RIO TINTO SAYS SORRY

Diana McCaulay

An Australian story caught my attention, as global efforts to take down the statues of historical figures who had committed crimes against humanity intensified. I knew Rio Tinto was a giant mining multinational corporation and I was drawn to understand what horrors could have caused them to apologize. Turns out the world’s largest miner of iron ore had destroyed two caves at Juukan Gorge in Western Australia. The caves were sacred sites for Aboriginal peoples known as Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) and had contained evidence of continual human habitation going back 46,000 years. The news story said that the destruction had been approved by the state government, albeit before the precise value of the site was understood, and went on to catalogue a number of similar applications to mine in areas sacred to Aboriginal peoples, all of which had been approved. We too, here, have blazed through Taino archaeological sites in the name of development. 

It got me thinking about what gets to be called a monument because so far, we seem to be focused on artifacts. You can’t rewrite history, we’re told by those who resist the removal of statuary. They honour people of their time, operating within the laws and morals of their age. But we seem to have no issue with the destruction of the places where history unfolded, along with their relics, particularly if that history was not White and Western. 

For many Aboriginal peoples, the place created the name, which was in turn connected to the events that happened there – stories of a search for a good place to live, close to water and food, able to be defended. What they made of their places is what they made of themselves and that was how the past was constructed, understood and remembered. From cultural anthropologist Keith Basso’s 1996 book, Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language among the Western Apache:  

For Indian men and women, the past lies embedded in features of the earth – in canyons and lakes, mountains and arroyos, rocks and vacant fields – which together endow their lands with multiple forms of significance that reach into their lives and shape the ways they think. Knowledge of places is therefore closely linked to knowledge of the self, to grasping one’s position in the larger scheme of things, including one’s own community and to securing a confident sense of who one is as a person.

Although so many of Jamaica’s place names bear the stamp of conquest and brutality, there are places in Jamaica that refer to features of the landscape or to events. Cockpit Country, named either for the cockpit of sailing ships, where wounded men were taken, or for the fight to the death of the cock fighting pit. Either way, a place of blood and death. Bamboo. Bath, for its mineral spring. Bull Head. Round Hill. Dolphin Head. Canoe Valley, named for the cotton trees that made the dugout canoes of the Tainos. Alligator Head. Manatee Bay. Bog Walk – from boca d’agua – the water’s mouth. There are place names that describe journeys – Half Way Tree, Nine Miles, Eleven Miles, Passage Fort. Lacovia – the way by the lake. And there are places named for heroes – Nanny Town. Cuffee Ridge. Cudjoe Town.  

Once I went looking for a giant rock – which was the site of the port prior to Falmouth – called simply, The Rock. There was no rock, at least not that I found, but there was a cook shop, with the name painted on the front – The Rock – and I was glad to see just that.  

So on Jamaica’s 2020 Independence Day, if we’re going to entertain the argument that statues are part of a painful history which cannot be unwritten,  and therefore should remain standing, then let’s be consistent about the history written on the landforms themselves because these too are our monuments, and they deserve our recognition, respect and protection. 

Anchor image: Giant tree in Dornock. August 2019. Dornoch Head or Dornock Head is the headwaters of the Rio Bueno, rising in Cockpit Country

Diana McCaulay is a writer and environmental activist. Her fifth novel, Daylight Come, will be published by Peepal Tree Press in September 2020.

Diana McCaulay

Aah Kei Miller. This morning: Leone Ross’s post, Sarah Manley’s post, my son’s post, and now yours. I started to write a response to you, Kei, and I became fearful. I stopped. But now I’m going to try, not so much about our planned protests here, I completely agree with you on that, but about the things you say you’ve learned during the responses to your white woman essay. 

Continue reading “Diana McCaulay”

DAYLIGHT COME: An Extract

DIANA MCCAULAY

Daylight Come will be published in September 2020 by Peepal Tree Press.

CHAPTER 1 – BANA CITY

“Did you sleep? Tell me you slept.” Bibi was at the bedroom door. The dangerous light that crept under doors and through cracks in walls and windows had gone and it was night. Sorrel shook her head, impatient with the question, which began most nights. You couldn’t light-proof a house no matter what you did. You couldn’t light-proof a world. Bibi came into the bedroom and sat on the end of her bed. She touched her daughter’s shaven head, just beginning to grow out. Sorrel pulled away. 

“I don’t know how to help you.” Bibi’s voice shook. “You have to sleep.”   

“I can’t. I’ve told you,” Sorrel snapped. 

“Pills tomorrow, then. The green ones.”

“I don’t want them. They make me feel dooley, like I’m asleep when I’m supposed to be awake, which is the whole problem, right?”

“What about that tea we tried?”

“Grammy’s bush tea? I don’t remember it helping. Just leave me alone, Bibi.”

“You’ll get sick if you don’t sleep.”

Sorrel met her mother’s eyes. “I want to sleep now.”

“It’s time for e-school.” Bibi held out her hand. “Get up. It’s dark and you have to eat.” 

Sorrel ignored the outstretched hand, but she rose to her feet. She was almost her mother’s height now.

“Your hair needs the razor,” Bibi said.

“Razor’s dull.” Sorrel no longer knew if kindness lived in her heart. She ran her hand over her head. She liked her hair to feel prickly, like it was alive and pushing outwards.  

She often daydreamed about what it must have been like for women to have hair that fell to their chins, their shoulders, even to their waists – hair long enough to make into all manner of designs: plaits and corn rows and bumps and locks and weaves and buns and French braids; hair that women washed every week, not once, but twice each time, using conditioners and potions, which had to be rinsed out with drinkable water. Women, she’d read, had even used chemicals to straighten, dye and curl their tresses. They bleached it, did things called “permanents” which were temporary, and used curlers and rollers and bobby-pins and hairpins and combs and dryers and flat irons and curling irons – all to make their hair into whatever it was not. Sorrel loved the pictures on the history sites, especially the layered ones that looked like the feathers of a bird and the styles called Afros, which were like halos – when hair was part of a woman’s beauty. 

Her best friend, Sesame, told her that old-time white people had washed their thin hair every day, but nobody had hair like that anymore on Bajacu, because there were few white people left. The Convergence, with its panicked flight of elites to the north, had left a shrinking brown population, all with heads shaved by Domin law. You could be arrested for having the kind of stubble Bibi was pointing out. You would certainly be judged anti-social and have your water ration reduced. 

Bibi had told her the Convergence had been called other names before world leaders settled on this less threatening word, though even as it happened, there were those who said it was a lie, a hoax, fake news. Her mother rarely talked about her memories of that time. 

Bibi left the room and Sorrel shook off her thoughts. Now that night had fallen, at least they could open a window. 

They were living in the most comfortable of all the houses she could remember. Bibi refused to be called Mum or Mom or Mother, they were comrades in arms, she said – a term Sorrel had liked when she was younger, when her mother’s nickname for her was Little One. As she grew older, Bibi shortened it to One. 

They had moved often when Sorrel was a child, always looking for a place in shadow, away from the sea, rivers or ravines, preferably a house angled to catch the infrequent breezes. The trade winds had died mid-century, but fluky ones did sometimes roll off the foothills. Bibi had a knack for assessing the comfort of an empty house. Sometimes people paid her in skynuts to do it. 

She often daydreamed about what it must have been like for women to have hair that fell to their chins, their shoulders, even to their waists – hair long enough to make into all manner of designs: plaits and corn rows and bumps and locks and weaves and buns and French braids; hair that women washed every week, not once, but twice each time, using conditioners and potions, which had to be rinsed out with drinkable water. 

There were thousands of empty places on the island, most of them dilapidated. The people who could escape had left Bajacu in waves, the way the sea had moved onto the land. When they were much younger, her best friend, Sesame, had told her stories of rich people who had retreated high into the mountains – this was after the tunnels they’d built collapsed in the earthquakes.

“They call themselves Toplanders,” she said.

“Ridiculous,” Sorrel had scoffed.

They could visit each other back then, although they could travel only at dawn or dusk, never when the sun was at its height. They’d been lying head to head on the cool tile floor at Sesame’s house, arms outstretched, pretending to be starfish.

“The hurricanes would have killed them. What would they eat?”

“I heard they grow food.”

“What kind of crops would survive the rain bombs, the dust storms? It’s foolishness, Ses.”

“Rich people can do a lot.”

“They can’t do miracles. And what about the ferals? They don’t have them in the mountains?”

“I didn’t hear anything about ferals.”

“These are just stories. Let’s find something to eat,” Sorrel had said, getting up. “What d’you have?”

“Usual.”

“I’m so sick of alganola.” 

“Yeh, me too. It’s why I like to think about people living in the mountains growing food.”

“Why didn’t other people join them up there, then? No way that could be kept secret from the Domins.”

“There are others up there too – different to the Toplanders. They’re like the Tainos – that’s what I heard.”

“The who?”

“Tainos! You were never any good at history. They’re the people who lived here before everybody else. Tribals, they’re called now.”

Guata, Ses, you should definitely be a writer.” They giggled at the forbidden curse word and their outstretched fingers touched.

“I think the rich people just left and there’s no such thing as tribals,” Sorrel said. “They would have died in the heat or the storms, or the ferals got them or they starved to death.”

“People always find a way. I heard the Toplanders are in that old army camp. You’ve seen it on SATMAP.”

“Foolishness. The Domins would definitely find them if they were at Cibao camp.”

“I heard they have slaves. All women. And there’s a terrible man up there.”

“Just stop, Ses. Monster stories.”

She had not seen Sesame in person for more than a year, but she often thought about their time together and her friend’s fantasies. 

The house she now lived in with her mother was on Buttercup Avenue in the capital city of Bana. Desperate people had thought that the old place names of long annihilated native peoples could save them; but still the cities had drowned and the rivers had dried up, the land had burned and shook, and the dust from a thousand deserts had taken to the air in rolling storms. After that, there was a burst of flower naming, of roads and airports and hotels and Domin buildings in the city. “I didn’t want you to be soft like a daisy or a rose; I wanted you spiky, red, not pale,” Bibi had told her. “And you were born in December, which used to be the picking time for sorrel.” Sorrel had only ever seen images of her namesake flower and most of the buildings and roads named after flowers were now derelict and without signage. 

Like nearly all the still occupied houses on Bajacu, their roof was a slightly slanted concrete slab. This was the law after the hurricane season of ’63 – an easy law to enforce, because after two Category Fives hit the island that year, there were no houses with other kinds of roofs left standing. The miners sent their machines into the hills and dug down the white limestone. They scooped up the sand from rivers, and the cement factories ran day and night. The houses built after ’63 had underground cisterns to catch rainwater. They were virtually useless now as there was so little rain. The best houses had a solid impermeable membrane on the slab roof, complicated drainage systems, a ledge to hold in the turflife, and succulents planted from end to end, half shaded by solar panels. They looked like cartoon characters with square faces, blank eyes and thorny hair; Sorrel liked the intricate shapes of the succulents and the way they needed no care. Up there on the roofs, these plants either lived or died. A thick bank of succulents could lower the temperature in a house by three degrees. To stop people stealing them, you had to apply for a permit to own a ladder. Very few were granted.

Sorrel went into the kitchen and opened one of the makeshift shutters. They used to have glass windows, but Bibi said they were dangerous because they magnified heat. The house gave a little gasp, as if pressure had built up inside during the day. She waited to feel cooler air on her face, but nothing was moving outside. She gazed at the sky, hoping to see the moon or stars, but it was too cloudy. There were always thin clouds now, which was good, because without clouds there would be no rain, ever, and no water, and the rays of the sun would be even more deadly, but she still sometimes wished she could see a clear sky. She fastened the window half open.

If only she could sleep. Her mother sat at the kitchen table, her shoulders slumped. Sorrel saw the small hump on her spine that indicated her age, and she felt a flutter of fear in her chest. Old people were not treated kindly on Bajacu.

Although Bibi was only a child at the time of the Convergence, all the mid-century anger at the people who had ignored the signs of the coming crisis were directed – even now – at anyone over forty. Her Grammy had been beaten in the street more than once simply because she was of that time. People always need someone to blame, Grammy had said, sitting at the kitchen table, blood trickling down her jawline.  

“Stop daydreaming,” Bibi said. She handed her daughter a cup of aloe tea and a bar of alganola. Sorrel loathed the bars, convinced you could taste the jelly-fish in them. She joined Bibi at the table and booted up their PlAK. 

“Don’t get crumbs on the keyboard,” Bibi said, rising to her feet. “See you later, One.”

Sorrel grunted, avoiding her mother’s tired eyes and the furrow between her eyebrows. They were lucky; her mother had a job at the tech centre, fixing the few old-time computers left on the island. She was jealous of her mother’s contact with people. It was that job that had gifted them the PlAK, by far their most valuable possession, with its access to chat rooms and satellite feeds.

Although Bibi was only a child at the time of the Convergence, all the mid-century anger at the people who had ignored the signs of the coming crisis were directed – even now – at anyone over forty.

Today was payday. Maybe Bibi would be paid in skynuts. They were better than foodcards and were a good source of protein. The skynut trees had been brought to Bajacu by some long extinct migratory bird, and they had flourished, while every other type of tree thinned out and died.

She rubbed her eyes. She had a Math test in e-school today. She had turned fourteen two days ago and had made herself a birthday promise: one day, she would find a place where it was possible to sleep in the dark and go outside all day when it was light. 

CHAPTER 2 – BANA CITY 

At 0400 hours, e-school finished. Sorrel rose and stretched. Her legs felt numb and the house closed in around her. Her mother would be back from work in an hour. She checked the water tank in the corner of the kitchen. It was about halfway down. Two more nights before water was delivered. Their house had a cistern from the days when it used to rain regularly, but the water truck’s pipe couldn’t reach it. The tank filter was dirty, and she should clean it, but it was hard to clean anything without using precious water. She replaced the cover with the dirty filter in place. Maybe tomorrow. She decided to go online and talk to Sesame.

“A Tribal girl was captured by the Domins. Last week. She was scavenging,” Sesame wrote, the words coming up like bubbles on the PlAK’s screen.

“Everyone scavenges,” tapped Sorrel, using a string of emojis to show her disdain. “She could have been any Bana girl!”

“It was how she was dressed, and she was strong. Muscles in her legs. I heard she fought off the Domins like a Feral; killed one and ran. No Lowlander could do that. They caught her, though.”

“You’re just bored.”

“Yeah. Aren’t you?”

Yeah, Sorrel thought, I’m bored, but she didn’t want to hear any more about the Tribal girl. She signed off, sending SEW to her friend, their code for Sudden Ending Warning. She would sit outside for the remaining hour of darkness. 

She opened the kitchen door and walked onto the hard dirt, which her grandmother had called “the garden” until the day she died. The light from the kitchen fell into the yard. She sat in her favorite spot on a large, smooth rock in the shadow of the house. Her Grammy had once told her why the rock was there – their house on Buttercup Avenue was on the Sabana Plain, laid down in geologic time by the Ama River, which had brought the big rocks with it. You could still see them around Bana – some had been coated white long ago and still had flecks of paint in their grooves and indentations. The Ama River had broken its banks the year of the Category Fives and killed an uncounted number of people who had been living too close. Now the sea was even nearer to the Ama River and soon there could be a huge body of brackish water cutting right through the city. Too much water and too little water, at the same time. Lowlanders were always thirsty. Soon they would have to seek higher ground. 

She heard the noise of working people going home after a night of work, some on foot, some on skateboards. The only type of motorised transportation left on Bajacu were the ATVs of the Domins. No one knew how they were fuelled. She liked to watch the young workers who had enough balance and strength to skateboard. She could hear them jumping over the cracks and buckled asphalt in the road and she thought of the tribal girl that Sesame told her about, fighting like a feral, running, then still being caught. 

Could there be people, maybe even young people, living together in the mountains, outside Domin control? There were caves in the mountains, so shelter was possible, and there were simple ways to condense water – every Bana e-school child had to do basic survival training. But what was there to eat in the mountains? What would they have to take with them? What path would they follow? By how much did the temperature fall if you went high up? She started to construct a new world in her mind and imagined herself properly asleep in the darkest of nights. She felt so tired. 

Then she remembered what Sesame said had happened to the Tribal girl. The Domins would have staked her out on the Burning Rock Plain – no witnesses, no questions asked – and left her there to sizzle up and die. The whole idea of the mountains was dangerous. Too dangerous. She turned her thoughts to Bibi’s return and what they might eat. The rock she sat on still held some of the day’s heat. She loved rocks. Her clearest childhood memory was of a shallow hole she had scraped out under a rock when she’d been about six, living in a different place. She had been able to crawl inside the hole and lie on her side, knees to chest, the rock almost touching her shoulders. The darkness under the boulder was different from the night outside. The earth had cradled her, and the rock had been like a low sky.

Once, she had dared to go to it in the day. She had dressed in her oldest clothes, climbed into the bath and soaked herself. She did not remember anything about getting there except the lacerating light. Her clothes began to dry immediately. In her scramble to crawl out, her cheek had brushed the rough surface and she’d cried out and jerked away. When her mother saw the blister, Sorrel had confessed that she had been outside and Bibi had confined her to her room with just alganola and water, no PlAK. She still had that scar. 

The sky was lightening in the east and the air seemed to contract, like the singeing of her skin against the red-hot rock so many years ago. Sorrel felt short of breath. A sheen of sweat spread over her exposed skin. She wanted to shed her clothes. Once the sun was in the sky, human sweat would dry between one breath and the next. Skin would crack like the salt flats near the Burning Rock Plain. People without efficient sweat glands never lived past childhood.

Where was her mother? Bibi was never late. Maybe she had gone to the seawall for provisions: dried and salted jellyfish, alga-oil for the bars that were their main source of food; maybe some of the mussels which now clung to every surface in the sea and smelled faintly of paint. 

Sorrell hoped for a sea-egg. They carpeted the seafloor but were too deep for a casual wader and were harvested by licensed divers. There was a black market, of course, and her mother knew all the sellers. She wished for a fresh one, still smelling of the sea. They would crack it and fry it, add salt, and eat it at the kitchen table. 

The sound of skateboards had stopped. The footsteps she could hear sounded too rapid. People out there were running. No one ran anymore; it wasted energy. She thought again of the Tribal girl running, being caught and dying on the Burning Rock Plain. Sorrel walked to the gate and looked down the road.

People were travelling through the gloom in groups: men and women carrying children. A few old people. Some hauled small carts; others were laden with overstuffed backpacks. She heard the clip clop of a mule or horse – equines were the only domestic animal that had not become feral or died out in the starvation years after the Convergence. Those people out there had very little time before the sun came up and they would face Dawn Danger. 

Once, Bibi had told her that there had been dawn bunkers in case you were trapped outside at sunrise, but they had been built in the wrong places and the rising sea had claimed them.

“Sorrel!” It was her mother’s voice. She strained to separate Bibi from the groups of hurrying people. “Why’re you outside?”

“I came to look for you. You’re late. What’s happening? Why’s everyone on the move?” She could see her mother’s face now, drawn with worry, glistening with sweat. The half-moon circles under her eyes were deeper and fear flashed in her eyes.

“Inside,” Bibi said. 

The Madman of South Avenue

Diana McCaulay

“That’s him!” the white man shouted. “Stop the car!”

“Who? Where?” said the white woman, who had arrived with the man ten days ago, and was definitely sleeping with him. Persephone sighed. Their car was stopped in a line of traffic on South Avenue.  She had no idea who they were talking about, but her job was to be nice to these white people, take them where they wanted to go, protect them from crime of either the random or targeted nature and advise them on all things Jamaican. They were searching for a face. And a body. She had to help them find the face and the body, hopefully owned by a single human being— a man— because the female face of 2015 had already been identified. And there was only the rest of this day left for the search.

The light changed, but the cars didn’t move. The intersection up ahead was blocked. Taxi men gestured at other drivers who blew their horns at still others. People in giant SUVs spoke on their cell phones. October, late lunch traffic, Kingston, Jamaica; about to pour with rain. Tomorrow couldn’t come quickly enough for Persephone. The white people were leaving on an early flight and that was one ring of her cell phone alarm she was longing to hear.

“Can’t you find a place to park?” Jim, the white man, said. The traffic was beginning to move – if Persephone didn’t find a place to park right away they would be carried with the sluggish tide of cars onto Waterloo Road, where stopping really would bring road rage down upon their heads. She indicated right, caught the eye of an oncoming motorist, mimed prayer with both hands, and the motorist braked.

“Thank you, bredren,” she whispered and turned across the traffic into the parking lot of a jerk restaurant. She drove into the only remaining space, felt the eyes of the security guard at the gate follow them and fixed a smile on her face. If they did not go into the restaurant quickly, the guard would insist they move.

“Who are you talking about?” she said to Jim.

“That guy! You didn’t see him? Half-naked. Could use a square meal, I guess. But he’s IT. He’s the 2015 guy!” Jim released his seat belt and got out of the car. Half-naked? Surely he could not be talking about a street person?

The white woman, Madison, also got out of the car and Persephone followed. Jim strode out onto South Avenue just as fat raindrops began to fall. “Wait!” Persephone yelled. Good god, these people were children. It was like trying to manage a crab race, the crabs constantly heading in different directions, or sometimes just hunkering down inside their shells, uninterested in the yelling, sunburned tourists who had bet on the outcome of the misnomered “race”. Persephone had managed crab races, not to mention wet T-shirt contests, and pass the plantain games for a few years— she’d been what was called a playmaker at an all-inclusive hotel on the north coast. Then she gained a little weight— well, more than a little— courtesy of the bottomless buffet line at the hotel, and her playmaker days were over.  Now she was employed as a liaison officer for Jamaica’s premier model agency.

“Wait Jim!” she called again and ran after him.

“You cyaan park here, Miss,” said the security guard, barring her way, but with an eye turned up to the lowering sky. There would be no security guarding if it really started to rain.

“A soon come,” she panted. She really did have to lose some weight. Long days behind the wheel of a car, and longer waits while her charges interviewed this new face or that new body, took their toll. As did a constant diet of restaurant food. When she had taken this job, she’d hoped to meet someone, anyone, with a ticket out of Jamaica. She had hoped—still hoped— for an American, because now that was a big country with no shortage of choice about where and how to live. She didn’t think she could manage the everlasting grey of England, or the long biting winters of Canada. So far there had been no rescue.

She saw Jim on the other side of the road, outside a townhouse complex, talking to a madman. Yes, a madman. She was a bawn an grow Jamaican and she knew a madman when she saw one. It had been in the newspapers that Jamaicans had more mad people than any other country, so said some notable psychiatrist, and Persephone believed it. When she had first moved to Kingston after her playmaker stint, she’d lived in the side of a Mona house— it was one room really— with a passage said to be a kitchen, and an exterior walkway said to be a verandah, and it was located next to a piece of open land. Only a few locations in any Jamaican town were worse—say, next to a gully or a squatter settlement— but the rent had been cheap. When she first moved in, a man had kept goats on the open land, and often their bleating woke her in the mornings. But then the goat man moved on and his place was taken by a madman—who capered while he talked to invisible people, masturbated with breathtaking frequency, threw a piece of waste cardboard over a macca bush and lived under it, set fires, went through everyone’s garbage and left it strewn on the upwardly mobile, respectable streets of Mona, and who, starting at exactly three a.m., sang a well remembered hymn of Persephone’s schooling in a creditable baritone. 

 I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love
The love that asks no question
The love that stands the test
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best

The people of Mona had meetings about the madman. The better off residents summoned their security guard companies; the less well off called the police. The guard companies came first and chased off the man. He returned. Then the police came, handcuffed him and threw him into the trunk of their Toyota Corolla, the one with the single remaining digit of the emergency number— 9—on both doors. The Mona residents were relieved. There were efforts to contact the owner of the land who was long in foreign, plans to write to the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation, who all agreed was not worth a single dollar of the taxes they extorted from the consolidated fund, and talk of collecting money to build a chain link fence around the open land. Vigilance was essential, the good people of Mona agreed. But within a month, the madman was back, dirtier and thinner, his voice ever in fine fettle. Persephone moved to lower Graham Heights, close to a squatter settlement it was true, but there was a limit to the housing options available on a liaison officer’s salary.

Jim was talking to the South Avenue madman. Now this was not a sight Kingston residents saw every day and they took immediate note. Cars stopped their inching progress. Drivers and passengers craned their necks. The townhouse security guard, who was frequently plagued by this madman and was itching to do some head-cracking with his baton, ducked under the red and white barrier that demarcated the line between order and chaos, yard and street. A vendor selling carvings on the sidewalk near the plazas strolled up, calling over his shoulder for other vendors to join him.  The woman selling ironing boards waddled over. The coir mat man on Waterloo Road dashed through the traffic, which was now in gridlock. “Sas crise,” Persephone whispered to herself as she crossed the road. So far the rain was holding off. She needed to sort this out fast.

For the first time, she looked at the South Avenue madman. His homelessness was evident in the grayish dust on his skin. He was tall, at least six foot four, almost Usain Bolt height. And young, but he could have attained the magic age of eighteen, when no parental consent would be needed for anything at all. Through the dust she could see his skin was rich brown, like a Red Stripe beer bottle. He was thin, of course, and so his bones were visible, but not in a way that made you think famine or anything upsetting like that; no, the madman (madboy?) had the look of an athlete— not the powerful structure of today’s sprinters, but the lithe, springy aspect of a pole vaulter. Persephone knew the qualities of photogenia: the carved cheekbones, the contrast between skin color and teeth, the cleanness of the whites of the eyes, that certain haughtiness of demeanor, smoothness of movement, asymmetry of feature, the singular nature of the whole package. Check, she thought.

The madman leaned slightly towards Jim, who was talking and gesticulating. He didn’t seem dangerous, although Persephone knew you could never tell.  Last month an old woman had been sitting on a bench outside a rum shop in downtown Kingston and a madman sat beside her. The two were seen in conversation and no one thought anything of it until the madman got to his feet and cut off the old woman’s head.

This madman wore only a pair of stained and torn up khaki pants, which rode low on his hips and Persephone saw the architecture of his arms, the dimples and curve of his ass, the relative length of his legs. Check and double check.  But still. This was a madman.

“Jim,” she said. “Ahm, this is not gonna work, this is not possible…”

“My God,” said Madison, arriving. “Gold. Goddamn fucking gold.”

“Come with us,” Jim said to the madman. “We just wanna talk to you. Are you hungry? Thirsty? We’ll buy you lunch, a drink, whatever you want. Just for some talk.”

“Jim,” Persephone said again. The rain was starting. That would clear the spectators who were not in cars. “You can’t…”

“What? Let’s go eat. Where’s the harm in talking? We can eat in that jerk place over there, right where you’re parked. Come with us,” he said again to the madman. “What’s your name?”

The madman did not answer. There was a cacophony of car horns, as those drivers who were farther away and unable to see the intriguing tableau on the sidewalk expressed their frustration. The rain started in earnest. “Come. Let us buy you lunch,” said Madison to the madman, her eyes alight with avarice, no doubt imagining the contract a madman might sign. She dug in her handbag, took out a scarf worth a few months of Persephone’s pay, and skillfully covered her head. The madman said something, but too softly for anyone to hear. Then he turned his face to the falling rain and opened his mouth. The rain carved streaks in the dust on his face and he looked blissful.

Persephone was becoming drenched. For a second, she envied the madman his lack of clothing and could imagine the freedom of accepting rain as a personal shower on her own skin, the freedom of having nothing worth losing. She risked touching his arm, and instantly he lowered his gaze to hers.

“Come nuh?” she said to him in Jamaican. “Di white people-dem waan buy you lunch. Dem naah hurt you.” She saw his eyes focus slowly and then she saw intelligence blaze in his eyes.

“Will,” he said, in a scratchy voice. “My name is Will.” Huh. Standard English. “Come,” she said again. She led him across the road in the downpour and the white people followed. No question; her shoes were ruined.

Who was this man, this street person, who ate with a knife and fork and knew the provenance of the name Persephone?

The security guard remained in his shelter with the door closed as they ran into the jerk restaurant. Naturally, the wait staff would not allow a half dressed madman inside. The rain hammered the zinc roof of the verandah where they waited, while Jim negotiated with a supervisor. Persephone tried to make a plan. Assuming they were allowed to eat, they could do that. She was hungry, she realized. The Americans could try to talk to the madman—Will, she said his name in her head— and they would quickly see what they imagined was quite impossible. Will would have no education, no passport, no driver’s license, no home and no behavior. He would be a crack head or a schizophrenic. He would be unable to manage the simplest of the many demands of modeling.  He might look like the statue of an ancient Greek warrior carved not from marble but from some fine-grained tropical wood, mahogany perhaps, or the old yacca of the Blue Mountains, but he was, inescapably, a Jamaican madman. After lunch, which Persephone hoped would last until the rain stopped, they would simply drive away and leave the madman of South Avenue on the sidewalk. She hoped her boss would not be too angry with her, as it seemed clear Jim and Madison would not find their male face of 2015 before the first flight out the next day.

They waited. Jim’s arms waved and he wore a big smile on his can-do American face. Persephone could see the restaurant was empty— the lunchtime crowd had gone. That was why she’d found a parking space. Her stomach growled. She dug in her handbag for a tissue and wiped her face. Will stood immobile, his eyes closed. Persephone saw Jim shake the supervisor’s hand and she knew they were in.

Half a jerk chicken. Or slices of jerk pork. Thick, with a rim of fat. Hardough bread. An ice cold Pepsi, or at the very edge of dreaming, a Red Stripe beer, the bottle slippery with condensation. Were these things possible, could they come to pass in front of him, at a table, his to eat as slowly or as quickly as he wanted? Will’s mouth filled with saliva. He kept his eyes closed because he wanted to heed only his sense of smell, until he was either evicted from the restaurant or eating what he could smell. Could taste. The last thing he had eaten was a desiccated bun, slightly mouldy on the outside, behind Chang’s on Half Way Tree Road. When had that been? Yesterday, he thought. He pushed all sound away – the distant negotiation of the white man with the supervisor, traffic, the rain over their heads. Living on the streets meant you learned how to push things away, even things happening to you. He had not been born on the streets; he often wanted to explain that. He had grown up eating at tables. He had held knives and forks and spoons.  He had failed to finish what was on his plate and pushed it aside. He had bent his head to say grace, led by his mother, the Christian. He had watched her cook, even as she tried to shoo him from the kitchen. He used to think he might be a chef, crisp and authoritative in a white uniform. Now his body knew the territory of certain words— eviction. Expulsion. Revulsion. Rape. 

He felt someone touch him and he gathered himself. Now he would discover what the next half hour would bring. He opened his eyes. It was the fat browning who had touched him. “Come nuh, Will,” she said. “We a go eat.” If only there were a god to thank. 

The white man was holding out a shirt and Will put it on. He had worn shirts. The last one had been bloodied and torn from his body and he had used it to clean his wounds. He had left it on the asphalt of Mandela Park and limped away. He wondered if he would be allowed to keep this one; he thought he probably would. No one would wish to wear a madman’s shirt.

They sat at a table almost completely hidden behind a big potted palm. They were not fully sheltered from the rain, so they had to sit too close to each other on one side. Will saw the two foreigners and the Jamaican were breathing shallowly.  “What you want, Will?” the white man said. “Jerk chicken? Pork?” Let it be enough, Will thought. Please. Enough. Let it be too much to finish. Just this once. He lowered his head. He did not want to see the face of the waitress who had just walked up to them. He knew it would be rigid with disdain. He did not want to see the faces of these strange people who sat with him at a table in a restaurant. He knew they wanted something from him. The only thing he did not know was whether they would take whatever they wanted without his consent.

The white man ordered food. Will struggled to understand him because he spoke so quickly with a strange accent. He had not grasped what had been said on the street – something about a new career. Photographs. The waitress came back with plastic place mats and glasses of water. Will drank his water immediately – it was too cold and hurt his teeth.

“So,” said the white man. “My name is Jim, this is Madison, and we want to…”

“Jim. Wait. Let the man eat first.” Persephone turned to Will. “Him waan talk to you, ask you if you waan do sumpn, aarite?”

Will nodded. As long as it came after the food. “What’s your name?” he said to the Jamaican woman.

“Persephone,” she said slowly, sounding out the syllables. No one could ever pronounce or spell the name her father had burdened her with. She often thought about changing the spelling—something like Perseffoney would make life easier. So far she hadn’t faced the paperwork.

The madman met her eyes. “Umm. The Greek goddess,” he said. “Wife of Hades.”     

They all stared at him.

The food came. Plates of it. “Help yourself, Will,” the white man said, pushing the chopped up jerk chicken over.

Go slow, Will thought. Soon this will be over. He helped himself to the chicken, the pieces of thigh and leg and breast, and the thick slices of bread. He let the others take their first bites, wanting to keep the meal in front of him, wanting the anticipation. Everything was soon over; the bad and the good. He saw his bloody shirt again. He was big now, but as helpless against a group of men as he had been as a fourteen-year-old against one man. The others ate with their fingers. The madman picked up his knife and fork.  

The white folks gulped their sodas. Will knew the food was too peppery for them. He ate slowly, imprinting the flavors in his mind, his mouth. The rain stopped. The waitress sat at the bar and watched them. She did not come over to ask if everything was all right. When he could eat no more, he put his hands in his lap and regarded the white man.

“What is it you want?” he said.

The white woman spoke. “We’re talent scouts. From the U.S. We’re on contract from a big modeling agency in New York. Image Incorporated, have you heard of it?” She rushed on, aware of the stupidity of the question. “Anyway. That doesn’t matter. The point is— we’d like you to come with us now. To a photo studio. To take some photos. We have to do it this afternoon, because we leave tomorrow. We can pay you fifty dollars for today. U.S. dollars. If the photos are good, you could be a model.”

Rescue, Persephone thought. For a madman. Suddenly it all didn’t seem so ridiculous. Who was this man, this street person, who ate with a knife and fork and knew the provenance of the name Persephone?

“Yu unnerstan?” she said to him, and immediately regretted the patronizing words. Of course he understood. But he was so still, so silent.

“That’s all?” he said. “Pictures?”

“That’s all for today,” the white woman said.   

Jim paid the bill. In the parking lot, glances were exchanged between the two white folks, and the fat Jamaican woman and Will knew they were considering the obstacle of having him in their car. He knew people thought he smelled bad, but he thought he smelled like the street—of diesel fumes and smoke, garbage and wastewater—smells that were tolerated unless emanating from a human being. He stood a little apart from their whispered conversation. He made a bet with himself – although they could all fit in the car, the white people would take a taxi. He would be driven to the studio by the Jamaican woman.

Persephone wound down the windows and breathed through her mouth. She thought it would take weeks before the lavender scent of her air freshener could be restored to the interior of her car. She hated traffic. She hated the city. She hated her job. She turned up the radio— what was there to say to a madman?

Your parents were teachers?” Will said. She noted the absence of the word “Miss” at the end of his question.

“My father. He was old school. And plain old when my mother had me. Why you ask that?”

 “Your name. My father too. A teacher, I mean. He loved Shakespeare.”

Persephone wanted to ask how he came to be on the street. It felt too intrusive, like asking about someone’s sex life. “He’s dead, then?” she said. “You lost your parents?”

“No,” Will said in his unused voice. “They’re both alive. Live in Red Hills now. I grew up in Kingston Gardens. Family house on the edge of downtown. My father was the history teacher at George’s until he retired.”

They pulled into the parking lot of the studio. The Americans stood on the sidewalk. “Will, wait,” Persephone said. She wanted to caution him somehow, but about what? She wanted to excuse herself and she wanted an explanation from this sane, sober, stinking, and starving madman. He looked at her steadily and she thought he knew the exact phrases she wanted to utter. How did you come to this? How can I be sure it will never happen to me? He got out of the car and walked over to the Americans.

Inside the modeling agency, Will’s arrival shattered the order of the day. People came from their offices and whispered in corners. Heads were shaken. Appeals were made to management. But Jim and Madison were cloaked in American certainty and all was overcome, beginning with a shower in the outside guard quarters. Then Will was wrapped in a too-small towel and made to walk back through the office full of appalled workers to the dressing room for the studio. Their stares were soap on his skin, for his belly was full. He felt a strange kernel in his throat and slowly recognized it as amusement. He heard the Americans organizing someone to go to the New Kingston Mall to buy new clothes. “Extra large,” yelled Madison.

“Pant length at least 36 inches, no, maybe 38,” said Jim.

Persephone came out of the restroom. She had combed her hair and reapplied makeup. Her clothes were still damp but not visibly so. She wondered if the madman would need an agent.

Will sat in the dressing room. The air conditioning made him shiver.  He wanted to sleep. The couch on which he sat was too small for him to stretch out. The tiles were cold on his bare feet – his shoes had been taken away. He thought of his parents with the familiar vortex of loss and rage. It was easy not to think of them while he lived on the streets. Here, with a roof over his head— awaiting store bought clothes, not hungry, not afraid, not dirty— it was harder to push his mother and father away. He thought of them seeing his face on the cover of a magazine, on TV, on a huge billboard somewhere important, like New York. Would they contact him then? Say they were sorry? Ask him for money? Had they died, in the four years since he had last seen them? He sometimes read the death notices in discarded newspapers, looking for their names.

The model agency’s photographer came up to Persephone. “Damn foolishness, eeh?” he said, and she knew it was rhetorical. She shrugged. “So you don’t recognize him?” he said.

“No. Should I? You know him?”

“I don’t know him. But him was on TV with the others. Him so tall, him hard to miss.  Him is one of them batty bwoy the police run outta the house on Millsborough Avenue. You don’t memba? How all the homeless batty bwoy them move inna the uptown house and carry on with them nastiness and the police run them and the owner send a bulldozer and lick down the house clean-clean?”   

Madison handed the new clothes to Will. The shirt was still in its plastic wrapper; the jeans were ripped and faded— and brand new. He dropped the towel and turned his back to the American woman, showing her the fading sunset of his most recent bruises. He slid his arms into soft short sleeves and left the shirt unbuttoned. He held the jeans but did not put them on. Then he faced her and saw the lick of desire in her eyes.

“We’re gonna make you rich and famous, Will,” she said.   

Image credit: Street. Annie Paul

An earlier version of this story appeared in Eleven Eleven Journal.

Diana McCaulay is a Jamaican writer and environmental activist. She has written four published novels and numerous short stories. She was the Caribbean regional winner for the Commonwealth Writers Short Story prize in 2012. Her forthcoming novel, Daylight Come, will be published by Peepal Tree Press in 2020.