This excerpt was featured by Harold Bascom, Guyanese author of 101 WORDS THAT TELL YOU’RE GUYANESE’ http://www.laughingpalette.com/
(The intent of this new column is to showcase the writing of unrecognized and unsung writers in Guyana and the Caribbean. Today, I feature an excerpt (chapter 7) from the novel, ‘FORCE RIPE’, by Ms. CINDY MCKENZIE, from the island of Grenada. Please enjoy.
RED WATER BOOTS
By Cindy McKenzie
Mammy sit down on the pirha (very low stool), naked as she was born, with the bath pan in front her, between she legs. And she legs open wide wide, as if she catching fly! The only thing covering Mammy naked self is she hair. She look just like a mermaid, with she hair spread out on she back and all down to she bamsie.
On Saturdays, Mammy does bathe outside in the yard. Me and Rally does put water in the bath pan and leave it out in the sun to warm up. And when the sun move, we have to move the pan round the yard to catch the sun.
“Beti come an scrub Mammy back for her nuh”, Mammy call from behind the house.
“Ah comin Mammy,” I say. I downstairs again in Auntie Liz books. And even though Mammy always making me shame, I still running and do everything she say.
“Come, Beti. Take the corn stick and scrub Mammy back.”
Mammy gather up she hair and put it over one shoulder. She hair fall over she flat taytay (breasts). Mammy taytay so flat, they look like two ripe zabouca (avocado pear) that fall down from a tall tree and flatten on the ground. And she bamsie flat flat too, as if she does sit down too much.
The concrete feel wet and warm under me bare feet. I gather up the front of me dress and stick it between me legs, so it wouldn’t get wet. And I start to scrub Mammy back with the old corn stick.
Mammy legs and she arms tough and dry like the skin on a fowl foot, but she back and she bamsie look soft and smooth, like baby skin.
“Scrub it hard nuh,” Mammy say.
So I scrub harder.
“Yes, harder. Go up some more. Yes, scrub it right dey. Scrub it hard. Scrub it hard.”
And me hand tired! But I scrub and scrub. I scrub Mammy back with all me little strength, but she still want me to scrub it harder, as if she can’t feel.
“It good now?”’ I ask Mammy, because me hand tired and the hot concrete starting to burn me feet.
“Soap it up for me now,” Mammy say, and she rub the Carbolic soap on she panty and give me to soap she back. And I don’t know why Mammy doesn’t use a rag because I don’t like to touch she panty at all.
I rub she back until it full of pink froth. Then when I bend down to rinse out me hands in the bath pan, me eyes fall between Mammy legs. I pull back me head quick quick, before Mammy say I rude. One time when I was rubbing Papa back, I see he little squinge-up willie too, but it didn’t have no straight grey hair like Mammy.
When Mammy finish bathing, she wipe up sheself with the dress she just take out. The same dirty dress she have on whole week. Even though she have a whole set of new towels in the trunk. Then she put on the dress and go inside.
I in the back of the house emptying out the soapy water from the pan and watching it run down between the fence, pass the cocoa trees and down to the pear tree.
Rover start barking. Rover come from a worker on the estate where Papa is the Overseer. Rover look like a real wolf dog. He have grey fur. He ears black, and he have black patches on he belly and he legs. The day Papa bring Rover home he say, “Rally boy, look what Papa bring for you.” And Papa grinning at Rally.
And I know Papa say that, because he know how much Rally like animals.
“Miss Milleeey. Ah passin.” Porridge call from the road.
I empty the water real quick, turn down the bath pan and dash up in front the yard.
Rover barking and running up the bank of the yard. He know Porridge so he not growling. He just barking to let us know somebody in the yard.
“What you have today?” Mammy ask him. She just come out from she room and she have on she Saturday dress. It not as old as the ones she does wear to go in the mountain. But she don’t have on shoes. Mammy does never wear shoes when she home. She don’t have on she glasses either and she looking real nice, with she wet hair hanging down round she face.
“Man ah have everyting today!” Porridge say, coming down the bank, with he grip on he head.
Porridge does pass round on Saturdays selling all kinds of nice things. And he does stop by every house – by Miss Jean down the road, even though she don’t have to buy nothing because she children in America; by Auntie Jeanette veranda, to show her the new church shoes because she like to dress up real nice when she going to church; and then he stop by Miss Kay before he reach by us.
“Come down, come down,” Mammy tell him.
She sit down on the bench in the kitchen combing she wet hair. She put coconut oil in it and she combing it from the back to the front, so all she hair fall down over she face. Then she comb it to the side, over she left shoulder.
Papa by he table with a big grin on he face, waiting for Porridge.
Porridge take he time coming down the steps. He holding on to he old grip with one hand and the side of the house with the other hand. He does carry he grip on he head without holding it, just like how Mammy does carry she bucket of nutmegs. And he always have on he khaki shirt-jack inside he khaki pants, pants waist tie up with a piece of string and pants legs roll up, as if he going and cross a river. He old brown shoes look too big for him and he brown hat look like something rat bite up.
I does smell Porridge even before he reach by the kitchen; just like I does smell Mr Fin before he even reach the veranda. Porridge smell as if he clothes come out under a mattress, with old bedding.
I plant meself on the step. I restless, as if me bamsie full of jigger. I can’t wait for Porridge to open up the grip, to see all them nice things he does have. Rally behind the kitchen interfering with the chickens and making the mother hen vex.
Porridge put the grip down on the kitchen floor and he sit down in front the door. He take out he hat, put it on the floor and scratch he head – it bald like Papa head, with some grey hair sticking out on the top.
“Papa, how tings man?” Porridge ask.
“Well ah dey holding on boy,” Papa say, smiling.
“Well what else you go do? You have to hold on yes Pa. You have to hold on.”
Mammy ask Porridge if he want some juice.
“Well… yea mammy! Dat sun real hot today!” Porridge say. “It go cool me down a likkle bit.”
“Beti, come an take some juice for Porridge,” Mammy say.
I have to pass over Porridge foot to go inside the kitchen.
“How you do darlin? You good?” Porridge ask, as if he just see me. He grinning like Papa. And he looking real funny because he face wrinkle up like a force ripe mango skin. And he don’t have no teeth. And Rally say he sure a rammer pass on Porridge nose, buss he nose flat.
I pour out some juice in a white enamel cup and little bits of dirtiness float up on top. Mammy does sweeten the juice with brown sugar and she doesn’t even strain it. She does just skim out the lime seeds with a spoon. One time I even see her taking out the seeds with she fingers.
“Dat’s a nice gurl,” Porridge say when I give him the cup. He gulp down the juice, gluck gluck gluck, in one go, he throat moving up and down like a snake.
“Ahhhhh! Ah feel better now. Tank you eh doodoo.” Porridge give me the empty cup.
“You want some food?” Mammy ask him.
“Well yes man, if you have,” he say.
And I know he done eat by people down the road already, because ‘Never Refuse’ is he next name.
Mammy raise up sheself from the bench, as if she raising something real heavy.
“Oh bon jé oh! Dat knee go kill me oui mama!” She hold on to she knee.
“Aa. You knee givin trouble too? Mine does play it want to knock me down sometimes. But ah not givin up for it at all. Put saffron on it. Dat’s what does give me a ease up oui!” Porridge tell Mammy. And when she give him the plate, if you see grin! “But Miss, Millie you is a good lady you know.”
And I there waiting for him to open the grip but he eating slow, slow. And I wondering how Porridge go eat the dumpling, but he cut them up as if he gum is teeth!
“Well girl, let me pinch you a likkle gossip nuh,” Porridge say. And he start telling Mammy about he neighbour, who daughter come out from England. And how the woman work so hard under the cocoa to send she daughter in England. Now she come back and build a big, big mansion, while she mother still living in a little shack all the way behind God back! Then he tell Mammy about how Miss Mary daughter pass aswell, because she getting married to “a school teacher oui!” And Mammy put in she two pence, saying how the teacher go “lif up she head from the mud.” But Porridge say he hope she don’t forget the mud she come out from. Then they talk about that good-for-nothing boy up the road, who don’t want to work at all. “All de boy good for is to take he mother two pence when she sell she nutmeg. And de boy doesn’t even help de woman to pick up de damn nutmeg you know! Ah Lord!”
And me jigger jooking bad. I itching for Porridge to open the grip. The last time, when Porridge pass, he had some red water boots in he grip. I wished Mammy buy them for me but she only buy something for Rally.
“Dat back and neck nice boy. Where you get nice meat so?” Porridge ask when he finish eating and scrape the bowl clean.
“By Mr Belton shop. He have some nice one this morning,” Mammy tell him.
I don’t like the stew chicken because Mammy cook it with all the fat and the skin, and all the oil floating on top of the gravy.
Then at last, Porridge open up the grip. And me eyes pop out me head. Porridge old grip just like a real treasure chest that you does see in pictures. He have all kinds of things in it and he know where to put he hand on everything.
“You have more in dose nice black panties today?” Mammy ask. And I know Mammy have one amount of new panties in the trunk in she room. Some of them still in the packet. So I don’t know what Mammy asking Porridge if he have panties for. And she does never throw away those old raggy ones.
“How you mean if ah have panty. Ah have everyting inside here! Just say wat you want.”
And he start to take out things from the grip: sheets, tablecloth, dungaree trousers, shirts, shoes, then he pull out a plastic bag full with panties. And I wondering how all that thing fit inside that little grip.
“Ah have black, blue, red. Any colour you want. Just say.”
“Give me two in the big black ones.”
“Ah have razor blades for Papa too. And ah have some nice water boots for the likkle one too,” he say. “Come doodoo. Come and try it on.”
He move some more things, then he pull out the water boots. And me little heart start to dance up. I jump down from the sofa. Me eyes stick on the water boots.
“Dey nice eh. You like dem?” Porridge ask me.
“Mm hmm,” I say. He grinning and I grinning more.
The water boots bright red, like them hibiscus flowers. And they shining.
“Try dem on nuh doodoo,” Porridge say.
I watch Mammy. She not looking at me. She finish plaiting she hair and she two long plaits lie down on she chest like an Apache Indian. Mammy watching Porridge but she not saying nothing.
I take the boots and sit down to try them on. The plastic feel smooth like glass and it smelling strong, like new balloons. I push me left foot in. Mammy say you must always try on the left side first because the left foot bigger than the right. I wiggle me foot in it. Stamp stamp, for me foot to go down. It fit me real nice. I put on the other side and I stand up for Porridge to see. Mammy watching but she still don’t say anything yet.
“They nice eh? And it look like dey make dem jus for you, doodoo,” Porridge say. “Walk round in the yard and see how dey feelin nuh.”
So I step over Porridge and walk up and down the steps. Me eyes stick on the boots. And I grinning like a Cheshire cat. I imagine skipping down to the garden with Papa in me new boots; playing the potholes in the road when rain fall; walking in mud and all kinds of things in me water boots.
“You Mammy go buy them for you man,” Porridge say.
“Fah who?” Mammy ask. “Fah that Peeya!”
I sit back down. Me heart stop dancing too.
Papa sitting there like a little lamb, watching Porridge and scratching he legs. Grup, grup, grup. I wish that Papa could buy them for me but he never have money. Any money Papa get from working in the mountain, he have to give Mammy.
Rally come in the kitchen when Porridge packing back the things. Mammy send him for she purse to pay for the panties and the green top he ask her for. I put down the water boots and I go downstairs with something jooking me chest.
That evening when I open the door to go and get the oil to rub Papa head, the sun shine on something red and shiny by Papa table. Me heart start to prance up and down.
That evening, I don’t even go outside and play. I oil Papa head until it get shiny like the water boots. And when he say scratch he back, I scratch it until he tell me that enough. Me hands never even get tired.
“You coming wid Papa to see de calf tomorrow?” Papa ask. “You should see little Carrie, man. She frisky and she strong for so! You go put on you new boots eh.”
Whole night I praying for tomorrow to hurry up.
Please click on the following link to be taken to Ms. Cindy McKenzie’s novel, ‘FORCE RIPE’ on amazon: