Name Calling

name calling1Name Calling

by Celeste Rita Baker

(The author prefers the edited version be considered for any awards or reprints; unedited version below the author bio – Ed.)

Ah wake up every morning at thirteen minutes before three. Imagine. Every foreday morning, de same thing. Heart racing, palms sweating, singing out a name. Any and all kinda name. Jaramogi, Hanako, Melissa, Ansgar, William. Ah write dem down. Ah have several notebooks just full of de names. Dunno dese people, strangers all. Ain’t but about three or four people I could call on dis, me island home of Tania, good times or bad. Yet Ah calling dese names with force and command, knowing, just knowing dat whatever is going on is for true and for sure.

Dis has been going on for two years and ten months. Only two things Ah could remember when Ah wake up, dat somebody had call me, call for me and dat somebody name was Ramona or Franklin or Marshall or whosoever it was dat time, dat night. Ah answer dem with dey own name and it done. Me ain’t ever hear de same name twice. Ah couldn’t find nothing in no dream books, none of de of ole folks could tell me nothing. Ah ask de lottery ticket sellers and de Obeah women, de one who does only wear black and de one who only wear white. De two a dem cross dey chest and spit on de ground but dey say dey ain’t heard about dat before. After dat Ah ain’t talk about it again, in case people start talking melee about me. So without no answer Ah just write down de names and keep going. What else Ah gon do?

But something happening now. Something changing. Ah still waking up. It’s always two forty seven in de morning. But me ain’t getting no name. And instead of feeling happy and rested, like Ah’m used to feeling, ever since Ah realize wasn’t nothing going to come of me getting all worked up, instead of de refreshment Ah’m accustomed to, morning come and Ah’m suffering. Ah feel like Ah ain’t turn off de stove when Ah done cook, ain’t lock de door when Ah leave de house, ain’t collect me pay when Ah finish work. Ah only getting half a night’s sleep now, going on three months. First month people say ‘hey, Rhonda, you lose weight, you lookin good.’ Now dey watch me like Ah have AIDS and nobody don’t get too close. Me hair brittle and falling out and me eyes look like Ah packing for a cruise on one of de big ships dat dock at de harbor. Ah dragging through de days in de hotel making beds and swishing bathtubs, tips going down down since Ah can’t find a smile to sell. Emmanual don’t come ‘round no more, say Ah too grouchy. De children call from dey big lives in bigger places, but Ah rush dem off de phone. Inside Ah feel like somebody calling me all de time, bawling out me name, calling for me. Ah feel Ah always going to dem, answering dem, and Ah just too too busy.

Me best girlfriend, she name Erma, from when we was small together, back when de weather was hot and breezy, not heated and rainy like now, causing tourism to drop off and halve everyone’s little piece of money, anyway she, she take me to her doctor. Say mine too modern minded, like is science alone dat rule de world. Is cash money Ah have to pay to see she doctor, since he don’t take my insurance and he tell me its stress. Of course it’s stress, but he ain’t tell me what Ah could do about it more dan eat, exercise, sleep and drink plenty water. How else he think I manage to stay on de planet fifty-nine years? Ah just suck me teeth and turn off.

Den Erma say she want us to go to Antler’s Bay next week, where it quiet and peaceful. Is a harassment Ah say. Long car ride, short ferry ride on de choppy sea, next long ride in a hot bus full of strangers. Tuesday, me next day off, she want to go. She had to take de day off. Ah know she worried about me. Ah ain’t fight she. Ah say okay.

When time come to board de bus to de beach Erma take one look at me face, even though me ain’t complaining, and she hire a taxi. De air conditioning hit me and it feel good. Ah close me eyes and just breathe. Ah feel Erma take me hand in her own. Names, old names, names Ah had done already write down swirling ‘round in me mind. Bolo, Gloria, Misha, Warren.
Taxi stop, and we ain’t at Antler’s Bay, but some cleared patch a land near a beach Ah don’t recognize. When de heat of de day hit me Ah feel dizzy and think me belly calling to me besides. Erma lead me into a wood-board house paint up in red yellow blue and white star shapes. De paint so new it burning me eyeballs. Ah glad when we pass up de porch steps and de open counter bar to reach de insides. It make up like a restaurant, except ain’t no customers. A man, scrawny as a mangy dog, come in from behind an old sheet tacked up like a back door. He look at me and Ah look at him and Ah know de two of we want to run. If Erma wasn’t holding me hand again, tight tight, me feet would have been meeting de hot sand in a steady rhythm.

“Oh, Lord”, he say, “Ah ain’t seen one of you since me Granny died.” He start to shake like hummingbird wing but he make it over to de counter bar while Erma pull me to sit down at a table by de window what so low it almost a door.

Erma leave me dere and go over and give de man a long tight hug and dey whisper together. Den she come back and sit by me.

He breathing hard like a frightened horse, but he come and stand over us with three shot glasses full of something dat look like bush tea and a bottle of Cruzan Rum. De tray rattling so in he hand de noise making me teeth chatter. Me head hurting so bad is like Ah hearing thunder, seeing fireworks and feeling earthquake all same time.

“Drink dis,” he say, “it going to make it stop.” He keep de tray rattling in he thick skinned hands until he sit down in de frail looking stick chair.

Erma tell me dis she great uncle from she Father’s side and he gone help me. Ah dig round in me bag looking for aspirin. No words ain’t come to me. No words Ah could say. Only names. Louder and louder. And Ah wonder how dey ain’t bust out me eyes like tears.

“Drink dis first,” he say, “den if you don’t feel better in two minutes you could take you pills.”

He pick up a glass and full it to de brim with rum den he extend it to me, de liquid sloshing all over de table until dere ain’t but a couple of swallows left. Erma make a face as she drink hers so Ah know it going to taste nasty. But by de time Ah rest de glass back on de tray de noise in me head lessening. Ah beginning to hear de waves from de beach and an old scratch band tune coming from de radio perched atop de bar. And Ah don’t have to concentrate on keeping me head from exploding.

And den he ask me.

“How long since you get a name?”

He watching me steady. He two eyes dem cover over with de bluish screen some ole folks use to filter out what dey ain’t want to see. He not shaking no more. Bright pink tongue dart out and lick he cracked lips. Fast, like lizard catch he dinner, he reach out and grab me wrist, but gentle, fingers down on de tender insides like he taking me pulse. Ah too slow to move now. A blink is like Ah sleeping.

“Un-huh, Ah see,” he say, still holding me.

“What, Unc Roo?” say Erma, “what you see?” She sound like she going to cry and Ah only see her cry two times in all dese forty nine years since we was ten learning bamboula dance together.

“She is a Escort,” he say to Erma. “She is a Escort and she don’t self know it.”

He holding me wrist still, and he other hand come cover me hand and stroke it like he trying to soothe a child. Still he talking about me like Ah not dere.

Pictures scrolling through me mind like a book of postcards. Brown hands. Woman’s hands. Pictures, more dan photographs, more like memories, with names across de bottom like captions. Me own hands, me own ring, what me own husband, Daniel – who living in peace and glory now twelve years already – had give me in high school, what only fit on me pinkie finger now, de gold flashing in de sun against a background of a blue knit cap covering de head dat Ah’m pressing face down in snow finer and brighter dan sand. Ah look up while Ah’m waiting for de struggling body under me to stop squirming and Ah’m seeing a valley of green and another snow covered mountain beyond dat. Gregory. Blue hat name is Gregory. Den is pearly pink polish on me fingernails as Ah grab de ankle of de lady in de wide leg pants on de marble stairs. Camille. Me hands struggling to hold de steering wheel to de left as he fight to spin it to de right. Adolfo. Me two hand dem splayed wide wide and Ah can’t even span de broad back, naked and sweaty in de hot sun. Ah push and he fall right off de bamboo scaffold. Lin. Fatima, at home cooking while she mother sleeping in de next room only idly thinking about cutting she wrists, de peevishness of a teenager, but it’s my hands dat put de force behind de knife.

Is dreams Ah tell meself. Ain’t real. Too many movies. Too much TV. But Ah starting to shake and shiver from right below me breastbone, right where me soul sit in me body. People been calling me, calling me, calling me. Dey names roll around in me head, in me mouth, like when de boys pitching marbles and dey thumb flick de single to break de pack. Each one different, dey scatter with a sound like hard glass cracking, except dey don’t break, just careen off one another and be gone, while another little group start to join and somebody, somebody with brown hands and Daniel’s ring bowl into dem and dey fly apart. Ah start to sweat and everything inside want to come out. Ah feel Ah need to pee and coocoo and vomit. Like Ah could void de whole of meself.

“She is a Escort, Ah tell you.”

Erma watching me and smiling. She proud. Ah see it in de way she purse she lips. Glad she bring me here so we could get some answers. But de tears dripping and she squinting she eyes so she could see better when she ask, looking from me to Uncle Roo, “So what dat mean?”

He watch me and Ah nod. Let me hear what is true.

De old man let go me hand den, and pour another drink of rum for each of we. Erma’s eyes leaking like a standpipe all de while.

“All right,” he say, “hush up, now.” So calm and slow is no more dan a whisper.

Erma reach for me, patting me back. Ah have me arms wrapped around me center core, holding meself together.

“You is one who does shove people across when dey ain’t know it’s time to go. You notice dat, right? How is always a surprise? Dey don’t be sick or nothing, right?”

Me head bow down. Ah so shame.

A wave crash on de beach and Ah hear it like it ain’t past de rustling of de wild grass growing in de sandy soil, past de empty taxi with de driver door standing open while de man gone to wade since Erma tell him to wait. De wave wash me eardrums like it ain’t past de lonely sea grape tree with fruit not yet ripe. Ah hear de wave. De names recede.

“How long since you get a name?”

“Three months”, I tell him, “since February.”

He eyes turn off den. Seem like instead of dey seeing outside of him, it’s like he just turn dem around and he watching he own mind. A strong breeze blow through de window and he turn he face to it slow slow, like a blind man locating a songbird. Ah watch as de wind blow a bead of sweat sideways across he cheek until it got caught up in he scraggly beard hair and make a downward turn.

“You strong,” he say. “Hold out long time. But it ain’t going to go until it finish. Three years is de most Ah ever hear anybody do. Den it pass, just like it come.”

“Oh, God in heaven!” I call out, “in two more months I going to be dead, too!”

“Okay, okay, what allyou mean? What you talking, Uncle Roo? Whatall going on?”

“She mebbe getting a name she insides can’t let her do.”

“Do? Do? What you mean do? De woman sick, not working!”

Erma bolt up and look like she going to bust a clout on Uncle Roo. She neck veins sticking out and jumping like cold rain on a midday hot roof.

“Hush now, gal. I going tell you just now.”

Uncle Roo rise up and stand tall over Erma. Erma is five eleven and does move suitcases off de ramps at de airport all day. She big, but he bigger, a long tall drink a water. Clear skin and boney. Dey watch each other like cock in de ring and Ah start to giggle.

De rum mebbe get me, Ah know. Ah ain’t eat nothing since a piece of dumbread and tea last night. Or maybe it’s dis whole thing. So stupid. So sad. I just sat dere laughing.

Even though Erma body still square off with Uncle Roo she eyes rove over to check for me. Uncle Roo take dat as surrender and put he hand on she shoulder, pressing she to sit down. When he touch she she flinch a little bit, but she sink so gracefully to de low chair dat it was like seeing a feather float to de ocean floor. Dat set me off again and even as Ah thinking on big leg Erma as a feather me tears welling up, ‘cause if Erma is powerless dan I mebbe going to dead for true true.

Uncle Roo say how yes, it’s work Ah doing, by taking people through death’s door while Ah sleeping. How it’s a job some people get and dey just have to do it. How Ah meet up now to a name, a person, me ain’t want to acknowledge and I resisting. How Ah have to do it, let meself do it, or Ah going to end up doing it for real.

“What you mean, for real?” Ah ask, “ain’t real? Dese people don’t die? Dey is real people anyway?” Me ain’t know. Me ain’t never look dem up or nothing.

“Dey real yes. You could probably find dey obituaries in dey hometown newspapers if you had dere last names. You don’t though, do you? Me Granny didn’t get last names. But me Granny’s was all from around here. People she know. Dat was real hard on her, she feel guilty all de time, she tell me, until she find someone dat know what going on, like you find me.”

Ah nod me head. Is like de line in de ole Lord Pretender song, ‘somebody suffering more dan you’.

“So now you mebbe get a name of somebody you know, and if you ain’t do it de way it’s ‘posed to be done, den you going to do it in you waking hours and it going to be worse for everybody.”

Erma mouth hanging open, catching flies, but Ah know what he means. Is like me brain take a breath. I feel relieved. Like when you food ain’t digest and it sitting on your heart, den somebody pat you on your back, give you some comfort and it move off.

Uncle Roo rise up and go off into de back room. We hear him moving things and making noise like he straining, until finally he come back with a green glass bottle with a cork stopper. He dust de thing off with he pant leg, rolling it around on he thighs. I could see de insides swirling round, mixing what probably ain’t been disturbed in twenty years.

“You must drink dis,” he say, putting de bottle directly in me bag, “tonight. You must bathe in painkiller bush bath, and clothe yourself in something white. Drink dis right at your bedside, right after you get up off of your knees. De whole thing. It taste all right. Won’t make you sick or nothing neither. When you wake up, de blockage will be gone and you could move on.”

Is my eyes leaking now. I so grateful for de help. Erma pulling me up with one hand and rooting in she purse with de other. Uncle Roo backing away like is now he seeing ghosts.

“Uh-uh,” he say, “don’t try to give me nothing, Erma, or you neither. Just do what Ah say and come tell me everything is just so in two months when you feeling better.”

Is more dan tears now, me chest heaving and me sobs sounding like conch horn. Nobody ain’t have to call back de taxi man, he come running and we get into de car and be gone.demonbait button

I never even get to drink de tonic. It gone to de bottom of de sea.

It happened when we were leaving de ferry boat. De boat tie up tight to de pier and we walking down de board plank to de dock. De white lady ahead of Erma slip and she scream and flail around trying to right sheself. Erma jump when she hear de scream and I jump too, and me pocketbook sway into Erma’s backside and dat startle she even more. Ah remember like Ah living it again. Like Ah living it for both of us. She was holding on to de rope guide with she left hand. One a de boatman, four people in front to de right, all blinding in he white shirt and white pants, steadying people as dey crossing over. Wasn’t nobody close behind Erma but me. When me pocketbook swing and slap she butt she reach to swat it away, just while she body was still reacting to de woman scream, just when she release she weight from she left leg for she next step on she right. She right knee buckle and she crumple right down on she hands and knees. She tip right over, sideways, and as she falling, she unfolding, like a paper fan. With a pow Erma hit de water, lengthwise, between de dock and de slimy green of de boat sides. She legs and body sink right under while she head remain aloft. I grab de rope thing with me two hand and let me body slide down into de water feet first. But Ah too late. Ah know it’s de waves making de boat and de dock knock together, but what really happen is de sea take a deep breath and on de inhale Mami Water contract everything tight, tight, de boat and de dock, Erma’s ribs and Erma’s lungs and like day and night does meet, so life and death had meet in me sweet friend Erma. When Ah reach face to face with Erma in de water, she rum breath expel into me face and Ah breathe it in for me own. Red spit bubbles come out of she mouth and she stare at me hard with she eyes wide in question, like de time I give she de plane ticket to Puerto Rico for Christmas and she watch me like I make mistake. I brace me arms aside she breasts, under she arms, holding she up, trying to keep de knocking of de boat from reaching she. Blow after blow landing on me back as de ferry rocking with de waves, but Ah know she dying already, right here in me arms. Right here in de sea.

De hospital tell me me two legs crush like matchsticks and me arms and shoulders all mash up from holding back de ferry. But Erma’s body not broke, except for where she ribs had puncture she lungs in Mami Water’s first embrace.

Ah dreaming a name every night again. And me ain’t feel like me soul hiccupping. Ah know I have more names to go, but Ah do de hardest one already.

_______________

Celeste Rita Baker says: “When I was young woman, an ‘other mother’ of mine gave me a journal titled “How Can I Know What I Think Until I See What I Say?”  And so I write. I have published short stories in The Caribbean Writer, Calabash, Margin’s Magical Realism, Scarab, The Black Science Fiction Society’s Genesis and most recently in Moko Magazine. I am a Virgin Islander who was born in New York, came to know myself on St. Thomas and have been going back and forth for the last fifty years. Most of my VI family has already died, but I try to go home twice a year to refresh my soul.” Learn more at http://celesteritabaker.com/

Name Calling

by Celeste Rita Baker

(in original, full patois)

Ah wake up every mahnin at tirteen minutes before tree. Imagine. Every fore-day mahnin, de same ting. Heart racin, palms sweatin, singin outta name. Any and all kinda name. Jaramogi, Hanako, Melissa, Ansgar, William. Ah write dem down. Ah have several notebooks just fulla de names. Me ain’ know dese people, strangers all. Wouldn’t none ah dem get ah invite to ah party ah mine. Ain’ but bout tree or four people I could call on dis, me home island, good times or bad. Yet Ah calling dese names with force and command, knowing, knowing whatever a go on is for true and for sure.

Dis been goin on two years and ten months. Only two tings Ah could remember when Ah wake up, dat somebody had call me, call fo me and dat somebody name was Ramona or Franklin or Marshall or whosoever it was dat time, dat night. Ah answer dem with dey own name and it done. Me ain’ ever hear de same name twice. Ah couldn’t find nuttin in no dream books, none a de of ole folks tell me nuttin. Ah ask de lottery ticket sellers and de obeah women, de one who does only wear black and de one who only wear white. De two a dem cross dey chest and spit on de ground but dey say dey ain’t heard bout dat befo. After dat me ain’t talk bout it again, case people start talkin melee bout me. Ah use me manners generously but Ah don’t seem to be de kinda woman who does cling and be clung to. So widout no answer Ahda just write down de names and keep goin. What else Ah gon do?

But someting happenin now. Someting changin. Ah still wakin up. Is always two forty seven in de mahnin. But me ain’t gettin no name. And insteada feelin happy and rested, like Ah usedta feelin ever since Ah realize wasn’t nuttin gon come of me gettin all wraut-up, insteada de refreshment Ah accustomed ta, mahnin come and Ah sufferin. Ah feel like Ah ain’t turn off de stove when Ah done cook, ain’t lock de door when Ah leave de house, ain’t collect me pay when Ah finish work. Ah only gettin half a night sleep now, goin on tree months. First month people say ‘hey, Rhonda, you lose weight, you lookin good.’ Now dey watch me like Ah have AIDS and nobody don get too close. Me hair brittle and fallin out and me eyes look like Ah packin fo a cruise on one a de big ships wha da come thru heh. Ah draggin thru de days in de hotel makin beds and swishin bathtubs, tips goin down down since Ah forget how ta smile. Emmanual don’t come round no more, say Ah too grouchy. De children call from foreign, but Ah rush dem offa de phone. Inside Ah feel like somebody callin me all de time, bawlin out me name, callin fo me. Ah feel Ah always goin ta dem, answerin dem, and Ah just too too busy.

Me best girlfriend, she name Aundie, from when we was small togedda, back when de weather was hot and breezy, not heated and rainy like now, causin tourism ta drop off and halve everyone little piece a money, anyway she, she take me ta her doctor. Say mine too modern minded, like is science alone dat rule de world. Is cash money Ah have ta pay ta see she doctor, Dr. Anduze and he come tellin me it’s stress. Of course it’s stress, but me ain’t tell he what Ah could do bout it more dan eat, exercise, sleep and pray. Is how else you tink I manage ta stay on de planet fifty-nine years? Ah just suck me teeth and turn off.

Den Aundie say she want us go ta Antler’s Bay next week, where it quiet and peaceful. Is a harassment Ah say. Long car ride, short ferry ride on de choppy sea, next long ride inna hot bus full a strangers. Tuesday, me next day off, she wanta go. She had ta take de day off. Ah know she worried bout me. Ah ain’t fight she. Ah say okay.

When time come ta board de bus ta da beach Aundie take one look at me face, even doh me ain’t complainin, and she hire a taxi. De air conditionin hit me and it feel good. Ah close me eyes and just breathe. Ah feel Aundie take me hand in hers own. Names, old names, names Ah had done already write down swirlin round in me mind. Bolo, Gloria, Misha, Warren.
Taxi stop, we ain’t at Antler’s Bay, but some cleared patch a land near a beach Ah don’t recognize. When de heat a de day hit me Ah feel dizzy and tink me belly callin ta me besides. Aundie lead me inta a wood-board house paint up in red yellow blue and white star shapes. De paint so new it buhnin me eyeballs. Ah glad when we pass up de porch steps and de open counter bar ta reach de insides. It make up like a restaurant, ‘cept ain’t no customers. A man, scrawny as a mangy dog, come in from behind a old sheet tacked up like a back door. He look at me and Ah look at him and Ah know de two of we wanta run. If Aundie wasn’t holdin me hand again tight tight, me feet woulda been meetin de hot sand inna steady rhythm.

“Oh, Lawd”, he say, “Ah ain’t seen one a you since me Granny died.” He start ta shake like hummingbird wing but he make it over ta de counter bar while Aundie pull me ta sit down at a table by de window what so low it almost a door.

Aundie lea’ me dere an go ova give de man a long tight hug and dey whisperin togedda. Den she come back sit by me.

He breathin hard like a horse, but he come and stand over us wid tree shot glasses full of someting dat look like bush tea and a bottle a Cruzan Rum. De tray rattlin so in he hand de noise makin me teeth chatter. Me head hurtin so bad is like Ah hearin thunder, seein fireworks and feelin earthquake.

“Drink dis,” he say, “it gon make it stop.” He keep de tray rattlin in he tick skinned hands til he sit down in de frail lookin stick chair.

Aundie tell me dis she great uncle from she Fahdda’s side and he gon help me. Ah dig round in me bag lookin fo aspirin. No words ain’t come ta me. No words Ah could say. Only names. Louder and louder. And Ah wonder how dey ain’t bust out me eyes like tears.

“Drink dis first,” he say, “den if you don’ feel better in two minutes you could take you pills.”

He pick up a glass and full it to de brim wid rum then he extend it ta me, de liquid sloshin all over de table til ain’t but a couple swallows left. Aundie make a face as she drink hers so Ah know it gon be nasty. By de time Ah rest de glass back on de tray which coverin most of de small table de noise in me head lessenin. Ah beginnin ta hear de waves from de beach and a old scratch band chune comin from da radio perch atop de bar. And Ah don’t have ta concentrate on keepin me head from explodin.

And den he ask me.

“How long since you get a name?”

He watchin me steady. He two eye dem cover over wid de bluish screen some ole folks does use to filter out what dey ain’t want ta see. He not shakin no mo. Bright pink tongue dart out and lick he cracked lips. Fast like lizard catch he dinner he reach out and grab me wrist, but gentle, fingers down on de tender insides like he takin me pulse. Ah too slow ta move now.

A blink is like Ah sleepin.

“Uh huh, Ah see,” he say, still holdin me.

“What, Unc Roo?” say Aundie, “what you see?” She sound like she gon cry and Ah only see her cry two times in all dese forty nine years since we was ten learning bamboula dance together.

“She is a Escort,” he say ta Aundie. “She is an Escort and she don’t self know it.”

He holdin me wrist still, and he odda hand come cover me hand and stroke it like he tryin ta soothe a child. Still he talkin ‘bout me like Ah ain’t dere.

Pictures scrollin thru me mind like a book a postcards. Brown hands. Woman hands. Pictures, more dan photographs, more like memories, wid names across de bottom like captions. Me own hands, me own ring, what me own husband, Daniel – who living in peace and glory now twelve years already – had give me in high school, what only fit on me pinkie now, de gold flashin in de sun ‘gainst a background of a blue knit cap coverin de head dat Ah’m pressin face down in snow finer and brighter dan sand. Ah look up while Ah waitin fo de strugglin body unda me ta stop squirmin, an Ah watchin a valley a green and anodda snow covered mountain beyond dat. Gregory. Blue hat name is Gregory. Den is pearly pink polish on me fingernails as Ah grab de ankle a de lady in de wide leg pants on de marble stairs. Camille. Me hands strugglin ta hold de steerin wheel ta de left as he fight ta spin it ta de right. Adolfo. Me two hand dem splayed wide wide and Ah caan even span de broad back, naked and sweaty in de hot sun. Ah push and he fall right off de bamboo scaffold. Lin. Fatima at home cookin while she Muddah sleepin in de next room only tinkin bout cutting she wrists. Is my hands put de force behind de knife.

Is dreams Ah tell meself. Ain’t real. Too many movies. Too much TV. But Ah startin ta shake an shiver from right below me breastbone, right where me soul sit in me body. People been callin me, callin me, callin me. Dey names roll round in me head, in me mouth, like when de boys dem pitchin marbles and dey break de pack. Each one different, dey scatter wid a sound like hard glass crackin, ‘cept dey don’t break, just careen off one anodda and be gone, while anodda little group start ta join and somebody, somebody wid brown hands and Daniel’s ring bowl inta dem and dey fly apart. Ah start ta sweat and everyting inside wanta come out. Ah feel Ah need ta pee and coocoo and vomit. Like Ah could void the whole of meself.
“She is a Escort, Ah tell you.”

Aundie watching me and smilin. She proud, Ah see it in de way she purse she lips. Glad she bring me here so we could get some answers. But de tears dem drippin and she squintin she eyes so she could see better when she ask, lookin from me ta Uncle Roo, “So what dat mean?”

He watch me and Ah nod. Lemme hear what is true.

De old man leh go me hand den, and pour anodda drink a rum fo each of we, Aundie eye leakin like a standpipe all de while.
“All right,” he say, “hush up, now.” So calm and slow is no more dan a whisper.

Aundie reaching fo me, pattin me back. Ah have me arms dem wrap round me center core, holding meself togedda.

“You is one who does shove people across when dey ain’t know it’s time ta go. You notice dat, right? How is always a surprise? Dey don be sick or nothin’ right?”

Me head bow down. Ah so shame.

A wave crash on de beach and Ah hear it like it ain’t past de rustlin of de wild grass growin in de sandy soil, past de empty taxi wid de driver door standin open while de man gon ta wade since Aundie tell him ta wait. De wave wash me eardrums like it ain’t past de lonely sea grape tree what bearin fruit not yet ripe. Ah hear de wave. De names recede.

“How long since you get a name?”

“Tree months”, I tell him, “since February.”

He eyes turn off den. Seem like insteada dey seein de outside a him, is like he just turn dem round and he watchin he own mind. A strong breeze blow thru de window and he turn he face ta it slow slow, like a blind man locatin a songbird. Ah watch as de wind blow a bead a sweat sideways ‘cross he cheek til it get catch up in he scraggly beard hair and make a downward turn.

“You strong,” he say. “Hold out long time. But it ain’t gon go til it finish. Tree years is de most Ah ever hear anybody do. Den it pass, just like it come.”

“Oh, Gawd in heaven!” I call out, “in two more months I gon dead, too!”

“Okay, okay, what ahyou mean? What you talking, Uncle Roo? Whatall goin on?”

“She mubbe gettin a name she insides caan lea her do.”

“Do? Do? What you mean do? De woman sick, not workin!”
Aundie bolt up and look like she gon bust a clout on Uncle Roo. She neck veins sticking out and jumpin like cold rain on a midday hot roof.

“Hush now, gal. I gon tell you just now.”

Uncle Roo rise up and stand tall over Aundie. Aundie is five eleven and does move suitcases off de ramps at de airport all day. She big, but he bigger, a long tall drink a water. Clear skin and boney. Dey watch each other like cock in de ring and Ah start to giggle.

De rum mubbe get me, Ah know. Ah ain’t eat nuttin since a piece a dumbread and tea last night. Or maybe is de whole ting. So schupid. So sad. I dere laughing.

Even tho Aundie body still square off with Uncle Roo she eyes rove over ta check fo me. Uncle Roo take dat as surrender and put he hand on she shoulder, pressin she ta sit down. When he touch she she flinch lil bit, but she sink so gracefully ta de low chair dat was like seein a feather float ta de ground. Dat set me off again and even as Ah tinkin on big leg Aundie as a feather me tears wellin up, causin if Aundie is powerless dan I mubbe gon dead for true true.

Uncle Roo say how Ah working fo de Lawd in mysterious ways by taking people through death’s door while Ah sleeping. How is a job some people does get and dey have to do it. How Ah meet up now to a name, a person, me ain’t want to acknowledge and I resisting. How Ah have to do it, leave meself do it, or Ah gon end up doing it for real.

“Wha you mean, fo real?” Ah ask, “ain’t real? Dese people don’t die? Dey is real people anyway?” Me ain’t know. Me ain’t never look dem up or nothing.

“Dey real yes. You could probably find dey obituaries in dey hometown newspapers if you had dere last names. You don’t doh, do you? Me Granny didn’t get last names. But me Grannie’s was all from round here. People she know. Dat was real hard on her, she feel guilty all de time, she tell me, til she find someone what know what goin on, like you find me.”
Ah nod me head. Is like de line in de ole Lord Pretender song, ‘somebody suffering more dan you’.

“So now you mubbe get a name a somebody you know, and if you ain’t do it de way it’s ‘posed to be done, den you gon do it in you wakin hours and it gon be worse fo everybody.”

Aundie mouth catching flies, but Ah know wha he mean. Is like me brain take a breath. I feel relieved. Like when you food ain’t digest and it sittin on you heart, den somebody pat you on you back, give you some comfort and it move off.

Uncle Roo rise up and go off inta da back room. He moving tings and making noise like he straining, finally he come back with a green glass bottle wid a cork stopper. He dusting de ting off wid he pant leg, rolling it round on he thighs. I could see de insides swirling round, mixing what probably ain’t been touched in twenty years.

“You must drink dis,” he say, putting de bottle directly in me bag, “tonight. You must bathe in painkiller bush bath, and clothe youself in something white. Drink dis right at you bedside, right after you get up off you knees. De whole ting. It taste all right. Won’t make you sick or nuttin neida. When you wake up, de blockage be gon and you could move on.”
Is my eyes leaking now. I so grateful for de help. Aundie pullin me up wid one hand and rootin in she purse wid de other.

Uncle Roo backin away like is now he seeing ghosts.

“Unh-unh,” he say, “don’t try to give me nuttin, Aundie, or you neida. Just do wha Ah say and come tell me so next two months when you feeling better.”

Is more dan tears now, me chest heavin and me sobs sounding like conch horn. Nobody ain’t have ta call back de taxi man, he a come running and we get inta de car and be gone.demonbait button

I never even get ta drink de tonic. It gone ta de bottom of de sea.

It happen when we leaving de ferry boat. De boat tie up tight to de pier and we walking down de board plank ta de dock. De white lady ahead a Aundie slip and she scream and flail round trying ta right sheself. Aundie jump when she hear de scream and I jump too, and me pocketbook sway into Aundie backside and dat startle she even more. Ah remember like Ah living it again. Like Ah living it for both a we. She were holding onta de rope guide wid she left hand. One a de boatman, four people in front to de right, all blinding in he white shirt and white pants, one leg on de pier, one leg on de boat, steadying people as dey crossing over. Wasn’t nobody close behind Aundie but me. When me pocketbook swing and slap she ass she reach to swat it away, just while she body reacting to de woman scream, just when she release she weight from she left leg for she next step on she right. She right knee buckle and she crumple right down on she hands and knees. She tip right over, sideways, and as she falling, she unfolding, like a paper fan, like de woman in church does – snap – whip dat ting open. Wid a pow Aundie hit de wata, lengthwise, tween de dock and de slimy green a de boat sides. She legs and body sink right under while she head remain aloft. I grab de rope ting wid me two hand and let me body slide down inta de wata feet first. But Ah too late. Ah know it’s de waves making de boat and de dock knock togedda, but what happen is de sea take a deep breath and on de inhale Mami Wata contract everyting tight, tight, de boat and de dock, Aundie’s ribs and Aundie’s lungs and like day and night does meet, is so life and death had meet in me sweet friend Aundie. When Ah reach face to face wid Aundie in de wata, she rum breath expel inta me face and Ah breathe it in for me own. Red spit bubbles come outta she mouth and she staring at me hard wid she eyes wide in question, like de time I give she de plane ticket to Puerto Rico for she Christmas and she watch me like I make mistake. I brace me arms aside she breasts, under she arms, holding she up and tryna keep de knocking of de boat from reaching she. Blow after blow landing on me back as de ferry rocking wid de waves, but Ah know she dying already, right here in me arms. Right here in de sea.

De hospital tell me me two legs dem crush like matchsticks and me arms and shoulders all mash up from holding back de ferry. But Aundie’s body not broke, ‘cept for where she ribs had puncture she lungs in Mami Wata’s first embrace.

Ah dreaming a name every night again. And me ain’t feel like me soul hiccupping. Ah know I have more names to go, but Ah do de hardest one already.

 

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