Jacob Ross https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/1077/all cached version 09/02/2019 09:23:17 en Jacob Ross https://www.opendemocracy.net/author-profile/jacob-ross <div class="field field-au-term"> <div class="field-label">Author:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Jacob Ross </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-au-firstname"> <div class="field-label">First name(s):&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Jacob </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-au-surname"> <div class="field-label">Surname:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Ross </div> </div> </div> <p>Jacob Ross was born in Grenada, and has lived in Britain since 1984. He is a poet, playwright, journalist, novelist and creative writing tutor.</p><div class="field field-au-shortbio"> <div class="field-label">One-Line Biography:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Jacob Ross was born in Grenada, and has lived in Britain since 1984. He is a poet, playwright, journalist, novelist and creative writing tutor. </div> </div> </div> Anonymous author Jacob Ross Fri, 26 Mar 2010 13:12:46 +0000 Anonymous author and Jacob Ross 51215 at https://www.opendemocracy.net A Different Ocean (concluded) https://www.opendemocracy.net/arts-Literature/article_1550.jsp <div><div class="pull_quote_article">To read the first part of this story click <a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=1540">here</a>.</div><p> It was their eleventh evening in The Silent and even Anna May seemed to have grown if not more tolerant then at least less concerned about her visits to the boat. Something else seemed to be bothering her. No one, the woman said, had ever known a yacht to remain so long in the Silent. Why de hell dey didn go back where dey come from? Missa Jonko had long since ceased to comment on her diving. In fact it had been some days since she&#146;d heard him mention competing for Missa Olympics. </p><p> That evening, she&#146;d slipped into the water, and after taking several turns at hooking up the rope to the ring on the box he&#146;d lowered on the floor of the lagoon, he raised his arm, shouted something and sent what looked like a great silver plate skidding across the water. It was no more than a disappearing dazzle by the time she responded. She moved quickly but she found she could not keep up with the object&#146;s ghostlike plunge. She followed it though, even when she noticed a difference in the way the water felt, even when the cold began to curl itself around her and, like a giant living muscle, the ocean began to shrug her back. It was an odd sensation and she wasn&#146;t prepared for it. Nor was she prepared for the fright that flooded her senses. </p><p> She curved and headed upwards surfacing explosively, choked and mystified because for some reason the lagoon had lost its bottom. The strangeness did not stop there, for when she&#146;d popped her head above the water she could have sworn she heard the woman&#146;s shout but when she blinked the water from her eyes, Sookramer was sitting at the front of the boat as relaxed as ever. </p><p> &#145;I didn, I couldn,&#146; she spluttered. </p><p> &#145;Fergeddit&#146;, Jonko laughed. &#145;Just an ashtray, that&#146;s all.&#146; </p><p> &#145;It didn have no bottom down dere&#133; it.&#146; </p><p> &#145;Aww, c&#146;maan, kiddy. I admit it. I been pushing you. Everybody gits tired. Tell you what, Susie&#146;s gonna make you some of that custard stuff you like and we&#146;ll fergeddit for the day. Okay Susie? Give her whatever she wants, she&#146;s earned it.&#146; </p><p> It was too early to go home, or anywhere else for that matter. She was glad to see Jacko, struggling under the weight of a basketful of coralfish on the beach. She addressed him without pleasantry or protocol. &#145;How come de Silent have bottom one minute, an next minute it don&#146;t have none Missa Jacko?&#146; </p><p> The man turned his head as much as the basket would allow him. Perhaps he had not forgiven her for keeping all his fish that last time, or perhaps the weight of the basket had put him in a bad mood but his mouth twisted itself around an obscenity before he rumbled, &#145;Whey&#146;s you manners! Whey you come from! What you talkin to me for! Go home y&#146;hear me? Go home an keep yuh broad-mout&#146; little backside quiet. It have more tings in dat water dan nobody round here don know nothing bout. GO!&#146; </p><p> She waited the anger out. Tell me,&#146; she muttered, her voice quiet and entreating. </p><p> &#145;Leave me, girl. Is you flippin funeral you askin for!&#146; </p><p> Because he hadn&#146;t answered her, she decided to swim back to Jonko&#146;s boat. She hadn&#146;t worked out exactly how she would ask him; she would perhaps put it the way she had put it to Jacko, not forgetting her manners this time. The ladder was still down and she clambered onto the craft, uncomfortably aware that she had never boarded without their invitation. Sookramer&#146;s shouting froze her. They must have heard her because there was a tumbling down below and then a sudden silence. Jonko emerged, grinning. The seagull&#146;s eyes were narrowed down and there was a frown above the smile. &#145;Forgot something?&#146; </p><p> She shook her head, licked her lips to begin the question but he cut in pleasantly. &#145;Actually, I&#146;m glad you came back. Got something for you.&#146; His head popped down and up again. &#145;This &#150; this is for you.&#146; </p><p> She stared at the man dumbfounded. It was a pair of yellow flippers. New. And by the look of it, her size. </p><p> &#145;Nice, huh? It&#146;s yours, but you&#146;ll have to leave it here. Of course you&#146;ll keep it when we leave.&#146; </p><p> &#145;Leave?&#146; She stared at his face, the boat, then at the water. </p><p> &#145;Didn&#146;t Susan tell you? Let&#146;s talk about it tomorrow. Okay?&#146; She nodded. He pointed at the flippers. &#145;Leave them there. Tomorrow I&#146;ll show you how to use them. See yah.&#146; </p><p> She clambered down the ladder noisily so that they could hear her leave. </p><p> Neither Jacko nor Jonko had answered her question; Jacko out of rage, Jonko out of an avoidance she could not understand. </p><p> She had no doubt that Sookramer would have told her what had suddenly become so important for her to know. Sookramer, whose scream she carried in her head now, whose blue-sad stare reminded her of that of the women of The Silent only theirs were darker and seemed to be fixed on things much, much further away. Sookramer, whose voice she knew she&#146;d heard and which had died the instant it had taken her to clear the film of water from her eyes. Sookramer, on whose arms and back and legs the long, red marks she&#146;d said the sun had burned there made a different kind of sense now. </p><p> She swam fast in the sleek and noiseless sideways manner that the man had taught her. She headed for The Mouth. There, with an almost experimental distraction, she allowed its pull to take hold of her, forcing herself to drift with it until she felt the silent, sucking cold. Then, with a violent flash of limbs, a sudden twist of rage that both surprised and pleased her, she pulled herself loose from its grip and headed for the beach. </p><p> She stared almost with a stranger&#146;s eyes at the little yacht, framed against the dark embrace of mangrove. Everything was quiet out there, even the gulls seemed to have vacated the sky and the whole world had turned a seashell pink. Silvery ribbons of clouds hung over the place where the sky curved down and melted with the water. For no reason she could identify, she suddenly felt like crying. Was snapped out of it when she heard the engine of Jonko&#146;s dinghy. </p><p> She watched it cut a frothing path along the edges of the lagoon. Soon it was heading out of the bay towards the grey smudge that was Krill Island and in no time at all it was a small dot on the darkening heave beyond. </p><p> She heard her name then, pronounced with the by-now-familiar drawl, which she used to find so pleasing. Sookramer, dripping and barefooted, was making her way over the stones which served as a jetty for boats and a place where the children caught whelks and harassed conga eels. She walked with the daintiness of one of those speckled long-legged birds that visited the lagoon during the Easter months. The girl did not look up. The woman lowered herself beside her. There was an aura to her, or rather an odour &#150; a mild freshness &#150; which Sienna could never decide whether she liked or disliked. </p><p> &#145;I couldn&#146;t come up to see you, Millie. Not in the state I was in. Sorry. Hedgehog&#146;s gone over to one of your little islands. Left something out there.&#146; She stretched out her feet and examined them. They were the colour of one of Tan Lin&#146;s loaves. The toes were long and pink like earthworms. </p><p> &#145;What&#146;s it like up there?&#146; </p><p> &#145;Uh?&#146; </p><p> &#145;Up there where you live.&#146; </p><p> &#145;Dunno, we live up dere. Dat&#146;s all.&#146; </p><p> The woman laughed. &#145;You make it sound like a stroll on the beach.&#146; Still smiling she wriggled her toes, pulled her feet in and began picking at the nails. They were painted a silvery blue. She turned her eyes on Sienna, her forehead pleated in a tiny frown. &#145;I watch your shapes sometimes, moving against those fires in what I suppose is your front garden?&#146; </p><p> Sienna, pretending to be fascinated by what the woman&#146;s hands were doing, did not respond. </p><p> Sookramer flung her hair back and released a long, hissing jet of air. &#145;Well, there is something terribly warm and close and unconnected about it. A bit like a dream I suppose, only you &#150; you make it real. Those fires, is that what you cook on?&#146; </p><p> &#145;No,&#146; she muttered. &#145;We just like fire.&#146; </p><p> &#145;How do you live? No I don&#146;t mean that; well not like that. What makes your people laugh? How do they love?&#146; She paused over that, seemed very worried about something, and then she added smiling, &#145;I&#146;ve heard it said that different people love differently, although John is one of those who don&#146;t believe that people can love at all.&#146; She began laughing, the way cats mew, a soft high pitched sound. And then the blue eyes got darker, the lips tighter and somehow thinner. &#145;What frightens you, Sienna? I mean.&#146; She brought her hands up to her face and stared thoughtfully at Cincinnati Dreams, now pink like the inside of a conch shell. &#145;I don&#146;t want to waste this chance.&#146; </p><p> &#145;You didn tell me dat y&#146;all &#150; y&#146;all leaving.&#146; Sienna spoke as if it had never occurred to her before. And it hadn&#146;t. Not really. Not until Jonko had said it. These people were like something she had wished for and had woken up one morning to find standing on the beach. Like a present. Presents did not go away. Presents were things you kept. </p><p> Sookramer pushed her hair back from her face and swung her head to face her. The hair flowed promptly back in place. Her eyes had gone a depthless amethyst. And she wasn&#146;t smiling now. &#145;We have to go. There&#146;s something he left back in St. Vincent. Thought he wouldn&#146;t need it. But he has to come back. He must.&#146; </p><p> &#145;You coming back with him?&#146; </p><p> It seemed an eternity before she answered. &#145;Only if I, er, if I have to. If I have to protect you from him. He&#146;ll come back and he&#146;ll call you. He&#146;ll offer you more things and you&#146;ll come and do what he asks because, at the moment, that&#146;s what you want to do more than anything. He knows that. What he doesn&#146;t know is why. I&#146;m not sure I know why either, but,&#146; she rested speculative eyes on the girl, &#145;I suspect that it hasn&#146;t got a lot to do with us. Not all of it. That makes sense?&#146; </p><p> &#145;Lil bit,&#146; she mumbled, herself sobered by Sue&#146;s sobriety. She thought she&#146;d seen her thoughtful before, but not like this, not with this querying uncertainty. </p><p> Sienna fixed the stone at the base of her throat. &#145;He does beat you up.&#146; </p><p> The woman sucked in her lower lip and stared across the water. Sienna could hear her breathing, soft like the way she spoke, like the way she walked and touched and laughed. Like the way she seemed to be with everything. Like she had imagined Lucille, alive and whole. </p><p> &#145;Don&#146;t you have a single idea of what this might be all about?&#146; The voice tightened and the woman swung round to face her. For some reason Sienna felt mildly chastised. She shifted her gaze to the red crabs that had surfaced on the sand, their yellow eyes like small revolving flames above their heads. </p><p> Sookramer was about to tell her bad things. Things she didn&#146;t want to hear. Everybody was like that. People started off by saying nice things and then as soon as a person began believing them they turned around and spoilt it. </p><p> Like that time Tan Lin had called her by those awful words, <i>Petit jamette laid</i>! She did not understand them, but coming from her aunt&#146;s mouth with that quiet sizzling violence, those words sounded like a curse. They seemed to carry the weight and sting of one. They were in fact, a couple of extra barbs on that nasty hook that people were so quick to string her on: the ugliness they reminded her of so often. The ugliness she had once offered Cedric all her food to deny, just once, for a moment, over dinner. And even then he could not bring himself to do it. &#145;Well, you not ugly,&#146; he&#146;d told her reaching for the plate. &#145;You more like a fella, dat&#146;s all.&#146; </p><p> &#145;I give you my food to tell me what I is, not what I is not!&#146; And she&#146;d snatched the plate of food back, which made him smile and lower his eyes. </p><p> Maybe all Sookramer and Jonko had told her about how good she was at diving, how nice they thought her teeth were, how quickly she&#146;d learnt the things they&#146;d shown her, maybe all of that hadn&#146;t been true. </p><p> &#145;He does beat you up,&#146; she repeated, her voice slightly more insistent. </p><p> &#145;We fight &#150; yes, more and more now &#150; over you.&#146; </p><p> Sienna&#146;s eyes widened on the woman&#146;s face. </p><p> &#145;Look. You must not come back. You must stay away, d&#146;you hear me?&#146; </p><p> &#145;Why?&#146; </p><p> &#145;Because it&#146;s wrong. Because we&#146;re strangers. Because you don&#146;t know us. Because it&#146;s, it&#146;s not a place for you.&#146; </p><p> &#145;Why?&#146; Suddenly the hot-eyed clenching, the sudden fizz of irritation, which had never been necessary with these strangers, began to rise and clog her throat. </p><p> Sookramer&#146;s face and neck had reddened and Sienna had the odd sensation that the woman was about to cry. </p><p> &#145;Because I &#150; I do not want you to.&#146; </p><p> &#145;Missa Jonko want me to!&#146; She was halfway to her feet when the woman&#146;s hand closed on her wrist with shocking strength. &#145;Sit down! And listen to me! I&#146;m trying to tell you something. I&#146;m trying to save your god damn life! This!&#146; Her fingers traced a large, furious circle on the sand. This is your lagoon. How d&#146;you call it? Never mind. This &#150; can you guess what this is?&#146; </p><p> Sienna squinted at the shape. &#145;The boat&#133;&#146; </p><p> &#145;Right.&#146; Sookramer looked up briefly at the sea. &#145;Here &#150; this is where he&#146;s had you diving.&#146; She made a small circle near the boat. &#145;Have you noticed that its getting deeper all the time, that now you&#146;re almost doubling the depth you began with?&#146; </p><p> The girl nodded. </p><p> That&#146;s because he&#146;s shifting that boat every time.&#146; </p><p> &#145;I know.&#146; </p><p> &#145;You know!&#146; The woman looked at her with wide, bright eyes. Then I shouldn&#146;t have to tell you that this is not about teaching you a better way to do anything. Right? I don&#146;t need to tell you that he&#146;s taking you closer to where he really wants you to go. Do you know where that is? Do you know what it&#146;s like down there?&#146; </p><p> &#145;Course &#150; I been&#133;&#146; </p><p> &#145;No you don&#146;t!&#146; Sookramer&#146;s ferocity stunned her. With an urgent sweep of the hand, she cleared the drawing off the sand and began to draw again. She stopped abruptly and with a toss of her hair she looked up about her. The stone sparkled in the light like blue fire. </p><p> &#145;Look up there. That tree, the one with all the flowers, d&#146;you see that tree?&#146; </p><p> She could have told the woman it was her tree. It stood a little way back from the edge of the cliff that dropped sharply down to the lagoon. She could even tell the woman the way the roots curled out of the soil like a tangle of brown eels and the secret hollow she had dug there for her things. Sookramer did not wait for a response. </p><p> &#145;Now imagine the top of that tree is the surface of the water and the foot of it is the bottom. That&#146;s where you dive to normally. Now imagine you&#146;re swimming forward from the bottom of that tree. What happens?&#146; </p><p> The girl looked up and then across to where Sookramer indicated and then she held the woman&#146;s gaze in terrified, tight-lipped wonderment. &#145;Dat &#150; dat&#146;s why! It got another&#133;&#146; </p><p> Sookramer nodded grimly. &#145;Yes &#150; another bottom a little way further out. That bottom where you dive to is just the top of, well, a sort of precipice.&#146; &#145;Deep &#150; like a precipice?&#146; </p><p> The woman nodded grimly. &#145;Like a precipice, except it&#146;s underwater. Although it is, well, put it this way: there are a couple of ledges, shelves, stairs &#150; whatever you want to call them &#150; on the way down. You can&#146;t get to the last, er, bottom. It&#146;s too deep, thank God for that. What&#146;s lost down there will stay lost. The weight of the water will kill you, anyway. There are eight boxes down there &#150; on the first ledge &#150; with rings on them. The sonuvabitch who dropped them there just dropped them in the wrong place.&#146; </p><p> The girl held her breath. She remembered Mosan&#146;s words and the evening talk amongst the adults about the boats that passed and dropped crates of gin-an-whisky along the edges of Krill island for other boats that hauled them up at night. </p><p> In fact, Missa Jacko and his friends had gone one Low-Tide night and retrieved a dozen bottles for themselves. But never in their lagoon. &#145;Gin-an-whisky?&#146; She exhaled. </p><p> &#145;You&#146;re so god damn naive, you make me want to cry. In a few places less than a hundred miles from here some things are worth a lot of money. More money than you people here will ever earn from selling your bananas.&#146; </p><p> There&#146;s a little canvas bag down there weighted with lead. He didn&#146;t tell me it was there at first, and when he did last night he wouldn&#146;t tell me what&#146;s in it. Money, shit, ice &#150; I don&#146;t know, I don&#146;t care, but he wants it more than all the rest. Enough to think your life is worth it. It&#146;s on the second ledge. After you place that hook around those boxes, he&#146;ll send you down there last. I know why he&#146;s gone this evening &#150; the sonuvabitch. He&#146;s gone for grease &#150; do I need to tell you why?&#146; </p><p> The girl stared blankly at the blue stone. </p><p> &#145;For the cold. At least you know that much. And then there is the pressure. You won&#146;t feel it straight away. We&#146;ll both be gone by then. But the cold and the weight of the water will hurt you. That&#133;&#146;. She waved tiredly at the sea. &#145;That&#146;s nothing. Down there it&#146;s a very different ocean.&#146; </p><p> After a while she lost track of Sookramer&#146;s words, absorbed more by the sound of them, the way the woman wrapped her tongue around them, the emotions that they rode on &#150; at once soft with rage and harshened by a frightening indignation &#150; as if she were railing more against herself than Missa Jonko. </p><p> How, she wondered staring at the markings on the sand, how did they &#150; strangers to her world in every way &#150; how could they know so much more about her place than the very people who lived here? </p><p> The fact that they found it so easy to explain everything was as astonishing as the idea of a deeper drop, another bottom to their lagoon. Even the way Sookramer described what lay below the glittering heave they looked on every day held its own benumbing fascination: a different ocean. </p><p> It was as if in presenting it that way Sookramer was telling her something, not just about The Silent, but also about herself and her people. That there were other worlds around them, realities against which they rubbed each day without knowing they existed. And because they did not know, because they had not gone beyond the idle wondering, the short-lived pulse of a curiosity which they never gave themselves permission to pursue, because they did not know their place, it belonged less to them. </p><p> Awareness then was the beginning of a kind of ownership. A doorway to belonging. It came more as a feeling than an idea and when it did it felt whole and round and not at all uncomfortable. She blinked it back, swallowed hard on it lest the woman saw or sensed the change of mood in her. </p><p> And it was that mood that made her wonder with the same detachment with which she regarded the remains of some odd new creature or bit of flotsam on the sand; why would Jonko or any person for that matter want to do something like that to someone else? To call them nice names, smile with them, make them feel they were important; and then, by some means she did not fully comprehend, with that same smile, the same gestures of kindness, seek to make the sea destroy them? </p><p> She knew, as everyone else on The Silent did, that every time she turned her heels up at the sky there was no law that said that she would ever see the day again. That the ocean might simply decide to embrace her and not release her until it had drunk her breath and added her life to its own. But that awareness did not frighten her. It was not the same thing. Her people often said that no one could predict when the sea would take a life but what was certain though was that it would never waste it. With Jonko it was like showing her a room in her own house, which she had never known was there and then deciding to lock her up in it to die. </p><p> A question occurred to her, which she wanted to ask Sookramer, and she might have done so hadn&#146;t the woman still been speaking. &#145;One thing I&#146;ve learnt about you, you&#146;re smarter than you&#146;re letting on. You&#146;re.&#146; Sookramer&#146;s mouth stayed open. She reached under the nest of hair at the back of her neck and her fingers fumbled there. The silver chain cascaded like water into the palm of her hand and made an island of the blue stone. &#145;You like this, don&#146;t you? Take it. I &#150; I have to go.&#146; It slipped onto Sienna&#146;s knee, flowed down on the sand and settled at her instep. The girl picked it up, wide-eyed, speechless. She moved to hand it back. But her friend had scrambled to her feet. </p><p> &#145;Go home,&#146; she hissed. &#145;Go to your people and don&#146;t come near this place until we leave. Y&#146;hear me! And &#150; and for Gawd&#146;s sake don&#146;t tell him what I told you.&#146; </p><p> And then she was running, her eyes not on the sand but on the boat approaching in the distance. </p><p> Later, she told herself that she did not have the time to tell Sookramer that it was not Jonko&#146;s boat because the woman was off the moment her eyes had fallen on the speck that had emerged from behind Krill Island. More truthfully though, Sookramer&#146;s terror had fascinated her. Fear was something she simply had not thought was possible with them. </p><p> How, she wondered idly, her eyes fixed on Mosan&#146;s approaching craft, how did Sookramer expect her to say anything to Jonko when she was supposed to keep away from him? </p><p> Missa Mosan did not greet her. With his usual deliberation he was trying to get his hand under the tail of a hefty tuna. This was a man, they said, who never sold the things he caught; who, by some baffling agreement with the sea, returned always with enough to feed his crowd of children even when the ocean offered nothing at all to others. </p><p> &#145;Missa Mosan?&#146; </p><p> &#145;Yaas!&#146; </p><p> &#145;What is de deepest deep a pusson kin dive.&#146; </p><p> &#145;Deep? What deep?&#146; He did not look at her. He was still working his hand under the fish. </p><p> &#145;Deep Missa Mosan! Deep-deep-deep &#150; where a pusson kin hardly see de bottom from de top.&#146; </p><p> The man straightened up, began working his jaw, as if he were passing the idea around his mouth to get the exact taste of it. </p><p> &#145;What kind o pusson?&#146; </p><p> &#145;A pusson like you. A pusson like anybody,&#146; she replied, her eyes avoiding his. </p><p> &#145;How deep is deep?&#146; </p><p> &#145;Deep,&#146; she insisted. &#145;Like from de top o dat tree to halfway down de cliff.&#146; </p><p> &#145;Dat what dem askin you?&#146; He was looking at her closely. </p><p> She frowned a quick denial. &#145;Is not dem dat askin nothin Missa Mosan, is jus know I want to know.&#146; </p><p> He chewed some more. &#145;From dat tree up dere you say?&#146; </p><p> She nodded. </p><p> This time his mouth clamped down on his thoughts deciding perhaps that what he&#146;d tasted was not good at all. &#145;Not nice, not nice.&#146; He muttered. &#145;Not nice at all! A dive like dat kin kill a man. I hear you hit de bottom of de Dredge?&#146; </p><p> She nodded again. </p><p> &#145;Dat what dem askin you? Dat why dem makin you skin kufum across dat water dere?&#146; </p><p> &#145;Dem teachin me to dive. Dem..&#146;. </p><p> &#145;Don&#146;t lie for me. Next ting you goin tell me is dem tryin to make de water wet!&#146; He turned his back on her. </p><p> She watched him haul the small boat up the sand. There was something flat and angular about him that reminded her of those one-sided fish she often spotted on the sea floor. Even his head was like that, with hair like hers, scorched a rust-brown at the fringes by sun and salt. But it was his feet that fascinated her, narrow at the heels and flared like spatulas at the front. Feet that had the same compact toughness of his body and it was there she decided, thinking of the yellow flippers that Jonko had given her, it was in the size and shape of those amazing pair of feet that lay the secret of his diving. She looked down at her own feet and decided they were like his. Not as large, but that would come with time. </p><p> &#145;Nobody in de worl kin dive like we. Cos nobody make to dive like we.&#146; She said this finally, tentatively, without pride or gesture, like something that had just revealed itself to her. And he took it the way she meant it. The man swivelled his head around and a broad surprised smile pleated his face. &#145;When dey leavin? Cos dem have to leave here soon.&#146; </p><p> She realised that he too had been counting the days. He too had been having thoughts about Sookramer and Jonko. </p><p> &#145;Tonight, p&#146;raps tomorrow.&#146; She shrugged. &#145;It don&#146;t matter.&#146; </p><p> She could not decide whether it was a cough or curse that issued from Mosan&#146;s mouth. Nor was she sure about the look he gave her. He turned to squint speculatively at the tree above the lagoon. Again he turned his back on her. His words came faltering and subdued. &#145;If was me, if is have I have to go. I goin to tek it fast.&#146; </p><p> He seemed taken by his own idea. He chewed on it furiously for a while and then he straightened up and fixed the tree. &#145;Speed, speed is what is nerecerry for dis kind o dangerousness, cos is dangerousness I call dat. An before I go; before I decide to play rummy wid mih life for nothing, I&#146;ll tell meself, I&#146;ll say, &#145;Mosan don ferget to tek your time comin up. Strong as de water is, cold as it is down dere, hurt as mih chest goin be hurtin, bustin as mih lungs goin be bustin, I have to come up slow. Becos comin up fast kin leave ah whole heap o bubble in yuh blood an when it reach yuh heart.&#146; He brought his palms together with a sudden thunderclap that shook her to the core. </p><p> &#145;What time o day a pusson might be thinkin bout?&#146; He threw a worried glance not at her but at the sea. </p><p> &#145;Dunno &#150; no time, Missa Mosan. I was only askin. I was.&#146; </p><p> &#145;Mornin!&#146; He growled. &#145;Early as a pusson kin make it. Before de sun come up an hit de water. Ain&#146;t got no tide dat time. De water don&#146;t wake up yet. It have to be early mornin.&#146; He looked at the sea as if seeking approbation for those words, took up his crocus bag and swung the tuna off the sand. </p><p> He was half way up the hill before he checked his stride. &#145;Once, Miss Lady! Jus once.&#146; He shouted without turning. &#145;Yooman-been not make to do dat twice. Jus once &#150; o else.&#146; He did not say the rest but that clap of his hands still echoed in her head and without realising it, she nodded. </p><p> She never spoke about what happened afterwards and the little that The Silent learned came from the mouths of those who went out hours before the stirring of the gulls, when morning was still a faint suggestion against a sky the colour of mud-soaked canvas. Those who boasted eyes that could spot the markings on a gull&#146;s wing in the middle of a squall claimed they saw the flash of yellow flippers in the lagoon near the boat. It was something their minds rejected at the time since it fitted into nothing a straight-thinking person expected. </p><p> What was certain was the emergence of the girl, bone-soaked and shivering, from somewhere near the tree above the lagoon. The women claimed that it was the chattering of her teeth that had made them lift their heads from their breakfast fires in the yard. And it was the oddness of the sight of her, more shape than substance in that early morning, that had turned their eyes down towards the beach a hundred yards or so at the bottom of the dry, white hill of cactus and mint grass. There, they too spotted the yellow flippers arranged side by side on the sand like a pair of outlandish parrot fish. </p><p> She&#146;d gone into the house, stripped and pulled around herself every spare bit of dry clothing she could lay her hands on, including Cedric&#146;s underpants. And then she had laid herself down on the floor and sank into a kind of darkness which they all agreed, was nearer death than sleep. </p><p> They knew it as The Chill, an illness that was as hard-to-come-by as a queenshell. A person recognised it by the pallor of the skin and the coldness that seemed to surface from the bones and settle in a kind of sweat there. </p><p> The &#145;sleep&#146; lasted four days. Tan Lin&#146;s candlelight inspection of her body had not delivered any answers. If Sienna had been tampered with, she said, it was in a way that went beyond her understanding. </p><p> By then the whiteman&#146;s boat like all the other boats that had come before had left. </p><p> And when Sienna came out of it, with her eyes still turned in on the ocean from which she had just emerged &#150; reluctantly it seemed &#150; she smiled as if she had surfaced with some secret. And from then they could not keep her inside the house. She sought light and air greedily like a baby seeking milk. So that The Silent was moved to say that she was born again. That the thing that had brought her back that morning all wet and trembling had taken away a life from her and replaced it with a new one. </p><p> Cedric told her about the boat leaving, less intrigued by her friendship with the strangers than the odd sight of a woman at the prow, looking up at them, then across at the yellow flippers on the beach, her blue dress fluttering in the wind like that ill-fitting garment she&#146;d sewn for Lucille, her face as pale and expressionless as an early morning moon. That, he told her, was two days before a couple of big grey boats with bright disturbing lights arrived and began circling The Silent. </p><p> The flippers were no longer where she&#146;d left them after she&#146;d swum back to the beach, emptied the heavy little canvas bag and slipped into the sea again, this time to toss the empty sack on deck where she thought Sookramer ought to see it since mornings, she was always first to come up from below. </p><p> Sienna imagined the white trail that the boat would have made all the way out past Krill Island and Sookramer, sad and smiling at the prow, casting a last glass-blue stare at the houses and the beach. Surprisingly, the sense of abandonment she had anticipated was not there. </p><p> Indeed The Silent was empty as if they had never come. </p><p> </p></div> Culture arts & cultures The Americas literature shorelines Jacob Ross Original Copyright Wed, 22 Oct 2003 23:00:00 +0000 Jacob Ross 1550 at https://www.opendemocracy.net A Different Ocean https://www.opendemocracy.net/arts-Literature/article_1540.jsp <div class="full_image"><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/content/articles/1540/images/sunset01.jpg" alt="birds going home" width="555" border="0" /><br /></p></div><p> <i>&#145;Day yawns and cracks the egg of dawn&#146;</i> (Stridal) </p><p> By that time she had long become familiar with the play of light on the tiny whisky bottles frosted by the waves, the fantastical chunks of multi-coloured glass, reshaped by salt and time. She&#146;d scrubbed the coins and strips of green-caked copper until they became once more as bright as the fire that had shaped them. </p><p> What astonished her nephew, Cedric and her friends was the fact that the sea had delivered these things, which they themselves had never been able to locate. It was as if it required a particular way of seeing, a talent that was specific to the Sienna Millers of this world. </p><p> And indeed Sienna saw the bay below their homes in a very different way from them. It was the great wide open paw of some soft-voiced, growling dog that scampered off to other worlds at night to fetch these gifts for her. So, on mornings, when she sneaked down to the beach, she found them waiting there amongst the shells, the jellyfish and seaweeds. </p><p> The doll had been her greatest find. She had simply found it on the beach one morning, a pale, outlandish flower sprawled against the glittering blackness of the sand. It possessed half of everything: a single, sea-bleached leg that was cocked up at the sky in a most indecorous manner, one damaged eye that seemed to follow her movements whichever way she turned and a portion of an arm. It had half a headful of soft, corn-yellow hair, which made her recognise its possibilities straight away. </p><p> She&#146;d bathed it and dressed it. Had cared for it the way a person would care for an ailing friend, having forced on herself a secret and very pleasant conviction that it would fulfil the miracle that its very discovery on the sand had promised: to restore itself completely and become whole again. </p><p> Not only had she named the doll Lucille, they&#146;d quickly become sisters. And by virtue of that carefully worked out fact of kinship, she too had acquired sun-coloured hair that floated around her face, not unlike Lucille&#146;s, hair which she squinted through, combed and parted with her fingers and shook constantly in pleasantly annoying, imaginary winds. She and Lucille, they now lived in a blue room with pretty yellow curtains and windows that faced a flush of trees, laden with apples and pears and peaches, all growing on the same branch. The tar had also seeped away from beneath her skin, leaving her as pink as the cheek of the one-eyed doll. And to cap the whole thing off she had changed her name to Jane. </p><p> Tan Lin threw Lucille into the fire the evening Sienna, in a fit of excitement, forgot her in the yard and hastened down to the beach to watch the men haul in a giant octopus from the place they called The Mouth. </p><p> She bawled and railed like an orphan while Cedric, his face a mix of sympathy and pleasure, poked the black, sizzling lump of foul-smelling plastic from the fire and placed it at her feet. </p><p> &#145;Chiiiile! Shut dat big black mout o yours before I close it for you for good,&#146; Tan Lin shouted. And Sienna didn&#146;t wait for the words that were sure to follow. Words that were worse than all the cursings she could think of. Words whose meaning she did not know exactly but which nevertheless, would ride the air and sting her like a splattering of hot oil. She was halfway down the hill and heading for the beach when those words she hated so much came, &#145;<i>Petit jamette laid</i>!&#146; </p><p> They propelled her forward as surely as if somebody had planted an oversized boot on her behind. And it was only when her feet hit the soft and somehow allaying coolness of the sand and she saw the small crowd at the northern end of the bay that she stopped the bawling, her rancour not so much replaced as distracted by the sight of the small crowd, for they were standing on the part of the beach they habitually warned strangers against. </p><p> The sign that used to read DANGER, SUDDEN DROP, in big red letters was still there although the writing had long been chewed into by rust. And the sea as if in complicity with the faded sign, did its best to hide the crater the government had dug there on a promise to build a yacht marina in The Silent. But at the end of that election year, the machines they&#146;d sent to excavate the shallows had climbed back onto the trucks and never did return. What they left there was a patch of darker blue which only reminded them of itself in odd ways: a sudden flush of cold along the stomach of the person who dared to swim across it, or the way a boat or bit of wood would slowly drift towards it, in response to some secret pull, some quiet, dreadful persuasion which, they reminded themselves time and time again, had already swallowed the lives of two unsuspecting brothers. And it was this unearthly readiness to suck in everything that possessed a will weaker than its own that made them call that place The Mouth. </p><p> Sienna decided that they might have spotted another octopus down there, for it was a place these ocean creatures liked. Several strides away, she realised that it was Missa Jacko who was in the middle of the group talking, his oar-thin arms like propeller blades flailing the morning air above the heads of men and women. Soon, his words like a flap of agitated gulls reached her. </p><p> &#145;Some thief-an-criminal gone off and take mih fishpot and all the fish that was in it. I goin to murder the dog. I goin to search every house-an-garden. I goin to inspect every latrine in the area. I goin to scrutinise every fishpot in the sea and no matter how much paint dem paint to change it, is goin I goin to find mih property. Is only a stinkin thief could thief de fishpot dat I buy de other day. It was full of fish, I sure o dat, else why de hell dey thief it? Eh? I want back all mih fish in mih fishpot. Who de hell dey tink dem is, eh? Who dem tink I is!&#146; </p><p> If the others were alarmed, it was not so much at the fact that somebody had stolen Jacko&#146;s fishpot but that his awful complaining voice would rub against their ears like an unrelenting corn husk for at least another month &#150; including nights &#150; since Jacko was the kind of man who did not need an audience to run a conversation. Even those who had no memory could not forget the time when Martin bought him a pound of hooks in town and forgot to give him back his penny change. </p><p> Sienna&#146;s arrival turned the man&#146;s rum-reddened eyes on her. His hands froze on something in mid air, her presence presenting him with a possibility he hadn&#146;t thought about before. </p><p> &#145;You! You know any ting about my fishpot?&#146; </p><p> The astonishment stopped her midstride. Catching her breath and swallowing a sudden sting of tears she bawled, &#145;Me? Me! Me tief yuh fishpot? Me! Me? I goin tell my Tanty dat you say&#133;&#146; </p><p> Jacko&#146;s hands fluttered in alarm. Tell yuh Tanty! Tell yuh Tanty&#133; is only ask I ask, an I ask polite. I didn say&#133;&#146; </p><p> &#145;I goin tell she, I goin tell she dat you say everybody in we family is thief an you goin search from de top o we house to below we bed an even we latrine an&#133;&#146; </p><p> &#145;Jeezas &#150; spare me,&#146; Jacko turned to the faces around him, his lips shaping an appeal. &#145;Anybody here hear me say anyting like dat? As God is me witness, anybody hear dem wuds come from me?&#146; </p><p> &#145;Wasn&#146;t what you say&#146;, Anna May cut in sourly. &#145;But who is to say is not what you mean? What mek you tink is not dat foreign boat down dere dat cut you fishpot.&#146; </p><p> Ten pairs of eyes turned towards &#145;down there&#146;. </p><div><div class="pull_quote_image"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/content/articles/1540/images/lagoon01.jpg" alt="The Lagoon" border="0" /></div><p> &#145;Down there&#146; was The Silent &#150; a largish lagoon of still dark water that sat directly below the precipice on which their houses stood. It was a place that yachts liked. They started arriving in November like a flock of great white birds. So tall sometimes their sail-wings seemed to scrape the blue above. They would remain there for a couple of days or sometimes for a week. </p><p> A beautiful skiff with a very long mast was sitting in the middle of The Silent. It hadn&#146;t been there the day before. It must have arrived late last night or in the small hours of that morning. </p><p> The man&#146;s hand milled unbelievingly above their heads but before he could draw breath Anna May&#146;s voice slapped him around the ear. &#145;So! What you goin tell me now &#150; dat whiteman boat never does cut no fishpot rope?&#146; </p><p> Everything happened quickly then. Martin pulled his diving glass over his face and rushed the water. And of course he headed for The Mouth. He began hovering around the edges like an insect at the lip of some godforsaken flower. Then his voice rang out across the water with more pleasure than surprise. &#145;It down there! Kin hardly see it! Look like it full o fish too.&#146; His laughter had the sharpness and abruptness of a gull&#146;s. It tickled the small crowd into a sudden derisive burst and Jacko&#146;s shoulders became a defeated slump. </p><p> Before they realised it, Sienna had hit the water in a rapid running dive. The momentum carried her right through to the blue lip of The Mouth. She caught Martin unawares, saw the rush of alarm the instant she surfaced beside him. She sucked in hard and arced her body in a tight, downward curve, flashing her heels briefly, defiantly in his face. </p><p> The cold swallowed her whole and bruised her senses. She swam fast downwards towards the dim unearthly shapes below, already aware of the growing pressure in her chest and eardrums even as she puzzled at the ease with which she was slipping down the throat of the hole. Her body was telling her something that her mind already knew: water should resist. The sea never offered itself up to anyone that easily. </p><p> But she kept kicking, heading for the bottom-darkness until she spotted the white blur that was the rope that had secured the float to the fishpot. The wicker of the pot itself was no more than a patch of paleness somewhere further down. She focused on the rope, kicking harder as she reached for it, amazed at the way it evaded her grasp. It was then she noticed the circling dance it made, understood what that meant and told herself that there shouldn&#146;t be no tide here trying to drag her down below. She milled her legs furiously, reached out and finally grasped the dancing rope. She wrapped it around her wrist and ignoring the burning in her chest, began the struggle upwards. Her efforts to fight the water&#146;s tug and haul the weight up at the same time forced her towards the other side and there suddenly, miraculously the water opened up its fist and released her. </p><p> Hands were waiting to lift her out and seat her at the back of Ragman&#146;s little boat. Jacko was bawling like a strangling goat and there was a dizzying din of voices on the beach. </p><p> They rowed her over quickly and dropped her on the sand, examining her as they would some creature that the ocean had unexpectedly deposited at their feet. The morning had become a bright, featureless haze and she could not control the trembling. </p><p> &#145;Cold down dere,&#146; she chattered, gathering her clothes. &#145;Real cold.&#146; </p><p> &#145;One hundred and ninety,&#146; Martin said, his voice soft and disbelieving. &#145;I count one hundred and ninety.&#146; </p><p> A quietness had descended on them all. Anna May sketched the sign of the cross across her chest and muttered something while the rest stared at the fishpot at Jacko&#146;s feet. </p><p> &#145;You could ha dead,&#146; Jacko muttered coarsely, and then after a pause, &#145;But nobody can&#146;t say is I who send you.&#146; He seemed to be addressing the thrashing mass of parrotfish and snappers. </p><p> &#145;Dat&#146;s all y&#146;have to say?&#146; His words roused something cold and bitter in Sienna. &#145;Yuh didn drown.&#146; Jacko shrugged. </p><p> &#145;De fish is mine,&#146; she told him. </p><p> &#145;Like hell.&#146; </p><p> Anna May laughed softly. It alerted Jacko like a dog confronting danger, for that chuckle carried a threat that suddenly roused her son. Big and wordless as a boulder, Preeso stepped between the fishpot and the man. </p><p> &#145;Not, not even a little one for me?&#146; </p><p> &#145;Not even.&#146; Sienna told him. </p><p> Anna May did not accept the fish Sienna offered her. She seemed somehow more concerned to get off the beach, as if she&#146;d just sensed a change in the weather. Even Jacko, now that he had recovered his possession had lost interest in it. Their sudden detachment had reduced her effort to nothing and she remained there feeling the way those awful words from Tan Lin made her feel. </p><p> That was how the two strangers met her; alone on the beach with a pile of dead fish at her feet, staring blankly at the dark blue patch of water that had left a freezing place inside of her. </p><p> She had not heard them approaching and that still puzzled her. The first time she knew they were standing there beside her was when a soft voice brushed against her ear. &#145;Nice catch.&#146; </p><p> She looked round to see a woman in a sky-blue bikini smiling down on her. And for no reason she could put a finger on, her heart began to race. Perhaps it was because the woman was slim as the dolls Sienna had seen in the St. George&#146;s store the first and only Christmas Eve she&#146;d ever been to town. Dolls with skin as pale and pure as manioc starch. The woman had their pink cheeks and Lucille&#146;s creamy yellow hair. And her eyes &#150; her eyes especially &#150; the girl stared at them dumbfounded for it was as if they had been made especially for her from a patch of perfect sky. And even more astonishing was the fact that they matched exactly the little stone set in silver, fixed to a very fine chain around her neck. </p><p> &#145;I&#146;m Sue &#150; Sue Kramer. This is John Hedgcoe.&#146; </p><p> &#145;Hi,&#146; the man said. His eyes were very different from Sookramer&#146;s, a dark centre rimmed by a lighter colour, which she could not determine exactly. The eyes of birds, she thought, seagulls. He was barefooted like the woman, a bit taller, and like Miss Sookramer, everything about him was gold, even the hairs covering his stomach and limbs. </p><p> Nothing in her life had prepared her for this encounter. For these strangers who came in from the other side of the world never seemed to see them in their little houses on the hill. And she understood this. For wasn&#146;t their world like the pretty glass boxes that Cedric had shown her in that magazine, in which people placed and cultivated fish that looked like flowers? Their yachts came and went with the same seasonal indifference of seabirds and if it were true that they exchanged the occasional stand-offish smile from time to time, it was only during some chance early-morning or late-night encounter on the beach which were never planned or natural. If these people belonged to the same world at all, they certainly owned very different parts of it. </p><p> So when the woman held out her hand Sienna could not help but stare at it and then up at her face. She could not hold those eyes so she fixed instead the blue of the stone. </p><p> What was her name? The woman&#146;s voice was soft and pleasantly musical. Sienna Miller? That was a nice name. Did they all have English names? In which of those houses on the hill did she live? Why did they build their homes on stilts? Did she know the names of the fish at her feet? Where did she learn to dive like that? A whole raft of questions the answers to which generated even more questions. </p><p> The man who had never taken his eyes off her spoke only when the woman paused for breath. And his was an odd way of speaking since she could not decide whether he was talking to the woman, himself or her. &#145;Nice teeth&#146;, he said. That was when she was in the middle of responding to one of the woman&#146;s questions. And in between another of her replies, &#145;good shoulders, deep ribs&#146; and something else which wasn&#146;t clear at all. </p><p> Miss Sookramer excused herself and stooped to prise a shell from the sand. The man spoke to Sienna directly for the first time. Did she know why The Mouth behaved the way it did? Did she know that the whole ocean was like that, more or less? </p><p> &#145;Warmer water rises to the top, colder water slides below; the way water boils.&#146; </p><p> For some reason, he added with a quiver of the little gold moustache, the effect was much stronger in The Mouth. Were there others, boys, who could dive like her? </p><p> &#145;I is de best.&#146; She answered flatly which made the man laugh softly. And pleased that she had humoured him, Sienna added for emphasis, &#145;everybody round here know dat.&#146; </p><p> The man smiled brightly down at her before pointing at a small white craft in the lagoon. It was a blinding silver in the path of the morning sun. That one Cincinnati Dreams is ours.&#146; He grinned at the morning and the sea. &#145;Ever been on one before?&#146; </p><p> Sienna shook her head. </p><p> &#145;Wanna come over later? Susan thinks you&#146;re nice.&#146; </p><p> Tell us what time, we&#146;ll come in the dinghy and get you.&#146; The woman offered. </p><p> &#145;I kin swim,&#146; the girl said flashing a quick instinctive glance up at the houses. </p><p> The man was looking out to sea, his eyes so narrowed down, all she saw there was a glint. She might have told him that it was Missa Mosan&#146;s little tray of a boat, coming in from his trip out to the reefs beyond Goat Point. In fact she hadn&#146;t remembered Missa Mosan when they asked her if anyone could dive better than she did. But, she decided, he should not be counted anyway since everybody knew he&#146;d exchanged his wife and children&#146;s soul to the devil for the secrets of the deep. And he was not from The Silent anyway. He came from that barren place, several hills beyond that was known curiously as The Waterhole. She also knew that he&#146;d borrowed the eyes of gulls, which was why he saw things from great distances before anyone else had an idea they were there. </p><p> &#145;Well, we&#146;d better be off,&#146; the man said briskly. &#145;See yah later,&#146; Sookramer said, and she was also off, hurrying to keep up with the man. </p><p> They left behind a slight wind, full of odours, which came off the sea and wrapped itself around her like a piece of cloth. She sniffed and grinned. She&#146;d taught herself to pry beneath the first fresh layer of any seawind to get at the smells it always carried underneath &#150; those magical and secret odours that arrived from the very place she believed Lucille had come from. </p><p> &#145;Look like you conversatin wit de sea!&#146; Missa Mosan was a little man with a big head and the largest hands she&#146;d ever seen. He was smiling as if he expected her to be waiting there for him. </p><p> &#145;Is true you have a thousan chilren?&#146; she asked him promptly. She&#146;d asked this question hundreds of times before, but she knew that if he chose to answer her at all, it would be as if he&#146;d heard it for the first time. </p><p> &#145;How much twelve you got in a thousan, Miss?&#146; </p><p> &#145;A whole heap,&#146; she muttered frowning. &#145;Is true you use to have a hundred girlfriend?&#146; This one was supposed to catch him unawares but the man grinned toothlessly and winked. &#145;What you fink?&#146; </p><p> She shrugged, wondering how he would react if she also told him that Tan Lin said she didn know what women saw in the big-head little runt of a man. </p><p> He began tossing things from the boat onto the sand, first his machete, then the oars, followed by his fish-gun, then a crocus bag still writhing with his catch. </p><p> &#145;Dem pretty?&#146; </p><p> &#145;Dem&#133;?&#146; </p><p> &#145;Yuh chilren? Dem pretty?&#146; </p><p> He rested very large and heavy eyes on her face. &#145;You know anybody who not?&#146; </p><p> &#145;No,&#146; she answered quickly. </p><p> &#145;Which make me ask meself what people who does never have one word to crack with we, what dem want with one of us, specially a little girl?&#146; </p><p> She stared at him tight-lipped but he did not seem to be in a hurry for an answer. He stepped back and reached beneath the stern of the craft, his hands emerging with something large and heavy. Whatever it was, he&#146;d wrapped it in a piece of sacking and she watched his face as he reached into the bag, brought it out and turned it towards her. It was a shell &#150; one of the largest she had ever seen &#150; caked outside with silt and seaweed. But its mouth, now that it was turned to her, snatched her breath away. She had seen a queen shell only once before and it had never been this close up; and even then she had never imagined that a thing on earth could be so beautiful. For the ocean had gathered all the colours in the world, mixed them with the light of all the sunsets there had ever been and trapped them within the hollows of that shell. </p><p> &#145;Now dat&#146;s pretty,&#146; he breathed. &#145;Dese belong to de ocean. Her pussnal joolry an she never give dem up without a fight. Every time mih ooman have a chile, she send me off to get one so I kin risk mih life like she. You gotta go down, down, down an keep goin till you don&#146;t know top from bottom. You keep goin cos iffen you tink o de hurtin in yuh ears, iffen you link one little second dat you can&#146;t reach it, den you never goin to get it. You ever wonder why all de good tings in life so flippin hard to get?&#146; </p><p> She nodded because she had actually wondered. </p><p> He turned the shell to face him, awed it seemed, at the beauty of the thing and the fear it held for him each time he tried to draw even with his woman. And then he handed it to her. Mosan was looking at her closely when she brought the shell to her ear. She closed her eyes to absorb its thunder, the suck and surge that were also bellow and sigh, to feel the quiet unnameable stir of fear and pleasure in her gut. </p><p> Sienna opened her eyes and nodded. What he saw on her face must have satisfied him because he showed her all his gums. &#145;Like I say, nice tings don&#146;t come easy.&#146; </p><p> He gathered his things and placed them in his big canvas bag. With a toss of his head, he muttered, &#145;watch yerself, girl! Some people don smile to smile; some-a-dem smile to bite.&#146; </p><p> She took in those last words the way she took in Tan Lin&#146;s curses, a sort of condemnation which, even if they were directed at the strangers, felt like they were meant for her. </p><p> Still, during what remained of the day Missa Mosan&#146;s words had come to her off and on with the annoying persistence of a fly. </p><p> They did not prevent her from swimming over to the boat that evening as she&#146;d promised. The uneasiness had washed itself off the moment she slipped into the water even if it was the first time she had ever swum in the lagoon. </p><p> Sookramer and the man welcomed her. They had drawn the boat closer to the mangroves so that if people were looking down from the houses on the hill they would not see her being lifted aboard by her new friends. There was something nice about the secretiveness of it all; the way everything was understood without being talked about. </p><p> There was still a lot of light left in the sky, and the night-black beach in an improbable moment had become a burning strip of silver. The woman turned to stare open-mouthed. &#145;Come,&#146; she said as if she were dragging herself out of a dream. Til show you around.&#146; </p><p> But it was the man who did. He explained the difference between cutter rigs, gaff rigs and Bermudan rigs and why their boat was a Vancouver and not a Westerly or an Armagnac. All she remembered was that everything in their boat was tiny and perfect. There was a bed, a stove standing beside a shiny sink and what looked like a tiny fridge and toilet. </p><p> The woman had given her something to eat called pasta, a can of Coca-Cola, two lollipops, Chupa-Chups, whose wrapping she was going to keep, a big square of chocolate covered in gold paper and a packet of chewing gum. </p><p> They told her about places with pretty names like Albuquerque, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Ohio. They said they liked the way she talked, that she looked very strong for her age and she had the clearest eyes they&#146;d ever seen. Sookramer had even fingered her hair and marvelled at its softness. She in turn had been allowed to touch the woman&#146;s and &#150; although she did not show it &#150; was surprised that it was not as soft as it appeared. </p><p> Missa Jonko took an apple, large as a fist and red like a ripe tomato, which he began peeling with the biggest knife she&#146;d ever seen. He appeared not to be watching her but she knew he was and in her turn, she pretended not to observe him. And it was with something like mild shock that she saw him, with a flash of the wrist, drive the knife into the fruit and toss it in the water. &#145;Fetch it and its yours,&#146; he grinned. </p><p> She leapt after it with alacrity and surfaced a few moments later with the impaled fruit. </p><p> &#145;Great!&#146; He brought his palms together thunderously. &#145;Now you got an apple.&#146; Turning to Miss Sookramer, he said. &#145;I told you she&#146;s got talent.&#146; And to prove that he was right he held up a silver coin and threw it a few yards beyond her. </p><p> She did not manage to retrieve it nor the others that he flung so casually overboard. When she surfaced, her face creased with disappointment, she saw that the man was smiling. </p><p> The water flows that way,&#146; he said, his hand sweeping in the general direction of where the lagoon opened out into the bay and then the world. &#145;You can&#146;t feel it but it flows. Always start a little way further up from where you want to go. Come tomorrow.&#146; </p><p> &#145;About this time,&#146; the woman cut in gently, her eyes towards the houses on the hill. </p><p> &#145;Yep! And I&#146;ll teach you how to dive anywhere, for anything. I&#146;m gonna make you famous. You know why? Because Susan and I, we think you&#146;re special.&#146; </p><p> She realised the man meant what he said as soon as she swam over the following day, for he had a can of coins on deck. Again they&#146;d drawn the boat closer to the mangroves. &#145;Y&#146;know what&#146;s great about this game?&#146; Missa Jonko laughed. &#145;I throw em, you git em, you keep em. Remember what I told you yesterday about starting further up? Here we go-oh!&#146; </p><p> That was how, in the evenings that followed, she learnt to anticipate the dizzy spiralling of dimes, the direct plunge of large glass marbles with wondrously foliated irises, the slant of paper knives and nails, the somersault of tiny silver saucers, the twirl of metal rulers and whatever else the man decided to throw at her. And what made it all the more amazing was that Missa Jonko never seemed to run out of pretty things to toss. It was as if he&#146;d conjured up these bright unsteady objects from his mind to do his personal bidding in the water. </p><p> The little cave she&#146;d dug under the tuft of cus-cus grass below her cedar tree above The Silent became a bulging glittering nest. She now counted three penknives on which was written the word, &#145;Kiwi&#146; in silver; a fingernail clip that was also a can opener; a tiny brass box with engravings of naked people that looked curiously flat against the metal; a silver ring with the head of a lion on the top; and the most treasured of them all, a round copper case full now with dozens of what the man called half-dollars and which were the most difficult to retrieve because he had ordered her to wait until he counted fifteen before she went after them. </p><p> The days, too, had assumed the glitter of these objects. Bright days in which she avoided the people who used the beach on evenings. She had developed what she imagined was a protective sheen around herself which guarded her from their stares, their silences, their words. </p><p> She&#146;d done this right after Anna May had spoken to her. It was after her fourth visit to the boat. The woman had crooked a finger at her and Sienna had approached cautiously since there was no mistaking the tightness in Anna May&#146;s manner, which meant that what she was about to say was going to be very hurtful. </p><p> &#145;What you doin on dem people boat? Eh? You know what yuh playin wid? Eh? You dunno is trouble dem people does bring? I wouldn let my Preeso spend five minutes on dat boat. But little girl like you, you across deh all evenin, every day. What yuh Tanty sayin bout all o dat? Eh? Is why I never like dat ooman. She too damn careless for me. If is somewhere you want to come when evenin come, come to my house. You kin help me do de washin up. You kin sweep mih yard. A little girl like you have good use. I know you strong. I does watch you. But dat boat, dem people! Is warn I warnin you.&#146; And with that the woman had walked off muttering to herself. </p><p> That was why she decided never to see the stares, hear the words or heed anybody&#146;s crooked finger anymore. </p><p> If she didn&#146;t know better she might have believed that the man had overheard everything that Anna May told her because it was from that very day that his smiles were replaced by a curtness that seemed somehow more natural to him and which she did not mind because this persistent drill, this daily bidding to slip beneath the shadowy skirts of the lagoon, to retrieve and keep those pretty things had also brought a strange sobriety upon her. </p><p> Now she did the things Tan Lin asked her to do without complaining and Cedric&#146;s teasing no longer triggered the usual peppery outburst. In fact more than once he complained that she ignored him. </p><p> If Tan Lin had heard about or noticed her disappearances on evenings, she was saying nothing although a couple of nights before, believing that she was asleep, her aunt had brought the lamp down over her and moved it along her body slowly, the way a fisherman would check a craft for dents or weakened seams. Then with a smack of her lips she&#146;d straightened up and left the room. </p><p> Sienna had already rehearsed the truth just in case she asked, anyway. She would say that Missa Jonko was teaching her to dive so that a man in America called Missa Olympic could judge her and tell her she was the greatest in the world. The presents she would get for that were made from proper gold too. But it meant a lot of practise. It meant diving deeper than anyone had gone before. It meant learning to place a hook around a ring on the box that Jonko had lowered to the bottom of The Silent. It meant understanding everything the man taught her the very first time because he did not like to repeat himself. </p><p> He would have her dive until the sky had drained itself of light and the water had become too dark for her to see what lay below. It was only then that he would allow her to dry out on that part of the deck he called the coach roof, while she answered Miss Sookramer&#146;s questions, her eyes fixed on the stone at her throat. </p><p> At first, the woman&#146;s gestures and expressions had been confusing, like some new road whose twists and turnings her feet could not anticipate. And so she would take the broad things: the show of teeth that meant a smile, the laugh that indicated ease, and of course the kindness in the voice that was always there; or the hurt that sat behind the calm whenever the man&#146;s impatience turned on her. She was the kind who liked to laugh though, and it was this that allowed Sienna to get past the constant questions, and the odd way she sometimes said things, to the feelings underneath. </p><p> A few days ago, in the middle of a laugh their eyes held briefly, a small silence descended upon them and they knew then that they had become friends. </p><p> &#145;Are you coming tomorrow?&#146; </p><p> It was Sookramer&#146;s way of telling her to leave. It was what she always said before lowering her voice and bringing her hand around her mouth. &#145;Can you bring me something green? Some leaves or flowers &#150; anything, please?&#146; </p><p> Sienna would not go home straight away. She made her way to the lip of the precipice above The Silent to watch the night creep in from the sea. She would watch the muted cabin lights come on and if it were one of those evenings when the air was very, very still, their voices would lift and drift upwards towards her. She would stay there until tiredness or night with a sudden, tropical chill that always took the strangers by surprise, drove them down below. The yellow lanterns would go out and it would be depthless-dark down there and very, very lonely. </p><p> <i>Click <a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=1550">here</a> to get to part two of this story</i> </p></div> Culture arts & cultures The Americas literature shorelines Jacob Ross Original Copyright Wed, 15 Oct 2003 23:00:00 +0000 Jacob Ross 1540 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Rum an Coke https://www.opendemocracy.net/arts-Literature/article_1220.jsp <div class="full_image"><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/content/articles/1220/images/2.ole-lady.jpg" alt="" width="555" border="0" /><br /></p></div><p> Norma Browne got up early, cried a bit, stared at her hand and muttered to herself with a reluctant, bitter conviction, &#145;Was a waste. A waste!&#146; </p><p> Nobody heard her except perhaps the boy; but even if he had, he would not remember much, come daylight. </p><p> Come daylight, he would lurch out of the house hungry, ill and angry, his body starved of something that neither she nor any food on earth could satisfy. He would be away a couple of hours or maybe the whole day and then he would return to lie below the house, the turbulence gone except in the working of his eyes. He would not be able to look at her, not until the shivering started again very late in the evening and he began, once more, to hit her. </p><p> She got up early because a thought had nudged her out of sleep, an idea &#150; amazingly straightforward &#150; which, with the coming daylight became a focused resolve. </p><p> She waited until he left, then dressed herself clumsily but quickly in the light blue dress that, fifteen years ago, she&#146;d bought for his Christening and which ten years later, she also wore to take him to that special school in St. George&#146;s. </p><p> He was a beautiful boy then, clear-eyed and quick, his little body full of purpose and surprises. &#145;Remarkably intelligent&#146; was what the teachers said; and to prove they were not lying, they&#146;d written it on a pretty piece of parchment paper, framed it and handed it to her. </p><p> Not like now, she thought. Not like now at all &#150; because what she used to feel then went way past pride. And if, in those days, she felt embarrassed or even terrified, it was only because she could hardly believe that someone like her could be so blessed. </p><p> With the same awkward haste, Norma Browne knelt and reached beneath the iron bed. She dragged out what looked like a pillow and emptied its contents on the floor. Several objects rolled out of the wads of fabric she would never use for anything but kept anyway, &#145;just in case&#146;: a couple of heavy silver bracelets, a ring of pure Guyana gold, an old passport with a very clear photo of a man that looked exactly like her son and a small blue book on which &#145;The Co-operative Bank&#146; was printed in large letters. </p><p> She took the little book, stuffed it down her bosom and went to the main road to wait for the only bus that travelled twenty miles, twice a day, to and from St. George&#146;s. </p><p> It was evening when she returned. The migrating birds that spent the November and December months in the swamp half a mile away, were already dropping like black rain out of an inflamed sky and settling on the mangroves. </p><p> She went straight to the bedroom to replace the book and leave a small but heavy parcel beneath the bed. Then she began to look for things to do. She would have gone to the garden the top of the hill above the village but she&#146;d already sown more corn and peas than she had ever sown before, she&#146;d weeded the sweet potatoes, reinforced the mud rows with wattle and bamboo, trimmed the bananas and cleared the stones which, every year, appeared miraculously in the soil. She&#146;d put new camp&egrave;che pillars under the house, added a kitchen and re-laid the yard with stones that she&#146;d gathered from the roadside. Anything that hard work could possibly achieve to ease her days, she&#146;d already done. And if it were possible to undo it all and start again she would gladly do so, because hard work saved her from remembering &#150; even though she&#146;d learnt that not remembering was not the same as forgetting. Not remembering was holding back the shame, or redirecting it the way the drains she dug during the Rainy Season turned excess water away from her garden. </p><p> She saw him coming and she got up, studying his face, his walk, the set of his mouth. It was always important that she catch his mood, because it determined how her day went, although when he returned he was never violent. He would have gone over to Teestone&#146;s house next door or to some friend of his and pumped his veins with a needleful of that milky stuff which did such dreadful things to him. </p><p> The milky stuff, she did not understand. She thought she had already seen or imagined every awful thing there was but nothing in her life had prepared her for what they called de niceness: niceness, because of the way it made them feel, they said; niceness that had sucked the life out of her child and replaced it with another sort of existence, an animated deadness that had reduced her to nothing in his eyes. </p><p> Before the deadness was the hunger. He was hungry all the time and she fed him more and more while he seemed to grow thinner by the hour. He&#146;d also become secretive and had lost the quiet temper he was born with. When the shivering started and there was nothing she could do for him, he would scream at her and hit her. </p><p> And sometimes she wondered which was worse: his torment or her own shame before the village. Once she caught him doing it to himself panic-ridden and slobbering until he&#146;d fed the beast inside his veins. </p><p> For this &#150; for this especially &#150; she did not blame him because he was her child and once, she had known him differently. True, she&#146;d seen him do a few things, some of which were a violence against her sense of decency &#150; like the time she caught him with his cousin, younger than him by two years on her bed and she&#146;d almost killed him &#150; but apart from that Daniel was a perfect boy. </p><div><div class="pull_quote_image"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/content/articles/1220/images/2.pure-niceness.jpg" alt="pure niceness" border="0" /></div>She would never know how it started, or what it was she did or did not do that made him need &#145;de niceness&#146; which consumed him so completely. But now she knew who gave it to her boy and that was partly why she went to town. Nobody had told her; they&#146;d only confirmed the truth for her. <p> It was that gold chain she bought him as a present that made her know. He&#146;d asked for it before he did the exams, set himself his own condition, told her if he got an &#145;A&#146; for all of them, she should buy him a gold chain with his name written on it. And of course she&#146;d sent her macm&egrave;re Grace, to St. George&#146;s to get it straight away. Then she hid it in her pillowcase and waited. And when he came home one day and told her that he&#146;d got all his &#145;A&#146;s, she went straight to the bedroom and brought it out. That amazed him, not the chain but the fact that she believed he would get the &#145;A&#146;s just because he said so. </p><p> So when she saw that gold chain around Teestone&#146;s neck it suddenly made sense. Everything made sense: the house Teestone was improving, the way the children flocked to him, the girls warring amongst themselves for his attention. </p><p> And from then, over the months, she&#146;d studied him. Teddy Stonewall &#150; that boy! That boy who&#146;d never seen a classroom in all his life, who&#146;d never lifted a finger for his mother, who&#146;d grown up by the roadside near the rumshop watching the world slip past; that boy who, having worked for nothing, wanted everything. And over the past months she saw the way it all came to him: the pretty clothes, the new, red Suzuki bike, other people&#146;s children. Then the large cars with darkened windows began to arrive from St. George&#146;s. </p><p> She would watch them come and go till well past midnight or till the beast awakened in Daniel&#146;s veins and she had to turn to him. </p><p> At first her interest in Teestone was incidental, no more than the curiosity of an adult in the goings-on of the young. That was in the early days when she knew nothing of the powder. She had seen Daniel suck it up his nostrils a couple of times and believed him when he told her it was no different from a sweet, a new something to tantalise the young; and she thought that it would pass like those little obsessions her boy developed from time to time and then relinquished for his books. Besides, it didn&#146;t use to make him ill and he hadn&#146;t begun to hit her. </p><p> Why she didn&#146;t think of going to see Teestone sooner amazed her. It was as if the idea had been ripening inside her and now that it had done so, she couldn&#146;t wait to meet the young man whom a powder had made so powerful, the whole world was frightened to displease him. </p><p> The rest of the day burnt itself out rapidly. Its charred remains hung indecisively over the houses of the village. Her boy had begun to stir in sleep. </p><p> With a series of rapid, nervous movements she straightened her dress, left her house and crossed over to Teestone&#146;s yard. </p><p> He came out when she called, his body blocking the doorway completely. She had to look up to examine his face against the darkness of the door-mouth. This she did quickly before bringing her head back down. Now she watched him with her eyes upturned. </p><p> &#145;What you want, Miss Lady.&#146; </p><p> &#145;I want to come in,&#146; she said. </p><p> &#145;Come in where!&#146; He glared down at her. &#145;Come inside o my house! What you want in my house?&#146; </p><p> &#145;Is someting,&#146; she lowered her voice and her eyes, afraid that he would not let her in. &#145;Is someting I want to buy. I kin pay,&#146; she added hastily. </p><p> &#145;I tell you I sellin any ting? What you waan to buy!&#146; He was still fuming but his voice, like hers, was lowered. </p><p> &#145;I waan some niceness,&#146; she said flatly and lifted her eyes at him. He paused a moment, shifted his body and she slipped under his arm. Teestone pulled the door behind him. </p><p> Now that the door was closed, he was suddenly transformed, almost like another person. Relaxed, smiling, he drew a wooden stool from under the mahogany table in the middle of the room and placed it before her. Carefully, Norma Browne lowered herself. </p><p> Teestone grinned at her unease. &#145;Miss Norma what you say you want?&#146; </p><p> &#145;I jus waan some, some of dat ting dat make my son, make my son so happy.&#146; She halted on the last word, made it sound like the most frightful thing on earth. But she managed a smile and that put Teestone at ease. He seated himself a few feet in front of her. He smiled wider and she noticed the gold tooth. She did not remember him having a gold tooth. He had bad teeth anyway, the sort that prised his lips apart permanently. </p><p> The shirt she also noticed, was of a soft material that dropped as if it were liquid; made, no doubt, from one of those fabulous materials she had seen in pictures in Grace&#146;s magazines, and in the large stores through whose wide glass windows you feasted your eyes but never entered because the light-skinned woman at the counter and the way everything was laid out just told you that <i>you</i>! you&#146;d better not come in. </p><p> &#145;What you offerin?&#146; he whispered, and for a moment she did not understand him. &#145;What you have?&#146; he repeated. </p><p> She allowed her eyes to wander around the room before easing her fingers down her bosom and pulling out an old handkerchief. It was rolled into a knot. The thin hands held it curiously, the curl of the fingers accentuating their frailty. There was a scar at the back of her left hand, as if she had been burnt there, very badly, once. The fingers un-knotted the bit of cloth to reveal a ball of crumpled notes. </p><p> &#145;A thousand dollars,&#146; she said and dropped it on the table. It was all she had. The gesture said so, that and her trembling hands. She was never likely to have that much again, for it had taken a lot from her to get it. One thousand dollars that would have gone to her boy along with the house and the piece of land that had been in the family for as long as anyone could remember. </p><p> Teestone did not reach for the money, in fact he looked at her as if he were seeing her for the first time; a sudden probing interest, and something like suspicion because she was offering all of it to him. But she was an old woman, in trouble and confused because her son was in trouble and confused. Because now, her son belonged to him, his eyes barely concealed his hostility. The stupid kind. The kind he despised most: those women who would do anything to please their sons, who never saw the sky because, all their lives, they were too busy looking down, digging and scratching the earth; demeaning and denying themselves for what? It always puzzled him how people like that ever came by money. A thousand dollars! And it was already his. All of it. It had always been his! For if she had not given it to him herself, her son would have, eventually, bit by bit. They were all coming now, these old women. When their children could no longer get to him on their own, they were the ones who came and begged for them. Norma Browne was not the first, and she would not be the last. And the best part was, these days he did not have to do a thing. These days money wherever it was, made its way to him. </p><p> &#145;Hold on,&#146; he told her, opening the door behind him and disappearing into his bedroom. </p><p> Slowly, her eyes travelled around the room. </p><p> In the centre of a tiny table in the corner there was a framed picture of Teestone, his mother, and the man his mother had lived with but who, she knew without a doubt, wasn&#146;t his father at all, although she&#146;d made the man believe he was. To the right of that there was another photo of a child. </p><p> Having nothing better to do, Norma Browne examined the picture of the baby sitting on a straw mat staring out at the camera with a child&#146;s wide-eyed, open-mouthed bewilderment. He hadn&#146;t grown out of that wide, wet mouth, nor indeed those eyes that seemed smaller than they really were because of the heaviness of the lids. She replaced the picture, cautiously. </p><p> He was rebuilding the house his mother had left him, or rather he was replacing the wood with concrete, which meant erecting blocks against the board walls outside. When they were set in cement he would knock the planks out one by one from inside. Now, even before he&#146;d done that, the wet concrete was seeping through the boards, leaving a pale sediment which, when she passed her hand along it, left an ugly trace of powder and tiny bits of wood on her fingers. Electrical wires ran everywhere: along the floorboards, the ceiling and the walls, and she realised that the rumours she&#146;d heard were true. Teestone was bringing electricity to his house. Or he was having that man who came in the long, black car on Fridays &#150; that man they called The Blade &#150; make the government do it for him. A couple of large, soft chairs lay upturned in a corner, completely covered with transparent plastic, and to the left of her there was a gaping hole through which she could see the earth below the house. Perhaps they had opened it up, she speculated, because he was replacing the wooden pillars too. </p><p> The smell of concrete was everywhere: intrusive, corrosive &#150; as brash as the youths who, wherever she turned, were remaking everything, upsetting everything, undoing everything &#150; the way wood mites secretly hollowed out a house and all the while you did not know that you were surrounded by nothing until a small wind passed one day and blew it down around you. </p><p> She was still contemplating this scene of quiet devastation when Teestone came out with a small brown bag, the type the shop sold sugar by the half pound in. He did not place it in her hand but on the mahogany table in front of them. She took it up with a confident gesture and for a moment, in fact for the first time, she seemed different, self-possessed. </p><p> She opened the bag carefully and clumsily dragged out the small plastic sac that was folded inside it. </p><p> &#145;S&#146;not a lot,&#146; she said, shocked. &#145;Not a lot for all my money.&#146; </p><p> Teestone laughed then, laughed till the fat vein at the side of his neck stood out. Fascinated, she watched that neck-vein throb and pulse with laughter. &#145;S&#146;what you expect? Dis, dis worth more dan it weight in gold, y&#146;know dat? More-dan-it-weight-in-gold.&#146; He spoke the last few words as if they were one, as though he&#146;d rehearsed it till it sounded that way: rhythmic and convincing. &#145;Ask anybody.&#146; Teestone added, emphatically. </p><p> &#145;Didn know,&#146; she apologised and then she brought it to her nose. She froze, fixing very dark eyes on him. &#145;It s&#146;pose to smell like dat? Like, uh, baby powder?&#146; She was looking at him closely but he did not notice this. What he saw was a small woman, old before her time, almost doubled over with hard work, with a nervous hand and a frightened voice, trying to get some stuff off him. His contempt had denied him any of the details. And so he had no sense of her: the very, very steady eyes, the tight-set mouth that had lost or given up the habit of laughter, a generous forehead partly covered by an old head wrap and a tendency to follow his every movement. </p><p> Her question took him completely by surprise. The slight narrowing of his eyes and the way he tried to close his mouth without really managing it, confirmed her suspicion. </p><p> &#145;It not s&#146;pose to smell o baby powder,&#146; she told him quietly, a new hardness in her voice. </p><p> Is so it smell, he was about to tell her, and ask her what de hell she know &#146;bout, niceness anyway, but her directness stopped him, that and her very steady gaze. He snatched the packet off the table and went back inside the bedroom. This time he returned sooner, dropped a different packet on the table and sat back heavily. </p><p> Norma took it up and passed it under her nose. She could see by his expression that he wanted her to leave. He was tired, or perhaps, now that his business with her was over, he wanted to get rid of her. But she was not finished with him yet. </p><p> She wanted to know how she should prepare the stuff and he showed her. Her hands shook when she took the needle to examine the thin, evil thread of metal that slipped so easily into flesh. The first time she saw her boy use it, it had made her sick. He had taken it standing and had fallen straight back against the floorboards, his body rigid, like a tree deprived suddenly of its roots, doing nothing to break the fall. He&#146;d cut his head badly and did not even know it, just laid there with that smile, that awful inner peace, while she turned him over and tended to his wound. </p><p> In her hand the metal shone like an amber thread of light against the lamp. </p><p> &#145;All of it is for de boy?&#146; asked Teestone, showing her his tooth. </p><p> Some was for her son, she answered, and well, she was goin to use de rest. Was de niceness nicer if she used all of it in one go? </p><p> No, he told her, and the gold tooth glimmered in the light. If she used more than he just showed her &#150; at that he pulled out a pack of razor blades, extracted one, opened the packet he&#146;d handed her and separated a small portion, working it with the same care that she used to mix medicine for her boy&#146;s illness when he was a child. If she ever used more than that, he pointed at the tiny heap he&#146;d separated, it would kill her. </p><p> &#145;Too much niceness does kill. Y&#146;unnerstan?&#146; He laughed at his own joke, lit a cigarette and leaned back against the chair. That too was new, the long cigarettes with the bit of silver at the end; in fact everything about Teestone was new, even his face. There was not the redness in the eyes, the dreadful tiredness that went deeper than age, the loosening of something precious and essential in the face, the damp surrender of the skin &#150; once smooth and dark and beautiful with youth &#150; to that terrible hunger that made her son strike out at her. Teestone looked fresh and happy and as alert as a cat. Money had made him handsome. </p><p> Suddenly she felt relaxed. &#145;Could ha been a nice house,&#146; she said, looking around the room, smiling the smallest of smiles, happier now than she had been for the past twelve months, from the time she discovered that her son was stuffing his veins with poison. </p><p> It was perhaps out of that odd sense of abeyance that she reached out suddenly and fixed Teestone&#146;s collar; or, she might have been prodded by a desire to get an idea of what that shiny material really felt like. Her fingers brushed the side of his neck, touching the laughing vein which made him recoil with a violence she thought entirely undue. </p><p> She pretended not to notice his outrage, got up slowly and shuffled towards the door. There, she stopped and turned back to Teestone. </p><p> &#145;He lef school last year,&#146; she told him with a quiet, neutral look. &#145;My Dan jus come an tell me dat he leavin school, and I say, &#145;You can&#146;t. You can&#146;t because you always tell me dat you want to see de world, dat you&#146;ll make me proud and build a nicer house for us when you become someting. You say you see how hard it is for me. How much I does do for you and how much I&#146;ll always do for you.&#146; An he laugh, like he was laughing at someting he know inside he head. He say he don&#146;t need to go nowhere no more to see de world, because he could see it from right dere where he lie down whole day on he back below my house. He tell me what he see sometimes and I can&#146;t make no sense of it. Cos I can&#146;t see inside mih little boy head. I can&#146;t make no sense o people walkin over precipice an dem not dyin, o animal dat talk an laugh with you inside you head. I can&#146;t. But he say he see dem and it make im happy. </p><p> But is when de niceness get bad,&#146; she added softly, apologetically, &#145;and I can&#146;t do nothing and I just hear im bawl an bawl an bawl, an he start hittin me, dat I does &#150; well I does jus tek it. </p><p> Tknow sometimes he hit me &#150; my son? Hit me like he father used to?&#146; Her voice had dropped to a whisper and it was thick and dark and gentle, and tinged with a terrible sadness. &#145;I let im. I let im till he get tired an fall asleep. He don sleep no more like he used ter. Is like someting in he sleep, in he dreamin beatin im up same like he do wid me. All de time. Dat&#146;s why &#150; dat&#146;s why I does&#133;&#146; </p><p> Teestone got up suddenly. &#145;You get what you want, Miss Lady. Go!&#146; </p><p> He&#146;d already pushed open the door for her. </p></div><div><div class="pull_quote_image"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/content/articles/1220/images/2.trenchtown.jpg" alt="Trenchtown house" border="0" /></div><p> Norma Browne walked out into a close, choked night that had settled on the village like a blanket, and beyond which nothing &#150; not even the screaming of those birds in the swamp &#150; seemed to escape. </p><p> There were some girls outside, a few of them not more than fourteen years old, their precocious eyes fixing her incredulously, and then an instant later turning to the doorway with that still and hungry gaze she&#146;d seen so often in her son during the quiet times when the shivering stopped and she&#146;d force-fed him or tried to. She knew all of them. Some she&#146;d even delivered before her hand went funny. Or, as children, she&#146;d kept them for their mothers when they went off to St. George&#146;s for medicine or some necessary thing that their hillside gardens or the sea could not provide. </p><p> At their age, she thought, life was supposed to be kinder &#150; as it had been, even for her; an enormous promise which never lasted long, but was part of growing up. It belonged to that age. Was part of what kept you going for the rest of your life. And you should not miss it. </p><p> She decided not to go home. Her boy would be there now beneath the house laid out on his back sleeping or talking to himself. He would remain there until she came and brought him in. Or if she did not feel like it, she would leave him there until he was conscious again &#150; perhaps some time close to morning &#150; when he would beat her door until she let him in. Tonight he would not touch her because she had what it took to quiet him. </p><p> And that was another thing: he would not beg anymore, not offer Teestone anything &#150; anything at all for the relief of a needle. Once she saw him beg and it had shamed her. Saw him do it yesterday and it had shamed her even more because Teestone&#146;s refusal had brought him raging to her yard. </p><p> She took the track that ran off from the main road, which used to take him to the school he&#146;d won the scholarship for in St. George&#146;s. </p><p> It was a long, hard walk because the rains from the weeks before had made a drain of the mud track. The pebbles slipped under her feet and she was forced to steady her progress by grabbing at the bushes on the side. Ordinarily, she would have taken a bottle torch but that was only when she planned a visit; tonight, the parcel held firmly in her hand, it had suddenly seemed like common sense that she should visit Grace. It was Grace who first told her about Daniel: how on mornings when he left for school he got off the bus a mile away, and doubled back to feed his veins all day on Teestone&#146;s powder. It was Grace who, without moving from her house, had found out where it came from and the nickname of the government man that visited Teestone every Friday night. </p><p> Grace was the only one to whom she spoke these days. Grace, with the cat&#146;s eyes, who used to have the gentlest of husbands; whose five daughters had all gone away and sent her money every month, from England, America and Canada; who&#146;d offered to buy her son&#146;s uniform as a little present for winning the scholarship. Grace who always got much more than she deserved from life. </p><p> The back of her hand was itching; a deep, insistent itch that she could not reach because it was beneath the skin. Years ago, her left hand did not scratch that way, nor was there the white scar at the back of it where the skin had been cut away and then healed very badly. And it did not curl itself up as it did now. Many people, those who did not remember or rather those that forgot too easily, thought she had been born that way but Grace remembered that she wasn&#146;t. Grace remembered everything. </p><p> Grace&#146;s place was neat and small and full of colour. There were large blood-red hibiscus on her curtains and the enamelled bowls and cups, and the glasses in the cabinet had bouquets of flowers patterned all over them. Even her dress was a flower garden. God had given her eyes that shone like bits of coloured glass which, depending on her mood, were exactly like a cat&#146;s. Her friend burned three kerosene lamps instead of one. Big lamps &#150; the ones marked &#145;Home Sweet Home&#146; in white on the shade &#150; that they sold for ten dollars at Everybody&#146;s store in St. George&#146;s. Their combined brightness gave an amazing, shadowless quality to the room. </p><p> Grace settled her down and retreated to the kitchen. She returned with a bowl of soup and handed it to Norma who looked hesitantly up at her. </p><p> &#145;Eat!&#146; she grunted. </p><p> &#145;I done eat arready.&#146; </p><p> &#145;Den eat again. When trouble eatin people, people have to eat back! So take de food an eat!&#146; </p><p> The sweet smell of stewed peas and provision and salt meat almost made her faint. She hadn&#146;t eaten and Grace knew that she was lying. These days, she&#146;d lost her appetite for everything. Most times she forgot to eat at all. </p><p> She placed the packet on the table and took up the bowl. </p><p> Grace looked at the brown bag frankly, a question in her eyes. </p><p> &#145;How&#146;s de boy?&#146; she mumbled, still staring at the paper bag. </p><p> &#145;Cost me everything. All dat was left; a thousand dollars,&#146; Norma said it as if the &#145;everything&#146; was more important than the money. </p><p> &#145;What cost what?&#146; asked Grace. </p><p> &#145;Dat.&#146; Norma nudged the bag with the handle of the spoon. </p><p> Grace reached for it and opened it. The powder was on her fingers when she withdrew her hand. It could have been the effect of the candlelight on her silver bracelets but her hand seemed to tremble. The woman&#146;s face went dead. &#145;A thousand dollars! Fo-&#146; </p><p> &#145;Dat,&#146; Norma Browne said, herself quietly appalled. &#145;De rest of de money. What left. I draw it out today.&#146; </p><p> &#145;Jeezas Christ, you, you buy dat poison for you boy! You mad!&#146; </p><p> Norma Browne continued eating, but she looked up and exposed her face to Grace. </p><p> &#145;You think so?&#146; She muttered with complete unconcern. And that left a chill in Grace&#146;s stomach. </p><p> &#145;Where he is?&#146; Grace asked. </p><p> &#145;Below de house. Sleepin.&#146; Norma swallowed. &#145;He tired.&#146; </p><p> &#145;Still &#150; erm &#150; hittin you?&#146; Grace went completely still. </p><p> Norma stopped short, the bit of meat held contemplatively between her thumb and index finger. She nodded. </p><p> &#145;First de father and den de son. God bless me I don have no boy chile. But I wish, I wish I had a boy to raise he hand and touch me! Jeezan bread, I wish dat if&#133;&#146; she stopped breathless, eyes flaming in the lamplight. &#145;God forgive me but I&#146;ll make dat sonuvabitch wish he never born.&#146; </p><p> Norma smiled, &#145;Dat&#146;s de problem. You don see? If he&#146;s a son ova bitch, dat mean I is de bitch dat make dis son. I don wish he never born but sometimes, sometimes I wish he don live no more. To ease, to ease im up a bit.&#146; She looked up apologetically. </p><p> Grace grunted irritably. &#145;You &#150; you not goin to let im continue!&#146; </p><p> &#145;Nuh.&#146; Norma licked her fingers. &#145;Nuh, I goin stop im. Tonight.&#146; </p><p> The certitude in her voice made Grace lean closer. &#145;You goin ter&#133; Jeezas, girl. Jeezas!&#146; </p><p> &#145;I not goin ter, y&#146;know. But like I say, I think of it sometimes &#150; sometimes, all de time &#150; for a whole day, I think of it. If y&#146;all hear im bawlin, not to bother. Tell everybody not to bother.&#146; Something in her tone turned Grace&#146;s eyes to Norma&#146;s hand, the one that lay curled up like a bird&#146;s claw in her lap. </p><p> That hand alone was reason enough for everyone to bother. What kind of woman would place her hand between the cogs of a machine so that she could get the insurance to send her boy off to a high-class school in St. George&#146;s. Inside a canemill besides! And if she could do that to herself for him, what on God&#146;s earth wouldn&#146;t she do to make her sacrifice worthwhile? </p><p> &#145;Go easy,&#146; muttered Grace, taking up the bowl of unfinished food and heading for the kitchen. It was both a warning and a farewell and sensing this, Norma got up. </p><p> &#145;If you hear him,&#146; she started. </p><p> &#145;Uh-huh,&#146; Grace answered &#150; a little too brusquely perhaps, without turning round. &#145;Rum-an-coke is what dey call it,&#146; she called out from the kitchen. &#145;Dey take dat ting and drink down rum right after. Dat&#146;s what make dem mad an beat up deir own flesh-an-blood so bad.&#146; </p><p> &#145;Ah know.&#146; Norma curled her hand around the packet. All of a sudden the room felt too bright for her. She lifted her bad hand above her eyes as if to shade them from the sun. She paused briefly at the doorway, made as if to say something then changed her mind before slipping out into the night. </p><p> Back home, she helped the boy from under the house and led him to the bedroom. He was quiet and aware of her but she knew that soon he would be shivering. She lit the lamp, undressed him and bathed him like she used to. The way she thought she&#146;d forgotten. And then she went back to the kitchen. </p><p> There, she carved out a portion of the stuff exactly as she&#146;d seen Teestone do. She knew where he kept his needle, knew what she had to do. </p><p> She went in. Laid the small bag down beside the door. He&#146;d already begun to shiver. </p><p> &#145;C&#146;mon Bumpsy, take this for mammy,&#146; she said, speaking to him exactly as she would to a baby; and he seemed, from somewhere deep inside, to recognise that tone; began curling his shirt ends between his fingers like he used to when he was a child, while he looked at her with a tired, helpless uncertainty. </p><p> &#145;Is for you. Tek it from Mammy,&#146; she urged, the voice soft and angry at the same time. </p><p> He took the needle and she watched him unflinching, while he served himself, so hungry for the ease it offered he was almost sobbing. And then while he recovered and then began floating away from her, she reached below the bed, opened the bag and took out the length of chain and the padlocks she had bought in St. George&#146;s. Still cooing her mummy-talk, Norma Browne fastened her son against the bed. </p><p> If you hear im bawlin, she&#146;d told Grace &#150; who would, come morning, pass the message on to everyone &#150; If you hear im bawlin, tell everybody not to bother. And she knew the bawling would begin soon, or some time in the morning, or perhaps the next day, and it would go on for a long, long time. </p><p> Back in the kitchen she mixed most of what remained of the powder in the paper bag. Finished, she leaned out of her window and observed the precocious girls, the motorbikes, the occupants of the occasional car sneaking back and forth between the road and Teestone&#146;s house. </p><p> Soon the traffic would subside, the lamps go out and the whole world come to a pause while Teestone slept. </p><p> It is a warm, tense night &#150; lonely too because there is nobody to talk to and the sound of the wind, and the great, starless emptiness above her makes her think of futile distances, of the irreconcilable vastness of the world, her own smallness, and the place she feels she no longer has in it. Because a time does reach, she thinks, when a woman can only hope for what come after she: she children and de children dat will come from dem, that would pass on and on and on, if not her name, then her blood and perhaps a memory of her; an acknowledgment that they were alive only because she existed once. Dat, dat&#146;s what does mek life worth someting. </p><p> Her hand is itching again and she thinks that perhaps it will rain. Her hand always itches before it rains. She is slightly anxious. A low wind stirs the air, shakes the trees above the houses and leaves a smell of cinnamon, swamp and charcoal over the village. As if this were a signal, she straightens up, steps out into the night. Full height, she is much taller than most people have seen her, and she has lost her shuffle as she walks across the yard. She is as soundless as the shadows that move throughout the early night to and from Teestone&#146;s house, and just as silent when she climbs his steps. </p><p> She remembers the hole in the living room and avoids it. She carries a very clear picture in her head of the house and everything in it. </p><p> The lamp is lit in his bedroom and he is asleep, rolled over on one side and snoring softly. He is naked. One of the girls lies curled up in front of him, naked also, the young hips turned inwards, giving her a curious air of innocence. Sleep has also stripped away what remains of the womanishness she wears by day, almost like another garment, and has made of her a girl again. </p><p> She kneels beside Teestone and he stirs, perhaps sensing her in sleep. </p><p> The jab wakes him. He erupts out of sleep, his hand clutching that laughing vein at the side of his neck, but she is strong and she keeps him and the needle there until she empties it of her thousand dollars worth of niceness. Eyes wide, Teestone stares at her. His fist closes on her wrist. It is the bad hand that he is crushing and it hurts. But she smiles that dark, beautiful and alluring smile; something wonderful to take with him, she seems to say. </p><p> He eases back on the pillow releasing her and sighing the longest, most restful of all sighs, his face still incredulous, still profoundly outraged. </p><p> The girl has not stirred from sleep, and for that Norma Browne is grateful. </p><p> She walks out of the house, turns and spits carelessly at the dark before crossing to her yard. </p><p> Before she goes in, she pauses, turns her face up at the sky and sniffs. She could smell the morning. But it is still dark. And the world and the birds down there are very, very quiet. </p><p> <i>From: <a href="http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/1902294084/ref=sr_aps_books_1_1/026-0633569-8082029" target="_blank">A Way to Catch the Dust</a>.</i> </p><p> </p></div> Culture arts & cultures The Americas literature Jacob Ross Original Copyright Wed, 14 May 2003 23:00:00 +0000 Jacob Ross 1220 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Chirren https://www.opendemocracy.net/node/1050 <div><div class="pull_quote_image"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/content/articles/1050/images/CHILD.jpg" alt="child" border="0" /><span class="image_caption"><i>photograph by Jacob Ross</i></span> </div><p> 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&#146;t really have. Yunno that calypso: <i>A twist o she waist an a wink from she face was what start de riot?</i> Well I swear the fella who make that one up must have been inside once. </p><p>Dancing in the yard was against regulations anyway, but you know how blackooman stop. You can&#146;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. </p><p>And that was nothing compare to when the long-hair one &#150; the troublemaker name Sinty &#150; 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. </p><p>But wasn&#146;t that what nearly cause the riot. </p><p>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. </p><p>Anyway, it happen one morning after a really bad night because Skinnit, the quiet babyface one with the glasses &#150; who I been reliably informed, was writing a book in secret &#150; the young fella take a bed sheet to he neck and we had to lift him down. </p><p>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. </p><p>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&#146;t work this time, so I realise was serious trouble coming. </p><p>&#145;Chirren!&#146; somebody shout. &#145;Is chilren!&#146; </p><p>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&#146;t hear it! Serious! They didn&#146;t hear it at all. Or maybe they hear it and they didn&#146;t care. Or maybe they care but they didn&#146;t want to hear it. I don&#146;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. </p></div><div><div class="pull_quote_image"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/content/articles/1050/images/birdsgoing_home.jpg" alt="birds going home" border="0" /><span class="image_caption"><i>photograph by Jacob Ross</i></span> </div> <p>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, &#145;Comrade,&#146; he say, &#145;You hear what we hearing down there? You hear that?&#146; </p><p>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. &#145;I see dem, I see dem. I see dem.&#146; Was all he shouting. &#145;Is dem I see &#150; I see dem.&#146; 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. </p><p>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. </p><p>I was the last to look. I didn&#146;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. </p><p>Well, I didn&#146;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. </p><p><i>Taken from</i> <a href="http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/1902294084/ref=sr_aps_books_1_1/026-0633569-8082029" target="_blank">A Way to Catch the Dust</a>. </p><p> </p></div><i></i> Culture arts & cultures Jacob Ross Original Copyright Wed, 19 Mar 2003 00:00:00 +0000 Jacob Ross 1050 at https://www.opendemocracy.net