It’s 1951. I am 10 years old. I’ve been told that I look 15. I have big breasts but no ‘hair’. Whenever I get called to by the men in my village, I feel like dropping my baggy or just lifting my dress (because I only have 4 baggies and there are 7 days in a week, so sometimes I go without…) and showing them that I am too young for that kind of talk.
I live in St. Mary. I live with a family that’s not blood relations. My parents are dead and my siblings – mostly older and one younger, are scattered between here, St. Andrew and Kingston. The woman who’s the head of the house in which I live, I call Aunt. She can neither read nor write. She likes to tell me that I should go to school so that I’ll know how to spell: OWE-I-L: HILE!
So I go to school. I am tall for my age and bigbreasted. Aunt does not believe in new clothes. That’s “A waste a’money!” she says. “Whe she need new clothes fah?” she asks, though not me directly. She never asks me anything directly. She only barks orders at me. “Me tek good care a’har!” she’ll harangue, getting wound up. “She nah sleep a road! She have food f’eat! Wha more she wan? Yuh gi dem t’much an dem stawt get lazy! Mi nah raise nuh lazy sumaddy!”
So I wear clothes that are three years old and several inches short because it’ll build my character. My dresses are so tight across the chest that sometimes I go into the outhouse and get undressed. There I sit and take great gulps of air. Great gulps of do-do saturated air.
I wear my short tight dresses to school. I comb my short thick hair myself and grease my face and my legs with coconut oil. By the time I get to school, my face remains shiny, but my legs are dust covered in fashion of socks. Which suits me fine since I have no shoes.
There’s a girl in class who hates me. She hates me because she thinks I like a boy that she likes. She’s right. I do like this boy, but I thought I was the only one who knew. This girl that hates me, is very popular. With the support of her fans, she’s decided to beat me up after school.
After school, we gather outside – me at one side of the scratch line and about 30 or so at the other.
“Yuh titti fayva ol’ooman!” She begins.
I say nothing.
“Look pan yuh foot dem, cyaa even afford one likkle piece a slippas?” She sneers to the obvious delight of the onlookers.
I notice her Mary-Janes which were formerly her church shoes but had been relegated to school shoes because they were a little smaller and a lot scuffed. I have seen the way she walked, I knew her feet hurt. Still, I envy her. A pair of old Mary-Janes are better than none at all.
” ‘Ol redibo gal eena har likkle shawt up frack dem!” She says turning her back to me and laughing with her cohorts – some of whom I notice, try to surreptitiously pull their dresses to their knees.
It’s getting late. I had goats and cows to round-up. I need to get going. So I reach over and grab the ‘cup’ of her ‘cup & saucer’ hairstyle and swing her around. I thump her. The sound that escapes her reminds me of the noise the kid makes when I remove him from his mother’s teats.
I box and thump her a few more times and except for her arms going windmill, that’s it for our fight.
I turn away and notice the boy over whom we’re fighting, looking smug and getting clapped on the shoulders by his friends. For some reason, this is what finally infuriates me. I fly at him and scratch his face and tear his shirt. Amid cries of alarm and surprise from everyone, I am knocked to the ground. I come up with fists full of dirt and throw them at him. When it lands in his hair and eyes, he begins to cry. I run home.
I know that I’ll be getting a beating. I know that girl and her mother will be coming by to complain and demand their rights, which is that I should get “kill wid lick!”. So I hurry to bring the cows and the goats back from the pasture and loaded as much as I can of cow dung into a crocus bag. I struggle with this bag up a half dead mango tree and wait. While I wait I ready my ammunition.
Not long now, below me, marches the girl and her mother. Or more accurately, the mother marches while dragging the girl along. I am amused that the girl’s smug visage has been replaced by terror.
Again I wait.
I can see them coming in the distance. I test the sturdiness of the branch between my knees. I count down. When they were two yard away from the tree, I begin to throw my bullacake-sized cow dung ‘rockstones’ at them. The split second of confusion and horror is replaced by the need for speed when they see no end of the torrent. While they run, shouting and cursing, I aim and throw.
My aim is good. And so is my speed.
They run squawking down the road, probably thinking that this is no manna from heaven. Funny enough, I feel sorry for that girl, because I know she’s going to get another beating for dragging her mother up to my yard and getting her mother showered.
I climb down the tree, ready to face my fate, knowing that I gave better than I got.