Authors: Kerry Young
Tags: #General Fiction, #(¯`'•.¸//(*_*)\\¸.•'´¯)
‘Yah man. So bad deh have a put him in di naval hospital. The bwoy well and truly mash up.’
A couple days later I go down to West Street and find the Chinaman and say to him that I come to pay for the help he give. He tell me he don’t need nothing. The sailor bwoy had it coming. So I put the money back in my purse and I ask him if he would keep a eye on us like he watch over Chinatown. I say it just like Henry tell me. Watch over Chinatown. And this is the first time he actually turn his head and take me in, like even though I go there the week before he got no idea what I look like.
And after some long time he just say, ‘What do you have in mind?’
Henry over the moon. He reckon he can relax now and stop worrying ’bout who might tek a fancy in their mind to nuh pay us. Business is secure now as far as Henry is concerned, even though all Yang Pao think he doing is protecting us women and don’t know nothing ’bout the money business. Henry say it nuh matter. All we got to do is say we under Yang Pao wing and everything is taken care of. Ain’t nobody going ask no questions ’bout that or even entertain any idea ’bout crossing us. That, according to Henry, is the benefit of doing business with a proper businessman.
‘No need depend on next door, fool boy Trevor. Now have business on business footing. Just like grocery store and wine merchant.’
When Marcia come home from the hospital she come in the house and go straight to her room and shut the door. She nuh say nothing to nobody. A little later I go tek her some hot chicken noodle soup and when I go in there she is sitting on the edge a the bed wid her feet flat on the floor and her knees together staring at the ground. She never even look up at me when I go in the room.
I rest the tray on top a the dresser and I say to her, ‘Marcia yu want me help yu tek off yu clothes so yu can get in the bed?’ But she nuh say nothing to me. She just carry on sit there like I not even there. ‘Marcia yu need to get some rest. The hospital say. Bed rest.’ And I wait, and then I say, ‘Yu nuh feel tired from all the waiting to discharge yu and the journey home? Yu nuh think that maybe yu should just ease back and rest ’til yu get yu strength back?’ But I am talking to a blank wall.
And then suddenly she just stand up and walk over and pick up the tray with the soup and throw it ’cross the room. Everything go flying through the air like it been propel outta a cannon. That is how hard she throw it. The soup wet up the wall and the bed and the floor. And when I think God, this girl got some feeling inside her I realise she was just getting started.
She throw off the bedspread and sheets and she start tear them up. I think maybe I should grab her and try calm her down. But when I see the vengefulness in her face I realise she would most likely kill me before she let me stop her from doing whatever was in her mind to do.
She tear the sheets and pillowcase into white cotton ribbon. And then she open the wardrobe and tek out every stitch a clothes, one by one, and rip it up. If it got a collar, it was off. Cuffs, lace, edging and trimming, a pocket, everything was gone. I never think a person could tear into fabric like that with their bare hands. Every little weakness in a seam her fingers could find. So by the time both her hands pull out to shoulder width the dress was in two pieces, or three or four depending on how many times she pull and tug, and wrench and claw. And when she come to the end, when nothing else would give way for her, she reach inside and grab the next dress, or blouse, or whatever her hand come to first. And she start with it all over again.
When she done with that, she pull down every picture off the wall and smash it on the floor. Then she swipe her hand across the dresser and every flat surface in that room ’til every little bottle and dish and hairbrush, and nail file and powder puff and lipstick, and hand mirror and perfume and crochet doily was on the floor where she kick and stamp on it and open up the top so she can pour out the liquid or scrape out the powder with her fingers and mash it all together on the hard tile floor under the weight a the old lace-up school shoes that Beryl tek to the hospital for her to come home in. And just when I think she was going to stop, she open up the drawers and start.
I got no idea how long Marcia spend doing all a this. But in all that time, she never say a word. She not even mek a noise. Nothing was coming outta her except the silent tears that was running down her face, that she wipe on the sleeve of her blouse and just carry on.
When she completely wear herself out she lay down on the floor in the middle a the mess and curl up into a ball with her arms wrap ’round her knees. So I lay down behind her and reach round and enclose her in my arms. And I just lay there, holding her rigid body close to me and listening to the sound of the wailing that was finally coming outta her. Wailing that was vigorous and bottomless. Wailing like a woman because she wasn’t a girl no more.
After that we let her rest. Sleep and eat and sit in the yard, silent as she was under the almond tree. And three weeks later when she feel up to it we invite Yang Pao over to the house for a celebration dinner. And even though it Beryl usually cook a meal like this, this time I decide to do it myself. Rice and peas and stew chicken with coleslaw and cho-cho.
It was carnival, with food and rum and music and happiness. We even get up and dance. Just like we do on the veranda on Sunday – a twist and a twizzle, a swivel and a swirl. And another glass a white rum. Yang Pao just sit there and look at us like he never see nothing like it in his life. And why would he? Where would he ever have seen four women so free and easy, one minute twirling ’round in each other’s arms and the next minute sitting at the table, Sybil with cigarette in hand, talking ’bout how Bustamante come outta jail after a year and a half detention to set up his own Jamaica Labour Party and go win the election from Manley.
Afterwards when it late into evening he tek his leave and I walk out to the car with him. We stand up in the street under the clear night sky and stars.
He look up and breathe a sigh and then he say, ‘Gloria Campbell you are quite some surprise.’
He just stand there. And then he step off the sidewalk and stroll ’round the car and get in it and drive off down the road.
I got no idea how Auntie find out what happen to Marcia or what mek her decide to pick herself up from Back-O-Wall and tek the bus ’cross town to come knock at the door like it was something she do every day. When I see her standing there I almost drop down wid shock. Didn’t hardly recognise her anyway because it was the first time I ever see her outside a that yard and that dark little room.
‘Yu going invite me in?’
‘Yes Auntie. I just surprise to see yu that is all.’
I wrap the string a the Lipton Yellow Label tea bag through the pot handle before I pour in the hot water and tek the tray and cups into the front room. When I hand Auntie the tea she just sit there and stare into the cup like maybe she was expecting to see something swimming there. She never even bother to tek the saucer outta my hand.
‘Yu nuh like drink tea?’
‘Tea? Where yu get a thing like dat? Yu nuh know tea is di drink a di slave master? Sitting in di shade a di veranda sipping di piss-piss little juicy-juice all day long while di slave burning up in di heat cutting cane or tending di bananas wid barely a drop a water to moisten dem lips. And now yu sit here wid yu little tea pot like yu Lady Gloria in di Great House. Not that this place much like di plantation except I understand a lot a seed get sow here.’
‘That was a hundred years ago Auntie.’
‘A hundred years, yes. But di white man still sitting on di veranda and di black man still digging in di field and sweating in di factory. It seem like dat is how it is. And dat not even di worse part. The worse part is di black man still looking to di white man to tell him what to do, and tell him how to think, and tell him he all right. Because in his own mind, the black man is still a slave. And in di white man mind, he is still di slave master. So a hundred years later di two a dem still rubbing along fine.’
I reckon Auntie got more going on in her head than the grumbling and cussing I had to listen to every day I spend living in that nasty room a hers. She right ’bout the black man. Sybil right ’bout the black woman. That is our life.
So I say to her, ‘Yu want something else to drink?’
Auntie tek up residence in the room off the kitchen. Not all at once, just little little. One night here, two night there, until one day we wake up and realise Auntie been living in the house for weeks. Cooking, cleaning, washing and mending. But most of all what she doing is tending Marcia. Like Marcia was her own sick daughter. So now Auntie a part a everything in the house, even though all the time she muttering and cussing ’bout what kinda shameful house we got her living in and how the Lord going bring down everlasting damnation on our heads and we all going burn in hell for eternity.
I say to her, ‘So why yu nuh go back to Back-O-Wall and save yu soul?’ But she don’t have no answer for me. Every single night though she do the same thing. Soon as nightfall come she tek up some bulla bun and jug a ice sorrel and she tek it in her room and shut the door and nuh show her face again ’til daybreak. This is Auntie’s one protest against the evil that is going on in this house. All she say is, ‘If yu nuh want eat frog nuh play wid snake.’
The other thing that happen was Yang Pao, because for no good reason he decide to come sit down in the house every day and look at me. The man got nothing to say. All he do is sit and stare. And every once in a while he think a something to pass five minutes and then we go back to the same silence that been going on day in day out for weeks. All I doing is filling him up with Lipton Yellow Label because the last thing I want is him sitting down here all day drinking liquor. I don’t even know if he like the tea. All I know is he drinking it down and never say no when I go to top up the cup.
Sometime he leave a hat or a newspaper that mek him have to come back the next day to fetch it. Seem like he never tire. Any time from ten o’clock in the morning ’til ten o’clock at night he can be sitting there with his knees together prim and the teacup in his hand. It get so bad every now and again I have to actually tell him to go so I can go about my business and he get up straight outta the chair and leave without a single word.
So after this go on and on I say to him one day, ‘Yu know when I ask yu to watch over us I didn’t mean for yu to be sitting down here every day looking at me. I already broadcast the news that we under yu wing so everything is fine.’
He just rest the cup in the saucer and put the saucer on the table and stand up and say, ‘That is good.’ And then he turn ’round and walk out. After he gone I stay put, staring at the empty chair almost like he was still sitting there with no conversation passing between us. I just sit there with nothing in my head about what I should be doing next. Like I was in a dream until Sybil come to say we got customers waiting.
I never see nothing a him for a few days and then one afternoon I come home to find him in the back yard fixing the fence. So I go lean up on the back door and say to him, ‘We can get people to do that yu know.’
And he turn ’round and put down the hammer and say to me, ‘Why pay good money when it just as easy for me to do it?’
Yang Pao standing there in his vest just like the first time I see him in the shop. He not scrawny exactly, but there hardly anything on him. What there is, though, is firm. He sturdy. He solid.
‘I never tek yu for a man to be doing handiwork.’
He smile. ‘To tell yu the truth, Gloria, I not that experienced with it.’
He got a nice smile. It gentle. It innocent. If I didn’t know no better I could think he was a overgrown schoolboy doing errands for a few shillings not the grown man that is running protection and gambling, and liquor and cigarettes and US Navy surplus all over town.
‘Yu want something to drink?’
‘Yu mean tea?’
I laugh, even though I try not to. It creep out before I get a chance to fix my face.
‘I mean water.’
‘Water?’ And then he pull a kerchief outta his pants pocket and mop his brow. Meaningful like.
I get up and walk inside and pour out two long glasses a sorrel from the jug that Auntie keep in the fridge. When I hand him the glass he smile and put it to his lips and drink half a it down straight just like that. I rest my drink on the concrete step and gather up my skirt between my legs and sit down. The sorrel cold and sweet with a bite a ginger that catch yu long after yu swallow.
‘The two yu run with, a where yu meet them?’
‘Hampton and Finley?’
‘Hampton was the pushcart boy that carry our bags from the wharf to Matthews Lane when we first get here from China.’
‘So when that?’
‘Seven years back. 1938. Right in the middle of all the riots ’bout unemployment and such. Nice eh?’ And he smile again. He squat down on his haunches and cross his arms over his knees like a true Chinaman or a boy scout squaring up to the camp fire.
‘Yu know ’bout Zhang?’
‘I hear a him. Godfather a Chinatown since 1912. That is what they say.’
‘They say “uncle”, Gloria. That is what they say. Uncle.’ And he look at me serious so I know I say something outta turn. I nuh say nothing else. I just shut up and let him carry on.