A short story by Kesha Peyrefitte
We living in an urban-bush ghetto, so the canal-breathing, London Bridge walking Belize City slickers don’t have to throw salt in our face and tease we with backwards names like ‘bushy’. We have plenty killings in our little village too. South-siders, we hear, call we village, ‘Little South Side’ and shake them head proudly for it’s our village this month that make Belize the third most dangerous country in the world. This month, there were ten murders in we urban bush ghetto; we belly plenty full with all the wake and funeral food. We had a grand time playing feech and commenting on which girl now ripe for the picking.
Me and my best friend Bigs had a hell of a laugh discussing lucky number three under a cohune shed, we name ‘Food Court’, that sell fast food all week round. “You think the tourist magazines go say that in them article? Come to sunny Belize for snorkelling, cave-tubing, zip-lining and a bullet to your brain!”
I chimed. “Maybe they go blog about it.”
Now, know this about my best friend Bigs. They call him Bigs because he easy 6 feet and change tall and he plenty wide too. Some call him Big Black since he as black as he big. Nobody think to cross him ‘cause he could crush you like a concas.’ And is probably them same big hands that get him plenty females. I see the way he do it. He go in for the kill, by leaning him face in and soon, he rope in the girls and they eating out his hand, laughing like is the first time they flirting.
Bigs drop out of primary school. He failed the P.S.E and he agreed with his mother that it no worth the hassle to find new school uniform that he always grow out since he go fail the exam again anyway. I still in school, just in case you wondering. I been scraping dog ever since pre-school and making the 70’s and just enough for passing. My mother say I not applying myself. My grandmother say my mother wasting money on me; my uncle say is because I think I am man, hanging out with street boys and my father say I take after my Ma’s side of the family. I say them all just a pain in my ass so that as soon as I come home, I go to Bigs’ house where we sit on a piece of cement foundation that was to be his room until his mother died of a heart condition. She was the fighter of the family so Bigs still sleeping on the big sofa in the living room.
Bigs pa is a cool guy. Maybe too cool. Bigs pretend him don’t exist and both fend for themselves and only talk when it’s time to chip in to pay the water and electricity bills. Them still bathing outside and shitting in outside toilet. But I don’t care. It’s my favourite place. I go there as soon as I catch the government free bus, reach home, pull off my uniform and change into home clothes.
We urban-bush ghetto come to pass because of the government opposition and is a reason them lose too. The last no-good representative we got, got plenty woman pickni pregnant and all the while, neglecting his ministerial duties. When election soon come, he decide to use government coppers to cut up land in our village that used to own by Chiney man. Then, instead of giving land to the villagers, he bring in South-siders who he claim clean up them act and want to make a fresh start. Of course, for them to get their land title, they had to transfer them votes and vote for him. Of course, the only thing they clean up was their house spot. As for the fresh start, it was to sell the coke and ganja to fresh costumers like Bigs.
I agree with the old-schoolers of this urban bush ghetto. Is good that the wuthless politician lose; hope he know now not to try fool the Belizean electorate. Ever hear of Braa Possum?
These new timers from Belize City know good, though. They know good not to cross the Skinners. They born crazy, every last family member and is them who run this urban-bush ghetto. They live on an estate compound like any of the big-time drug dealers in them shottaz movie. The place look like royalty live there and why not? Everyone worship the Skinners because they could get a hands-out from Old Man Skinner when they can’t get from the politicians. Even the politician them use the Skinners for campaign finance. And what the Skinners do but own the loyalty of the people, the under-paid police, and the politicians who turn enough blind eyes?
The Skinners know they royalty but I guess them want every Belizean to know because their name always in the headlines and fattening lawyers’ pocket in the process. They have a cattle dynasty that includes owning too many heads of cattle to count, a meat shop and a gas station. But they like to show that they kings even though they not wearing no crowns. They take less than nothing to shoot you and they get away with it because they own the police and politician.
Robert Skinner is the uncrowned prince. He only have one hand and so they call him One-Hand Skinna. Legend say Robert cut off his own hand at the meat shop for the insurance money and call it an “accident”. You thinking that go stop Robert from running things? No, Sir. He is still the uncrowned prince and if he give you something, he expecting something in return, like your loyalty. If he believe you cross him, he go cross you out. As easy as your name written on a piece of paper, with a line through it that he draw, you go disappear. The media will question a disappearance for a day and the police go investigate for less than that because is Robert who run this urban-bush ghetto and his reach is wide as the sky.
When Bigs didn’t go back to school that September, he started working for the Skinners. I was frightened for my friend. Is Robert who recruited him. Bigs could stop plenty man or boy in them tracks and I guess that’s what Robert figured. Bigs works in the field and by that I mean in the marijuana fields. Bigs showed me his gun once and only once. “Robert tell me to shoot on spot. Bang-head like to thief from the plantations, see.” Then, Bigs commenced telling me about people who went missing from the village and how he suspected the Skinners that behind the disappearances and other things--like burials in shallow graves. I told Bigs to stop. My belly was feeling like a shit. He told me school got me soft. But he stopped his stories and didn’t laugh. He only smiled a little, half-way, something between sad and amused.
So that’s why Bigs is like the biggest person, literally, in my life. He don’t push an issue or push anything like cigarette or weed on me. Is he who I come complain to when my family making my life seem like I living in Earth-hell.
They have other boys that hang at Bigs’ house too. Plenty wine is always there from sorrel, to Jack-fruit, to ginger, blackberry, cassava, or anything that Bigs Pa could turn to wine that he could drink from and sell the rest that left over.
So, on a common day you go find me there first. Then, Josho go stroll in. He is half-Spanish. Bigs joke with him and tell him he is spoil breed and Josho tell him, “Like your granny” and we all laugh. Then Marty walking fast fast towards Bigs house under a ball of speed like is something he need to tell us bad. But is only his walking and just so you have an idea of Marty, he look like an ant-eater and he like lady bad. Bigs say, “What you expect? His father have fifteen pikni with his mother and probably another fifteen with fifteen more lady from we village to La Ceiba, Honduras.” Last come Mr. Sweet-Pepper Nose. He more out of the gang than in. He turn security guard, get cheap with him money, have a steady girl and he stop wearing whites behind his ears. Bigs is like all we big brother even though he only as old as me. He understand things and help we to understand things too.
Here is my family portrait. There is me. I look like Denzel and it’s from school, to home, to Bigs every day for me. I not even that interested in girls. Now before you start thinking you is funny by thinking I is funny man, I straightening things out now. I like gyal but just not the ones in my village. At one of the wakes, I was more sober than nice-up and a girl was rubbing on my shoulder. When she went to the bathroom, Marty tease me that I no go make a move and I tell him I go show him who name man. I was sweating after that, trying to figure out what I would do. It was not that I didn’t like her but I didn’t like her enough and she had a reputation that didn’t sit well with me. I gave her five dollars, the money for school the next day. I told her if Marty asked her what we do to tell him she suck my stick. She said, “Hell no!” I had to give her another two dollars in shillings. Sudden-one, she kissed me and I kissed back. The next morning, I woke up Bigs to borrow the money from him to go to school. By the time I stroll in from school the next day, Marty there saying that the bloody girl is about the village saying she no-teeth grand-pa kiss better than me. You see why I say I don’t like these bush girls? They real un-sophisticated, I tell you.
I go tell you too about me grandma. Me and she is like oil and water. She call me ‘good for nothing’ in front of my face and I call her ‘that long-lip one’ behind her back. All men, and force-ripe lee boys she don’t like and that include me and my father. Another of her favourite subjects is this younger generation that no go amount to nothing good. She say we go cause the end of the days and she quote Revelations. Is like she think all young people from all parts of the world will plan a day and decide to just burn up everything, so the world will indeed end in fire.
Ms. Burrows, my music teacher laughs and says it’s something called generation gap and I say, “Well, if it’s the gap between my grandmothers’ only two teeth in her mouth, then it’s a hell of a thing generation gap is.”
I plenty musically-inclined, from ever since and yet the government cutting the music elective next year. My grandmother used to tell my mother to shut me up but I would still be drumming on upside-down bucket and making my own instruments like drums and shaka. I worked one summer picking up garbage in Belmopan and took nearly all the money to buy a guitar. The lady turn blue because I should have given the money to the house. Then, there was 2 Pac who I discovered and discovered he wrote poetry by way of a book Ms. Burrows gave me for coming in first in her class. Is only her class I don’t scrape dog in. 2 Pac lyrics spoke to me and I would rap his lyrics and my own to Bigs. Bigs never done until he bought me a 2-Pac poster. The next day, my grandmother tear-up the poster. We quarrelled. She said it was her wall and I said her name wasn’t on it and she never nail a nail anywhere in the house. She threatened that she go nail my mouth shut. I ask her, “And with which army?” And told her to come if she think she hot. She stone me with her rubber slippers and told me I’m no good and I come from a no-good generation.
Miss Burrows encourages me and tells me that the world is in good hands with this generation, the generation from before and the generation that coming up. She tells me to be more understanding of my grandmother.
How could I be more understanding of my grandmother when she quotes the Bible plenty and still buy boledo every night and complain things haad? She talk about the neighbours tea, dinner and tea but as she see them coming, she get into Aunty Gertrude mode with her, ‘Yes pet’ and, ‘Yes daalin’.
The only things she seems to like are my uncle, who should have moved out of the house already, and my mother’s money. She would want to like my money too if I gave her any from the extra that my father sometimes give me. Last week, I bought some speakers and she had much to say, so I play a song from General Degree, “Granny! Stop hollerin’ out mi name! Granny! You calling mi name in vain!” until she figured I throwing stone. She figured how to work the stereo and when I come home from school one day, Lord Rhaburn was waiting for me with ´The World´s Laziest Man´. I go so raatid, she and I got into it.
“Don’t touch what you no buy.”
“If it was me who shit you out, I would do plenty more than touch you.”
“You shitting out people does explain Winston.”
She took her rubber slippers and stone me. I was already running, on my way to Bigs. She told me to get the slippers and come give her. “Cho!” I yelled back, “Stay right there and wait for that. I’ll get it when the sun don’t shine.” The last thing I hear was, “You no-good son-of-a- bitch!”
Bigs told me to stop aggravating the old woman. If Bigs only know the names she has for him, starting with ‘That big baboon boy.” I told him I didn’t know who I go poison first-her or her sweet son Winston.
This is Winston, my uncle. Real sad you can’t choose your family. You know Winston not too correct in his head from just the way he walk. When he was young, he was fat and slept a lot. My grandmother beat him until she realized the beating not working, just working up scars on him skin. Then, she found out he had a brain tumour and from then, he is the custard apple of her eye because she guilty bad how she used to rail and wale him up.
Winston all the time trying to be normal. But the sickness and medication he still taking make him small like a bird and lengthen him teeth. He laugh sideways and it ain’t like how Elvis smile. The medication make him titty grow too and I plenty glad it’s only cod-liver oil I taking as medication.
Lucky him, the tumour didn’t fry his brain too bad and he became a plumber’s assistant. Now, because he has a trade, he think he is king like Old Man Skinner. He ain’t get paid too bad, don’t drink or smoke like most of the other guys in we urban-bush ghetto. He thinks he so better than the other boys his age because he married and have pikni. When I first tell Bigs the girl’s name because she graduated from the same school I going, Bigs only laugh. I asked, “You know something I don’t know?” But he only laughed more.
I got to know why Bigs laugh, not too long into the marriage. Winston’s wife came into the room when I was playing on my guitar. She took off her towel and I shouted for Jesus. She cussed me and hurry out the room. What you expect? I never know titty could grow so! Next, she started sleeping out, sometimes carrying the pikni that no look nothing like Winston or our side of the family. Then, she finally went missing for months. When she come back, Winston had enough sense to divorce her. There was more room in the house after that.
One Saturday morning, I was meaning to sleep in because I had a hard week at school. I got blamed for doing something I actually did. Even though I did a good job denying it, I still had to serve detentions, for all my effort. Then, my grandmother was into me, with her claws for not getting to the mowing of the yard. We got into it when I suggested she pester her sweet son. Really, I was aiming to wake with the mid-day sun and eat breakfast at two, then mow when the sun was going down, when things mellow and cool.
A wailing noise woke me before the sun decided to show her face. I turned over in bed, hoping I was dreaming. My mother had already left for work by then. But the dratted noise continued. And continued until I had no choice but to see what was the source of the noise to shut it up. I mumbled morning to my grandmother before she started on me about the younger generation not having manners and started with the good-for-nothing comments. I saw my uncle on the veranda as if his chest was one of the first things I needed to see on my day off from school. He was fooling with something I couldn’t see because the door blocked his two hands.
When I stepped on the veranda, I see what causing the whole hullabaloo. Ducks. A Mom and Dad duck and eight small ones.
“What’s that?” I asked Winston, my uncle.
“You blind now?” He was stuffing the ducks into a rat trap.
“Well, they is not rats. What you getting at?”
“I getting at making some money.”
“What you mean?”
“I going sell them to a white lady in Floral Park. She husband work at the embassy and she house like zoo. She got peacock and all sorts of other animals. I mention to her once that wild ducks like to come swimming in Pa well on occasion. She said if that ever happens again to remember her ‘cause she interested in striking a purchase. Gonna make top dollar.”
I immediately felt myself getting hot.
“You remember what happen to the last ducks you caught? They all died out. Every last one of them. They didn’t take to eating anything or you forget?”
“Yes, but the lady won’t know that. And don’t question me, Mr. Audubon Society.” Winston called to my grandmother to have me start with the yard. She ordered me to find something for my stomach and get moving. Out of her earshot I mouthed, “Man no even scratch him balls good and Granny start hollering my name.”
I mowed in fury and it must be with that vexation that I finished the yard before midday. I sat, still raatid under a coconut tree. I drank two coconut and still that didn’t quench the botheration. Marty passed by. I tried to tell him about the ducks and he tried to tell me about a pair of football boots he bargaining to buy; we were both more concerned with our own interest than to think anything of each other’s concerns.
I went in the house after Marty went about his business. The noise didn’t stop. I wasn’t angry at the ducks. I was angry at my uncle for being so comfortable with the idea of having the blood of innocent creatures on his hands. And then I saw the red on the floor and on the cage and I was like a bull too, seeing red. The mommy and daddy duck, on one of them, the wing was bleeding and it even seemed to be bent at an awkward angle. I stormed out the house to the one person I know would understand my anger.
Bigs shook his head and agreed that my uncle was an idiot with an extra serving of simple. He said it was a sad shame for the poor beasts of burden.
“We have to do something.”
“We?” Bigs laughed and stopped when he saw how serious I serious. He was picking his teeth.
“What did you have in mind?” he asked.
“Your Pa still have that wheelbarrow?”
“Yes, if the rain not rust it, through and through.”
“We go need it.”
We two were regular James Bond, getting the birds from the veranda to the wheelbarrow, without the old long lip woman finding out. My uncle was still at work. My grandmother was napping in her room, so it was easy to get to the pasture. We still took care to hurry up, just in case someone go think we looking suspicious and decided to follow us.
It was already late in the evening by the time Bigs repair the old wheelbarrow. We were aiming to take the birds to a safe pond many acres away, on another ranch owned by Robert Skinner himself. Robert owned so many acres of land and it seem to spite everyone that the Earth grow greener and more fertile there, so that all manner of fruit trees flourish in abundance, only to go to waste because Robert never invited anyone to pick the bounty before the birds got to them.
Bigs was supposed to be at Robert’s fields but he changed his mind to come on the duck run. Robert was famous for walking in his pasture with a double barrel over his shoulder. Hearing boom shots from his pastures was common thing; if Robert felt like shooting at the air, he did so. I don’t think he would care too crickets to shoot Bigs for abandoning his post or even me, a good-for-nothing. The adrenaline of moving the ducks was dead in our veins and I looked at Bigs sideways, scared, not speaking a word. As if he read my mind, he smiled at me, winked and we continued on.
We walked on and the evening was cool. The breeze was romancing the leaves on the trees and the shadows were deepening the dark. This was the bush part that was still our village, the old time country living where you have dogs that tie and dogs that stray, where you have chickens, turkey and ducks that can’t stop shit in your yard, where red-bell flowers grow in hedges around yards and Sunday dinner is rice and beans, stew chicken and potato salad. Where there were fruits to stone you with and rivers that run in your backyard, where housewives still grow culantro for soup and beans and March is always kite month. Where neighbours are neighbourly and you can count on finding a Maya artifact when you dig a toilet hole. Where scarlet macaw still jetted the sky in flocks, and the National Bird is at your window, eating the fruits from your trees. We were strolling and enjoying the fresh breeze, the breeze that they say contains the spirits of our ancestors. I had to practically trot to follow Bigs. I was spitting my rap while he bobbed his head like makwala.
After fussing with the ducks, avoiding Skinner’s bulls that use for bull-riding at the Show Grounds, crossing countless barb fences and stopping for fat, juicy May plums, we finally reached the little, round pond. It was a fresh water pond and a spring from underneath the ground supply the virgin water. Robert Skinner didn’t own any cattle or horse on this pasture, so the water looked clear and tantalizing.
We took a look at the birds. The mommy and daddy ducks were ‘exquisite’. ‘Exquisite’ is a big word I learn from Ms. Burrows. I played a guitar piece and she closed her eyes. When I finished she said, ‘Exquisite’. They had chestnut brown and black on them sides. There was yellow around their eyes and pink on their beaks. I took them out of the cage, real carefully, so I didn’t hurt them further. They were still making a riot of a noise.
“Is okay. I will get your babies right now.” Bigs look at me as I talked to the birds like I was doing something wrong. He smiled and continued looking at the little ripples in the pond that eventually turn big like him. The mommy and daddy ducks glided in the water like two expert figure skaters. I turned my attention to the little babies. Oh, they were so cute. They look like big bumblebees with their black and yellow stripes. I petted their fluffy feathers and put them in, one by one. Soon, I found that I was crinkling my nose and looking at them all-loving. Bigs was still smiling. I changed my face expression and said, “What? You know you think them cute too.”
“I didn’t say no.” He was still smiling and soon I smiled too. I sat beside him on the edge of the pond. The duck run was over and the ducks were in order, dipping their beaks in the water and shaking their feathers dry. I wasn’t ready to go home. I was happy there, with nature, the ducks, and my best friend Bigs. I wasn’t ready to be called a good-for-nothing. I thought I’d done something good. I didn’t know what excuse I’d use for the duck run and I wasn’t ready to think of one. I wasn’t half a percent ready to wonder what Skinner would do to Bigs. I wasn’t ready to go back to the ghetto part of we urban-bush ghetto. I wanted to stay in the safety of the shade from the trees that didn’t have gun or a mouth to call us ‘good-for-nothing.”
“When was the last time you see stars like when there’s no electricity?” I asked Bigs.
“It’s been a while.”
Bigs was always a willing pal. We spent the night gazing at the stars, following satellites, wishing on shooting stars and sharing our wishes with each other. I finally told him about the girl I was sugar for. She was about a year older than me. She was the girl who served me breakfast tacos. I swore she made my tacos the juiciest and smiled the broadest with me. Bigs knew her and said she was ‘good thing’. Bigs told me how he planned to escape the Skinners. He would go to Corozal where his uncle would get him a job at the Free Zone. I would lose my brother. I felt sad and then I was happy. At least I could sleep better knowing he not in a ganja farm waiting to get shot by thieves or one of the Skinners. We were alright, Bigs, Marty, me, even Mr. Sweet Pepper Nose. We weren’t good-for-nothing. And maybe, just maybe, we were exquisite.