By Michael Jordan
The crowd was sparse when he entered the Ritz at around seven-twenty. He hesitated briefly at the top of the stars. He saw no sign of Jason Marcus. No sign of Lucille, either. The tall man with the Kangol cap stood nursing a beer by the step-rail. He nodded as his eyes caught Michael’s. Desmond the barman was talking to a middle-aged woman who Michael had seen a few times behind the bar. He looked up, and Michael sensed a wariness in the man’s eyes, an insincerity in his smile.
“You early tonight, youth-man.”
“Yeah,” Michael said. Automatically, his eyes shifted again to the corner near the bar.
“She up in she room.”
Was he that obvious?
“Well, what you getting, partner?” the barman asked, and before Michael could answer, the barman turned to the woman besides him. “Give the customer a beer.”
And why not. He needed to relax. He felt tense. He knew that part of it was the guilt that he felt at skipping his studies. He’d tried, but images of the girl had kept jumping into his thoughts. He’d finally shut his books, taken a bath, put on his wind-breaker and slipped out of the house while his parents listened to the seven o’clock news in the bedroom.
Guilt surged through him as he thought of his parents. He decided that he’d wait for Lucille to come downstairs, rather than yield to the temptation of going to her bedroom. Then he’d just sit with her for an hour or two.
Someone placed a hand on his shoulder. He whirled around, heart racing, expecting to see Jason Marcus. Instead, he saw a scruffy and intoxicated man, who stumbled backwards as Michael glared at him.
The man blinked at Michael, then said; “Oh shucks, sorry meh brother. Ah take you fuh somebody else… sorry…”
Michael glared at the drunk until the man sidled away towards the punch-box. He turned back to the bar to see Desmond watching him.
“You thought was Jason Marcus sneaking up on you, right?”
The barman shrugged his shoulders. “You ain’t gotta worry about him no more.”
The barman fumbled for something beneath the counter, mumbling, “I sure I put that thing right here…” Eventually, his hand came from beneath the counter with a rolled up copy of the Evening Citizen. He unrolled it, then handed it to Michael. “Read this,” he said, pointing to a small, boxed story.
Last Post for Colourful Ex-solder
by Albert Alstrom
Popular ex-soldier and street fighter Jason Marcus, 55, was killed on the spot last Saturday after being run over by a car on Regent Street.
A friend told the Citizen that they were sitting in a beer garden at around noon when Marcus suddenly cried out that something had stung him.
The friend said that a screaming Marcus, with hands to his face, rushed out of the beer garden into the busy Regent Street traffic. He was hit by a passing car.
Marcus was among the contingent of soldiers that was at Ankoko during the Venezuela-Guyana territorial dispute. He was also with the Guyana Defence Force contingent that evicted the Suriname military that had set up an illegal camp near the disputed New River Triangle area.
He leaves to mourn a wife and several children.
Michael re-read the story. He felt relief, guilt, and a sense of disbelief that the strapping man, who had seemed so indestructible, had died so stupidly. He looked up to give the barman the newspaper. Again, he caught the man staring at him in a way he couldn’t discern.
“He wasn’t really a bad sort,” the barman said, taking the paper. “He had some mental problems…lost a squaddie at Ankko, and I think that tripped him out. And he just couldn’t hold he liquor.”
WHEN THE GIRL who was now calling herself Lucille finally came downstairs and she and the boy went to their corner, Vibert Sealey borrowed the barman’s newspaper. He read the story about Jason Marcus, returned the paper, bought another beer.
There was a film of ice on the bottle, and the beer itself was cold, but that wasn’t the reason for the sudden chill he felt inside.
She was wearing a red blouse and a skirt of a similar colour. Tonight, somehow, she seemed different; somehow less pale. She raised her head slightly, and he watched as the pendant swung on the gold chain that he’d given her. He stared at her for a moment, then glanced at his watch. He stifled a sigh. Eight-thirty already.
It had been so easy, when the girl hadn’t been around, to think about staying just a few hours. But now he wondered how he could ever have imagined coming here and not going to her room. It felt so good, so right, sitting in this corner, gazing at her, while an old tune named Let Them Talk came from the punch-box.
Yet he kept recalling his quarrel with his father, and with that memory was the sinking feeling that his father’s fears would be justified.
She squeezed his hand, smiling at him. “You need to relax.” She smiled again, that secret smile that touched her eyes. “I have a surprise for you tonight.”
She was still smiling at him, her eyes burning into his, when suddenly her hand tightened around his. She stared at something behind him. He turned, tense and ready to leap from his seat, but all he saw was the tall man with the Kangol peering into the punch-box. Michael turned back to the girl. He could detect none of the wariness that he thought he’d seen in her eyes a moment ago. Again, it struck him that she seemed younger than when he’d first known her, and somehow, more vulnerable. For a moment, he thought of telling her about Jason Marcus. But why spoil her night?
“You were telling me about your surprise,” he said.
Again, a tiny smile of suppressed amusement. “It’s upstairs.”
And though he thought of his angry, sad, disappointed father, and though something in him seemed to scream a warning, he followed her.
She entered her room, then rapped softly on the southern wall. A few minutes later, someone rapped on the girl’s door. She opened it, and a tiny, limping woman peered inside. She was carrying a tray, and Michael caught the smell of wood-smoke and saw that the woman was carrying a tray with cassava bread, and two steaming bowls. The woman looked past Lucille at Michael and said something in a soft, fluting dialect. Lucille laughed, shook her head, and answered in the dialect. The old woman gave a little bow to Lucille, handed her the tray, then seemed to stare longingly at the meal before making a strange, sniffing sound and shuffling outside.
Smiling, Lucille headed to the bed with the tray, and Michael felt water spring to his mouth as he caught the smell of pepper-pot and smoked meat. The girl stripped to her underwear and sat on the bed. She gave him one of the steaming, meat-filled bowls. Smiling, she dipped a hand in her bowl. She plucked out a fatty-looking morsel and placed it in his mouth.
He had never tasted any meat like that before; so, succulent that he bit his tongue in his eagerness. She fed him another piece, then broke a piece of cassava bread and began to attack her bowl. He followed suit, eating and thinking that he had often boasted that no one could make a tastier pepper pot than his great-grandmother. Now here he was, devouring this meal that made grandmother’s seem ordinary; tears streaming down his face as he bit into a piece of bird-pepper.
Besides him, the girl was making murmuring sounds. At one point, she give a cry of delight as her fingers closed around a small morsel like the one she had fed him.
He tried to slow down, wanting to make the meal last as long as he could, but too soon he was staring at his empty bowl. She caught his forlorn look and laughed. She stared into her own bowl, which held one last piece. She tore it in two and fed him, then ate the other piece.
He finished, then licked his fingers.
“Wow,” he said.
“You liked it?”
Feeling like he’d betrayed his dead great-grandmother he said: “It’s by far the best pepper-pot I ever ate.” What meat is this…labba?”
She shook her head, smiling.
Again, that suppressed laughter. “You could say it was wild. It had to be hunted and caught.”
“Monkey,” he said, joining in the joke.
He joined in her laughter, looking at her and thinking again how much younger she looked. Finally, she composed herself. “I will tell my aunt how much you enjoy her cooking.” She laughed again. “Auntie ate her share and she wanted more. You saw how she stared at ours?”
She held his hands. “You need to wash up and then I have another surprise for you.”
She led him to a table with a large basin. She washed her hands in the basin, and he followed suit. The water appeared to contain some sort of scented perfume that reminded him of the girl’s smell. They dried their hands on a towel on the table.
When the girl came back to the bed she was holding a small earthenware bottle. She uncorked it, and a strong, fermented odour came to him. Sitting with knees beneath her, she put the bottle to her lips and tilted her head back for a moment. She lowered the bottle and he saw that some sort of colourless liquid had trickled down the edges of her mouth. Smiling, she gave him the bottle. Again, he smelt the strong, fermented odour.
“What’s it?” he said, in what he hoped was a casual tone. He suddenly felt extremely immature; out of his depth. The girl sitting on the bed with her hair loose and in unselfconscious nakedness suddenly seemed light years ahead of him in maturity.
“It’s cassiri. I made it.”
“Oh,” he said. He tried to recall whether this was the Amerindian wine that was made with cassava that was chewed and spat into a pot. The thought that the wine might have been made from Lucille’s juices caused a stirring within him. He raised the bottle to his lips. The taste was not unlike the homemade wines that his mother made at Christmas. He swallowed, and felt the liquid burning a warm path to his stomach. He took another sip, and another, before passing the bottle back. His lips felt numb. The warmth in his stomach seemed to have travelled to his groin.
The girl re-corked the bottle, then put it on the table. She switched off the light and returned to the bed. He felt lightheaded and strangely reckless. She laughed in his face; her voice seeming to come from a distance. He gave a startled yelp as she gave him a sudden nip on the chest, then felt her encircle him; felt himself sinking…
He had been sleeping, and now he was awake, and the bedroom light was on and the girl was not in the bed. He felt light-headed, and strangely listless, and he was wondering where the girl had gone to, when he saw her standing by the mirror. She was too preoccupied to notice that he had awoken. He thought of calling to her, but didn’t because his limbs and tongue felt heavy, and because a little voice within him told him not to.
She stood close to the mirror, as if short-sighted. She ran her hands through her hair. She caressed her face, touched her breasts. Now, she bent to stare at her thighs, examining them in that same short—sighted, careful manner.
Suddenly she straightened and stared into the mirror again. Her body shook, and he was puzzled until he realized that she was laughing. He watched her, feeling suddenly cold. He wanted to cover with the sheet but that little voice told him to remain still. Around him was a heavy silence as if he and the girl were the only people left in the world.
She turned to him suddenly, and instinctively, he shut his eyes, breathing shallowly like someone asleep. He felt a throbbing in the centre of his forehead, as if someone was watching him. Eventually, he heard a click, and the light that was seeping beneath his eyelids receded. He sensed her standing beside the bed. Then her lips touched him, bringing him to life despite the vague unease he felt.
(Taken from the Guyanese supernatural novel, KAMARANG by Michael Jordan. Cover design by Harold Bascom.)
GOOD NEWS FOR FANS: KAMARANG IS NOW ON AMAZON.
You can also purchase a copy at Austin’s Book Store, or contact Michael Jordan for an autographed copy on +592 645 2447, or on email address [email protected]
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