I take the steps one by one, and walk into the dry dirt at the bottom of the stairs. My bare leg brushes by the lemon grass bush whose leaves we use to make tea. I feel the stinging cut from its sharp leaves, but don’t react.
Instead, I glance at the wood. It had been used to patch up the chicken coop a long time back, so it has nails sticking out from various parts of its used body. I walk past it to look for another, a smaller one maybe.
“Ah say bring that one! Look! Doan try me faith here today!”
“But . . .” I can’t follow that with anything else, I don’t think. My mind is a muddy trench with hidden boulders. I’m drowning in the confusion. Why? Why? Why?
I see my fingers pick up the wood, the one with the nails sticking out from it, into all those different directions.
Maybe she only wants the wood, maybe it’s not to beat me with at all. She won’t beat me with a wood with nails in.
Yeah, she just wants the wood for something else . . .
* * *
She is beating me everywhere, as she chews on her bottom lip. The top of the stable door is open, letting some warm air into the room, which is packed with the furniture from the rest of the house – ‘general cleaning’ stuff. She’s holding in her hands, both hands, a piece of wood which is fatter than my arm. I can hear ‘conk’, ‘conk’ as the wood hits my bony parts and it makes a kind of ‘ta’ sound when it contacts with flesh. I reel over with pain and the pressure of the heavy wood on my body, it pounds on my fingers as I move my skinny arm up to my face.
I’m sure that one, or all of them are broken. The sound’s so loud inside my head. I stumble backwards into the wall, from the sheer force of the hit, and the pain. Ta! Ta! Conk!
But I don’t scream out.
“Stretch out yuh hand!”
I try, but when the wood’s about to connect, it yanks itself back.
“Stretch out yuh hand!”
I try – the other hand this time – the wood connects.
“Stretch out yuh hand, I tell yuh!”
By now the smell of hate is so frothed in the woman’s nose – the tall woman standing by the stable door whom the child is looking up to – that she grabs the tiny arm and makes the hand stay put.
I weep like a baby, but not loudly, my dry mouth hardly open.
I cry my soul free, but more on the inside than out.
I hold my hurting hand with the other, as I look up again, this time to see if there is a chance of forgiveness.
Then one of the nails connects with my face.
It sticks into flesh.
That was then.
* * *
Back to now:You know, when Christopher came to visit, he brought some big records to play on the little portable record player which my mother had brought to Guyana about a year ago. She’d only brought one needle with it, so it doesn’t work very well now. It sticks into the records just like the nail stuck into my flesh.
“Jailhouse, Jailhouse, Jailhouse, Jailhouse, Jailhouse, Jailhouse,” it would go. Then Mammy would send me to lift the little thingy up so that the record could move from the stuck position and keep on playing. If I didn’t move it far enough, it would stick again, “Rock, Rock, Rock, Rock, Rock, ock, ock, ock, ock,” so I would have to lift the thingy again.
Christopher had also brought a small record, he said it was called a 45. It was a song about the Jonestown cool-aid stuff, but the one he liked best was the big yellow, double one by Bob Marley. He said that the record only looked yellow, but it was really gold, because Bob Marley sold so many of them.
All the words of the songs were written out on the jacket. Mr. Bob Marley seemed to be very, very clever. His words are so sweet, I’d never heard anyone talk about such great things before.
“Schism,” he said on his record. I asked what it meant, but Christopher didn’t know.
“Schism, schism, schism, schism, schism,” Mr. Marley went for a long time before Christopher sent me to lift that thingy.
* * *
Back to then again:
Mammy pulls the thingy, then bright red blood starts to spurt out of my face. Theresa drops the bowl of rice she’s cleaning, screams and runs me to the shower which is at the back of the kitchen, and begins to wash the blood away. But it keeps coming and coming and coming.
Why won’t it stop!
Theresa is only a young teenager so she doesn’t know what to do. I am crying and she is running the water, but the red water keeps on escaping.
My eyes watch me bleed down the drain hole.
“Ah can’t get the blood to stop, Mammy!” Theresa stars shouting and crying. “Ah can’t get it to stop!”
I’m shivering, but not from cold. I’m sure that this is where I die. After hungrily clawing unto this lifeless life for so long, I still die.
I still die?
I still die?
I feel a faint coming on, as the red water runs down into wherever drain water goes.
Christopher is awaken again, this time by all the noise, and gets up to see what all the commotion is about, he sees us in the shower, and tiptoes on the wet, wooden floor outside the little enclosure. He looks at me for a while, then step in on the concrete and says, worried like, “Ah didn’t know yuh had so much blood in yuh mon.” He tiptoes out again, but we - Theresa and I - still cry.
Mammy comes to the shower door now and says to Theresa, “Stop running the water now, yuh want she to bleed to death on me hands?”
Theresa takes me out and gives me a towel to put on my face. She uses it edge of it to dry her eyes.
* * *
Back to now:I didn’t know which part of my face was cut, I thought it was my eye at first but I could still see, so it had to be my nose. I couldn’t feel any pain on my face, how was that possible? I knew that there was pain in my back where I got some of the beating, but none on my face.
“We gat to finish this cleaning,” Mammy said. “Ah warn you, to stretch out yuh hand, but you too stubborn to listen to me. Let that be a lesson to yuh, that next time I give yuh a message, mek sure yuh deliver it.”
“Wot message?” Christopher asked. He was well into his morning body-scratching ritual, while looking for something to have for breakfast.
“Ah send she to go and wake you. If she wasn’t so stubborn, she wouldn’t be standing there like an idiot with a towel on she face.”
Christopher turned to me, “Is that when you come in and shake me out me sleep?”
I nodded my head.
“Ah tired mon,” was what he said. Then he turned away to put the tea pot on the stove.
Mammy said nothing.