Crocodile Tears

Roland Watson-Grant

Well, the Lobster Shop never make any profit that year, even though anybody can tell you that my Aunty Pauline cook the best fish and lobster ‘round Cannonball Beach. People from all over the world fly come Jamaica, just to taste what she cook. Awright—some come to get the ganja that she secretly sell outta her apron, but you never hear that from me, you understand? As a matter of fact, Devon—her sweetheart— always beg her to focus on fish and lobster. ‘Cause even though Devon was a retired District Constable, him wouldn’t be able to help Aunty Pauline if police raid the Lobster Shop.

Anyway, that year, even the weed money go up in smoke. If it wasn’t for Devon, I don’t know what we woulda do. Christmas Eve mornin’ Devon come to the house like Santa Claus with sorrel, cake, one hell of a Best Dressed Chicken and money to cover the mortgage. Then Christmas night after hours when everybody belly full, Aunty Pauline hug up Devon and the two old people dem go lock down inside the bedroom. 

But the whole thing never work out as far as I could hear. The partition between my room and Aunty room is just a little bit thicker than toilet paper, so I hear when Devon get romantic. Him say:

“Pauline. I mix up some Red Label Wine with Vigorton 2 Tonic. You goin’ go up gum tree, tonight.”

And Aunty laugh and tell him:
“Awright King Kong. Just try no pop down the bed that me still owe Courts for, you hear? ‘Bout Vigorton 2.”

Well, Devon try and try and Aunty complain and complain ‘bout Courts divan and the hire purchase until Devon him just stop braps in the middle of everything when him realize the Mission was not possible, and the two a dem laugh and laugh until the neighbour dem probably start wonder is what sweet Pauline and her man so much. As a matter of fact, Boxin’ Day chatty-mout’ Marjorie from Lot 12 call to Aunty over the fence while she was hangin’ out clothes.

“Heh! Last night sound like your Christmus merrier than everybody else own Pauline!” 

And Aunty Pauline give Marjorie the kinda smile that say she really want to tell her something indecent, but she know her nephew might be listenin’. So without takin’ her eye off Marjorie she called to me from outside the house.

“Granviiille! Where are you?”

Well, I walk fast to one corner of the house and holler out from far.

“In the living room, Aunty!”

Then I run back into my room and put my ears against the window just in time to hear Aunty Pauline whisper few four-letter words and couple claught to Marjorie and ask her why she don’t go find something to do. Well, Marjorie don’t really have any shame, so she just laugh. 

“Oh, Barrington will tell you we’ve been doin’ a lot and we have lots more to do. You and Devon should leave that  kinda thing to young people.”

Well, Aunty come back into the house with one big smile on her face because if Marjorie ever know what my Aunty know ‘bout that same husband Barrington that she braggin’ about, she would get a double heart attack. Anyway, from the end of summer, everybody on Cannonball Beach knew Christmas was goin’ to be a dry season. See the thing is, Cannonball Beach is not like it was one time. I born come see seawater all the way up to the backdoor of Aunty Pauline shop so I always wonder why anybody would call it a “beach.” 

Hellshire

But Aunty tell me there was a time when people could lie down on nice pretty white sand and even a horse could walk past without disturbin’ anybody. Well hurricane pass through one by one; the white sand disappear over the years and so did a lot of the people. So much that in recent years the vendors at Cannonball Beach decide to set up sound system and sell beer and stout at night to make up the money. As a matter of fact Aunty Pauline called a meetin’ with all the vendors to see how they could add more excitement to the nighttime sellin’. She said they could pool money and put up posters like is a Dancehall session: 

Pauline Lobster Shop in association with Pan-Man and the Crew
present a night called 
“SKINNY-DIPPIN’”

They could introduce a “Mr Lover Man Menu” like steam fish and okra and conch and oysters and who want weed could get weed and stout and Magnum with Vigorton 2. But none of the other vendors liked the suggestion— probably because they didn’t come up with it. Of course, after that, ol’ pirate Pan Man put up “Lover Man Menu” sign inside his shop and start play lovers rock after sunset like it was his idea. 

Anyway one night durin’ summer, guess who drive up on the beach with a young girl? Barrington. Yeah man, same chatty-mout’ Marjorie husband, Barrington. Well, Barrington and him side-chick make a wide circle ‘round Aunty Pauline Lobster Shop and even go buy the nasty food over Pan-Man just to avoid her. 

Well it turns out that that same night Barrington would leave the beach faster than him arrive. See, people who love spread news, ‘fraid like puss when it’s time for their private business to go outta street. My Aunty tell me one time that nobody can’t carry news like security guard and hairdresser. Then after she get the house right next door to Marjorie and Barrington, she add custom-officer and wharf-worker to the list. She tell me Barrington and Marjorie is a deadly combination because Marjorie dig up passenger luggage outta airport so she know more people business than Alexa. And Barrington work the gantry-crane over the wharf so from two-hundred feet up in the air him can see all of Kingston and Portmore dirty laundry.

So, anyway, back to Barrington and this girl now. That night Barrington buy steam fish and okra and Magnum with Vigorton 2 from Pan-Man. And as soon as Pan-Man start play Dennis Brown “Love Has Found Its Way” Barrington and him girl feel sweet and decide to go take a dip in the water, even though the tide was kinda high under the full moon. So I hear Aunty tell Devon that the two lovers was out there in the water under the moonlight and a nice, cool breeze was carryin’ Dennis Brown voice through the shop when all of a sudden, the girl just scream out. 

Well, when Aunty look, Barrington swim leave side-chick and reach back inside Pan-Man shop. While him draggin’ on back him dry clothes, she still out in the water screamin’ until two fishermen swim out to go save side-chick. When they bring her back to shore, the poor girl have some big bite-marks all over her body, and her left foot almost chew off clean. Well as you can imagine, music lock off, Barrington disappear like the pretty white sand, and people carry the woman go hospital. Next day radio, TV and social media have the news:

                  CROCODILE MAULS WOMAN IN SEAWATER

Well, that was the end of Barrington dolly house and the beginnin’ of sorrows, because after that people lose interest in lobster, fish, beer, music and skinny-dippin’. Cannonball shot to hell. Beach empty. I never get any new khaki for back to school and is book and pencil I get for my birthday especially since me born September. And from November start, Aunty did hug me up and tell me: “Granville, the Grinch crocodile spoil Chris’mus from summertime, but it goin’ work out.” 

Well, the damn Grinch crocodile ruin New Year’s too. 

January come around and Aunty said even though the first month of the New Year bring pure crosses and calamity with earthquake, tsunami warning, coronavirus threat and Barry G leavin’ Mello FM, chatty-mout’ Marjorie still find time to get into other people business, without a clue that disgrace was right inside her own doorway.

She called across the fence to Aunty one Sunday near to the end of January. 

“So how you managin’ over Cannonball Beach Pauline? I hear things thin since that crocodile start eat people.”

And Aunty Pauline just laugh to herself and start sing “What a Friend we Have in Jesus” even though she don’t set foot inside a church since my mother’s funeral. She come inside that Sunday and crank up the ol’ component set and play Marley “Small Axe” on repeat and add her own lyrics from the book of Proverbs: Whosoever diggeth a pit shall fall in it and whoso rolls a stone, it shall come back upon him. And she pull up that song and put on Peter Tosh “Glass House” and sing out “don’t throw stooones” loud-loud, until I look and see Barrington hightail it outta the house next door, jump into him CRV and drive off like hell was behind him.

Well look, social media more vicious than crocodile. It will hunt you. Sooner or later, once social media gets a taste of your business, it will bite into your privacy and never let go. After that, side-chick come outta hospital and start throw all kinda shade on Instagram. Even though Aunty Pauline always said no thirteen-year-old should have a phone, Devon gave me his old Samsung and tell Aunty it’s just in case I get into any emergency at school. Yeah right. So when side-chick put up a post called “Long Run Short Ketch” and tell her crocodile attack story on @pinkwall and @deardreamofficial, Barrington know it was only a matter of time before the truth come out. 

Everyday side-chick tell @deardreamofficial to hide her ID and pour out how her heart break when she feel the crocodile draggin’ her out to sea and this man look in her eye and let her go and flee to the shore. How she saw her own blood dark up the water and the worthless man put on back him clothes while she was fightin’ for her life. How she make up her mind that she was goin’ to survive just to get vengeance. 

She take her story to YouTube and show the bite marks and cry tears and the whole Jamaica sorry for side-chick even though she go night-dip with somebody husband. You should see the YouTube comments section.

Dat deh man deh a Satan. Satan himself.

You still look good. Take somebody else man.

Maybe the crocodile bite you cause it think you was Mackerel. 

Mackerel love take people man.

Me woulda still deh wid you, even though alligator bite, bite you up. 

Now, look. Barrington realize that the woman have blood in her eye, so every evenin’ him put on clean clothes and fresh cologne and drive to side-chick yard to try fix things so she don’t buss out him name over social media. But every time him try quell it, she post another video and tell Jamaica how “the man that left her in the water just waste time come cry at her doorstep and tell her sorry.” She turn up the story and start a vlog series called Crocodile Tears and everyday Jamaica log on and watch and post comments.

We need a name. Call the worthless man name.

Bring him out mek we disgrace him.

Serve the tea, girl. Hot tea mek we buss the gas.

Meanwhile, Marjorie she turn big fan of the Crocodile Tears saga pon YouTube and call across the fence to ask Aunty if she watch it. Aunty smile and tell Marjorie:

“Yes! Of course. And I can’t wait for this woman to call the man name. I wonder who it could be, eh?” 

And Marjorie chime in and say:“Some high society man who can afford everyt’ing except the mix-up. A bet you.”

Well Aunty just come back inside and play Peter Tosh “Glass House” and sing out the part that say: “don’t throw stoooones.” And it look like Barrington stay inside the house and hear the whole exchange between Aunty and Marjorie and the Peter Tosh dubplate. That same evenin’ him come outside after dark and stand up at the fence and just stare into our house until Aunty Pauline call Devon and ask him to come over because she need some company.

Well, that same week the crocodile attack some tourists who didn’t get the memo that the Grinch was patrolling Cannonball Beach. Now, this was in broad daylight when the seawater green and pretty, sparklin’ like sequins where the sunlight touch the surface. Well, here come two tourists kayaking from another beach and reach over Cannonball with GoPro camera mounted on helmets to capture their adventures in paradise. 

People call out loud and tell them to go back, but you know that the more Jamaican people twang, the less tourist understand, so them just hold up the paddle and say “Irie Mon” until suddenly there was a shadow in the water. Grinch swim underneath the boat and bounce it over, and it was one hell and powder-house in the water. If the tourists never have paddle to slap Grinch backside until him decide it wasn’t worth it, the whole thing woulda make international news. 

Well, that same evening, police and soldier swarm the beach and search for Grinch. Poor Aunty so frighten when she see the military, she fling the apron with the ganja into the cookin’ fire ‘cause she swear is she police come for. Anyway after dark, JDF find the crocodile, tie him up and carry him off the beach. 

Well, that same week the crocodile attack some tourists who didn’t get the memo that the Grinch was patrolling Cannonball Beach. Now, this was in broad daylight when the seawater green and pretty, sparklin’ like sequins where the sunlight touch the surface.

The vendors clap and cheer but when the soldiers march past the Lobster Shop, Aunty Pauline so vex ‘bout the ganja that get burn up plus all the money she lose since summer; she just walk all the way to the gate behind the soldiers and cuss out the poor crocodile.

“Damn ugly brute! Ol’ Satan. Ol’ Grinch! You mout’ long like Marjorie own. Go back over you swamp and don’t come back over here come mash up people business.”

And some other vendors say: “Awright, Pauline,” and try calm her down but Aunty kiss her teeth and come back inside the Lobster shop, still cussin’. 

“Me have mortgage to pay every month. Damn crocodile quite awright.”

So I put in my two-cents worth. I tell her that Grinch gone for good, but she just sigh.

“Ah Granville. Once wild animal taste blood that’s it.”

So said so done. Not even the army could stop Grinch from comin’ back on the beach. Once you reach beach early mornin’ and there’s a long trail in the sand where fifteen foot of crocodile drag itself into saltwater, you know is trouble. Well, even though the National Environmental people come to the beach and talk to vendors and warn the public through all kinda media not to disturb or harm the crocodiles, some vendors decide that dem badder than the military. 

Remember Pan-Man? Well Pan-Man decide that if people can eat him nasty cookin’, then maybe customers would eat crocodile if you call it lobster. Never mind that it would be illegal to kill Grinch. Never mind that Jamaican people would definitely know the difference between lobster and a reptile. 

So him and five other fools go over the swamp like Crocodile Dundee and set a trap to catch Grinch. The plan was to divide the crocodile tail equally, but Pan-Man is a real ol’ scammer.

Pan-Man decide to go back into the swamp same night and get Grinch tail all by himself. Well, look here. Aunty said that Grinch corner Pan-Man in the mud and the water and the darkness. So in February while Pan-Man was in hospital minus one leg, Aunty Pauline Lobster Shop increase sales and things pick up a little bit. Valentine’s night come and Devon vex, because after the man mix up Red Bull and Vigorton 2, Aunty decide to leave and go Cannonball Beach. She tell me over her shoulder on her way out the door:

“Granville, you old enough to understand. Crocodile or no crocodile… people goin’ come buy seafood and we cannot depend on Devon to pay another month of mortgage.”

Well that same night Devon was at the house watchin’ TV and I was finishin’ my maths homework when all of a sudden I start cough ‘cause my sinuses sensitive. But Devon start cough too and same time somebody run past the window outside the house and jump Marjorie fence. Devon leap outta the sofa and draw him gun to go investigate but right away we smell the smoke. So we run into the corridor and Devon grab my t-shirt and pull me back because all of Aunty bedroom door full of fire. 

Flames eatin’ the door top to bottom and Devon go and kick it off and it was hell inside that room. It’s like a bad dream when you have to run out of your own house, when you have to stand outside in the night dew and watch the place that you live burn and burn and burn. By the time the fire-truck come from York Park most of Aunty house gut out by the fire. 

We sleep at Devon that night. Sunlight show the damage next mornin’. And when you have to sort through familiar things: your Justice League bedspread, your toys, your school pictures from first and second form, your TV, your plates and cups, all burnt and thrown down, it make you cry. Trust me, Aunty cry. Money can’t buy back memories. 

By the end of February, police from Hundred Man Station in Portmore surround Marjorie house. One jeep full of rifles come arrest Barrington. 

When the officers put him in the handcuffs, Marjorie run outside in her nighties and try push down the officers while screamin’ that her husband innocent. We weren’t there, of course, but other neighbours catch the whole thing on video and it go viral. Poor Marjorie. People who love spread news, ‘fraid like puss when their business gone outta street.

The National Environment people come to my school in March to talk about crocodiles attackin’ people. I remember the lady standin’ in front of the class talkin’.

“Crocodiles don’t really want to interact with human beings. They actually want to avoid us and I don’t blame them. We can be a cruel species. And we are advancing on their territory.”

For some reason when she said that, I think ‘bout the YouTube comment section. Yes, we funny but we cruel same time. I tune back in to her askin’ the question:

“So why would a crocodile leave the comfort of the wetlands to face hell from some of us humans?”

And she let the question hang in the air for a while and the answer didn’t really come home to me until my class went on a field trip in April to two mangrove swamps. We didn’t see any crocodiles. Nobody was home—because home was hell. 

All the students stood on a concrete bridge and we could see clear into the swamp: bottle lamps from crab-hunting, plastic bottles, kerosene oil on top of the water, one old car and tyres discarded, the stumps of mangroves left over from people who come cut yam-sticks or wood to make charcoal. And I see the place and tears full up me eye and everybody laugh and say look how Granville a bawl like a baby. But people wouldn’t understand. ‘Cause those kids, they look and see a swamp. I look into the swamp and all I can see is Aunty Pauline house on fire burnin’, burnin’, everything turnin’ into nothin’ right in front of me. 

For nearly a year we live at Devon, puttin’ the pieces back together. Devon even decide to marry Aunty Pauline now that him learn how to deal with her twenty-four seven. Aunty is forty-two and Devon is forty-seven— but it’s never too late for two old people to start over. 

Well, one Saturday night during the time Aunty tryin’ to rebuild the house we were over at Cannonball Beach late, packin’ up to leave the Lobster Shop when we hear a shufflin’ outside. Aunty open the board-window and kotch it with the stick. When we look between our shop and Pan-Man, who we see but ol’ Grinch, takin’ him sweet time walkin’ toward the water.

Now, is not like I never see a crocodile close up before. I see plenty at the zoo, but Grinch was different. To me, that animal look like a Frankenstein monster, like somebody hammer rusty scrap metal and barbed-wire together to make a machine. Like the mud from a swamp come to life and drag itself on to the beach with pieces of pollution still stuck inside it. And maybe the same thought cross me and Aunty Pauline mind, because same time she call out to the crocodile: 

“What happen Papa Grinch? You come look food? Catch two snapper, bring come, lemme cook them for you, darlin’.”

And she chuckle and watch Grinch just keep walkin’ free toward the water with the full moon over it, and she wouldn’t call anybody to chase him ‘cause people gone home anyway, and furthermore she realize that is not me and her alone didn’t have anywhere decent to live. 

Header photo courtesy Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza (@franticbornemisza) and TBA21–Academy. 

Roland Watson-Grant is a novelist, screenwriter and travel writer from Kingston, Jamaica. His first novel Sketcher (Alma Books UK, ISBN: 9781846883125), nominated for an Amazon Rising Star Award, has been translated into Turkish and Spanish. Roland was shortlisted in the Commonwealth Writers Short Story Prize 2017 and is a 2018 recipient of a Musgrave Award for Literature in his home country. 

2 thoughts on “Crocodile Tears

  1. A wonderful cautionary tale by Roland Watson-Grant. This story reminds us, especially as we move through a pandemic, that destroying the habitats of living creatures around us can have a negative impact on all who share this planet. That’s the heavy side. The lighter side is that the story is funny, with pure jokes. The cast of characters are a good cross section of innocents, villains, and in between, which allow the story to move seamlessly along. Watson-Grant commands the Anancy legacy, you can hear the echo of a Brer Crocodile tale in this story, “that animal look like Frankenstein monster…with pieces of pollution still stuck inside it.” We come to understand and sympathize with the monster of our own making. Great storytelling.

    Like

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