Thursday. The day the Grenada Mirror does come out. They go already be in stacks on the sidewalks, next to vendors under big, bright umbrellas. My watch saying after five. It start to get dark already. Last stretch before I punch my card and change my Radisson polo shirt for something more comfortable; change my customer face for something more comfortable too. The tick of the clock on the wall dotting the hum of the air-condition, and Matilda in her blue tunic making she second round sweeping reception. I bounce the balls of my feet and pick at the skin around my nails, scanning the room to see if any of the staff coming in have a paper.
I punch out at 6:07 and scramble to the staffroom to throw on a t-shirt and shades, then walk down Grand Anse beach to the fat vendor by Garfield’s. She might have paper. She did. I give her a $1.50 and take the paper on top the pile, swallowing hard as I unfold it. Garga dey right on the front page watching me. The headline say “‘Gargamel’ sentenced to 7 years”. My heart pounding. I trying to read the whole story, but keep coming back to the headline and Garga, in a handcuff. I want a cigarette bad. I buy a single menthol and a lighter from the vendor. The flame lick the tip of the cigarette and I suck hard. I like the taste on my breath, the minty iciness floating on the tobacco, I real like the rush that go up in my head. It make me feel alive and easy same time. And just so, I could read the article in peace.
Chief Magistrate Tahira Paul sentence Rawl James, alias Gargamel, to seven years in prison, after he plead guilty. She take into consideration the large quantity of cocaine, and the complicated nature of Garga’s runnings. On the 7th of March 2018, Drug Squad, acting on information received, get a warrant and raid a house linked to Garga. Officers see him running from the house with a towel ‘round he waist. They chase him, but he get away. The officers arrest Jessica in the house, and take out two tank a gas. They cut them open after and find cocaine.
The cigarette burning down. I call for a fresh one and light it with the old stump that I flick in the sand after. I take another big draw and let it out like a silent whistle, watching the orange on the horizon run from the coming night.
Gargamel was a vicious, wicked brute, “well-known to the police” as they does say. A short bow-legged man the colour of sand—not really brown, not really cream. He never used to skin teeth. When Otway disappear, just vanish one day without trace, the streets say was Garga that kill him. After Monk threaten to take revenge, they douse Monk house with gasoline and burn it to the ground. Only the carcass leave back. Black stumps on black grass. “Confirmed Arson” the police say. They arrest Garga and Puss for questioning, but let them go after 48 hours. Though everybody know was Garga call the shot and was Puss play the stroke, nobody stupid enough to see nothing.
Garga bedroom door only use to close for two things. When he bed squeaking to the rhythm of two, and when, on weekends, the smell of melting crack slide out from under he bedroom door, into the rest of the house. A smell like sweet-oil burning. He was a different man when he was piping. Different in some ways. Like, that was the only time you would’a find him talking. Usually, is either he asking you something, or telling you something, no long talk. But when he piping, he does cuss the whole world and lick-down anything in he way. A hurricane of a man. Maybe that is he real self, yes, unleash. One time, he cuff Tay in she belly cause she roll on she bed, and the plastic below the sheet make noise. After he cuff Tay, he rip the plastic off, even though Tay was still peeing bed. Garga couldn’t stand noise when he was piping. Noise and people. And so everybody in the house use to spend their weekends, tip-toeing and easing and avoiding. You know what it is to try to slide off the top of a bunk-bed without a rustle? Sometimes, me and Tay used to run down by Nana to get a night rest. We use to cut through a garden and a drain, bustling through the bush like cockroach, slipping in lalee and bruising we shins. The hedge by Nana was Lady-of-the-Night. It fence round the property and does bloom perfume after dark. After a while, we learn its doorways, the places where two trees meet up and their branches go bend in to let you pass. Me and Tay used to run, but Ma always stay, and we always feel bad after, wondering why Ma never run too. When sun shine Monday morning, Garga wouldn’t remember a thing, would roll out of the room puff-eyed and pale, drink some water and go ‘bout he business.
Ma was like a rock of ages who lived to endure. She thought that everyone have their cross to bear, and Garga was hers. How she end up with him? I ask her a million times. Every time, she bobbing and weaving, not telling me nothing, but sighing deep-deep, as if to say even remembering was stressful. My first memory of Ma is from when we was living in Tempe, in a old board house with a outside kitchen and a latrine. She was sitting on the short concrete wall surrounding the dirt yard, moving sheself to music playing from the house and telling me to dance. When I make a 2, out-a-timin’ shuffle, she cackle, then run and grab me up into her bosom. I fall in love with her smell. Sweat and deodorant, bitter and sweet. I can’t remember Garga from them time deh, muh first memory of him was long after. He was in the kitchen with Puss. Garga give me something to drink in a white Chubby bottle. When I swallow, was fire going down my throat. The fire drop down in my belly and spread, choking me. I cough and wheeze, sure I was going an’ dead. Garga there killing heself laughing.
Me, Ma and Tay had the place to we self bout a time when Garga went with Puss in Trinidad. Ma unfold from somewhere and take over the whole house. For a while I wonder who was this woman cracking joke and laughing and whistling. The sound catch me by surprise one Sunday while she kneading flour for bread, the notes sailing on a wave, sweeping through kitchen. Garga come back on a Friday. He drop he bag and them, and walk in the living room and put on the TV without a word. Not even a “Hello, dog.” One time-one time, he see that the TV screen crack. The TV was was still playing, just that, when it was off, it look normal, when it come on, you could see the thin crack running down to the edge. The moment everybody dreading. Everybody, but especially me. Was me who crack it, with muh awkward self, trying to turn it to plug in the Playstation Swan bring. The whole house freeze when the TV slip from the edge of the space-saver and butt the floor. Me and Ma eyes make four, both of we praying for the same thing, that the tv good. When Swan hoist it back up, a zig-zag line dey cutting down the blue screen.
Garga ask what happen to the tv, he two eye bouncing from me to Ma to Tay. I dey closest to him, in the lion mouth and feel to pee myself. Ma jump up one time and tell him how it fall when she move it to clean the top of the space-saver. He go in the kitchen and pick up a green mango, then turn and fling it after Ma and knock out two of she teeth. Then, he go straight in he bedroom and lock up. That night, I hear him raging through the house, cursing Ma. She start to cry, but sniffle and stop when Garga ask if she want something to cry ‘bout. By the morning, Ma fold back up in sheself, the laughing, joking, whistling woman gone back to the world of whence. The day after, Garga planass me. When I get the planass, pants melt, underpants melt, skin peel-off. Was the first time I ever get a planass. And for what? Because I go with Ma to the doctor about the two teeth he knock out. When I reach home, he stand up by the stove, brushing he hair. Afternoon Dad, I say as I walk in. He didn’t reply. Next thing I know, I hopping and flailing, trying to dodge and block the broadside of a four-brass cutlass.
I say fuck-that and leave next day. I was 19, working and legal to rent. I didn’t tell him nothing, just pack everything and move. I couldn’t tell him in person, I might’a get planass again. I tell Ma after I load up all the things on the van outside. When I go in she room, she face stiff and she trying not to watch me. I overs she trying not to cry. She mus’i done see the van, and hear my movements. She mus’i done know what I coming to tell her: Ma, I leaving here. Ok she say, still trying not to watch me. I go and kiss her where she dey sit down on the bed. Then I turn quick and walk to the van. Whole trip, I propping sorrow, feeling bad for leaving Ma behind, again. I dey thinking ‘bout Tay, gone to lessons and I didn’t get to tell her bye. I dey thinking ‘bout Ma too. How she take the blame for the tv.
What make me do it is when Ma had the breakdown. I visit her in Rathdune, the psychiatric unit in the hospital. She look deady-deady, a water-down version of she self. “Catatonic depression,” the matron tell me. My heart break. I cry till my shirt soak that first time, then I start to plot for the fucker. I know I had to tread like cat tiefing from pot. But was alright, I had the patience of stone. One day when I call for Tay, she tell me Garga gone up Carriacou with Maf, the puyol. That was all I needed to know. From there, I know what else to look for and it take me three days to scope the parry. It would’a gone much shorter if I didn’t have to cover my tracks.
* * * * * * *
I use to take little things when I use to live home. A hundred bag here, a quart there; things that I had start to think of as reparations for living under Garga. I wasn’t stupid, I only took them when he would’a suspect other people. Fuck-up, I know. I took a .22 one time, a little revolver that fit into my palm, cute, cute, like it wouldn’t hurt a puppy. Like it didn’t make to kill. Like the other reparations, it wasn’t something I could keep for myself. Hence, Swan.
Swan, a dougla boy with a crooked grin who like to read like me, was the one person I could trust. He would’a also know how to sell a gun. He come here to live from Trinidad when we was small, after his big brother get kill. After we fight over some stupidness in school, he and me come best friend. He remind me of a swan too, limber and sleek. Even though Swan was his surname, everybody call him Swan as a nickname.
Swan find somebody to buy the .22 and he do the deal. Well, he try. I was down by he house, waiting, when the door slam and he walk in the kitchen with he face wring-up, cussing somebody and telling me what he go do them. A long scratch dey on he arm and a shoe missing. After he drink some water and mellow, he tell me that the man who had to buy the gun rob him, ambush him with another man. Swan wrestle away from them and dash through the bush, fighting the trees clawing him and the roots snagging his shoes. But Swan was Swan. He ask me to put muh phone on private and he call somebody from it. I could hear it ringing in he ears and I ask him what he doing, worried he was going and show somebody the scene without muh permission. He tell me don’t worry. Next thing, a rank Trini accent coming from he mouth, telling somebody on the phone how he was calling from Trinidad and the gun they thief today was his, and that he know where they living, and would’a come and kill them and their father and their dog if they didn’t bring back the gun in 24 hours. They bring back the gun. Home, South was the likely suspect for the missing .22. Garga make Puss and Boleye bad-beat him. They burst he head three places and break he hand, and tell him move from Gouyave. He move three days after he come from hospital, cover in plaster paris and purple iodine. I was sure the only reason they didn’t kill him was ‘cause Garga didn’t have proof. Or evidence even. South say he innocent right through the blows, but that didn’t matter to Garga.
Before I leave home, Garga come home one evening and meet me reading. He tell me he hear Joe Boy turn police. I tell him, yes Dad. He tell me he don’t want to hear I round no fucking police, and just so, me and Swan stop talk. I suspect Swan had he own pressure not to lime ‘round Garga boy.
In two-two’s, Swan become deputy commander of Drug Squad. I wasn’t surprised. Good police and good criminal have the same ingredients; they bright and they devious. Almost every week, story in the paper, Drug Squad bust more drugs again. Everybody start to joke how Drug Squad is the only working police branch in Grenada. Long they watching Garga. Long they want to dangle him in front a camera like a big marlin they proud they catch. But Garga was the carefullest man I know, and people ‘fraid him like cat, and he had plenty links. He was a hard fish to catch
I didn’t know if Swan had the same number. I open WhatsApp, type in “Swan” and see him in the profile picture. “Active 2 hours ago” it say. I was feeling nervous. Is not like I never think ‘bout it before. Well, I never really think ‘bout it, to say, think ‘bout it. It run through my mind couple times, but who would’a take care of Ma and Tay? And plus, “you father is still you father. As much as he wicked, he is still you father.” So Swan self tell me one time, when I ask him to get some gramoxone for me. I put down the phone and went to buy cigarette. When I finally call Swan four days later, it ring out. My phone ring back the evening and Swan on the other line, ask more than say, hello. “Swan, is me.” No answer. “Is me, Josh.”
I tell him. Maf is the middleman. He is the link to the big man in Venezuela. He does go Carriacou with Garga. In Carriacou, they does meet and pay the two puyols, who does drop the cocaine from a pirogue on a bay in Carriacou. Garga does have a sign contract on him, between he and Patrick Branch alias “Lion”, for the sale of a 30 foot boat. If police catch Garga with the money, he go tell them that is clean money from he farm, and he have it because he buying a boat in Carriacou. If the police question Lion, he go show them he own copy of the contract and then he go show them the boat behind he welding shop. If they ask him how he get the boat, he go tell them a man from Martinique give him a work to weld the stern, but the man couldn’t pay the bill, and offer to sell him the boat instead at a discount. If everything run smooth, then, the puyols go go back with their money and Maf go bring the cocaine to that same Lion. Lion does cut open the cooking gas tanks, stick the tight, grey bags to the inside and weld them close again. They go bring the tanks aboard a yacht, “My Little Lady”. It dock in L’Esterre. Nothing strange about yachties bringing cooking gas on board to cook. A white-man name Craig go sail the yacht to Grenada and dock in Woburn in broad day. In Woburn, Craig go unload the tanks and walk past Customs & Immigration smiling and waving. They wouldn’a suspect a white-man. Plus, even if they di’ suspect him, they wouldn’a broach him. One time, a officer even help Craig carry the tank to the waiting pick up. The pick-up does take the tank to Jessica place in La-Borie. Jessica was Garga main outside woman. He does pay the rent in the apartment, but she name on the lease. Say what you want about Garga, he wasn’t stupid, except maybe in one sense.
When Garga was piping, between cussing people and fighting with mosquito, he boastin’ bout he operations. How bright he is. How stupid the police is. Ma and Tay maybe wasn’t paying attention, but for years I listening hard till I piece together the parry. Swan didn’t ask me my motive. He just listen and listen and say “Mmm.” “Hear na,” I tell Swan, “she pregnant for Garga. Only how Garga go claim the coke is if she go go jail.” Swan say, alright. Then after a awkward silence, I tell him take care and cut off.
Next time Swan and me talk was after the raid, when he start to call me, giving me little updates. They deny Jessica bail and keep her down in Central. They plant word in the ghetto that they go only consider bail if Garga turn in. They run features during news showing Garga as a wanted man. By the next Monday, he turn heself in. The DPP write the police, objecting to bail, forcing Garga and Jessica to take up their case with the Chief Magistrate. Jessica lawyer beg and beg, saying how she pregnant, but the prosecutor produce a affidavit from the prison doctor, saying how they had facilities for pregnant woman up there, so the magistrate still deny Jessica bail. After, she lawyer apply, asking the Magistrate to say what sentence she go give Jessica, if she plead guilty. When the magistrate say jail, Garga plead guilty to trafficking 97 kilos of cocaine. They let go Jessica and remand Garga for sentencing.
This next cigarette almost done too. I feel for a next one, but decide not. I cutting down, trying to stop. Only reason I don’t have a pack on me. Seven years for Garga. I didn’t feel good or bad about it, just glad to know.
My watch saying almost seven, enough time to reach Rathdune if I hurry. I drop from a Grand Anse bus on the Carenage and run up Grand Etang road. The guard by the hospital know my face by now, and I know the procedure. I show her my ID, but she already writing down my name. On the ward, the matron smile for me and tell me Ma awake. I walk down to Ma bed, and she dey sit up, still as a statue. She chest heaving up and down soft as a sigh. I kiss her and sit down in the chair by she bed. Ma, I have something for you, I tell her, digging in muh bag. I pull out the paper and hold up the front page in front she face. She watch and watch, I didn’t know if is read she reading, or if she just watching. Then she smile, and we eye make four, and I smile back.
Image credit: AP. Grand Anse Beach, Grenada
Born and living in Grenada, Richie Maitland is an attorney-at-law and writer. For him, writing is an exploration of his internal and external worlds, and the complexity of the Caribbean.