Editorial: Race and Racism in the Caribbean: “So many knees on so many necks”

Annie Paul

What else have I missed today in apartheid Jamaica? Sarah Manley’s startling status update on Facebook a few days ago resonated deeply, pinpointing as it does the invisible walls that divide this society. These walls relegate poor, black bodies to oblivion while corralling the country’s profits and benefits for the middle and upper classes—Team Light-Skinned as Garnette Cadogan terms it—who run things here.

Continue reading “Editorial: Race and Racism in the Caribbean: “So many knees on so many necks””

Now Boarding

Isis Semaj-Hall / Riddim Writer

Dub.  

Dub is what happens when time collapses. But it is not the collapse of all time, just the collapse of their time. Dub is the collapse of their time and the rise of fi wi time. Do you follow me? Or do you prefer to see where I’m going?  

Remember when Miss Lou voiced feigned dismay over how her fellow Jamaicans were colonizing England in reverse? What a laugh so many had at the idea of the hopeful colonial subjects flooding out of the tropics by the “ship-load” and “plane-load” to “turn history upside dung.”[i] With a spoonful of Caribbean cane sugar, Miss Lou was always able to report our reality in a way that could make us think and laugh same-time. The way Miss Lou teased the boastful colonial subjects for feeling so entitled, so deserving of an equal chance in England, made Louise Bennett’s radio audiences of the 1950s and 60s double-over with laughter. And readers of Bennett in print version, laughed no less heartily at the idea of this overseas gossip with the fictional Miss Mattie. But what happens if we dub that poem today? Who can find laughter in the right now of the Windrush Generation being re-colonized and reversed back to Jamaica, back to Trinidad, and back to Barbados after a lifetime abroad?

This dub is getting too heavy. Pull it up. Dub it again.

I remember in March, my good friend travelled from Ghana through Europe in order to get back home to Jamaica. She made it out of Africa just as the Western world’s borders were closing in response to the pandemic. At a cruising altitude of 40,000 feet in the air, she sailed home on Air Zong Dub, seated figuratively in a sky-ward ghost ship bound by the cartographies of colonialism that we, in the twenty-first century, accept as normal global South travel itineraries.  Can you imagine? Can you see it? Can you hear it?  A full dub flight out of Europe. A dub flight full of fear. Hundreds of passengers sick with worry and seated amongst them, was one lonely, inconsolable young man. He, a deportee, had to be sedated to quiet his cries.  Could Miss Lou have foreseen the Middle Passage in reverse too? 

The dub is getting too heavy. Pull it up. Dub it again. 

The Home Office is the UK’s government department responsible for immigration. On December 2, 2020, the Home Office “returned” thirteen Jamaicans.  Thirteen is the reduced number, reduced from the nearly 50 Jamaican nationals who were scheduled for deportation. Reports in the Guardian tell us that some were spared because they “may have been victims of modern slavery.”[ii] Modern slavery in 2020.

This dub is way too heavy. Pull it up. Dub it again. 

I sit on my veranda, sheltered but outside, and I remember that this is Christmas time. Winter in the tropics is cool as the breeze. But when I hear the wind rushing through these December leaves, I hear a dub of Brixton calling in whispered goodbyes. Tier 1, 2, 3, 4, gets dubbed way past COVID-19 to 2020 and the eve of 2021. Who would have thought that Air Zong would be running more Christmas flights than Caribbean Airlines? Everybody wants to go home but only some are reminded that they have no home at all. Flight #442876 is full of dread. 

The dub is much too heavy. Pull it up. Dub it again. Dub it again and again because we can. 

Dub is accumulation and subtraction. When it doesn’t feel right, fix it. When it feels good, do more.  Dub is deconstruction and reconstruction. Dub is not completion; it’s a continued search for satisfaction. Going back by going forward. It is loops. Dub is rhythm in blues. Dub is a ghost. Dub is riddle and recipe.

Dub is the smell of curry that tells us dinner is on the table. It’s the sound of bass that tells us the dance is not quite full yet. Dub is deleting a word and adding a comma for inflection. Dub is knowing that parts represent holes. Not the whole, but the footprint, the ripple, the possibilities, the stories, the memories, and even the memories of places we’ve never been to, and even the memories of homes we never inhabited. Dub is that deportee on Air Zong.   

Pull up these PREE selections. Pull them up again and again for their dub aesthetics. Pull it up because we’re now boarding this PREE dub flight into fiction, non-fiction, poetry, ART-icles, and sound contributions to the Rub-A-Dub. 


[i] Louise Bennett. Selected Poems. 1983.

[ii] Diane Taylor. “Home Office proceeds with disputed Jamaica deportation flight.” 2 December 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/dec/02/home-office-proceeds-with-disputed-jamaica-deportation-flight

Image credit: Isis Semaj-Hall. April 2019 / Lee Scratch Perry’s Black Ark Studio

www.corriescott.net

Rub-a-dub-dub: A note

Annie Paul

“Sound in Jamaica means process, community, strategy and product,” says Louis Chude-Sokei capturing the centrality of the sonic realm to Caribbean culture. Unlike the technologies of literacy that enabled Benedict Anderson’s ‘imagined communities’ sound communities function through technologies of orality and aurality. According to Chude-Sokei dub taught the world how to listen, how to ‘read’ sound, “Ghosts in the mix, duppies in the machine.”

www.corriescott.net
Hut at Bathsheba by Corrie Scott

“We have entered an epoch of shocked space and torn time. How do we write a history of fragments? How do we record a history of forgetting?” In “Monster. A Fugue in Fire and Ice” Anne McClintock attempts an imaginative stocktaking of the world as we know it today through the device of fugues which she describes as “emotional states involving amnesia, great forgettings and unburyings, where one finds oneself unexpectedly in haunted spaces that create improbable connections.”

Shocked space, torn time, fragments and forgetting are what faced the survivors of the Caribbean plantationocene as they tried to construct functioning societies out of the detritus left behind. Dub is one of the technologies of sound they created to render the hauntology of the postcolonial landscape habitable and legible, to animate its fugues, to aestheticize its ruptures, to convert its breaks to hypnotic beats and echoing wells and healing pools of resonant silence.

“Madman’s Rant” by Christopher Cozier

“Madman’s Rant” by Christopher Cozier, a collaborative work undertaken with singer David Rudder in 1997, is the closest I’ve seen to a 2D visual dub with its shattered, splintered yet rhythmic vision of life in Trinidad. A multi-paneled artwork, ‘Rant’ has been  described as “sprawling, graphic, and schizophrenic, crackling with motion and tension, and punctuated by graffiti and unsettling visual allegories.” More on this intriguing work can be found in this Repeating Islands article reporting on a 2018 conversation between Rudder and Cozier revisiting the work. 

The works cited above would be stimulating accompaniments to this sixth issue of PREE. For their help in reviewing the writing in this issue I would like to thank Ingrid Persaud, Marlon James, Kei Miller, Richard Georges, Natalie Reinhart, Jeanette Awai and Lue Boileau in addition to our usual editorial team. 

Finally, thanks to all the cool writers who decided to flex their writing muscles in the Rub-a-dub issue. Their contributions have made this one of the strongest issues yet. 

Image credit: Hut at Bathsheba by Corrie Scott.

Saffy’s Song

Sharma Taylor

Me nuh know what CC chatting sey. Mi soon turn 13. Old enough to soon get mi period and to have pickney if mi did want that, like some of the girls dem up the road. Smaddy could be calling me dem “Mumma” now. CC dry up and tough like. But ‘cause she is mi auntie, mi haffi respect her still. So mi don’t do nothing but cuss her in mi head when she look pon mi and sey mi too young fi go ah dance. She in the kitchen cooking mackerel and rice.

Young? mi sey inside mi head. Kim tell mi that Mrs Williams, wi next door neighbour, tell Kim that CC modda, who was mi grandmadda, used to complain to Mrs Williams how CC used to tief out ah night-time and sneak into dance when CC was my age. That was before mi grandmadda dead. Mi look pon CC now and think: CC, when yuh was my age, yuh did have mi cousin Kim. The same Kim now who ah night-time go ah dance with CC man, John, who is like wi stepfadda. Kim come back ah morning time and tell me how she did ah dance pon her head-top or cock up pon de speaker.

CC boyfriend, John, work with a sound system. But him is not a selector. Him help load and unload the speaker box dem, fix up the wire, and as him love sey, him is “a technician that work behind the scenes.” John think him is a deejay though. Him sey him can’t wait to buss. Mi sey to miself “buss what?” John well-well old. Him over 40. Sometime, mi joke with him and sey: “Yuh going buss wey?” or “Is wey yuh ah go buss go?” and then CC and Kim would laugh. Though we love give him trouble, John is not a bad man, but him mostly just do everything CC sey, like him don’t have no spine. Except that when CC tell John to talk to Kim boyfriend, man-to-man, to tell Biggs to leave CC “good-good girl-chile alone”, John don’t want to do it. And CC sey is ‘cause him fraid ah Biggs. But John sey Kim love life is none of him business.

“What ‘bout Kim?” mi sey to CC now, soft-soft, so she could hardly hear. “How come she can go?”

“Saffy, yuh know Kim is almost 19.” CC don’t sey nothing more. She always sey her word is law, ‘cause this is her house, and is true that CC is like mi modda, since mi real modda dead long time and mi don’t have no father either. 

One time, when mi was seven, I ask CC if she did know who mi fadda was and she sey I must go ask retired Deputy Superintendent of Police Lynwood “Fire” Johnson ‘cause is him and him posse who did shoot mi fadda dead, seying him was a gunman. Kim sey is not true about mi fadda. She sey she hear mi fadda was a fisherman, who love play domino, who used to make patty and sell dem at schools in the area and who did sometime make awning and furniture too. She sey Mrs Williams tell her The Gleaner report about the “police operation” sey him was “a 25-year-old labourer of no fixed address.” But anyway, two months after the police kill mi fadda, mi modda dead on September 3 at Victoria Jubilee Hospital when she pushing me out, so that is how comes her sister, CC, turn mi modda and feeling now like she can rule me.

CC go dance sometime too now, but is go she go to sell juice, peanut, popcorn, cheesetrix, cigarette and lighter from her likkle handcart; the same handcart she have at mi school gate ah daytime. The only difference is that she don’t sell the pickney dem cigarette, no matter how much the bad boy dem at school, who think dem is big man, beg, cuss or threaten her.

Since CC done talk, mi just roll mi eyes and kiss me teeth when mi reach mi room. At the door, mi hear her shout after mi: “And go do you maths homework!”

***

CC want me to be an accountant. She sey mi can be that or lawyer or doctor, but she know me have a good head with numbers. Every day, she remind mi how she taking up her good-good money to school mi, so mi don’t repeat her mistakes. She drop outta school just before Kim born. And Kim never like school, so she only leave wid passes in two subject. So is on me it fall to, as CC sey, “to break the cycle.”

“You don’t see how things rough, Saffy?” CC tell mi, “You don’t want a better life?”

Of course, mi want that. Mi tired to watch CC decide which bill to pay each month and mi nuh like how it feel to do school work by flash light ‘cause JPS turn off wi light. Or to bathe in rainwater we catch in drum or water that we get through a hose from the neighbour through the back fence ‘cause NWC turn off the water. Or to go school with a sardine sandwich and no money to buy a cooked lunch or even a beef patty.

But more than anything, mi want to sing.

I don’t tell CC mi going be a singjay, like Koffee. CC love to play ‘90s dancehall at home, she sey dem time music was “nice”. So, in between her gospel music, CC playing General Degree, Spragga Benz, Tiger, Terror Fabulous, Ghost, Baby Cham, Shabba Ranks, Sanchez and Pinchers. Dem song have a catchy beat that stick in yuh ear and tell a story. When she playing dem, Kim tell her she prefer Vybz Kartel, Mavado, Popcaan and Alkaline. Mi favourite ‘90s artiste is Nadine Sutherland. Mi love when she sing “Action; Not A Bag ah Mouth”. Mi love JC Lodge too when she sing bout “Telephone Love”. Dem woman know how to plait up lyrics like dem braiding hair. Like dem rest in the grooves in the melody. And in the song, dem give yuh dem heart.

John sey when him was growing up him grandfather used to play pure ska, rocksteady and farin R&B, jazz and blues song. John talk how him grow up on people like Highland “Dobby” Dobson, Gregory Isaacs, Dennis Brown, John Holt, Brook Benton, Tom Jones… man dem mi never hear ‘bout yet til John play dem music fi mi. Him sey dem make yuh feel like is only yuh dem singing to and dem talk ‘bout love and pain like dem is yuh friend.

Though she love music, CC not going understand. Is like she don’t realize a good singjay can make money. But me also know that fi every singer yuh hear ‘bout and listen dem song on radio or see dem at stage show, you have another five hundred like John, who still waiting to buss.

Mi don’t want mi auntie to feel like mi is a failure and all her sacrifice is fi nothing but mi can’t help mi love fi music. She going see mi turn a success and the first thing mi going do is buy all ah we a big house.

And when mi dead and gone people can have mi song dem to sing and remember me. Mi don’t want to be just a newspaper clipping, with no picture, like mi fadda. Mi want mi voice to always live. And the thing mi can sey in mi songs is how it is to live in the ghetto as me see it and the importance of rising, and mi can combine the modern sound wid the mellow ‘50s and ‘60s song dem John always playing name “Motown Music”, people like Temptations, Drifters and Four Tops and man name Johnny Mathis and Nat King Cole. Dem old but dem fresh too ‘cause dem men talking ‘bout life and struggles people in dem generation experience. Real things. 

Once mi get mi own cell phone from CC, mi going put mi song dem on Youtube, SoundCloud and Instagram and get plenty likes. People from all over the world can hear me. All in far places like China and Germany and Australia and Japan. Mi plan that when Kartel outta jail, mi can go studio go meet him and record a duet. Look pon artiste like Shenseea. Mi nuh pretty and half-Chiney like she, but mi voice big. So big, when mi used to tell joke with mi friends at school, Miss Gibson, mi teacher, would turn ‘round at the board and sey: “Sapphire Jackson, why is your mouth so loud? Don’t you see me trying to teach mathematics?” 

Mi want to know how maths going help me in life. Why people have to learn it? That’s why people have calculator app on dem cell phone when dem can’t add up, divide, multiply and subtract the numbers fast in dem head like me. 

So, Thursday, maths class going on and Miss Gibson talking about isosceles triangle and something funny name “Pythagorean theorem” from some man she sey live in a place call “Greece” long time ago. Pickney raising dem hand to ask her to explain it again. Mi tune out ‘cause mi done figure it out long time. But I want to know what a old white man name Pythagoras have to do with my life right now in Jamaica and I wondering if this white man know what it feel like to have a dream so big you can’t see past it. So while Miss Gibson teaching, I sneak out a new exercise book and put it between the pages of my maths textbook. I did decide to put my songs in that book. I start write out the lyrics for the first new song mi going record for Kartel:

Saffy sey life in the ghetto nuh right, nuh right;

Saffy sey life can feel like a fight sometime.

And mi don’t get no further than dem few lines before Miss Gibson grab wey mi exercise book and sey in her loud voice: “What did I tell you, Miss Jackson?” and the whole class look pon mi, including Big Forehead Syphillia McKenzie who think her doo-doo can make patty, though her name sound like one of the STD the guidance counsellor tell wi ‘bout in health class last week. Syphillia and her friends love listen to soca music, which dem sey better than dancehall. But what dem know ‘bout dancehall music?

Then, Miss Gibson sey: “Well, Miss Jackson, I’m sure you won’t mind me reading this to the class.”

Mi mind very much, yuh bitch, mi think but don’t sey. Mi feel the pain from biting mi tongue.

Miss Gibson read out the first verse of my song in her high-pitch, squeaky voice, and of course, it don’t sound good. At all.

When she done, she sey: “So, Miss Jackson, you sey ghetto life not right? Well, if that’s the case, I’d think you’d pay more attention in school, so you wouldn’t have to stay there.” And the pickney dem laugh, led by Syphillia McKenzie.

Mi just want to melt into the floor. I don’t even look up when Miss Gibson sey mi getting detention and she taking mi straight to the Principal office. Mi walk out of the class looking at mi shoes the whole time. Miss Gibson was walking behind mi when mi sey: “At least mi don’t have yuh face.” And when she sey “What?” mi sey: “Mi sorry. Mi behaviour is a disgrace.”

“That’s certainly correct,” she sey, “but it’s too late for apologies.”

Outside the Principal office, mi still can hear the girls dem laughing, though the classroom is far away. I know it’s just that the sound is stuck inside mi ears, seal up with wax. Mi stick mi finger in mi ear and pull it out, like mi plugging and unplugging a hole, like a drain for the sound to pour out. It don’t work. Mi shake mi head and the sound move around, and is like underneath the laughing mi can hear a kinda riddim, ‘though it low-low, and I try to ride that riddim in mi head. Mi try grab it with mi two hands in mi mind as it slide up and down. 

Same time, mi take out mi pen and a piece of paper from mi tunic pocket and write the second verse:

Saffy sey the youth dem must stand firm and fight;

Saffy sey only that can make it right.

Remember this when you feel yuhself ah dangle; 

sliding down the side of a triangle.

And the words blur on the page ‘cause of mi tears but once mi write it down, the sound quiet down to a hum.

When mi nearly reach the gate at home, mi wipe mi eyes, so CC can’t see mi was crying. If she hear mi wasn’t concentrating at school she going vex. She did promise to try and give mi a cell phone fi mi birthday. Mi is the only one at school who don’t have one, and mi know CC will decide not to give mi if mi giving trouble at school.

“How come yuh reach home so late?” CC ask mi as soon as mi step inside the house, but I don’t even have to sey anything ‘cause I see she not really listening for a answer. That’s ‘cause she checking texts on her cell phone… but then mi see is not her phone, is John phone; and mi can see from her face, she mussi find out that some ooman sending him nasty pictures again. Mi hear water in the bathroom running, so mi know John taking a shower. Mi sorry fi him when him come out. CC always figuring out him password. Is so man sloppy.

When mi in the bedroom, Kim come in, take one look at mi face and ask: “Is what do you?” Mi don’t sey nothing. She put her arm around mi shoulder and I lean back into her chest. Sweet-sweet Kim. Kim is the only one who would understand. Is only she mi could tell mi going be a singjay. ‘Cause mi know she not going laugh. Kim tell mi plenty time that mi smart enough to do anything mi make up mi mind to do. She is the only one who know Syphillia McKenzie bully mi at school.

When mi finally tell her what happen today at school, she sey: “Nuh mind dem. Dem jealous of you talent, Saffy. Let me hear the verses you write.” And she listen as mi sing and when mi done, she jump up off the bed and clap her hand dem and sey, “Girl, you voice is like magic.”

And that night, when mi go bed, with Kim snoring beside me, is like a new thing in mi ears, like you pouring out a jug of water and me is the glass. Is not Miss Gibson high pitch, squeaking voice; or the facety-girl dem laughing. Is like the words of my song bubbling up in mi insides, filling up mi brain and mi know I have to reach the dance that keeping up the road this Friday night, or mi head going burst.

***

So the next evening, Friday night, mi decide to tief out. I don’t see Kim, so she probably at her boyfriend, Biggs’, house. John was working a dance in Clarendon. Mi know him glad to be gone since him and CC had a big fight ‘bout the texts on him phone. CC had a all-night prayer meeting at church, probably praying for Kim to leave who CC love call “no-good Biggs” who she think is nothing but a bad boy and probably a gunman. 

Mi was watching and waiting for night to come from before the sun even start set. In the distance, the mountain range look like giant fingers did pinch dem like the edges of CC’s plantain tart. Dem look kinda like creases in tissue paper. And the house dem on the hill seem like dolly house with all the browns and reds and yellow colours and zinc reflecting light off it. Over Kingston Harbour, mi see a plane what look like one dry-up leaf blowing in the wind.

When it finally get dark, mi open the door and peep out. The lights off over Mrs Williams house. She probably inside her house sleeping or at church with CC. Nobody on the road but two mangy dog and de mongrel dem not even barking, like dem listening to the music too. Mi sure everybody and dem granmadda at the dance. Mi can hear the sound clear-clear, is like a pulse mi can feel under mi feet. Something happen when the music hit. Is like something lodge in mi head and can’t come out.

The air sharp and fresh. And mi wearing a short blue skirt and strappy, shiny top mi borrow from Kim and mi jean jacket throw across mi shoulder. Mi and Kim wear the same size shoes and mi did find a high-heel boot that mi know Kim wouldn’t let mi borrow, so mi glad she not home.

It hard to walk in the high-heel shoes, ‘cause the heels thinner and higher than mi used to and the road surface rough and uneven with pothole. Mi doing more wobbling than walking, like a calf that just born. Even though mi nearly drop two time, mi love how the heels make me feel tall-tall.

And mi singing the first line of the final verse of my song in mi head:

“Saffy sey sometime yuh have to take a chance…”

And mi think back to the sound of the baby fussing on the bus when mi was coming home from school that evening. So mi wrap my lyrics ‘round the riddim of that low wailing, and wait for the rest of the lines to come to mi brain when dem ready.

When we nearly reach the dance, mi can hear the selector playing “ring the alarm, another sound is dying.”

Inside the dance not like anything mi ever see before. Is not like what you see on TV when dem cover the  big stage show where people spread out all over the place. Here, everybody crammed into this small space in the open land beside Mitsy’s bar and is like dem all moving as one. The crowd is just one giant, living breathing thing with plenty arms, legs and heads, except for every now and then when you can see a piece of the crowd part, and then mi can see girls in batty rider shorts and sneakers showing off dem wining and men in Clarks and merino showing off dem moves. And is like everyone is this one massive, unending wave heaving up and down like we at Hellshire beach.

This place don’t even look like the open land no more. Mi can’t picture the boy dem running up and down playing football on the grass. Mi don’t see any other pickney here. And mi wondering how mi going tell mi fren dem at school on Monday that mi go dance on Friday night. I going make sure tell dem when Syphillia McKenzie around, so she can hear. 

Now, the selector bigging up all the massive and crew and the smell of weed stinging mi eye and the place smoky too. Mi blink real hard and when mi look is who that mi see but Kim? Kim in a gold and black bodysuit and red mesh tights wining on a man who is not her boyfriend. Unlike Biggs, this man tall and skinny. Him in a brown Clarks boot and is like a broom wearing shoes. 

Mi run up to her and spin her ‘round by her shoulder.

“What yuh doing here?” mi sey. “Mi think yuh deh ah Biggs house.”

“Me?! What you doing here, Saffy? And why you wearing my clothes?! How you even manage to walk in dem shoes?!”

“Kim, cool nuh man. Is borrow mi borrow yuh clothes and shoes dem. Yuh going get dem back.”

“Take off mi shoes before you twist you foot. Matter of fact, go home right now and take off mi clothes. Is mad you get mad or what? Mummy going kill you when she find out.”

“She don’t have to find out. We don’t have to tell her nothing.” 

She raise a eyebrow and pause. 

And then Kim laugh. The kind of big laugh full of teeth the way she always do. She finally sey: “Alright, you can stay but make sure stay right here, where mi can see you and keep a eye on you.”

And I see from the way him looking at her that Mr Brown Clarks in love with Kim’s laugh too. And him go back to letting Kim wine on him as him press him groin into her bottom and grip her waist with him two skinny hand.

And the music that washing over this Crowd Wave washing over me too and I hearing in mi head the rest of the lines in my song. I take off Kim’s heels ‘cause the straps was eating into mi foot. I swaying to the songs the selector playing and feeling the damp, cool grass under mi feet. And the riddim that was in mi head from yesterday in Miss Gibson class releasing slowly; and now mi riding it like the riddim is a bull, or a wild horse, like mi is one of dem American cowboy John love watch on TV, who skillful in the saddle. And mi don’t know if this is what it feel like to be high. ‘Cause the weed smell not choking mi again and is like mi can hear my song playing now over these same loud speakers and everybody in the dance moving to my song. Dem dancing, swaying, singing and loving it. And I dancing too ‘til mi forehead, back and armpits wet with sweat and mi clothes sticking to mi.

And I telling Kim I know the final verse of my song and I going sing it for her when we reach home and she smile. Brown Clarks smiling too when we hear a voice sey:

“Tek yuh nasty hand dem from offa mi woman!”

And I know the voice belong to Kim boyfriend, Biggs, and is so the trouble start.

Brown Clarks stop grinding behind Kim and look like him want the Crowd Wave to swallow him up.

Next thing, I feel Biggs’ body push mine outta de way and I on the ground looking up at the stars in the sky and Biggs shouting out:

“Dutty bwoy, yuh think yuh can disrespect big man?”

And Kim face freeze; then is like she realise what going happen next so she unfreeze it fast and start begging Biggs no, don’t do it.

And the gun come out of Biggs’ pants’ waist quick and is a blur ‘cause the Crowd Wave now like it crashing on the shore.

“Bumbo-” was all Brown Clarks sey before Biggs fire the gun. It louder than the boom of the speakers.

I feel like I going piss miself. ‘Cause it sound like the shot explode inside mi head and not out here in the open land. It happen fast but slow at the same time. 

The gun look like push up right in my face but is a mile away too. And mi could see that Biggs not really aiming the gun at Brown Clarks; Biggs pointing it just above Brown Clark’s head, almost up into the air, to frighten him. But once the crowd see the gun is like the one big Crowd Wave splinter into a million little waves, ‘cause after Biggs fire all I see flying past mi face while mi on mi bottom on the ground is red and blond weave, hand with watch, long chain, hand bag, boot, jacket and things.

The selector run gone leave the dub plates and box dem. Him equipment turn over.

Brown Clarks take off like jet and leave Kim. Biggs running after Brown Clarks through the crowd like a current in a stream.

Kim on the ground too and mi wonder if is push smaddy push her, but mi see her grabbing her right ankle and is then mi realize the bullet mussi somehow do what mi hear on TV dem call “a ricochet”, probably off a zinc fence or the side of Mitsy’s bar, and hit her. That time the crowd did already scatter wey like rocks, so the way was clear for me to crawl over to Kim on the ground. I press my jean jacket over where the blood was pouring out from her ankle. Kim start moan.

“Yuh going be alright, Kim,” mi hear miself sey, but mi not too sure what mi seying is really true ‘cause mi scared too. Mi never see nobody get shot before. Mi never see nobody bleed so yet. And if the period thing that Kim was telling mi about is anything like this, then mi don’t ever want it. 

Mi help Kim to her feet and when she stand up, she lean her body weight on mi and we start hopping. Overturned crates and blood stains on the grass. Broken glass from beer bottles on the ground cutting up mi foot-bottom ‘cause mi forget mi did take off Kim’s shoes, and I don’t know where the shoes gone and I don’t care. Mi just want Kim to live. Mi will give anything for Kim to live. Mi have to act big for Kim, who sniffling now. 

“Hush Kim, is ok,” mi sey. I hope she believing mi although mi voice unsteady.

Mi not hearing the riddim in mi head no more. Me don’t know where the bull and wild horse run gone. There’s just a ringing in mi ears piercing mi eardrum and nothing to hold on to. I calling out for help but nobody not here to pay mi no mind.

A little way up the road, Kim see one of her taximan fren dem and him take wi to KPH. The doctor tell Kim she going be ok, the bullet went right through, but she have to stay in the hospital for one day for observation then report to the clinic every other day for dem to dress the foot. After the doctor sey Kim ok, but dem will monitor her and based on how it heal she may need something name “physiotherapy” fi a while.

Mi so relieved mi can barely stand up; mi so glad is like mi heart going come straight through mi chest.

Blood on mi clothes and mi don’t know where it coming from. Mi was so numb that mi never realize the bullet graze a finger on mi left hand until the doctor tell mi. A nurse bandage it up. “Yuh going be alright,” she sey.

“Did you see who shot you?” the doctor ask Kim, “We have to report this to the police.”

Kim shake her head. “Mi don’t know is who,” she sey. “It was at a dance… during a gun salute.”

“You want me to call CC?” mi ask Kim and she shake her head.

Well, it look like the news travel fast ‘cause next thing, mi look up and boops! is CC that in KPH, coming down the corridor like she is a hurricane all by herself. She moving people outta her way, even people in wheelchair and people in crutches.

And I bracing for what going come. Questions like: Why you at the dance, Saffy? How you end up there? Is not you I leave in the house? Is not you I tell that you too young to go to dance? How Kim end up get shot? You see why dance not for children? And it wasn’t me who always telling Kim that Biggs is no good? You see what happen? You see?

And it seem to me like whatever happen tonight, this is a house that I build with mi own two hands when mi decide to sneak out and so now I just going have to live in it.

But when CC see we, is like the hurricane calm right down ‘cause she just throw herself on Kim neck and hug her and hug me and start bawl and sey: “Thank you, Lawd Jesus!” with tears rolling down her face and wetting mi and I so shame that mi never listen to CC. Is then, inside CC’s hug, mi really feel like a likkle pickney.

The next morning, after she give mi breakfast, CC tell mi that mi under punishment and that mi not getting no new phone fi mi birthday and mi can forget ‘bout hanging out wid mi fren dem on weekends. She sey mi haffi earn back her trust and that is the part that make mi feel low like dog. Like mi lose something mi ‘fraid mi never going get back. Her voice calm-calm and mi hear the sweetness in it. Mi just look down into mi cornmeal porridge and nod.

Since Kim get shot, nobody don’t see Biggs in the community and John sey when Biggs come back him “ready fi de dutty bwoy”. Mi never see John vex so yet. CC haffi hide the machete, knife dem and icepick.

When we bring Kim home from the hospital, we prop up Kim foot with pillow and leave her in the room on the bed and John did make sure build some kind of contraption from wood and wire that Kim can press and it ring out through the whole house when she want we to come or if she in pain. After I help Kim go to the bathroom and get back into the bed, I take up my school books. 

And after mi finish Miss Gibson maths homework, I find a corner of the kitchen as CC boiling some chicken foot soup for Kim. CC face wet wid tears as she cutting up the yellow yam. 

Something like cement in my chest when mi realise that mi can’t afford to fail with this music thing. Mi going give it mi everything. This time, the riddim come as a whisper, low but strong, and is a new feel to the riddim. A layer of something in the middle of it, pulsing out of mi brain, flowing through mi belly  and tingling mi arms and legs. 

Mi take out mi exercise book and start write down the rest of the lines to my song:

Blood surely thicker than water;

Saffy sey when yuh feel yuh going under,

yuh nuh alone, somebody at yuh shoulder;

press on yute, 

yuh is a soldier.

A Jamaican living in Barbados, Sharma won the 2019 Bocas Lit Fest/Arvon-supported Johnson and Amoy Achong Caribbean Writers Prize for Fiction, the 2020 Frank Collymore Literary Endowment Award and the 2020 Wasafiri Queen Mary New Writing Prize.

Gavsborg – Mosquito (DubCLUBPoetry)

Hailing from East Kingston, Gavin Blair, the founder of Equiknoxx has been producing under the imprint for over ten years.  He is part Cassette Blair, part Papa Hawk, part Uncle G, and part Equiknoxx. No part is the same, but all parts are equal.

Riddim of My Life

Lafleur Cockburn

Me wake up early o’clock Friday morning fuh catch de first van heading out ah Owia. It shouldn’t tek more dan two hours fuh clear up all me bills and pick up ‘essentials’, before de country shut down. Me intend fuh be in and out Kingstown like ah multiple choice exam, no lingering. Me put on me face mask, arm me self with me 99 cents aloe vera hand sanitizer, and head out de door. ‘Kaution’ swing round de corner and stop ah me foot. De conductor slide open de door and point to de empty row behind him.

Eight passengers in de eighteen-seater van; two people pan each ah de three rows behind me, and one bougie looking woman in front in ah oversize flappy straw hat. Someting strange bout she, but me cud say de same ‘bout everybody wearing mask, so me nah dwell too long on it. 

De conductor turn on de sound system, and ah familiar voice start stuttering,

“So, so…so many, so many, so many tings …” 

Me feel like ah hand reach through time and grabble me. De song definitely new, caz Beenie Man chanting ‘bout “when de whole world lockdown”, but dat oldie goldie voice done hack me whole main frame and is bare memories knocking me down. Me body latch onto de riddim and me start swaying. Me stone forget whey me dey, me just surrender and leave De Doctor fuh wuk he obeah. 

De conductor grinning and singing de hook, “Now everybody put yuh hands up…” 

Ah high pitch shriek from de front mek de driver slam on de breaks. Me nearly buss me mouth pan me own knee.  

“Noo sah. Either yuh stop dat devil music, or leave me right yah at Jesus foot.” 

‘Ms. Bougie’ throwing ah fit like one ah dem spoil pickny who never get ah real cut arse. De conductor kiss he teeth, and turn off de music. De van drive off in silence. De sudden loss ah de music like ah server crash. Me staring out de window, but me mind nah register notten.

De conductor look like he wah cuff ‘Ms. Bougie’ right out de front seat. “Dis ah good music, way you ah gwarne so fah?” 

Ms. Bougie clear she throat and start with one drawn-out sermon; how is bare slack music playing in van dese days; how ah soucouyant name Spice and she consort, Dexta Daps, heading straight to de pits ah hell fuh de “A-Plus” song dem just release; how she never know she wud ah live fuh hear worse crap dan de “Romping Shop” garbage Spice and Vybz Kartel cook-up all dem years ago; and how all we nice-nice boys turning gangster, and we innocent girls breeding like rabbit after dem expose to dancehall. 

Most ah de passengers agree dat dancehall is ah blight. De conductor face turn red. Ah miracle, considering he is ah natural bronze masterpiece like meself.  

“So me have ah question,” he say to de back ah ‘Ms. Bougie’ straw hat, “If de music so devilish, how you know so much bout Dexta Daps? And Spice? And Kartel?”

Ms. Bougie quick with she defense, “You nah worry bout dat!” 

But de conductor worry. He shell down one piece ah cussing under ‘Ms. Bougie’, she drowning in wud. “De only soucouyant me see here is you, ole hag! Ride offah Spice. Is yuh conscience ridin’ yuh, not de dancehall music.”

Ms. Bougie start praying, “Lawd, tek charge ah we youths. Cover dem.”

Me tune out de ‘ruption, and try sort out all de emotions dat Beenie Man done rip up and lay bare like muddy waters tearing through Old Sandy Bay cemetery after ah flash flood. All me mix-up feelings floating like hundred-year-old bones next to de rotten boards dat cudn’t keep dem safe. Me mek meself comfortable pan ‘Kaution’ hard plastic seat, close me eyes, and prepare fuh face wahsoever de King-ah-Dancehall done unleash.

***

Me fall in love with dancehall riddim from bootleg cassette tapes. Mummy always say same how people have different taste in clothes and food, is same way dem have different taste in music. Me teenage years secrete behind ah big iron vault in me mind, and de vault bury under six feet ah concrete fuh extra security. Dat ah why me son, Luciano, duh know bout me rebellious years when me life was like one ah dem Indian quipu. Dancehall riddims tangle up in knots, and every knot is ah bag ah memories. 

When me pass Common Entrance fuh go town school, is like Christmas reach Owia in July. Mummy eye-water run with gladness fuh days. She organize fuh me travel monthly in ‘School Boy’, ah old Mitsubishi van dat belong to de village Gyallis – Chucky. Police confiscate Chucky license after dem lose track ah de number ah vehicle he write off. He hire ah driver fuh ‘School Boy’ but he control de moneybag as de conductor. 

Owia main road hah de biggest potholes in de world. It tekkin’ ah van over two hours fuh reach Kingstown, and dat ah if it duh meet traffic in Arnos Vale. Two hours in ah hot silent van is torture to ah van load ah school pickny. Chucky start fuh entertain he young passengers with music. ‘School Boy’ trunk cud barely close over two massive speaker box dat Chucky design from pinewood. And he braggin’ nonstop.

“This nah no cockroach convention like dem other van. Me ah deal with ah professional system.”

He like fuh give de same speech every morning before he rewind de cassette with ah pencil and pretend fuh be big time selectah. 

“Dancehall is ah building, yuh see me? De riddims ah de main frame, and de artists ah de fixtures, yuh see me? De producers come like architects, and den de selectah ah de salesman, yuh see me?”

All me see is Chucky trying hard fuh sound Jamaican, but everybody else say yes, so me say yes too. He happy fuh hear dat. 

“Every riddim is ah different style ah building, yuh see me?  Some ah shanty, some ah house, and some ah palace, yuh see me? Sometimes, one riddim wuk fuh ah heap ah artists, and other times, one artist get ah ‘one drop’, yuh see me?”

Somebody start cough. Chucky pause. He try talk agien, and somebody else cough. He get de message. Lecture done. He shut up and push de cassette ine de deck. 

“Dis ah de Sleng Teng riddim! 

Ah slow drum beat mix-up with shak-shak and bass start up. Me not sure why everybody excited. De music mek church service sound like de best ting since slice bread. Me figure Chucky jus wah help me sleep caz he know me wake up since before cock crow dis morning. Me rest me head pan de seat in front me and doze off. 

Ah sweet piece ah music wake me up. Some kindah electric guitar pan ah continuous loop. Chucky call it de Poco Man Jam riddim. Church music vanish from me psyche like coal-pit smoke in ah downpour. De music all round me, and me feel like someting living creep out de trunk, tug me heart out me chest, and force it fuh match de “kukunkun” hook pan de riddim. Me turn river crawfish innah salt-water, flapping like me nah know how fuh swim. Lawd, me only realize me wine from country to town when me step out de van wet like pan, and de school guard telling Chucky fuh please invest in ah air conditioner. 

Guilt nearly kill me when me catch meself. Mummy bruising she kneebone every morning fuh beg de lord guidance pan me soul. She appealing to me father fuh look out fuh me from de grave. And me wining down in people van. Chucky play de same riddim go home. Me nah move ah muscle. When he stare me down, me stare um right back. And when me fed up, me drop ah sleep. 

Chucky tek de stare down as ah challenge. Next morning, he let go de Bam-Bam riddim, and laugh when he behold me face. 

“Leggo yuhself smallie, stop gwarne like yuh cyar mash ants.”

This riddim sweeter than Poco Man. All when me step out de van, ‘Murder She Wrote’ echoing in me head. Me tell meself dat de Savior fully understand. Nah he self create music? And, too, besides – de message sound similar to mummy advice fuh behave.  

“Dis man duh trouble no one, but if yuh trouble dis man, it will bring ah bam-bam.” 

Me figure de Lord using dancehall fuh reach out to me, caz me duh trouble nobody. Me even more convince when me hear ‘Rivers of Babylon’ pan de same riddim.  

***

Me ah regular riddim head now. When Chucky put ine ah cassette, me feel like he choosing it ‘specially fuh me. Chucky refuse mummy money when she try pay de monthly fee. 

“Mable, Chincia is ah mannerly girl. Me go carry she ah school anytime without problem.”

Mummy proud-proud, “Yuh see way broughtupsy ah get yuh? Gawd see me cud do with de extra money, and he mek ah way.”

Dickie riddim tek over de scene now. Me singing word fuh word when Nadine Sutherland crooning bout how Buju do tings to she inner emotions, and Chucky licking he lip with every ‘Oooh Ahhh’. Soon as Buju Banton come ine with he deep “have mercy,” me insides ah explode like firework. 

Chucky ah watch me hard, but he never touch me. Once me reach home, he passing me in de road like example. Me nah dig no horrors, caz he done explain dat he waiting patiently till me reach age ah consent. 

Me studying hard becaz dese days, mummy calling down de heavens fuh watch over she one gal pickny. Me nah come notten less dan first in class, and me nah mek joke when it come to track. Inter-school sports day, Chucky pump me up with Cutty Ranks pan de Fever Pitch riddim, “Limb by limb we ah cut dem down, send fuh de hacksaw, tek out dem tongue!” Dem town gal cudn’t hold me. Me leave de tracks with de Junior Champ trophy, and me give it to Chucky so me cud have more space fuh wine pan de riddim go home. 

Every Saturday evening, me heading to Owia park fuh watch Chucky play cricket. Me tekkin’ wahever me want from any ah de vendors caz Chucky paying fuh it. Me on top ah de world. Till de Sunday me see Chucky with Suzette. Suzette is ah brown-skin goodas. Owia people say she is ah carbon copy ah she dead mother. Hair always done up. Bubby stick up high-high pan she chest and bursting through any top she put on. Legs fuh days, like ah tall coconut tree. Batty bouncing like it have spring. Skin shine and smooth like fresh dasheen bush. De only ting we have in common is we river-stone-grey eyes. 

Me step in front dem bold as ever, “Chucky, me wah see yuh _”

Chucky tek one step toward me before Suzzette tug him way.

“Little gyal, yuh fresh and bright with yuh flat chest. Go meet yuh mumma. Leave big people fuh talk.”

Notten never hurt me so. Me know me short, but Suzette nah too older dan me. She father, Harry, put she fuh fry chicken in he rum shop after she fail Common Entrance three times. Every Friday night, when Harry throw Blacko, all man, married or single, congregating like red ants round de chicken basket. 

Me waiting fuh Chucky fix she, but he just laugh and pull Suzette tight-tight like she ah he woman. 

Monday morning, when Chucky drop de Joyride riddim, me singing Tanya Stephens ‘Yuh Nuh Ready Fuh Dis Yet’ like me dey karaoke. 

“Have yuh ever stop to tink wah mek a gal cheat? Yuh need fi check yuhself before yuh start kiss yuh teeth, Cah yuh nuh ready fi this yet, bwoy.”

Me mek it me business fuh ignore Chucky and give de boys who travel in ‘School Boy’ all me attention. Dat ah how me and Tony get ine. He two years older dan me, and he cute fuh so. We holding hands, and sometimes, when ‘School Boy’ swing round ah deep corner, Tony hand brushing me thigh, or sliding down de side ah me bubby. Chucky duh like wah he seeing. He throw Tony out he van and tell mummy she haffuh start pay de monthly van fee. Me tell mummy Chucky vex becaz he cyar pass he place with me. 

Me and Tony end up in de same new Toyota Hiace dat somebody from Georgetown bring fuh work in de area. It have inbuilt speakers, nah no ole wood bullhorn like ‘School Boy’. And de conductor handling CD player, nah none back-in-time cassette tape.  It name ‘El Nino’ and de name fit becaz it hauling all ‘School Boy’ passengers like hurricane.

Me and Tony slide through de Filthy riddim in a cloud ah puppy love. When de vans park up in de van stand in Little Tokyo, me rocking to Mr. Vegas ‘Heads High’ and Lady G ‘Breeze Off’ and mekkin’ sure Chucky see me happy. Suzette have big belly, she riding up and down every day in de front seat like she ‘newcommon’. Yuh swear she never set foot in ah van in she life de way she grinning like ah nincompoop.

*** 

Me CXC results swell Mummy nose. Me swear de ten subjects hah she stunted caz she give me permission fuh go ah Harry Friday night Blacko. Most ah de gal dem in Owia love Soca. Dem ah twist up like some headless yard fowl, so say dem wining. Not me. Me sitting on de sideline with Tony, waiting patiently pan de new Playground riddim fuh drop so me cud skin-out like roast duck. Me wah Chucky see me not only mashing ants, me trampling cat, dog, and anyting else in me way. De DJ fling down Spragga Benz ‘Strong Performer’, and me nah give Tony de chance fuh get up. Me bend over and put down some serious slow wine. Tony bite me ears and whisper, “Dem waan di long performer, strong performer, an not di wrong performer, dem want ah man whey have di slam.” Me open me foot like dancehall queen fuh ‘Butterfly’ pan Tony crotch, he start fuh tremble so bad, me hah fuh keep still till he catch heself. 

Chucky and Suzette out in de road rocking back to Beenie Man ‘Sim Simma’. Chucky trying fuh do ‘Pepper Seed’, but he stiff like board. Suzette nah much better, she on she second pickny and she likkle goat belly getting in de way when she try dance with Chucky. Dem switch to de ‘Bogle’ when Mad Cobra ‘Pet and Pamper’ come on. Me nah know wah go wrong, but de two ah dem end up on dey back in de dirt and everybody laughing. Instead wutless Chucky help he woman, is licks he start fuh pelt. All body blaming rum fuh Chucky dotishness. Dat ah de first time me sorry fuh Suzette. She bubby neck break since de first pickny, she batty lopsided like de spring break, and stretch marks criss-cross she belly like rope. But she ah somebody daughter, and Chucky nah have no right fuh put he hand pan she. 

*** 

Bookshelf riddim roll out when me in college. Beenie Man voice like honey pan de riddim, but Tony hah de raw honeycomb in he throat. We hah we personal call and answer game pan de riddim. Tony go sing Beenie Man, “De way dem gal yah nice and pretty, full ah witty, dem nuh gritty, me ah go put dem pon mi bookshelf, yeah.” Den me go bruk out with Tanto Metro and Devonte, “Gyal say wooee! From yuh sure say yuh man nah stall. Say, wooee! Caz you know say yuh hot and have it all!” Memoriesss yes! 

Tings copasetic until one ah de church members go run he mouth to mummy. 

“Mable, yuh know Chincia ah dancehall queen by Harry Blacko?”

“Me nah send no Macko Man behind me chile.”

“Yuh wah play most Christian, but yuh sins ah repeat demself in yuh pickny. And yuh husband transgression too grey fuh hide.”

Mummy notice me by de window and chase Cephus out she yard. Den she ban me from Blacko. It nah bother me though, caz is de same week Harry drop down in de middle ah de session and dead just so. Harry drink too much rum, but he always nice to me. Dat ah de second time me sorry fuh Suzette.  

Owia nah survive long without ah place fuh fete. Dem clean up de ole primary school, cover it in whitewash and replace de government ‘UNSAFE’ sign with ‘OLE SKOOL’. Never mind de big protest ‘bout safety dat force de government fuh build ah new school years ago, after earthquake tremors leave cracks all over de building. Dat ah water under de bridge now. De building hold up after all dese years, so dey might as well mek use ah it, nah true?

Dancehall in business again, and me on ban. Who say so? Me creeping out me bedroom window regular fuh meet Tony in ‘Ole Skool’. Me smoking weed and drinking steel bottom like ah boss, and de Upclose and Personal riddim driving me crazy. Richie Spice nuh lie when he chant bout ‘Weakness fuh Sweetness’. And Buju have de perfect bass fuh anchor me to de ground when de weed have me floating. Once me hear, “Have ah body most woman wud ah die fah. Pretty gyal, man ah cry eye water,” and Tony moan in me ears, me flying all over de dancehall, watching meself spinning like top pan Tony. He matching me mood and blowing weed smoke down me throat before he suck me tongue out me head. Me duh even care if he swallow it and leave ah hole in me mouth, once me have dancehall riddim, me content.  

By de time Black Widow riddim drop, me and Tony in we own bubble. Beenie Man in de bubble with we, so Tony singing ‘Gwarne So’ every chance he get, “De gyal dem wah agony, that’s why dey affi find ah mawga boy like ah me….” De weed and de rum hah he voice hoarse and it scraping cross me back and running down me spine and settling between me legs like lava. We graduate to we own private sessions with de Bruk-Out riddim, and Under Water cut we off from de rest ah de world completely. Me honestly cyar remember one single artist pan dem riddims. All me remember is de “aye aye! ay aye ay!” riff that giving me get goosebumps to dis day. 

De Grass Cyaat riddim sound like ah ghost stick ine de ceiling, trying fuh mek up it mind if it horny or frighten. When Beenie Man ask ‘has de world gone mad’, me feel like he see de state ah me and he directing de question right ah me door mouth. Either mummy don’t know me jumping window fuh go ‘Ole Skool’, or she chose fuh ignore me. Me graduate from college in ah daze, but me exam results decent enough fuh me get ah hold-on as assistant teacher at Georgetown Secondary School, not too far from Owia.

Tings work out perfect. Tony rent he own place in Georgetown after he get ah work close by at de Black Point gas station. Me giving mummy me whole salary, she nuh bat ah eye when me move ine with Tony. Me settle ine me new life; from home to work, work to home. We visiting Owia every Friday, den every other Friday, den every last Friday.  Mummy say somebody tell she dat Tony have ah nurse woman in Black Point. Me ask she whey he go find de time fuh study woman when he so tired after work. She shake she head, “Dey does say dem tired, but not too tired fuh have a whole pickny pan yuh head. Yuh tink man easy?” 

De Orgasm riddim ruling dancehall by dis time, but me cyar enjoy it. It sound like ah violin with half de string missing. De last week we go ‘Ole Skool’, Beenie Man ‘Circumstances’ sell off, and me grooving to me favorite singer when me hear ray-ray. Two pappyshow fighting in de middle ah de floor in slow motion. Is only when Suzette let out ah screechy wail, me recognize she and Chucky. She drunk, Chucky drunk. Everybody busy laughing at dem as usual. Nobody nah see de rusty knife in Suzette hand till it end up in de middle ah Chucky chest. Suzette dancing with she self like everyting normal, staggering and singing to Beenie man, 

“I’m ah bad man, and I duh give ah damn, bad man and dis is who I am. Bad man, ah hope you overstand dat circumstances make me who I am.” Dat ah de third time me sorry fuh Suzette.

Dem wash way Chucky blood and move he body. De next weekend, me see Suzette starring on de front page ah de Vincentian Newspaper under a short headline; ‘TRAGEDY IN OWIA’. De short article cover de unfortunate accident that take de life of ah great family man after he fall off ah backwall and land pan he own knife. “Ole Skool’ door man give ah brief warning to young people fuh keep way from alcohol, especially if dem cyar manage it.

Dancehall riddim still rollin’ out, but everyting sound militant, as if dancehall is ah war zone. Me and Tony quarrellin’ fuh de simplest tings. We stop go Owia. He say we cud try a new fete dat open in Black Point instead. We going Black Point, but me nah bless me eye pan Tony till we ready fuh leave. De riddims speeding past me like bush from ah van window; Baddis, Ants Nest, Lightning, Bad Weather, Bitter Blood, and Bug. De names sound like pestilence and plagues, and de artists sound like ah gang ah warlords; ‘Bounty Killer’, ‘Mad Cobra’, ‘Merciless’, ‘Kurrup’, ‘Hawkeye’, and ‘General Degree’. De situation get so bad, me yearning fuh Soca jam session so me cud squeeze ine ah wine, becaz de man dem skanking pan de riddims like dem training fuh combat. Tings go from bad to worse when me faint in de middle ah Bounty Killer ‘Look into My Eyes’ anthem. 

*** 

Tony ah leave home almost every night, whether dancehall on or not. It get so overbearing, me pack up and go back ah Owia. Two-twos, me haffuh stop work, bad feelings killin’ me ah morning time. Me duh even know mummy go look fuh Tony till he show up with he tail between he foot like ah marga dog. He swear up and down say he come take responsibility fuh his seed, but me mind done turn from Tony. Mummy say me look like me eating stone, she trying every remedy under de sun, but me vomiting up everyting me swallow. 

Tony say he drop de sketell bomb he pick up in Black Point. He stop smoke and claim say he nah have no heart fuh alcohol. We start going ‘Ole Skool’ now and again, just fuh stretch me foot, but we duh go inside. De riddims start fuh lighten up and me find meself responding to de Liquid riddim. No matter how much me kick up when Lexxus crank up with, “Yuh never dash way belly!” Tony ah cramp me style, dragging me fuh sit down. He turn into ah overprotective pain in de arse. He harmless like ah Vincy mountain snake though, not ah dose ah venom in he body. And ah just so de Liquid riddim stay; de lyrics solid, but de tempo soothing like lullaby.

Dancehall mello out to de point where most tune giving off some seriously conscious vibes; Beres Hammond, Luciano and Jah Cure mashing up de place with mystical vibrations. Mummy lef me in de middle ah one ah she morning prayers. Me feel ah way, but me happy she have me father fuh keep she company in de afterlife. Tony limin’ heavy in Black Point again. Me at peace, but sometimes me get lonely, and me wish me had ah sibling. Me replay ‘Sweep over My Soul’ so much, me end up naming de baby ‘Luciano’, after ‘Jah Messenger’ heself. De temptation fuh join de Nyahbinghi order strong, but me love chicken too bad, and me fraid mummy go grieve from de grave if she one gal pickny turn rasta. So me hold down de spiritual energy with some stylish dreadlocks. 

Me have plenty reasons fuh defend dancehall to de world. Jah know me nah lie when me say most ah me memories sweeter dan ah wet finger pan ah sensitive clit. 

*** 

De way confusion tek over me spirit, me suspect ah duppy trying fuh block me from shaking off de sleep dat incubate me memories like baby manicous in dey mother pouch. Me hearing de voice ah de city – motor horn, foghorn and trolley whistle; afro-beat, soca and reggae. One body preaching, ah hundred cussing and ah million talking. Machines drilling and hammering. When de city start chat, even ah duppy know better dan fuh stick ‘round. Me sleep evaporate.

Me duh have to peep out de van window fuh know dat ‘Kaution’ pulling up to ‘Little Tokyo’ van stand. Quarrellin’ done, but de conductor still heated. He mouth hang open like ah mongoose on de attack, and he breathing loud-loud, worse dan if he race de van on foot from Owia to town. Hundreds ah makeshift stalls tek over every inch ah free space in de capital. De driver kill de engine and head fuh de nearest one.

De conductor collect de fare from everybody before dey melt ine de Friday morning chaos ah de city. Everybody, except ‘Ms. Bougie’.  Me still feeling weakish so me lean up pan de side ah de van. De conductor put ah wireless speaker behind de front seat, turn on de music full blast, and follow de driver to de stall.  

“Yeah star! Pound de brand new Buju! Fresh out de studio!” 

Me wonder if he sober, becaz me hear John Legend droning ‘bout ‘memories’, not Buju. Me soon get whey he coming from when Buju voice dart ‘cross me subconscious like when yuh bite down too hard pan ah tight dumpling and disturb ah raw nerve. “Over many moons…but de memories remain with de love innah me heart…Dis spot whey yuh touch, still tender and soft.” Everyting amplified, as if de van stand sink ine de wharf nearby, and me cruisin’ de seabed in dancehall scuba gear. 

‘Ms. Bougie’ puncture me scuba tank when she step out ‘Kaution’ front seat and slam de people van door so hard, de rubber frame fall off and de door swing off de hinge. She look round, and mek ah beeline fuh me.

“Government fuh ban dis slackness. Is notten but noise pollution _!”

“Aye, ease up. Gimme space please, ah beg yuh. Corona virus!”

‘Ms. Bougie’ cudn’t care less bout me Corona protest. She hah steam fuh let off and me on de spot fuh receive it. She so tall, me squash ine she chest. Me close me eyes fuh avoid two big bubby choking ‘gainst ah black lacey push up bra like dey begging fuh somebody release dem from jail. Me twist sideways and squint up in ah face packed with so much make-up, it resemble ah wattle an daub experiment. Dark shades blocking de eyes, but a sneer tek over de rouge up mouth. 

“Yuh fresh and bright with yuh flat chest!”  She spit out de words as if she cud see how me feel ‘bout she. Me strugglin’ fuh recall whey me hear dem exact words before.  

De people by de stalls sniff comess pan de breeze. Dem congregate round we like sour flies round sugar. Me gut on fire, and me not sure if is becaz me bladder boilin’ over or if is ah question simmerin’ in me belly like blackfish oil pan low heat. De question scorch me throat, burn right cross me tongue and shot out me mouth like somebody dash water in de blackfish oil. 

“Wait! Suzette? Ah you dat?”

‘Ms. Bougie’ pull she hat low over she ears like she protecting she ears from de scalding heat ah de question. She shades fall off, she step pan it and walk ‘way without ah word. 

Buju voice booming, “A cerebral reflection. All global situation. Consequence and actions.” De conductor singing along, but he aiming de words at ‘Ms. Bougie’ retreating back like stones from a slingshot. She stop and hunch over as if actual stones connect with she spine. Me limp over fuh see if she okay, fighting hard fuh hold ine me gut. 

De conductor chanting, “Too-dee-bap, mh-mh, ay oh. Too-dee-bap, bap.”

‘Ms. Bougie’ smile. “Yes. Ah me dis,” she shake she head as if she warding off someting, “Sissy.” 

De conductor prancing like one ah dem Ding Dong Ravers Clavers, and Buju belting out, “I say, de world is changin’. Not today, nor yesterday. Everyone’s eyes are open. Dey can see clear, ooh.”

The emphasis pan Suzette last word knock out de floodgate me trying hard fuh control. Me feel warm piss running down me foot. Suzette push me like ah invalid to de public toilet by de top ah de van stand. And me searching ine me bag like ah mad woman fuh me face mask and me 99 cent hand sanitizer. Dis ah de first time me sorry fuh meself.

Anchor image: @Sanjayisthename

Lafleur Cockburn is a Vincentian writer studying and residing in Barbados. She uses her journal entries as catalyst for her pieces. Her work was shortlisted for the 2020 BCLF Elizabeth Nunez Award for Writers in the Caribbean, and is found in POUI: Cave Hill Journal of Creative Writing, and Intersect – an Antiguan based feminist, ‘queeribbean’ online space. She is the founder of ‘The Nucleus’, a Vincentian women-writers’ group, and ‘Vincy Writers’, a social media platform aimed at connecting local Vincentian writers with those in the diaspora. Lafleur has one son, from whom she is determined to glean enough secrets to write a novel about the Caribbean male teenager.