Jacob Ross
19 March 2003

childphotograph by Jacob Ross

It so happened that the prison I was working in was about fifty yards or so above the women own and believe me, is know them woman did know that. They used to dance for the fellas sometimes. Never looking up of course because looking up while they dancing was like extra cruelty and provocation. Was like offering them fellas something they couldn’t really have. Yunno that calypso: A twist o she waist an a wink from she face was what start de riot? Well I swear the fella who make that one up must have been inside once.

Dancing in the yard was against regulations anyway, but you know how blackooman stop. You can’t stop them. When you think you stop them, is start them getting ready to start. Sometimes one of them lift she hand and make a kind of S with she body, cos she know them fellas was up there looking down from every crack they could find in the wall. One little movement and just like that, she subvert the whole establishment. Just like that, she mash up man sleep. Just like that she full up them fellas night time with a whole heap of discontentment.

And that was nothing compare to when the long-hair one – the troublemaker name Sinty – expose a thigh or let go one of them fancy-laugh, deliberate, or pull all of them together in one movement and pretend is for sheself that she behaving rude so. Jeezas! When night come, us warders had to caulk we ears with fist because them fellas making so much noise.

But wasn’t that what nearly cause the riot.

The Chief down there was a woman name Miss Sharbellows who was always experimenting with ideas she pick up from Yourope. We Chief used to tell we that the woman was chupid because Youropean criminal commit much worser crime than we but them does do it with refinement. We criminal was more harden, that was all; and is because we have such poor-quality criminal that Sharbellows experiment was bound to fail.

Anyway, it happen one morning after a really bad night because Skinnit, the quiet babyface one with the glasses – who I been reliably informed, was writing a book in secret – the young fella take a bed sheet to he neck and we had to lift him down.

Them kind of incident always leave a little bit of bad mood afterwards so we was extra careful to keep a eye on everybody over breakfast. Them fellas was eating, slow and contemplative, when sudden so, the grumbling and plate-knocking stop, an all of dem lookup as if them hear the Holy Ghost. I hear it too, like a flock of seagull in the distance. I hear it and I shift and lift my gun and watch the others who was keeping duty with me. I watch them do the same because I have to say that is a very funny feeling you does get when every thief, wife-beater and murderer in the land fix he eye on you. Is not a nice feeling you does get at all, at all, at all.

One thing for sure though! We know the drill: Step One, you lift your rifle, grab the bolt and snap it back. It have many a time that I stop a fight or a half-crazy fella with that sound alone. But it didn’t work this time, so I realise was serious trouble coming.

‘Chirren!’ somebody shout. ‘Is chilren!’

They was through the door and heading for the yard before we could even think of Step Two. In fact when my gun shoot off in the air, it was me myself it frighten because was the first time I ever reach as far as Step Two. Them fellas didn’t hear it! Serious! They didn’t hear it at all. Or maybe they hear it and they didn’t care. Or maybe they care but they didn’t want to hear it. I don’t know. What I know was that by the time we gather forces and head out for the yard together, frighten as hell but well prepare for Step Three, they was climbing up the fence. They was elbowing one another. They was jostling and climbing one on top the other. They was making nuff noise.

birds going homephotograph by Jacob Ross

So I point the rifle in the air like regulation require and order them to freeze. They hear us this time. I sure they hear us because all of them turn round and look at we like if we stupid, like we was mad, like we gone bazodi or something, like we eat boli guts. Like we was ordering a river to go back up the hill it just come down. There was this big fella, government man he used to be before all that bloodshed happen, who, since they bring back the gallows in Trinidad was more fraid to dead than anybody else. Even he, he look at Chief an show him all he teeth, ‘Comrade,’ he say, ‘You hear what we hearing down there? You hear that?’

By that time the one who they call Machiavelli manage to get as far up as the spikes and barbwire on top the wall. He was up there ignoring them cut on he hand, ignoring the Chief who was threatening to shoot him down. ‘I see dem, I see dem. I see dem.’ Was all he shouting. ‘Is dem I see – I see dem.’ And it take a little time before we realise that it was not laugh that he was laughing. After a while he come down quiet and went straight back to the Mess.

It get so quiet I could hear meself sweating as we watch them fellas make way for each other. Help each other go up and come down, go up and come down, one by one, till everybody get a good look over that wall. In fact I tell meself that it was a good thing that we was so dam frighten we forget to shoot.

I was the last to look. I didn’t have to, I not even sure I did want to, but I got proper training in Barbados. Is in Barbados I learn that in the eventuality of riot or disturbance, or distress I must first locate the source and neutralise it.

Well, I didn’t see no source down there. All I see was them women with their little children, inspecting them, passing their finger through their hair, smelling them, skinning back their eyelid, wiping their face with the tail of their frock, wrapping themselves around them; letting them go and grabbing them back fast-fast, yunno. The kind of foolishness that only ooman does want to do.

Taken from A Way to Catch the Dust.

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