The Admiral

GEOFFREY PHILP

Freed by an obeah woman, who wanted
“a likkle company every Friday eveling,”
the Admiral, when everyone else was asleep,
would crawl down his pedestal to answer
the summons to her bed where he’d stay
until midnight and then, ascend to his rightful
position, the title he once bore, Viceroy in the Indies.

But it had been three years since his liberator
had died, yet her curse remained. Now the Admiral
heads straight to the cemetery to pay respects
to his mistress, climbs to her shack at the top
of Liberty Hill to claim part of the inheritance
she’d hidden under her floor, and where he keeps
sun-bleached clothes he’d stolen from the poor
on Windsor Road — like he was a common thief —
so he could roam freely among these New World
Africans, like a nobody, until the rumheads

renamed him “The Cuban” because of his accent.

The Admiral didn’t like that name. He preferred
the name his mother, Susanna, had bestowed on him,
Cristoffa Corombo, whispered in the soft syllables
of her Ligurian tongue. But, at least, it was better
than what one dreadlocked African, whom the Admiral
would have sworn had figured out his identity,
called him, “Christopher-Come-Buck-Us.”

Grabbing his clothes, the Admiral walked past women
selling cheap goods from Cathay — as if the Silk Road
had reached Xaymaca — to his favorite bar near the Negro
River, which reminded him of the tavern that Domenico,
his father had owned in Savona, where he’d learned
the secrets of ocean winds and stories about fabled
Cipangu. But everywhere had been discovered,
and when the Admiral entered the bar, he ordered
his usual shot of rum from Rosie, a beautiful African
woman, whom he’d have loved to draw but was afraid
she’d be offended. The last thing the Admiral needed
was angry Africans poking into his business.

Gripping the shot glass between his thumb and index
finger with the same firmness as he had held the pens
when he signed letters demanding justice from the Spanish
court, but whose pleadings were never resolved,
the Admiral watched the news on the television —
a miracle if he ever saw one — about the toppling
of Edward Colston’s statue. Although their nations
had always been at war; they were allies in the same cause.
The Admiral retreated to the back of the bar
where he settled among the shadows and sipped
his drink until a group of Africans, led by the dreadlocked
one, sat in front of the television, blocking his view.

Furious at the effrontery, the Admiral held
his anger and shifted his chair. His mistress
had tutored him in the ways of the island,
but he’d never grown accustomed to the speech
of these Africans. He moved his chair to eavesdrop
on the conversation that had captured his attention.

“Tear him raas off de rock,” said the dreadlocked
African, who had escaped the enchantment of empire
by studying his reflection. As the images burned
on the screen, the Admiral gulped down the rest
of his drink and signaled to Rosie for another shot
when he saw the beheading of his statue in Boston,
the drowning of another in Richmond and realized
that the African’s plan would mean his second death.

“Grind de marble to dus’ and dash it inna de sea,”
one of the other Africans added. The Admiral wanted
to object. “But I was a messenger of Christ,
and the Word of God has now spread to the four
corners of the world — a sign that the Second
Coming is that hand!” But the Admiral remembered
what had happened in Española with the nine
year-old girls, he’d procured for his Castellanos.
Yet, if he had still possessed the power he once
wielded, he’d have cut out their tongues,
like his brother, Bartolomeo, had done
to a woman who had claimed that their family
had descended from common stock or sliced
off their ears, as his men had done to the indios,
“to test the sharpness of their blades.”

But when the Africans raised their glasses
in a toast, “To Christopher Come-Be-Louse.
Deadman walking,” the Admiral felt as if a tremor
had shaken the foundation of the island.
The Admiral wanted to run away, but where?
He was duty-bound to answer the call of overseeing
the town, so he waited for the last African to leave
before he paid his debt for the night with Rosie,
who asked, “Same time next week, Cuban?”

The Admiral grunted goodbye, and as he staggered
up Main Street, he wondered when he’d hear,
the sound of Africans marching along the Roaring
River, sunlight glinting off their machetes, the tools
of their ancestors, chanting the words of their liberator,
“We must emancipate ourselves from mental slavery.”

Geoffrey Philp is the author of five books of poetry, two novels, two collections of short stories, and three children’s books. His poems have been published in The Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse, sx salon, The Johannesburg Review of Books, Bearden’s  Odyssey Poets Respond to the Art of Romare Bearden, and Crab Orchard Review. A recipient of the Luminary Award from the Consulate of Jamaica (2015), Philp’s work is featured on The Poetry Rail at The Betsy in an homage to 12 writers that shaped Miami culture. He is currently working on a children ‘s book, “My Name is Marcus”

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