On cold days like this, I channel the hot summer midday of the island. When I would sit on the beach and watch the goats prance around on the small island just off the beach. Fell the warm sun sting my skin, the cool sweat roll down my chest, watch it glitter in the yellow sun. And when I get too hot, I would run towards the ocean, plunge into the cool ocean, swim out to that island, follow colourful fish as they glide along just about the white side of the ocean’s bottom. Step out of the surf, watch the crabs scamper as I plop down and sit there, feeling the sun warm me up again. Ahhh yes, sometimes daydreams are made to warm me up.
Days like today reminds me of rain storms in the villages in the rain forest. The scent of the wet mud, and bushes. Splashing around in the wet mud, rock slides and rivers over flowing. Fun for the kids but worrisome for the parents. Mud tracking into the house, replanting the flower garden, crops destroyed, goats, cows and sheep missing. Yet still, us kids would make searching for the animals fun. We were a posse, hunting Indians, shooting our make believe guns at anything that moved. Getting stuck in the sticky, volcanic mud, screaming for help, finding the animals, struggling to get them back to the yard. It all was hard work, but like I said, we always turned it into a game.
So here I was, way back at the fence in the back yard, hidden from the back door by five feet tall corn trees, sitting with my back against the Paw Paw tree, the biggest joint you will ever see in me hand. I took a big drag, blue the smoke out and watch it float up looking like a raincloud against the blue sky, right before a slight breeze whip it away. I was feeling good, real good. I thought I heard Mommy Charles in the kitchen so I was going to put out the joint, but noooo, I was too greedy, so I took one more hit. I heard a pop, then I feel a burn on me leg. I almost scream out. A seed still smoking a little rolled down me leg and settled on the ground. Damn thing left a small burn mark on me skin. I stubbed out the joint and went into the house.
Six weeks later, I was in the back yard weeding the corn and decided to smoke a little ganja, I went to me usual spot and was about to sit down when I notice a new plant growing there. I almost sat down but stopped, looked at the plant closer, nooo, it could not be, no, I am not that lucky, I dropped to me knees to get a close look, me heart raced up as realized, it was a ganja plant. I was real excited, hell me own plant. Right after the jubilation, fear set in. How was I going t keep this from Mommy Charles, hell you could not hide a needle in a haystack from that woman. I almost pull it out of the ground, but foolish seventeen year old logic took over. I thought about all the weed I would have from that one plant, I would not have to depend on the fellas to get m weed, hell the fellas will have to depend on me. So for weeks I nursed me plant, it was growing real good, leaves all green and healthy, stem strong, I was real proud of it. I even collected cow poop to use as manure for it, oh yes, I hated doing that to put on Mommy Charles Lilies, but damn it, this was way more important than some stupid lilies.
Weeks went by and now me ganja plant was two feet tall. I was boasting to all the fellas and them about it. Telling them that it will be the best they ever smoked, how I had the best green thumb in the whole village. Then one day I came home, walked into the house, “Mommy Charles, am home!” I shouted, no response, I checked the bed rooms, the living room, nobody, the house was empty so I went to the kitchen to pour a glass of Sea Moss and went to stand at the back door. There was Mommy Charles, standing on the lawn just in front of the corn patch. I walked out to her, “Hey Mommy, wey you doing?” She turned around and by the look in her eyes I knew, I knew that the possibility of me getting good licks was a foregone conclusion. “Who Tampi is dis?” she asked, bending over and picking up the marijuana tree. Me heart sunk, at that moment I did not care about getting licks. My tree, my beautiful tree was in her hand, its roots dangling, mud still dripping off of them. “Boi, I ask yuh a question, who Tampi is dis?” I snapped out of me sad trance, “Ah don know,” I stuttered, “Boi, I know yuh know, don lie to me,” I had to think fast because I knew this would be the greatest bust ass the village had ever seen, “Its Raphie’s.” I blurted out, oh yes, I threw me brother under the bus and I don’t mean a minibus either. Mommy Charles looked at me, looked at the plant. You is lying boi, I know yuh is,” I looked down not wanting her to detect my lying eyes. Then with fire in her eyes, she began to rip the plant apart leaf by leaf and with every torn leaf it felt like she was ripping a limp off me. There goes a finger, there goes an arm, there foes an ear. It was painful to watch, me first ganja plant mutilated by the angry Mommy Charles. After the vicious murder of my plant was over, she shook her head and gave me the dreaded disappointed look and then stormed off into the house. I dropped to my knees, like a hysterical spouse at a voodoo funeral. When the fellas and them ask me about me plant, I could not tell them Mommy Charles destroyed it, so I made up this story about the neighbour’s goat eating and how the goat was so high it head butted the Paw Paw tree knocking it down.
The crowd drew closer to the fire as if the flame hypnotized them or something, I felt a hand touch me and I turned round to see Alison smiling, she ushered me to the middle of the circle until I felt the heat from the fire against me skin. On the other side of the bonfire a goat was led in, oh great a bloody goat kill. A woman came out of the crowd entered the circle and stood before the goat the animal groaned, the damn thing sounded almost human. Another woman came forward she lips moving as if chanting but there were no words, she eyes closed, she head tilted to the sky, suddenly she began to cry she whole damn body started shaking.
The crowd rushed forward but stopped as if trying not to touch the woman, wood from the fire popped and cracked sending small balls of sparks into the crowd, small children scampered everywhere trying to avoid the small fireballs. The woman was still crying it was a deep guttural moan like a Mama Melody roaming the night. She fell to the ground she feet kicking up dust as she rolled round, suddenly, the circle opened up next to the woman and Legba John walked in. The drums grew quiet as if reverence had entered the circle or something, he was holding a small tree branch in he hand the green leaves moved a little as the wind swept through the circle sending sparks into the air. He stopped in front of the goat and the woman lying on the ground, everyone in the circle held they breath, I mean, even the fire became silent. Slowly Legba John placed the branch on the ground between the woman and the goat, then he stepped back wiping he hand on he milk white shirt.
The goat sniffed at the branch and took a step back as if sensing some kind of evil in it. The animal looked round at the people its body shook so hard its legs could barely support its weight, then as if drawn to it, the goat hobbled over to the branch and began chewing. Just as it began eating the leaf Legba John raised he arms to the sky and was muttering something inaudible he eyes as big as the moon that gave light to the proceedings. The lady that was lying on the ground got up and like a Zombie she walked over to Legba John and dropped to she knees, the old man turned to one of the men in the crowd and the man handed him a bowl, he cupped it in he hands and lifted it to the sky then slowly brought it down until he arms were stretched out in front of him. He looked up to the silver sky he lips moving, he frail arms shaking.
I looked round at the crowd, they too were looking upwards they lips moving they bodies shaking, the drummers began to pound on their instruments the rhythm echoing through the night like a million voices in a crowded forest. The people began to dance, at first it was real slow but man after a few seconds they were dancing as if possesed. A young man came out of the crowd and grabbed the goat, the animal struggled as if knowing what its fate was, muscles glistened in the yellow light as he grabbed the animal round its torso and it kicked furiously trying its best to escape. Then with a show of strength the young man picked up the goat and carried it out of the circle, no one seemed to be concerned with the struggling animal poor thing, it had to die just to save me soul. Off in the darkness I heard a loud bleat and the crowd busted into a frenzy of screams and dance, to me, a new comer this all seemed sort of barbaric but the listless, entranced expressions on the faces was enough to send chills down me spine, I began to walk through the revelers being bumped and pushed as I went. I saw three children lurking close to the forest, I watched them look round then disappeared into the bushes so I followed them.
The moon disappeared above the trees but reappeared as I walked into another clearing I heard them giggling so I followed the sound. I almost did not see the tent stopping just before I ran into it, I fumbled round until I found the doorway and walked inside. There was a table set in the middle of it with food laid on plates and bowls, I smiled yeah I remembered this from childhood, this food was there for the Gods to eat after they had cast out evil spirits but really it was the children and them who used to sneak in and eat the food, me friends used to try to get me to go with them but I was a big fraidycat. I slowly walked round the table its white tablecloth touching the ground causing the edges to turn brown, the dishes were white with some sort of floral design on them, damn people must thing they royalty or something, there were no knives or forks or any other implements to eat with.
I continued walking round the table then stopped at the front of it looking down on the feast, the children giggle and I looked round to see where they were, but I saw no one and continued walking. The light from the bonfire created shadows against the white material causing the trees and the dancers to merge together as if entangled in an orgy of motion, bloody images looked like they would reach out and grab me or something. I got to the door way and stopped and looked back at the layout and that was when I heard the giggling again so walked back to the other end of the tent hoping to find them little scoundrels. I heard a whisper from under the table and knelt down and pulled up the tablecloth and there they were crouched together looking up at me, they mouths dirty from eating the food little buggers, bet they had a tummy ach later. I smiled at them, a little boy, half naked mouth filled with rice smiled back he big eyes searching for some indication they were in trouble. I shook me head and let the tablecloth back down one of them sighed with relief as I walked away.
Just as I was at the end of the bushes and bout to enter the circle where the drummers were, the three little mischief makers ran by me they bare feet kicking up dust as they went. I wondered bout them, I mean, where the hell did they come from? I had not seen any children after I got to Alison’s house.
I entered the circle just as the drummers were switching players, there were four of them they black bodies glistening, they heads raised to the sky as they pounded on the drums cradled between they legs, they hands moving so fast they were blurs in the pale yellow light. I stood, taken by the moment bodies were sprawled everywhere some twitching violently, dogs were howling, birds flew round in the dark sky.
I looked round for Alison but the light was not bright enough for me to find she in the sea of shadows. The three children from the tent were on the other side of the circle talking to two smaller children and pointing in me direction. I started to walk over to them, but as if sensing what I was bout to do they turned and ran into the crowd. I tried to follow them bumping into people and almost caught up to them when Alison came out of the crowd and stood in front of me, Jesus Christ, this bloody girl was always sneaking up on me.
“Way you been?” she barked suspiciously. I tried to go round she but she stepped in front of me.
“I was just walking around” I said. This did not seem to satisfy she, but she did not press the subject.
“You mus’ go to de house now.” There was so much finality in she voice I did not attempt to argue with she. She walked off and I moved to catch up with she, when I did I started to match she stride for stride but just as I was bout to ask she a question she sped up, I mean what the hell, the damn girl was trying to avoid talking to me. I ran ahead of her and stood on the path in front of her, she stopped that stupid suspicious expression on she face.
“What was all this tonight?” I inquired. She looked at me but said nothing, I tell you what, me temper was at a boiling point.
“Listen, if I don’t start getting some explanation about all this rituals shit I will get on me bike and go home.” She still did not speak she just stared at me for a second and then stepped round me,
“You go find out soon enough,” she said walking away she dark skin disappearing into the night leaving only she white dress floating away like a ghost in a cemetery. I followed she back to the house neither of us said a word, we went inside and as soon as we got into the living room Alison disappeared into a door on the other side of the room leaving me to find me way to the bedroom.
The best moments in life are the longest, because they stay in your memory for a lifetime. Like night falling on the village I lived in on the island. When its cold, or when I am sad, when I am happy, or when I just need peace, memories of pictures like this always reminds me of simpler times, simpler because of youth, simpler because of culture, So as I look at this picture taken this evening by my brother, I remember, the village getting quiet, no cars on the highway, no people walking by on the gravel road, just birds and chickens and goats are stirring, the crackle of someone burning bush in their backyard, the sound of the bushes rustling in the trade winds/ I close my eyes and I realize, simpler times may just well have been the most peaceful times.
Sunday afternoon, I am sitting on the steps in the back yard. A pot of water sat on a table. I pealed the skin off the green bananas, chop them up and drop them in the pot. Then the breadfruit, and the Tanias, the yams, the Dashins, the I went into the kitchen and got a bowl and poured two cups of flour and salt into it and kneaded the flour, just like I would when making bread. I heard Raphie yelled a curse word, he was grating coconut and the Sharpe edges of the homemade grater nicked his thumb. I laughed and he glared at me, a green lizard jumped out of the grass landing on my foot. I jumped and screamed, Raphie burst out laughing, “Dats wah you get.” He said, pouring water into the grated coconuts. Raphie got some dry wood and put in on he coal in the coal pot then pour kerosene onto the twigs, woooossssshh, a blaze of fire shot up into the air. Raphie jumped back avoiding the flame that floated orange past his face. He got out a clay pot, dumped the vegetables in it, poured the coconut milk in then placed the pot on he fire. After a few minutes of boiling he went into the kitchen and came out with a bowl of chicken the we had seasoned over night with chives, thyme, celery, nutmeg, onions, garlic and other bushes that Mommy Charles taught us to use. The coconut milk was boiling over into the coals sending smoke into the air. He poured the chicken into the pot and then rolled up the dumplings and dropped them in. We sat quietly, the sent of the food filled the backyard. A rabbit hopped around in the bushes on the other side of the yard, A goat stood chewing on some leaves. Mt stomach rumbled, Raphie looked at me knowingly, his stomach responded to my, we did not need to talk, our stomachs were already having a conversation. I got up lifted the lid from the pot and the full blast of scent almost knocked me over. I looked at Raphie, soon, real soon we will be sitting on the steps, a plate overflowing with food. Oh yes, its Oil Down Sunday.