There, on a rock, stood the secret black parish where the sky was conceived. This was where the Shouters secretly met. They rose from the pirogue and descended upon the world. Their haunting praises woke the ghosts of Shouters once gone and in their song they restored worship to the world. These were the days when the rain was a tribe. When they finished, they hung them, the ghosts, in the new sky and the sun was born.
Then was when Tama sang praises as a girl. She had seen the Shouters take up soil in their hands and perform a ceremony that included the burying of ghosts in the sky; of Teacher Bailey, of Sister Sandra, of Father Pascal. Their flight was the sound of a bell risked with their tears.
It was a hurry in her stomach now, an incongruity that felt like the cold weight of night’s showers pummeling the skin or the confusing gravity of the moon swimming at her toes. Tama’s eyes filled with the teary realization that the idea of a family was impossible.
“Sun hot, this cold world.”
When Tama eyes wake she, those were the words out from she lips. All she face was wizened and crumpled with the scourge of a shame-faced love.
“Oh God! Sun too hot for this cold world…”
Tama yawned a prayer wide breath, pulled a straw sheet off from her, pushed it to the side and flung herself erect. She stretched her limbs. Her skin was like sunny weather. Her melanin was armored in morning.“Baptist bringing they children today! I better make the place ready!”
In the window there sang three blackbirds. They waited to pluck a melody from her head. She tied her wool hair in a bright yellow-green-violet mambo wrap, threw a frock over her body and lit a pipe which she hung on her lip.
“Not this morning!” She shook her head as she blew the smoky ale into the air.
She pulled the glass shard from her left eye, the broken glass her grandmother had poured into her sleep, and threw it at the window, twice. The birds sprang from off the windowsill leaving behind a feathered mess.
“Not today, you hear me! As soon as God turn he face, the what ifs make they mischief and is I to clean it? No.Not this morning.” She was neither young nor old but always young and old.
Tama swept up the old cocoyea broom that was placed by the wall near the window and knocked it against the styrofoam ground. Worry ransacked her face. The ground was soaked with the agony of her footsteps.
“Lord father, why my back have to kill me so today?” She was excited.
She surveyed the room where, all around, her grandmother’s dusty obeah was tossed, bit down on her lip and rolled the head of the cocoyea broom in her palms. The stalks were limp and useless.
“Not. This. Morning…” She dropped the broom. She felt she had to clean the house.
The woman ran her fingers along the walls of the pirogue house. Into and out of the digs and scratches, the grooves, the sinks, seeking out a circuit board. It was carved from time and age, in time and age, with all the hieroglyphic transcriptions of a secret Shouter history, by many authors who were desperate to share their secret lives with those who would inherit their burdens. The stories of the era of the Shouter Prohibition ordinance, a song to share their secrets, a map bearing the location of secret parishes and a plan to keep Uriah Buzz Butler safe from authority, dry blood in a pestle, sunken wood, more carvings, coded hymnals, things made by her mother, her grandmother, her great grandmother and the women before them, all of them deemed mad, spirited, Shouters, arrested severally, and tried in court for unreasonable worship. Tama never understood it. The boat was once their place of worship. The boat was a house of prayer that each woman inherited and where secret people gathered.
“Play something nice for me.” She chirped.
A mournful calypso filled the air. The pirogue-house, the home in which her grandmother had sailed to freedom, was falling apart all around her. The paint peeled. The floor broke. The walls leaned. The dwindling number of parishes broke Tama’s heart and increased the relevance of this inheritance. The house still sang. When she inherited the boat it came with them stories. She couldn’t read all of them but Olga could. It was a wood boat machine robot that was pregnant with Shouter history. It was makeshift. Things were taken. Things were added. The remaining Shouters who came with her grandmother to this new place were few.
Tama remembered how her grandmother spoke about the Baptist traditions, how she once boasted, “You know how the spirit like to take we Reyes woman!” She wondered what use she could have for the inheritance. She remembered how her grandmother spoke fondly of her day in court. She looked at the chest at the end of the bed where a transcript of her great grandmother’s day in court was placed. She understood nothing about these things.
“Like I did ask she for anything!” Tama sucked her teeth.
Outside, the men were rebuilding the hills, planting the earth, washing the sky, carving the trees. The clouds that painted the sky fluffy white were still freshly released from the factory on the northeast shore of the island. Tama loved fresh clouds.
Against the pirogue-house, there stood a glass drum of rain and in the rain there were spots of fish.
Tama swam through the door, naked, and watched the rain-soaked fish. Beside the drum there was a bucket filled with lemongrass leaves and Jack inna bush. She took two handfuls and dropped them on the water. She threw a towel over the hull of the pirogue then picked up a calabash bowl and sank it through the surface of the water. Nobody knows what it means to be Baptist. She threw the water on her back. Nobody.
After a shower, Tama returned inside where she fell into the couch. A tear fell on her cheek. She was a Baptist woman.
“Sun so hot today. Look how my skin looking.” She looked up. Tama closed her eyes.
“Olga girl, where you?”
Olga was an old friend, who like Tama, remembered the recipes for old Caribbean magic. These women were a rare kind. They knew it. They knew how to help a young ma’am curl she man toes where the lustful hour was. They knew how to blind wandering man eyes. They knew how to shield a child from bad eye and spite mind. The villagers came to them often under the guise of friendship, with a wanting face and some small appreciation. But these women knew. They took credit for their service. They entertained the fake smiles and cold hugs because they were the perpetrators of their grace. They were the last of the legacy of the Shouter woman. Ever since childhood they were taught self-preservation. So they knew. They knew what the Shouter woman was to this world. They knew where the Shouter woman’s place was. They provided and were left alone.
Tama, in her beaten night frock, limped out from the pirogue-house, down into the village, singing. This village was noise. Something in her cries. It spilled onto her leg. It spilled onto her frock. She lifted her face to the sun.
The children painted the air with their colorful selves. They grabbed at the wind hoping to catch it. Some mulatto pickney, some charcoal pickney and some grey babies who didn’t yet know their color, all of them playing with the world. And the world around them observed, happy to be privy to so much sweetness. This new home which was squared and solid and perfect had little character but it danced along with them. This new world had nothing more solid than hope in it. Other women looked out the windows egging the children on, asking them to be themselves. They asked the little ones to be more than themselves, to be for everyone who had forgotten how to be that way. And Tama asked too. With a smile.
Tama walked through them admiring their hues. She felt a special worry for man-boys who would grow up to be angry with this world. Yes. Girls will have it hard. She was worried for them too but woman folk always made to bear this burden quietly. It’s easy to find a way when you’re quiet. Man-boys were noisy. They’re supposed to be. How were they to navigate the cold when they’re taught to be everything that was condescended upon? Be loud and brutish and mannish. And them man-boys trying to be mannish and boyish all in one. They’re trying to be everything that was expected of them and also trying to be a man; never too cold, never so warm, somewhere in the middle, was confusion.
The boys were beautiful. She loved their pure boyishness. When it’s like this her heart sang a new tempo. A warmness climbed up from in her belly. She opened her mouth and spat music into the world.
Tama descended the dirt road that led to the Dahlia bridge. This bridge was made from discarded fibre-optic cables and copper wire strings. It was a project of Olga’s. Olga woke every morning for seven years knitting the cables with her bare hands. It became a small bridge. When Tama asked her why she did it, Olga smiled and said, “Is necessary to find new ways to harvest you-self, girl. You make so much wonder in this world when you take time so to harvest you-self.” Tama didn’t understand. And when the villagers laughed at the old Shouter woman, saying she was crazy, Tama said nothing. She couldn’t. She didn’t understand.
Tama peered around to ensure that no one saw her as she crossed the bridge. Her survey was careless as her back brimmed over. The pain swelled up in her sides and rose into her head. Up ahead, she saw Olga’s old cardboard house. It was beautiful with wood lace running across the edges of the house’s roofing. It was organic architecture. Biodegradable heritage geometrically decorated. It brightened the swampy place. The floor of the cardboard veranda fluxed like mountains spread across a far wide distance. They were plains so vast you knew you were the universe. A moss grew on it. Out from the moss some stems blossomed. They seemed to know they were beautiful though they newly existed with no flower to bloom. They never wilted. They pondered. They stood turgid and praised the sky. Like this cardboard house was grandiloquent.
Tama, frantic, ran up the stairs, to the house and knocked on Olga’s cardboard door.
“Olga! Olga! Come quick and help me gyul! Olga, come quick please!”
Olga, a wrinkled charcoal complexion, a neon pink frock and the most puffer-fish kind of pucker-lips (laden in bold orange lipstick), opened the door. Her black skin was a beautiful shadow, black luminescence. Is so she face was night, her eyes were like the moon. Olga was tinkering with the circuitry of the ground. Her hands were muddy. She sucked her teeth.
“What you want?”
Tama collapsed. Olga sucked her teeth again.
“You bring me trouble early morning so! Lord help me God with this child!”
On all that earth that grew out from Olga’s veranda Olga wailed. She bawled. She kicked. She stomped. Because she was a Shouter woman. Shouter woman don’t give in easy easy. Shouter people resist.
Olga dropped her hands, flew into the house. She dipped her hands first in some water and washed away all the mud. She picked up some towels. She ransacked a small clearing. She pushed a mattress here. She pulled a light there. Olga fumbled out the door to retrieve her limp friend from off the floor. The two eased into the place. Olga puzzled over her friend.
Tama did complain of gas pains. Tama did complain of vomiting and fevers. Olga wondered how it was possible that Tama was pregnant. She was there when some of it happened. But no man would sleep with a Shouter woman easy so. Not in this day and age.
Olga was an old woman. She had seen many plenty things. She had seen so many things that she believed everything was possible. Tama closed her eyes. Olga took over.
When Tama woke there was alittle android man boy tucked on her breasts. He was beautiful. He had the biggest deer eyes, deep and black and wide. His little hands pulled at Tama’s face.
Them heartbeats fragile, fragile like Ullmann’s score. Tama saw the twinkle in the baby’s eyes. She chuckled.
“The future is always happening.”
She forgot she was a Shouter woman made to carry black people worry. She forgot she was lying on the mud broken floor. For a moment she was thankful to be responsible for something so beautiful. And as quickly as that moment came, another followed; he was a Shouter boy too. Different. He would face her worries and those of every other man-boy, like the boys in the village.
“These old bones can’t help you! They won’t do like I ask them. Not my heart. Not my skin. I too old for this.”
Her little Shouter man-boy was such a sounder. He made the most melodious screams. He could do no wrong. She knew she would find a way to protect him from his inheritance.
The pirogue-house was on the water. Olga stood next to Tama. She was reluctant. Tama took the baby from Olga’s breast and lowered him into the drum on noisy plastic bags on a bed of polyester. She nested Charm near him. Charm was a doll made from GPRS strands which Olga had woven. It resembled a rag doll or a scarecrow. In this doll was the brew of the unnamed man-boy’s duppy twin. And she gave the doll the transcript of her grandmother’s confession. The sun peered through the holes made all round the side of the barrel. The baby looked divined.
“I didn’t want it but I get it. And you do the best you can with whatever you get. Is the only way to get better with yourself, you hear me?” She smiled.
“Giga be alright ma?”
Charm, the old Nano doll that was made from the baby’s duppy twin comforted the baby. Its GPRS meter glowed in the shadows of the barrel. It gently winked at the woman to reassure her that the baby would be fine. Tama’s hands straddled the circumference of the barrel’s mouth. She rolled it to the edge of the platform, took the lid from off the floor, placed it on the barrel, over the mouth, and covered the drum shut. Darkness. She was her grandmother. She understood nothing.
“Black people always running to try finding better, no?” Olga wasn’t going along with her.
“What happen?” She insisted.
“Thanks for helping, mother.”
“Don’t mother me. The next time you bring trouble before I eat my morning sugar cake I will kick you in you arse! You hear me? I will kick you!” They both laughed.
The boy will go to make a way for himself. He will find a place where he will be secretly hated and forced to live on the outskirts of some village. She thought.
“Giga be alright, ma?” She heard the duppy doll call from inside the barrel.
She kissed the barrel before soaking it with air. This air should keep him alive. Carefully, she lowered the drum onto the water and wished it safe voyage. The thing must sail right side up till her son met his destiny. She asked the Sea Gods to guide him. She called out to the sky. She rebuked the ground. Stomping and dancing her morning prayers.
“Black people always running to try finding better, no? One day you’ll inherit yourself, boy. And the world will have to reckon with you. Maybe more than me you will know something!”
She thought about the people she had seen all her life. They seemed unaffected by the loss of color in the world. They never stopped trying. The revolutionary same thing; live. The barrel sailed on the plastic water into the crimson sun. Tama followed Olga off the dissonant shore.
Image credits: Kwasi Shade
Kwasi Shade is an artist/New Media Activist based in Trinidad. He is interested in representing the true myriad of Caribbean dichotomies in his stories and testing the parameters of vernacular Creole dialect. He is also interested in communicating the Carnival Aesthetic. In this endeavour he has devised two approaches to developing his work; Carnival design thinking and Digitism.
Recently, he participated in the Cropper Foundation Writers’ Workshop, Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival’s three (3) part Screenwriters’ Workshop with the Canadian High Commission, Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival’s Producers’ Lab and Monique and Kei’s writers’ retreat. He has participated in three group exhibitions. Kirschmann Gallery, New Orleans, “Between Stitches”, Alice Yard, Trinidad, “SYOS”, and Granderson Lab, Trinidad, “For so is so and also”. He is a 2010 Trinidad and Tobago film festival Ident award recipient.