Bad News,Good News

It’s Friday noon past. The sun feels hot. It feels hotter as the afternoon slowly comes to free us from toil to get serious about lyming. Yes! Lyming with friends for beer, rum, Hammond, stupid and serious talk, jamming, soca, calypso and pure gossip. To sit and look at soft hard women. Big women looking for love, jamming, winding, dance hall reggae, drinking, fried fish, a new pair of shoes, twenty dollars and a beau and all in that order. Boy! Once they set their eyes on you for the night you either beat a hasty retreat or go with the flow.

Traffic is getting thick. Barbecues are being set up, chicken thawing, and man sized speakers connected and tested. Everyone moves toward their favorite hang out. It’s not always the same, but then again there aren’t many and each Friday it gets changed letting the roulette ball of situations give the call.

Partners wonder about this corner barbecue or that, and where Shelly, Chantal, Kinisha and so on might go by to. After they’ll catch trans back to the land where they run “until …” their local barbecue to feed country lyming. But one never knows if they might stay over this Friday. You know what that means? The spirit of the Carib, the local beer, takes over and then the best of Africa comes out.

If you are into Hammond on a Friday, things get more interesting. St Kitts like Jamaica is one of the few islands where illicit bush rum has an official name. Mr. Hammond, that colonial civil servant, never thought that in trying and failing to eradicate it or tax its production, would be remembered by giving his name to the product. It is still distilled privately in the bush. It still remains illegal. No matter! News of a fresh batch mysteriously spreads even if it comes from the sister island Nevis. Everyone knows where the various brands are anonymously served from bottles sporting known rum labels, or if it’s served in the privacy of someone’s yard somewhere in the land.

It’s Friday noon past. It’s hot and all this is on my mind. But even in this sunny island to work is to eat and I work from home, so instead of walking right from the bottom of Fort Street towards the Ferry Dock and Bus Station, headquarters to chat about, me no think lyme but survival. Work here is still slavery if slave you are no more. The plantationless owners are now not quite white, but owners they remain.

It’s Friday noon past. It’s getting hotter and my obeah stick accompanies my walking pace by it’s gentle tapping on the hard pavement. As always I and I walk accompanied by silent thinking loud in my mind, talking to one’s self silently. Good conversation is always at a premium in these parts where for many reasons it’s dangerous to think out loud.

I’ve been to the Postal Box. No mail as usual not even bills. All errands run. As usual no one has money for work done especially on a Friday night when you need it most but them always have enough for their lyming, their lady friends and showing off. The rum and coke they offer in consolation ends there. But then again their wives are out on their own lyming somewhere else with their “girl friends.” Right! After all this is Friday, but it’s still a small consolation. Where has the African village gone? Everything is loose now.

Me and my thoughts silently ruminate as I’m walking from in town, as the few blocks around the Circus in the city are called to Newtown; stepping nonchalantly from open gutters onto ideas of sidewalks where they exist. If there is space, these are usually privately provided by the local entrepreneur. They are poured at various levels, are of various widths amongst various obstructions and only in front of their shop. As I keep walking I notice with that strange Caribbean gift of seeing behind you, or maybe it’s the obeah stick, that two persons are following.

The lady I know long time. The so-called Rasta with her I know in other ways and from other places. She has a sweet name Desire’. It really fits her. She is what you call a beauty even though not heavy enough for local taste. Sexual preferences around here are still measured by the acres of flesh available on a given body even though when it comes to the crunch male rabbit behavior still prevails. Never mind! She is slim and I like slim. She is a cross between Masai and Ethiopian with a rich colour. Has a slight gap in her upper front teeth. A bit to the side. A true mark of beauty. She has a balanced body and a perfect female gait. Of course I know her! I have known her since, and have been studying her long time but in a strange restrained way. I know where she lives. She always tells me and warns me about the dogs in the yard and that there is ano ther Desire’ in the same yard. I’ve seen that one. There is nothing desirable about her. Confusion is impossible.

She’s an environmental operator. Translate that into gardener for the Department of Public Works and keeps parks and roadsides clean, weed free, grass cutlassed to a quarter inch. That’s where I met her as me and my stick was checking for medicinal plants to add to my bush garden. I keep the leaves of life growing with my collection of bush. Because of my obeah responsibility, it came with the stick, I regularly distribute, according to need the necessary bush mix for medicinal teas to neighbors and others. I never charge. Obeah is free and obeah must respect life. Officially today what is not grass (not that one) is weed. On the basis of this botanical common ground a platonic relationship started fed almost daily and surrounded by a lot of one-sided dreams. I never knocked at her yard to be let in but walked her to the gate often dogs barking rastas frowning.

After all I am not local, unless I’m offering drinks and then everyone forgets that’s now ten years since I came to this island from the other island. No matter! Even if you were born here but have had the luck to better yourself immigrating, when you return home again, maybe to retire, you are local no more. What sells at the market for one dollar will now cost you two unless a friend buys for you but when offering rounds, especially on a Friday late you become local as long as the Hammond flows then back to being RCMP, FBI, CIA. You see for a non-local it’s a cardinal sin to compliment or be-friend a local lady. Everyone owns them even if they don’t know them. You are a threat to their conquering macho style. But attitude is in contrast and local ladies will be put aside if a willing Spanish or chubby white lady is identified and available; but that’s another story.

Yet it’s a given fact that no one cares more for a compliment than Caribbean women and Kittitian ladies of all ages in particular. Whatever defects they have, they live and dress for compliments. How they use those compliments is yet another story. Complimented ladies are always in obligation for your good comment about them and are always asking for more. They will publicly acknowledge you for them when they cross your path accompanied or not by their men. This gives you the fame of being a womanizer. It gives you the reputation of trying to steal all their ladies, and of course always riding them as they say around here. If it were true I would have time to work only three hours a week and would have even less money than what I don’t have.

Caribbean women on most islands and abroad can be very expensive to maintain. Pretensions can be both expensive and time consuming, but compliments are free. Love is another matter and many here still have to go beyond lust, which is still a four letter word, and too many children from too many fathers can testify to that and then there is AIDS. So much for celibacy!

With this in my mind, I thought best not to turn around and give greetings. I kept walking at my leisurely pace. Everything is near here and no hurry is religion. My obeah stick kept beating the rhythm and mediated my balance through the urban obstacle course that Basseterre can be. Butwith her in my thoughts and everything else in my subconscious as I got in front of Fulton’s Bakery the half buried first step to the shop, encroaching above the sidewalk just so, caught my right foot and almost tripped me. Obeah stick to the rescue and her voice came to me right behind, ” Be careful!”

I turned around. Finally! Answering something … end of agony! She caught up to me alone. The Rasta had disappeared in his favorite rum and ganja shop to meditate. She came to my side with her overpowering smile. Boy! Her short braids vibrated shining in the breezy Leeward sun. She energetically touched my shoulder and said: Guess what. I have good news and I have bad news.” I replied: ” If it’s for me let’s hear the bad news first.”

With a sad expression she said: ” My boy friend is dead.”

We walked in silence for a while. What can you say! But I was worrying about the new gossip being hatched as for the first time, in my part of town, I was walking with her in broad daylight right past rum shops, provision depots and that lady. The lady sitting in a shady corner. She sells everything, always in the shade except ganja but maybe she does. I never asked!

Back to reality, so I asked her: ” And what’s the good news?”

A smile I had never seen before beamed towards me showing that beauty gap in her front teeth as she was staring straight into my eyes. I swear that I felt a weakness rise from my abdomen but it was the emotion her eyes awakened that caused it.

She replied: ” My boy friend is dead.”

Bang! Bang! Bang! How long can silence and surprise be?

All I could say was: ” Oh!”

She asked where I was going. ” Home.” I replied. “I live there at number 4.”

“Now I know!” She replied. ” I gotta go to my auntie now. Catch you later.”

I wondered as she kept going how it would have worked had I asked first for the good news. You know? Something tells me that I am not going to worry any longer barking dogs in her yard.

Copyright: Daniel Nicastro (rasthadan)