My brother is coming up to the U S for a visit, oooohhhh yes, have not seen him sine 1992. Its time.
As the war raged, I tried my best to cope, but nothing worked. One day my oldest brother walked into the room and placed eight cigarettes as big as Cuban cigars on the kitchen table. I looked at them, a little skeptical, but he swore that they would calm my nerves. I took my first draw on one before I realized it was the most potent joint I’d ever had. Needless to say, I must have smoked a pound of marijuana a day until all the fighting was done. We would get high, then go out into the front yard and watch as helicopters hovered over the city. They sometimes shot at targets, and I wondered how many were killed. One afternoon, when all was quiet, we stood outside watching the Navy ships come in closer. Suddenly a volley of gunshots rang out. I was standing next to the door, high as can be. Before I could react, I felt someone grab my shirt and pull me. It was my brother’s wife. That bloody woman was strong for her size. The look on her face was classic: she did not care how big I was, she was determined to move my big ass out of her way even if she had to huff and puff. I landed on my back looking up at my size seventeen feet. I remember thinking how big and ugly my feet looked against the tropical blue sky. Yes, that was my ganja voice talking to me. Before I could gather myself, she had disappeared into the house; I was the butt of jokes for a while.
I opened the front door and it hit me, the scent of fresh seafood cooking, ahhh yes I can smell the chives, the onions, the garlic, the sage, the peppers, and what is that? ahh yes a hint of nutmeg. I walked into the kitchen and sitting on the table is a bowl, steam still rising from it, I leaned in, closed my eyes and sniffed, my nose tingles, my stomach rumbles. Then I heard a voice behind me, “Wah you doing?” I turned around and my brother stood behind me/ “I was just going to eat,” I said, My brother stepped forward. “No yuh not, dat is my ital.,” he said, I looked and him and smiled, “Dat wah you tink, as far as I could see me is de one standing closest to it. ” My brother looked a little indecisive. I mean, I had a point, and I had the advantage. As we stood arguing over the one plate feast before us, Mommy charles silently walked into the room, picked up the plate and walked out. My brother and I stood looking at each other for a second. “Mamie, wey ours?” My brother asked. Well as Mommy Charles always said, ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer, “All you is grown men, cook yuh own food,”
Let me tell you about some of the encounters I had with the brothers. Though not as negatively profound, there still was an attitude of “you are not one of us”. One thing I learned real quick is that if a black man dates a white woman, some black men assume she is a “brother lover” so they did everything to conquer her.
In the fall of nineteen eighty-six, The Coal Miner’s Daughter and I were standing in line at the cafeteria of the school. One of the football players, Specs I will call him, decided to “Mac” on her. I guess he thought there was no better time to try. Hell, I was standing right there, so I guess he was trying to make a fool of me because he occasionally turned to his jock buddies laughing. They wanted to teach the immigrant how it was done. The second time he turned to his friends, The Coal Miner’s Daughter handed me the tray and walked off. He stopped talking to his friends turned around with this stupid grin on his face. “What time you want me to ……….,” he asked as he turned around and stopped dead in his tracks when he realized he was talking to my chest. I could see the disappointment in his eyes when he he saw that he was not looking into the chest he wanted to. “Is seven good for you?” I asked, then blew him a kiss. His glasses almost fell off his face as laughter filled the cafeteria as his friends dogged him.
I was called every name in the book by some of these gentlemen. African booty scratcher, dirty Jamaican, starving Ethiopian – of course none of the above applied because I am a frigging Spice Islander. I was not mad about the way they treated me. I knew that people who felt like they were being oppressed usually deflected their lack of security on others; been there, done that. Now you may derive from my tone that I am a little perturbed with the brothers. Well to a certain degree I am. Where the hell were they when a white president ordered the invasion of a black nation? Did they take to the streets? Did they express solidarity? As a matter of fact the army that invaded the island was sixty percent black. Now there is a perfect example of keeping people separated by culture. The only brother that showed interest in our plight was Harry Belafonte. Thank you my friend; it was the humane thing to do.
I worked a lot of hours and I always worked the night shift. Thank God for Mountain Dew; I drank enough of it to fill up a bloody Olympic-size pool. One of the places I worked was an apartment complex on Eleven Mile road. One night I was working when a rodent started screeching in the darkness. I stepped out of the guard hut and saw two yellow eyes staring at me. It walked into the light and I thought, damn, this beast looks like something I’ve seen before. When the beast realized I was walking towards it, the bloody beast charged at me. I turned and ran back to the hut and dove into the small window, landing on my head, my size seventeen feet sticking out the window. For a second everything went black. I dragged my feet off the window sill, my hip bouncing off the concrete floor. I stood up and looked out the window, joints cracking and head throbbing. This strange but familiar screech escaped from the beastly monster, echoing through the complex, sending chills down my spine. It stood on its hind legs looking up at me. Bloody thing looked like it was trying to climb in. I made sure the door was closed, sat in the chair and waited as the beast stood at the window most of the night, taunting me. Every time I looked out, it snarled, showing its rows of sharp teeth. The whole time I thought, “Damn, that bloody animal reminds me of home.”
The next day I told my brother about the incident. He smiled and then told me that he had seen a possum out there. That was the first time I realized that I had eaten the infernal animal. I had heard about people eating them in Kentucky and West Virginia but never realized what it was; back home we call it a Manique. Here I was laughing at rednecks for eating those nasty beasts. Here I am, a man who once feasted on the same meat. In my defense, my father had tricked me into eating the thing. I even used to go hunting them. We used to go to the woods at the back of the prison. One person would have a flash light and the others would have a Bangonet, a long bamboo spear. The person with the flashlight would shine the light into the possum’s eyes as it ran across a tree branch. We would poke at the beast with the Bangonet as another person with a burlap bag waited for the beast to fall into the bag. The point is, we are a lot alike. It is the bloody ideologies that make us believe we are different.
Lexington was so different. I had the hardest time assimilating. I tried to get jobs but no one would hire me. I was told I was overqualified because I managed stores in The Melting Pot City. I thought, just because I have a permanent tan, that was no reason to have tan envy. That city was my first close up encounter with a drug addict. Like me, my ex-wife loves to pick up lost souls and try to help them; not a good thing as we were both suckers for drowning people. She worked at a pizza place and met this gentleman who lived in the same apartment complex as we did. One night he asked for a ride to a friend’s house. Naive me obliged so we jumped into the car and we took off.
I drove into a group of four or five tall buildings. I don’t remember how tall they were. All I knew was an uneasy feeling came over me. As we turned down onto a street, a couple of young men ran up to the car. I thought what the hell. I am going to get my immigrant ass beaten up for sure. Their faces were dark in the fading light. One of them was wearing a red shirt and looked like a body with a shadow for a head. The other wore a white and blue basketball cap and a blue and white basketball jersey. He leaned forward and extended his hand. In it was a small plastic bag with white powder. I thought nothing of it. Remember, I had no idea of how the drug trade worked. My passenger was not pleased about the price, so we drove down another street. You may ask why I did not drive away. Well, the only person who knew our exact location was the idiot next to me. The last thing I wanted was to be lost in the bloody ghetto. The very next street we went down, a young lady walked up to the car and asked if we wanted a piece of ass. Now take into consideration I was not well versed on the lingo. I sat there wondering whose ass she was offering. I mean who would have a donkey in this concrete jungle? Once again, my illustrious acquaintance was not satisfied. The young lady walked away saying that it was our loss.
After a few minutes of driving, he had me stop at a corner. A fat brother waddled over to us, leaned into the window and looked at me, his breath stinking of pork. He looked at my passenger and asked if I was a cop. Yeah right. Me. A cop. By that time I was bloody vexed. All I wanted to do was reach over and yank this guy’s tongue out of his mouth. We left the projects and drove down the main road. This fool had the audacity to shoot up right there in the front seat of my car! He then leaned his head back and moaned; bloody idiot looked like he had just experienced the best sex in his life. I did not want to disturb his explosive moment, so I waited until we got back to the apartment complex. The second he stepped out of the car, I grabbed him by the throat and I told him never to come near my family again. He stumbled back, surprised as I stepped to him, my whole body burning. I left him there and went to my apartment.
I saw him one more time when he came over with his daughter. Poor kid. I could tell she loved him, no matter what. The last I knew of him was the day we found his uniform from the pizza place. It was lying in the parking lot next to his apartment. I sure hope his kid did not become a victim of his stupidity.
There we stand in the market square, my mother , my brother and I, the tropical sun beating down, the venders haggled with shoppers, their stands packed with mangos, plumps, sugar apples, bananas, yams, dashins, eddos, cabbage, lettuce. It was Saturday, market day. Slowly the sun began to play hide and seek with a dark cloud, the air grew still but the voices of the venders haggled on. Then without warning, the clouds spat, bucket a drop, as my mother would say. She gathered my brother and I, herded us under her flowing floral skirt and dashed for the building in the middle of the market square. She was soaking wet, but my brother and I was dry and comfortable.