It was the August holidays and school was closed. Rose Hall Town was a very hectic Town many churches were hosting fun days and the Town was hosting all sorts of activities but going to the Apollo Cinema to see movies were the greatest entertainment for young men and women especially when the best Indian movies were showing it will attract lots of mesmerizing East Indian girls it was fun time for me and my restless friends who frequented the cinema to date girls.
My good friend Carl was the church boy who never saw a movie because his dad the Reverend Cameron would beat him until the cows come home if he was caught going to the movies. My next friend Steve was the Altar boy at the Anglican Church his mother would locked him in their restaurant to serve customers if she heard he was gallivanting around the cinema or even whistle a girl. Then it was Dave the head master’s son who was always drunk but was a lay preacher at the Roman Catholic Church. Dave was also an Altar boy at the church and his parents were deacons. I was at Sunday school and sometimes church but I never liked church but my mother would whip me with her magnificent tamarind whip to recite the Psalms and Shakespeare’s sonnets. My mom was short, fat and gorgeous her elegant long hair fascinated me; her prominent gold tooth was seen when she smiled and vex instantly at times. She liked and disliked some of my friends she had a gift to see into the minds of people to perceive who was bad from good.
‘‘Some people are deceptive boy watch your friends,’’She would say.
‘‘We have some nice people in this village ma.’’
‘‘Boy you can’t see more far than your nose; this neighbour here Irene is a devil.’’
‘‘How did you know?’’I asked
‘‘She curses all the time and does all kinds of evil Obeah work don’t eat her food,’’She cautioned.
The food Irene shared used to be very delicious also her fruits but I never took any because of mom’s austere warnings. Uncle Basil my next door neighbour had a big locked down house with lots of different types of fruit trees in the yard always bearing ripe fruits and ready to be picked. My mother used to say he is feeding his ghosts in his house with all that fruits she scared me at times with all her weird beliefs but I would still shoot down uncle Basil ripe mangoes with my sling shot and hide them under our house in a hole covered with dry bushes to give my friends and the girl I once loved Sherry. Then it was Uncle Simon my opposite neighbour he was a dreamer always saying he will build a big house next year. My dad would say maybe he would build a big tomb so dad nicknamed him ‘uncle next year.’
A character that fascinated me the most was Simon’s relative Uncle Willie a tall lanky guy very active at age ninety. Simon and his Sister Stella were very much afraid of Willie the boys nicknamed him Willie the pig because he grunts like a pig when he talks and smoked his pipe his tobacco smelled like dry grass. My mom used to say this old hag is smoking weed and not tobacco that was why he was so ugly, stupid and excessively ignorant. Willie always said he was a contractor and one day he will pull down that big old shingle house and build a brand new concrete house and all the villagers will know its Willie the King of the village at work.
My mom would say its Willie the village pig at work grunting about his wealth he never possessed to impress the village illiterates. Willie was once a teacher and education minister but squandered his money on women and gambling his wife and children left him and he just went to take some shelter at Simon’s and Stella’s house his nephew and niece. My dad observed the posts on the house was shaky and warned me not to go play under the house. My friends and I would go play hop scotch and marbles under the house because it was the only raised high house in the street.
At times, I would sneak up the steps like a ferocious cat ready to pounce on a mouse just to see Willie sleeping on a big couch snoring loudly playing a big piano through his hairy nostrils; his ears also had long protruding hairs and his beard was half shaved he dribbled a lot as he slept and seemed to be suffering from a heart failure because he snores like an old worn out engine. The noises that emanates from his snore seemed to scare Stella and Simon they were afraid that one day he will collapse and die and the police would go investigate about his death.
Willie slept with a big stick he grabbed tightly in his right hand to be ready for any intruder because he said he had lots of money in his wallet. He was a scary old cat afraid of his own shadow like his own ghost haunting him. One day, I sneaked into his house while he was sleeping and suddenly a rat jumped on Willie’s head he screamed with all his power and might wielding his stick left, right, and center like Bruce Lee clearing a mob he was short sighted I stood fifteen feet away laughing and Willie ran out the house in his bare shorts screaming Ghost!Ghost!Ghost! I climbed on top the house lying down on my back and was unable to control my laughter.
My mom shouted, ‘‘You better haul your boney ass down that house.’’
I scampered down quickly as neighbours gave Willie water to drink. My vivid memory of Willie makes me laugh. It was a rainy night the wind was blowing calmly I was not sleeping though was past midnight. I heard a crackling sound like thunder playing drums in the clouds and a sudden Bang! Our house felt a very great vibration. I peeped through our room window and saw Willie’s house fell down on the ground. My dad woke quickly and rushed over he alerted the neighbours I went with them too. We jumped through a window and saw Willie, Stella, and Simon fast asleep like babies in their cribs. My mother said, “Thank God them na dead.’’
My dad said it was a good thing you little behind was not in that house or under the house. I was laughing to myself. My dad shakes Willie and shouted, ‘Willie! Willie! Wake up you old ass your house fall down and you sleeping!’’
Willie, Stella and Simon jumped out their sleep and was petrified seeing the neighbours in their house in the early morning hours there was no electricity the electric service line burst when the house came crashing down. The moon was passing over the village in her brilliant yellow radiance that lighted up the village from the heavens. Willie realized the house was on the ground and said: ‘‘Thank God I am still alive.’’
Stella and Simon said, ‘‘It’s all the work of the Lord.’’
My mom said. ‘‘Human ignorance! They all called the Lord’s name in vain as if the Lord has time with these crazy – lazy incompetent people.’’
Irene said,‘‘Even the dull and ignorant have their story to tell.’’
My mom never liked Irene because of her iniquity; we went back to bed near five in the morning as Willie and his crew continued to sleep in their fallen house. The village boys always taunting Willie telling him now is the time to build your mansion Willie boy. Willie felt ashamed and vanished suddenly even Simon was consternated about his sudden disappearance but Stella felt he was a real cross that blighted their house.
Many believed he was ashamed and gone into exile while some believed he was living with Basil in his big ghost house practicing black magic because he was last seen with Basil. The incredible disappearance of Willie remains a mystery until today many in Rose Hall believed he is still alive going strong at age 100 but that was also a mystery I am still trying to comprehend. Simon died suddenly from lung cancer my dad raised money for his funeral since he was always broke but smokes like a chimney. Stella remained alone in the house villagers helped to rebuilt and continued her work as a seamstress. She was never married but remained a very obedient Christian member to her Anglican church. The people in Rose Hall Town were very religious and demon minded some believe in God and they believed in lots of superstitions at the same time. I would see Stella throwing rum all over her yard every Friday though she was a staunch Christian.
“Why you throw rum all over the yard aunty Stella?’’I once asked
“Boy this is Dutch place we have to calm the spirits down.’’
I am still perplexed about their faith in Christ but life is full of dreams and obscure mysteries.
It was near Easter kites fascinated me more than anything I sleep and dream kites in the night. My dad made a few kites for me but I wanted to learn how to make them by myself. I would go by Karen’s house pretending I was making kites with her brother Edward just to see her and try to steal a kiss but her mom would engaged her to a novel most times when I visited she would bury her head in a book so I called her ‘book worm’ and say good bye she was just a fading memory is the dark clouds of my mind. I never liked her mom she was very arrogant though she sells on a stall under the cinema she felt she was the village queen always bad talking people my scary mother-in-law in the making but only in my dreams that will never be a reality.
Teddy the branch kite maker lived a few houses away from me just opposite the burial ground his kite would be tied on a mango tree in his front yard flying days and nights high in the clouds like a carrion crow under the distant horizon. The fascinating thing about his kite was that he made it from coconut branches and not light boards. One day I sat under his house and watched him cut up an old coconut branch and cut it into thin pieces his cutlass was like a carpenter’s plane. He neatly rubbed on the branch sticks to get it smooth and fastened it neatly with a nail in the middle and framed it with a stiff piece of cast net twine. The intricate network of his kite was like a human brain that worked simultaneously with nerve cells. He would paste his kite with brown paper and neatly covered it with star patch works with kite paper and a neat array of frills like kaleidoscopic bird feathers. His kite will fly for days over the graves singing and dancing even the dead must be dancing to the tunes of his gorgeous kite tunes.
As I watched him made dozens of kites I asked him what making kites meant to him.
He said: ‘‘Kites depicted the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as we fly a kite it’s really a symbol for the love of Christ.’’
I was amazed by his firm belief in his Christian faith. I was not so sure about the true meaning of Easter but he opened my eyes to some divine truths.
“I fly and make kites because God inspired me to make kites. I am not rich have no tools and wood to make it so I used branch and it sells out very rapidly I already sold 300 kites before Easter just a week from now.’’
Teddy taught me to make kites and how to live a better life by going to church and serve the Lord. My mom wanted me to be a lawyer but my dad wanted me to be a writer he would tell me dozens of stories about his own life growing up as a fisherman in his village called Hope Town. He would tell me how he became a fishing boat captain and how many ghosts he saw at sea. At times, I get scared but all these stories and experiences depicting home memories were like the immortal plays of Shakespeare that will remain with me into posterity.
The kites Teddy made won many awards because of their beauty and the way it’s flown very far away into the skies. His love for kites inspired me to make my own kites but I was still unable to make them with branches. I used board frames but pasted and designed my kites just like his kites. His vision for life was the message of Easter the Death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was the key philosophy of his Christian Faith? I used to think it’s all history but now I was trying to research the Bible for truths like Isaac Newton who wrote hundreds of pages about the Bible and Jesus. Yet, sometimes I interrogated if there was a God then why do we have so much human suffering?
My mom would say God is in your heart boy but people have to face their own Karma. Life is about sowing and reaping. Never give up on God learn to trust him by faith even if you can’t find him. The August holidays were coming to an end with just two weeks left for me to explore some new village adventure. Playing cricket in the streets and on the dam were the games of the day. We had neither phones nor internet only a few affluent had phones it was all a luxury we communicated by letters or sudden house visits.
A man that will remain in my memory for a very long time was a gentleman we called Uncle Wallie he was the tallest African man in the village like king Saul in the Bible over seven foot tall. He worked at the Albion estate as a cane cutter but was discharged on pension he earned his living by fixing sprains and other physical ailments of the human body. I was fortunate to meet this man when I sprained my ankle by playing cricked wildly in the rains.
He was living alone in a one room apartment. All he had was a bench and an old bed in the corner his mattress was made out of cardboard boxes he was too tall for the apartment and the bed. I still wonder after he worked over forty years at the estate he still couldn’t build his own house now at age seventy six he now struggled to live by the grace of God. I saw a fire side on the outside in the yard. He had an old pot a few plates and a big enamel cup like he was still living in the days of slavery he felt he was a slave maybe born to be a slave.
‘‘Come in son,’’ he talked in a very calm voice his milk white teeth at age seventy six was a great delight to look at.
‘‘Is that your own teeth?’’I asked him in curiosity.
‘‘Yes, God blessed me with good teeth, I used to drink cow’s milk and suck cane at the back dam where I worked.’’
He rubbed and fixed my fractured ankle a number of times though it pained incessantly he was a real therapist when it comes to fix sprains and joint pains with herbal medicines. He told me about his bad and harsh experiences he suffered on the sugar plantations under colonial rule and his father was a slave that came from Africa. His mother passed away as a slave and his father was removed from the plantations so he grew up like a slave under colonial slave masters too and suffered the brutal beatings and starvation. As he spoke a sea of tears flooded my eyes and he started to cry. I now realized why at age seventy six this great man of great potential had to suffer all because of slavery and human degradation. He said though we became an independent nation he still suffered because his own political comrades enslaved him just like the white man by socialism and communism.
The life and sad memories of Uncle Wallie touched me deeply I felt his hurt and pains of human suffering in a world of bigotry and exploitation. I encouraged his heart by telling him.
‘‘ You will live over 100 years once there is life there is hope; forget your past use your past to build a better future, always remember God has great plans for your life….’’
He cried and smiled at the same time as I pushed a $20 bill in his hands. His face lit up brightly like the morning sunrise as he lit a Bristol cigarette and started to sing a Bob Marley tune.
‘‘Get up stand up, Stand up for your rights,
Get up stand up don’t give up the fight.’’
I shake a leg with him as I stopped by Steve for some mangoes on my way home. Steve mother told me he was ill and I couldn’t see him in a very harsh tone of voice. I walked home slowly stopping in front the cinema it was about five in the afternoon a huge crowd gathered in front the cinema the movie: ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ was showing.
Karen sat near her mom reading a book as she sells. I willfully went to buy some chips from her mom but Karen pretended not to see me though her love for me was locked away like a prisoner in her heart that had many pages like the big novels she read.
I reached home a bit sad after hearing uncle Wallie sad story and think of some humans are worse than animals. Aunty Stella ran over our yard suddenly and shouted as if she saw a ghost.
‘‘Chan!Chan! I heard Willie Alive!’’ She exclaimed.
“Don’t worry Aunty Stella it can’t be, he will be over 100 years old.’’
As mom and Stella were gaffing Master Willie arrived at Stella’s door wearing a black suit, black shades and a black felt hat.’’
He spoke like an American everything he wore was black. Stella thought she saw a ghost but Willie was alive and well at102 years old he claimed to be.
The incredible stories of all these characters I can recollect from my vivid home memories made me want to laugh, cry, and fall in love and even dance. Karen came to visit me for some fruits and my mom laughed and said, ‘‘The bird is back in your cage.’’