Along the gully bank beautiful concrete homes now replace the1951 Hurricane-Charlie Relief Board-houses. Telephone and hydropower lines run from rooftops to roadside poles and noticeable everywhere are spawning signs of social improvements. This is Homestead, south west St. Catherine, just a mile outside the old capitol, Spanish Town.
There, the Primary School attendance is above average, the basic school is functioning and all the churches are blessed with full congregation. The Community Centre too is in full swing, football, basketball and netball tournaments on the go; small groceries shops are bustling with business and everyone is basking in an atmosphere of euphoria.
Despite the vicissitudes, outsiders still dread the place Homestead. Occasionally, ‘guns do bark’ resulting with new inductees to the obituary columns, nevertheless, crime and violence are almost at a standstill.
Today the streets are no longer manned by thugs who see themselves as ‘turf defenders’ nor is it patrolled by The State authorized government ‘Shattas’, instead, citizens roam about freely and merrily. Moreover, just about every jack-man is fending for himself one way or the other, and life is fast becoming as normal as anywhere else is.
Ask anyone within and all you will hear is that ‘things chris, everything lock under… (One Order)’[One order is the term for ‘laborites’ ghetto code of conduct, a social, political, judicial mandate to an end to the blood feud, to thieving, raping, carnal abuse and any ills of decadency that mars the moral fiber of a civilized society. In essence, ‘One Order’ is a penal system of ghetto justice for those who betray ‘the order.’]
My journey took me to the first hub along the gully bank onto Strebor Avenue, where beneath a coconut brow shed several people gather. None yet notices my approach. I could hear dominoes shuffling and Kaka Johnny’s stuttering utterance, “Hoooole up deh, mi nuh pass, mi hab hess in nah mi han.”
A couple more steps and then I pause for a moment, watching Wings the housemaster multi-tasking, (drawing less and calling a bingo game at the same time). As in earlier years, Wings the cranky old sluggard speech is still lace with plausible eloquence.
I watch as he adds another pebble to the count on the domino table and draw a couple seeds from the bingo bag. His comments are hilarious as ever, “Two legs in bed… numbah 11, Patacat… numbah 5.”
In between calling the bag and marking several bingo cards Wings informs the domino players, “Less a play gentleman” and withdraws a portion. His comment and action instantaneously draws an angry rebuke, “Ha nuh less yet! Y’u nuh si the game darby.” The amount is promptly return without question.
I resume my advance, vigorously clearing my throat to make the group aware of my coming. Immediately my presence is acknowledged and momentarily all playing cease. They haven’t seen me in donkey years. My return is embrace with reciprocal admiration for they haven’t forgotten me either. This was my little spot and I use to play dominoes and cards under this very shed.
No sooner a barrage of big-ups and questions just come firing at me and I come to feel as if I am holding a news conference.
“Blouse zan skirt, Garnet, ha when y’u come Ayah? Star, ha long time mi nuh bless eye pon y’u enuh! Weh y’u ha seh fardah? Blood bath, y’u alive pupa?” In the midst of the salutations, request are forthcoming, “Is Heineken mi a drink y’u hear sah” and from another “Red stripe foh mi” and so they continued.
For a moment, I thought I am a bartender taking orders. At last the chance for me to respond, “Wait, a wa unnu think, unnu tink mi did deh ha foreign a push coke? Furthermore, noh fe unnu party in-na powah, so how the hell uunu so pauperize? I man nuh have a wad ha cash to spen so it better mi sen go buy ha poun a karn meal, a tin ha condense milk and boil ha pot a porridge so everyman can get mug.”
“You kaah just ha come from foreign han so purse proud,” Wings retorted. “Cho, ha star apple dat man, him nuh change” inserted Big John. I throw up the sponge for a feather to my cap and head straight to Sam’s Joint with an entourage of men following. Their faces all brighten up like Misses Thomas puss.
Along the way a pitiful looking old man, Selvin by name, motion to me in disguise . His trembling hand towards his mouth gain him a nod of consent. He then joins the fleet with a thankful childish grin.
Upon instruction Sam the shopkeeper serves a round, every hombre takes a beer, the old man a drink of rum and Sam a liquor for himself. “So wait y’u naw have a drink?” inquired Sam of me. “Hee, hee! Den nuh mus?” answered many in unison. “Serve mi a cold Guinness,” and ten minutes later, I place another order.
Everyone is now feeling irie; liquor flowing, tongues loosens up and each man taking turns unfolding episodes of the past. Ceefus is the first to start; telling me how Renato Adams have cause him to turn his life around and now he is an ardent Christian with a wife and two kids, a testimony confirmed by all.
“Y’u membah Sammy who use to spar wid Jawbone? Mis-sah Adams nyam dat food, Likkle Rat a do twenty years ha workhouse, ha woman constable pitch over Bunny Brakes , Garthy deh a shet yeye country, Michael Bowl deh ha Merica, Jigs fly out wa day gane a Hinglan, Beulah ha rub a sentance ova Bahamas, Flowlah get drap, Stamah Morris kick di bucket” and as more tell-tale unfold I realize that many of by former associates are in graveyards, some abroad and those left behind are prospering with hopes of a brighter future.
Life on the gully bank in Homestead has certainly changed a lot since my departure but much more so in recent years. As I understand it, a certain undesirable Big-man is now pushing up daisies and the youths are no longer the pawn and trigger of his vicious orders but are now living up, realizing that a rough diamond is still a precious gem….seen.