Somewhere over the rooftops, you can see the blue sky, cloud like white shadows disappear into cotton candy puffs. Somewhere across the rooftops, down into the market, a fruit vendor lays out his colourful fruit, singing along to the calypso music thumping from the minibus. Somewhere, just beyond the rooftops, where the natural habour sits, with houses nestled in the trees, the fishermen prepare to go out to sea. Somewhere across the rooftops, a young boy pulls on the ropes sending the chimes of the church bells echoing through the city. Somewhere beyond the rooftops, school children chatter as they walk the narrow streets. Overlooking the rooftops, I daydream about the beach, the rolling waves, the scent of salt, the jumping fish, the glitter of the sun against the water. Somewhere across the rooftops, paradise waits for every man.
Bunjayyyyy, look at all them sweet fruit dey nah, gul, I cawn mek up me mind atall atall. Wah yuh mean jus get some ah everyting, dem fruit grow on tree but I have to wuk for me money yuh know. Get some ah everything, boi yuh is a madman yuh know. Wah you mean doh bite de guava, how else I go know it sweet. Wah, I go hav to pay for it, boi yuh stingy for so yuh know. How much for dat watermelon, Oh me lawd, dat real expensive, dis is highway robbery yuh know. Wah yuh looking at woman, eh? I holding up de line, wah you mean I holding up de line. I is shopping here, wah yuh doing here eh? Don talk stupidness at me dis morning yuh hear, I doh have de patience for it. Well look at me crosses, I here trying to get me fruit and provisions and dis woman trying to test me, gulyuh don know who yuh playing wid yuh know. Leh me get me ting and dem and go home before I box dis woman in she mouth. Move dey nah, move, move.
Gul wake up nah, we have to go catch the mini bus. we have to get there before dem people buy up all the juicy mango and dem yuh know. Gul hurry up, de bus coming.
See wah I tell yuh, de bus pack, pack, pack for so. Damn, I hate when dey cram people on de bus like dis yuh know.
Bunjay, look at all ah dem people. Come on gul, leh me go to me favorite seller, he does have de best fruit and vegetable.
Hey man, how yuh doing, hey wah yuh rolling yuh eyes far, me is one ah you best customers yuh know. Wahyuh mean you doh have time for me cause yuh busy. Yuh wan me to tek me business someway else man? Yeah, jus like I thought. Boi, wah kinda little, little mango id dat you have today eh? Wah you say, boi yuh better watch yuh mouth yuh know. Lady, lady, yuh stepping on me foot. Wah, who yuh stupesing (sucking teeth) at, duh mek me box yuh in you bloody mouth. All yuh tink yuh bad in dis market today, well all yuh meet yuh match. Clear de way leh me look at them peas, dey look good for so. Wah yuh say, hurry and buy something, boi duh hurry me up nah. I tell yuh, people rude for so today. Young lady, duh touch dat paw paw, I saw it first. Wah you want to fight me, girl I is old enough to be yuh mudda yuh know. I couild put yuh over me lap and give yuh good licks. Yes, yuh better put it dung. Oh lard, I better get out of dis market before policeman have to come get me. I can’t tek all this pushing and yelling and ting. Me basket done full already. Gul leh we go nah. Wah yuh not done yet. Gul yuh doh need no dame ocro, yuh children and dem nah go eat it anyway, leh we go.
Yes man, its time to rise and shine, hear the birds them, see the sun rise, watch the fishermen them go out to see, hear the stevedores them unloading the cargo ship. Yes man, its a tropical morning, it may seem all the same to you, but listen, you could hear the difference. Yesterday, someone was playing reggae music, today, I hear a little calypso. Today, Miss Mabel selling golden apples not mangoes, and in the market square, they is more green figs (bananas) than ripe ones. Yes man, its a brand now day. Wake up and live.
Nice and quiet, right before the hustle and bustle of commerce begins. The fruit and vegetable venders haggling over prices, the mini bus drivers shouting for passengers to favour their bus, the taxi drivers trying to get tourists to take a ride with them, the school children trying to get to classes, the sound of the church bells signaling the hour, loud soca music from all the mini busses. Oh yes, soon the busy hour starts, well busy hour for island life.
When we were kids, there is this game we used to play called green leaf, the objective of the game is to always have a green leaf on you because if the person you are playing with walks up to you and said green leaf and you don’t have one, you will get the beating of your life, and you can’t fight back, you just have to stand there and take it. I know, I know stupid game, but that is what happens when its an all boys school. I had this fried named Desmond, he was evil when it came to the game. He would wait for weeks, and when you least expected, there he was, a big smile on his face. I would reach into my pocket, pull out a leaf, but after weeks in my pocket, it was a dead brown. I would get punched, pinched, slapped on the back of the head. I always avoided that boy.
Years later, I went to Wesley College, a Methodist high school. I did not know Desmond was going to be there, all I know is I am walking down the street when I heard, “Green leaf,” I was stunned, I mean it was years. I took off, my skinny legs turning as fast as they could. Desmond gave chase, we ran through the streets, down alleys, through the market square. I ran down a side street and stopped, thank god I lost him. I walked out of the side street and turned back to the market square, hell, I was going to get on my bus and head home, but boy I was wrong, Desmond knew who my favorite mini bus driver and was waiting for me. He unleashed a hurricane of punches and kicks on me, my skinny body felt like it would break under the blows. He walked away smiling, strutting like he just got his first kiss.
Ten years later, I am walking down Utica Avenue in Brooklyn minding my own business when I head someone shout, “Green leaf,” at first I did not pay attention, that is until I heard footsteps coming towards me, they we hitting he ground heavy, and was more of a trot then a sprint. I looked over my shoulder and there he was, an older Desmond, the same bloody afro hairstyle only part of it was white. He was smiling real big. I did not stop to think, I took off running. So here we are, two grown men, running down a busy avenue one screaming “Green leaf!” The other dodging people trying to escape a beating. I got to an intersection and stopped, I mean what the hell was I running from, I am a grown man. Desmond caught up to me, but instead of the beating he usually meted out, he bent over, breathing hard, sweat rolling down his face, his shirt stuck to his back. He reaches out and tapped my shoulder, “Green lead,” he said in between trying to catch his breath. So now anytime I go back to Brooklyn, I was on the look out for Desmond, straining my ears over the noise hoping that I do not hear the dreaded words, “GREEN LEAF!!!!
I woke up the next morning still on the damn floor, pulled meself up and looked over at the clock on the desk and realized that it was almost seven o’clock. Slowly, I got to me feet me body resisting every damn move I made. I prepared for school wrestling with the idea of Alison helping me but still me skepticism kept me trying to find a logical explanation for what was happening to me. I stumbled to the bus stop not paying attention as villagers who greeted me.
During the day I passed Alison several times and I tried me best to avoid she, I mean, a grown man trying to hide from a damn child. She was relentless; standing everywhere I went searching me eyes for any indication that I had come round to she thinking. Painfully, the day came and went and surprisingly Alison did not approach me at all.
That night I lay in me bed looking up at the ceiling, as much as I tried to sleep I could not stop meself from thinking about the woman in white, me groin tingling as images of she flashed at me in the darkness. I heard the sound of waves smashing against the rocks, it seemed like the ocean was restless too, seagulls flapped by they piercing chorus echoed in me head long after they had flown out to sea, suddenly it was quiet, too bloody quiet for comfort, then like clockwork me body stiffened as the scratching sound filled the air. At first I was afraid, but the sound became rhythmic and sensual and I envisioned meself in a tight embrace with the woman in white, she long fingernails running down me back she actions real gentle at first but soon, she nails were creating pathways of blood down the contours of me back. I clenched the sheet, a desperate effort to try and stop meself from going over to the window but like a lost soul I got up and walked over to me destiny a deafening silence in me head. I looked down at the woman every frigging vein in me body throbbing. I began climbing out the window the world round me a mist of shadows and flashing light, then like a guardian angel the dove flew by me jolting me back to reality. I pulled meself back into the room and retreated to the meager safety of me bed; I pulled the sheet over me body a futile attempt at protecting meself, bloody woman could probably walk through walls anyway. Somehow I managed to fall asleep and thank heavens I did not dream.
As the week went by I found meself confused during the day and at night filled with eroticism and fear. I fell asleep in me classes a couple of times and some of the other teachers began to speculate bout what I was doing with me nights. I tried me best to ignore them, but that teacher’s lodge was too damn small a place not to hear the whispers or see they questioning stares.
By the time Friday rolled round I was tired and at me wits end, I mean, that damn phantom was real relentless. Several times I started to approach Alison, but backed down when I came face to face with she, she stood looking at me, she eyes filled with anticipation, then disappointment as I walked away. That afternoon racked with the thought of the woman in white I finally went up to Alison, she was sitting in a chair that someone had left in the hallway, a big book on she lap, she long fingernails tracing the words, the bracelets on she arms bouncing off each other creating wind chime like sounds throughout the school. I stood there feeling like a student about to ask a teacher bout a complicated math problem, she looked up and the expression on she face told me that she saw I was a whipped man, she smiled triumphantly when I approached she, infernal little twit, hell, I almost turned round and walk away right then. A couple of seconds went by and she said nothing, I told myself, man just do it and suddenly words spued out me mouth like a drunkard relieving himself on the side of a building. When I was done rambling she looked me in the eyes and said,
“Now Mr. Dickens, you betta start believing cause if you don believe notton go work,” I looked at she, me eyes pleading. She reached into a book bag that sat on the floor got out a pen and paper and wrote she grandmother’s address on it.
“If you follow dis directions you go get dere, me grandmother is expecting you.” I looked at the paper; the address was for a small country boukie village out in the middle of nowhere.
“If you get lost jus ask anybody and dey go tell you way to go,” Alison closed the book put it in she bag and stood up.
“Come up first ting in the morning,” she said and started walking away, but then she stopped, came back and stood real close to me.
”You better not change you mind,” she said she lips brushing against me earlobe. Some of the students had stopped and were looking at us so I stepped back from her as she continued talking.
“Without me Grandmuma’s help de La Diablesse go take you away and dere is no telling what she go do to you.” She turned and walked away mumbling as she went.
“Don’t let you high and mighty heart stop you. “ She shouted and she disappeared into the crowd of students.
I walked into the teacher’s lodge the scent of hot tea filled the air like smoke from a real small fire, Mr. Hopson was at his desk sorting out papers, he glanced up at me then turned back to his work.
“You look like hell,” He said as he turned he chair to face me.
“Lack of sleep,” I replied, sitting with me back towards him. I felt the damn man looking at me, I mean, what the hell he looking at me for? The hairs on the back of me neck stood up and a cold chill ran down the center of me back, I did not turn to face him nor did I speak and thank god he gave up on getting any more out of me. I though bout what Alison had said, I mean, was I so indoctrinated by the British education that I could not accept what was happening to me? I thought of me grandmother, what would she think bout this whole situation? Did she even believe the damn stories she told? I knew in me heart that I had to go to Alison’s Grandmother, if not for resolution but for the share curiosity that welled up in me like a volcano about to erupt. I thought bout the possibility of the other teachers finding out bout me attending an Obeah meeting, boy, that would be a majour catastrophe for me career. Mr. Hopson got up, shuffled through he papers some more and walked out the room, yeah, walk away you old goat better not bother me.
This was me favorite part of the day the students were gone and the old building was a symphony of creaking and cracking, like an old ship or something. I got up, gathered some papers and walked down to the market square.
Early afternoon was always busy on the island, the streets were buzzing with traffic as people rushed to and from work and school. There was a policeman at the intersection just down the street from the school directing traffic, he stood in a small booth perched fifteen feet up on a wall dividing two streets, from his vantage point he looked down onto an intersection with streets that ran at a strange angle into each other, the constant stream of cars kept the policeman busy as he tried to keep them moving in an orderly flow.
The streets were lined with old English and French styled buildings they wooden walls beginning to deteriorate from years of mechanical weathering, at night, a still darkness engulfs these relics as if trying to hide the secrets of their past occupants, I used to live in one of them houses, inside, metal chandeliers hung from the ceiling, I tell you what, them bloody old time metal fixtures were always malfunctioning. I remember we handyman being electrocuted the poor fella was hanging from the bloody thing he eyes so big he looked like a sick fish.
I walked past the policeman his white gloves signaling the cars as they went by their horns blaring, he black pants were pressed with a sharp crease, the red stripe that ran down the sides a great contrast to the black and gray pinstriped shirt, he hat was tipped down over he eyes a futile attempt to keep them protected from the sun.
Anyway I loved living in the old house because of its history, but it was built into the side of a hill and bullfrogs and rats used to get into the back room. Once when I was nine years old I woke up in the middle of the night and was accosted by two beady red eyes staring at me, man, I swear that stinking rat was smiling at me.
I was almost hit by a car as I crossed the street, jumping out of the way just in time as the driver yelled at me as he went by and I shook me fist at him, bloody idiot. I stood there me heart pounding like crazy, and it was then I got a strange feeling that someone was following me. I looked round and there she was standing on the sidewalk staring at me, she eyes locked to mine as if trying to hypnotize me or something. The crowd of students walking by was like shadows, inconsequential to the psychological war waging between Alison and me. I wanted to go over and talk to she, but instead I turned and walked down one of the side streets. I did not feel hidden enough so I turned down an alley, its cobblestone surface was real slick and I was cautious not to slip, seven feet was a long way to fall.
I passed small shops as I walked trying to concentrate on them so I don’t think bout Alison. There were colourful displays of tropical shirts and shorts neatly placed on racks sitting on the sidewalk in front of the stores. The names of the shops reflected the Middle Eastern immigrants that live on the island; names like Abuds and Kerpalanies were painted on the glass windows and on the walls above the doors. I walked by a Barbour shop, a small boy was squirming in the chair he mother stood beside him adamant that he get he hair trimmed, Music filled the air from one of the stores a clerk was singing lyrics to a Jimmy cliff song as he swept the sidewalk in front of he store.
I left the Alley and walked into the market square, there was a cluster of mini buses in they designated area, red, green and gold colours reflected off they metallic bodies. Each bus had a name painted on the front or on the side, names like Charlie’s Pride and Hurricane Victory, I mean, them fellas really took care of they busses. There were also big wooden busses made from flatbed trucks and they traveled mainly to the Northern part of the island, they were real practical for the venders who carried big loads of fruit and vegetable to the marketplace.
I stopped and surveyed the venders me mouth started to water a little, I mean, there were Mangoes, Guavas, pawpaws, chinups, oranges, red and yellow plumbs, Mammie Apples and bananas all displayed on wooden trays or on the ground on caucus bags, venders haggled over prices with their customers they gestures emphatic, they voices rose above the melee. There was a large building behind the venders, inside, different types of meat were being sold, pig snout, Blood pudding and salted fish, even some of the wild meat on the island could be found in there. The fresh scent of Manique, Tatoo and Mountain Chicken filled the air; I tell you what, smelling that fresh meat always brought me to the verge of being sick. I walked across the square and onto the street that ran parallel to it and I stood in the doorway of a shop that sold chickens and chicken feed, the fowls clucked and chirped as workers and patrons walked by they cages.
There were lots of students from various schools milling round the square, it was one thirty in the afternoon and all of the secondary schools had let out for the day. The mixture of uniforms made it seem like there was a student rally going on, some of them wore white shirts with dark green pants while the girls were dressed in white blouses and dark blue pleated skirts. I smiled to myself as I looked at their uncomfortable faces, poor bastards, eighty degrees out here and they had to wear ties and blazers aimlessly walking about waiting for they respective buses.
People who worked in the stores nearby mingled with the students and I could tell by the looks on their faces they were annoyed by the student’s presence. Most of the young men were sporting big Afros and bellbottom pants, they hair fluttering in the slight breeze.
I was a little more relaxed now, observing the activities in the square was one of me favorite things to do, still, I found meself thinking bout Alison. It was not uncommon for some of the islanders to practice the religion that came out of the slave trade, most of the practitioners lived on the Northern side of the island where all those county people live, Alison grew up with she grandmother in a small village where the old lady was known as an Obeah Priestess, I had never met she, but some of me students who lived in the same village were truly afraid of she. I was interrupted from me thoughts by the sound of the young men round me whistling, so I turned me head to the right trying to see what was causing the commotion and found meself looking directly into the eyes of this beautiful young lady. She beige coloured blouse barely able to cover she bosoms, she full lips complimented she perfect Afro centric face, she skirt came to just above she knees showing off she long brown legs. As she went by, the scent of she perfume filled the air surrounding me, she hips swaying from side to side as she made a path through the hoard of admiring young men. I closed me eyes trying to store that image in me mind but when I opened me eyes I was startled to see Alison standing in front of me, man, why wouldn’t this obeah princess leave me alone? For a moment I did not move, the image of the young lady’s swaying hips bounced round in me mind like a tennis ball at Wimbledon.
“She go come back,” Alison said she eyes wild and shifty.
“I hope so,” I said unconsciously.
“Not she, Ah talking bout de La Diablesse, she go come back and take you away.” She was close to me now she mint scented breath tickling me face.
“You have to stop this nonsense right now. Those stories are just that, stories, there is no La Diablesse, no spirits that would come and take you away at night!” I shouted and started walking across the street to the buses, I bet me damn face turned dark purple as she followed me shouting.
“You go learn, and when you do, it go be too late.” I climbed onto the nearest bus trying to hide meself in the small seats. The bus driver climbed in behind the wheel and to me great relief drove out of the square, Alison stood at the corner, she face contorted with determination as she watched the bus pull away. The driver navigated his way through the narrow streets and out of the market square.
Storytime. An island boy’s after school day.
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.