After midnight mass Papa’s yard would be bright with lanterns and flambeaux and warmed by the blazing fire over which a huge pot of meat was stewing. The women with their many-coloured madras worn proudly like crowns would be busy loading the table in the middle of the front room of the house with bottles of sorrel and ginger beer and rum and whisky. At this time of the year, no self-respecting family was without plenty for neighbours and visitors. As for the children, they would be out of bed and in the way of everyone. The musicians would be settling themselves in a corner of the house ; then, in their own good time, the chantwelle and the musicians would begin to call out « Vive la Rose ! » because they belonged to the society of la Rose and they had always been loyal to the Roses. They would respond to the chantwelle’s sung challenges to the rival society of la Marguerite with fervour and with joyous shouts of triumph. Vive la Rose ! And they would dance the old dances until
they were hungry. And later they would all gather around the wooden steps that led down into the yard and everyone would grow quieter as the violon wailed sweetly and sadly. And as they gazed into the leaping flames of the wood fire, deep within them the music would make their hearts soft and yearning for what they couldn’t say. Then Mama would call to Papa who sat among the musicians with the shac-shac on his lap : « Eh bien Papa, when you was youth, you had hear your grandpapa talk about when TiJean had leave the home of his mother and go and look for his brothers and had to swim the big sea ? »
And everyone would call to Papa, « Oui, oui Papa, quittez l’histoire dit, » let the story tell, and they would sit even nearer together. Papa would say, with a wide grin and a tremendous flourish of the long shac-shac : « Eh bien messieurs, mesdames, e dit kreek » and they would shout happily into the night, « Krak ! » and for the next few hours before daybreak the old contes and songs, the stories and histories of these ancient scattered people would fill the small dirt yard. Ti Jean and his adversaries, Compere Lapin and his tricks, the real history of the village and its long-dead characters, familiar spirits of good and evil, they would all move among the shadows that lurked outside the edges of the protecting firelight. The children, now afraid to go to sleep, would move closer to the skirts of their mothers as boloms and soucouyants and cloven-footed old men of dark forests shrieked and screeched and howled outside the hibiscus and croton hedges that encircled the yard.
At another festival once, they had heard a stranger, a wandering drum-maker, tell of one he called Org. He had spoken suddenly from his dark corner and when the people expressed ignorance, no one had heard speak of Org, he had gone on to speak intensely and in a low sharp-edged voice of this mysterious person : it was certain that everyone had to meet him some day.
« Ah, Org, c’est Basil, » someone said confidently.
« Non, is not Basil, is not la mort. But a man can die when he meet Org. Man, woman or child can see Org. Mais no one else see him but you. When a man meet Org, that man can die or he can disappear. Org does make a man change. Some get better. Some get worse. Non! Org not God or the Saviour or the Devil ! But Org can appear a beast. Org can be creature, or Org can be human being. »
« M’sieu, ou ka parler bêtise ! Is stupidness you talking ! »
« Listen ! » The stranger ignored the interruption. « Org can live around a man all his life. Org can be part of your living. You, all your life, see this other person. A person as far as you knowing, with a life, a family, a job, toute bagai, everything. But one day, you will discover that is only you ever know this person. One day you will know, you will not guess, you will know this is Org. Appearing in front of you. And you will never be the same ! »
The people were silent. The night was full of snapping fire, the cracking wood, the smell of stewed meat, the insistent cacophany of all the insect sounds and the far-off barking, barking, ceaseless barking of someone’s dog. The people wanted to be nearer to each other, but Org stood between them.
Finally a voice said, a little too loudly : « M’sieu Tambou, Mister drum-maker, peut-être c’est ou qui c’est Org-là. Maybe it is you who is Org. »
The people laughed. Several comments were heard. Papa called the stranger to come and get some rum and some more meat. The short, fat red-skin man came forward into the light, fixing his hat on to his head and looking slyly at everyone, with his large protruding eyes. Then everyone wanted something to eat or drink and soon they were beginning to leave for their nearby homes as the dark night slowly began to turn purple and dawn lit the tops of the humped hills.
They never saw that stranger again, but the new spirit of Org had arisen out of their hearts to take his place among the other heroes of this dispersion. Who he was, no one could exactly say, but the mystery of him made young and old a little more thoughtful in their lives.
Each man who heard the story of Org knew it was truth. A great private question was answered that had brooded unasked in his spirit. He began to look for the coming of Org. He understood better now the strangeness that had come upon many of them for many generations. God, the Saviour, the Devil and Death were known and respected. But Org ? Who really was he ? An answer out of a dark abyss at the bottom of which growled and snarled the unknown statement of their deepest troublings. So familiar and yet mysterious. Mysterious as he was, or perhaps because his mystery was his power, he established a firm rule over the festival fires and the moonlit yards and the wakes for their dead.
Tison closed the door of the apartment quietly. He stood on the third storey veranda looking up at the stars. Over the roofs opposite he could see the lights of ships and small yachts in the harbour. He watched the lighthouse beam flash regularly into the distant clouds. It was about one o’clock. Except for the occasional car or distant barking dog, it was quiet. Below, the street was deserted.
Tison felt good. Marcia was snoring softly when he slipped out. A short note to say he loved her, a kiss on the closed eyes. Yes, that was the way to treat a woman. Treat them good. Love them good. With little gifts, little notes, little surprises, a man kept a woman under control. Yes. It was an art. He felt proud that he had taught himself well.
He wasn’t yet ready to go to the small comfortable house he rented just outside the town. It was still early. He would go up to the ghetto yard a couple of streets away where there would be people and reggae music and good herb. And maybe that Rasta daughter he had been keeping an eye on would be there. He felt in the mood for that kind of company. Tonight he felt sharp and in control. Yes, Tison was feeling good.
He moved quickly now, happily, eagerly, down the several flights of stairs and into the street. In the cool night, he tucked himself warmly into his tight dark-blue denim jeans and jacket, pulled his closed-neck sweater up around his throat, drew his red beret close over his hair, trying for the Che Guevara effect. His high heels loud against the pavement gave him a feeling of power. His long slim legs made large strides past the small doll-like houses and late-night bars. He tucked his hands deep into his pockets and glanced often at his smooth dark baby-faced handsomeness in the glass windows of the uptown stores.
The yard was off a narrow alleyway and as he turned into the alley from the main road, he was hailed by the youths who lounged along its length. He was popular here. He played the music they liked on his afternoon programmes. The smell of herb was everywhere and several youths approached him with their long flat tins, offering the best of Columbian or Jamaican or local weed. He walked jauntily on towards the yard, humming the music of Bob Marley’s latest album that played very loudly from a nearby house. He moved with the certain ease of a popular man, smiling at everyone and greeting many by name.
He turned to the right off the alleyway now, went through a high wooden gate between two houses and passed into the large enclosed yard. Several groups and individuals were scattered around. From a huge stereo speaker reggae dub music throbbed. Tison bought some joints from his favourite pusher, then settled near one of the groups to smoke and listen to their conversation. It was a mixed group of Rastamen and others and talk ranged from police brutality to the quality of the herb to the latest reggae tunes. Tison felt warm with sympathy for their causes. He enjoyed being here with them. He enjoyed their admiration.
He pulled deeply on his second joint and began to look around for the young Rasta girl. His feeling of well-being and self-satisfaction was increasing and he began to think that he would seek out the girl, buy enough herb and invite her up to his house. He saw her sitting by herself on a small bench, her back against the high concrete wall that encircled the yard. Her eyes were closed, hands folded in her lap.
« Hail, daughter, » he said, settling near her, smiling.
She opened her eyes and turned slowly to look at him.
« Hail, man, Meester Dee Jay. Iree ? » She smiled slowly and he thought how truly black and beautiful she was. Dimples were deep in her cheeks.
« Yes-I » , he drawled, offering one of the joints, lighting it with his small lighter.
« Thanks-I » She did everything slowly and deliberately. A wave of tender emotion swept over him. She was nice.
She sucked on the joint appreciatively. « Some good local in the yard tonight, » looking at the joint, holding in the smoke, and then, long and wreathed in smoke, « Praise Jah. »
Praise Jah, daughter, leaning back against the wall, climbing with the herb to move in glowing, warm fantasies and visions, with her beautiful at the centre. He glanced through the sweet smoke at her face, strong, dark and beautiful under her red, gold and green tam, and began to think of how he could speak the invitation to his house. From where he sat, he could see her strong thighs and firm good legs thrust out from the bench and he wanted very much to stroke their strong black beauty.
She passed her joint to him and he could see her young firm breasts move freely under her bodice.
Tison began to talk about how he didn’t like this Babylon city and in fact did she know that he was from the country he only came here to get the white man schooling and because he didn’t like the shitstem that was why he lived outside the shitty, where it was like the country. Yes, he was roots. He described his fruit trees and told her about the ital vegetables growing in the kitchen garden of his landlady and how quiet and cool it was up there and how he enjoyed living by himself where he could smoke and meditate and read his Bible in private without anybody to disturb him. She must come`and visit his yard sometime.
« Yes-l, » she agreed, she must do that sometime. « Yes-l, some herb, some ital, some music, that was all the I needed to praiseJah and live in inity and peace and love. Yes-I. Praise Jah. »
She rolled some herb of her own and as they smoked again, him feeling most irey now, and speaking with great enthusiasm and joy, he said, as if suddenly inspired, Look, it was still early, why didn’t they take a walk and go up to his house now, it wasn’t far, he had his stereo, some tapes with his best patois programmes, plus Bob’s latest LP, also he had ital food, they could cook a jot, and they could get some more herb, he had the dunza, so if she wanted, they could go up now.
She turned to him. Slow. She looked directly into his eyes, red now and heavy-lidded from the herb. He suddenly felt uncomfortable and terribly exposed. At the same time, he became very aware of a group of bare-headed Rastamen standing silently near them. And when she laughed, her teeth white in her dark face, he was certain she was mocking him.
« Another night, Meester Dee Jay man. Not dis time. » Too quickly he stammered something about it being all right, it was cool, cool, don’t dig nutten. And when one of the young Rastamen, hair long and thick around his head and shoulders came up to speak to her, ignoring him completely, he began to feel threatened. When she moved off with the Rastaman, not saying anything to him again, Tison felt as if the whole yard knew what had happened between him and the girl.
He sat by himself for a while, everything now falling rapidly into confusion, the heavy bass of the nearby music now unbearably loud and him whirling in his head feeling hurt, rejected, vexed with himself. He didn’t want to smoke again, but he tried to keep a cool front and dragged on the joint in his slow, superior manner.
Tison left the yard when he felt enough time had passed. As he went by a group outside the gate, they laughed, and he was sure they were laughing at him. The alleyway was deserted now, except for the pushers watching everyone carefully who entered or left the yard. No one hailed him. He put his head down and walked quickly towards the main road.
All his well-being was gone now. The happy high had left him and he began to feel more and more afraid. It was the nameless fear of a bad trip. He recognised it. It seemed as if everything he heard and saw was against him. Snippets of conversation seemed to be aimed at him.
Signs all seemed to carry a message especially for him. Words leaped up from scraps of newspaper at his feet. Judgement was all around.
A cold sweat broke out over his body. His heart began to miss beats. The scene with the girl gnawed at his mind and was at the centre of his confused emotions. He tried achingly to find his way back to the earlier calm. Should he go back to Marcia’s ? He stopped on the sidewalk, feeling a great indecision. No, he wanted only to get home now. His home was safe and he could sleep off his bad high.
Tison took the road on the outskirts of the town that would lead him directly home. It was a dark road, with street lamps at long intervals, not much used at this time of night. He was the only person on it now. But it was the shortest way home. He began to move quickly. He tried to focus his mind on something definite : he tried to go over his conversation with the girl, rationalising that it wasn’t as much of a rejection as he had first imagined, that no one had really heard them and furthermore he was only inviting her to listen to some programmes. He saw her legs again, thrust out from the bench, smooth, firm and dark. He walked more briskly. Her laughter and her abrupt departure left him empty within, hurt and ashamed.
His mind felt like a deep hole into which everything was falling and he couldn’t fix anything at all. He couldn’t concentrate on anything. The irrational fear beat its way inside his stomach.
Tison was now about half-way up the road. At the approaching bend that turned on a small bridge it was the darkest part. After this it was well lit all the way to his house. He wanted to be inside, the door shut behind him. He hurried towards the bridge, anxious to be past it. He fought off the paranoia that filled his head with frightening thoughts and made him stumble. A couple of times he looked back to make sure no one was following him.
He let out a sharp involuntary squeal when he heard the sudden noise out of the darkness ahead. He felt his hair crawl across his scalp. His heart lurched painfully and he stopped.
Demonic creatures of all shapes raced through his mind. The long-shut doors of childhood memory were flung open and all the ghosts of dark nights beyond firelight yards rushed out, screaming and cackling.
The sound came again, more loudly, more different from anything he had ever heard. Tison began to whimper in his throat for God. He knew he was utterly terrified. Part of his mind realised he was near the bridge, over the edge of which was a deep ravine. He broke wind. He groaned and trembled in the chill of his sweat. The girl’s face and mocking laughter flashed clear before his eyes. The dreadlocks who had gone off before with her was now waiting with a cutlass near the bridge. That must be it. Why wasn’t he more careful, he regretted with all his heart. And old women with the bodies of beasts and peeling skins chattered through his tortured consciousness.
Despairingly, he turned around to run fast. But suddenly a hand with claws that scratched his neck hard took hold of the back of his collar and dragged him down. He knew he was screaming. He could not hear himself. He felt his body pressed against the edge of the stone bridge and then he was lifted and slammed a number of times on it until he lay terror-shocked and still. His head was over the ravine far below and he could hear the water of the small stream flowing through it. His face was cold. His teeth chattered uncontrollably. His face was wet with tears.
The hand with the claws pulled at him again, and somewhere behind it the terrifying noise increased. He slumped over to lie on his back, his face to the stars and to the moonlight just now edging over the tall, dark, creaking bamboo trees.
Tison saw everything from a long way off now, far through the pain and fears and the herb that still whirled around in his head and his stomach, far through the voices and absurd scenes clear in his eyes and the jingles from his radio show.
In the whitening night he now saw over him (with a far, absolute incomprehension) one of the town’s well-known derelicts, Fanto, naked as night, eyes wide and unseeing, spittle foaming at the mouth, straddling him : Fanto, slobbering and muttering incoherently, tearing at his throat with both hands, and from far away, but still too close, with a strange and absolute clarity, Tison observed : in Fanto’s face a horrible fullness of mad lust, fixed, no more man : beast, crazed, depraved utterly : he heard the mocking laughter of the girl again and saw her smooth black legs and he felt Fanto’s tongue obscenely slaking his mouth : and he saw Marcia’s face, eager, mouth open, eyes shut, labouring : and his whole soul and mind and body revolted and drew themselves together inside of him for one almighty puke but he could not move : and he felt Fanto tighten his legs around him all the time chattering through his dribbling, toothless mouth : and he saw the dimpled backside of Joan the
pilot’s wife and heard the giggling of Margaret the high school student and his mouth and nose and eyes and ears were filled with the stench and stink and slobbering and wheezing of Fanto : and Tison remembered himself. And he screamed down through his soul for the horror of himself and when Fanto stretched frantically along his body and began to flail on him with his head and arms and Iegs and belly, Tison left it all far away and tried to die but he couldn’t and he realised, at last, that he had met his Org.
Papa sat looking through the window into the yard, while Mama busied herself with breakfast. Papa watched his son pause over the fork he was pressing down with his foot into the small kitchen garden, and look up to the great mountain La Sorcière whose top was covered with mist today. The young man’s locks were almost down to his shoulders now and as Mama stopped for a moment by her husband to look at her son, she sighed again as she had so many times in the past months.
« But why the boy have to do that to himself, eh Papa, tell me. We sacrifice to give him a good schooling in town, he get a good job in town, everybody know him, and he leaving it to turn Rasta and come back here to say he diggin’ garden. »
She sucked her teeth in annoyance.
« Eh, Papa. And you wouldn’t speak to him. Make him stop that stupidness. Everybody saying he mad, is something they do him, a intelligent boy like that. »
Papa poured himself some water from the clay goblet. He drank deeply before he spoke.
« Mama, I tell you already. The boy not mad. Leave the boy.’ »
He looked out to where his son was turning the earth again.
« Is so it is when a man knowing himself. Not all reach man the same. »
He leaned on the window and looked up to the top of the mountain.
« Some never reach. Some never reach. »
Mama sucked her teeth again and returned to the kitchen muttering. One of the children ran into the house crying and Papa lifted her up. « OK, doodoo, what happen, eh? »
« Papa, Papa, brother say that if I don’t go away from him and the others, he will call Org for me. I just want to play with them. But I ‘fraid Org, Papa. »
« Hush, doodoo, hush. Org won’t take you. Hush. » Papa looked out to where his son had just pushed the fork firmly into the ground and had flung his green shirt over his shoulder. He came to the window and told Papa that he was going up to the hills.
Papa watched him stride away on his long legs.
The child called out, « Rasta, you not ‘fraid Org take you when you go in the hills? » The young man did not turn around.
Papa said : « Hush child, hush. » Papa thought : « My son meet Org already. Maybe now he going to meet God. »
He held the child in his arms as Mama came out with a saucepan in her hand to stand by him and they watched their son walk slowly down the path, go through the gate in the hibiscus hedge, the flowers bright red in the early light, and move towards the hills.
John Robert Lee is a St. Lucian writer who has published several collections of poetry. His short stories and poems can be found in many journals and international anthologies. These include Facing the sea (1986), The Penguin Book of Caribbean Verse (1986), The Faber Book of Contemporary Caribbean Short Stories (1990), The Heinemann Book of Caribbean Poetry (1992) and The Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse (2005).
He has been a long-time regular contributor to local newspapers in which his articles, reviews and columns have appeared. For many years he was very involved in theatre as an actor and director. He directed his own New Day Theatre Workshop in the mid- seventies. He has also worked in radio and television as producer and presenter. He continues to present radio and television interviews, focusing on persons – local, regional and international – involved in the arts and culture.
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