One of the funniest incidents happened one hot summer day. I had become good friends with one of the ball players because when I first saw him, I thought he was from Africa. He had that purple-black complexion that glittered in the sun and always had a ready smile. He was about five feet ten inches tall, from Hoosier City, and was a really good person. We were sitting on a wall just up from the main street that ran through the campus. Around 4pm every day, truckloads of coal miners would drive through on their way home. My friend got off the wall he was sitting on and started doing the Pee Wee Herman dance. I did not think anything of it until I saw one of the trucks stop and back up. I turned to say something to him, but all I saw was the back of his head because he was halfway to the dorm, running like a mad man. I had never seen anyone run so fast, not even when we were running from the soldiers during the invasion or from the secret police during the riots. Let’s just say that Carl Lewis had nothing on this brother. We laughed about it later and he explained to me that for some reason, the rednecks would get really upset when a brother did that dance. That’s when I got an understanding of the impact that popular culture had on society.
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!!!!
Andre was fourteen when he and his mother moved them Brooklyn New York. He did not talk much nor, did not try to make any friends. He had a hard time adjusting to the big streets, the tall buildings, and the constant flow of traffic. Back on the island, he had started to act out, burning down Mr. Jones’ corn field, getting into fights at school, being bullied by older boys turned him into real terror. One morning, an older boy was bullying him, all the other boys stood around and laughed as the instigator unloaded a barrage of insults at Andre. Andre turned to face the bully and the boy blasted him with an opened hand. Andre blacked out for a second and when he came to he was surprised he was still standing. He turned and walked to the classroom, hoping he was not stumbling. When he came back out of the classroom they were still talking and laughing, Andre did not stop, he walked right up to the older boy, the bully turned around in time to see Andre’s arm coming down, he raised his hand and screamed, He staggered back, his hand raised to eye level, the pointed end of a compass from a geometry set was through the palm and projecting out of the other side. That incident was the last stray for Andre’s mother. His mother thought that moving to America would change him, but he just disappeared into himself. The school he went to was huge, so many children and none of them friendly. He was picked on because of the way he talked, or the clothes he wore. He never told his mother, he knew that she thought that this was the best thing for him and he did not want to disappoint her.
It was between classes and he was walking in the hallway when one of the older boys approached him,
Ohhh, look at the nasty Jamaican,” the boy said and all the other kids laughed. Before Andre could get away, a crowd formed and he was caught in the middle of jeering teenagers.
“I is not Jamaican,” Andre stuttered, “I is Grenadian,”
“What is the difference nigger; you are all the same rat eating jungle animals.” Andre stood surprised that a black boy just called him nigger.
“Me name is Bob Marley and me eat rats for dinner,” The boy rapped in a forced Jamaican accent. And the crowd of children laughed. Andre tried to push his way past the boy, but the boy grabbed him by the throat and pushed him to the ground,
“Where do you think you are going dawg, I am just trying to be friends,” the bully said and offered his hand. Andre reluctantly took it and the boy started to pull him up but let go and Andre fell onto his butt.,
“Man, are you stupid,” the kids roared with laughter. Andre lay on the ground looking up, his face red with a mixture of anger and embarrassment. The boy looked at him,
“Well, are you not going to fight back B?” he said, Andre just looked at him, not saying anything.
‘Forget you then, I don’t have time to deal with idiots like you,” the boy said then stepped over Andre, stomping him on his chest as he did. The crowd laughed. After the crowd had dissipated, one of the girls came over to Andre as he was picking up his books,
“My brother is a fool, don’t let him get to you,” she said then helped Andre pick up his books,
“Whats your name,” she asked, Andre did not respond, he just stood looking down at the ground. The girl smiled
“You have a nice day,” she said and walked away. Andre stood in the middle of the hallway as students brushed by him some snickering.
The traffic was sparse as I rode back to the city, that was normal for a Sunday but I sense that something was different. At times I passed groups of young people standing on the side of the street talking in hushed tones, bloody troublemakers. I dismissed what I saw happy that the ordeal of the frigging rituals were over.
I arrived at me house later that afternoon and went straight to the kitchen, I was real hungry. I got out some fish I had seasoning in a plastic bowl and tossed them into a pot, added some cabbage carrots and a touch of rum, yeah man, time for some real good eating. I turned on the stove and went to the bathroom the scent of the fish cooking filled the house almost immediately. I stepped under the shower letting the water run down me body cooling me down, I was sore and the gushing water bounced off me skin giving the effect of a massage, Ah yes, it felt real good to be home, for some reason the Obeah rituals had given me a strange sense of security, damn, I sure hoped it was not a false one.
I got out of the bathroom dried meself and put on a fresh suit of clothes, man, I loved the scent of clothes washed in Ajax. I went into the kitchen to cheque on the fish it was simmering real nice into a broth so I added butter and left it to cook some more. I poured meself a glass of limejuice and went out into front yard the sun felt real good on me skin so I sat on a bench in the middle of the flower garden sipping the juice. I thought bout the events of the last two days, I mean, I was a little pleased that I had participated in the islands subculture, I knew that in some small way it would affect the way I thought me history classes in the future.
A humming bird flew by and hovered over a flower, its wings a blur in the hazy afternoon sunlight. I thought of Jane and me heart jumped a little so I got up and went inside picked up the telephone and dialed she number, man, she was real excited to hear me voice. We talked for bout ten minutes and made plans to spend the next weekend together. I loved that Appalachian twang in she voice, I mean, it was so melodic it made me skin tingle with excitement. I heard the food bubbling in the pot so I got off the phone and went to the kitchen, the room was filled with steam and the smell made me mouth water for so. I ate half the food saving the rest for the next day, man I tell you what, there is nothing better than a good fish broth to settle the stomach.
Slept was peaceful that night I woke up only once to go to the bathroom. I felt rejuvenated the next morning looking forward to a good day of teaching. I arrived half an hour early at the school so I can go ahead and plan for the days work, the students were strangely quiet but I did not try to find out why, I mean, teenagers who know what was on they mind. The bell rang and they filed in to their classes all with real serious looks on their faces.
All went well until bout ten o clock when I was sitting in the teachers lodge when I heard the sound of chairs being pushed round, this was not unusual but this time it sounded like every bloody chair in the building was being moved.
I got up and went into the hallway and looked round, students were filing out of the building and onto the streets, I walked over to the window trying to see what the hell they were up to. They walked down the street mingling with students from other schools, some of them were chanting but I could not make out a damn thing they were saying, others were holding banners stating they discontent with the way the country was being run. One banner read,
“The police are murderers” Further down the street I heard someone with a microphone leading the chants, he was urging the crowd to stand up for they rights fight against the oppressors, great, just what they needed a communist leader to fill they head with rubbish. Other teachers joined me at the window all talking in urgent whispers. Mr. Hopson stood next to me shaking he head.
“These young people will destroy this country with their communist ideas.” The rest of the teachers nodded in agreement. The chanting grew louder as more students joined the impromptu rally, everyone knew the opposition leaders were behind this action, I mean, there were rumours bout a demonstration against the government for weeks now, but no one expected the students to join in. The parade filed down the street and disappeared round the corner but they voices echoed through the small city, I mean, the whole damn thing was so surreal. Drivers honked their horns as they tried their best to negotiate the congested, narrow streets.
I left the window and walked back to the teachers lodge it was strange for the school to be this quiet in the middle of the day, no chairs being pushed, no coughing or sneezing just quiet like a ghost house. Mr. Hopson walked into the
lodge and sat down at his desk. I did not turn round because I had nothing I wanted to say to that bloody windbag, he mumbled to heself throwing pens and papers round on him desk.
We sat in silence for what seemed like hours when suddenly screams filled the street outside the school. I got up and ran to the window and saw students running their faces filled with fear, Smoke bellowed out of a building from the waterfront where they had gathered, men with sticks and machetes chased the student’s intent on punishing them. I saw a student running from the commotion she white shirt covered with blood, but no one paid any attention because they were busy trying to save theyselves. I heard the sound of a gun shot which sent the fleeing crowd into a bigger frenzy. I ran to the door pulling in as many of the students as I could, sticks of the attackers pounded against the door as I shut it, sharp edges of machetes bore through the thin wood and I thought for sure them bastards were going to cut their way in. Some of the students used desks to barricade the door and the men stopped trying to get in and turned they attention to the poor bastards outside.
The screams were deafening as the men attacked them, I mean, there is nothing worse than a child screaming in pain and there was nothing that could be done bout it. I looked round the classroom and instinctively began tending to the wounded, one student was bleeding profusely from the head he eyes rolled back in its sockets, I tried me best to stop the bleeding using he white shirt as a
bandage, I motioned to one of the students to grab hold of the make shift bandage and went round making sure that the rest of the students were all right. I was shocked at what I saw blooded bodies and frightened children clustered together, I mean, even some of the teachers were crying. I heard the door being dragged open so I ran over expecting to see the hooligans charging in, but instead some of the students had moved the desks, I cautiously followed them outside looking round for any attackers.
The machete wielding hooligans were nowhere in sight and Policemen were walking round trying to tend to the wounded. I stumbled across the street being careful not to step on any of the fallen students. Just as I was bout halfway across the street I saw Alison lying on the ground, I ran over to she and cradled she head in me arms, blood streamed out of she mouth mixing with the black lipstick. She was mumbling something, but I hushed she and reached into me pocket took out me handkerchief and wiped some of the crimson red from she eyes. The sound of sirens bellowed through the chaos as doctors and nurses arrived from the hospital on the other side of the small town. Someone pulled me away from Alison and knelt down beside she.
“Is she going to be O.K?” I asked. He waved me off shaking his head letting me know that she would be. I walked away aimlessly trying me best not to get in the way of the medical workers, policemen tried to contain the anger of the students, just like the damn police, they got to the scene after the damage was done, I mean, them police and them were not some of the most popular people on the island. They have always been accused of being part of the hooligans that routinely attacked young people.
I saw mist from teargas rising from the buildings on the waterfront it settled above the houses like rain clouds about to burst, screams were coming from down there as the hooligans mopped up the remnants of the protesting students.
I walked back to the teachers lodge and sat in me desk, Mr. Hopson came through the door and I could tell by the look on his face he though the students got what they deserved. I tried my best to avoid eye contact with him as he sat down in his chair and mumbled something I did not ask what, then he slowly turned he chair to face me.
“You are such an ass,” I screamed. He looked at me surprised he eyes were big and he had this bewildered look on he face.
“Do you think those children deserved what happened to them,’ I screamed, he started to get up but I placed the palm of me hands on he chest stopping him.
“Don’t,” I shouted, pushed him back and walked out of the lodge. I maneuvered me way through the students in the hallway and out onto the street. I had no affiliation with the opposition party in fact I grew up with parents who were supporters of the ruling government but this was barbaric.
I walked down the street being bumped by men in uniform hurrying to help the students, it was real hot and my being angry did not help. Me mind was racing thinking bout all the political rallies I had went to with me mother, back then the leader seemed harmless enough. I never really paid attention to his politics I guess I was safe from any hassling from the police or the hooligans because my parents were supporters of the leader. My mother was not one to condole violence but I had heard stories of me father, damn man was known for beating up young people who would disagree with the government.
Out of the darkness, the tropical city stirs, with the sound of a small fishing boat going out to sea, the crow of a rooster, the splash of someone taking a shower in their back yard, the scent of lunch being cooked for the workday, the loud calypso music blasting from the mini busses, the voices of school children as they walk to school. Its a tropical morning in my head, even though I woke up in a city in the Appalachian mountians.
What better way to wake up than the tropical rain hitting the tin roof, and the birds taking refuge from the down pour right outside your window. What better way to walk home from school than jumping into every water puddle you see. Sit at your window and watch the gray surge of rain come in from the ocean. Then the next morning, wake up to the same scenario.
My sister was a teacher at the all-boys school I went to. Now the school was a two story concrete building that was shaped like a squared U. I had just finished playing cricket in the grassy middle and was on my way to meet my sister in her classroom. As I was about to go up the stairs I heard her shout, “Andy run!” I stopped and looked up, “What?” I shouted back, “Run!” she shouted, suddenly I heard a thump and I was struggling to breathe. I turned around and saw the meanest bully in the school, Ricky, that boy was the devil himself. His eyes was red from being in the sun, his hand raised, and before I could react his hand crashed into my chest, I stumbled back just as my sister ran up. Ricky turned and ran off. You see back then teachers were allowed to spank students and guess punished Ricky the bully, yes my sister. After that day it seemed that the word spread, Mrs. Charles had a skinny brother with bird legs, as a matter of fact I still have those bird legs, why do you think you all never see me in shorts. I spent a lot of time running from bullies. My skinny ass was not going to get licks every day. I was the fastest moving stick you ever seen.
By the end of the summer she was so homesick she started singing country music and no she was not singing the song “Coal Miner’s Daughter” either. Keep in mind that this is that woman who hated country music. Ironic since I was the one who grew up listening to my mom sing country songs all the time. The one incident that pushed us out of The Melting Pot City was the day one of the stores was almost robbed. Both stores were on the same block, one an everyday retail store, and the other a Victoria’s Secret-like store: expensive as hell. Why they would put such a store in the ghetto baffled me. These people could not afford a bloody nightie for one hundred dollars. I was working in the retail store one day when the Colombian worker at the pantry store called me.
“The cat is having its kittens – come over here right away.” I was confused. Hell, I had not seen one bloody cat in this city since I moved there; just rats as big as cats. She finally broke down and told me to get over there, so I hurried and went.
As soon as I got to the door I realized what was going on. I stuck my hand in my shirt like I was packing a pistol. My heart was pounding hard, my head spinning. Hell, I thought I was going to faint for sure. I heard about the crime in The Melting Pot City, but damn, the thought of guns took me back to a place in my head that I thought I left on the island. There were three teenagers in the store. One stood at the cash register: bloody kid did not look more than seventeen. A girl was in the middle of the store, her handbag open and her hand in it. Another boy stood at the door to the storeroom, peeping in.
I walked behind the counter and stood there, my skin tingling with fear. I had no gun, no knife, nothing to defend myself. That same helpless feeling as when the fighter jets were bombing the island engulfed me. After about ten minutes, they came up to the counter and bought some items. As they were leaving, the kid that stood at the door to the storeroom stopped and looked at me and opened a small sack revealing a pearl handled pistol. I looked at him; his eyes looked dead. “They lucky you came in bro or we would have jacked this bitch up.”
After they left I half expected a volley of gunfire to erupt around me. There was no marijuana to calm my fears here. I guess it was time for me to go back to good old Blue Grass city. Great; I can give the bible bangers another chance to convert me.
There was one statement that solidified my decision to leave The Melting Pot City. One of the ladies informed me that I should wait until the new semester for the high school started. She said the students had no regard for life. I thought, hell no. I did not survive all that I had just to end up dead in some rat infested store. Despite this, let me add this tidbit: some of the shoplifters did not steal from the store as they said they could not in good conscience rob from another brother. It seems they thought I owned the stores so they felt it was their civic duty not to rob from one of the only black-owned businesses on the block. Funny thing; I used to stand at the door and watch them steal from the stores owned by Koreans, Jews and other ethnicities.
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.