I bet you wondering how a girl like me end up in a place like this. I don’t even know why I’m here. All I know is things start to get bad from Miss Pearl push the gate and come into the yard giving advice to Tiffany. But the day Miss Pearl grandson fly home like him have the everlasting gospel is the day it get worse. What they tell you? Miss Pearl’s grandson couldn’t wait until the teacher finish her sentence before him run off him mouth. Bet they didn’t tell you the whole story.
I was a bright girl, but I bet them never tell that part. All that promise poisoned by a thing nobody could name. I know what they tell you; I know they didn’t tell you the whole story. Don’t know why them can’t keep my name out them mouth.
But me know them did bad mind me from long time and want to stop my shine. But them can’t dull my light. Is so them love watch decent people pickney come to nothing. Talking ‘bout here is not a place for people like me. Who is them? You know how much mad people a walk round in them suit and tie? But is me them a strength for; me them mouth set pon.
I was going to be an accountant, work at one of them big three storey banks with glass windows and polished floors. A big whole office with a buzzer on the door, where people talk to me nice.
Now, how do I explain to this woman who thinks she knows everything about me just because she study psychology? Just because she come visit me every other day and try to dig up things from out my mind that I don’t even know is there things from my childhood that I can’t even remember? This woman who thinks she can fix what’s been broken.
Every time I think about my childhood, I remember mommy’s herb roasted chicken. That night, she cook daddy’s favourite meal and him never come home. And she stayed up waiting on him playing that Kenny Rogers song, “Don’t Fall in Love with a Dreamer.” She played it on repeat all night until his dinner got cold. It would always start like this, the calm before the storm. That night that Tiff and I would call the autoclaps, when teeth and tongue meet and only daddy would be left standing.
The autoclaps that wake up the whole house at three in the morning. Daddy walked through the living room and sat in his mahogany chair that is grandfather dead leave give him. He sat there and waited for mommy to start quarrelling. This wasn’t the first time; it would always start in small whispers, like the continuous dripping of water on a rainy day.
Mommy wasn’t the type of woman to serve the milk when it’s cold: “Is so you want to live? Eat, sleep and come in when you feel like?”
He would always wait until the bucket was full before cutting through her last words, then leave that heavy silence. That silence that would have our ears pinned to the wall, Tiff and I would listen for another strike or slap. We’d listen for her breath struggling between the choke hold of his palm: “Let me go… let me—” then silence.
“Him soon calm down…you know daddy don’t like when she flare up,” Tiff said holding me back from bursting through the door.
Well I waited, waited for him to slam her head against the wall, hear them tussle around the living room. Mommy wouldn’t go down without leaving a scratch or bite on his shoulder.
Tiff and her murmuring and shaking couldn’t keep me in the room any longer. I rushed into the living room just in time to see Daddy holding up his hand, mommy barely breathing.
Very few things come to mind when you see your father holding a belt between you and your mother. That’s when they started talking to me, that’s when I heard them inside my head, telling me what to do. Or maybe it was me dead granny, that woman never did like me from morning. Maybe is she tell me to do it. Just make him touch her one more time, just make him try it.
Daddy bite him lip two times, couldn’t say a word. He loosened his belt buckle. “Go back inside,” his voice sounded like thunder. But, I wasn’t going to go back inside the room. All I know is I fly over the coffee table and the three of us were on the ground.
We grew up accustomed to the sound of heaving breathing and tussling in the night. Got accustomed to waking up to our mother looking like she went into a boxing fight. Seemed he was bent on spoiling her pretty face so no other man would look at her. On those nights he would huff and puff until the whole house came crumbling down. To tell you the truth, it started so long ago I can’t even remember; all I know is, things just got from bad to worse. Daddy started coming in later, or he would disappear for weeks. And Mommy would get up the next morning and straighten the house. Sometimes she’d cuss him out and threaten to leave. There were occasional absences. Sometimes she would stay by her friend Christine or go by Uncle Jimmy to let the bruises fade. Daddy’s temper was like bamboo stick in a fire — he would blaze up quick-quick then, as you blink, him cool down.
But, that night I wasn’t going to let him down easy. I don’t know when Tiff reached in the living room but the whole three of us were restraining him. The same brown belt him used to beat we with, tie up him hand. You should’ve seen it, all three of us fighting Daddy in the living room. And when he couldn’t take it anymore, he tussled with us until he broke loose; his eyes blood red with vengeance.
The man grabbed for anything his hand could reach, finding the knife from the kitchen counter to ward us off. There was Tiff always doing too much, always trying to play mediator. I guess he didn’t expect that Tiff was so bold and brave to step to him, and just as she try to pull the knife from his hand, I guess he didn’t expect she was so close. We didn’t expect the blood oozing out.
Looking in his sorry eyes, you would think he couldn’t hurt a fly. He didn’t expect it, the blood dripping like water from a broken pipe.
And Tiffany, poor girl just stand up there so. She never feel the blood dripping between her fingers? She never feel it? She just stood there like it was nothing. And him start run up and down like a headless chicken. Bawling like a baby, I never see a big man bawl so. The way he cradled her hand in his lap, asking Mommy to find her sewing kit so he could stitch up her hand. I don’t think it was anything serious, nothing some purple dressing and a bandage couldn’t fix. I guess she would be ok. No one said a thing about it after that.
Weeks later, one Thursday evening I came home from school and as I stepped through the front door, something felt different. The usual smell of stew peas and white rice dinner was gone. Something had changed. It was Tiff’s dry Barbi-fry chicken. The house was dead quiet. Today was usually Mommy’s day off. The house was too quiet, and the place just smelt of pine sol and bleach. No stew peas shimmering, no Mommy stirring the pot in the kitchen just pine sol and bleach.
She was gone, not a single trace of her. And for days we went on like things were normal, expecting her to return the way he had. And Tiff just play it cool. But I know Mommy call her and tell her that she not coming back and how to keep the house in order. I hear them on the phone when Daddy not here.
Let me tell you, strangers better than family. They not all nice, you don’t know them. You don’t know them. You think they are nice but they are not. They act like it but they not. I know the truth.
One day Daddy pull Tiff one side, “You mother not coming home?”
Is so my mother plan to live at people yard while her fifteen-year-old daughter take care of her husband and children. Is so she plan to live, run way leave her two daughter just so? Not a word or call, no notice? Leave us to fend for ourselves?
Well, I know Tiff take it to heart. Sometimes I hear her in the bathroom, like she’s about to go out of breath. And she walk right back out like its nothing, cooking our dinner and keeping the house clean. Everyday Tiff would straighten the house like one day she expect Mommy to return. I guess she inherited all mommy’s strength, because when the weight fell down on her, all she did was carry it leaning sometimes on the one Miss Pearl.
Miss Pearl is the self-appointed village lawyer, healer, warner woman and just about any other self-proclaimed title she deem fitting. Yes, she would march around the community spreading all kinds of dread, preaching everybody’s business, claiming that the Lord tell her in a dream. As children, we use to wonder if it was really rum or olive oil in the Wray and Nephew bottle that she carry tie up in her waist. Well, no one would go close enough to find out. Her presence would send all of us children flying through we front gate, men and women would lock up in them house and listen from their window as she preach her self-proclaimed gospel through the empty streets. All the while stomping her foot and pushing up her mouth to drop words on whosoever fence.
For Christian people she well wicked. I don’t know what her grandson tell her, but you know trouble in the camp when she decide to hold prayer and fasting at your yard. Sometime ago she and her entourage line out at Ronny gate and call out him son: “Come, the Lord tell me about your deeds. Ban your belly and bawl for destruction is nigh.” Then she pull out her flask of olive oil and tell him to drink two time for cleansing, so destruction won’t come upon his house.
And is so she carry on from time to time. She thinks prayer and fasting can solve everything.
But I know her deeds, I bet is she carry my name go to the obeah man that leave him wife to come and cotch with people woman, and appoint himself Pastor of the district with him big church down the road. Nothing burn me heart more than the first day when she march through the front gate with her band of Pocomania business. Say the Lord send her with a message for me, how she come to bind the forces of darkness.
“Nothing that prayer and a bottle of consecrated olive oil couldn’t fix.”
Miss Pearl, she take on everybody life and put on her head. Why she never march up by Mel yard and sprinkle her olive oil at her front gate the day before the police come right after the neighbour cock crow and fling her in the back of the jeep and carry her off to madhouse? Why she never go read Psalms for Miss Birdy before she die of heart failure, cause her one son Shango won’t stop wheel him rusty machete off pretty brown girls, because him woman left him. Hmm? Why them don’t talk about that? No, is me she have strength for.
Even the blind and deaf know something not right about her and her followers. Same way she go down Miss Bev to deliver her daughter from the bondage of sin because them claim say duppy box her down, serve her right, she run off her mouth too much. Everybody know say when you see duppy or spirit you lock your mouth. Well, you want to see how Miss Pearl and her sisters dash rum on her and cover her head with the white table cloth they use at communion service. You should’ve seen it, the way she fling down herself in the street fluttering like a fish trying to escape a net.
Tiff should never let them pass the gate. Not that you could stop her. If Pearl hear Claudette murdering her son, she fly over the fence to part them like she is the saviour. She walk through any front gate, no bull dog or iron gate could keep her out. She just march in like she own the place. And is so she and her entourage march through my Aunty gate that Wednesday morning in them long white robe humming. I know is the devil send them.
“Come child,” Miss Pearl said, and they form a circle in the living room start to pray and plead the blood of Jesus. I don’t know who them expect to answer them prayer, because God see and know them is a set of viper and hypocrite. Miss Pearl she was the ring leader, and so she mark a cross on my forehead and she start speak another tongue that not even Jesus could understand.
And so Miss Pearl walk towards me with her head tie up, and she pressed her fingers, wet with olive oil against my temples. Then she pluck my mouth open and tell me to drink the olive oil.
“The mind, the mind, the mind.” Then the woman seize me like the Holy Ghost possess her. “Oh God, touch her mind, Lord. Set her free. Set your daughter free just like how you rebuke the unclean spirit, Lord, send this spirit of madness back to the pit of hell.”
Then she shake two time and drop her hand on my head and dig her fingers in my knot up hair: “Take control of her mind Lord, transform her mind. Lord, purge and purify her.” I stood there and nodded through her prayer. “I know you know I was watching you. That’s why you look away from me. You couldn’t face it don’t?” Guess she thought divinity was in her eyes. Poor woman don’t know that I was looking at her because her head tie up with a white cloth, looking like a warner woman.
“Yes, Lord, purge your daughter, the gates of hell cannot prevail.” And is so she carry on.
After the day Miss Pearl grandson, Sheldon, run home him talking ‘bout me mad, like him know anything about me. Him don’t know nothing ‘bout me. After that nothing was ever the same. I’m still waiting for the olive oil to work its magic, still waiting for Miss Pearl and her prayers to break me out of this place.
After my mother left, I kept trying to hold myself together the way the ocean gathers itself. Everything around me, us, felt like water— fluid, empty. That’s when my mind began to wonder about that night. If the neighbours didn’t hear, were they just blind, dumb and deaf? Wonder if mommy would ever come back, wonder if one day daddy would lose control of his truck and drive himself into Kingston Harbour? Wonder if Tiff would disappear too, maybe one day she’d get tired and disappear like them girls who show up missing on the TV. All that wondering left me in a room full of strangers and family members on Ward 23. All that wondering made my hair start to drop out little by little and then in clumps. That was the last time my family was in a room together. The last time I saw Mommy and Daddy smiling at each other and telling me everything was going to be ok.
That day at school they were talking about my behaviour wouldn’t be tolerated, them didn’t even ask no question and the whole class keep them mouth lock like them ‘fraid of Keisha and her dry foot crew. Them say them just see blood spraying from Keisha’s eye, so they drag me in the guidance counsellor office then ship off Keisha to the hospital. As soon as me turn my back, the whole lot of them start sussing say me head gone and how demon possess me, that’s why me do it. Like them never see when Keisha step to me.
After that, I was the culprit. Them memory wipe clean. Funny how they forget that the doctor said that my mind was fragile. Is them same one carry me way to go live with stranger because they couldn’t find a place to put me.
One time Tiff say I draw sharp knife after her but is not so the story go. From that she ‘fraid a me like puss. Serve her right too, acting like she’s the boss of everybody. Nobody did tell her to take up what she can’t manage. Is she want to play mother and big sister. After that everybody turn against me. Me did tell you say them no genuine— ‘bout me no righted and me head gone. Them know nothing ‘bout me?
My mind was too fragile for the truth, but not for their indifference. Yes I know big words too, my mother did send me go big school.
After the day that Miss Pearl grandson came home, I never went back to school. They had to find a place that deal with people like me. All them — them is another set. Well, is lucky thing Daddy and her mother was long-time friend cause they woulda lock me up. It wasn’t even that serious, plus she had it coming.
And since they didn’t ask me how it go, let me tell you. Duppy know who fi frighten for true. Some people see you and them think them know you, think them can size you up in them palm, worse touch a button pon your blouse and think say that is that. Bet say nobody put them hand pon me again?
Everyday this girl and her three yam head friend them take set pon me. It was that same day when Miss Pearl grandson, Sheldon, come run off him mouth that Keshia and her friends fly up in my face.
For weeks they were at it, calling me peel out head, like them don’t know say me have alopecia. And how Alex the captain of the football team, mother catch us in her wash room. Lunch time them fly up in me face like them have me secret, but me tell you say duppy know who fi frighten, just when I was eating my lunch, ready to take a bite of the juicy fry chicken leg, just like that my food turn over in my lap. Now tell me if that sound like accident? Tell me say them never a try my patience, and even if I did think about rolling my eyes and just go through like always, they were asking for it. I’m not the type of person to trouble people, me just stay to myself because them can’t walk near, me too nice for them.
I never say a thing to her. I just sit there quiet like a mouse and watch she and her friend them laughing and pointing them dirty fingers. I cleaned up my table and sat through Mr. Peters’ Maths class; didn’t even raise me hand or answer a question. And then I hear the voice again telling me to do something wicked, me get dark. Listen, if I never do something, something would a do me cause my blood was boiling and my chest felt like it would burst open. Listen, me not going keep up anything on my chest like Tiff, before that me mad. Look how I was sitting there all by myself, trying to have my lunch and she make the devil ride her. Hmm? Then them talk ‘bout me mad and send Miss Pearl grandson flying with news in his mouth.
That’s when they told me I was sick. And I couldn’t forget the smell of that hospital, that smell that lingers on your skin like smoke even after you leave. Couldn’t forget how the whole family surround me, and all that love that couldn’t survive this thing. This thing that only happens to other people. Not even people you know. Things like this happen to people you hear about. Like Roxy’s neighbour who walk out in the middle of the road bright and early every Sunday with her British twanging tongue calling back the man who leave her six months ago. That woman never even seen the back of an aeroplane much less London Bridge, but still she march up and down the street like her navel string cut in England.
This thing it happen to other people, but now people like me. Let me tell you, stranger better than family. Up to this day nobody can tell me what was wrong, but still they sussing in corners and as soon as they see me coming everybody get quiet, like is a big secret. I couldn’t forget a place like this. The whole family showed up like it was Christmas morning, but I see through them plastic smile and them, “I hope you get better soon, we are here for you.”
All the one Tiff, God have a special place in hell for she. She think I never hear her telling my mother on the phone that she knows a lady that Sister Pearl recommend. Is she call the place asking if they have any vacancy and sign up the form. Is she make them come for me. Then, she crying crocodile tears, like say God no see her. She same one say she know a nice church lady that will take good care of me.
Well, I guess you not bad after all. Don’t I did tell you say stranger better than family. Well, for now. People always laugh with you then, later on — well, you know how that story go.
Anyways, before you ask me anymore questions, how soon can I get out of here? They said it would only be six weeks and now is two months. Listen I not staying here. You think me ago make them mad me? Them make a sad mistake. And don’t ask me about that day again when Miss Pearl grandson come home spreading lies.