URIAH — KING ROYAL
I excused myself from her presence and went into the back room where Uriah was preparing the large sound system. He was arching backward, fingers nuzzling in his knotted beard while his hand supported his elbow in a contemplative stance.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, concerned.
“Me don’t know wha fe do fe get it to work..”
“But I thought it was your sound system?”
“It is, but dis ting ‘ave too much button pon it.”
He straightened up and touched something. A loud buzzing noise belched from within the large frame.
“Aaaah, h’it a come.”
He lifted the arm of the turntable and set it on the record but there was no sound. He resumed his former stance and then suddenly he pulled off his hat as if to free his dreadlocks would provide the answer.
“Gi I an I wisdom, Oh Jah!.”
He pressed another button… the equipment groused and then, as if pandering to its owner’s touch, it purred silently.
Uriah smiled, raising his hands above his head as if to acknowledge His Royal Majesty. It made a change seeing someone with nice teeth, whether or not they were false didn’t matter, they looked good. A loud boom suspended my admiration. The music had started.
Uriah felt secure enough now, to leave the record playing unsupervised. He pulled out two thin strips of paper from an orange cardboard pocket marked “Rizla”. I watched him put a piece of the paper to his lips, licked the gummed section with his tongue [His countenance told me that this was a task that had to be taken seriously] and then stuck the two pieces together, sliding his thumb and his forefinger over it to keep it smooth. He then gathered some green seeded substance and pressed it in the middle of the two pieces of paper and then with some expertise and swiftness, he rolled it between his fingers into a shape of a cigarette, gave it one last lick so that there were no unsecured edges of paper and lit it.
A lavish billow of smoke clouded the room violating my nostrils in the process giving off a distinct scent. The wave of smoke danced around the room and Uriah with it, gyrating his hips and synchronizing his movements with the melody. He tossed his head from side to side, quaking his long locks until they wrapped around his face. The image captured was like that of a print you might see in an art gallery. The record simmered to a halt and he put on another one, turning up the volume simultaneously.
Disconcerted, I asked him if his mother didn’t mind the loud music and the smell of ganga in her house.
“No mon, me mudda cool, yu know — a my likkle apartment dis — a two room me ‘ave.”
I examined the ‘apartment’ which had originally been a garage. Being a plasterer by trade, he had transformed a two-bedroom house into a four-bedroom house. Uriah converted the garage into a two-bedroom apartment by erecting a wall, cutting out a window and putting down a piece of carpet, transforming this contrivance into his empire. Distinguished prints of Bob Marley and a brass framed photograph of Haile Selassie gave his empire perspective.
Rotating his head to the rhythm, I watched his tapered frame buck symmetrically. The haze was now very dense causing it to affect my discernment. I too, swayed to the music.
“A me soun’ system dis, me call it ‘King Royal’ h’it big out here”, he said confidently, adjusting the bass line.
“H’Uriah!!” his mother hollered [It was always H’Uriah and not Uriah when she was angry], jolting me back to sobriety, “Ton dung de music!!” Uriah was high, I don’t think he heard her. I shook him and he looked at me with reddened eyes through his wire-rimmed prescriptioned spectacles and smiled.
“Your mother is getting upset. She said you should turn down the music.”
“Me mudda easy mon, she easy.. she jus inna one of her mood — h’after the music no loud.”
He placed a protective arm around his sound-system.
“Don’t worry, mon, she coool — coool like dis ganga me a smoke.” (ha-ha-ha..)
“Me, seh, H’Uriah, tun dun de music, or tun h’it arf!!” she yelled.
She definitely didn’t sound ‘coool’ to me. I left his domain and went back into the kitchen [I didn’t want her to think I was a part of this conspiracy]. Aunt Edna was exposing the darkness of her crotch as she sprawled out on the chair.
“Me can’t tan it.. de noise. H’it a gimmee high blood pressure.”
[Uriah obviously didn’t realize that she was affected by the loud music].
“Dat boy a gimmee headache, h’all him know fe do is fe stink up me house wid him ganga h’an mek noise… he would not h’even lift a finger to help me inna de house, h’an him know dat me leg dem a gimme trouble.”
I was convinced that if she asked him directly to help her, he would. Men, by their innate nature, do not know how to use their initiative. I was sure that had he realized the ganga, the loud music and the burdensome presence of his offspring was adversely affecting his mother, he would do something about it. Uriah was not a malicious person, he loved his mother.
Aunt Edna needed to be needed. She had created the situation so that she could derive sympathy from visitors, relatives and friends alike. I believed that Uriah knew his mother’s circumstances better than I.
A CONFLICT WITH STATUS
Aunt Edna’s swollen hand cupped her forehead. Her hairline was receding and her curly perm needed retouching as did her grey hairs. The dress [that was too tight for her] looked discolored and her loosely hung legs looked more distended than usual. She didn’t look like the Aunt Edna I knew in London. The Aunt Edna I knew was refined and had a good sense of dress.
She seemed consoled by my presence.
A woman was out the back washing clothes. Aunt Edna had acquired a maid. Having a helper gave one status.
“Yu want to see all de clothes she wash since morning. I employ her from 8 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon. I don’t really ‘ave to watch her you know, she is very good. Sometimes she finish her duties just before 4 an I don’ say a ting to her about leaving early.”
She got up, forgetting about her tired foot and guided me to the front yard and to the line of clothes that were hanging out there, admiring them as though she had washed them herself:
“I give her $75 a day fe dis”.
[$75 a day… that is just under US$4!]
“Jus look how many jeans she wash, she wuk hard yuh see, bless her soul. I don’ know how I would manage widdout her. Seventeen pairs of jeans you know. She start from early morning. Dem boys just pile up dem clothes and gi her fe wash… she good yu know… she just wash h’everyting and bring my special clothes dem in separate.”
So this wasn’t all. I counted the pieces on the line. 17 pairs of jeans, three pairs of slacks, 12 shirts, 17 vests, 14 briefs and that didn’t include Aunt Edna’s ‘special’ clothes. Suddenly it seemed appropriate to use the US equivalent to evaluate fairness. Four measly dollars for 8 hours work, definitely unfair and I am sure the poor woman never got a lunch break.. it was slavery!!
“Yes, me dear, me ‘ave me helper” she continued. The loud music didn’t seem to disturb her any more.. maybe it wasn’t the music that bothered her, maybe it was the loneliness.
We went back inside. I learned that Uriah had never assumed responsibilities for his children or their mothers. I had met June (the one Uriah had lived with for 17 years and the mother of his two daughters) in London. When Uriah’s mother emigrated to Jamaica he decided to visit her — he never returned to his family in London.
When he left London to visit his mother, he had become frustrated with his domestic situation. His two daughters, aged 15, had got themselves pregnant and he felt that they were ‘big women now’.
“Children will be having children” he prophesied, “Dem feel seh dem a big women so dem can look after demself.” Secretly he was hurt. He had never conceived that his daughters had been violated. It was time to escape, leave the lair and seek ultimate freedom. It is a Rasta’s right to be free.
“Me love Jamaica, is yah so me a go stay.” (especially when it wasn’t costing him anything!)
Aunt Edna took her resentment out on everyone. She now regretted accommodating selfish grown men who could not devise a means (nor had any intention of devising any) to contribute towards their education and household expenses.
BIG HOUSE, PURE WORRIES, AN’ A DEAD FE HUNGRY
She took her indignation out on me. She had no intention of cooking.
“Dem bwoy tek too much liberty, me no care if dem dead fe hungry.”
[What about me, Aunt Edna, what about me! my stomach groaned.]
So after a three hour journey, there was nothing to eat in the house. For some reason, Bob Marley’s record came to mind… “a hungry man is an angry man…”
My mango! I remembered my mango. I sliced off the skin with a sharp knife, washed it off, sliced it into little pieces and ate it. It was sweet, juicy and nice.
On noticing that the ‘boys’ had not volunteered to cook the neglected yams, she relented and said wearily:
“Would you like some ackee and saltfish?”
(Would I like some ackee and saltfish? — what a stupid question, of course I would like some ackee and saltfish — I stormed internally, I’m bloody starving!)
Refusing to allow my outward comportment to reflect my inward sentiment, I responded in humble demeanor:
“Well me better go boil some..” she mumbled as she shifted reluctantly towards the stove.
Boil some? I thought. How long was this food going to take to cook when she hadn’t even started it yet? My stomach continued to snarl with frustration.
” … don’t want you telling your mudda seh me never feed her one girl chile.”
Don’t want my mother to know she left me starving for hours…? The Sunday Telegraph would have the first scoop if I could help it! I grimaced. I decided that I wanted to go back to Montego Bay. I couldn’t stand the ‘ole nayga’ lifestyle anymore.
I told Uriah that my sister was meeting me and that I had to be back to the hotel by 8 the following morning. He seemed disappointed.
“Go tell mama..” he said.
I called out to my aunt and I could hear her indiscernible voice through the noise and followed it.
“Come in, come in..” she said, “… a fe me room dis, the place where I retreat to when I don’t want to be bothered.”
She was sitting on her four-poster bed (I remembered it from England) the Victorian type that draped white nets and ribbons. She was smoking.
“I didn’t know you smoked.”
“Yes, I don’t smoke much, me ‘ave fe hide dem from de boy dem. One pack o’ cigarette last me one whole week and yet every day dem come ask me for a money fe go buy cigarette… I don’t know why they don’t mek fe dem cigarette last dem.” [she was sponsoring their cigarette habits, too?]
“I have to go home now.” I said apologetically.
“O.K.” she said, almost too eagerly, “…well, I am so glad I got to see you. I would ‘ave been so upset to know seh you come way a Jamaica and I don’t get to see you. Dat is why me get dis big house out here, so me people dem would ‘ave somewhere fe stay…” [and dead fe hungry? I thought] “..well jus mek sure you get home safe, at lease you see weh me live.”
My aunt was determined to show off her ‘big house’ before I left — the other two bedrooms, the orange tree, “They are out of season right now.” She guided me toward the front of the house and showed me the unfinished concrete facing that constituted a hazard to the blind.
“Uriah fe finish dat. Im start it some time ago and don’ finish it..”
As if conceding to his habitual lack of conviction, she hollered:
“Uriah, Uriah, come tun off de water.”
[Turn of the water?]
“Why are you turning off the water?” I asked.
“Me ‘ave water in de tank we can use.”
[The tank?] I observed a rusty looking pipe that led into the tank. This was where the water overflowed after accumulating in the gutter. Uriah came out and put his hand down a hole in the pathway. I saw him contort himself as he reached for something. He jerked a little and then, as if he was disowning his hand, he extended it, shaking his fingers free of debris and headed for the bathroom.
Part 9 will be published next month….