In the rainforest, where the clouds hang over the trees, green and white creating a floating silver lining just above the tree tops. Green leaves sparkle as the grey light bounce off their dew sprinkled surface, monkeys sing in response to the chatter of the parrots. In some parts of the forest, the leaves are green cold, as mother’s eye attempt to escape the clouds. The scent of the soil fills the air, nature on simmer. Straying flower petals glides through the underbrush using natures transportation, settles in the yards, on the dirt roads and on the galvanized roofs.
Ahhhh another crisp cool morning in the hills of Eastern Kentucky. I instead of going to work, I would rather walk along this dirt road, past the pond with the ducks, down the hallo, through the grassy field, into the green forest, up the hillside, all the way to the top and watch the horses gallop in the field of blue grass.
Its 6 am, the sun is just rising as if being given birth by the green hill top. You stand on the beach right where the ocean crashes onto the beach. You shake a little as the cool ocean rushes around your feet., feel you feet sink into the sand as it retreats into the blue surf. Close your eyes and see that moment play back in your head in slow motion. Realize that you are not dreaming, you really are standing on the edge of paradise found.
Later that night, as they lay dozing under the night sky, Henry saw Akosua pick up the spear and walk off into the night. He got up and followed her silhouette into the bushes. Just before she entered the jungle she stopped and looked back. Henry dropped to the ground and lay still. Akosua smiled in the dark, then turned and kept walking. Henry got up and followed her into the jungle.
Akosua got to the tunnel that led to the path down the mountain, but turned up instead of going down. She walked to a rock that was the highest point on the mountain and looked out at the darkness. She stood and took the spear out of its goat skin holster, and held it up to the sky, and stood there for a second. The spear glowed so Henry positioned himself behind a rock and watched. Akosua stood her head to the sky as she mumbled. Suddenly out of the dark a figure approached her. Henry ran to her, but he slipped on the pebbles on the path and fell. He looked up just in time to see the figure reach out and grab the spear. Akosua tried to hold on to it, but stumbled and fell off the rock. Henry scrambled on his hands and knees trying to get to her.
As he was getting back up to his feet the mountain lit up with a brilliant white light. He stood up and watched the figure; it stood lit up just like Akosua when she first touched the spear. The blinding white reached the sky. And even the stars were like shadows against it. Henry heard the figure laugh as the power of the spear rushed through him. Light shot out of his mouth, as if trying to from the noise that his laughter made. Suddenly the figure screamed, as the light from the spear grew brighter. It lit up the mountain top and the jungle thousands of feet below. Henry looked over the edge, he saw the tops of trees that grew out of the mountain side. Birds soared around the mountain disturbed by the light, wild goats retreated stumbling on the rocks. Henry put his hands over his eyes to protect them from the light. Small white beams penetrated the clouds, giving the impression that solid streaks of raindrops was showering down from the heavens. The figure screamed in pain, as white light exploded from his body making him look translucent, as small beams of white light escaped his body. Henry got to the base of the rock and looked around for Akosua, but did not see her. He began to run towards the figure using his hand to block the light. Just as he was about to reach out and grab the spear Akosua appeared next to him,
“No Henry!” She screamed. Henry stopped and looked at the figure, the light had begun to dim and the mountain top became dark, until it was like before the figure grabbed the spear. Akosua reached out and grabbed the spear and the figure’s hand broke off, its fingers still wrapped around the stem of the spear. Henry stood and watched the figure; it was motionless, like a statue in a Catholic church. There was no more light coming from it, it stood just a dull white glow. Akosua touched it and put her finger on her tongue,
“Pure salt” she said. Slowly the feet of the figure began to crumble and it fell over the side of the mountain, Henry heard it hit the trees on its way down. He walked up to Akosua stood holding the spear
“That was the former Bokor leader. I knew someone had followed us here. It is a shame he could not join us,” she said as she put the spear back in its holster. It hung down her back almost touching the ground.
“Are you O K?” Henry asked. Akosua smiled,
“Am fine, let’s get back to the camp,” she said and they walked down the path, through the bushes and back to the camp.
I stood at the top of the hill looking down. It was pitch black down there. I looked back at the house from where I came. The light in the kitchen was on and I saw the shadow of someone moving around. I almost turned and go back, but damn it I wanted to go home, sleep in my own bed. The light from the house disappeared behind me and I was now in complete darkness, I mean, I could not even see my hands when I held them up in front of me. It was quiet, real quiet except for the sound of my size sixteen shoes crunching on the gravel road. Them big feet were like skies on the steep hill causing me to slide with every other step. The wind picked up whipping through the trees on either side of the road. I stayed to the left of the road because I knew that on the right side was about a forty foot drop onto Belmont road, well that was what I was imaging, I never walked close to that side to find out. I was startled from my thoughts when I thought I heard someone walking behind me. I stopped, sliding a little, and turned around, nothing, no movement, just total darkness. I shook my head and continued walking talking to myself. “No bad spirit betta interfere wid me tonite you know, Ie aunt is a real good Obeah woman,” Of course I did not have an aunt that was an Obeah woman, but the bad spirits did not know that. . The wind grew stronger, the trees shook, an owl hooted overhead. I got to a part of the hill where the road leveled out, I was a little relieved, no more sliding for a while. My relief was short lived as the wind wiped across the road, my shirt sleeves flapped, my Michael Jackson afro hair style leaned to one side. Then I heard it, an awful howling. I stopped, my heart was beating so hard I felt it in my toes. I muttered to myself hoping whatever Jumbie was on that hill with me would go away. The howling stopped and I started walking again, this time faster. I did not want to run, hell I was a man, why should I be afraid. The wind swirled around me, leaves and dust hit my skin making me feel like an army of ants were crawling all over me. Then that dreadful howling, I mean it sounded like a million Jumbies were in the bushes ready to attack me. Stories of people being taken away by evil spirits filled my head. I started to jog, the howling grew louder, the wind was stronger. I started to run. By the time I got to where the flat road ended, and the hill was steep again, I was in a dead sprint. I propelled down the hill, out of control, my instincts willing my legs to hit the gravel one in front the other. Suddenly I saw the light at the end of the hill, it was just a blur, but damn what a beautiful blur. I tried to stop but the lose gravel and my big feet would not corporate. I slid and was suddenly airborne. I landed on my butt and slid, my ass felt like it was on fire as small stones dug into my skin. I miraculously stop right before I got to the busy asphalt road. A car sped by. I sat there for a second feeling safe in the light. Then I got up and limped away, my bruised ego happy that no one saw what just happened. The next day I told my brother Desi that an evil spirit chased me off the hill. He laughed so hard he was out of breath. Then he said, “So when yuh heard de howling, was de wind blowing real hard?” I nodded, he started laughing again. “Boi, dat was no evil spirit, dat was the wind in the Bamboo patch on the side ah de hill.”
Here Raphie was, standing at the top of Cooper Hill, not able to move, not able to scream, his heart racing, sweat pouring down his face, his back, his chest, hell sweat was even pouring down his legs. He started to run but realized he was not going anywhere, in his head he started to pray, “Oh God, if I escape dis I go never drink rum again,” He tried talking, but all he managed to do was sound like a rooster was stuck in his throat. Why you ask Raphie was in this predicament, well he was standing at the top of Cooper Hill, just before the only lamppost on the whole damn hill, drunk and face to face with, the Cooper Hill ghost. Yes the Cooper Hill ghost. Romour had it the ghost was that of a World War Two Veteran who came back from the war and spent his nights standing under that lamppost as if keeping guard, but when he died, months later, people started seeing him there, his gun on his shoulder, still at attention. See Raphie did not believe, he thought all the talk about a ghost was pure nonsense, but here he was, face to face with the weary soldier. The old war man turned to him, then slowly brought his rifle down to his side and saluted. Raphie suddenly was able to move, he took off, stumbling down the cobble stoned hill. At one point he fell on his bum, but he did not stop, he used his legs to drag himself like he was rowing a boat, totally destroying his brand new pants. So I asked him, “Did de ghost chase yuh?” he said, Damn boi I du know,, I was just trying to get away from dere you know.”
The outfit was white and the shirt sagged on me when I put it on, the pants were bout two or three inches too short and they flapped against me ankles as I walked over to the mirror next to the dresser, I looked at meself, hell man; I felt like a damn clown all I needed now were big red shoes. I walked back over to the bed and sat down nervously waiting for what was to happen next. I thought bout the stories I had heard bout Obeah meetings, Dummy James had lost he voice after putting a spell on some woman who had jilted him, I mean, what was the man thinking, if you took one look at he face you would know why he damn woman left him. Anyway, the damn spell must have backfired or something because after he came back from the obeah man he sounded like a seal in heat when he talked. Let’s not forget Crazy Lucy, the woman lived in a broken down house on the street near the school I attended when I was about ten years old, man I tell you, that woman was crazy for so, I mean, she had this wild look in she eyes and some of me schoolmates had said that she frothed at the mouth when she got vexed. She had stepped in a potion she had laid out for she lover’s mistress and now one of she legs was twice the size of the other. I remember walking by that house afraid to look at her, she would chase we school kids with a broom all the while screaming that we was the devils children and we would burn in the pits of hell. At night when I went to bed I still heard she voice echoing in me head, I mean, these were two people I grew up hearing stories bout and I sure did not want to end up like them.
I got up and walked over to the window trying to clear me mind, the shadows of the tree branches stretched out across the yard like God’s fingers tightening he grip on the earth. I was becoming impatient, I mean, when the hell were they going to start this ceremony? Then as if they knew what I was thinking, the door opened and Alison and the old lady who opened the door for me earlier walked in.
“Is time,” Alison said she was wearing a black dress that came to just above she knees, the bright red turban wrapped tightly round her head complimented the plain design of her dress. The old woman was wearing a white dress with red pin strips on it and a black turban that looked like it was twice as big as Alison’s.
“Dis me aunt,” Alison said, bobbing she head in the direction of the woman, the woman smiled a very small smile and before I could ask any questions Alison reached over and turned off the light. The sudden darkness startled me and I had to follow the silhouette of the two women as they walked into the other room. The sent of the incense was not as strong as it was earlier in the day and only the candles burned casting ghostly shadows across the room, I walked cautiously keeping an eye on them bloody dolls.
We quickly went through the room and out the back door, the night air was cool and refreshing lifting some of the anxiety I felt in the house. Me toes sank into the moist mud making me realize that I had forgotten to put on me shoes so I stopped, but the women kept on walking.
“I have to go back,” I said, as I turned and ran back to the house. I stumbled through the candle lit room, I swear man, one of them bloody dolls winked at me. I went into the bedroom and I did not stop to find the light switch, I just fumbled round in the dark until I found me shoes, ran back to where the women stood waiting their body’s mere shadows in the sliver moonlight. They began to walk as I came out the door and I had to put on me shoes while on the run, breathing hard stumping me toes on rocks that stuck out on the path, good lord, I wish them two witches would slow down, I mean, here I was falling all over the place and they do not even care. They pressed on like soldiers on a life or death mission.
The wind grew stronger as we went higher up the hill, the trees swayed like crazy and those tall bamboo trees howled like hungry wolves. The path suddenly changed and I found meself stumbling downward, the sound of fire filled the night and dark clouds of smoke floated into the air just ahead, the moon changed from a silver colour to gray as the smoke covered it. Then I heard the drums it was a slow deliberate rhythm that seem to resonate through me body. The path came to an abrupt end and we walked onto grass and the sound of the drums was replaced by the murmuring of people, sweat rolled down me face and I shivered a little in the cool night air.
The two women walked faster and I had to jog to keep up with them. We came into a clearing where people stood round in a big circle with a huge bonfire in the middle. I stopped, what in the hell was that fire for? Sparks flew into the air and into the crowd causing them to scatter in all directions. I was surprised at how many people were there, they stood anxiously waiting for the ceremony to begin and to me discomfort they all turned and looked at me as I walked into the circle. A sense of panic went through me god help me, cause me fate was sealed for sure. I looked round at the people, were they all here to see me ceremony or was it normal for so many people to attend these things. In their eyes I saw how important this was to them, I mean, here I was a lost soul being brought back to the fold an educated fool who needed to be taught the ways of his ancestors, for the first time in me life I saw how strongly these people felt bout they beliefs.
Alison and she aunt had disappeared into the crowd and I found meself standing alone among all these strange people. They talked among themselves occasionally casting glances in me direction, man, I was so uncomfortable me knees felt like they was rubber, here were these people true believers and here I was a skeptic, a desperate man looking for some consolation after realizing that there are some things in the world that he had no explanation for. Some of them smiled at me I bet they knew me grandmother after all she was well known in these parts as an accomplished healer.
I walked across the middle of the circle trying me best to avoid the sparks coming from the fire, I walked into the crowd on the other side and tried to lose meself in them they parted, giving me room to get by, the men shook their heads and the women smiled as I went by. Suddenly the drummers picked up they beat and the crowd became more excited, oh hell, looks like the ceremony was bout to begin.
There were stars shining down on West Virginia last night
Reflecting on the Ohio river as it slowly meander along
On the mountain tops, earth tones in the dark
Streams like silver cracks rushing trough the rolling hills
On the deer prancing across a winding road
The laughter that echoes across the valleys
The silhouette of the coal train at the top of a hill
Across from a house where you sit on a porch taking it all in.
I ran through de forest, me legs churning, me heart racing for so. Beads ah sweat rolled dung me face, me shirt stuck to me back. I was moving as fast as me skinny fourteen year old legs could take me. I hurdled some bushes, butterflies fluttered into the air, I disturbed dey Sunday simmer dung session. I ran through Miss Mabel yard, she dog took off after me, bloody mutt, dat mangy beast coulda get a good kick in he mouth. I hurdled the fence in she back yard, de wooden structure cracked and popped under me weight. I ran up the steep hill, dung the other side, sending rocks and stones propelling dung the hill. Burst through the wroth iron gate, through the drawing room, into the dining room and stopped. There is was, a full plate of food. Macaroni pie, stewed chicken, rice and peas, and callaloo, me favorite, yes man, me most favorite lunch. I closed me eyes and took a deep breath, oh the smell went through me nostrils and hit me in de back ah me head, I almost fell over. “Go wash yuh han nah boi,” Mommy Charles said. I opened me eyes as she was laying a glass of Passion fruit juice next to the plate ah food, “Ok Mamie,” I said and walked out the back door. I would run a thousand miles for Mommy Charles cooking.
The Damsel, acidic, sour, face twisting fruit. I remember raiding Mr. Jones tree. Every afternoon after school, sneaking into his backyard, climbing the Damsel tree, filling my pockets, then going on top of the hill overlooking the ocean and gauging myself with sour ecstasy. Ohhh the tanginess, the sharp rush of tartness traveling through my mouth. My eyes watering, smacking my lips, eating the Damsel until my tongue was numb. Sometimes, I would pick enough to make Damsel stew, Brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, boiled to a simmer. Waiting until it was cool enough to eat, ohhh suck sweet torture. Those were the days, the island days.