her belly like a baby making itself at home. She had been told about the job by Jacko, and she was the only person she knew about to ask for it and go for an interview, but she still felt a sense of pride. This was, after all, an accomplishment. The mesh backdoor swung open and Granny Momma struggled out in haste. “You Jameela Patrisha Higgins what’s all this racket shouting and carrying on in an old woman’s backyard? You mudda nah give you nuh manners? You want me to lash you pun you bony black behind?” Jameela yelped in fright. She was only twelve years old, and still frightened by Granny Momma’s tough bark. For this, Granny loved her, because she was one of the only people Granny could still scare. “I sorry Granny is just Cherie get a job.” Jameela lowered her eyes. Granny Momma, pretending to not already know, raised her arms in delight and praised the Lord. “My Cherry my sweet Cherry! Bless your soul, bless it bless it by the stars. This is a day to celebrate. Come inside and bathe chile, get up out that dirty soil with your smart hands. If only your mother was here now. If only she saw that your intelligence has given you so much more than her foolish heart gave her. Come inside chile, come and celebrate. Jameela go home and bade you filthy mout then come back and celebrate wid we. You, Cherry, are blessed. More than this old black woman, more than all of us poor peasants trying to scrape something out of the land or simple craft. You have your bright brain and charm Cherry, more than my belly ever bore me.” “Thank you Granny.” Cherie said humbly. She was overwhelmed by the moment, overwhelmed by happiness and made a promise to herself not to fail. The neighbours got together and scorned when they heard the shouting and screaming at Granny Momma’s house. Soudina and her daughters all frowned. “You see?” She was saying. “She feel she so big up now she get a fancy job wukking for a white man. Dat ain’t gine get she no where.” Soudina’s daughters nodded quickly. The older one was busy plaiting the younger one’s hair into tight little cornrows, her fingers moving swiftly and dexterously like a spider crafting a fragile silk web. Their next door neighbour, the very large Polompa as she was called, agreed. “It’s slavery and you don’t get shit.” Polompa licked her fat lips, smacking them together and making Soudina’s daughters cringe. Soudina paced up and down, her long bony frame bent over and she wrung her hands.

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“My auntie was a maid.” She said. “God rest her soul. Worked so hard she died from the overwork.” Polompa shifted uncomfortably, each buttock falling off the chair. “She died in her sleep.” Polompa rearranged her big bosom. “Listen to that noise! You would tink she won a new car.” “Dey jes flauntin dat dey sweet gal win a big job and a education and now she guin be a big up, and still ignoring we. Jes one more black person with money fuhgetting bout de rest o we suffering bout hey.” Soudina rested a bony black hand on one of her daughter’s heads. “I got mouths to feed in dis house. I wuk hard and bring home food for my babies.” Polompa nodded her round head, chins following suit. “Yes Soudina, I know, believe me. Dey’s never nuttin for my little Ronald to eat at home.” Soudina’s daughters exchanged looks, Ronald was the fattest little boy in their area. And everyone knew Polompa was a prostitute on Nelson Street at night, bringing home plenty of money for food and many other things. She did, after all, get the bills paid. Actually, the girls were happy for Cherie’s success, and knew their mother was just bitching because she had been planning to ask for the job. She was currently unemployed, due to a previous minor incident of theft. Soudina reached a skeleton finger towards her friend’s fat bloated hand. “We must band together. As neighbours, and as women.” Polompa was pleased with this new attention. “I hear Cherie sleep wid de man so she could get de job you know.” She wrapped her thick tongue around these truthless words like they were tasteless in her mouth. Soudina knew it was a lie but agreed anyway. “Yes Polompa.” She shook her head. “I know my daughters would never lower themselves to that. It is sad when young girls give away their bodies for money.” Polompa stiffened up her fat back when she heard one of Soudina’s daughters snickering. “Yes.” She hurriedly changed the subject. “But Cherie always been a sket in trute.” Soudina frowned for a moment, trying to think of something else unkind to say. “Well…look at she parents. She ain’t had no proper broughtupcy what wid dat foolish mudda.” “De fadda wasn’t no better. I hear he get deport fuh killing a man from Christ Church.” “Well de mudda kill sheself. I guess you cyan blame de chile, since she really ain’t had no parents but she old Granny Momma.” “Dat woman Eudalene always was trouble, entertaining men in front of she little girl. She had a caffuffle of boyfriends.” Both women hung their heads with pity. Polompa’s saliva grew thick in her mouth and she began to wonder if Soudina was cooking lunch. Soudina seemed content with all that had been said, and sucked her teeth loud as a finale. “I feel I guin cook some rice and stew fuh lunch you want to stay over Polompa?” Polompa rested a hand on her large belly. “Yes Soudina I guin help you. Lemme call Ronald and get he to come in here and play wid you little darling angels while we mek some lunch.”

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Just as she was about to make her way to the door, Jameela popped her head around. “Ms. Soudina Granny Momma wan know if you wanta come and have some food wid we? Cherie dun get a nice job and since is she firs job we guin celebrate.” Jameela nodded her little black head at Polompa. “You too Ms. Polompa. Granny said she heard you did over hey and sent me cross to invite you.” Soudina raised her head graciously. “Thank you Jameela. We guin cook come rice and stew and come cross. Is good it good to hear de news. We neighbours gotta come together and stick together as women.” Soudina said with as much righteousness as she could muster. Jameela, nodded and rolled her dark eyes as she left the house. Mr. Mayhew, or John as he preferred, as no one ever got the chance to call him that, sat at his desk and found himself stuck in the midst of a hundred papers and files, all with lonely black words and numbers printed on them. He couldn’t make sense of them, because his mind was on something else. She had walked into his house with an elegant manner that morning, smiling graciously at him and saying “Good morning Mr. Mayhew.” She looked at him with confidence and understanding. Different, in fact, from any way he had been looked at by a black person before. Most looked at him with contempt or slyness, as though he was holding a leather whip in his hands. Others, that worked with him, looked at him with either disgust for his corpulence or a hunger for his power. She did not portray any of this. She was tall and slender, not as juicy around the thighs and waist as most black women, and she had an air of calm about her. She did, in fact, hop straight to work and not seem interested in idle chatter. Or perhaps Mr. Mayhew was just interested in finally having a companion, finally having someone to talk to. Since he came to the island from England three years ago he had made few friends, most were business relations and these “friendships” sizzled when deals had been completed. Rubbing his fleshy cheeks John contemplated having someone to talk to when he got home. It was actually a comforting thought. He checked his watch, barely holding onto his thick forearm. Twenty minutes too early to officially leave work. But who was going to report him? He practically owned work anyway. He threw his unfinished chicken sub into the garbage on his way out, he had had two before that that were delicious. He took one look around his cluttered office, papers stacked high like the Tower of Pisa, making the route to his door look like an obstacle course. He had surely been busy lately…and “lately” meant in the last year. Driving home he passed the black man pushing the cart. Swearing, he tried to see past him in order to overtake, but they were on a corner. Instead he had to sit patiently in his cool leather seat while the man pushed his coconut cart slowly. It had been a long, tiring day for the man, with many sales, so many trips up and down. Tiring, but rewarding, and at least the rewards jangling in his pocket were honest and those he had truly worked for. The left foot followed the right foot, slowly, as a routine. There was no thought behind it, the feet only knew that this was their purpose and this was what they had to do. Lift, push off of the steaming hot tarmac. Ignore the flames in the paved road, instead follow your brother. The soles of the man’s feet had been burnt solid ten years prior, and now were hard as concrete. He had no shoes. No money to waste on shoes.

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The gold BMW whizzed by, finally. No time to waste on this. John returned home and parked the car in the spacious garage, next to the Mercedes he used for his relaxation days. Pulling himself up out of the car he realized he should probably think about losing weight, but then he asked himself why bother. Cherie had spent the day gazing at every room, already spotless, wondering why she was being paid to clean it all when it was already clean. Still, she swept out the rooms and dusted the furniture. She wondered if anyone sat in the furniture. Touched it. Cried in it. Wrote poetry in it. She looked out over the landscape and admired how green the land was. She felt a sadness well up inside herself. This English man owned so much green beautiful land of her country, her nation, and yet she, a native, owned a few square feet in her backyard that she planted vegetables and flowers in. She sensed an anger building, so she looked away. Cherie hated thinking negative things. Cherie entered his bedroom and looked at the enormous bed. Was it so big to fit him and his wife and children or was it so big because his body was swelling with fat and greed and growing everyday and he needed a big bed to hold himself? Cherie saw no family pictures, and she did not pry into his belongings. Within two hours Cherie had walked through each room in the house, gave a light cleaning, and returned to the downstairs dining room. And she was done. She decided then to go outside, and explore the yard. Outside, in contrast to the lonely emptiness of the house, was living Technicolor. The grass was a remarkable green and was thick and luscious under her bare feet. Cherie looked up into the sky and saw a blue bluer than the middle of the ocean and clouds so white and puffy they looked like full sails on the horizon. Forwards she ran stretching out her arms and letting her starched dress billow in the wind that kissed her face and arms and legs. To the right, she saw a round duckpond, and straight ahead, an orchard, filled with tempting fruit. Cherie headed towards the orchard. There was an apple tree and mandarin trees and lime trees and banana trees and even mango trees. Cherie was mystified, because she had never seen an apple tree before. It was peaceful and quiet, and she could see no monkeys shouting and screeching, hopping through the trees spoiling all the fruit by eating one bite out of the plumpest, ripest mangoes and pelting the rest down to the ground. She remembered a day that broke her heart, when she saw two skinny little village boys, no more than three or four, eating what the monkeys had left behind because their good for nothing mother didn’t give them any food, not that there was any food to give. It was sad to see two babies eating what an animal had discarded. Those two little boys got so sick their insides fell out in piles of thick shit and bloody excrement and they died quickly and in much pain. She had felt so sorry for them, and hoped to never have children, to never have a child to have to suffer so much. Cherie listened out for green parrots in the trees, but heard none. She watched out for centipedes on the ground but saw none. She prepared herself for flies or mosquitoes, but did not feel the annoying buzz of either. Cherie sat down in front of one of the tall mango trees and fell soundly asleep, drunk on the peace and quiet of this place. By the time Mr. Mayhew reached home, earlier than she had been expecting him, Cherie was back in the house and had completed a load of laundry.

13


“Ah, yes, Ms., um Cherie, I’ve come home early just to, er, make sure things were quite allright here. Since it’s your first day and all that.” Cherie watched him blankly, unimpressed by his stumbling manner of talking. “Well how was it then, did you get through everything quite well?” “Yes, Mr. Mayhew, but I think you already keep your house very clean. Does your wife clean often?” “Oh I, um, don’t have a wife.” “Oh.” Cherie said, and dropped her eyes to the wedding ring around his obese finger. It was nearly hidded in the rolls of fat, and the skin around it was red and chafing, although it was being suffocated by this gold shackle around its neck. But it was still visible, peeking out and crying for attention. “Well I did. She died.” John’s beady little eyes fell to the carpet and rolled around at Cherie’s feet. She was unsure as to whether or not she was sympathetic towards him. “I’m sorry about that, Mr. Mayhew.” She said quietly, not as a mumble, but as a sympathetic whisper, as though words would crack the atmosphere surrounding them into a thousand pieces and they would be frozen forever in time. “Please, Cherie, call me John. And it’s quite alright. As you can see I’ve started over down here and I’m doing quite well.” He had not meant it, but that had come out haughtily. “Well I think you did a splendid job today Cherie. You can go home now, if you wish. I’ll see you at the same time tomorrow. Jacko will be in, so at least you’ll have some company during the day.” Company. That word rang in his ears like a noisy bell. Cherie nodded and prepared to leave. She still wasn’t sure what she thought of him. There was certainly more to Mr. Mayhew than what met the eye, although there was quite a lot of him already. The next day, since Cherie had already given the house a light dusting the day before there was no cleaning to do. Except, oddly, there were a few dirty dishes and glasses left in the sink, and John’s bed was not made. Apart from that there was no cleaning up to do in the already silent and pristine house. Cherie read the newspaper and turned on the TV. The television bored her after a few moments, and she longed for a book to read. She headed for the library and immediately sat down on the leather couch with a thick novel. She had never heard of the title, but the author, William Shakespeare, was familiar to her as she sat down to read “The Merchant of Venice”. She was surprised to find it was a play, and discouraged when she realized that the language was almost impossible to decipher. Still, she did not give up and instead read thoroughly through the long rantings and ravings of the characters. She was awoken from her escape by a calling through the house. “Mistress?” It was Jacko. “Cherie you inside?” Cherie got up and ran to the front door. “Hey Jacko I was reading in de library sorry bout dat. You want a glass of water or sumtin?” “No thanks Cherie I jes need you fi open de garage fuh me, I need to get de lawnmower to cut de lawn.” “You sure Jacko? You need anything else jes holler.” Cherie smiled and handed him a key off of the counter. Jacko nodded his head and her and left. Cherie had always found Jacko a pleasant companion, although he was a very dumpcy boy. Yet he had

14


funny antics and ways of communicating his ideas, and he was brilliant when it came to fixing things around the house. Whenever he fixed something for Granny Momma she praised his name to the Lord and deemed him blessed, and gave him dinner as a thanks and payment. Cherie wondered how Granny Momma was, being all alone at home all day. It was different two years ago when Cherie was at school, because then Granny was stronger and healthier, but now she was weakening. It was a sad thought, though, and Cherie abandoned it quickly. She decided instead to go out by the orchard again to dream. Stepping outside, she saw a tall black man standing behind Jacko, watching him clumsily trying to open the garage door. Her veins froze up and blood became chilly, as he, in seeming slow motion turned and smiled at her. “Mornin Mistress.” He said, smiling and baring his brilliant white teeth. “Morning.” Cherie mumbled, fidgeting with her fingers. “What’s your name darling?” Jacko continued fidgeting. “Cherie. It’s French, my father was a Haitian.” “I’m Sodeye. It’s African like the fathers that walked from those lands to these.” His words were poetry and beautiful to Cherie’s ears. It was as though in that short sentence, he had sung a love song to her. Jacko popped open the door. “Ting like it did stuck or suin.” Jacko looked back and grinned at Cherie and Sodeye, who were stuck in a trance, staring at each other. Sodeye nodded his head at her. “It’s an honour to meet you, beautiful woman. I have to work now, but can I talk to you when we have finished?” Cherie nodded, wishing she could say something that sounded as beautiful as that. “I’ll be in the orchard, Sodeye.” Like a knight true to his promise, Sodeye met Cherie in the orchard when he had finished working. She was sitting under the mango tree still, waiting for him but trying not to look as though she was waiting for him. The lighting was dim, and the air was singing songs of quiet. It was a romantic setting, and for once Cherie felt as though she could open her heart to romance. Sodeye pranced over to her and sat down next to her, his body lightly touching hers. He was not wearing a shirt, and his black muscles shone with sweat. She watched them tense and flex as his body moved, almost liquid, and screaming of sexual prowess. Cherie suddenly felt very uncomfortable and wanted to run away and hide, but Sodeye asked her why she was in the orchard and she felt trapped in his beautiful poetry. She explained that there really wasn’t that much to do inside, and that she felt at home underneath the trees. There was something not normal about that orchard. They spoke, Sodeye’s sweet husky voice entrancing Cherie and absorbing her into his soft black lips and his shiny white teeth. Before she really knew it his black lips were pressed against hers and she was touching his dark chest. But then they both just smiled and continued talking, neither feeling awkward or embarrassed. They laughed a bit, until it was time to go. A dozen fat mostquitos began buzzing around their faces, trying to suck out their blood like miniature vampire bats.

15


Jacko sat waiting by the front porch, looking as though someone had dropped cold ice down his back. Sodeye left, walking down the road humming a song that all of them knew and none of them understood. Jacko looked at Cherie, confused like he always did. “Cherie…dat boy trouble you know.” He said quietly, not wishing to disturb her. Cherie felt her frozen blood running into her thin black cheeks. “Jacko why you say dat bout de man. He jes help you out today wid all de work.” “I know Cherie but…there’s suin dark about he dat ain’t in he skin. It in he nature.” Cherie rolled her eyes. “Cherie man I serious. I ain know much, I ain’t know as much as you fuh sure, but I know tings bout people. Tings you can feel in you heart, and I know Sodeye guin cause trouble. Das jes he nature.” Jacko gripped Cherie’s hands in his, in a way that frightened her. “And you Cherie, you gotta do great tings fuh we. Don’ let de devil trip you up cos Lord knows he guin try. He guin try and hol you back like he hol back all o we, but you smarter dan dat so you got to get trough. You mudda did guin to de great tings too…but you see de devil got she? Don en up like dat Cherie, please, I beg ya.” Jacko’s eyes were wide in earnest, and he spoke of a wisdom he had never before shown. Cherie looked up into his eyes, with her mouth open, trying to make the promise he desired. But somehow, she felt the words were frozen, and she couldn’t.

16


Lord, Granny Momma declared, that chile runnin bout in a daze. Wukking fuh de white man turn she head funny fuh trute. Granny found her days long and empty, waiting for Cherry to get home so they could chatter and Granny could find reasons to praise her or complain. But Cherry was bringing home a good salary working for this white man, and Granny knew in her heart that was the best thing. Finally after so many years of seeing Cherry struggle with homework and knowing there was no way she could help her, she saw success at last. She was pleased finally that Cherry was saved from the same Voudoun curse that had sent her mother into Dead Man’s Pool. Finally she could rest easily knowing that Cherry’s future was safe, with a solid income, and hopes for the future. Lord only knew it was hard. Granny’s health was failing, but she didn’t want to be a burden to her sweet ting. She didn’t want Cherry to have to worry about her, instead she was glad to be living out her final days watching her lovely granddaughter grow into a hardworking young woman. Unlike her mother. Granny deeply regretted the day she let that coolie man Asaab with a Suzuki van coax her into sleeping with him. It had been so many years ago, when Granny was a beautiful young woman with so much potential when that brownskin coolie with soft hair came dancing around her at a party, and followed her around since then, buying her clothing and jewelry. Asaab was a talker and he talked his way around Granny’s strong barriers and his foolish talk of love and big houses and a wedding broke down her barriers and she entertained his silly ideas. But after he had his way with her he drove off his van and left, and Granny found herself pregnant and all alone. She immediately hated his soft hair and pretty van and couldn’t help but also hate the little dougla she bore at first. But the little girl was so pretty and sweet talking like her father that Granny grew to love her, and tried to raise her to be smart and escape the life that Granny had been hoping to get out of. Eudalene, she named her, after a white movie star. Eudalene had long curly soft black hair and black skin, but her facial features were soft and elegant like an Indian woman, not flat like a negro’s. Granny steupsed out loud for the waste of life she and her daughter had suffered, making a promise to herself to push Cherry not to let go of this job, to get ahead with life and escape the poverty that hung a rock around every black woman’s neck and dragged her to the bottom of a murky lake. Granny hobbled outside to sit on her old rocking chair and eavesdrop on the neighbours. A black woman’s bound to die, she thought, and prayed that baby Jesus would come back for his people and eradicate restrictions because class, colour and creed, harsh restrictions that plagued not only black people but all people and caused them to suffer and die every day, looking for a way out. Recently Cherry had a different beat in her step. Granny Momma had noticed that her lips smiled a different way, and her feet tapped different while she mended clothes. She sang a song that Granny Momma knew but didn’t understand. Her hair was softer, her eyes were gentler, and her breasts were rounder. Granny Momma recognized these traits, but ignored them. Cherry was smarter than her foolish mother. “Afternoon Granny.” Polompa broke her train of thought and stepped up onto the small porch. “You’re looking good today, Granny.” Polompa heaved her body up, panting and flailing her flabby arms.

17


“You’re looking thinner, sweetie.” Granny grinned, showing bare gums. She knew that she could be disrespectful in her age and others could not be disrespectful towards her. Polompa rearranged her bosom. “Thank you Granny. I came to see how you doin today?” “Suffering, sweetie. Suffering every day with hunger in my stomach and emptiness in my heart.” Polompa nodded solemnly. “I am so proud of Cherry for all she has done. Now she is bringing home money to feed my swollen gums and keep my belly quiet. Now we can fix up some tings bout de house and buy new clothes to cover our frail bodies.” “Yes Granny I know the pain of havin nuttin. My poor Ronald is wastin away from lack of food.” Granny looked at Polompa in disdain, and said nothing. “How is Soudina?” She asked. “I have not seen that poor chile in so long and we’s neighbours. Her little angels are growing big though. I remember when my Cherry was so small.” She spoke of Cherry as her own daughter, and always neglected to mention Eudalene. It was as though her life had formed an empty vacant hole never to be mentioned. “Soudina good. De children good. Life seem to be improving fuh she. I cyan say she honest bout it neider.” “What do you mean, Polompa?” Granny was suddenly interested in what she had to say, eager to hear some gossip. “Well I mean, you know she los she las job cos she did tiefin? Yes Granny she did stealing from de St. Joseph man dat ran de shop she did working in.” Granny shook her golden clothed head in shame. “Poor Soudina. It breaks my soul when a sister lowers herself to shameful deeds.” Polompa hesitated, struck by these words, but then she continued. “Yes Granny and Soudina try and tief sumtin out de shop de udda day and get ketch and de policeman carry she to the police station and she explain dat she got tree hungry angels to feed and dey gi she a big fine to pay. Soudina ent know what to do Granny.” “All she need do is axe help from the Lord fuh she soul, and come to she neighbours fuh a little food every once in a while. Polompa we have to help she wid dis fine. Now that my Cherry making a steady salary I will put aside a little for Soudina, and you, whatever you can you must spare it. Tell de udda neighbours dat goes fuh dem too. After all, we all women and we all black and we all got mouths to feed.” Polompa nodded, knowing that this was the truth. She hurried away, large behind rolling and shaking as her hips swayed from side to side like water beating against a concrete dam. Granny Momma leaned her head back and reflected on her long life. She knew her health was failing, she could feel her heart slowing and muscles wilting and eyesight fading. But inside her soul was stronger than ever preparing for the day it would break out of its cocoon and fly away to heaven.

18


The details surrounding why exactly Noel and I decided to climb that tree for mangoes remains unclear. Maybe we were feeling hungry, maybe we were feeling mischievous. Either way, we crawled under Mr. Clarke’s white fence and scurried up his mango tree. It was all fun and games, to us. It wasn’t stealing, of course. And his mangoes were good but a little over ripe. “Noel!” I remember crying to him. “Don’t go so high!” I remember digging my dirty fingernails into the brown crusty tree bark and trying desperately not to look down, but at the same time being unable to tear my eyes away from the spinning earth beneath me. “Noel….” I wailed quietly, finding some comfort in my cry, although he couldn’t hear it. “Relax nuh man?” He told me, grinning. He looked like a monkey in the tree, casually reaching for the good mangoes and popping them off, dropping them onto the ground. “Why you don’ go dun dere and catch dem fuh muh?” I wanted to help him, but I was too terrified to move. He sucked his teeth at me. “I thought you liked climbing trees you sissy?” “I do Noel.” I wanted to reassure him of my bravery. “But I just don’t know how to get down.” He grinned at me, flashing a set of brilliant white teeth with some spots missing. “Then jump.” And foolishly, I did, instantly spraining my ankle. Noel watched me, with what seemed to be a glimmer of concern in his eyes, but when I did not cry he resumed to dropping mangoes. These I caught and made into a little pile. “Noel!” I called up to him. “We got too many I cyan carry all!” When I heard no reply I looked up into the branches for him. He was nowhere in sight. “Noel?” At the same moment I heard a dog bark behind me and I whirled around to see Mr. Clarke on his patio with a shotgun in his hand. “Get down out my trees, monkey!” He shouted. His huge black dog was standing next to him, snarling, and itching for a command. “Noel what to do!” I hissed. “Run like hell.” I whirled around and Noel leapt from behind me, grabbing my hand and pulling me along as he pelted out of Mr. Clarke’s yard. Instantly the dog took off on our heels and Mr. Clarke fired his shotgun. We made it out in three seconds flat and after that I never stole fruit again. My little heart couldn’t take any more palpitations than it had that day. That, however, was unfortunately not the end of the day because Mr. Clarke phoned our parents and we each got ten lashes with a leather belt. But that’s all beside the point. Cherie took a little longer now to get home, since Sodeye waited for her a little ways down the road. They took a little walk together, holding hands and smiling and laughing and singing that same song. Sodeye had kissed her many times since that day in the orchard, always goodbye and always hello. She was intrigued by him and enjoyed his presence greatly. She felt herself assimilating him into her being, watching how he walked just so, noticing the ways he blinked his eyes when she said something he didn’t agree with. Was he a boyfriend? Cherie wondered.

19


She was so enthralled that she didn’t realize that it took Granny just a little longer to come inside off the porch, or that she spoke just a little quieter sometimes. After all, this had never happened before and Cherie really was very busy. Cherie felt Mr. Mayhew –John as he preferred- changing. She found everyday that the house was a little messier, carpets dirty, beds unmade although she was certain he could only sleep in one, dishes in the sink, furniture beginning to look old and dusty and clothes needing to be cleaned and ironed everyday. She felt as though somehow the house was adjusting to her presence and, like John, needed her to take care of it. Suddenly whenever she entered a room she was overwhelmed with sadness, and she knew that someone was not only crying in the chairs but weeping in them. There was emotion in the drab cream walls and it was loneliness. The beds were all unmade not because someone had made love in each one but because someone’s restless soul had spent the night tossing and turning. Carpets had dirt tracked through them with little footprints, that would have fit children and certainly never John, because little ghosts were running crazily trying to find a way to escape. Everything about the house was different. She found herself having no more spare time to sneak to the orchard or to chat with Jacko because there was so much cleaning she had to do, every day. And it was always the same. Cherie was happier in the house now, because although it was sad, it truly felt as though someone lived there. And John had turned out to be a very pleasant man, always complimenting her on the work done, and it seemed as though he was losing some of his weight. His face had lost its pasty redness and a few of his chins had vanished. His arms stopped swelling and the gold shackle around his wedding finger was removed, revealing tender white skin beneath. He had even spoken to Cherie about his wife. It seemed he was opening up to her more and more each day. “She was a lovely person.” John said, handing Cherie a photograph. In it, there stood a young couple, a muscular, handsome man and his beautiful brown haired wife. “That’s us there, about four years ago. Before I had gained all this weight.” “She’s very pretty.” Cherie said honestly. And she couldn’t help but notice that this was obviously a very different John Mayhew. He looked so young and slim compared to what he looked like standing nervously in front of her now. “She was very kind as well. Did everything for everyone. She was pregnant when she died. Someone broke in to our house….” He choked up. “’Course then we didn’t really have much…so I don’t know why anyone would want to steal from us…and….” His voice was trailing off. “So I sold everything I owned and moved here. Quite randomly too, as you can see I don’t know anyone on this island. But I was able to get a very nice piece of property, and I actually buried the boxes of my wife’s belongings in this backyard.” He motioned towards the orchard. “In the middle of the orchard, around all those mango trees and other ones. As you can see I’ve no use for fruit anymore. When she died I began eating compulsively. Haven’t been the same since.” “My mother died.” Cherie whispered, feeling his grief. “She tied a rock around her chest and drowned herself in a lake.” “Why on earth would she kill herself when she has a daughter like you? What about your father?” “He is in Haiti. He is a Haitian and he got deported back.” John shook his head.

20


“I suppose there’s a sad story in all of us.” Cherie’s eyes began to well up and John cleared his throat, unsure as to what to do. Soon, they were both crying softly, and Cherie buried her head in John’s pudgy chest. Her tears slipped unwillingly out her eyes as he very hesitantly rested one of his hands on her back. She felt strangely comforted by the fat that enveloped her. “Well I hope that doesn’t make things awkward, Cherie.” He smiled after they had both emptied their eyes of tears. “No, John.” She smiled. “It just opens two opposite souls to each other.” He smiled at her. “Weren’t you telling me you liked writing?” She stared blankly at him. “Yes the first thing you said was your name and that you liked writing. What do you write?” “Some poetry.” Cherie said. “I’d like to read some. Did you learn it at school?” “No,” Cherie said. “I learnt it from my heart.” There was a sniffling noise behind me and I craned my neck to see. Noel was digging one finger in his eye. When he saw me gawking at him he stuck out his tongue and shoved me forward. “Noel! That is not how you treat a lady!” Granny frowned at him. “I’m not a lady, Gran.” I said quietly. Granny laughed at me. “Sweet little girl. How you like mi story so far?” “Why does the house get dirtier all the time?” I asked, wrinkling my nose up as I squinted to look at Granny for a response. The sun was getting higher in the sky and shooting its rays through the slants of the windows. “De house magic! It contains the spirits of John’s family. The family he never got a chance to have. That’s why you two should be happy you have such a nice, big family.” Noel screwed up his nose. “I’m glad she’s not my sister and I don’t have to see her every day.” He said, looking at me. “I guin tell Andy and he wi beat you.” I said, getting ready to shout for my older brother. Noel stuck out his tongue again. “Why he family had to die, Gran?” I asked her, eager to get on with the story because if Noel started getting meaner I knew he would make me cry. “Well, sometimes sad things happen to people. John and Cherie both lost people they love.” “But Cherie’s mummy wasn’t nice.” I said. “Was she?” Gran asked me, and I shut my mouth because I knew she was going to continue our story. Eudalene…Eudalene…my sweetest, dearest girl. My love, my precious joy in this life. She could hear his suave French accent even when she wasn’t around him. Pierre Mt. Pierre was his name. Tall he was, and of a dark brown skin, and yet his eyes were green. He wasn’t so dark, no, rather with skin the colour of the earth and the texture of the clouds. Eudalene loved to dream. She loved to draw figures dancing in the dirt, to give them names and stories. She was so unlike her mother, and for that they bickered often.

21


Eudalene would drift from room to room, humming, as though in a daze, thinking up things to say to Pierre, but her mother would come loudly behind her cleaning and scrubbing everything she touched with her “dirty dougla hands”. Just like your stinkin father, Momma would say. Eudalene imagined her father a sweet old man, with warm caramel coloured skin and soft black hair. She would want to run her hands through that hair and brush it, maybe even plait it if he would let her. When she was little she always liked to see Indian girls walking down the street, whispering and giggling and holding their mother’s hands. She held her head up high and copied their movements, their funny accents. Her mother would suck her teeth and tell her not to make friends with “dirty Guyanese”. But they were beautiful, these little girls, with their long dark plaits and their pretty clothing. Eudalene skipped and danced, shaking her long curly dark hair so that they would maybe look at her and see, look she’s dirty Guyanese too with that hair. They didn’t. Then one day, when things weren’t so tough with money for Momma, they went shopping in town to buy new clothes for Eudalene, when a man approached Momma, and Eudalene saw him looking down at her, with big sad eyes. They were talking heatedly, and Eudalene’s heart skipped a few beats. She was sure it was her father. The man and Momma started arguing and gesturing, Momma trying to hide Eudalene behind her back and the man trying to reach for her little hand. Finally, Momma smacked him in the face and yanked Eudalene roughly out of the store. “We gine home.” Momma was saying. Eudalene felt somehow cheated out of a father, and sadly watched the man looking at her curiously as she was pulled away. Eudalene was sent to school to learn but all she did was mind boys. She didn’t care much for schoolwork, all she liked to do was write compositions and draw pictures for art. For maths and science she barely attended her classes. Momma was angry over the time and money that Eudalene had wasted trying to get educated, and there was a rift slowly forming between the two through her teenage years. Eudalene floated along, dreaming and writing poetry. Her poetry won two prizes while she was at school, but Momma threw the trophies away in disgust. “How can you waste your time on this? It’s time you stopped dreaming of nonsense.” Momma was tired of watching her hard earned money swishing down the drain like toilet water. Eudalene was told every day by someone new that she had beautiful hair. She never tired of the compliments, and accepted them graciously. She felt like a princess every time someone told her that, and without a father, she felt as though she had endured a hard life. She wished for a dream family and a husband to love her. Then Pierre met her in the market one day. He came over to her and told her that she had the most beautiful hair he had ever seen, and inquired as to whether she was mulatto. She blushed and batted her long eyelashes. His accent was endearing, and his flattery softened her heart like butter. He held out his arm to her and they walked together back to the house. Pierre gave her a sweet kiss on the lips, and Momma, seeing this, chased him away throwing shoes. She forbade Eudalene to associate herself with a dirty Haitian, but Eudalene didn’t care. She felt as though she could love him. And so, bit by bit, Momma allowed him into her home and realized he really was a very charming personality. All this time Momma was growing older, and saving money while she worked every day and Eudalene frolicked in the sun.

22


Pierre asked Eudalene to marry him and she said yes. Eudalene was pregnant with a baby girl, she told him, and he seemed content. Eudalene rushed home to tell Momma of the engagement and her pregnancy, and Momma closed her eyes gravely. “Eudalene,” she told her, “you have chosen wrong. You cyan marry de Haitian.” Eudalene shrank, and looked ready to cry. “He steal we money baby. He kill a man in Christ Church. Euda, de police lookin fuh he. Dey guin sen he back to Haiti.” Euda shook her head no, in disbelief. She ran out to warn Pierre, but it was too late. The policemen were dragging him into the street, naked and bruised, cursing and screaming. When he saw Eudalene, he spat at her feet. “A curse is on your family!” He snarled. “You led them to me!” Eudalene tried to say no, that she wanted to help, but his eyes with filled with hatred. “I will curse your baby.” He growled, and she saw in his eyes an immense sadness. The police dragged him through the dirt, and that was the last time she saw him. She stopped eating, she stopped singing, she stopped dreaming. When the baby was born and Eudalene saw her pretty brown eyes and black skin she was relieved. Relieved she didn’t have green eyes like her father. She loved her baby girl and promised to protect her from all evil, from whatever obeah Pierre had claimed on it. She called her Cherie Mt. Pierre, after her father, because even though he had been ripped from her unjustly, she still loved him and knew that he loved her. Romance was hard to find after that. With all the savings vanished, Momma and Eudalene became poorer than they had ever been, Momma grew sick and could no longer manage to work every day. Eudalene raised her daughter with happiness, and tried desperately to find her a good father. Eudalene made so many attempts at finding a man to provide for her broken family she even endured beatings and cursings for a little bit of food or money they would give her. But enough was too much. One day the pressure in Eudalene’s broken heart was so immense that her heart broke, and her once curly hair grew limp and dull. Her eyes ceased shining and her skin grew rough. Too many strong fists had pounded her face and skull. She kissed her young daughter goodbye and took a piece of old brittle rope with her. She was walking, tears lightly falling down her cheek, her see through nightie billowing in the gentle breeze. Her hair bounced on her shoulders and she hummed a sad song. Tying the rock to her chest she grasped it firmly with strong arms. She waded into the cold water, ripples lapping her legs. Deeper and deeper she went until the water was reaching up her nose and soft brown cheeks. It was like quicksand, beckoning her to come down, down. She let the rock pull her down to the bottom of the pool and tightened the rope so that her mouth could not reach the surface. Finally her eyes closed, and her lips hardened into a smile.

23


“Granny ah telling yuh, dis man up to no good. He’s a vile serpent in the garden of Eden…I jes can tell by how he looks…sumptin unearthly bout he.” Jacko was wringing his straw hand in his hands. Granny Momma listened to his words with patience. “Jacko boy my girl ain’t like she mudda. She ain’t guin make de same mistakes. She got a bright brain on she body. Ef she entertain a man she will know he is a good man. You should be pleased she finally foun a boyfriend.” Jacko shook his head in disagreement. “Deys sumptin not right bout he Granny I wish you would listen.” Granny Momma waved him away. “Jacko thanks for de wuk you did in de yard today. Cherry so busy wukking wid de white man she cyan manage. So thanks fuh pitchin in. But das all I need right now so effen ya wants to guh home, gulong.” Jacko lowered his head and stepped out the door, bidding Granny Momma goodbye. Cherie skipped home later that evening, and asked Granny if she would like to meet Sodeye. Granny asked for his description. “Tall, Granny, a strong man, with white teeth, and muscular frame. He is kind and nice. He doesn’t tell jokes but he speaks a lot of pretty talk. It’s like poetry listening to him.” Cherie seemed to genuinely like him, so Granny obliged. She was happy that now Cherie would have some company, as she felt her final days were drawing near. “He may speak pretty talk chile, but I hope it comes from an honest heart. Remember you mudda. Remember what happen to she every time you look at a man. I hope he is trustworthy.” Sodeye came, dressed well for his status. He solemnly took Granny’s hand and smiled. “Ah, so this is the wise and wonderful woman God created to look after Cherie. Bless you tonight, old woman.” And so he charmed her and spent the night sitting on the porch with them, speaking of hard times and of better times to come. All this time an array of centipedes and flies came swarming onto the verandah, attacking their legs. Granny smelt something not quite right about Sodeye, and when he left she mentioned this to Cherie. “His skin is too black. His eyes shine with something menacing and dangerous. I don’t like him.” “But Granny he’s a sweet boy.” “His sweetness may cause you to rot. I don’t care what his words may sound like it’s the tongue that forms them that counts! Jacko was right…there is the devil beneath his skin.” “So you been talking to Jacko bout me? Susu me name? We ain’t family? We cyan talk amongst weselves?” “Is Jacko dat approach me I ain’t go to he.” “All de same. All o wunna like to talk muh name cos I young and got choices. And got a job. We ain’t all family here?” “I sorry it had to come to dis sweet ting. Go to bed and we will talk in de morning.” But morning came and they did not speak. Instead, Cherie made her way to work early, getting prepared for a long day’s cleaning and tidying a manic, hectic house. John said hello, always pleased to see her. He had just come in for a jog, and was sweating profusely. The excess fat was falling off of him as though he was a sponge

24


being squeezed. He was now decently slimmed down, and his hair was growing out a little bit, revealing some brown left in it. “Sorry about the mess, Cherie, I really don’t know how I manage it all.” John formed a weak smile. “Well I’ll be leaving for work in a minute, there’s no need for you to get started yet so just, um, well have a seat and relax I suppose.” John bathed and dressed and headed off to work. These days he began to feel increasingly guilty for the amount of money he made, which he was positive was not entirely legal. These days he began to detest the men he worked with, all piggish and greedy, breaking backs and necks to jump forward and get ahead in the game. He shook his head and turned up his air conditioning. These days he was feeling better than ever, losing weight and having some one to talk to, at least on a morning and in the evening. He felt as though his life really was getting better, and he made a little promise to himself to give Cherie a raise in pay. He did feel sorry for her and wanted to help her out somehow. Yes, she had really touched him in some major way. I remember Akeel, my first real crush, so well even to this day. Because he’s the one that hurt the most. Tall, dark and handsome he was, in every sense of the word. He was an athlete, a swimmer, so of course his body was perfectly toned and each muscle tensed with perfection. He couldn’t help it he was so sexy. His dark skin flowed all over his arms and back and legs, a perfect complexion, he was the same shade of ebony throughout. Of course I watched him train. Of course I sat in the stands watching him dive in, and watching his head bob and weave through the water. He was like a black shark under the clear pool water, and I felt helpless watching him. Of course I knew him…of course I knew every mark on his skin, every expression of his face…but I barely spoke to him. We had the same friends and limed in the same places…sometimes I even sat next to him. I was terrified trying to speak to him, but the words managed to come. I even felt he might feel the same way. I just knew because I could see my eyes in his eyes and I could see my smile in his smile…when he looked at me I felt chilly and warm at the same time and I hoped he felt the same way. My watch said 8.04 a.m. when I saw him walking towards me that morning, that morning I had vowed to tell him how I felt. It was the 20th of September, of fifth form. Carrying his knapsack and striding confidently towards the door of the class room it seemed as though everything else shut down and the spotlight opened on Akeel. So addictive was he that like clockwork I got up and followed him, timid as a shadow. I was unsure as to how I would approach him, and hesitant in my efforts. I was so scared of the confrontation…but somehow I could tell that it would have happy results. Micah had told me he liked me. Indeed, sometimes he touched my hand a certain way or looked in my eyes just a little bit longer…but not long enough for me. Akeel went straight to his desk and put down his bag. He turned and looked at me, his eyes were beautiful. “Morning.” He said. I could not reply with words instead I rested my cold hand on his elbow and looked shyly down. “Akeel…” I said, “I really need to talk to you.” “Yeah?” He said, quietly, sensing my near emotional breakdown. “Um…well it’s sort of private…but…I really thought I should tell you this. Well…we’ve been friends for a while now, right?” He nodded. “And I feel as though…I want to be more than friends with you…I feel some kind of weird connection to you,

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Akeel. I’m attracted to you…” I looked up into him. “I like you.” I could hardly breathe looking at his face and waiting for some kind of answer some sort of reply and then finally, quickly, it came: “I know.” He lowered his eyes. “I like you too, you know, I really do.” I remember my just sixteen year old heart leaping and screaming like it never had before. “But I can’t be with you.” And then my hurting started. “Well…why not?” I asked quietly, holding back tears. “Oh come on, you know why.” He looked intently at me. “You’re white.” I stared at him, dumbfounded. I wanted to tell him that no, no I wasn’t, I wanted to give him so many reasons why that wasn’t true, but I knew I couldn’t hide. “I can’t have a honkie girlfriend.” He gave a curt laugh. “You should know that.” With that he closed his desk and left the classroom, and I stood shaking, ashamed of my skin, wishing for everything in the world that I could buy a new one.

26


Out in town by the garbage a white man bends over and picks up an empty can. No food tonight, he motions to his black brother. They are scrimmaging and picking through the trash in search of food. The white man’s hair is long and matted, and his chest is burnt from exposure to the sun. At least his black brother’s skin is not sensitive and forms a protective barrier from those cancerous rays. They walk silently, one next to the other. They can only help each other in their circumstance of extreme deprivation. The next day would hopefully bring more tourists and they could take them out on the jetski. But today and the day before and the day before there had been no sales, something that had never been foreseen, and so they no longer had any food. The white man’s bones were clearly visible under his skin, from years of sparing little for food, when he needed medication. Dark circles are tattooed under his eyes, leftover from his crack addiction. Who says a white man owns the world? It is not the colour of your skin but the swiftness of your greed that ensures you control. This man is stooping now, bent in half with pain. He has run out of medication and his black brother rests a hand on his back. There’s nothing he can do to help. But without his brother he can’t survive. Neither of them could do without their partner. The white man opens his blue eyes in a plead for mercy and help. But no one can help him. His brother lies him down and pulls his button shirt closed around his bare chest. They clutch each other, their only possession, as they lay down to sleep. The jetski business they worked for was surely going to shut up for the quiet period, leaving them jobless. They made next to nothing walking up and down the beach asking tourists to go for a ride anyway. The night grows colder and they huddle together for warmth. A couple walking by takes one look at them and their footsteps grow quicker, trying to flee from this sleeping threat. As though they would steal. As though they have enough energy in their muscles to leap up and chase them down the street. As though they aren’t slowly wasting away to nothing in the depth of night. Don’t we all end up as nothing? And what is the colour of nothing…there is no colour in it. It is vast and empty like the men’s bellies and as unimportant as their skin. We all suffer the same fate and that is death. No matter how is happens or who you are you shall surely die. This thought doesn’t comfort either man as they lie down and sleep. Their bodies are as one mass, colourless in the moonlight night. They are one lump of rags and bones and withered skin, but they will awaken in the morning suffering from more hunger than the night before until they die, and are released into nothingness.

27


Pierre Mt. Pierre grasped his hairy paws over his belly and moaned. “That meal was filling, probably the best I’ve had in days.” He said, in his fine exquisite French to the senators and politicians sitting around him. They were gathered around a long mahogany table, with short black candle holders holding up long thin cream candles, almost too long, almost moronic. The cream melting wax was dripping down onto the candle holders and scorching their black sides. These candles were scattered decoratively along the table, clashing with the bouquets of plastic flowers spotting here and there. A man at the other end raised his wine glass to Pierre. “To our host!” He said. “For providing us a brilliant night’s entertainment on this day, marking the day of his birth some forty years ago.” “Only forty, he looks much older to me!” A short fat man called out from down the table. There was an eruption of laughter, followed by a cheer and the greedy guzzling of wine. “Thank you, thank you all.” He nodded his head at the men around him, then turned to the lovely woman on his right. “I couldn’t have made it without my dear Michele.” She bowed her head, long brown hair cascading over slim shoulders. All the men looked at her and agreed, yes she was a pretty woman, deserving of one of the more powerful men in Haiti. “She bought me a new car for my birthday, one of those new Italian sports cars. It drives quite well.” The men nodded their heads in agreement. Yes, Europe did make some wonderful things. Each morning they had fresh pastries and water imported from France, their motherland as they would say. All of the important figures of Haiti were present, the President, his opposition, a few diplomats, many wealthy businessmen, and some ministers. They were feasting on chicken, steak and beef, mashed potatoes, rice and drinking rich red wine, red as Jesus’ blood. Quite a few were drunk and kept drinking and eating more, indulging in extreme corpulence. Pierre Mt. Pierre sat at the table, thinking quite happily that he was a very successful and fortunate man. If he had not returned to Haiti so many years ago he would not have had the chance to stumble upon his money and ensure its longevity by making swift friends with the very saints sitting around the table. He smiled wickedly, remembering the silly voudoun curse he had performed so many years ago. The air was hot with fire and smoke. He danced around the little burning bush, screeching and hollering to the gods. Around his loins he wore thick grass and dirt was smeared onto his body. On his wrists, the blood of a man. He convulsed his body, shaking, singing in creole and African, songs that were whispered in his ear by voudoun priests. A short pointed dagger stained with the blood of a man lay in the dirt, next to a body, a sacrifice. It was a rich middle aged man, lying naked and dead in front of the bush. Its stomach was torn open and dried blood caked the man’s face and groin. Blood of my loins! He was chanting, yet many voices seemed to come from his human throat. You will meet the Serpent! He lifted the man’s body high in the air with unnatural strength and threw it onto the bush. Blood of my loins, the Serpent shall bite You! A mirror our fortunes will tell!

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He was jumping and panting now, excited by the sacrifice, excited by the power running through his veins. Demons took over his legs and arms and tongue and made him scream and shake, until the ritual was performed. When it was complete he lay in the dirt until sunrise, never batting an eyelid. Next to him was a small box of documents taken from his sacrifice, documents he knew to be possibly destructive to the government, and ones that would ensure him a gateway to power. Very lucky that the specimen chosen for this ritual was a corrupt minister. Sitting at the table now he smiled, for none of these men and surely not his wife knew of his past. He reached his arm around his wife’s slim waist, her long curly hair reminding him of something he wished he could forget. Of all the power he had with his wealth and money, he did not have the power to forget one face. Ma cherie, he would call that face. Ma cherie he used to whisper in her ear. He reached for his wine and remembered her. “Pierre,” she would say to him, in her English accent. “let’s take a walk.” She walked so well, her slim hips curving from side to side and he would stand behind her a bit to watch. Not everything she said he understood, was he not a cane cutter from Haiti who only knew creole? He could not even speak French, so why would he know so much English? But from her he learned. She loved to dream, to speak of folklore and mysteries and wonder why this happened, and that happened. And he loved to listen, and devour each word that left her mouth. Her long curly black hair intrigued him. Yes, I will marry her. So he took her down onto the beach one day, and started up a bonfire. Taking her hand he told her that he cared very much for her, and walked her around the fire. She was dazzling in the moonlight, and he remembered her face very much that night. Dancing hot flames from the fire jumped up around her features and appeared to be lifting her up to the sky. She was as an angel. That was why he cursed the devil on her when the policemen came for him. When they told him that she had called them for him and told them of his crimes he wailed, his spirit broken. They dragged him naked into the street and he saw her. He called the devil on her, so broken was his heart. Pierre wondered if it was still broken. He had overcome many obstacles to get where he was, he thought, looking around him. He was living in a mansion with fine walls and iron gates. He had many servants, and a loving wife who served his every desire. The only thing he denied her was children. And rightfully so. He smiled at the drunken faces around him and was grateful for everything he had gained.

29


The two men wake up early, shivering in the cool mist. It had rained the night before. The grasp their rags and pull them closer over their ribs. They had done so many things to try and stay alive, and today they would beg. Not being able to walk the white man sits and stares humbly at those who pass him by. “I’m sick.” He tries to say meekly, but the words are mumbled in his dry mouth. No one wants to give a white man change. They own everything, they never need help. They don’t know the suffering we do. This man is reaching out his hand to a man that walks by. “Brother.” He tries to say. The man quickens his pace, of course, and ignores him. There is no pool of copper collecting at the man’s feet. His skin is coarse and drawn tight around his bones. He remembers a past that may have held a different future, but all he knows is now now now. Now I’m hungry. Now I need medicine. Now I cannot foresee a then. The heat is immense today and it burns and scorches his skin, drying it up and causing his wet internal organs to wither and singe. The sun is unmerciful, sitting on the concrete, even in the shade it is suffocating. The sun has the power to stop any strong man’s steps and cause him to call out “Is hot it hot today!” His eyesight is fading and all he can hear is rumbling footsteps around him and there is a ringing in his ears. “Crackhead.” Someone murmurs as they rumble by. The earth around him is spinning, and colours brighten and fade in unison. People are shouting, running, laughing, swirling around as though they are paints on a pallet. A pallet he would have once held proudly to paint a beautiful landscape. His eyes are closing now and his throat is crackling it is so dry. He cannot breath because his chest is tight, that taught skin is drawing like a noose around his ribs. His bones are so brittle they crumble into dust as he lies there in the shade. His heart can feel nothing more, and so it skips a beat, and then another. Then it just gives up hope and stops overall. No more than a few feet away his brother collapses, he can no longer bear the heat. In fact, he can no longer bear the sickness, filth, intolerance, greed, corruption, hate and poverty that plagued his life and so he joins his white brother when his heart says goodbye and stops. After all, they can’t survive without each other, this yin and yang, this water and sky with no horizon. And no one notices, nor do they care, as they continue with their lives. They have a few spare dollars in their pocket, yet they could not use them to spare a life. The bodies are not known for dead, and life continues without skipping a beat.

30


“Children! Food ready!” I jumped with a start to hear my mother calling for us to eat. “Come, children, eat some good chicken and peas and rice and we’ll tell our story more on a full stomach.” Granny held her smooth hand out to mine. “But Gran,” I said, grasping her knuckles and pulling myself up. “I want to hear more about Cherie’s boyfriend. Dey don got nuh happiness?” “Whuh mek you say there ain’t no happiness?” “People dying.” “People dying all over, baby. And people still happy. Come and eat your food, eh, and be thankful you have something in you belly.” Cherry tried hard to resist when Sodeye appeared at the kitchen window and beckoned for her to come to the orchard. She pushed all fragments of thought that there was something up, when she remember that he was not scheduled to work that day, and that he was never at work without Jacko. She was pleased he had come all this way just to see her. But why make her take a break from her backbreaking job of cleaning the house? She followed him, watching his stealthy, quick movements, almost snakelike, as he walked to the orchard. She couldn’t help but think that maybe Granny Momma was right, maybe there was something unearthly about this man. She entered the comforting darkness of the orchard and saw him, waiting for her underneath the apple tree. “Hello Sodeye.” She said softly. “Ma Cherie.” He smiled. “Come and sit. There is something important we must discuss.” She sat next to him and he wrapped his long arms around her. “My love.” He called her. “The man you work for is an evil soul. He is going to try and take advantage of you, and then take away your house when you resist.” “What?” Cherie asked, not quite understanding what he was saying. “I overheard him one day. He said many despicable things about you, but most of all that he wants to destroy you. You can’t go on working for such a terrible man. I won’t allow it.” “John wouldn’t say that Sodeye! You’re wrong.” “Oh it hurts my soul to say these words, my sweet ting.” His eyes were wide and genuine. “But he is an evil man! He steals money from us poor, ignorant people for his own gain. Look at this large house and property. This is twenty times the size of what you own. You’re a native here, Cherie, don’t you think you deserve more than him? And look inside that house! Every day there is more and more work for you to do…because he makes it deliberately hard for you. He gives you all this work and trouble because he is a sadist, and he enjoys hurting a poor young black woman like you.” Cherie sat quietly, unsure as to what to say. Sodeye smiled, and continued, thrusting a vile into her hand. “You must give him this.” “What is this?” Cherie asked, turning it over in her hand. “It is a soothing potion. Give it to him, and you will be safe from all his harmful ways.”

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“This is a poison.” Cherie said, stiffening her hand and worming away from him. “You want me to kill an innocent man?” She leapt to her feet. “You’s the evil Serpent Granny Momma tell me you is. Jacko and she did right.” Sodeye jumped to his feet. “No no, sweet girl. This is no poison. This is just a little potion the obeah man gimme to help you. It’s to help you, sweet girl. It will protect you, but it won’t kill him. Trust me.” He reached into the tree and handed her a ripe red apple. “Make him an apple pie.” Sodeye bared his white teeth in a smile. Cherie pocketed the vile, but could only stare at the round, juicy apple. She felt her stomach grumbling and her saliva wetting her tongue. “You’re sure he is harmful?” “Look at the house, love. Every day it is filled with dirt and grime and unmade beds yet one sole man lives there. That is unnatural. That is evil in that house. I’m trying to protect you.” Cherie fell a lump forming in her throat. “It won’t kill him?” “No. It will devour his evil nature but it won’t kill him. Trust me. Bake him the pie with this apple, and give him that potion in it. Give it to him, tonight.” He leaned in and kissed her forehead. “Sweet girl, would I lie to you?” Cherie scrubbed harder than she had ever scrubbed before. Cleaning, and cleaning she tossed and turned thoughts in her mind. The morning scene with Sodeye was absolutely incredible and sudden. She needed time to think about what he had said, and what she would do. It was so odd. Why would he lie to her like that? And why would Mr. Mayhew, whom she had grown to trust, “try to destroy her”? She remembered Jacko and Granny Momma’s words that Sodeye was like the Serpent. She remembered too, Sodeye’s promises to her as they walked home one day. Clapping up her hands, he told her that he loved her. “I’ll build you a nice brick house one day, and we will paint it red. And we guin have nuff lil pickneys running roun in de yard, playin wid de chickens. An a brown cow to giwe milk every morning. An you won’t have to work, Cherie, I will an you can stay home and do nuffin all day.” She laughed at him for his foolish talk, but he pulled her close to him, so close she could smell his sugary breath and feel every tense, liquid muscle in his arms and chest. “And girl…you’ll be so happy. You’ll have everything you need. All you have to do is one little thing.” “What?” She had asked him, feeling the blood rush up into her cheeks. “That you will fin out.” Then he parted his velvety lips and kissed her softly. Cherie had tingles remembering it. She also remembered, however, how John had quietly told her one day that he felt a changed man since she had started working for him, and was grateful for all the hard work she did. That she had appreciated. She found her legs leading her to the kitchen. They walked to the fridge, ordered her hands to reach in and pull out a few ingredients, which she mechanically placed on the table. She had to cook something, she knew. The time had come. Without keeping a coherent thought she stirred and mixed and poured, and felt for that tiny vile inside her pocket. John came home a little late that day, but he apologized. “You can go home whenever you’re finished everything you know, just lock the doors when you leave.”

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“I made you some dinner though, John. On the stove.” She nodded to his plate, sitting and waiting for him. He lifted up the foil covering and smiled. “Well this is a nice surprise. Thank you. What’s the occasion?” “No occasion. I know you been working hard, so I thought you might like that.” Cherie grew timid, and was suddenly itching to leave. John sniffed the plate. “Pie.” He said. “Smells absolutely delicious. I’m going to eat it immediately. Would you care to join me?” “No, thank you. I gotta go home to Granny. Can’t keep her worrying.” Cherie smiled and hurriedly grabbed up her bag. Her fingers turned pale clenching the strap of the bag and her feet retreated to the door. John grinned from ear to ear and took a fork from the kitchen drawer. “Well get home safely. I’ll see you tomorrow then. I can’t wait to devour this pie.” Cherie said goodbye and headed out the door. John couldn’t help but think how lucky he was to have Cherie to talk to, and cook him dinner. And to clean his house, since it was beginning to look like he had a dozen children. He couldn’t for the life of him imagine why, but he didn’t want to put it down to something supernatural. He didn’t believe in those things. John looked down at his plate and smiled. What a lovely dinner. Some home cooked macaroni pie.

33


Ras inhales and shakes his locks. Ras is feeling happy, sad, grateful, pleased, and angry at once. He is feeling the pain of his nation and the suffering of his people, but he is also sharing in their joy. They have their own unique identity, they are proud to be Caribbean. Or they should be. Ras shakes his locks in disgrace when Ras mentions the flow of American slime on their media, their ways of life. Ras knows how hard it is to avoid western ways when they don’t stay in the west, they are everywhere. Ras inhales the earth and trees and sky into his lungs, and exhales the stars. Ras knows to protect the land for his children and to guard his brother for himself. The fire inside is burning and Ras watches the flames beckon to him. Ras doesn’t say a word as he sits silently, in a circle of eleven, yet he speaks his feelings with his silence. Is it hopelessness? Ras says what a nice thing they have here. It is good to sit and enjoy the quiet of the night, only crickets singing in the background to their lovers. It is good to talk with his brothers. Ras agrees, but is still saddened by the state of his nation. How can we hold on to our self when we are trying to be some thing else? When we are living beyond our means, paving pretty new roads just to dig them back up and lay water pipes. When we want to build big fancy flyover constructions to ease traffic, that would take too long and too much finance. Does the government not recognize they are trying too hard for super development when we are still small and learning to walk? Ras rolls a joint between his deft fingers, black and calloused with hard work. They are thin like bones but they work quickly at something they have practiced so much. He lifts it to his lips and brings it to life, lighting it red like his heart. It gives him thought and meaning. He speaks up. He is sad for those who pretend, those many men in the papers that give the mighty dreadlocks a bad reputation. Despair, he says. They smoke the living fire but they do not know why. They have no respect for Him Who Is In Zion. They do not know their way to Zion. Ras prophesies. They drink and take drugs and eat the flesh of animals with their teeth. They rip open the skin of society and fill it with metal and concrete and unearthly things. They destroy nature and by destroying nature they erase their past. They have forgotten the far green shores of Africa. Ras stands tall like a temple, flames shining golden on his skin. The riches of this world are planted in the earth. They run through our veins and we must embrace them and let them grow. Ras says in unison that this is so. A drop of silver falls out the sky, and then another, and another, and the fire is out. But the fire inside Ras’ heart is still alive and he welcomes this treasure from the sky. There is silver running all over his body, and adorning him as a King. Ras laughs, and this sound is music in the night. He shakes his mighty locks. This is good he says. To be washed clean of unrighteousness and wear robes of pure white like snow. Eleven Kings sit in a circle and smile, a cloud of white smoke gathers above them. The dry earth beneath their feet softens with the rain, and clings together like mud. Ras is pleased. He rises, one by one and bids goodnight to his brothers as he steps lightly on the mud, as though walking on water, and walks home, his white robe covering his body like a protective layer. Ras is truly blessed.

34


Cherie was perturbed by all the thoughts swimming and swarming through her mind. Who could she really trust? She walked slowly to the bus stop, waiting more patiently than ever for its familiar faded blue and dirty yellow. Time was slowing down for her and her mind was numb. Suddenly everything she believed to be right was questioned. To her it was wrong, it was like questioning God. God was almighty and belonged in everything, there was no questioning Him. So she had been raised to believe but what if one day an old priest with a mighty staff calling himself Moses appeared to her in a vision, and told her the truth of the creation of the world? How could she survive? Boys, girls, men and women walked by her so slowly they were almost in reverse. The bus came rolling lazily down the road, rocking gently from side to side like a cradle. She stepped up into it and immediately went to the back. Next to her was an elderly man with grey whiskers tumulting from his nose and greasy black hands that somehow magnetized themselves to her side. She was thinking and trying to ignore the graffiti on the seat in front of her, an artist’s depiction of a woman’s genitals, and the slices in the nice soft seats that revealed the ugly sponge beneath. Cherie was deliberating whether or not Sodeye was who she really had thought he was. Whether she could trust his pretty language. And was John really a man of the devil? It did coincide with all the strange happenings in his house. Cherie’s life pains all come flooding up to her. They gathered in her throat like vomit but she kept them down. She had no mother or father to love her and support her. She had recently been neglecting Granny Momma because she was too busy, too busy at work with John. She felt angry towards John for taking up so much of her time and imagined that he treated her badly, making her do menial jobs and denying her proper wages and calling her names…but this was not so and she knew it. Why is life so hard she asked herself sadly. The stench from the man beside her aggravated her nostrils, which in turn put her on the edge. He hadn’t bathed in ages, she could tell. It was a smell emanating from dirty groins and dirty armpits and an anal crevice that seemed to be gathering evidence of an uneasy belly. The man tried to make conversation with her but she had no time for him. He smelt putrid, as though he had been carving rotten wood all day long. He smiled at her and revealed his decaying teeth, yellow as though he had been drinking urine. His breath was harsh on her cheek and Cherie began to feel exasperated. “Will you leave me alone?” She finally said, shocked at her own harsh tone. The man immediately shrank back. “I sorry mistress. I ain’t mean to bother you. I was jes mekking conversation.” His brown eyes were filled with misery and sorrow. “You remind me of my daughter. She died.” They welled up, and it appeared as though the man was going to cry, but he seemed saved by some inner courage that caused him to stare at his feet. Cherie followed his gaze and noticed that his feet were as dirty and the rest of him. The leather sandals were drying up like old pig hide and his toenails were yellow and black and cracking off. A thick layer of dirt had collected inbetween his toes, and seemed to be causing him great discomfort. A wave of regret washed over Cherie and drowned her confusion away. She immediately placed her hands over the man’s and said “I’m sorry for those harsh words. And I’m sorry for your loss.” This seemed to touch the man, who meekly nodded his head and sat silently away from her the duration of the trip. She promised herself to

35


apologize to Granny Momma when she got home for not paying her enough mind and to spend all day with her. Cherie reached home feeling an emotional low. She wondered what on earth was going on inside her. It was as though all the sadness and desperation that had drowned her mother in a stagnant collection of toilet water was beginning to seep into Cherie’s soul. She wondered if she was damned. Granny Momma was too tired to talk when she got home, which was well enough because Cherie didn’t feel as though she had the spirit for anything, so she went to bed, a hard mattress the same texture of wood, and refused to let even one teardrop fall, afraid that the wetness would multiply and by morning she would be drowned in a lake of self pity. Granny Momma stopped at Cherie’s doorway and looked in on her sad pretty face. It was adorned with a frown that showed some kind of inner turmoil Cherie was dealing with. Granny wished she could open a flood of tears and cry them all out like a string of toad spawn for Cherie, breaking that big concrete dam around her heart down. But she knew her tears would only mirror her own sadness and pains in life, and that Cherie was the only one who could free herself. The next morning Granny Momma clambered down the verandah steps and went to work in her garden. Cherie slept in lazily, but as soon as she woke up she made Granny a cup of tea. There was sugar and milk and tea in the house now, as Cherie was working. There were also new curtains that Cherie had purchased and Granny had sewn, and the house was beginning to lose its old feeling of griminess. There were new things placed here and there, which still retained the feeling of being untouched. It was as though no one had sat in them, talked in them, or laughed in them as yet. “Granny Momma! I dun mek you some tea. You want it now?” Cherie called out. “Yes Cherry in jes one minute. There’s one tough weed here I want to pull out.” Cherie nodded as though she was right outside with Granny, and remembered the talk she had been meaning to have. “You really shouldn’t be pulling dem tough weeds Granny dey guin hurt you back. Leh Jacko come and do da fuh you.” “I not dependin on someone else to do my dirty work Cherry! I am a woman and that means I was born with two iron fists an eyes of coal baby an I intend on putting dese fists to work, even in my old age, even til the day I -” There was a sharp thud and a low moan and Cherie dropped the tea mug rushing outside. Granny Momma lay in a foetal heap on the ground, back wrenched and curved. Cherie rushed to her side and screamed for help from the neighbours. The day was beginning as a long one.

36


Soudina Suckteet and Polompa Pampalou sat in Soudina’s kitchen, braiding two of Soudina’s daughters hair and gossiping. “An you know,” Polompa was saying, “Cherie took musse a half hour before she notice she poor granny lying in de hot sun. De docta barely mek it in time…you know how long dem ambulance buses does tek.” “I know.” Soudina nodded. “Specially when dey hear we district dey ain’t wanna show up fuh jokes. Dey got more important business to deal wid dan to come down hey by we.” Polompa’s fat hands were moving clumsily through Soudina’s daughter’s hair, pulling it loosely into plaits. The plaits were too loose, as was Polompa’s skin, and would soon come out. Soudina’s own victim was struggling not to laugh at her sister’s rough hair. Soudina’s fingers, on the other hand, moved deftly and furiously pulling the plaits too tight, as though inspired by her inner rage. “Cherie been neglekking she granny so bad de Lord dun and punish she. Granny Momma been working dat garden so hard all she life and ain’t never once more dan sprain a ankle. An now she fracture she back? I tell ya, is de Lord rainin punishment down on dat wutless gyal fuh all she wrongdoins wid dat white man.” Polompa began to tug harder on the hair. “Yes.” She whispered, as though she was righteous, but really because she was always embarrassed her own “wrongdoings” would surface. But they never did, not to her face anyway. “You see how Cherie tink she so hoity toity now wid pretty new curtains and new dresses and bare food in she fridge. She fuhgetting she roots fuh true.” “Is a shame. A real pity dis had to happen to Granny Momma. But if Cherie hada pay she more mine it wouldn’ta happen. If Cherie hada pull out dem weeds fuh she it wouldn’ta happen. If Cherie stop home more often it wouldn’ta happen. I hate to say it but it she own fault.” “When Granny Momma coming back from de horsepital?” “Sometime dis week. But you know Cherie gine be wukking up at dat white man so who knows. I guess we guin hadda pitch in and look after Granny.” Polompa shifted her behind uneasily. “But den who guin tek care of Ronald? It’s not like we ain’t got children o we own, Soudina. You got you own girls to feed and bathe and look afta.” “Is a real nuisance, I know, Polompa. If Cherie had mine she home duties and look afta she old woman grandmudda we wouldn’t be in dis mess. But de damn girl like she ain’t tinking o nobody but she self.” Soudina sucked her teeth loud. “She a right fool running around with a white man who guin fuhget bout she in no time. She should really up and settle down wid somebody or jes stay home and look afta she Granny. Das de woman role you know.” “Cherie really ain’t fulfilling she duties, Soudina.” Polompa shook her head and Cherie’s frivolousness. “And now allowe guin pay fuh she own…frivolousity!” “Das right.” “But you ketch eyes pun da man courting she? Man he look sweet. He skin so dark it look liquid in de day. He so tall and muscular. Soudina honey you see he?” “Yes Polompa I see he.” She lied. Polompa continued staring as though she didn’t believe her, so Soudina, eager to show her knowledge, elaborated. “I saw he comin out dah house one morning early early. Musse tree or four in de morning.”

37


“What you was doing up Soudina?” “I hear de dog barkin Polompa. You know how dogs can see ghosts. Well I get up, frighten enough for a duppy, when I see a big dark shadow crawling out de house. So I looked closer and I see it was Sodeye! And Cherie kissing he up goodbye like a real wutless skettle. I had a piece of mind to trow rocks at he, but he too goodlooking. I made up my mind to tell Granny Momma of de indecency right under she nose. I had to tell she dat she sweet girl like she ain’t so sweet.” “An what Granny Momma said?” Polompa asked eagerly, anxious for a further scandal. “Well I ain’t tell she, darling. I ain’t had de heart. I woulda real hurt up dat old woman, an I got nuff respect fuh she.” “You did de right ting Soudina. It woulda kill she.” “It looks like Cherie kill she anyway, Polompa. It look like Cherie kill she.” The two women shook their heads in disgust. The day of the incident was a Saturday, so the hospital was buzzing with activity. A clever doctor with glasses and plenty of papers on his walls took a good long look at Granny Momma, with Cherie biting her lip into shreds with despair. Granny’s eyes were squeezed shut the whole time and she barely writhed in pain, because she was immobile. “I’m afraid we’re going to have to detain her for a few days.” The doctor said carefully, his voice low and husky. “But she should get better. I’ll give you medication to give her, but if it doesn’t work we will have to operate.” The doctor pulled Cherie aside and asked her a few financial questions, which Cherie felt embarrassed to answer. “It is a very expensive surgery, Ms. Mt. Pierre, but she may be able to do without it. If not, however, there are many complications that come along with the surgery.” “Complications with…payment?” Cherie asked meekly. The doctor shook his head. “Not necessarily. Physical and mental complications due to the outcome of the surgery. She is a very old woman and though she may feel strong, it is evident that her health is deteriorating. There is always the possibility she may not make it through.” Cherie imagined Granny dressed in all white, laid in a white coffin, saying goodbye to her little Cherry. It added to the many puddles forming in her mind, eroding her damn wall of hope. “I understand entirely.” She said. “We will prepare as best we know how.” The next day was the first Sunday in a very long time, perhaps the first Sunday ever, that Cherie had gone to church without Granny Momma. Her starched dress seemed to be instead of walking beside her, walking around her forming the protective circle Granny Momma would have. It seemed as though the dress had embodied Granny Momma’s heart and now stiffened Cherie’s back and pulled in her stomach as Granny would have told her to. It formed a lonely abyss in Cherie’s heart that she knew Granny must have been feeling when she spent all her time at work. The church service felt longer than usual, with less energy spent howling Amen! and clapping her hands, singing those hymns she knew by heart. She felt the awkward stares of neighbours and friends burning into her back, some wondering why Granny wasn’t with her and others knowing why and blaming her for it. On her way back, she was startled to encounter Sodeye.

38


“How are you?” His words were asking, but really his eyes were asking: Did you do it? “I am grateful.” Cherie said quietly, without elaborating or being asked to. “Did you do it?” Sodeye asked, curling his arm around her waist. “No.” Cherie said. The arm stiffened, and clenched into a fist. “Why not?” He asked, hissing. “Because it’s not right. You have no proof of what you said.” “My love you for and desire to see you happy is proof enough.” “I can’t kill the man because of your words.” “Don’t you trust me, Cherie? Don’t you trust my words?” Cherie hesitated, and looked into his dark eyes. She didn’t see something there, and it frightened her. They were like two empty black pools, pools that would drown a broken black woman. She thought she could see her mother waving her arms in a frenzy, gasping for one last breath as a man held her under. She thought she could see her Granny shaking her head sadly in an empty, quiet house. She thought she could see a thousand black women, tied together by crude metal links and raped molested and beaten ‘til their hearts were so hard they didn’t cry anymore. “No.” She finally said. “I don’t trust you.” Sodeye’s face was astonished but his eyes were still empty, as though they had no soul. Cherie saw him for what he was, an empty shell of an evil human being with no soul. “That is why you Granny guin die.” He said slowly, deliberately, as if it was he crawling through her back bones and breaking them, one by one. “My Granny seen terrible things in she life. And she still strong. If she dead now it’s because of the Grace of God calling she to eternal thanksgiving…not some black snake poisoning she.” Sodeye retreated in amazement. “But I can give you so many pretty, beautiful things. Don’t you want to be baptized in a pool of gold of silver? Or would you rather drown in a stagnant lake of mosquito larvae?” “You sound like a real devil.” Cherie said. “I am.” Sodeye smiled at her and kissed her softly on the forehead. Without saying another word he turned and walked away. Somehow Cherie knew that wouldn’t be the last time she saw him. Cherie turned her back on him and headed back to the house, feeling for that little vile in her pocket. Before she went through her gate she lifted it high over her head and threw it, listening for that fulfilling smash of glass, as the poison seeped out into the dirt. Cherie had to call John and tell him that she couldn’t work for him anymore. She knew it would be hard, especially with the medical bills forthcoming, but with Granny’s illness she wanted to stay by her side and never leave her again. She couldn’t stand being all alone in the world, with no one to turn to. Too many people were missing from her life, and this, her small broken family comprising of one grandmother was all she had and so she held onto it with all she could. John answered after a few rings. “Hello, John Mayhew?” He said, sounding businesslike even on a Sunday. “John, I don’t think I can continue working with you.” Cherie’s voice sounded broken, cracking.

39


“Cherie? What happened? Are you allright?” He jumped immediately to life, and sounded as though he was clinging to the phone. Cherie was sitting on the end of her grandmother’s bed, clutching the only phone in the house. On her lap was a yellow headscarf. “You see, John, I feel as though my time spent at your house is eating away from my life at home. It’s just me and my old grandmother, and I have to look after her, so it’s hard.” “You can work half days if you want.” John was pacing up and down now, in his jogging gear. He had just come in for a light run and his slim arms were sweating. His brown hair was wet and beads of sweat ran down his forehead. “There’s no possible way I could get through everything in half days. I’m sorry John, but, my granny fell….” Cherie stopped talking immediately, she couldn’t get the last words out. “I’m so sorry to hear that Cherie. Of course you can, you know. I understand completely.” Cherie began to cry softly. One tear broke through, and then the rest came pouring out. It was as though someone had opened the drain on her soul and it came drizzling out in thick drops. “Thank you, John. You been so kind to me.” “Well, Cherie, you’ve helped me out a lot. Is there anything I can do for you?” “No, no. She’s on medication but…she will probably need surgery. And there are…complications with the surgery. She might not make it through the whole ordeal.” Cherie realized that even though she was crying she wasn’t weak. She was just showing an immense sadness that had welled up inside of her all of her life and was now finally escaping through one tiny hole in her heart. “Cherie just give me a call anytime you need me. If you want to come back to work, or if you need anything at all…I’m right here for you.” John’s words were kind and convincing. Cherie said thank you, and goodbye, and she hung up the phone.

40


His Right Honourable Excellency the Prime Minister sat in his sweaty office and contemplated. There were so many decisions to be made, all important decisions of course, influenced by many factors. And surely he’d have to make them, with a little guidance by his trusted board of appointees. A ceiling fan swung creakily above him, dropping specks of rust every once in a while. The minister’s desk was wooden, but wood ants were crawling their way up through the floor in search of that tasty dark wood. Papers were strewn on his desk, important, confidential government documents. The minister squirmed his butt cheeks in his chair, trying to get a little more comfortable on the hard cushion so he could really begin his day’s work. There was a knocking at his door, and his obviously homosexual secretary hopped in. “Sir,” He drawled, “the man from the bank is here for you.” Batting his eyes, (was that mascara?), he popped back out the door before the minister could respond. The tie around his neck suddenly felt like a noose and it grew at least thirty degrees hotter in that tiny government room. The bank man, Francis Drake he was called, pushed open the door and walked haughtily in. He had a salty air about him. “Please, have a seat.” The minister beckoned weakly to the wooden chair in front his desk. “Tell me what I can do for you.” Sweat began collecting around the minister’s elbows and knees. “Minister Farley.” Francis shook his salty head. “We’re very disappointed with the results we haven’t been seeing.” Salt air blew out into the minister’s atmosphere, causing his brain to rust. “What do you mean, Mr. Drake? My island is doing the best it can. I think we’ve performed very well.” “It’s so sad, Dan, the amount of energy you put into this shithole.” He said it because he knew he could say what he liked. “We’ve got targets for you, and you haven’t met any of them. You’re in debt, and what are you doing about it?” “We can’t do anything about it at the moment because we’re busy with our payments to the bank, Mr. Drake.” “Don’t dickwaddle me, Dan. I own this little island. Jamaica is like my backyard at home.” The minister’s balls began to tighten, he felt as though the noose had drawn around them instead. He didn’t know which was worse. “I told you when we struck a deal that meeting the bank’s expectations was going to be very difficult, did I not?” “That was a conversation, yes. But what I have on paper says different. It also says we can loan you no more money.” His blue eyes left their sniper mark on the minister’s forehead and followed the path of a cockaroach climbing up the wall. “You dig what I’m saying, Danny?” Dan nodded. “Perhaps we can come to some kind of…personal agreement? Something to ensure the continual lend of money to my country that may go unnoticed by the bank?” “You know I’m listening.” “Have you ever stayed in Montego Bay? Perhaps you would like a nice piece of government land to build a house? Or would you like one with a house on it already? These things can be arranged, you know.”

41


“Some diplomatic immunity would be good too.” Francis bared a smile and his teeth, white as though they were, had been dyed white and they looked unreal. His whole person looked unreal, actually, with hair too gelled and suits that fit him too well. His effect was that of a criminal dressed nicely, like a wolf attending the ball in sheep’s clothing. “It’s all taken care of, Mr. Drake.” The minister rose to shake his hand but Francis got up quickly and stepped back, as though his plastic hand would be melted upon contact. “Always a pleasure to do business with you, Dan.” Francis turned and left the room, letting the air stifle as the fan came to a complete and dead halt. Outside, not in the beautiful landscape of Montego Bay or other rich and architecturally pleasing areas of Jamaica, but in the liver of Kingston a few young boys sat skipping school and smoking marijuana. They were in a little hut they had constructed of pieces of wood and galvanize. The walls were adorned with pictures of Bob Marley and Emperor Selassie I, their hero in red, gold and green. They were at that moment glad to be who they were, not craving self advancement. They were caught up in the ecstasy of being free, and being bad, and feeling that immense power in their hands, burning away. Yet in reality, they had no power in their world, the power lay in one corrupt man’s briefcase, about to be granted a few personal freedoms in exchange for a little more money to keep their nation above water level a little longer. They were living in extreme poverty, yet two miles away their neighbours were living in extreme wealth. How can this happen? How can we live in a world where this is possible through autocratic systems that have been left over from a century ago? The boys are pulling out their guns and showing them off. They are running their fingers along the smooth black metal as though caressing a lover’s body. They’ve each got more than one, for protection, but also in case they want to make a little cash. Guns aren’t a deadly weapon, they’re a useful tool for oh so many purposes. One: to stay alive and survive in the rat race. Outside still, on the beach there is a man trying to sell his jewelry to American tourists. “Aw, c’mon man this looks great on your wife. Give it to her as a present, she’ll love it. Won’t you love it ma’am?” He says this, mimicking their way of speaking. They find his way of speaking so endearing, maybe they’ll buy something, though he has been trying to make a sale with them desperately. “You really think so?” She twists and turns, skin white from lack of exposure and a layer of thick fat coats her stomach and arms, built up from lack of exercise and cold weather. It doesn’t look good on her, but who cares? All the rasta man wants is a quick sale. “Yes man it looks so good. You gotta take it home and show it to your friends. Tell them you bought it in Jamaica, man!” The rasta man is laughing along with them but his belly is pleading for a sale. “Okey sure. How much for it?” “Ten US, only ten US dollars.” Their pale green money is worth so much. “How much Jamaican is that?” The white man’s question is equal to how many Jamaican boys will it feed? How many Jamaican women are willing to sleep with him for that?

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“More than fifty Jamaican.” The man says sadly. This is partly true, however it is closer to six hundred Jamaican dollars for those ten US dollars. And that won’t feed many mouths. The rasta man quickly bounds away and heads for some more tourists. He’s got a lot more necklaces and bracelets and earrings to be shown off, and this time he will try and find an easier couple he could rip off.

43


John’s days became hectic, more and more stacks of paperwork filling his office and less being computed. Somehow he couldn’t stop his mind from wandering, wondering what Cherie was doing. She was in a bad situation, he knew, and he was so sorry for her. He felt somehow that she was going to lose her last and most beloved family member, as he had lost her. Funny how that is, he thought. Cherie was the only person he really had to talk to. Certainly the only person he felt he could share his feelings with. John felt a loss inside his heart at not being able to come home on an evening and chat with her, sometimes she made him dinner and he would sit and eat that in front of the television. He suddenly felt a desire in his stomach for some donuts, so he left the office to go to Purity for something sweet to eat. Ramsay, who worked alongside him, watched him leave. He’s been losing weight, Ramsay thought. Ramsay’s brown eyes filled over with greed when he saw John’s spacious office. He wanted it for his own. He looked at all the messy paperwork and wanted to put it through the shredder. He could just imagine taking all of this and the paycheck and he knew he would be so happy. He knew that was all he wanted in life, to just go that one little extra step further. “Ramsay, hello, do you need me?” John appeared behind him. Ramsay was startled, caught like a rat in a trap. “I just wanted to talk to you about something.” “Oh can it wait until I come back I’m just stepping out for a bite to eat. Forgot my keys.” “Sure thing.” Ramsay was immediately relieved. “Golf on Sunday though?” “Of course of course.” John smiled and nodded at him, picked up his keys and left. Ramsay watched him leave with distaste. Ramsay couldn’t help but hope there would be some sort of accident on the road, so that he could take this office. He couldn’t help but hope that John’s cholesterol would harden his arteries and starve his heart. He had counted on that for months, but was beginning to forget that since John was obviously getting exercise and losing weight. Ramsay was a black, middle aged businessman, who held acid contempt for John because he was just that one step ahead of him. Nevertheless, he copied his accent, his attire and his antics because deep down inside he wanted to be him. He wanted to be the overweight Englishman with two cars and too much money. He wanted to sit in the oversized office and have the power to fire the underlings of the firm. Ramsay knew he would start with that Cummins whore who had refused every attempt at involvement with him. Ramsay felt a hatred burning in his belly and that pushed him to go to his desk and work, gripping his pen with too much force. John drove quietly along, feeling very alone in his world. He was still mourning the loss of his housekeeper, she was more than that. Cherie was his friend. His only one, at that. Waves of dejection and solitude washed over him and for what was not the first time but one in very many, John Mayhew felt sorry for himself. And yet there was Ramsay fuming inside, sitting at his desk and wishing to have his life.

44


Cherie paced up and down her house. She was looking thin. The anxiety over her grandmother’s health was biting into her personal life. She was physically and mentally tired from the worrying, the endless care she had to give. Granny Momma lay on the soft bed and watched her. She closed her eyes and sucked in her breath. Suddenly she could see Cherry as a little baby in her mother’s arms…but Eudalene was crying. Her clean white tears were racing down her young cheeks…Granny had her eyes closed and she remembered seeing red behind her eyelids and feeling so angry. It was nineteen years ago she was remembering…in a little dingy government house in the Pine. Sannideka, the old old woman, was sitting back in her rocking chair, her bony finger pointing at the sweet angel baby and she was cackling. Her mouth was open wide, exposing a gaping black toothless hole. Her white hair was long and loose. “De baby curse. She own fadda did de obeah pun she.” And then she cackled again…and that was when Eudalene’s tears began to fall. But Granny Momma was stronger, she was angry and steupsed at the old woman and led her daughter out. She was just a crazy woman anyway. But now, lying down in her bed, feeling the darkness creep around her stomach, she knew it was true. She knew her days were coming to an end. She wanted to reach out her old legs and stand up and tell Cherry she was fine. She wanted Cherry to go back to work and to stop worrying so, but she was so weak she could barely speak. She could feel the darkness swimming in her, and she knew something bad was going happen. The most terrifying part was that she knew there was nothing she could do to stop it. Cherie sat down on the bed next to her Granny and patted her hair. “You feeling better Granny?” Granny nodded her head slowly. But inside it was different. “Good.” There was nothing more Cherie could say. She knew the truth was opposite. She kind of knew that her Granny wasn’t so good, but both of them were too stubborn to admit to anything. Instead they continued on the pretending, protecting. Pierre felt cramped, surrounded by his past. He felt like he was locked in a cage of old forgotten and painful memories that were torturing him. He was wringing his hands, sweat dripping down his forehead. Poor black faces were sitting around him, faces that looked like his once did. Except now he was different, so why did he feel so cold? Pierre was transformed now, he was in a different body, a young, strong one. He was in an alternate self, one that was similar to his old one, but more devious than he ever was. He was sitting on an airplane, on his way back to the island. After all this time, he felt there was still more wickedness he had to do. There was still one thing left to destroy. Lately he had become restless with his wonderful new life. He felt there was still more that could be done. More that could be taken away from someone. When you have nothing, how can more be taken away? Evil will find a way to keep stealing, to keep eroding your soul until you’re so far down you look up and you see the bottom still, lurking above you. You can reach your arms high, but your fingers look like little twigs in front of your nose and the bottom is still high above you, taller than you could ever hope to reach with your two hands. Those black eyes burning, taunting you? Those are the eyes of Satan, of Pierre sitting in his little airplane, wringing his clammy hands, and glaring at all the black and white faces around him.

45


He was exhilarated in his youthful new self. He was ready to take on everything and to win at every cost. His eyes burned like two black empty pools, pools that would drown a thousand black women and their babies. Yet his skin was so smooth and black he could easily tempt them to come for a dip, just a little swim. Test the murky waters… but be mindful of the quicksand, you’ll get stuck. You’ll drown in the lake of burning lava if you’re mindful of the devil. He was the devil. Sitting on a Liat airplane, wringing his clammy hands and thinking of his victories. One last thing to destroy. John was willing to do anything for Cherie, not because she was intelligent, not because she was beautiful, but because he realized he had befriended her. He realized that a year ago he would have sincerely shunned the idea in disgust, but now he felt an attachment to her not unlike that of a mother and her child. Indeed, she had nurtured him in a way that had brought him to life. Since the death of his wife he had morphed into a mere glimpse of what he had once been, gaining weight and becoming self absorbed and even corrupt. He had been hidden underneath pounds of self hate. But she had brought something out of him that had long been forgotten. She had reborn him, carrying his pain in her womb and letting him to evolve back into a civil human being. His house, that protection which he had built up around himself, felt it. All the ghosts that haunted him followed him around and let themselves known to him. But he could handle them now. His life was incredibly better. He could finally accept the horrors that had happened to him. Coming home, and seeing his wife’s body on the floor. With bloody handprints on the walls. John felt a longing for his nurturer, for the only woman that could fulfill his need for family and emotion. But what right did he have? She needed her own time. He couldn’t just take her away from her home duties. Though he wanted to, he knew it would be wrong. In the mirror, John would have seen himself small, lying on his huge empty bed that could have fit ten young children. But he wasn’t watching the mirror, his eyes were plastered to the drab white ceiling. The brand new ceiling fan was not spinning, it was frozen in meditation of movement. The air conditioning, on the other hand, was keeping the room a nice cool temperature. Outside was hot enough to kill. The island hadn’t seen a summer this hot yet, and never would again. Granny was restless that night, moaning in her sleep and rolling back and forth. The heat was stifling her. She had to move, she had to breathe, but she couldn’t, she was too ill. She wanted to beat it, after all she was a tough old woman! She could beat anybody she was so strong and vibrant, but something was choking her slowly, dragging her down, and it perplexed her. She felt it was the demons in her brain slowly eating her body functions. The heat was killing her. She wanted to stand, she wanted to get up on her young legs and run away. Slowly, she felt herself rise. Was she really walking? Was it her moving her legs? Yes, she was walking, but something was pushing her along. The heat caused her nightie to cling to her old breasts, causing her dark nipples to stand out against the light material. It was thin cotton but it was trapping heat on her body and causing her temperature to rise. She was out the front door now, but where was she going? She looked all around herself

46


and saw the sky was blue and pink, as though the sun was only just setting. Yet she knew it must be two o’clock in the morning. Was she really running? She was running through a green field, with a young negro touching her thighs, it was her dead husband, but he was young again. She looked at her gnarled hands, they were soft and sweet. The grass was cool under her toes and she stretched her hands up high to the sky, but when she looked up she saw darkness. The bottom was above her. Looking around, the sky resumed its pink blue shade. So pretty tonight. Her legs were slowing down now, she was approaching a crystal clear lake. She could see little white boys sailing wooden boats around it. She waved to them, and they smiled and waved back. She turned to back the lake, feeling its spray splashing the back of her neck, and sending shivers down her spine. They felt salty and crisp. There, in front of her, she could Cherry running towards her. “Come and join me, baby.” Granny whispered. She reached out one hand to her granddaughter, before the bottom dropped out and she floated backwards into the cool water. Cherie’s panic was turning to a fit. She couldn’t find her Granny Momma anywhere. Where could an old woman with a back injury tek up and go to? She went by Polompa and she went by Soudina and nothing. First she cursed her for wandering off, then she cursed herself for not being more vigilant. Now she was on the verge of cursing God for losing her Granny. There was a knock on the door, and Cherie nearly leapt out of her skins. She ran to open it, and there stood Sodeye. In his arms, was a wet and dripping body, of her grandmother. Cherie’s shrieks and screams were heard by all the neighbours as she wailed her heart away. Her frantic hands touched and caressed Granny’s limp body. The cold was surreal. She buried her face in her bosom and sobbed big thick tears. Cherie cursed the Lord, cursed her mother, cursed her grandmother, cursed herself. She wailed for an hour, grabbing the body as though she was trying to wake her up. Sodeye stood over her, watching, but not interfering. He had already done enough. Finally he sat next to her and curled his arm around her waist. “It ain’ nobody fault, Cherie. Don’t cry.” He pulled her into him and kissed the top of her head. She cried in his chest, tears so sad they seemed suicidal, killing themselves by leaping out of her eyes. “She had love you, you know.” He told her. “I did dey, Cherie. I see he do it too.” “What?” Cherie wiped her eyes and looked up at his. “I see he drown she. It did dat man.” “John?” “Yeah man. De white man dat you did wuk fuh.” Cherie shook her head, but remained quiet with her thoughts and speculations. She was vulnerable, and didn’t know what to think. “Hush baby.” Sodeye placed his hand on her head and rocked her back and forth, gently lulling her to sleep.

47


Liat flight from Haiti landed smoothly, the pilot expertly guiding his aircraft down the runway. Pierre exited the aeroplane and stretched his long legs. It felt so good to be back on the island again, this time walking through Grantley Adams airport with a big devilish grin on his face. The last time he had arrived, it felt like so long ago too, he was on a little boat, drawing his legs up into his chest and trying not to breathe. “You got anyting bout hey?” The coast guard kicked a few cargo crates, but they revealed nothing. Pierre could hear the guards shoes creaking on deck. Their shoes were sleek and polished, and Pierre was so hungry he would have eaten them given the chance. His own feet were bare and hard as rock. “Nah, man.” The captain smoked a cigarette coolly. “You waan sometin fi show you boss?” Pierre couldn’t see, but he knew the transaction that was taking place. Was it drugs or cash this time? There was no rustling of bills so he assumed it was cocaine. “I feel dis good enuff.” The guard continued to stroll along the deck. “What it is you hiding so carefully?” “I cyan tell you dat. You know dat.” The captain shrugged. The guard, seemingly satisfied with his bribe, exited the vessel. Pierre stayed in his spot and fell asleep. He could hear the ocean rocking the boat gently, like a cradle upon a bough. That was long ago, and in a different time. Now, Pierre proudly flashed a passport and a handsome smile as he gathered up his belongings and walked through the airport like a man with nothing to hide. The only difference was, there was still so much he was hiding. Pierre knew the route well. He knew where to find Cherie, and really that was all that was on his mind. Being on the island should have brought a million heart wrenching memories back, but it didn’t. He had only one thing he wanted to do, and it acted as his propeller. “Sodeye, how did you get here?” Cherie whispered, lying her head on his solid chest. “What you mean, girl?” He kissed her forehead. “Exactly what I said. How did you get here? How did you find my granny? Why did you come back?” Her tears had dried, and the initial shock had passed. Now some sense was settling in and she was beginning to try to put some pieces together. “So what, I was to leave her body floating in de lake? What kind of man you feel I is?” He laughed one of his reassuring laughs. “How did you find her?” Cherie’s lips were quivering like the bow of a hesitant cupid. She could barely hear a whisper of her nickname, Cherry, Cherry…. “I was out by de lake, chile. You know I is hang bout dey and watch de reflection of de stars. I was tinkin big thoughts girl, when I see you granny coming out like a spectre, a duppy in de night. She was walking like she did still sleeping. Sort of, peaceful and ting. She had look real sad, and determined. She was just walking.” “And then what? She went in the lake?” Cherie was not quite sure what to make of this story. In fact, she was not sure what to make of anything at all. “She jes kept walking, girlchile. She walk right in and keep goin. I aino it was she ‘til I see de body floating.” “Why didn’t you stop her?” Cherie should have been hysterical, but she was strangely calm.

48


“I tell you I aino it was she! I thought it was just some woman gine in fuh a swim in the night or some shite. I jes see she disappear beneath the water. I was minding my own business I wasn’t really watching she. Then I just look back and see she floating so. So I call out to she, ‘mistress ya allright?’ and she ain’t respond. So I call out again, and nuttin. So den I trew a rock in by the body and it splash and she ain’t move a muscle. It was den I decide to go in and drag she out.” Sodeye paused. “Tell you de truth…I was frighten enough to get in dat lake. Bad tings is happen out dey. Bad tings.” He kissed Cherie on the top of her head. “I know. Believe me, I know.” Cherie closed her eyes so the tears couldn’t jump away. She was really starting to doubt everything in life. Too many tragedies. How much is one woman supposed to bear? Jah lowered his hands upon her heart and steadied its beat until she fell asleep. John was beside himself. He didn’t know what to do, how he could help his friend. He had so much power over so many people, and yet was completely confused in a situation of sympathy. He went to the florist and purchased a bouquet of roses. Placing them carefully in to his BMW he drove to Cherie’s house. He had her address scribbled down onto a piece of paper, and followed it hastily. He got there hardly even knowing where he was. Parking the car was a huge difficulty, roads were thin and unpaved. He felt so out of place, so foreign in her neighbourhood. Everyone stared at him as he walked by, holding the roses like a clown at a funeral. Black eyes gaped at his pants, shoes, shirt, pale skin and devoured him hungrily. He longed to disappear, or at least fit in, but he was outside of his safety zone. In essence, he was uncomfortable in the ghetto. A well dressed white man like him had no right coming in there. The same way a black boy gets shot for climbing a mango tree to steal some breakfast, eyes were throwing spears into his back for trespassing in a place that was not his. The white man can take bodies, break souls and hurt hearts, but he can never claim the suffering, the poverty as his own. It will never be something he truly knows. In this way John walked through the street, trying to find Cherie’s lot as quickly and quietly as he could. Polompa made sure to take a mental picture of him to exaggerate later. She swore on her life he was going to ask Cherie to marry him, and planned on making as big a deal out of it as possible. She counted the roses, twelve of them. She was envious. John knocked on the front door. He was nervous. “John.” Cherie opened it slowly, letting in as little light as possible. Her eyes were focused on his shiny shoes, inches away from her bare feet. “Cherie, I am so sorry about your granny.” John thrust the roses at her, but his sweaty palms clung to the bouquet tightly. He was afraid that if he let go, his lifeline would vanish and he would be caught in a sea too deep for him to swim. “Thanks, hear.” She placed one tentative finger on a rose petal. She sensed his nervousness. “This is nothing like your house.” It was an invitation inside, and John accepted. Inside, there was no lavish living room and kitchen stocked full with every pleasurable accommodation possible. The tiles were yellowing and the décor was tacky.

49


But it smelled like Cherie, it had a comfort to it that John could not describe. It smelt like a home, and he could see ghosts of people coming and going, laughing and smiling in the house. “I like your…” he struggled for a word. None came, so he smiled at her instead. “Cherie, how are you getting along?” “I am fine John. Granny Momma was getting old, so her dying was something I was…not expecting, but getting used to, you know?” “Cherie, I don’t think I can understand your grief, but I have felt my own. The best thing for you to do is not to hide from it. You have to just…come to terms with it, in some way or another.” “I am John.” “You’re far better off than I was when my wife died, then.” “What happened to her?” “She was murdered. Someone broke in and tried to steal some jewellery, or whatever else he was looking for around the house. I don’t think he really realized that we just didn’t have anything valuable. Things got ugly, and he killed her. He killed Sally.” “Did you find who it was?” “Yes. A skinny little bloke. A skinny, little white rebel. Killed my wife while she was pregnant.” The words came out after a long time waiting by his lips. John didn’t feel relief at saying them, more like he was still constipated. “I wanted to kill him. I was so angry. I made threats too. He was a juvenile, so he didn’t get off as badly as he would have had he been an adult. Pled all sorts of silly things, like temporary insanity and self defence and what not. I don’t know, I was sort of an absent man then. So I just tossed everything I owned, and moved here. Decided to become a working man, and would you believe it, I have done so well. Better than I ever have in my life. I was never really anything before I came here. It was like, her death gave me some sort of new chance at life. In a very sick way.” “I understand what you’re saying, John.” Cherie glanced at the roses still in her hands. She placed them in a vase. “But I still wasn’t fulfilled.” Cherie turned to hear what he was going to say. She looked into his eyes, they seemed so young and eager now, as though he was releasing a whole age from off of his shoulders. “I was so empty inside. The corruption made me…it disgusted me. Now…I’m happier. Look at what great shape I am in compared to when we first met. You did that for me, Cherie. No one else. I need you, as a companion. I am here for you, if you need anything at all, do you understand me?” John grasped her hands in his and stared her deep in her soft brown eyes. He wanted to make his point very clear. “I know this is probably quite strange for you, but I won’t lie. I’m a very lonely man. Don’t take that in any other way. But I need companionship.” “I understand that you do. But I hope you don’t expect anything past this friendship. John, there is a place for people like you in this world, and there is a place for people like me-” “Don’t be so fatalistic!” “And people like me, cannot have any relations with people like you. This is a friendship, an employment. You are my boss, and I am your -” Cherie nearly swallowed the words in her throat. She tasted bile. “your maid.”

50


“Cherie!” John wasn’t sure if he wanted to slap her across her face. “I’m not asking you to be anything more than my friend. But you cannot really stand there and say this to me. I know you better than that.” He lifted her chin with his thumb. “You’re not fooling anyone.” She shook her head. She just wanted peace inside her heart, to accept all the misdeeds of life and carry on. “Are you coming back to work for me?” “I aino.” She shrugged. John could sense that he was losing her. “Look, I understand you are grieving and you will need some time to deal with this pain. I just want you to know that when you are ready, my front door is wide open. Take care, Cherie. I’ll contact you soon, alright?” He searched her face for some kind of encouragement, some kind of enthusiasm that would prove she hadn’t given up, but her smile was empty and blank.

51


Cherry