Authors: Kerry Young
Tags: #General Fiction, #(¯`'•.¸//(*_*)\\¸.•'´¯)
A people is not independent once it has shaken off the chains of its masters; it begins to be once it has extirpated from its being the vices of vanquished slavery, and, for homeland and to live anew, rises up and gives form to concepts of life radically opposed to the customs of past servility, to the memories of weakness and adulation that despotic rule uses as elements of domination over the enslaved people.
– José Martí
‘I hear a sigh across the earth.’
I grab a piece a wood and I hit him. And I hit him. And I hit him. And all I can hear is the dull thud like when yu bash open a ripe watermelon and the juice splash all over yu. And then I hear Marcia screaming as she trying to get out from under him. She shoving him off of her but my arm is still moving because all I am thinking about is how he done it to me; and how his hands so rough everywhere he holding me down; and how the coir mattress stick me in the back as I lay there staring up at the rusty old corrugated zinc roof he got on this shack; and how it so hot in here; and how the smell of him, the thick, sour sweat of him, mek my stomach turn and mek me want to heave but I just lay there like a piece of board until it was done.
This is what I am thinking while my arm is swinging and swinging ’til Marcia grab me and we run outta his stinking pit into the air and the rain. We run past the hole in the ground where he burning the wood to mek the coal and into the trees, through the mango and breadfruit and banana and pear. We just tearing our way past everything. We cut through the cane field and run through the bush past branches that catch your arm and roots that catch your foot. Down, down ’til we mek it to the river. And is then I realise I still got the piece a wood in my hand. So I smash it. I find a big rock and I smash it and pull it and tear it ’til there was nothing left but twigs and splinters and dust and I throw the bits into the river. And then I jump in after them because the blood is all over me with the rain meking it run like its own little river of red rolling down my face and all over my hands and soaking into my frock. And that is when it stop raining.
I say to Marcia to get in and wash herself. We take off our frocks and rub them under the water and ring them out and bash them on a rock and rinse them some more. And then I tell her to mek sure she do between her legs as well and she say to me, ‘Him didn’t do nothing to me yu know. Him just get on top a me when you bust through the door.’
‘It nuh matter. Wash away what him intend to do to yu.’
We lay out the frocks to dry on a big rock in the sun and I tell Marcia we must go hide in a bush ’til the clothes dry. I don’t want nobody coming down here to find themselves two young girls all naked waiting for them to tempt their nastiness.
When the frocks dry enough we put them on and we start walk back home. I say to Marcia, ‘What yu doing up there in the shack with him anyway?’
‘I meet him on top road with a whole heap a wood him carrying to go mek the coal. But him rope bust and he got the wood all over the road and ask me to help tek it down the hill. So I do it, and when we get to the shack him say to me if I want come inside for a glass a lemonade so I say yes and that is when him jump me.’
I don’t say nothing to her because it too late now for any advice I would be fixing to give. Then she say, ‘What we going tell Mama?’
‘We not going tell her nothing.’
‘We not going tell her?’
‘She only going say to yu the same thing she say when him do it to me.’
Right then Marcia just stop walking and turn to me.
‘Him do it to you? Him actually do it?’
‘Maybe two years back. When I was ’bout the same age as you.’
‘And what did Mama say to yu?’
‘She say, how many times I tell yu to stay away from that man? Barrington Maxwell not right in the head. Wouldn’t nobody have nothing to do wid him if it wasn’t for the coal him meking up in them woods.’
‘She didn’t say nothing ’bout what him do to yu?’
‘I just finish tell yu. She didn’t say nothing. She just go pick some herb and boil some bush and give it to me to drink. And she say, that going fix anything he might have leave me wid and that was it.’
So we carry on walking and a little later Marcia say, ‘Yu think yu kill him?’
‘Don’t talk like that! We don’t know nothing ’bout it yu understand me.’
‘But what if him not dead? What if him going come and point us out?’
‘Point out what? Point out that him got yu in the shack there trying to ruin yu? Because him never catch sight of me. I come up behind him and I hit him before him know what was what, him so busy holding you down and dropping him pants. Yu just shut up ’bout it now.’
All the time we walking my feet stinging from running over the rough ground. When we nearly reach back I find a nice big puddle a water and I throw myself face down in it, and I tell Marcia to do the same. So when we get up the frocks covered all down the front with the sticky red mud yu always get after the rain.
‘What the hell happen to you?’
‘We fall down Mama.’
‘Fall down? Yu know how much scrubbing it going tek to get that mud outta dem frocks? Yu might as well have just tek dem ’round di back and put dem on di fire. You go tek off dem dresses now and put on something decent yu hear me. Then yu go put dem to soak. You two girls got no respect for anything.’
Later, when we sit down to dinner, Mama still vex. She slapping everything on the plate. The yam, the green banana, the salt fish and callaloo. When she pouring out the lemonade she almost miss the glass and have to use her cloth to mop up the spill. She not talking to nobody.
After we finish eat she tell Leroy to go fill the kerosene lamps before it get dark and she start tek ’way the plates. So I go help her and all the time we busy washing the dishes and clearing up she nuh say nothing to me.
Next morning she still vex. She tell Babs to go parcel up the ironed clothes to tek down to Miss Edna and Babs lay out the big square cloth on the table nice and neat and put the clothes in it and wrap and fold the edges good and tight and put the safety pin in the top just like how she see us do it because is usually me or Marcia that do this job. And that is how I know Mama still vex with us because she nuh talking to me and Marcia even if it mean she got her baby Babs doing these chores now.
When she going down the track I shout to her, ‘Hey Babs, yu want some company?’
‘Don’t call me Babs. My name is Barbara I keep telling yu.’ And she keep on walking even though she only twelve years old and she can hardly balance the pile a clothes on her head. So I shout Marcia and the two a us run after her ’til we catch up.
‘I don’t need no escort yu know. I perfectly well able to do this myself.’
Marcia say to her, ‘We know you able. But who say we cyan just walk down the road with our baby sister on a beautiful morning just so to enjoy it?’
‘I’m not no baby. You only two year older than me Marcia and in time that not going mean nothing.’
When I look back I see Mama standing up at the gate watching us like she fully expect me and Marcia to go help anyway.
We wait on the porch for Miss Edna to come back to us wid the money. She count it out into Babs’s hand. All in little copper and thing. And then Babs put the change into the purse Mama keep special for this and we go on our way. Miss Edna didn’t even offer us a glass a water. Mama been teking in her washing every week for near on five years and she never even say good morning to us or give us a little thank yu. Nothing. Is all she can do to count out the one shilling and sixpence into yu hand and then sit back on her porch with that sour face a hers, sipping her cold lemonade. And she don’t seem to think that we walk all the way down here with that heavy load, and we carry the dirty clothes up the hill in the hot sun, maybe we could do with some water to wet our lips. But Miss Edna nearly white and that in her mind mek her too good for the likes a us.
But when I think we going back home Babs say she got to pick up a few things Mama want from the shop. So I say OK and the three a us walk up the track to the road and start head off to town.
Every truck that come by Marcia trying to wave it down so we can catch a ride even though I keep telling her how dangerous it is, and she say, ‘There is three a us. What going happen to three a us?’
But I don’t care. I not having us teking no ride from no man. Next thing yu know he got six friends waiting ’round the corner just hanging there for us to get delivered to them nice and fresh off the highway. Ain’t nobody stopping for us anyway, so we carry on walking ’til we get there.
When we go in the grocery store Mr Chen say to me, ‘What you doing here on yu day off, Gloria? You not get enough of this place all week?’
‘Mama need some things urgent.’
We waiting there while Babs picking up this and that like she cyan mek up her mind and that is when the policeman step through the door. He is standing there in his grey shirt and heavy blue pants with the red stripe down the side and the shiny white belt over the red waistband. I think maybe I should run but my feet done stick themselves to the floor so it no matter what I fancy to do. The policeman look at me and then Marcia and Babs and then him say to Mr Chen to pass him the cigarettes him want. Twenty Lucky Strike. Him stand there eyeing us while him open up the pack and tap out the cigarette and stick it in his mouth. And then he reach down him side and I think he going for his gun but is only the lighter coming outta his pocket. Him flick the lid off the little silver Zippo and roll the wheel and mek the flame, and light the cigarette. And all the time he is standing there he is looking straight at me. Then he start to open his mouth and I can feel the cold sweat break out all over my body but I still cyan move. I just stand there wid my feet glued to the dusty wooden floor.
He got the cigarette in his hand and him sticking out his tongue and reaching into his open mouth. Him fetch out a loose piece a tobacco and flick it off the end of him fingers, and then him put the cigarette back in him mouth and drag on it long and slow, staring at me like him really studying me to see which way I going to jump. Him put the lighter back in him pocket and tek the cigarette outta him mouth and blow out the smoke in three little rings and then him say to me, ‘My, my, Gloria Campbell. You sure turning into a beautiful woman.’
The next day is Sunday and we have to go to church. Mama always want to get there good and early because if you go too late the place get crowded and she cyan get her favourite seat right up front where she see the pastor good and feel the vibration every time he slap his hand down on the Bible and beg the Lord to forgive us sinners. But the pastor only talk one word at a time, or maybe two, in between slapping the Bible so everything he got to say tek a long time.