By Michael Jordan
“…was at Cuyuni that it happen,” Bap Reggie said, shouting above the din of reggae music and laughter and empty glasses slammed down on tables.
“John Dainty was alone in camp, with nothing to do, so he decide to hunt lil wild meat for the pot. He take a trail with some bush-cow tracks. He cover bout half-mile, when he suddenly see this whitish deer in front of he. He raise the shotgun. He get off a quick shot before the deer see he and take off in the bush. He follow. He see thick blood on the ground, and he realize that it get hit bad. But then the blood trail stop. John Dainty bend to the ground, trying to decide which way to go. And that is when he hear like heavy breathing, just behind he…”
Bap Reggie stifled a belch, then stretched for the open whisky bottle. He drank, wiped his mouth, while the two prostitutes by his side looked at him attentively.
They couldn’t be more than sixteen—seventeen the most, Sealey thought. They seemed to be getting younger every year. Or maybe it was just that he had grown older. Sealey reached for the whiskey. He poured a shot, then refocused on Bap Reggie’s tale.
He’d heard the story before. It was supposed to have happened to a hunter named John Dainty, who was supposed to have shot at a white deer. Only it had somehow changed into a woman…
“…Nearly jump out of he skin,” Bap Reggie was saying. “All he could do was stand there, staring at she. Then she turn she face sideways, and that is when he see it…this big, big hole by she temple.” He cupped his hands, and was showing them the dimension of the wound, when he broke off suddenly and stared into the Kamarang twilight.
Sealey turned to follow Bap Reggie’s gaze.
A woman stood at the edge of the open-air disco. In the murky light, he got an impression of long, loose hair, high cheekbones and a flimsy piece of dress that hugged nice hips. For a moment she remained at the entrance, like an animal scenting the wind. Maybe it was the influence of Bap Reggie’s story, but looking at her, Sealey was struck by the wild, illogical thrill of something out of the ordinary on the brink of happening.
Suddenly her eyes seemed to shift to his table. He could swear that the edges of her mouth curved up in the hint of a smile. But then she was entering the disco, walking through the crush of gawking miners and women as she moved to the bar. He watched her order a beer—he would later learn it was a cider- from Alvin Benn, the ex-policeman who ran Kamarang’s main night-spot.
Yes…he was right about her parentage…high cheekbones and the sort of wide, passionate mouth that often seemed to go with that type of bone structure. She couldn’t be more than twenty-two, he thought. Again, to Sealey, she seemed to be staring at them. Then she turned away and headed to one of the empty wooden tables placed in the sand outside. A few lewd invitations followed her, but these were subdued, as if, even in this place of women, something about this woman had affected them.
Besides Sealey, Jerry Mentore sighed. “That is woman, boy.” He nudged Leon, who was staring in the girl’s direction. “What you say, youth?”
The boy swiveled round, almost spilling his drink. He smiled self-consciously, then took a sip at his drink to cover his confusion. Mentore grinned at the woman in his lap. “Shirleen, like you got competition.”
Shirleen sucked her teeth. “That is competition? One dry-up red woman?” She wriggled out of Mentore’s lap and sat next to Leon.
Sealey looked at the woman again. Despite her aloofness, he sensed a disturbing undercurrent of sensuality. It was only a matter of time before the men began to crowd her table.
Almost on cue, a tall, fair skinned man, in a white bell-bottomed suit, began to saunter over to the girl. The gold bracelets on his arms glinted in the twilight.
Sealey felt a surge of annoyance. ‘Golden’ Bishop…born into wealth; father owned a dredge in Kamarang and a couple others in Mahdia and Five Star. He had a reputation for throwing big money behind women he fancied. He also had a vicious streak when he was drunk. There were rumours that he had killed a thin-boned prostitute they called Razorblade at Kurupung.
“Well, said Bap Reggie. “Mister money himself.”
They watched as Golden Bishop, smiling, placed a bottle of liquor on the girl’s table. He sat, then leaned forward and said something to the girl. She responded by turning slightly away. The Golden Bishop fumbled in his pocket. His hand came out clutching something. He let it spill from his fingers onto the table. Even from where he sat, Sealey saw the sudden sparkle of light.
“Oh jeeze…diamonds!” one of the young prostitutes at the table squeaked.
But the girl remained sitting, her body turned from the Bishop.
Sealey watched, knowing what was coming next. The Golden Bishop, still smiling, leaned to the girl, preparing to drop the diamonds down her dress.
Sealey couldn’t recall seeing the girl move, but there she was, facing the Bishop. She said something. They saw the Bishop draw back. The smile was gone. The two stared at each other. Then the girl turned away, and stared into the disco. The Bishop stared at her for a moment. Then he rose, pocketing the diamonds. He made a show of getting up slowly, but his knee bumped the table. He looked at the girl again, then swaggered off to a dim corner out of their sight, not bothering to pick up the bottle he had placed on the girl’s table.
Sealey, stealing a quick glance at the bar, saw that Alvin Benn had been watching, alert for trouble.
“Wonder what the fuck she tell the Bishop?” Jerry Mentore said. “Crazy…crazy woman, though. Ah mean, if she ain doing business, what the hell she doing here?”
Sealey shrugged. The same thought had crossed his mind. The girl had come, shattering the normality of the night. There was no doubt that she had a purpose here. There was a waiting in her. But waiting for what…or for who?
Leon, the boy Sealey had bought into the bush, wondered too…
A crazy, singing elation surged through him as he watched the man called Golden Bishop walk off into the darkness. Bap Reggie and the others had been so sure that she would have gone off with the dredge owner. But he had known that she was different from the other women in this crazy, exciting place.
Strange, but for the past three days on the landing, he had sensed that something out of the ordinary was about to happen in his life. And he sensed, now, that this woman that he couldn’t stop staring at was part of this something. Looking at her, poised at the disco entrance, looking at her walking to the bar, he’d had the weirdest sensation of having seen all this happen before. He had tried to grasp at the memory, but it had slipped away.
She was looking at him now. He felt something clutch at his heart.
The Kamarang night had descended, but the lights from the disco and a huge full moon pushed back the darkness enough so he could still see the outline of her high-cheekboned face, the hint of slanted eyes, and shadow of her wide mouth.
He jumped as something stung his elbow. He spun around in time to see Shirleen withdrawing the butt of her lighted cigarette.
“What’s that for?” he said, rubbing his elbow.
“To get yuh attention,” she snapped, but with a smile in her eyes. Before he could reply, she had stretched across to Mentore for another cigarette.
Leon glanced at the girl, wondering if she had seen Shirleen’s antics. But she had turned away from them now. He was sure she had been watching in his direction, though. And just after she had rejected the Bishop, she had seemed to stare at him, and he had almost seemed to hear a voice in his head say: this is not what I want.
But what did she want?
Why not come and find out?
Suddenly he knew that he had to speak to her, even if she chased him the way she had chased the Bishop. He knew, somehow, that if he didn’t go to this woman tonight, there would be no second time, no second chance, because he would never see her again; she would be like a pretty girl seen from a passing bus…just a memory. He took a deep breath. He mumbled something about going to urinate. Then, before he could stop himself, he had risen, and was picking his way through the crowd and heading for whatever fate lay for him.
He realised that he indeed wanted to ease his bladder, but someone was vomiting in the urinal, so he headed for some nearby bushes. He zipped up … patted his hair…wishing he had a comb and a mirror.So, what was his plan? Walk near her table, then stop, as if he had just noticed her, and then ask her for a dance..Shucks…this was crazy. He was going over to this strange woman, who had already turned down a chap with diamonds, when all he had in his pockets was two pennyweights of gold.
He looked around, breathing in the chill, sharp Kamarang air. To the left, in the pale-yellow glow of the hugest full moon he had ever seen, were the dark mountains of Kamarang Point. To the east, were the cottages where the girls stayed.
He still couldn’t quite believe that he was here. It seemed like it was just a moment ago that he was in Georgetown, working as a casual labourer at the Kingston rice factory, his stepfather dead seven months now, and the mortgage to pay. And then Mr. Mc Garrel, the welfare man who had known his step-father, had put him in touch with Mr. Sealey.
And then he was in a tiny yellow plane circling over Kamarang; then down-river to Mr. Sealey’s claim, working harder than he ever had in his life; and it was all worth it, because now he could pay off his stepfather’s debts. Maybe, in a few months, his mom could quit her charwoman’s job. For once, he could buy real threads for himself.
Now this girl had come, adding to the crazy unreality of everything…
He realised that the music had switched from reggae to Donna Summer’s Winter Melody. He took his rag out…wiped his face, then his hands—his rough, peeled, pork-knocker’s hands…he was thinking of holding the girl with these hands! For a moment, his mother’s anxious face came to him, and her parting words… “Take care son…” Unconsciously, he touched at the strange, old knife that she had given him before he left.
But then the image of his mother faded, and all that was left was his heartbeat and the music, as he walked over to the table where the woman sat.
Sealey was taking another shot of whiskey when something made him glance outside the disco. The girl was staring to the north. Then she smiled, combing her fingers through her hair. Simultaneously, he heard Mentore bite back a yelp of surprise.
Leon was heading towards the girl’s table.
Bap Reggie cackled knowingly. “Vibert…yuh sly young rooster…”
Leon stood at the girl’s table. He smiled at her, then said something.
Sealey tensed, and prepared for trouble.
The girl smiled, and then stood. Then Leon was holding her, and they were both dancing to Donna Summer’s Winter Melody in the moonlit sand…
She fits to him as if she’s been made just for this meeting. The rightness of it stuns him. Her voice, her eyes, her wide, rude, amused, sad mouth, and the pungent scent of her send his thoughts a-spin. Through that thin dress, he can feel her softness, as she grinds against him; he feels her caress his neck; caressing away his loneliness, his bottled-up fears; yes, he had been afraid of dying in the jungle, or losing his way in that endless maze of trees, like the day he had gone to use the makeshift latrine near Mister Sealey’s claim and had made a wrong turn, and for five panic-stricken minutes he was lost, and only the sound of Mentore’s axe had eventually guided him back; fear of crawling things, shake out yuh boots and blanket, boy, fear of the baboons at night, their screams invading your dreams, dreams almost remembered now, dreams of wet, smothering mud, dreams of a face at the forest’s edge, dreams of a caress, dreams of a cave, dreams of a warning, dreams, dreams, he must remember the dreams, especially one particular dream, a cautioning dream, clutching at the dreams, but her fingers were soothing him, making him forget the dreams,
forget the dreams…
forget the dreams….
(KAMARANG IS ON SALE AT AUSTAINS BOOK SERVICES. YOU CAN ALSO CONTACT MICHAEL JORDAN FOR AN AUTOGRAPHED COPY ON +592 645 2447 OR EMAIL ADDRESS [email protected]
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