Feel Free to Roam

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Propping Sorrow (Fiction Writing Class)

Part 1

Snickers and slurping, sounds of little molasses tone village girls echoing from the belly of an old cotton tree, nestled in the center of a rundown burial ground. Pale tombs clamber around the trunk of the tree. As though the eerie inhabitants who’ve long been forgotten by their earthly love ones are dying to enjoy the source of the young girls alluring giggles. The girls lily white cotton dresses are adorned with splashes of purple rain drops, dripping from their mouths as they continue to gobble up the sweet tasting ja-moons. An hour ago they were raiding the fruit tree of ‘Old Man Henry’, who lived right opposite the Methodist Church.

After, Sunday school it was customary for the boys and girls to go scaling the fence that separated ‘Old Man Henry’s garden from the church yard. Many Sunday mornings the girls would have their little black plastic bags tucked in their church purses. While the boys would hurry to the fence, rolling up their pants at the knee, making sure it wasn’t snagged by the chain linked fence. It was adorned with broken fragments of soft drink bottles that appeared like shattered pieces of crystals in the golden heat of the mid afternoon sun, if it were not for visible the Coca Cola and Pepsi labels. The shards of bottles were purposefully put in place to deter the children from entering the garden. However, marvelously avoiding any cuts or bruises, the boys would in no time be tormenting the branches and limbs of the fruit trees. The girls would be waiting anxiously to receive the loot and keep an eye out for adults. Soon, they would be down the road, through the back street and out of sight, stuffing their faces with guavas, sweet mouth mangoes and juicy five fingers.

But this particular Sunday Natalie and I managed to squeeze through an opening at the side of Miss Mavis yard which was connected to Old Man Henry’s land. This mission was top secret because of the prize. It was ja-moon season, which is not often, like how the coconuts bear from June to June. ja-moon season only came once a year and before your saliva was dried out by the scorching sun it was gone. Staring at those round globes of purple heaven had us giggling and shuffling nervously between the tall sugar cane bushes near the umbrella shaped cherry tree. Early this morning before church services had started I overheard fast mouth Miss Abrams whispering to Sister Patsy that Old man Henry asked for special prayers after church. Didn’t know what kind of special prayers but the two old farts were laughing up quite a lot. Though special prayers meant Old man Henry would be locked up in the vestibule with the pastor and a few devoted church members four at least an hour. Anyhow, I couldn’t wait to tell Natalie, we had to make use of this golden opportunity. So, in skipping Sunday school that morning we got a head start before the other kids.

Here we were rustling the branches of the ja-moon tree with our Sunday best dresses and not a care in the world. Stuffing our cotton nap sacks and eating at the same time. I tell you you’d had to be there, de old man yard was like a sanctuary, fruits everywhere but we only come fuh one thing, de ja-moon. I was just getting a proper footing on the trunk of the tree when Old Man Henry came shouting;
“you little magga-rats get down from there, isn’t you Shirley Glen granddaughter, come back here I gon tell yah grandmuddah.”
I never felt so much fear in my life, I couldn’t move, I was frozen, staring at the sight of Old Man Henry hopping on his one good knee, cane in hand, rushing to corner us. Much to my surprise though Natalie had already dropped her Nap sack, and dashed through the opening unto the other side. She was screaming for me to get out of there. But all I couldah think now was how I gon keep myself from shitting my underwear and escaping Old Man Henry at the same time.
He nah guh come through here, just run and bore through the old,” shouts Natalie, while holding her gaze on Old Man Henry.

“You run away and lef me, yah lil wretch yuh,” I snarled.

“Look stupidee I deh right here, pass through the hole,” snapped Natalie.

“Look! Look!”

Old man Henry veered off path and made an about turn towards Natalie.

“He coming fuh block de hole, mek a run fuh it now,” yelled Natalie.

“Bruck and scattah! “Bruck and scattah!” cried Natalie again.

Before Old Man Henry could make sense out of nonsense, shoveling his one good foot across the yard, I leaped from the tree, ja-moons flying left right and center, I grab Natalie bag and started charging towards the fence.

“Run he gon ketch yah, runnnnnnnn,” Natalie screamed.

Man a tell yuh I neva run so fast in ma life, like a iguana escaping the menacing chase of hungry school boys, I fly pass Old Man Henry. Just as I was about to slip through the fence

“Aye, Ow mi Bamsi,”I squealed.

De man clap a lash pon mi backside but I had no time to deliberate, we took off running through the old pasture and to the burial ground away from Old Man Henry’s house.

Part II

There is not a clear format ever in which we can actually consult on living and living well. Instead, their millions of novels, handbooks and pamphlets from individuals who have managed to discern some idea of what seems to work for them. We have all in some way purchased one of these varying templates on life, in the hopes that they will bring some form of enlightenment, perhaps; change or solve our current circumstances. I am certainly guilty of roaming the lines and verses of biblical doctrines, absorbing the mantras of Mahatma’s Gandhi, mentally scribbling the quotes of Buddhist priest into the deepest spectrum of my cerebrum and exploring the lives of iconic stars. And for a moment I am overwhelmed with this new sense of hope, a reassurance that life is to be enjoyed and it is within its simplicity you can unravel the mantras of happiness.
Yet here I am, imprisoned by tortured thoughts, questioning this idea of life and most importantly its purpose. Less than three weeks ago I was going through yet a normal day of balancing overdue essays and trying to manage my busy schedule on limited time. My phone rang and I totally ignored it because I needed to complete my response on Richard Wright’s poem “Between the World and Me” and I would not be accepting any interruptions. After rushing through the busy streets of Brooklyn, from work, then to classes and finally to work again, I unwind in the humble comforts of my employers futon and decided to check my voicemail. “You have got one new message”, which is not a shocker because of my nonexistent social life. “Candace I have been trying to reach you all day, I didn’t want to leave this on the phone but Natalie is sick and she’s dying, call me”. I would not consider the voice on the other end most reliable under the circumstances. So, I decided to phone my childhood friend, whose studying in Cuba, if Natalie had so much as the sniffles she would know. I dialed the number waiting anxiously for her to answer, a voiced echoed through the receiver but it wasn’t her. Instead, a much more young and childlike female. I said “Goodnight, may I speak to Aneisha please,” after a bout a three minute wait; I heard the familiar voice of an old friend. We swiftly exchanged pleasantries because I was calculating how much my phone company would be stealing from my already shallow pockets. “Aneisha is it true, is Natalie sick, and is she Ok?” "Yes it’s true, Natalie has cancer”. “Cancer how could that be, Cancer!”
I hung up the phone. Apparently, a wart had appeared on her shoulder, where I’m from warts are removed with village remedies such as; attaching a piece of horse hair and it magically drops off or using traditional bush remedies that were passed from mother to daughter. Unfortunately, this did not work for my dear friend and with a credible recommendation, she enlisted professional medical care. The biopsy reported cancer cells in her shoulder.

A week later lying in bed , thinking of nothing in particular, just thankful that it was a weekend and I would finally get to bask in the silken cotton threads of my own sheets and rolling around in my cat hair free plush comforter: instead of that steel cut, stiffened futon at work. I was calm. My mom entered the room and relayed the news that Natalie had pass away yesterday. “I am sorry baby”. I shot up from my bed in alarm of the news that had just shocked my senses and at the same rate I collapsed into bed, saddened but not surprise. Natalie wasn’t doing well, she never responded to the Chemo therapy and refused to eat, it was only a matter of time.
At age twenty-five, less than two weeks away from her twenty sixth birthday, she died. I drifted through the generous times we’ve shared together, as Sunday school girls to teen campers and then young adults. I drifted through the images of the pointless girl fights and misunderstandings. I drifted into the safe space of that old cotton tree, for that moment within that time could hold her tighter or laugh with her a little louder, savor the moments when words such as Hodgkin’s or lymphoma had no hold over her life, just two molasses girls sucking on ja-moons.