People in the community were slowly beginning to gather as the news spread of Mass George’s death. The tarpaulin was already up and light bulbs beamed from it’s center pole, making the night as bright as a mid-day’s sun. Domino tables and stools were already in place. Several board benches borrowed from Breda Randal Pocco Church down the lane were set out in rows and in front of them stood a large table. The table is decorated with a white cloth and on top stood a saucer with a mixture of sugar and salt, a jug of water and a coverless Hymn Book most often referred to as a Sanky. Beside the Sanky are several rum glasses in a tray supervised by the watchful eyes of William, known too as Lard.
Tonight Lard is the maestro of sermon, the Sheppard. An honorable role at a Setup or a Wake, a Vigil or a Nye Nite, whatever it is called and that position will be coveted by many and especially Busha, as the Sheppard is not only in charge of the singing but also the inventory controller and distributor of all liquor available to the mourners. Lard alone will strike up the numbers, which is to select the songs to be sung from the Sanky, reads the first sentence and leads the congregation into it’s mournful bliss of singing and he alone will serve the rum. This will no doubt create animosity between Busha and Lard as each scrutinizes the amount each other gets and most certainly will have Busha accusing him of cheating; taking much more for himself than he is pouring for others.
The yard may have numbered about thirty people when I got there and now it has doubled. Small groups of people in all directions congregated, some speaking of the deceased, while others tended to the boiling pots beneath a Tamarind tree. The aroma of fry fish, boiling coffee, hardoe bread, tea, chicken and curry goat filled the air and wet the appetite of those present. At a work table under the tarpaulin, four men were busy making the coffin. Two were shaving pieces of large lumber while one took the measurements of smaller pieces of wood. Around the corner from the work table and stooping over a cardboard on the ground, were three teenage boys playing cards. Two others stood over them and also an elderly gentleman, Libya by name. It was obvious they were gambling, as one of it’s participants demanded a less from the housemaster. “Set me a less dey sah!” begged Banghie, as he shuffled the cards. Banghie was a master of trickery and could shuffle and deal a hand with lightening speed and utmost ease and very seldom comes out a game the looser. “Ow much time me fe set y’u a less, an oomuch less y’u tink me pick up so?” screamed an angry Libya, the housemaster. Nonetheless, without much hesitation while kissing his teeth, Libya threw two fifty-cent pieces to the centre of the cardboard almost hitting Banghie in the head on it’s way down.
Alas! The singing was about to begin. Lard summoned the mourners to take a seat while motioning to Busha to make his way to the head table and take his place beside him, along with Miss Margaret, Miss Downer, Ma Tuney, John Mushwah, Misah Mack, Aunt and Papa, Popsy and Fay. Busha and Lard are relatives; most of the others are dominoes playing, bar hopping rum-drinking buddies except for Popsy and Fay, whom are husband and wife and next-door neighbors to Lard and Busha.
To many, this bunch of singers are like a symphony of orchestra at any Nye Nite, this was so in the past, and tonight would be no different. Most of people in attendance did so, not to mourn or even to participate in the proceedings but mainly to hear these voices, rum drenched and comical yet somewhat reverent in their farewell songs for poor old Mass George.
The benches were filled when Lard makes a request for someone to give a prayer. Miss Icy, a lifetime friend of Miss Stella, the widow of Mass George and an avid churchgoer, volunteered with a lengthy prayer after which the singing began. The first was not from the Hymn Book yet everyone seemed to know it’s wording. In a low tone, Lard started with these words, “One blow me blow Sityra, one blow me blow, Sityra she dead, she dead an she bury, she bury dung a rivah side.” Perpetually raising the decibel and dragging the words while some of the mourners repeated in a thunderous chorus, others used their mouth to play the beat which sounded like this, “hum maraca hum maraca.” Like a music conductor in front of a playing band, Lard began to beat the table to the rhythm and so did all the singers at the head table and this set the stage for Carlton, the son of the dead and the one in charge, to bring rum to the table and also serves as a notice of intent to him that if delayed, everyone will return to their place of abode, leaving him and Miss Stella, Darnet and the rest to take care of their own dead.
As the hours slipped away into oblivion, so too were the dreams and tribulations that were once a part of Mass George’s life. His memory will forever live, so as long as the people that knew him survive. In his passing we all got a glimpse of eternity, we now realize that something does leave the body and go to a place we can only imagine. Perhaps, the only just place in all of God’s creation. Nonetheless, this Nye Nite was obviously poised to remember and celebrate the life shared with their noble comrade and so the singing and rum drinking continued, dominoes and card games in full swing along with Busha and Lard’s personal battle fought within the minds of each other. They never blatantly displayed their ill feelings towards each other but those who knew them best had much to say in secrecy, from careful observation, without both realizing they were being watched.