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The Thing That Miss Millie Saw

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  • The Thing That Miss Millie Saw

    The Thing That Miss Millie Saw
    published: Sunday | December 31, 2006

    What was it that caused Tessa Walcott to go mad? Because this is what people said - that Tessa, widow to a deacon, mother of two sons, former owner of three panties now permanently lost to the Caribbean Sea, had gone stark raving mad. It was the only explanation people could come up with. How else to make sense of the events - how Tessa had stormed right up onto Miss Millie's verandah and jumped upon her. Miss Millie screamed out only once under the sudden assault, but then fell uncharacteristically silent, as if she had quickly made peace with the possibility that this was how it all ended. That is dead she was going to dead.

    But three men ran to her rescue, dragged all 270 pounds, all 68 years of Tessa Walcott, her gray hair undone, her fat arms flailing as if she was a school girl, off of poor little Miss Millie. Miss Millie's husband took up his cutlass and made threatening motions towards Tessa. The two other men had to restrain him. 'But is how she so bright?' he was shouting. 'How she so bright to come up in MY house to manhandle MY wife, eh? How she so bright?'

    Tessa only stomped on the floor, going around in a circle, shaking her head as if she was trying to get something out of it, and muttering, 'It not true! It not true!' which temporarily froze Miss Millie and the three men, for each one was certain they had dreamt this moment before.

    But what was it that caused this madness? Because that was only the climax of it. For the two weeks before Tessa had been acting quite strange indeed. Almost every evening as the sun went down she would go outside and start walking up and down the road, the Bible in her hand turned somewhere to the middle, so it had to be a Psalm she was looking at. Yea though I walk through the valley. Except, she never was looking at it. Her eyes stared vacantly ahead and she just walked up and down the road, the Bible open, muttering. But nobody called it madness then - for the Spirit, when it wanted, could move strange in a person. Possess them. Could send a man out into the desert for forty days and forty nights and when he came back, starved, the whiteness of hunger caked up around his mouth, still that man would have something tall about him, something that made you humble and respectful and you knew he had been talking with God. So, at first, no one called Tessa's condition madness, for if it was the Spirit moving in her, then to call it madness would have been blasphemy.

    In these two weeks, in the silence of each early morning, Tessa's muttering would unravel. The sound would bounce off of trees, climb up walls and slip through windows into a sleeping person's ear, and so all of a sudden, all over the village of Watersgate, people were dreaming the three words, 'It not true! It not true!'

    Then one night, after the two weeks of walking, after she had assaulted Miss Millie, Tessa just continued walking, out of the village, and across into the community of Durningham where her first son, Harry, lived. She walked right up to his gate, but never opened it. Never went in. She called him from out there in the road, her voice loud, but ghostlike. When he came out she demanded of him, the tears now falling down her face, 'Tell me it not true. Tell me that is not true.' And he just stared and stared at her, even though she kept asking and asking.

    Finally, Tessa dried her eyes, and lifted up herself in the dignified way she had always been used to. 'I am going down to the river to wash my hands,' She said to him. 'You is no longer my first born. You was never born to me at all.' And she walked through the night back to Watersgate.

    What was it that caused this strange sequence of events?

    It was the thing that Miss Millie saw.

    What was it that caused Pastor Braithwaite to order from Kingston three tall light poles and a piece of canvas which, unfolded, was almost as big as a field? Then came the speaker-boxes, the kind they have at Reggae Sunsplash or one of those other big stage shows. And then he rented 500 folding iron chairs, the letters BHCo painted in a sick orange on the back of each. The rickety truck that brought them announced that this stood for Benson's Hirage Company, but the orange letters proved no safety; whether out of criminal intent or just plain absent-mindedness, at least one BHCo chair ended up on every patio in Watersgate for years and years after. Even the church held on to a couple.

    But what was it that caused Pastor Braithwaite to undertake such an enterprise - to set up this massive tent, to send the choir into rehearsals every night, for he had announced it was time to have an open-air crusade? A month long open air crusade. Imagine that - right there in Watersgate! Not in the town square or anything. Who had ever heard of such a thing? Who would come?

    But come they did - for Pastor B would be screaming into the mike each evening, 'Repent!' and the sound would carry over hills and valleys into distant communities and catch people unawares. A boy would have just jumped over into his neighbour's yard for instance, climbing silently up the Julie mango tree to pick the ripest fruit he saw hanging temptingly and red up there at the top, and right as his fingers closed around the fruit. 'Repent!'

    An old man would be sitting on his porch as if half asleep, his sly eyes in truth observing the wonderful way the sixteen year old girl across the road was filling out in certain places. He would think how nice it would be to hold on to something like that, a piece of bottom that wanted to be held, unlike his wife's which, though broader than any other part of her body, still slipped out of his fingers. But oh to have that sixteen year old girl over ... 'Repent!'

    From all around the parish people came. Church was a part of everything - the way people took breaths, and how they walked. People waited for the latest preacher in the way another person waits for the next big song - ears perked up for it, humming it when it arrives, feet and hands and neck moving to it for weeks. On almost every corner there was a pulpit, and every preacherman preached like he was trying to win votes. Trying to bring in the largest flock. Trying to outdo the last preacherman. Prove himself more powerful, more righteous. And so, on the island, it became easy to preach hate and call it love. Easy to tell people who they should spit on. Who they should turn their eyes away from. Who was not their neighbour instead of who was. Hate is easier than love. And Pastor Braithwaite was a preacherman like this, who would tell the congregation who and how they should hate, and the people would listen.

    What was it that caused this fanaticism? The fervent preaching? And then the Sunday baptisms? After regular church, Braithwaite would have the choir sing, 'We go down to the River Jordan to meet the Lord.' He would march down the aisle, the choir would follow with their song. The rest of the church was right behind. Out the door and down to the river.

    'It is not enough! It is not enough,' Pastor Braithwaite would cry, 'to sing songs on Sundays. It is not enough to call yourself a Christian. It is not enough. You must be washed in the river. You must drown the old man and come up out of the water, a new creation. Who wants to make a public declaration of their faith today?'

    Without taking off her heels or anything, Miss Millie was always the first to lift up her hands and splash into the river. 'Me, pastor! Me!' Just how much sin she had to wash away, no one really understood. For wasn't baptism needed only once? But that's how it went each week. And each week everyone would get baptised all over again.

    What was it that caused such a Pentecostal fervour to sweep over Watersgate?

    It was the thing that Miss Millie saw.

    What was it that caused Young Constable Brown to knock on the gate of Mr. Eulan Solomon one evening, and when Mr. Solomon opened the grill and stepped outside the policeman said, 'Yes, sir. Good evening, sir. Just want you to know I'm keeping an eye on things, sir.'

    'Why, why thank you,' Mr. Solomon replied but didn't know what to say next. 'Would you like a drink of water? A beer?' he finally offered.

    'Oh no, sir. Not at all, sir. I'm on the job.' And the corporal fixed his red-striped policeman's hat, tucked his shirt in further, and turned to walk back into the village where, truth be known, he was headed for the rum bar anyway.

    Mr. Solomon closed the grill behind him and went back into his house, a little bit confused but appreciating the simple courtesy of country life. He reflected that this was another reason why he had moved away from Kingston. The city could be so dangerous. People were out to steal from you. Harm you. Kill you. Kingston didn't seem to have officers of the law who would walk up one evening, just like that, and let you know they were about the place doing their job.

    But Mr. Solomon was not used to country ways, and he had read the policeman wrong. Young Constable Brown was not offering help; he was issuing a threat. And all over Watersgate there were other warnings being given, more stern than any hurricane watch. Parents were telling their children: When you pass that big concrete house, don't linger! You hear me, child. Walk on the other side of the road. Make haste and pass it!

    What was it that caused such warnings? It was the thing that Miss Millie saw.

    What was it that caused Miss Millie to insist that her title was no longer 'Miss' or even 'Mrs.' (since she was in fact a married woman)? Instead, she wanted to be called 'Evangelist'. Evangelist Millie. She said she was giving it all up, changing her profession. Miss Millie said the Lord had called her, that she was now working full-time in the ministry of the Kingdom, amen! That she was called to intercession, and that her purpose here on earth, she finally realized, was to lift up people's problems and trials to the Lord.

    To pass her days, Miss Millie was now calling at each and every house. 'Carol-oooohhh!' she would shout for instance, and when Carol came outside Millie would get to the point immediately, 'What is it you want prayer for?'

    This directness might startle the owner of the house and she might not have an answer immediately. But the initial shock always passed and old habits would kick in. In villages like Watersgate people share their problems the way other people talk about the weather - as small talk. Easy talk. And in the wider island there were radio shows competing all day as the best place for you to call in and cuss. Cuss the cricket team, the water supply, the roads, the government who we need to vote out, whatever came to mind to cuss about, you could call in and cuss. So Carol would at last answer with a sigh, 'That boy Reggie. Him give us no ends of trouble. I shouldn't be surprised really. Is ten hours I lie on my back giving birth to him. Him was a pain then, him is a pain now. Miss Millie'.

    'Evangelist Millie, please.'

    'Sorry. Evangelist Millie, if you see the last report card he bring in to the house! He almost pass no subject at all. And is not that he dunce or slow. The teachers don't know what to do. Me and him father don't what to do. Lord knows Josiah give that boy more beating than would lick sense into any ordinary person.'

    Miss Millie nodded, writing it all down in an exercise book she had brought with her.

    'And the back, Miss Millie'


    'Yes, yes. The back I was saying. It giving me a warm time, you see! Every time I bend over, from right here, you see? All the way up. I know I getting older, and the body not what it used to be, but!'

    'Come,' Miss Millie would say reaching into her pocket for a small bottle of olive oil she brought with her on such occasions. 'We will pray for that one right now.' And so it was, Evangelist Millie swept up and down Watersgate anointing aching backs, and rashes, and even a few calluses. Anointing fowl that didn't lay enough eggs and trees that didn't bear enough fruit. Anointing sick dog and puss and cow. Anointing doors that had swollen in the cool months of February refusing to close, and roofs that leaked into rusty Berger-Paint cans. Anointing every godalmightything with her little bottle of olive oil that wasn't actually olive oil, but cheap coconut oil she topped the bottle up with each night.

    Every problem that was confided to Millie was written down in the pages of her exercise book. She said this was in order that in the night she could remind herself of the various situations and continue praying; so years later a history student from the University of the West Indies would find that in Watersgate, in the year 1994, there was a book containing each household's trials and tribulations, recorded dutifully by one 'Evangelist Millie'. But what was it that caused the former-gossipmonger-now-turned-missionary to take on such a project ? To go down to knee city every night and make petitions unto God?

    It was the thing that she herself saw. The thing that made all of Watersgate tremble. The thing that Miss Millie said God had chosen her to see, because if anyone else had seen it they would not have known what to do with themselves. Or they would have turned into salt. Or something else really, really bad. But God had chosen Miss Millie to see it, because out of all the people she could handle it, and because he was using it to lead her into this new ministry of intercession.

    The thing that Miss Millie saw was dreadful and the news of it moved from house to house like one of those August fires in Jacks Hill where in no time at all the flames jump from hilltop to hilltop, the bamboo burning and bursting, and soon all of Kingston is gathered outside their houses watching and talking about the hills blazing orange around them.

    The year 1994 had only just begun. In fact, it was hardly more than an hour old. Miss Millie was returning from watchnight service in Alexander Town Square. She liked going there on New Year's Eve, to the old Anglican church. It seemed a more proper place to celebrate. Besides, Pastor B didn't hold a watch night service or anything of the sort, and if he did people would have gone to it in their usual ways - men in their old suits, and women in cheap dresses, their heads tied with a matching piece of cloth. But, at the Anglican church Miss Millie could put on her head a proper hat and look dignified.

    In the stone building she could light candles and receive the bread and the wine kneeling down on red cushions placed by the altar. She could sing old time hymns that had words like yonder and thou and hadst in it - words that seemed more biblical and therefore, in a way, more spiritual to Miss Millie. It was true, she would be the first to admit, the Spirit didn't move in that church in the way it moved in Watersgate. But didn't the Bible say there was a time and a season for everything? So New Year was a time to worship God in dignity, without the clapping of hands or the stomping of feet, but in a proper, English, non-Pentecostal way.

    And, when the service was done, the congregation gathered in the church hall to have refreshments and 'hob-snob' as Millie would put it. She enjoyed this part of the night just as much, mingling with the wife of the local magistrate and such high society people who, out of politeness (what with the old woman in her ugly hat standing so close and straining her neck into their conversations), asked her what life was like in her little village - how quaint and wonderful it must be. Miss Millie happily obliged them, and at considerable length. She had a grand time of it all, sipping hot chocolate, eating hors' devours, adjusting her hat this way and that, and 'hob snobbing' from little group to little group.

    But the thing Miss Millie saw happened when all of this was over and she was on her way back home humming How Great Thou Art. She neared the bridge, about to cross into Watersgate and noticed the party Mr. Solomon was keeping was now in full swing. The music from inside the house was loud, the beat insistent, and every now and then the backdoor would spit out two or three guests, their skin shiny with sweat, laughing. Millie sighed. She knew this was how the people of the world were. They would ring in the New Year partying rather than praying. This didn't surprise her. Yet, she stayed across the road, in the shadows, watching. Something was strange about this party, and she couldn't tell what it was. So for many minutes she stood up there, the music playing, the backdoor spitting out people, the people laughing, she frowning. What was so strange?

    She might not have ever realised, but then out of the door came a face she knew well. The Fifth. She knew him before he knew himself. She had tickled his little baby's feet, made faces and said 'goo-goo ga-ga' to him. Harold Walcott V, Son of Tessa, and Harold Walcott IV who had been a deacon - God knows how, for he was absent half the time. The Fifth came out of the door smiling, another man laughing into his shoulders. And that is what was so strange. All these men were so easy with each other. Too easy. Resting on each other's shoulders. Holding each other's hands. Yes! That was it. And where was The Fifth's nice new girlfriend, Sofia? Where was any woman for that matter? That's the other thing that was strange. She had not realised before, because all these men had something so soft about them, so soft, the way they were laughing, it was just like how women laughed. It had made her think she had seen women, but in fact, she had seen none. And O God. Could it be that? O God. O God. Could it really be that? Sodom and Gomorrah! Right here in Watersgate?

    Miss Millie looked up to the sky, wide-eyed. She forgot all about New Year and hymns and dignity. She started singing a sankey loud, loud. Sweet Holy Spirit, Sweet Heavenly Ghost! And quickly as she could, she marched back to her house.

    The guests of the New Year's party held at Mr. Solomon's house, reviewing the night to their friends, would tell of the strange incident - how at 1:30 in the morning there arose from out of the darkness a singing that even as it started already began to fade into the distance. It was as if, for just one moment, one of those old time country women had been praying for their souls. And though they told this story in jest, they were, of course, completely right.

    - Kei Miller
    u so fake, even China denied mekking u

  • #2
    Re: The Thing That Miss Millie Saw

    Good read, loved it


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