By Michael Jordan
There was no sign of the girl when he entered the Ritz two days later. He made a show of going over to the punch-box, while checking in the corner where they had sat. She wasn’t there, either. Again, part of him wondered if she really existed. Some of the women he had seen on Saturday were there, and he thought he recognized some of the men. The barman gave him a nod of recognition as he ordered a beer.
Michael hesitated, then said. “Uh…Lucille around?”
The barman looked at him for a moment. “I think she in she room,” he said.
Was she alone? He thought of asking the barman’s permission to go to the girl’s room, but the man had turned away to serve someone else.
Disappointed, he shifted away from the bar and stood bracing the step-rail as he had done on Saturday, while glancing down the corridor occasionally in the hope of seeing her. He found himself talking to a tall, fair-complexioned youth who bummed a beer from him.
He half-listened as the boy, who appeared to be a few years older than Michael, explained that he was a stevedore at the Kingston Wharf, and that he came up here often and knew most of the women. As if to prove his point, he signaled to the tall woman with the short afro, who had come to the bar. He made a show of holding her hand and whispering in her ear.
“Most of them up here easy,” he said after the woman had returned to her seat.
“They like high-colour chaps like me and you. Come up hay a couple times and yuh gun see what ah mean.”
He was wondering if the women included Lucille, when he caught movement out of the corner of his eye, and there she was, suddenly half-way down the corridor and heading to the hall. She was wearing some sort of colourful, split-skirt thing, along with leather sandals. He felt his heart thumping as she came nearer, a half-smile playing around her lips. Besides him, the stevedore sucked his teeth and muttered something. Again, he sensed that perceptible lull in laughter and conversation as the girl entered the hallway and came straight to him.
“Hi,” she said.
“Hi…” She smelled so good. He could sense the stevedore staring at them, but the sight of the girl, up close, brought back a flood of memories that blotted out everything else. She gave his hand a brief, intimate squeeze, then went to the bar. He watched her order a beer and cider, turn to give him that smile of secret amusement, then head to the hidden corner where they had sat before.
Besides him, the stevedore expelled his breath. “I ain’t know that you know she.”
“Yeah,” ah know she…” Let him figure what that meant.
“Everybody up here want that thing, but she only making styles, like she too good fuh the men up here.” He lowered his voice. “They say she hustle on ships. Ah wouldn’t doubt it. With them looks, she would make good money.”
Michael felt something contract in his stomach…tried to push the emotion away. What else had he expected? What else did he think she was? Why this feeling of jealousy? And why was he angry? She was nothing to him. He’d already decided that this was the last time.. But should he even go to her? Shouldn’t he just leave?
But when he slid into the bench next to her and put his hand on her thighs, all he could think of was going to her room. This time, they stayed less than a minute at the table before he was following her down the corridor, even as he thought is this real, is this really happening, why me, why me. This time, they undressed near the door. For an instant, the odd thought hit him that he had done this before, in another place, but then she clasped him and all thoughts fled…
When she finally woke him around three a.m., he told her that he would have to be away for two weeks. As he spoke, still lying in bed, he felt an ache of loneliness that surprised him.
She was silent for a moment, then she said: “I will wait for you.”
But would she? Could she? The images of her with strange seamen came to him, along with the young stevedore’s words: They say she hustle on ships…
Her name, whispered with shameless despair, popped out before he could stop himself.
The girl was watching him now. He felt his face grow hot with shame.
The girl stroked his face. “What is the matter Mi-kal?”
The note of concern in that lilting voice sent an ache through him. He yearned to tell the girl of his (jealousy?) —concerns, but he checked himself with the thought that he was behaving like an ass.
“Nothing,” he said. His voice was light, controlled. “Just wondering…”
“Wondering…what?” The gentleness was still there, but he sensed another emotion now; a certain watchfulness.
“Just wondering…” He searched for a way to find out more about the girl without appearing to be an inquisitive, jealous fool. “Just wondering how long you up here.”
Again, that guarded, watchful tone, and he wondered if he had violated some unwritten prostitute-customer code. Why not just tell her how he felt? But how could he, when he himself didn’t know?
Suddenly she smiled; that smile that hinted at some secret knowledge. She stroked his face again.
“Mi-kal, when the time is right, you will know all about me.” She began to stroke his chest, and he thought he heard her add: “And you will know about you…”
That night was the beginning of the bad dreams. He was tired, in a way that he couldn’t recall ever being. He caught a taxi by the Stabroek Market, mumbled his destination, and slept until the driver woke him at the Aubrey Barker Street bridge that led to his home.
He’d gone straight to bed without bothering to change, or put down the mosquito net that would keep off the feasting swarms that came from the cane fields behind neighbouring South Ruimveldt. He knew that he would not be getting up to work out or study.
Then the dreams had begun.
The first one was downright strange and almost funny. He was at the top flat of the Ministry, and some sort of party was in progress. There were streamers hung across the room, and a straggly string of fairy lights. There was a strange mix of people he knew. There was Changlee, the Transport Officer; there was Cheryl, Willo’s secretary; Smithy and Braff were skanking near the stereo to Third World’s Tribal War; there was Jakes, a clerk, wearing a jersey with the words Disco music is my heartbeat, under a picture of Donna Summer.
The stevedore from the Ritz was leering at a prostitute and saying, now and again to Michael: “They like high-colour men, dread; they like high-colour men baadd.”
And sitting, stark naked on Willo’s table, was The Lady.
She was a thin, white-skinned, white haired woman of about sixty…seventy…a hundred…he couldn’t quite tell. Even her lips were white; the skin on them peeling as if she was recovering from some illness. She was smiling at him in a way that he didn’t want to interpret.
One of those thin hands was between her thighs, which were clasped modestly together….
He awoke, sucked his teeth, turned over on his stomach and slept again—and he was running down Sheriff Street, in the vicinity of the seawalls. This was his favourite street for jogging. But he wasn’t jogging now. Something was chasing him. He knew that it was some sort of man-thing-cannibal that ate the entrails of children. He knew, without looking, that the thing behind him was squatty and had a large, ugly mouth, and was wearing some loincloth-thing, and its feet were turned backwards. It ran easily, even as it balanced a huge wicker basket that snapped open and shut, because it was alive and part of the creature chasing him.
He ran with open mouth to inhale more oxygen. He tried to lengthen his strides, but his legs felt hung on wrong. He knew that the thing was closing in. He thought of running into one of the yards along Sheriff Street, but he knew that the thing would catch him before anyone could open their doors for him.
Suddenly, a few yards ahead, he saw a narrow corner to his right. Somehow, he knew that it led to Grandmother Hazel’s home, even though she lived across the river in Bartica. Grandmother Hazel knew about these things, and she would help him, even though she was dead, and upset at him, and he could hear her fretting, far away, that he shouldn’t have gone through the door.
Desperately, he pumped his arms, and in his haste, he overshot the corner. He turned. The thing was closer now. Whimpering, he stumbled back to the corner. But now he was on a grassy track that was flanked by moko-moko trees and bamboos. He could hear Grandmother Hazel, saying somewhere, “No Mikey-boy, no, not here! It tricked you! Hide quickly!”
He saw a small gap in the trees. It was wide enough for him. He dived in.
A cry stuck in his throat as he found himself sinking into thick, undulating swamp. He tried to grab at the bank, but the swamp-mud clung to him, dragging him down and covering him waist-deep. He cried out as something wriggled on his right arm. He looked down at his hands and screamed silently. Hundreds of black leeches clung to his skin. Desperately, he plucked at them, but his fingers slid off the wriggly, blood-fat things, which now bit into his hands, his neck, his face, his suddenly naked body—
He awoke, trembling. His clothes were sticky with sweat. He felt a familiar prickling at his left arm.
Gasping, he slapped at his arm. He felt something pulp beneath his fingers. A pungent odour stung his nostrils. He sprang to his feet, groped for the light-switch near his head. His heart pounded as he stared in disbelief at the things that crawled sluggishly on his sheet…
Where the hell had they come from? Had he somehow brought them in from the old hotel? What would his mother say if she saw them? Then he was killing them, crushing them between the sheets to avoid smearing his fingers.
Afterwards, he lay in bed, remembering the dreams, and thinking of the bed-bugs, the worrisome bedbugs, and remembering what his long-dead great grandmother had once told him about bed-bugs and other strange insects suddenly appearing in clean homes…
The dreams that had tormented Vibert Sealey, during his disastrous trip to Kamarang, returned on the same night that he stood outside the old Ritz Guest House and smelled the girl’s perfume.
In them, it was always night, and something would be chasing him up those twisting hotel stairs. Sometimes it would be a now-dead, eyeless Johnny Perreira, who had stabbed him in the Ritz so long ago; in other dreams, it was the crippled hunter from Kamarang.
Part of his reluctance to check at the Ritz was the fact that it held too many memories. The other reason was that it bothered him that the girl that he had searched so long for, might have chosen a place that was tied to his past, as if playing some secret and sadistic game with him.
He knew that was silly. She couldn’t know of Josephine. That would have happened before she was born; before the Ritz was burned to the ground and a Chinese businessman rebuilt it. But the things that had happened at Kamarang had made no sense, either. Some of these things had made him stop seeing life as merely black and white, and that new way of seeing things made him return to the Ritz.
The possibility that the girl might be there had seemed remote when he climbed the stairs. He felt none of the unease he had anticipated. Actually, he was feeling a bit foolish as he looked at the sprinkling of customers sitting at the wooden tables, while a drunk near the punch-box waltzed by himself to Ben-E King’s Stand By Me. Vibert Sealey hesitated at the top of the stairs, thinking that there was no way that the girl could be part of this crowd. The men here, he sensed, were mostly small-money chaps. Of the women he saw, only two—a slim, fair-complexioned one, and a dark one with a low afro on a small, well-shaped head—looked as if they could have held their own in the gold-bush. The rest looked too old.
But again, that insistent voice whispered, Just the sort of place to hide in.
He headed over to the bar, and ordered a Banks beer and the barman dug a bottle out of an ancient freezer. He handed the opened beer and change to Sealey, then stared enquiringly as Sealey remained at the bar.
Sealey hesitated for a moment, then leaned closer. “Ah…I looking for a girl…a good-looking, Amerindian girl about twenty-one…twenty-two. I think she come up here a couple of times.”
The barman gave him a long stare, perhaps gauging whether Sealey was trouble. Then he said: “You mussie talking about Lucille…”
Sealey took a deep breath to control the pounding in his chest. He shook his head. “Lucille…nah. The girl I looking for call herself Carmelita.”
The barman pondered for a moment, scratching at his beard. “Nah…no woman name Carmelita doan come up here, especially with that description—” He broke off as a thick, dark-skinned woman wearing a pair of tight red pants and black, armless jersey handed him a plastic bowl. The barman’s eyes shifted to Sealey, then to the woman.
The woman placed the bowl on the counter. “Yeah?”
“You know any Amerindian girl name Carmelita that does come up here…about twenty…twenty-one?” He gestured at Sealey. “This chap here asking.”
The woman, who had been watching Sealey out of the corner of her eye, turned fully to him. Sealey observed the routine that had grown familiar to him from Georgetown, to Bartica, to Kurupung…the bold stare, the flick of eyes that quickly scanned his gold chain, his Seiko watch, his light-brown, low-cut Clarks.
The barman butted in just as Abby was about to speak to Sealey. “But you know that description sound just your friend Lucille? —You think it could be she?”
Abby sucked her teeth. “She look like twenty-one to you?”
She turned back to Sealey. “They got a highfalutin, no-nation bitch that renting a room up hay. But she is about twenty-eight, twenty-nine…”
“Ow, Abby, she ain’t so old.” There was a mixture of amusement and consternation in the barman’s voice. The most she could be is twenty-four, twenty-five.”
“You must say so, Desmond. You and all dem men up here get stupid when you see a woman with lil high-colour…”
Sealey watched them, his beer forgotten. He’d heard this conversation, just a month ago, from the lips of a now-dead prostitute…
“…renting room at the top-top flat like some lady, and yet she doing the around-the-world for them ship-men.”
“The barman laughed. “Just because you can’t get threads like the woman?” He thrust out a hairy arm and made a mock grab at Abby. “Ah want to burn you outta that red pants you always wearing.”
“You say she renting a room. She’s here now?” Sealey asked, but already knowing she wasn’t, because he wasn’t feeling her presence.
Later, Sealey drank his beer and waited to see if the girl named Lucille would show up. But the girl didn’t make an appearance, so he didn’t get to know that night whether Lucille and Carmelita were one and same; or why this woman was staying in the same room in which he and Josephine had often stayed —and why, if indeed they were one and the same, she should suddenly seem so much older.
(Taken from the supernatural novel Kamarang by Michael Jordan. Book design and illustrations by Harold Bascom.)
Copies of the illustrated edition of Kamarang will are on sale again this week at Austin’s Book Store.
The author can also be contacted for autographed copies on +592 645 2447 or by email: [email protected])
Kamarang (Kindle and paperback) is also on sale on Amazon
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