Winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize
A recipient of the 2015 American Book Award
One of the Top 10 Books of 2014 – Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
A New York Times Book Review Notable Book
Named a best book of the year by:
The New York Times
The Washington Post
The Boston Globe
The Huffington Post
The Seattle Times
The Houston Chronicle
Kansas City Star
From the acclaimed author of The Book of Night Women comes a “musical, electric, fantastically profane” (The New York Times) epic that explores the tumultuous world of Jamaica over the past three decades.
In A Brief History of Seven Killings, Marlon James combines brilliant storytelling with his unrivaled skills of characterization and meticulous eye for detail to forge an enthralling novel of dazzling ambition and scope.
On December 3, 1976, just before the Jamaican general election and two days before Bob Marley was to play the Smile Jamaica Concert to ease political tensions in Kingston, seven gunmen stormed the singer’s house, machine guns blazing. The attack wounded Marley, his wife, and his manager, and injured several others. Little was officially released about the gunmen, but much has been whispered, gossiped and sung about in the streets of West Kingston. Rumors abound regarding the assassins’ fates, and there are suspicions that the attack was politically motivated.
A Brief History of Seven Killings delves deep into that dangerous and unstable time in Jamaica’s history and beyond. James deftly chronicles the lives of a host of unforgettable characters – gunmen, drug dealers, one-night stands, CIA agents, even ghosts – over the course of thirty years as they roam the streets of 1970s Kingston, dominate the crack houses of 1980s New York, and ultimately reemerge into the radically altered Jamaica of the 1990s. Along the way, they learn that evil does indeed cast long shadows, that justice and retribution are inextricably linked, and that no one can truly escape his fate.
Gripping and inventive, shocking and irresistible, A Brief History of Seven Killings is a mesmerizing modern classic of power, mystery, and insight.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.43(w) x 8.21(h) x 1.44(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Sir Arthur Jennings, former politician, deceased
The Singer, reggae superstar of the world
Peter Nasser, politician, strategist
Nina Burgess, former receptionist, presently unemployed
Kim-Marie Burgess, her sister
Ras Trent, Kim-Marie’s lover
Doctor Love / Luis Hernán Rodrigo de las Casas, CIA consultant
Barry Diflorio, CIA station chief, Jamaica
Claire Diflorio, his wife
William Adler, former field officer, CIA, now rogue
Alex Pierce, journalist, Rolling Stone
Mark Lansing, filmmaker, son of Richard Lansing, former CIA director
Louis Johnson, field officer, CIA
Mr. Clark, field officer, CIA
Bill Bilson, journalist, the Jamaica Gleaner
Sally Q, fixer, informant
Tony McFerson, politician
Officer Watson, police
Officer Nevis, police
Officer Grant, police
Papa-Lo / Raymond Clarke, don of Copenhagen City, 1960–1979
Josey Wales, head enforcer, don of Copenhagen City, 1979–1991, leader of the Storm Posse
Weeper, gang enforcer, Storm Posse head enforcer, Manhattan/Brooklyn
Demus, gang member
Heckle, gang member
Bam-Bam, gang member
Funky Chicken, gang member
Renton, gang member
Leggo Beast, gang member
Tony Pavarotti, enforcer, sniper
Priest, messenger, informer
Junior Soul, informer/rumored Eight Lanes spy
The Wang Gang, gang based in Wang Sang Lands, affiliated with Copenhagen City
Copper, gang enforcer
Chinaman, gang leader near Copenhagen City
Treetop, gang member
Shotta Sherrif / Roland Palmer, don of the Eight Lanes, 1975–1980
Funnyboy, gang enforcer and second-in-command
Buntin-Banton, coleader and don of the Eight Lanes, 1972–1975
Dishrag, coleader and don of the Eight Lanes, 1972–1975
Donald Casserley, drug trafficker, president, Jamaica Freedom League
Richard Lansing, CIA director, 1973–1976
Lindon Wolfsbricker, American ambassador to Yugoslavia
Admiral Warren Tunney, CIA director, 1977–1981
Roger Theroux, field officer, CIA
Miles Copeland, CIA station chief, Cairo
Edgar Anatolyevich Cheporov, reporter, Novosti News Agency
Freddy Lugo, operative, Alpha 66, United Revolutionary Organizations, AMBLOOD
Hernán Ricardo Lozano, operative, Alpha 66, United Revolutionary Organizations, AMBLOOD
Orlando Bosch, operative Omega 7, United Revolutionary Organizations, AMBLOOD
Gael and Freddy, operatives, Omega 7, United Revolutionary Organizations, AMBLOOD
Sal Resnick, journalist, New York Times
Kim Clarke, unemployed
Charles/Chuck, engineer, Alcorp Bauxite
Storm Posse, Jamaican drug syndicate
Ranking Dons, rival Jamaican drug syndicate
Eubie, head enforcer, Storm Posse, Queens/Bronx
A-Plus, associate of Tristan Phillips
Pig Tails, enforcer, Storm Posse, Queens/Bronx
Ren-Dog, enforcer, Storm Posse, Queens/Bronx
Omar, enforcer, Storm Posse, Manhattan/Brooklyn
Romeo, drug dealer, Storm Posse, Brooklyn
Tristan Phillips, inmate, Rikers, member of Ranking Dons
John-John K, hit man, carjacker
Griselda Blanco, drug lord, Medellín cartel Miami operations
Baxter, enforcer for Griselda Blanco
The Hawaiian Shirts, enforcers for Griselda Blanco
Kenneth Colthirst, New York resident, 5th Avenue
Gaston Colthirst, his son
Gail Colthirst, his daughter-in-law
Dorcas Palmer, caregiver
Millicent Segree, student nurse
Miss Betsy, manager, God Bless Employment Agency
Monifah Thibodeaux, drug addict
Sir Arthur George Jennings
Dead people never stop talking. Maybe because death is not death at all, just a detention after school. You know where you’re coming from and you’re always returning from it. You know where you’re going though you never seem to get there and you’re just dead. Dead. It sounds final but it’s a word missing an ing. You come across men longer dead than you, walking all the time though heading nowhere and you listen to them howl and hiss because we’re all spirits or we think we are all spirits but we’re all just dead. Spirits that slip inside other spirits. Sometimes a woman slips inside a man and wails like the memory of making love. They moan and keen loud but it comes through the window like a whistle or a whisper under the bed, and little children think there’s a monster. The dead love lying under the living for three reasons. (1) We’re lying most of the time. (2) Under the bed looks like the top of a coffin, but (3) There is weight, human weight on top that you can slip into and make heavier, and you listen to the heart beat while you watch it pump and hear the nostrils hiss when their lungs press air and envy even the shortest breath. I have no memory of coffins.
But the dead never stop talking and sometimes the living hear. This is what I wanted to say. When you’re dead speech is nothing but tangents and detours and there’s nothing to do but stray and wander awhile. Well, that’s at least what the others do. My point being that the expired learn from the expired, but that’s tricky. I could listen to myself, still claiming to anybody that would hear that I didn’t fall, I was pushed over the balcony at the Sunset Beach Hotel in Montego Bay. And I can’t say shut your trap, Artie Jennings, because every morning I wake up having to put my pumpkin-smashed head back together. And even as I talk now I can hear how I sounded then, can you dig it, dingledoodies? meaning that the afterlife is just not a happening scene, not a groovy shindig, Daddy-O, see those cool cats on the mat? They could never dig it, and there’s nothing to do but wait for the man that killed me, but he won’t die, he only gets older and older and trades out wives for younger and younger and breeding a whole brood of slow-witted boys and running the country down into the ground.
Dead people never stop talking and sometimes the living hear. Sometimes he talks back if I catch him right as his eyes start to flicker in his sleep, talks until his wife slaps him. But I’d rather listen to the longer dead. I see men in split breeches and bloody longcoats and they talk, but blood comes out of their mouths and good heavens that slave rebellion was such ghastly business and that queen has of course been of bloody awful use ever since the West India Company began their rather shoddy decline compared to the East and why are there so many negroes taking to sleeping so unsoundly wherever they see fit and confound it all I seem to have misplaced the left half of my face. To be dead is to understand that dead is not gone, you’re in the flatness of the deadlands. Time doesn’t stop. You watch it move but you are still, like a painting with a Mona Lisa smile. In this space a three-hundred-year-old slit throat and two-minute-old crib death is the same.
If you don’t watch how you sleep, you’ll find yourself the way the living found you. Me, I’m lying on the floor, my head a smashed pumpkin with my right leg twisted behind the back and my two arms bent in a way that arms aren’t supposed to bend and from high up, from the balcony I look like a dead spider. I am up there and down here and from up there I see myself the way my killer saw me. The dead relive a motion, an action, a scream and they’re there again just like that, the train that never stopped running until it ran off the rails, the ledge from that building sixteen floors up, the car trunk that ran out of air. Rudeboys’ bodies bursting like pricked balloons, fifty-six bullets.
Nobody falls that way without being pushed. I know. And I know how it feels and looks, a body that falls fighting air all the way down, grabbing on to clumps of nothing and begging once, just once, just goddamn once, Jesus, you sniveling son of a mongrel bitch, just once that air gives a grip. And you land in a ditch five feet deep or a marble-tiled floor sixteen feet down, still fighting when the floor rises up and smashes into you because it got tired of waiting for blood. And we’re still dead but we wake up, me a crushed spider, him a burned cockroach. I have no memory of coffins.
Living people wait and see because they fool themselves that they have time. Dead people see and wait. I once asked my Sunday school teacher, if heaven is the place of eternal life, and hell is the opposite of heaven, what does that make hell? A place for dirty little red boys like you, she said. She’s still alive. I see her, at the Eventide Old Folks Home getting too old and too stupid, not knowing her name and talking in so soft a rasp that nobody can hear that she’s scared of nightfall because that’s when the rats come for her good toes. I see more than that. Look hard enough or maybe just to the left and you see a country that was the same as I left it. It never changes, whenever I’m around people they are exactly as I had left them, aging making no difference.
The man who was father of a nation, father to me more than my own, cried like a sudden widow when he heard I had died. You never know when people’s dreams are connected to you before you’re gone and then there’s nothing to do, but watch them die in a different way, slow, limb by limb, system by system. Heart condition, diabetes, slow-killing diseases with slow-sounding names. This is the body going over to death with impatience, one part at a time. He will live to see them make him a national hero and he will die the only person thinking he had failed. That’s what happens when you personify hopes and dreams in one person. He becomes nothing more than a literary device.
This is a story of several killings, of boys who meant nothing to a world still spinning, but each of them as they pass me carry the sweet-stink scent of the man that killed me.
The first, he screams his tonsils out but the scream stops right at the gate of his teeth because they have gagged him and it tastes like vomit and stone. And someone has tied his hands tight behind his back but they feel loose because all the skin has rubbed off and blood is greasing the rope. He’s kicking with both legs because right is tied to left, kicking the dirt rising five feet, then six, and he cannot stand because it’s raining mud and dirt and dust to dust and rocks. One rock claps his nose and another bullets his eye and it’s erupting and he’s screaming but the scream runs right to the tip of his mouth then back down like reflux and the dirt is a flood that’s rising and rising and he cannot see his toes. Then he’ll wake up and he’s still dead and he won’t tell me his name.
I know I was fourteen. That me know. I also know that too many people talk too much, especially the American, who never shut up, just switch to a laugh every time he talk ’bout you, and it sound strange how he put your name beside people we never hear ’bout, Allende Lumumba, a name that sound like a country that Kunta Kinte come from. The American, most of the time hide him eye with sunglasses like he is a preacher from America come to talk to black people. Him and the Cuban come sometimes together, sometimes on they own, and when one talk the other always quiet. The Cuban don’t fuck with guns because guns always need to be needed, him say.
And I know me used to sleep on a cot and I know that my mother was a whore and my father was the last good man in the ghetto. And I know we watched your big house on Hope Road for days now, and at one point you come talk to us like you was Jesus and we was Iscariot and you nod as if to say get on with your business and do what you have to do. But I can’t remember if me see you or if somebody told me that him see you so that me think I see it too, you stepping out on the back porch, eating a slice of breadfruit, she coming out of nowhere like she have serious business outside at that time of night and shocked, so shocked that you don’t have no clothes on, then she reach for your fruit because she want to eat it even though Rasta don’t like when woman loose and you both get to midnight raving, and I grab meself and rave too from either seeing it or hearing it, and then you write a song about it. The boy from Concrete Jungle on the same girly green scooter come by for four days at eight in the morning and four in the evening for the brown envelope until the new security squad start to turn him back. We know about that business too.
In the Eight Lanes and in Copenhagen City all you can do is watch. Sweet-talking voice on the radio say that crime and violence are taking over the country and if change ever going to come then we will have to wait and see, but all we can do down here in the Eight Lanes is see and wait. And I see shit water run free down the street and I wait. And I see my mother take two men for twenty dollars each and one more who pay twenty-five to stay in instead of pull out and I wait. And I watch my father get so sick and tired of her that he beat her like a dog. And I see the zinc on the roof rust itself brown, and then the rain batter hole into it like foreign cheese, and I see seven people in one room and one pregnant and people fucking anyway because people so poor that they can’t even afford shame and I wait.
And the little room get smaller and smaller and more sisterbrothercousin come from country, the city getting bigger and bigger and there be no place to rub-a-dub or cut you shit and no chicken back to curry and even when there is it still cost too much money and that little girl get stab because they know she get lunch money every Tuesday and the boys like me getting older and not in school very regular and can’t read Dick and Jane but know Coca-Cola, and want to go to a studio and cut a tune and sing hit songs and ride the riddim out of the ghetto but Copenhagen City and the Eight Lanes both too big and every time you reach the edge, the edge move ahead of you like a shadow until the whole world is a ghetto, and you wait.
I see you hungry and waiting and know that it’s just luck, you loafing around the studio and Desmond Dekker telling the man to give you a break, and he give you the break because he hear the hunger in your voice before he even hear you sing. You cut a tune, but not a hit song, too pretty for the ghetto even then, for we past the time when prettiness make anybody’s life easy. We see you hustle and trying to talk your way twelve inches taller and we want to see you fail. And we know nobody would want you to be a rudeboy anyway for you look like a schemer.
And when you disappear to Delaware and come back, you try sing the ska, but ska already left the ghetto to take up residence uptown. Ska take the plane to foreign to show white people that it’s just like the twist. Maybe that make the Syrian and the Lebanese proud, but when we see them in the newspaper posing with Air Hostess we not proud, just stunned stupid. You make another song, this time a hit. But one hit can’t bounce you out of the ghetto when you recording hits for a vampire. One hit can’t make you into Skeeter Davis or the man who sing them Gunfighter Ballads.
By the time boy like me drop out of my mother, she give up. Preacher says there is a god-shaped void in everybody life but the only thing ghetto people can fill a void with is void. Nineteen seventy-two is nothing like 1962 and people still whispering for they could never shout that when Artie Jennings dead all of a sudden he take the dream with him. The dream of what I don’t know. People stupid. The dream didn’t leave, people just don’t know a nightmare when they right in the middle of one. More people start moving to the ghetto because Delroy Wilson just sing that “Better Must Come” and the man who would become Prime Minister sing it too. Better Must Come. Man who look like white man but chat bad like naigger when they have to, singing “Better Must Come.” Woman who dress like the Queen, who never care about the ghetto before it swell and burst in Kingston singing “Better Must Come.”
But worst come first.
We see and wait. Two men bring guns to the ghetto. One man show me how to use it. But ghetto people used to kill each other long before that. With anything we could find: stick, machete, knife, ice pick, soda bottle. Kill for food. Kill for money. Sometimes a man get kill because he look at another man in a way that he didn’t like. And killing don’t need no reason. This is ghetto. Reason is for rich people. We have madness.
Madness is walking up a good street downtown and seeing a woman dress up in the latest fashion and wanting to go straight up to her and grab her bag, knowing that it’s not the bag or the money that we want so much, but the scream, when she see that you jump right into her pretty-up face and you could slap the happy right out of her mouth and punch the joy right out of her eye and kill her right there and rape her before or after you kill her because that is what rudeboys like we do to decent women like her. Madness that make you follow a man in a suit down King Street, where poor people never go and watch him throw away a sandwich, chicken, you smell it and wonder how people can be so rich that they use chicken for just to put between so-so bread, and you pass the garbage and see it, still in the foil, and still fresh, not brown with the other garbage and no fly on it yet and you think maybe, and you think yes and you think you have to, just to see what chicken taste like with no bone. But you say you not no madman, and the madness in you is not crazy people madness but angry madness, because you know the man throw it away because he want you to see. And you promise yourself that one day rudeboy going to start walking with a knife and next time I going jump him and carve sufferah right in him chest.
But he know boy like me can’t walk downtown for long before we get pounce on by Babylon. Police only have to see that me don’t have no shoes before he say what the bloodcloth you nasty naiggers doing ’round decent people, and give me two choices. Run and he give chase into one of the lanes that cut through the city so that he can shoot me in the private. Plenty shots in the magazine so at least one bullet must hit. Or stand down and get beat up right in front of decent people, him swinging the baton and knocking out my side teeth and cracking my temple so that I can never hear good out of that ear again and saying let that be a lesson to never take you dutty, stinking, ghetto self uptown again. And I see them and I wait.
But then you come back even though nobody know when you leave. Woman want to know why you come back when you can always get nice things like Uncle Ben’s rice in America. We wonder if you go there to sing hit songs. Some of we keep watching as you shift through the ghetto like small fish in a big river. Me know your game now but didn’t see it then, how you friend up the gunman here, the Rasta with the big sound there and this bad man and that rudeboy and even my father, so that everybody know you enough to like you, but not enough to remember to recruit you. You sing just about anything, anything to get a hit, even stuff that you alone know and nobody else care about. “And I Love Her,” because Prince Buster cover “You Won’t See Me” and get himself a hit. You use what you have, even a melody that’s not yours and you sing it hard and sing it long and sing yourself straight out of the ghetto. By 1971 you already on TV. By 1971 I shoot my first shot.
I was ten.
And ghetto life don’t mean nothing. Is nothing to kill a boy. I remember the last time my father try to save me. He run home from the factory, I remember because my face reach him chest when we both stand and he panting so hard like a dog. The rest of the evening we in the house, on we knee and toe. Is a game he say, too loud and too quick. Who stand up first lose, he said. So me stand up because me is ten and me is big boy and me tired of game but he yell and grab me and thump me in the chest. And me huff and puff and breathing so hard that I want to cry and want to hate him but then the first one slip through like somebody fling gravel and it bounce ’gainst the wall. And then the next and the next. And then they rip right across the wall pap-pap-pap-pap-pap-pap except for the last bullet that hit a pot with a bang and then six seven ten twenty blast into the wall like a chukchukchukchukchukchukchuk. And he grab me and try to cover my ears but he grab so hard that he don’t realize that he’s digging into my eye. And I hear the bullet and the pap-pap-pap-pap-pap-pap and the whoooshboom and feel the floor shake. And woman scream and man scream and boy scream in that way where life cut short and you can hear the scream get lost in blood rushing from the throat up to the mouth a gargle, a choke. And he hold me down and gag my scream and I want to bite him hand so me bite him hand because it also covering my nose and please Papa don’t kill me, but he shaking and I wonder if it’s death shake and the ground shaking again and feet, feet all around, men running and passing and passing and running and laughing and screaming and shouting that man from the Eight Lanes all going dead. And Daddy push me down flat on the ground and cover me with himself but him so heavy and my nose hurt and he smell of car engine and him knee or something in my back and the floor taste bitter and I know it’s the red floor polish and I want him to get up off me and me hate him and everything sound like it covered in stockings. And when he finally get off me, people outside screaming but there’s no more papapapapapapap or whooshboom, but he crying and I hate him.
Two day later my mother come back laughing because she know her new dress is the one pretty thing in this whole r’asscloth ghetto and he see her because he didn’t go to work, because nobody feel safe to walk the street and he go right after her and grab her and say bombocloth whoring gal, me can smell man stinking cockycheese ’pon you. He grab her by the hair and punch her in the belly and she scream that he not no man since he can’t even fuck a flea and him say oh is fuck you want? And he say make me find a cocky big enough for you and he grab her by the hair and drag her into the room and me watching from under the sheet where he put me to hide just in case bad man come in the night and he grab a broomstick and he beat her from head to foot from front to back and she screaming until she whelping and then moaning and he say you want big cocky, make me give you big cocky you fucking pussycloth whoring bitch and he take the broomstick and spread open her legs by kicking them apart. He kick her out of the house and throw her clothes after her and I think that is the last time me going to see my mother but she come back the next day, bandage up like a mummy from the movie that show for thirty cents at Rialto Cinema and three other man with her.
They grab my father the three of them, but my father fight, fight them like a man, even punch them like John Wayne in a movie, like how a real man supposed to fight. But he is one and they is three and soon four. And the fourth one come in only when they beat me father like a smash tomato and he say me name Funnyboy, me next in line to be the don but you know what you name? You know what you name? Me say if you know what you name, pussyhole? and my mother laugh but it come out like a wheeze and Funnyboy say you think because you work in factory you hot? Is me get you the work at factory and me can take it away, pussyhole. You know what your name is, pussyhole? You name informer. And he tell everybody to leave.
And he say you know why them call me Funnyboy? ’Cause me no take nothing fi joke.
Even in the dark Funnyboy lighter than nearly everybody else, but him skin always red, like blood always right under the skin or like white people who in the sun too long and him eye grey like a cat. And Funnyboy tell my father that he going die now, right now, but if he make him feel good he can live like them lion in Born Free only he would have to leave the ghetto. And he say only one way you going live and he say other things but he pull down him zip and he take it out and he say you want to live? You want to live? And my father want to live and my father spit and Funnyboy hold the gun right near my father ear. And he tell my father about country and where he can go and he can take him pickney with him and when he say pickney I shake but nobody know that me under the cover. And he say you want to live? You want to live? Over and over and over again like a nagging little girl and he rub my father lips with him gun and my father open him mouth and Funnyboy say if you bite off me head I going shoot you in the neck so you hear yourself dying and he put it in my father mouth and Funnyboy say you might as well lick since you suck like a dead fish. And he groan and groan and groan and fuck my father head then pull himself out and hold my father head steady and fire. Pap. Not like the pow in cowboy movie and not like when Harry Callahan fire, but one big sharp pap that shake the room. The blood splat on the wall. My gasp and the gunshot go off the same time so nobody know me under the blanket still.
My mother run back in and start to laugh and kick my father and Funnyboy go up to her and shoot her in the face. She fall right on top of me, so when he say find the little boy they look everywhere but under my mother. Funnyboy say, Can you imagine, the little batty boy say him would suck me like some bow cat and mek me feel good if me make him live? Dutty pervert all reach out and grab me wood. Can you imagine that, he say to the men who looking ’round for me, but my mother on top of me and her fingers right by my face and me in a cage looking through her fingers and I don’t cry and Funnyboy going on and on about how he know that my father was a battyman, have to be a battyman that must be why him woman was such a whore because how else her pussy going get look after, and then he say don’t tell none o’ this to Shotta Sherrif.
The house quiet. Me push me mother off and happy that it dark but I can’t leave because they might catch me, so I see and wait. As I wait my father on the floor by the door and he get up and come over to me and say English is the best subject in school because even if you get a job as a plumber nobody going give you any work if you chat bad, and chatting good is everything even before learning a trade. And that a man must learn to cook even though that is woman things and he talking and talking and talking too much, just like he always talk too much and sometimes he talk so loud that I wonder if he want the next door to hear and learn from him too, but no he still on the ground and he telling me to run, to run now because they going to come back to take them Clarks shoes off him foot and whatever else in the house that worth anything and they will tear down the house looking for money even though he put all him money in the bank. He over at the door. Me pull the Clarks off but see him head and vomit.
The Clarks too big and I clupclupclup to get over to the back of the house, with nothing outside but old railway and bush and me trip over me damn whore mother who jerk like she alive but she not. Me climb up the window and jump. The Clarks too big to run so me take them off and run through bush and broken bottle and wet shit and dry shit and fire not yet put out and the dead railway taking me out of the Eight Lanes and I run and run and hide in the macka bush until the sky go orange, then pink, then grey, and then the sun put out and the moon rise fat. When me see three truck drive pass with nothing but man in them I run until me reach the Garbagelands, nothing but waste and junk and shit stretching for miles. Nothing but what uptown people throw out, rubbish rising high like hill and valley and dunes like a desert and everywhere burning and I still running and I don’t stop until me see ghetto again and a roadblock by a truck and I run under the truck and still running and man shouting and woman screaming and the house them look different, closer, tighter and I running and some man come out with a machine gun but woman scream that is just a boy and he bleeding and something trip me and me fall and start to bawl loud and two man come up to me and one point a gun and me wheezing now like my daddy do in him sleep and the man with the gun come up to me and shout where you from? You smell like one of them Eight Lanes battyman and the other man say a pickney dat and blood ’pon him and the other say if man shoot you, boy? I can’t talk, all me can say is Clarks is good shoe, Clarks is good sh . . . and the man with the gun go click and somebody shout how that bloodclaat Josey Wales love fire a gun so! and not everything solve by a bam-bam and both man step away from me but plenty gather including woman. Then they open a space like Moses just part the Red Sea and he step towards me and stop.
Shotta Sherrif killing him own now? Him no know say able-bodied man rationed? he say. Must be Eight Lanes birth control. Everybody laugh. I say Mama and Daddy and can’t say anything else but he nod and understand. You want to kill him back? he say and I want to say for my father but not my mother but all I say is y-y-y-y-y and I nod hard like I just get hit and can’t talk. He say soon, soon and call a woman over and she try to pick me up but I grab my Clarks and the man laugh. He is a big man and wearing a white mesh merino that glow in the streetlight and light up him face, most of it hiding in him beard, but not him eyes for them big and almost glow too and he smile so much that you barely notice how thick him lips be or that when he stop smiling and him cheek sink, that him beard cut him face into a sharp V and him eyes stare at you cold. The man say, Let them know that is not ghetto dog that live over here in Copenhagen City, then he look at me like he can talk without saying anything and I know that he see something that he can use. He say get this boy some coconut water and the woman say yes Papa-Lo.
And I live in Copenhagen City from then on and I see the Eight Lanes and I wait for the time. And I see man in Copenhagen City with nothing but a knife, then a cowboy gun, then an M16, then a gun so heavy he can barely carry it himself and I turn twelve and or least I think so, since Papa-Lo called the day he find me my birthday and he give me a gun too and he call me Bam-Bam. And I go to the Garbagelands with other boy and learn to fire but the recoil make me trip and they laugh and call me little pussyhole and I say that’s what me call your mother last night when me fuck her and they laugh and another man, the man called Josey Wales, put the gun in my hand and show me how to point. I grow up in Copenhagen City and watch the guns change and know they don’t come from Papa-Lo. They come from the two men who bring guns to the ghetto and the one man who show me how to use it.
We, the Syrian, the American and Doctor Love out by the shack near the sea.
There’s only one sign hanging outside, but it’s so big that even inside you can see the yellow curves of the logo tilting off the roof. So huge that one day it’s bound to fall, probably when some little kid’s running in because school had let out early. So this kid, right, is gonna cross the threshold just as the big logo starts to creak, and he won’t even hear it because his little tummy is grumbling so loud, and as he tries to pull the door open it’ll all come crashing down. Poor kid’s ghost will curse like a fucking sailor when he gets a load of what popped him: King Burger: Home of the Whamperer.
There’s also a McDonald’s farther down Halfway Tree Road. The logo is blue and the people who work there swear Mr. McDonald is in the back room. But I’m at King Burger, Home of the Whamperer. Nobody here has ever heard of Burger King. Inside, the chairs are plastic and yellow, the tables are fiberglass and red and the menu looks like those letters at the cinema that say coming soon. The place is never packed at three p.m., which is of course the reason I come here. People in packs always make me antsy; all you need is the wrong spark and a group turns into a mob. I wonder if that’s why outside is all grilled up. I’ve been in Jamaica since January.
There’s a sign behind the cashier that says if your burger isn’t ready in fifteen minutes it’s free. Two days ago when I touched my watch sixteen minutes later, she said it only applied to cheeseburgers. Yesterday, when my cheeseburger was late she said it only applied to chicken sandwiches. Poor girl must be running out of burgers to blame. But nobody comes here. One of the things I fucking hate about my fellow Americans: whenever they fly to a foreign country, first thing they do, they try to find as much of America as they can get their hands on, even if it’s food in the shitty cafeteria. Sally, who’s been here since the Johnson administration, has never had ackee and saltfish ever, despite me being probably the two millionth person to say baby, it’s like scrambled eggs but better. My kids love it. My wife, she wished they had Manwich or Ragú, or even Hamburger Helper, but good luck finding that at a supermarket. Good luck finding anything, really.
The first time I had jerk chicken a guy at the intersection of Constant Spring Road and some other road came up to my car and shouted, Boss, you ever have jerk chicken? before I could find that broken-off handle to wind up the window. He was tall and skinny, in a white undershirt, huge Afro, shiny teeth and shiny muscles, too many muscles for one kid but the man, boy really, smelled like allspice so I got out of the car and followed him back to his shop, a small shack, wood tacked together with a zinc roof and striped in blue, green, yellow, orange and red. The man grabbed the biggest fucking machete I ever saw in my life and sliced off a piece of chicken leg as if he had just cut through warm butter. He handed it to me and as I was about to eat it, but he closed his eyes and nodded no. Just like that: firm, peaceful and final. Before I said anything he pointed at a huge jar, kinda translucent like it’s been standing there awhile. Hey I’m nothing if not adventurous, my wife would say crazy. It was a humongous glass jar of mashed pepper paste. I dipped the chicken in and swallowed the piece whole. You know that part in Road Runner where Wile E. Coyote’s bomb goes off right after he swallows it, and smoke comes out of his ears and nose? Or that dipstick, first time at the sushi bar thinking damn right I can swallow a teaspoon of wasabi? That was me. I don’t think the man knew that white people could turn so many shades of red. I blinked a teardrop and hiccupped for at least a minute. Somebody had doused my mouth with sugar and gasoline, lit a match and woof. ShitGoddamnmotherfucker-thatfuckingshitisthefuckingblood of life! I remember coughing out.
I asked the cashier at King Burger if they ever thought of a jerk burger. Ghetto food? she said and scoffed in that way Jamaican women do, closed her eyes, lifted her chin and turned away. I’m in here nearly every day and this girl is the same. She says, Can I take your order? A cheeseburger. Would you like a lemonade or a milk shake with your order? No, just a D&G Grape. Does that complete your order? Yes. Whamperer tastes just like a Whopper, minus the taste. Even the lettuce knows it can do better, so wet and bitter on this burger that I order every day for shits, just so I can tell my kids, You know what I had today? Poppa had a Whamperer, and they think their pop has a stammer.
The sun is jumping ship and evening’s coming. But this country needs a good disco. Right now skipping countries every three to five years or so is all that keeps me sane. Though nobody gets to the other end of the Company keeping sane. Some of the craziest bullshit I’ve ever heard was from my former station chief, well before he got a serious case of the conscience. His son is here, came in on American flight DC301 from New York. He’s been here now three days and has no idea I know he’s here. Not that he knows me or anything, Bring Your Child to Work Day was not one of the ideas his daddy bounced around. It’s not like it’s a secret why he’s here, but when the son of the former head of the Company suddenly shows up in Jamaica, even a guy on the inside starts to wonder if there was something he missed.
Word was he’s a filmmaker, or one of those rich kids with enough money to buy their own camera. He came with a bunch of photographers and film people for this peace concert by that reggae guy who’s bigger than sliced bread these days. It’s supposed to be big, and though I’ve only been here since January, even I know the country needs some sort of peace. It’s not going to come from that guy in the Prime Minister’s office, but still. So the big reggae guy is staging a concert which was organized by the Prime Minister’s party, which almost makes big reggae guy a person of interest. The embassy got news that Roberta Flack is flying in and Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are already here. The motherfucking Rolling Stones.
No, I don’t listen to big reggae guy. Reggae is monotonous and boring and the drummer must have the laziest job in the world next to King Burger cashier. I prefer ska, I prefer Desmond Dekker. Only yesterday I asked the King Burger cashier if she liked “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” and she looked at me as if I just asked her to hit me up with some smack. Me no know, she said. I said, Then what do you listen to? What’s playing at the jam session? She said Big Youth and Mighty Diamonds. I said yeah, Mighty Diamonds and Big Youth are cool and all, but did either ever get name-checked in a fucking Beatles song, like Desmond Dekker? She said, Please watch your language, sir, this is a law-abiding premises.
How do you construct an accident? Nobody in the Company is indispensable, but sometimes I wonder why don’t they just call somebody else. At least they didn’t have me groundworking Montevideo. What a goddamn mess that turned out to be. But I like having a job I can’t talk about. It makes keeping the other secrets easier. The wife finally came around to the fact that as long as we’re married there are just some things she will never know and she had to get used to what all our wives get used to. Knowing two out of every four facts. Five out of every ten trips. One out of every five deaths. I don’t think she knows exactly what I do. At least that’s the story I’m sticking to this week. I’m in Jamaica and almost everything is moving according to plan. Which is a boneheaded way of saying things are moving so textbook easy that it’s actually rather boring to work here. Not surprised at all, Jamaicans tend to react exactly as you think they would. Maybe that’s refreshing to some, or maybe just a relief.
So back when I mentioned the jerk chicken guy, that was in May and I wasn’t in that area because I suddenly wanted to experience the real Jamaica. I was following a man in a car four cars up. A person of keen interest that a driver picked up at the Constant Spring Hotel. At first I thought I was brought here to shadow him, only to find out that he was shadowing me. He used to work for the Company until he also caught a terminal case of the conscience. This is what happens when top brass still tries to recruit from Ivy League washouts, prep school faggots, American Kim Philbys waiting to come out of the closet if not the cold. By the time I found out that he was in Jamaica he had already found out I was here. I’m not exactly undercover—too late for that. That said, I couldn’t have this man talking up a mess that I would then have to clean up. Pity that I didn’t have clearance to proceed. It’s not even over and I miss the Cold War already.
Bill Adler checked out of the Company in 1969 a very bitter customer. Maybe he was just a disgruntled left-wing commie, but tons of those are still in the Company. Sometimes the good ones are the worst, the mediocre ones are just civil servants with wire-tapping skills. But the good ones either become him or me. And he was sometimes very good. After he was done with Ecuador, a four-year job done with, dare I say it, brio, all I had to do was clean up the stray debris. Of course I’d much rather remind him of that lovely mess in Tlatelolco. The boss called me an innovator but I was just following the Adler rulebook. Ceiling mics, like the one he used in Montevideo. Either way he left the CIA in 1969 with a critical case of conscience and has been making trouble and endangering lives ever since.
Last year he dropped a book, not a very good one but there were explosions in it. We knew it was coming but let it go, thinking well, maybe a diversion with his out-of-date info would actually help us out there doing real work. Turns out his info was very nearly top-notch, and why wouldn’t it be, come to think of it. He named names too. Inside the Company. Top brass didn’t read it, but Miles Copeland did, another whiny faggot who used to run the Cairo office. He ordered the London office restructured from the ground up. Then Richard Welch got murdered in Athens by 17 November, a second-rate terrorist group that we wouldn’t have sent a candy striper to monitor. Killed with his wife and driver too.
But with all that, with knowing all that he was capable of, I still had no idea why Adler was here. He wasn’t an official guest of the government; that would have been an irredeemable faux pas on the Prime Minister’s behalf, especially after shooting the shit with Kissinger just a few months ago. But the Prime Minister was certainly happy he was here. Meanwhile I’m waiting for orders from head section to neutralize the threat of this man, or at least mute it. The Jamaica Council for Human Rights invited him, forcing me to open a brand-new file on my already crowded desk. Within days the guy was giving speeches, long speeches about all kinds of bullshit, like his name was Castro or something. Saying that people like me were in Latin America with him and he was disgusted by what he saw, especially in Chile when we allowed Pinochet to take power.
He didn’t name me, but I knew who he was talking about. Calling us the horsemen of apocalypse, destabilizing any country in our wake. He was dramatic all right, all the time pulling back on how much of this came out of his own rulebook. And that’s all this Prime Minister needed, a nice multi-syllable word like destabilization to turn it into a fucking jingle. But he threw us on the defensive in a way that I’ll make sure never happens again. Of course the only people listening was Penthouse magazine. Goddamn, what does it mean when the conscience of America airbrushes pussy for a living? Guys like Adler, guys who suddenly develop this sense of mission to expose evil America when they’re just white guys with a guilty conscience who never know when to quit. And the Company couldn’t decide if I should just quit him.
At one point he claimed he had evidence that the Company was behind arson in some tenement they call it on Orange Street, murder of more than a few Cubans in Jamaica and industrial unrest on the wharf. He said he had evidence that the Company was giving the opposition party money, which was just preposterous considering what bad form it would have been, trusting anybody in the Third World with money. I don’t know why he didn’t just send an article to Mother Jones or Rolling Stone or something. Before the Company gave me a clear directive of what to do he was gone, my eyes and ears tell me, to Cuba. But the bastard did his damage. He gave the Jamaicans names. Fucking names. Not mine but eleven of the staff at the embassy, blowing the cover of at least seven of them. They had to be shipped back before any realized that they knew them by assumed names. Because of Adler I had to start from scratch. In the middle of September in a year that was doing nobody any favors. Everything from scratch, which already led to problems.
Passing his office I overheard Louis on the phone about a shipment at the wharf that went rogue. I did some checking. Nobody in this office has ordered any shipment of anything, and if they did they certainly wouldn’t have had it go through Jamaican customs for two-thirds of it to be stolen. Need-to-know basis serves him as much as it does me, but I don’t like when a fucking rogue agent somewhere in Cuba finds out something is gone before I even knew I was supposed to miss it. Means his low-level snoops still have higher clearance than me, and I’m supposed to be running the fucking show. Louis didn’t sound too distressed when he was telling all this to God knows who, and I got tired of standing near his doorway like I was trying to get gossip.
The wife called not long ago to tell me she had run out of maraschino cherries again. I tell you, the Cold War isn’t even over and I miss it already.
Listen to me now. Me warn him y’know, my magnanimous gentlemens. Long time I drop warnings that other people close, friend and enemy was going get him in a whole heap o’ trouble. Every one of we know at least one, don’t it? Them kinda man who just stay a certain way? Always have a notion but never come up with a single idea. Always working plenty of scheme but never have a plan. That was certain people. Here is my friend the biggest superstar in the world and yet him have some of the smallest mind to come out of the ghetto as friend. Me not going name who but I warn the Singer. I say, You have some people right close to you who going do nothing but take you down, you hear me? Me tired to say that to him. Sick and tired. But him just laugh that laugh, that laugh that swallow the room. That laugh that sound like he already have a plan.
People think me understand everything to the fullness. That is not no lie, wondiferous gentlemens, but Jah know, sometimes I don’t learn till too late, and to know something too late? Well is better you never know as my mother used to say. Worse, you all present tense and have to deal with sudden past tense all around you. It’s like realizing somebody rob you a year late.
So look at me. See all this? From the old cemetery to the west, the harbour to the south and all of the south West Kingston? Me run that. The Eight Lanes is PNP so they watch them own affairs. Then you have the territory in the middle that we have to fight for and sometimes lose. He used to live in Trench Town so some people have him as stooge for the People’s National Party. But me will take a bullet for him and him would take one for me too.
But them new boys, them boys who never dance the rocksteady and don’t care ’bout niceing up the dance, them boys don’t work for nobody. Me enforce for the Jamaica Labour Party in green, and Shotta Sherrif control for the People’s National Party in orange, but them new boys enforce for the party in them back pocket. Can’t even control them no more.
Earlier this year when he gone on tour, after begging me to come with him to see London town (of course me couldn’t go, me so much as sleep and is armagideon down the ghetto), he leave certain brethren at the house. Soon as him gone, them boys call ghetto boys from Jungle, because they have a grand scheme. This one boiciferous, like them big scheme you watch on TV where Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry stick up a bank and still get the sexy girl who hand them over the money. We try to keep the peace, me and Shotta Sherrif, but whenever things get out of hand, somebody kill a school pickney for her lunch money or rape a woman on her way to church, is usually somebody from somewhere like Jungle, man who born with no light in them eye. Them is the people that get together with the Singer friend on him own premises and scheme.
One week before the Kings Sweepstakes, five man from Jungle drive all the way down to Caymanas Race Course on a training day and wait for the top jockey, who never lose a race, to come out to the parking lot. As soon as he step out, in him riding clothes, two man grab him and one cover him head with a crocus bag. They take him somewhere I don’t know where and do something, I don’t know what, but come that Saturday, he lose the three race he was in, three race he was supposed to win easy, including the sweepstakes. He board a flight to Miami the following Monday, then poof! Gone. Nobody know where he gone, not even him family. Horse fixing is as old as horse race, but a little people make a lot of money too fast. Too fast. The same week the jockey vanish, two man from Jungle also disappear poof! like they never born in the first place, and certain brethren all of a sudden had to make pilgrimage to Ethiopia. Now me respect Rastafari to the max, and a man have to go to him homeland if that is where he think it be. But somehow all of a sudden when people holding out for money, the brethren with all of it just skip. Who knows what happen to the money.
That was the beginning. From then all sorts bad guzum come to the Singer own house. Con man with con-plan in the same house where music need to vibe off pure spirit. I remember when that was the only place any man, no matter what side you on, could escape a bullet. The only place in Kingston where the only thing that hit you was music. But the fucking people soil it up with bad vibes, better if they did just go into the studio one morning and shit all over the console, me no going say who. By the time the Singer come back from tour, mob from Jungle was already waiting for him. Jamaican man head thick like brick. Never mind that the man was on tour and don’t know nothing ’bout no horse race, or that he never cheat no man ever. Jungle man say, The scheme launch ’pon your property so you responsible. Then they take him out to Hellshire Beach, saying he need to eat some fish.
He tell me all this himself. Now he is a man who could talk to God and the devil and make them work out they difference—as long as neither of them have a woman. But that morning they come for him at six o’clock, before he go off to run and exercise, and swim in the river like he do every morning. That was the first sign. Nobody mess up with the Singer’s morning, that is when the sun rise to send him message, when the holy spirit tell him what to sing next, when he closest to the most high. Still he go with them. They drive out to Fort Clarence Beach, twenty miles or so from West Kingston but just across the sea and so close that you can see it from across the water. He tell me all this himself. The whole time them was talking they look away, shift from side to side, staring at the ground because they didn’t want him to mark they face.
—Your brethren, him gone in a scheme with we, sight? Your brethren come ’round the Jungle ’cause him want bad man fi do him dirty work, sight? Your brethren bring we ’pon your base fi talk business, sight?
—Seen. But me no know ’bout that, my youth, he say to them.
—Oi! Me, me, me no bloodclaat care what you want say, business go down under your roof so is you responsible.
—Brethren, how you see that? After the man is not me, him not me brother, him not me son, how me responsible?
—Oi, you, you hear what we say? Me just say it . . . me mean, me say me just say it, you never hear? It happen under your roof and him gone like some stinking bitch ’cause him get greedy, sight? After we show the jockey and say Yow, you better throw off them three race or we coming for you and the baby in you woman belly. We do we thing, the jockey do him thing, everybody do him thing, but your friend and him friend dash out with the money and leave poor man fi stay poor. How people can so fuck up?
—Me no know, star, him say to the man who was doing the most talking. Short, stubby, and smell like sawdust. I know who him talking ’bout. So they say to him, Yow, hear how it ah go go, sight? We want we money, sight? So every day we a go send a brother ’pon a bike fi pick up two shipment, one in the morning one in the evening, you see me?
Him never tell me how much money them ask for, but me still have eyes and ears. Them tell me say is forty thousand U.S. the scam pay off. And them never see none of it. Them must did demand at least ten thousand out of that, probably more. So now they want to pick up stash of cash every day till they feel they get enough. Him say No, boss, that is con man business, me nah pay that. And how you fi do the I so? Is three thousand of you me pay for every day, send you to school and feed you. Three thousand of you.
That’s when the second thing happen, nearly all of them pull gun ’pon him right there at Fort Clarence Beach. Some of them man not even fourteen yet and them pull gun ’pon the one man that understand what them have to deal with. But them man is a new kind a man. They operate in a different stylee. Everybody, grandiloquent gentlemens, everybody in Copenhagen City, the Eight Lanes, Jungle, Rema, uptown and downtown know that nobody ever pull gun on the Singer. Even the weather knew that this was a new thing, some different kind of black cloud that nobody see in the sky before. The Singer have to talk the guns, all seven of them, right back into their back pocket, belt loop and holster. The next day a man on a green Vespa start showing up at the house two time a day, every day.
He tell me this the same day me come ’round to hail him up, smoke two weed and talk ’bout the peace concert. Plenty people say that the concert was not a wise move. Some people already think he support the People’s National Party and that only going make it worse. Some of the people say they don’t respect him no more because Rasta not supposed to bow. You can’t reason with them man, because them never born with the part of the brain that man reason with. I tell him all this, and that he have nothing worry ’bout from me. Truth be, I getting old and want me pickney to see me get so old that them have to carry me. Last week in the market me see a young boy come pick up him old grandfather. He couldn’t even walk good without a big cane and him little grandson giving him a shoulder. Me grudge the weak old man so much me nearly start cry right there in the market. I go back home and walk the street and notice something for the first time. Not a single old man in the ghetto.
Me say to him, Friend, you know me, you know Shotta Sherrif from the other side, just call him and tell him to make them Jungle man back off. But he wiser than me, he know that Shotta Sherrif can’t help either when man with gun gone freelance stylee. Last month a shipment on the wharf just disappear. Not long after that freelance bad boy have machine gun, M16, M9 and Glock, and nobody can account for where they come from. Woman breed baby, but man can only make Frankenstein.
But when he tell me ’bout the boys from Jungle, he tell me like a father who just tell him son something too big for him to handle. He know even before me know, that me couldn’t help him. Me want you understand something good. Me love that man to the max. Me would take a bullet for the Singer. But gentlemens, me can only take one.
Right after they told me at the gate that nobody can come in but immediate family and the band, a man rode up right behind me on a lime green scooter. He rode up the same time I walked up and said nothing, just listened to the guard talk to me without shutting off his engine and then took off without talking to the guard himself. Was that a pickup or a delivery? I said to the guard, who didn’t see it funny. Ever since news broke about the peace concert security here tighter than the Prime Minister’s motorcade. Or up a nun’s panty, my last boyfriend would say. The man at the gate was new. I knew about the peace concert, everybody in Jamaica knew about it, and so I expected guards or police, not these men who looked like the very people you would want to keep out. Things was getting crucial.
Maybe it was a good thing, because as soon as the taxi dropped me off, the part of me that I like to shut off after morning coffee said, What do you think you’re doing here, skinny-legged fool? The great thing about a bus is another one is right behind it, ready to sweep you away as soon as you realize you’ve made a mistake. A taxi just drops you off and it’s gone. I would start walking at least, but damn if I could think of a better idea.
Havendale is not no Irish Town, but it’s still uptown and if we didn’t think it was safe we still didn’t think it was sorry. I mean, this is not the ghetto. Babies aren’t crying in the street and women aren’t getting raped pregnant as what happens every day in the ghetto. I’ve seen the ghetto, been there with my father. Everybody lives in their own Jamaica and damn if that was ever going to be mine. Last week, somewhere between eleven p.m. and three a.m., three men broke into my father’s house. My mother is always looking for signs and wonders and for her the fact that the newspaper last week said gunmen crossed the Half Way Tree line and have started picking off targets uptown was a very bad sign. The curfew was still on and even decent uptown people had to be indoors by a certain hour, six, eight, who knows or they would be up for grabs. Last month Mr. Jacobs from four houses down was coming home from night service and the police stopped him, threw him in the back of the van and sent him to the Gun Court lockup. He would still be there if Daddy didn’t find a judge to tell him that this was straight foolishness when we start to lock up even proper law-abiding people. Neither man mentioned that Mr. Jacobs was too dark-skinned for police to assume he was proper people, even in a gabardine suit. Then gunmen broke into our house. They took my parents’ wedding rings, all my mother’s figurines from Holland, three hundred dollars, all her costume earrings even though she told them they’re worth nothing, and his watch. They punched my father a couple times, and slapped my mother when she asked one of them if his mother knew that he was sinning. I asked her if any of the men had their way with her but said the rosebush was growing wild like a leggo beast, and I pretended I was talking to somebody else. The policeman didn’t come until the morning even though they called the station all night. Nine-thirty in the morning, long after I got there (they didn’t call me until six), and he took a statement on a yellow pad with a red pen. He had to say perpetrator to himself three times just to figure out how to spell it. When he said wuz h’any h’aggressive weapon brawt into play? I burst out laughing and my mother said I should excuse myself.
This country, this goddamn island, is going to kill us. Since the robbery Daddy don’t talk. A man likes to think he can protect what’s his, but then somebody else comes and takes it and he’s not much of a man anymore. I don’t think less of him, but Mummy always talks about how at one time he could have bought a house in Norbrook and he turned it down because he already had a safe and sound home with no more mortgage to pay. I’m not calling him a coward. I’m not saying he’s stingy. But sometimes when you’re too careful it just turns into a different kind of carelessness. It’s not that either. He’s from a generation that never even expected to get midway up the ladder so when he got there he was too stunned to dare climb higher. That’s the problem with midway. Up is everything and down just means all the white people want to party on your street on Sunday night to feel realness. Midway is nowhere.
Back in high school I used to have him stop at the bus stop or pray for the light to go red so that I could get out before he dropped me off at school. Kimmy, who has yet to visit her parents even after they’ve been robbed and her mother possibly raped, never caught the drift and always cussed when he said you get out too. Fact is Daddy was not a fourteen-year-old girl at the Immaculate Conception High School for girls, trying to act as if she had as much money and as much right to stick her head out and walk like an air hostess as anybody else who showed up in a Volvo. You couldn’t just drive up in a Ford Escort in front of those little bitches who were always lying in ambush at the gate just to see who drove up in what. Did you see Lisa’s father drop her off in some jalopy? My boyfriend says it’s a Cortina. That’s what Daddy have the maid use. What really boil me blood is that it’s not that Daddy didn’t have money, but he never could think of a single good reason to spend it. Which is why in a way, it makes sense that he would be robbed, but it also makes sense that the robber didn’t get away with anything much. That’s the only thing he would talk about, that the sons of mangy bitches only got three hundred dollars.
Can’t play it safe when nowhere safe anymore. Mummy say at one point they held my father by his two hands so that each could kick him in the balls like they playing football. And how he’s already refusing to see a doctor even though his stream not as powerful as it was only a week . . . good God, now I sound like my mother. The fact is that if they came once they could come again, and who knows, they might even do something bad enough for Kimmy to call her goddamn parents after they’ve been robbed and her mother possibly raped.
This socialist Prime Minister’s latest ism is runawayism. I must be the only woman in Jamaica who didn’t hear the Prime Minister say that there were five flights to Miami for anybody who wanted to leave. Better must come? Better was supposed to come four years ago. Now we have ism this and ism that and Daddy who just loves to talk about politics. That is when he’s not wishing he had a son, since men would actually care about the fate of the country and not being a beauty queen. I hate politics. I hate that just because I live here I’m supposed to live politics. And there’s nothing you can do. If you don’t live politics, politics will live you.
Danny was from Brooklyn. A blond-hair man who came down to do research for his degree in agricultural science. Who knew that the one thing Jamaica created that was the envy of science was a cow? Anyway, we were seeing each other. He would take me around to Mayfair Hotel uptown for a drink and suddenly there would be Caucasians, men, women, old, young, all as if God just waved a wand and poof! White people. I am what they call high brown, but even with my skin colour seeing so many white people was a shock. Somebody must have mistook this for the North Coast for there to be so many tourists. But then one would open his mouth and patois would tumble out. Even after going there too often to remember, I would pick my jaw off the ground every time I overheard a white man chat bad. Wait! Ho ho ho, is you that, busha? Ho ho ho, can’t see you these days, man, you get rich and switch? They didn’t even have a tan!
Danny would listen to really weird music, just noise that he would play loud sometimes to piss me off. Just noise, rock and roll, the Eagles and the Rolling Stones and too many black people who should just stop acting white. But at night he would play a song. We broke up almost four years ago, but every time I look outside the window I sing two lines over and over. I do believe. If you don’t like things you leave. Funny, it is because of Danny that I met him. Some party that the record label had all the way up in the hills. Bush people and white people are all that live up here, huh? I remember saying. Danny said he never know black people could be racist. I went to get some punch, poured it slow to kill time then saw Danny talking to the label boss. I was exactly what these workers thought I was, some uppity naigger fucking the American. Right beside Danny and the label boss was him, somebody whom I never thought I would meet. Even my mother liked his last single, though my father despised him. He was shorter than I expected, and me, him and his manager were the only black people there not asking if we would like our drinks freshened up. Standing there he was like a black lion. How the sexy daughter just come ’pon the man so, he said. Fifteen years of schooling on how to talk proper and that is still the sweetest thing I ever heard come out of a man’s mouth.
I didn’t see him again until long after Danny went back and I followed my sister Kimmy, who has yet to call her parents after they’ve been robbed and her mother possibly raped, to a party at his house. He didn’t forget me. But wait, you is Kimmy sister? Is where you was hiding? Or you was like Sleeping Beauty, eh, waiting for the man to wake you up? The whole time I’m splitting in two, the part of me that I like to shut off after morning coffee said yes, reason with me my sexy brethren, the other part going what do you think you’re doing with this lice-infested Rasta? Kimmy left after a while, I didn’t see her go. I stayed, even after everybody left. I was watching him, me and the moon when he went out on the verandah naked like some night spirit, with a knife to peel an apple. Locks like a lion and muscles all over and shining in the moon. Only two people know that “Midnight Ravers” is about me.
I hate politics. I hate that I’m supposed to know. Daddy says that nobody is driving him out of his own country but he’s still thinking gunmen are somebody. I wish I was rich, I wish I was working and not laid off and I hope he would at least remember that night on his balcony with the apple. We have family in Miami. The same place Michael Manley told us to go if we want to leave. We have a place to stay but Daddy don’t want to spend any money. Damn it, now the Singer is so big nobody can see him anymore, even a woman that know him better than most women. Actually I don’t know what I’m talking about. This is the dumb shit women always think. That you know a man or that you’ve unlocked some secret just because you let him into your panties. Shit, if anything I know even less now. It’s not like he called me after.
I’m across the road, waiting at the bus stop, but so far I’ve let two pass. Then a third. He hasn’t come through the front door. Not once, not for me to run across the road that instant and shout, Remember me? Long time no see. I need your help.
Two men bring guns to the ghetto.
One man show me how to use it.
But they bring other things first. Corned beef and Aunt Jemima maple syrup that nobody know what to do with, and white sugar. And Kool-Aid and Pepsi and a big bag of flour and other things nobody in the ghetto can buy and even if you could, nobody would be selling it. The first time I hear Papa-Lo say election coming, he said it cold and low as if thunder and rain was near coming and there was nothing you could do. Other men visit him, none of them look like him, some even redder than Funnyboy, almost white. They come in shiny car and leave and nobody ask but everybody know.
And at the same time, you come back. You bigger than Desmond Dekker, bigger than The Skatalites, bigger than Millie Small and bigger even than white people. And you know Papa-Lo from when neither of you have chest hair and you drive down into the ghetto like a thief in the night, but I see you. Outside my house, the house Papa-Lo put me. I see you drive up, just you and Georgie. And Papa-Lo squeal almost like a girl and run out and hug you with him bigness and you was always small and you have to bawl out for the man to put you down, any more hugging and touching and you going mistake him for Mick Jagger. You turn into the person who talk about a lot of people that nobody know and you talk about how this cokehead who call himself Sly Stone but who really have some girly name like Sylvester give you an opening slot like he throwing a dog a bone and you jump ’pon the stage and mash down the place but some of the black people say what is this slow hippie bullshit? and they don’t like you at all, so you say fuck this fuckery, better I do my own tour and Sly Stone just go off and sniff some more cocaine leaving you stranded in Las Vegas. We don’t know him either, but you’re the man who now talk about people we don’t know. You say the cokehead’s fans couldn’t take the real vibration and you leave after just four shows.
But that was just water under the bridge. You tramp through Babylon and the rest of the story Papa-Lo could tell it because everybody know it. So Papa-Lo tell it and you just nod. And then you say you have big things to talk about but it have to wait because now everybody hear that you in Copenhagen City and they come out to give thanks and praise to the sufferah who turn big star, but who don’t forget them sufferah who still sufferin’ and some thank you for the money for by now you feeding three thousand people, which everybody know but nobody talk about, but your truck look beat up and not what we expect and that make me angry because nothing worse than when a man have money and pretend he don’t have none like acting like you poor is some pose. And a woman hug you and say she have some stew peas and you say, Mummy you know me don’t touch the pork and she say is ital stew! And it good y’see? And you say then Mummy run go bring me a big bowl, the biggest bowl in the kitchen and bring it to Papa-Lo house because me and him have fi talk plenty things. And you and Papa-Lo gone off and none of him deputy, not even Josey Wales, follow him. And I watch Josey Wales as he watch them walk away and he stand there, and he look, and he hiss.
The two men who bring guns to the ghetto watch you sing yourself out of their hands and they not happy at all. Nobody uptown singing thanks and praises for you. Not the man who bring guns to the Eight Lanes, still run by Shotta Sherrif. That man know him party going up for re-election and they need to win, to stay in power, to bring power to the people, all comrades and socialists. Not the Syrian who bring guns to Copenhagen City and who want to win the election so bad that he will move God himself if God in the seat. The American who come with guns know that whoever win Kingston win Jamaica and whoever win West Kingston win Kingston, before any man in the ghetto tell him.
Prime Minister Michael Manley tell everybody on the TV and the radio that he give you your first big break and you wouldn’t have become famous were it not for him. And that he always support the voice of the downtrodden, the comrades in the struggle. Then you sing never let a politician do you a favour or he will want to control you forever but he didn’t think it was about him for by now he is not no politician, he is Joshua.
And the man who bring guns to Copenhagen City so that it can deal with the Eight Lanes problem hear of you talking all the time to Papa-Lo like you two is back in school and up to mischief and scratch him Syrian head and ask Papa-Lo why he talk to you, since you is known as a PNP man because they give you your first big break, and maybe this little Rasta trying to convert Papa-Lo to the PNP. You don’t know that from then on people watching you like a hawk, because you talk to Papa-Lo all the time and nowadays Papa-Lo even go uptown to your house to spend the whole day. That weekend when Papa-Lo did gone and nobody know where, rumour was that he did gone to England to watch you in concert. And word reach that you still talk to Shotta Sherrif, the man whose deputy kill me family and me learn to hate you in a new way, even as me love Papa-Lo. You turning him, you converting him into something and everybody seeing it. Especially Josey Wales. Josey Wales watching you and I watch him watching you and he don’t like the way things running and he don’t say it too loud, but he say it to who will hear. And a little bird say Papa-Lo getting weak.
But then one day a boy from Copenhagen City rob a woman at gunpoint, a woman who sell pudding and toto by the corner of Princess Street and Harbour Street. She come to Papa-Lo house and point him out, a boy three door from my house who nobody ever like. And the boy mother shout, Lawd! Woi! Tek pity ’pon the boy, Papa. Is ’cause he no have no daddy fi teach him them things! And is lie, she lie, look how she pussy dry up. Josey Wales just hiss because Papa-Lo thinking too much these days, but then Papa rip off the boy clothes and yell out for a machete and beat the boy with the flat side, every whack slapping the air like a thunderclap, every whack slicing the skin a little. The boy bawl and scream but Papa-Lo big as tree and faster than wind. Do, Papa-Lo, lawd, Papa-Lo, but Papa-Lo, is caw she did want me buddy and me never give her, he say, which only make Papa-Lo worse. He kick the boy down and beat the boy back and batty and leg and when he tired of machete he pull off him own belt and beat the boy with the buckle side. And the buckle dig hole into the boy back and chest and forehead. The mother run to him screaming but he lash her one time in the face, and she stagger and run off. People come out to watch. He pull out him gun to shoot, but the mother rush in and cover him and bawl out and beg Papa-Lo, beg the woman who get rob, and Jesus Christ who rest in the hills of Mount Zion. Even Papa-Lo not going step in after Jesus intervene. Then he say, A woman who raise this kind of pussyhole deserve to get shot too and lower the gun right to her forehead, but he walk away.
Jamaica Labour Party rule the country in the sixties but the People’s National Party tell the country that better must come and win the election in 1972. Now JLP want the country back and there’s no word named can’t, there’s no word named no. Downtown on lockdown and police already shouting curfew. Some street so quiet that even rat know better than to come out. West Kingston on Fire. People still want to know how JLP lose Kingston when they have Copenhagen City. People reason that it’s Rema, that place between JLP and PNP that vote against JLP because PNP promise corned beef, baking flour and more exercise book for the children to take to school. The man who bring guns to the ghetto bring more guns and say he not going be happy until every man, woman and pickney in Rema bleed. But both party stun when a third P rise up, you, and you come on the TV in the chiney shop saying that your life is not for you and if you can’t help plenty people then you no want it. And you do something else in the ghetto even though you not there. Me not sure how you do it. Maybe it was the bass, something you can’t see but feel and who feels it knows it. But a woman will talk for herself, let her tongue loose in her own backyard, cursing with each wring of the shirt and pant that she washing, saying she tired of the shitstem and the ism and schism and is high time the big tree meet the small axe. But she didn’t say it, she sing it so we know that it’s you. And plenty in the ghetto, in Copenhagen City, in Rema, and for sure in the Eight Lanes sing it too. The two men who bring guns to the ghetto don’t know what to do since when music hit you can’t hit it back.
Boy like me don’t sing your song. He who feels it knows it, you say, but it’s long time since you feel it. We listen other song that ride the Stalag Rhythm, song from people who can’t pay for no guitar and don’t have a white man to give it to them. And while we listen to people just like we, Josey Wales visit me, and I joke that he is Nicodemus, thief in the night. Thirteen and he give me a present that nearly drop from my fingers because a gun weight is a different kinda weight. Not a heavy weight but a different one, cold, smooth and tough. Gun don’t obey your finger unless your hand prove first that it can handle it. I remember the gun drop from my hand, slip out and Josey Wales jump. Josey Wales don’t jump. Last time that happen it blow four toe clean off, him say and pick it up. I want to ask if that was why he limp. Josey Wales remind me that is him teach me how to use gun to shot up a PNP boy if they try anything and it’s soon my time to defend Copenhagen City, especially if the enemy come from home cooking, not outside dessert. Josey Wales never could talk like music, not like Papa-Lo and not like you, so I laugh and he punch me in the cheek. Don’t disrespect the Don, he say. I was about to say you not the Don, but I stay quiet. You ready to be a man? he say. I said I was a man but him gun right up at my left temple before I could finish. Click. I remember squeezing myself hard thinking please don’t piss, please don’t piss, please don’t look like a five-year-old wanting to go piss.
Papa-Lo would have killed me so quick and so sure, that it would be like the idea just come to him. But if Papa-Lo kill you on a Friday, he was thinking about it, weighing, measuring, planning from Monday. Josey Wales different. Josey Wales didn’t think, he just shoot. I look at the black O of the gunmouth and know he could kill me right then and tell Papa-Lo anything. Or he wouldn’t. Nobody ever bet on what they think Josey Wales would do. Still holding the gun to my temple he grab my pants at the waist and tug until the button pop off. I have only three brief with no more coming, and never wear any unless me leaving the ghetto. Josey Wales grab my pants then let go and watch it drop. He look up then down then back up, up and up then smile. You not no man yet, but soon, soon. I goin’ make you, he said. You ready to be a man, he ask, and me did think then that he mean it in a politician way, the way Michael Manley would say, You want a better future, comrade? So I nod yes and he walk off and I follow him down a street that nobody drive on anymore because of too much guntalk, with no house but mound of sand and block, for bigger tenement yard that government not going to build because we is JLP.
I follow him down this street to where it seem to end, on the train line that cut through Kingston from east to west. By the train line, this far south nothing block the view of the sea. Kingston can close in on itself, so much so that you could be right by the sea and forget that you live on the island. That there is a sort of ghetto boy who run to the sea every day just so they can dive into something and forget. I only think of them when I see the sea. The sun was setting but it did still hot and the air taste like fish. Josey Wales turn left, to a small shack, where man long time ago would get up early to close the road so that the train could pass. He never tell me to follow. When I finally go inside he look at me like he was waiting all day.
Inside night fall already and the floor creak and crack. He light a match and I see the skin first, sweaty and shiny. The funny thing about smelling sweat is that you soon smell piss, not fresh, but soak in the floor, piss from not long ago. The boy did in the corner, belly down on the floor. Josey Wales or somebody tie up him hand, then tie the rope to him foot so that he look like a human bow. Josey Wales point to him clothes on the floor then point at me with the gun and say pick them up, them might be your size. Now you have four brief he say, I don’t remember telling no man about how much brief I have. I go to pick them up but Josey Wales fire. The bullet buck the floor and both me and the boy jump. Not yet, pussyhole. You no prove you ah man yet. I look at him, tall with a bald head that him woman shave for him every week. Tall and brown and full of muscle, where Papa-Lo black and thick. When he smile Josey Wales look like a chineyman, but he would shoot you if you say so, because chineyman cocky small like a bump, not like black man cocky.
You see how Rema boy live good? You think you can buy them jeans, yah? Is Fiorucci this you know. You see what thirty pieces of silver can buy a Rema boy? Josey Wales know label, most of him clothes, him woman get from her job at a factory that make and ship clothes back to America so people could wear them to the disco, which is what people in America do. Everybody know because she tell everybody. You want this, then grow some bombocloth balls. Right now, he say and shove the gun in my hand. I hear the boy crying. He hail from the Rema and I don’t know anybody from there so. Wouldn’t know anybody from the Eight Lanes either if me see him now. Right now, Josey Wales say again. Gun weight is a different kind of weight. Or maybe it be something else, a feeling that whenever you hold a gun is really the gun holding you. Now, or me deal with the two of you, Josey Wales say. Me walk right over to the boy and smell him sweat and piss and something else and pull the trigger. The boy don’t scream or shout or ungh like when Harry Callahan kill a boy. He just jerk and dead. And the gun jerk my hand hard but the shot didn’t sound like when Harry Callahan fire a shot, where the echo going on so long it don’t end with the movie. The shot was two boards slap together that push against your ears quick then gone like a lick from a hammer.
When a shot enter a boy you don’t hear anything more than a zup. Me did want to kill that Rema boy. Me did want it more than anything. I don’t know why. Yes I do. And Josey Wales didn’t say a thing. He said shoot him again to make sure, and I did. The body jerk. In the head, fool, he say and me shoot again. I couldn’t see if blood was running on the floor. The gun was lighter and warmer. Me tell meself that it was starting to like me. It really was nothing to kill a boy. Me did know it would be, maybe it was something ghetto boy just know. It was not the death, but the piss and shit and blood that make me vomit when I drag him down to dump in the sea. Three days later the newspaper have as headline Boy floating in Kingston Harbour: Murder execution style. Josey Wales smile and say me is big man now, so big that me make news and all of Jamaica ’fraid of me. I don’t feel big. I don’t feel nothing. Is more of a big thing that I don’t feel nothing. No, that’s not a big thing neither. He tell me don’t tell Papa-Lo or he going kill me himself.
Weeper taking his own good time as per usual. He and the white men get on real well, real well since one of them show him how to shoot like a man and not a silly ghetto boy. That’s what Louis Johnson call him first, just like that. White man have balls, as I would say. Weeper jump up and pull a gun, a little pussy .38 right in front of the white man only to feel a bigger gun rubbing against him nuts. Me can kill you still, Weeper say. You got your gun on my brain and I got my gun on yours, Johnson say, which for a Jamaican is like killing you worse, no true dat? Weeper look at him and laugh and shake his hand, even hug and call him mi bredda. And is when you learn to talk like a yardie? What I remember was that he was wearing Wrangler jeans. American trying to look more American when he leave America. That was in this bar, Lady Pink down on Pechon Street, the last street between Downtown Kingston and Ghetto Kingston, which bring in fresh new girls every Thursday, although last week the new girl was the same girl from two years ago who still dance like a shaking banana tree. Things hard and getting more and more crucial by the day when a nursery worker have to skin out onstage. Weeper like to fuck her too.
Lady Pink open from nine in the morning and only have two things on the jukebox, some nice ska from the sixties and sweet rocksteady, like the Heptones and Ken Lazarus. None of that Rasta reggae fuckery. If I come across one more pussyhole who won’t comb their hair and recognize Jesus as their lord and saviour I might send that little fucker to hell. Take that joke and bank it. The wall is too red for pink and too pink for purple and have gold record all over, which the owner himself spray-paint. Lerlette, the skinny girl is up onstage, she the one who always want to dance to Ma Baker. One year we provide security when Boney M. come to Jamaica and nobody knew that three woman and one man from the Caribbean could all look like such sodomite. Every time the song end with the chorus, she knew how to die! Lerlette split right down on the ground and hold up her two hands in gun pose like she’s Jimmy Cliff in The Harder They Come. Girl must be putting her pum-pum through all kinda distress. Weeper used to fuck her too.
When she finish her dance, she pull back on her panty and come over to my booth. Me have a rule with woman. If your titty prettier and your body hotter than my woman, I’ll deal with you. Otherwise fuck off. Ten years and I still never meet that woman. Dog years it take me to find Winifred, a woman who would breed the kind of boy I would want as son, because a man can’t afford to have loose seed around the place. Last week Weeper come around the house with a son from some woman in Jungle, even he can’t remember her name right. The boy was either retarded or start smoke the ganja way too early, drooling and panting like a big dog. In Jamaica you have to make sure that you breed properly. Nice little light browning who not too dry up, so that your child will get good milk and have good hair.
—Beg you di bone nuh?
—Dutty gal move you bombocloth from here so. You no see big man is here?
—Lawd, yuh hard, eh? A weh Weeper deh?
—Me look like Weeper’s keeper?
She doesn’t answer, just walk away, pulling her panty out of her batty. I know for sure her mother drop her on the head when she was a baby. Twice. If it’s one thing I can’t stand is when people chat bad. Worse, when they know better. My mother send me all the way to high school. I didn’t learn a fucking thing, but I listen to plenty. I listen to the TV, to Bill Mason and I Dream of Jeannie, and the radio serial on RJR at ten every morning, even though that was woman business. And I listen to the politicians, not when they’re talking to me and pretending like I’m some backward ghetto naigger, but when they talk to each other, or to the white man from America. Last week my son say, Daddy you want know say di I? I ah go ’pon di base fi check a beef, sight? and I slap that little wretch so hard he nearly cry. Don’t talk to me like you was born behind cow, I say to him.
Damn boy look at me like I owe him something. That is the problem with these young rudies, they wasn’t around for the fall of Balaclava in 1966, but I done talk about that. Everybody talking like they only know ghetto, especially him. See him on TV couple years ago and was never so shame in my life. To think you have all this money, all these gold record, have lipstick print on your cocky from all sort of white woman, and that is how you talk? If my life is juss fi mi, mi no want it? Then give it up, pussyhole, I coming right ’round there to take it.
Now Weeper, him different. The first day he come out of prison—not a good day to leave either, he come out right in the middle of war—the man have a big bulge in his back pocket. When he pull it out, there was so much red ink on even the cover that I ask him if he was bleeding from him batty. Turn out to be red ink from the only pen he could thief in prison. I ask if he write another book in the book. No star, he say. Bertrand Russell is the most top of the top ranking me brethren, me can’t outwrite him. Bertrand Russell is a book I still don’t read yet. Weeper tell me how thanks to Bertrand Russell he don’t believe in no God no more and me have one or two problems with that.
Waiting on Weeper. Now there’s a title for a song, a hit record too. Last week I tell him, and the youths Bam-Bam, Demus and Heckle, that every Jamaican man is a man searching for father and if one don’t come with the package, he’s going to find another one. That’s why Papa-Lo call himself Papa-Lo, but he can’t be the father of anything anymore. Weeper say the man gone soft, but I say no you fucking fool, look closer. The man not getting soft, he just reach the age where the person in the mirror is an old man who don’t look like him anymore, and he’s just thirty-nine. But that’s an old age out here, the problem with getting so far is that he don’t know what to do with himself. So he start to act like he no longer like the world he himself help create. You can’t just play God and say I don’t like man no more so make me wipe slate clean with the flood and start again. Papa-Lo start thinking too deep and start thinking that he should be more than what he is. He’s the worst kind of fool, the fool who start believing things can get better. Better will come, but not in the way he think. Already, the Colombians start talking to me, they tired of them loco Cubans who sniff too much of what they should only sell, and the Bahamians who are of no use since they teach themselves how to freebase. The first time they ask me if I want to sample the merchandise, I say no, hermano, but Weeper say yes. Brethren, coke was the only way me could fuck in prison, he say to me, knowing that no man in the ghetto would dare come up to him and call him battyman because of it. That man still send him letters from prison.
People, even people who should know better, start to think that Papa-Lo getting soft, that he don’t care about enforcing for the party no more. That he going slip and allow PNP man to move in on territory and that Jungle and Rema, always up for grabs, will soon bleach their green shirts and dye them orange. He not getting soft, he thinking deep, which politicians don’t pay him to do. Politicians rise in the east and set in the west and nothing you can change about them. Here is where we go down two different road. He want to forget them. I want to use them. They think he no longer care about the people but the problem is that he starting to care too much and he already dragging the Singer into it.
They call me first, last year. They call me to a meeting out by Green Bay and the first thing I ask was, where’s Papa? The black one (almost all of them white, brown and red) said Enough of the Papa, Papa time gone, new blood time now, talking like he playing fucking ghetto for Candid Camera. At one point the little pussyhole Louis Johnson hold a note upside down, some bullshit on embassy letterhead about some ambassador’s reception, and pretend that it was some agency memo, reading and smiling at the others as if he confirming some bullshit that he tell them about me. Papa don’t care about the dutty life but what these retarded batty fuckers don’t get is that I don’t care either. Medellín on line two.
So I let Louis the con man sweet me up with his con-plan. I listen to them tell me with a smile that they don’t think they can trust me and pretend I don’t understand when they say give us a sign, like this is the Bible. I act the fool until they tell me what they want plain. Louis Johnson is the only man from the embassy I meet. He maintain the links with black people. Tall, brown hair, and dark glasses to hide him eyes. I tell him that he’s in Copenhagen City now, otherwise known as the palm of my hand and if I feel like it, any minute now I can make a fist. I lift up my shirt and give him the history of 1966. Left chest, bullet almost reaching the heart. Right neck, bullet straight through. Right shoulder, flesh wound. Left thigh, bullet bounce on the bone. Rib cage, bullet rattle the bones. I don’t tell him that I about to set up a man in Miami and one in New York. I don’t tell him that yo tengo suficiente español para conocer que eres la más gran broma en Sudamérica. I chat to him bad like some bush naigger and ask dumb question like, So everybody in America have gun? What kinda bullet American fire? Why you don’t transfer Dirty Harry to the Jamaica branch? hee hee hee.
And they tell me the news, that the Singer’s giving money to Papa-Lo and them two thinking big, thinking of some way to eliminate the need for all people like them. I pretend that Papa-Lo didn’t already tell me that from the last time he kill a boy in Jungle and regret when he see that he was heading to high school. And I say to the politicians and the Americans sure, to prove that me is the don of all dons I going do what need to be done. The man say let me be clear that the United States government does not support or condone any illegal or disruptive action of any kind in sovereign territories that are her neighbors. They all act as if I don’t know that they already planning the double cross, already searching for who in my crew they can meet alone like Nicodemus in the night to tell him to take care of me as soon as I deliver. So I’m here waiting on Weeper, to talk things that only him and I can talk about, because tomorrow I going take care of a few people. The next day I goin’ take care of the world.
Seventeen buses. Ten minibuses, including one calling itself Revlon Flex that already passed twice. Twenty-one taxis. Three hundred and seventy-six cars, I think. And not once did the man step out of his house. Not even to get some air, not to make sure that the guards are doing their job. Not even to tell the sun, later me brethren, I man have some serious work to do. The man on the lime green scooter came back in the evening and they sent him away again, but not before he got off and spoke to the man at the gate for two minutes and seventeen seconds. I timed him. Danny’s watch still works, but it wasn’t until lunch one time at the Terranova when I ran into a former schoolmate, breast droop down like a tired goat, but still a stuck-up bitch, that I found out Timex is the same watch that my daddy gave Hortense last week for fifteen years of meritorious service to the household. Bitch was calling me cheap. I wanted to tell her how happy she must be as a married woman now that she no longer have to bother with looking attractive, but I smiled and said, I hope your little boy can swim because I just saw him running for the pool.
I wish they would invent phones that you can take with you, or I would have called Kimmy and asked if she’s gone to see her poor mother and father yet and what are we going to do about leaving this country before something worse happens. Knowing Kimmy she probably finally showed up in her Ganja University t-shirt and jeans, the one cut off halfway down the backside, calling Mummy her sistren and saying that this is all the plan of Babylon shitstem, and it’s not the robber they should be mad at but the shitstem that robbed them first. That’s what they say at the Twelve Tribes meeting place in that rough-and-tumble neighbourhood called West Kings House, near the home of the Queen’s representative. I really need to get better at this sarcasm business. I might be a snob, but at least I’m not a hypocrite, still coasting around because I have nothing to do now that my life’s dream to fuck and breed for Che Guevara blew up in my face. Nor am I hanging out with rich people in West Kings House who now don’t wash their hair and calling themselves I-man to upset their parents, when everybody knows in two years they’re going right back to their father’s shipping company to take it over, and marry whichever Syrian bitch just win Miss Jamaica.
Car three hundred and sixty-seven, sixty-eight, sixty-nine, seventy. Seventy-one, seventy-two. I need to go home. But I’m outside here, waiting on him. You ever feel like home is the one place you can’t go back to? It’s like you promise yourself when you got out of bed and combed your hair that this evening, when I get back I’ll be a different woman in a new place. And now you can’t go back because the house expects something from you. A bus stops. I fan it off, trying to tell the driver that I don’t want to get on. But the bus is still squatting there, waiting on me. I step back and look down to the road, pretending that people aren’t in the bus cussing that they have home to get to and plenty pickney to feed so why that damn woman don’t get on the bus. I walk away, far enough for the bus to drive off, but walk right back to the bus stop before the dust settle.
The bass creeps up on me from across the road. It sounds like he’s been playing the same song all day. It sounds like another song about me, but there’s probably two dozen women in Jamaica right now and another two thousand in the world who think the same thing anytime a song of his come on the radio. But “Midnight Ravers” is about me. One day I’m going to tell Kimmy then and she’ll know, won’t she, that just because she’s the prettiest doesn’t mean she get all of them. A white police car with blue stripe going all around parked itself by the gate. I didn’t even see it coming. Jamaican police tend to use their siren all the time, just to get people to clear the street so they can reach Kentucky Fried Chicken quicker. I never had any dealings with the police. That’s not true.
There was that one time when I was on that No. 83 bus to Spanish Town for an interview because that’s 1976 for you, you take a job where you can find it and this was a Bauxite company, when three police cars sirened us down and forced the driver to stop right there on the highway. H’everybody h’evacuate the ve-HI-cle right at this present moment, the first policeman said. Right there on the highway. Nothing but a thin stretch of road with swamp on both sides and everybody had to file out. Most of the women started cussing about having to get to work on time, most of the men stood silent because the police only thought twice about shooting women. Dis h’is a spat searrrrch, the policeman said. We h’are gonna do the proceejah of getting all of unu name.
—And you name what, sweet girl?
—You, the hot ting that ah carry the swing. What you name?
—Burgess, Nina Burgess.
—Bond, James Bond. Sound like you h’in movie picture. You carrying a conceal weapon h’under there? Mind me have to search you.
—Mind me have to scream rape.
—And who the r’asscloth going care, eh?
He sent me back over to the other women while another policeman gun-butt one of the men who started to talk about equal rights and justice. Here’s a secret about police that no Jamaican will ever say out loud, that is any Jamaican who ever had to deal with one of these assholes. Whenever one get shot, and plenty do, there’s a part of me, the part before morning coffee, that smiles a little. I shake the thought out. I wonder if the guard over the gate is telling the police, right at this minute, that I’ve been at the bus stop all day watching the house. But instead somebody says something, and the fat policeman, there’s always one, laughs and it echoes all the way over this side. He leaves to get back in his car, but somebody from inside shouts at him. I know it’s you, it has to be you. A car is coming up on my side of the road, ninety feet? I can beat it before it slams into me and I know it’s you, I just know it, the car, now forty feet? Run, run right now, don’t blow your damn horn at me, son of a bitch, deaf like you damn mother I’m in the median too many damn cars driving down the other side of the road and me in the middle marooned like Ben Gunn and I just want you to see me, it’s you, it must be you, remember me, “Midnight Ravers” is about me even though it was after midnight and you might not know what I look like in the day, and I just want a favour, I just need a little help, they robbed my father and raped my mother. No they didn’t rape her, no I don’t know, but the story sounds more urgent when an old woman’s pum-pum get messed with and I know it’s you, and the policeman is waiting, good, good wonderful-good he’s going to come outside—it’s not you. Another guard runs outside to tell him something and the fucking fat policeman laughs again and deposits himself in the car. I’m stuck in the median, traffic blurring past me and lifting up my skirt.
—Hello, I’m here to see—
—No visitor. On-site tours start back next week.
—No, you don’t understand. I’m not here for the tour, I’m here to see . . . He’s expecting me.
—Ma’am, nobody coming through except immediate family and the band. You him wife?
—What? Of course not. What kind of question—
—You play no instrument?
—I don’t see what that have to do with anything, just tell him Nina Burgess is here to see him and it’s urgent.
—Lady, you could’a name Scooby Doo, nobody coming inna yah.
—But, but . . . I . . .
—Lady, step ’way from the gate.
—Me pregnant. And is fi him. Him need fi mind him pickney.
The guard look at me for the first time today. I thought he was going to recognize me until I realize that he really was seeing me for the first time. He looked me up and down too, maybe wanting to see what type of woman it takes to breed for a star like him.
—You know how much woman come here since Monday saying the same damn thing you just say? Some of them even have belly to show me. Me say no visitors but family and the band. Come back next week, me sure the baby not running ’way to Miami by then. If there is a—
—Eddie, shut you r’asscloth mouth and guard di gate.
—Then after the woman don’t want move.
—Then move her.
I step back quick. I don’t want none of these men touching me. They always grab on to ass or crotch first. Behind me a car pulls up and a white man comes out. For just a split second I nearly shout Danny, but this man is only white. His hair brown and long, and a little beard on his chin, the way I used to like it but Danny didn’t. A yellow plain t-shirt and tight, bell-bottom blue jeans. Maybe it’s the hot weather why you can tell that (1) he’s American and (2) American men hate underwear more than American women hate bras.
—Bombocloth. Look here, Taffie, Jesus is risen.
—What? But me no repent yet.
The white man didn’t seem to get the joke. I stepped out of the way, maybe making too much of a show of it.
—Hey buddy, Alex Pierce from Rolling Stone.
—Wait deh now, tight jeans Jesus, Jehovah know say you lie? Two man from Rolling Stone come here already, one name Keith and one named Mick and none of them look like you.
—But them all resemble still, Eddie.
—True that. True that.
—I’m from Rolling Stone magazine. We spoke on the phone.
—You never talk to me on no phone.
—I mean, someone from in the office. His secretary or something I don’t know. I’m from the magazine? From the U.S.? We cover everybody from Led Zeppelin to Elton John. I don’t understand, the secretary said come December 3 at six p.m. when he’s on rehearsal break and here I am.
—Bossman, me don’t name sexetary.
—Look, we get strict orders. Nobody in or out except family and band.
—Oh. Why does everybody have an automatic weapon? You guys police? You don’t look like the security guard from last time I was here.
—None of your damn business, you want step off now.
—Eddie, the man still bothering you at the gate?
—Him say him magazine is ’bout Lesbian and Elton John.
—No, Led Zeppelin and—
—Tell him to move off.
—How about me making it easy for you.
The white man takes out his wallet—I only need ten minutes, he says. Damn Americans always thinking we’re like them and that everybody is up for sale. Just once I’m glad the guard is such an asshole. But he’s looking at the money, he’s looking at it long. You can’t help it with American money, getting ’round the fact that this piece of paper is more valuable than everything else in your purse. That if you whip out one you change the behaviour of a whole room. It just doesn’t seem right, a piece of paper with no colour but green. Lord knows pretty money isn’t the only pretty thing that’s worthless. The guard takes one last look at the piling bills and walks away, over to the entrance of the house.
I chuckled. When you can’t fight temptation, you have to flee, I say. The white man looks at me, annoyed, and I just chuckle more. Doesn’t happen every day, a Jamaican who doesn’t turn into a yes massa I going do it for you now massa, whenever he sees a white man. Danny used to be appalled by it. Until he started to like it. Hell of a thing when white skin is the ultimate passport. I was a little surprised at how good it felt, me and the white man both being kept outside like beggars. On the same level in that regard at least. You’d think I’d never been around white people, or at least Syrians who think they’re white.
—You fly all the way from America just to do a story on the Singer?
—Well yeah. He’s the biggest story right now. The number of stars coming out for this concert, you’d think it was Woodstock.
—Woodstock was a—
—I know what Woodstock was.
—Oh. Well Jamaica is all over the news this year. And this concert. New York Times just did a story that the Jamaican opposition leader was shot at. From the Office of Prime Minister, no less.
—Really? That would be news to the Prime Minister, since the opposition would have no reason to be at his office. Also that’s uptown. On this very road. Nobody firing no bullets here.
—That’s not what the newspaper said.
—Then it must be true then. Guess if you write shit, then you have to believe every shit you read.
—Aw come on, don’t bust my balls like that. It’s not like I’m some goddamn tourist. I know the real Jamaica.
—Good for you. I’ve lived here all my life and haven’t found the real Jamaica yet.
I walk off but the white man is following me. There’s only one bus stop, I guess. Maybe by now Kimmy has paid a visit to her goddamn parents, who have been robbed and her mother possibly raped. Yet as soon as I cross over to the other side I want to stay. I don’t know. I know I have nothing to go home to, but that’s no different from any other day. I only need to remember every headline about some family getting shot, bulletin about the curfew, news report about some woman who get raped or how crime moving like a wave uptown to scare myself stupid. Or my mother and father trying to act as if the gunmen didn’t take something that was always between him and her and them alone. The whole day I was with them they never touched each other once.
The white man takes the first bus that comes. I don’t and I’m telling myself that it’s because I don’t want to be on the same bus with him. But I know I’ll miss the next one. And the one after that too.
Somebody need to listen to me and it might as well be you. Somewhere, somehow, somebody going judge the quick and the dead. Somebody goin’ write about the judgment of the good and wicked, because I am a sick man and a wicked man and nobody ever wickeder and sicker than me. Somebody, maybe forty years later when God come for all of we leaving not one. Somebody going write about this, sit down at a table on a Sunday afternoon with wood floor creaking and fridge humming but no ghost around him like they around me all the time and he going write my story. And he won’t know what to write, or how to write it because he didn’t live it, or know what cordite smell like or how blood taste when it stay stubborn in your mouth no matter how much you spit. He never feel it in the one drop. No coolie duppy ever go to sleep on him and fool him with a wet dream while she suck out him life through him mouth even though me grinding my teeth shut and when me wake up my whole face cover in thick mouth juice like somebody just stick me in Jell-O and put me in the fridge. John the Baptist saw them coming. Now the wicked running.
This is how it begin.
One day, me was in Jungle, outside of me house by the standpipe just to catch an early morning bathe because a man can’t stink when him go out looking for work. Me out in the backyard, for only one back in the tenement yard and trying to wash meself with soap and water, when police burst in ’cause some woman, some church lady saying she was only going to offer the Lord’s name in prayer, officer, when some stinking ghetto boy from Jungle jump out at me and rape me, officer. You, you boy who a play with him cocky like pervert come over here now! Me try to reason with the officer for Jah Rastafari say we must reason with the enemy and me say, Officer you no see that is bathe me a bathe and he come right over and kiss me mouth hard with the rifle butt. Don’t come tell me no fuckery, nasty man, he say. A play with youself and love up yourself like some bloodcloth sodomite. Then he say is you rape the church lady on North Street? And me say what? No star me no rape woman, why when me have plenty girl friend but he slap me like me is woman and say go outside. Me say officer let me wash off or at least put on me brief no man and me hear click. Move, pussyhole, him say, so me move and outside seven more man line up and people watching and some people see me and look away and some look and all me have to stay decent was soap sud. You catch him before him wash off the evidence another police say.
The police, six I count, say one of you is a nasty rapist who rape church women when they coming back from praising the Lord. And since you is all lying nasty ghetto boy me not even going ask the guilty perpetrator to step forward. We don’t know what to do, because if any one of we get called the rapist the police going shoot him before he reach the jail. So the first policeman who talk all the time say, But we know how fi catch you. The whole of you drop to the ground now! We confused so we look around and me look at the soap bubbles popping one by one and exposing me business. The policeman fire two shot in the air and say drop-a-ground now! So we drop. He ask another policeman for a lighter and grab a newspaper rolling down the road. Now listen what me want you all fi do, he say. Me want all of you to fuck the ground good. One of we laugh loud because this just turn into TV comedy and the police kick him in the side two time. Me say fi fuck the dirt, the policeman say. So we hump the ground and keep humping when he say continue. The ground tough and have pebble and bottle and dirt and me hips slamming into it and me skin starting to rub and me stop. Who tell you fi stop the policeman say and light the newspaper. Fuck, fuck, fuck, me say fi fuck, the policeman shout and shove the burning newspaper on me batty. Me scream and he call me a girl. Me say you fi fuck, him say. And then he burn another boy and another boy and all of we fucking the ground.
Then the policeman move up the line saying, You can’t fuck, go home. You can’t fuck neither remove youself. You look like you can fuck, stay. You go, you go. Hold on, hold on now, you move like is you the one who getting the fucking. Batty boy, remove youself, and you, you better stay. He mean me. They grab three of we and throw we in the back of the van and me still naked. I ask for a shirt and the policeman say yeah, man, we’ll find a panty for you. My woman come ’round with pants and shirt, a police tell me. But them look too good for ghetto clothes so we keep it, them say. Then one policeman slap her and say go find some ambition and stop fuck with ghetto man. We in jail a week before they let us out. They kick me in the face, beat me with the baton, whip me in me balls, beat me with a cat o’ nine like them name buckra massa, and break my brethren right hand. That was the first day when they still feel like treating us nice. The whole time me still naked and they take my nakedness and make joke.
This is what happen on the seventh day. The woman change her mind, say it’s Trench Town man that rape her and didn’t want no prosecution so they let us go. Nobody talk to me in jail and the police never even say sorry. So the first time me back in the Copenhagen City and a policeman come through, firing his revolver and saying he keeping the peace, me make sure me have a gun. What they didn’t know is that in the ghetto me learn to shoot good, like a soldier in The Dirty Dozen. Me watch that movie and watch it and watch it and watch it again. By the time the police give up and run away from Jungle I shoot two of them, one in the head and another in the balls because I want him to live with no use for him cocky for the rest of him life.
This is where it happen. The Singer brethren, no not him the other one, drop word that we to come to the Singer house. That alone not regular. Natty gone uptown now and only certain man get invite and all of them is big man or top shotter. But this wasn’t the natty, it was the brethren and he invite Heckle and Heckle say him need five or six other man to come with him. The Singer house was the biggest house me ever see. Me run up and touch the wall just to say me touch it. So much first time in that trip that me can’t even remember most of them. First time me ever go uptown. First time me on Hope Road. First me see so much woman in pretty clothes walking up and down the street. First time me see the Singer house. First time me see white woman looking like Rasta. First time me see how people who have things live. But the Singer never did there, only the brethren and a whole bunch of people me never see before, even white people. He say it simple. Horse racing is big something in Jamdown, everybody know that. This is how it must go down. The champion jockey might win the race him, might not win, but if you bet against him, high stakes and him lose, that is more money than you could ever dream of even if you dream two time. Money enough that every man in the ghetto can buy him woman a good Posturepedic mattress at Sealy.
Me no care about the mattress. Me just want to bathe inside not outside and me want to see the Statue of Liberty and me want Lee jeans and not idiot jeans that some thief sew on a Lee patch. No that’s not what me want. Me want enough money to stop want money. To bathe outside ’cause me want to fucking bathe outside. To say Sealy mattress is shit, what you don’t have none better? To look ’pon America and don’t go, but make America know me can go anytime me want. Because me tired of people living like they can waste money and looking at me like me is some animal. I want enough money that when me kill them me have cash and don’t give a shit. Kidnap the jockey, reason with him and ting, the brethren say.
Race day was Saturday. Tuesday, Heckle drive me and two other man to Caymanas Park racetrack. Soon as the champion jockey done practise and head to him car we run up ’pon the man, throw pillow over him head, push him in the car and take him away. We take him to an old warehouse downtown that nobody use no more. Heckle shove the gun in the jockey mouth so far that he start to choke.
—Pussyhole, this is wha you going do Saturday, him say.
• • •
The jockey lose him three race. Then jump on a plane to Miami and disappear like magic. But then some other people vanish. The four man who collect the money at Caymanas Park, including the brethren. That leave me, Heckle and plenty other man with nothing. Nothing at all. Me think me di vex enough until me see me brethren squeeze a Horlicks bottle so hard it smash and he have to get stitches. By the Saturday we march up to the Singer house ’cause some bloodcloth man was going give we what we have coming. But the Singer on tour. The next time man go up to the Singer house him was there we hear but he already meet with man from Jungle. Nobody tell this to me or Heckle. Man was going samfie we again. Nobody even notice when me and Heckle make one of them boy disappear. But now some people look like them getting money and all now we can’t get no share. Me shouldn’t have tell me woman nothing, ’cause now me just become another thing keeping her down. When me think of the brethren who gone to foreign with the money I want to burn the whole Hope Road house down. This is how they do it, this is how people keep people poor.
When Josey Wales first find me, he ask if I can use gun. I laugh. Me use gun better than Joe Grind use him cock, me say. Him ask if me have any problem shooting up a boy. I tell him no, but me only shoot Babylon police or man who samfie me. Me shoot three and not stopping till me kill ten. He ask why ten and I say because ten sound like a number even God find heavy. He say soon, soon I will feed you police like how I feed snake rat. I tell him that my leg in pain from the time I was in jail and it don’t stop paining for a year now. Him friend Weeper say, I can cure that right now. After that first time, I was sweet for so quick that I beg him almost like a girl for more cocaine since then. And the pain gone, gone like when me use little weed. But weed slow me down. Cocaine make me quick. I said, But wait, this too good. You going to give me white powder, gun and money to kill people that I would kill for free? Today is April 1? Josey Wales say, no me brethren, we going paint Kingston red with police blood. But I want somebody else blood first.
This is what I want to say before the writer say it for me. When the pain was so bad that only strong weed could help me, the only other thing that help was the Singer. They never play him on the radio. A girl that check for me give me a cassette. Is not that music take away the pain, but when it play I don’t ride the pain, I ride the rhythm. But when Josey Wales tell me last night who we shooting up I go home and vomit. I wake up in the morning thinking that this must be a stupid and scary dream, until he leave message on me door that me to meet him at the old train shack near the sea. Me is a wicked man, me is a sick man, but me would never join in this if I did know that he want to rub out the Singer. This hurt me brain worse than anything ever hurt me before. All now me don’t sleep, I lie in my room with my eye wide open hearing me girl snore in her sleep.
When the moon rise and a light cut through the window and slice my chest I know God coming to judge me. Nobody who kill a police going to hell but is something else to kill the Singer. I let Josey Wales tell me that the Singer is a hypocrite, and he playing both sides taking everybody for idiot. I let Josey Wales tell me that he have bigger plans and is high time we done be ghetto stooge for white man who live uptown and don’t care about we until election time. I let Josey Wales tell me that the Singer is a PNP stooge who bow for the Prime Minister. I let Josey Wales tell me to shoot up three more line and I won’t care who. I let Josey tell me that the brethren come back. He living in the house too like a fat house rat just dying for me and only me to show him why you don’ fuck with a Jungle boy. When morning come and I still awake that is what I hold on to. Is enough. I want to shove the gun up him batty and fuck him a bullet.
I take it through the day sitting in the bed while my girl cuss about nothing around to eat and she going to work because if the PNP win again she won’t be able to get a good job. I wait till she leave before I put on a pants and go outside. I don’t bathe at the standpipe since the police come for me the last time. Outside, the sun not up and center yet so it bright, green and cool. I walk down the lane barefoot, past zinc fence and board fence and zinc roof that people use stone, building block and garbage to hold down. Those who have a job and those who looking for a job all gone, leaving those who can’t find work because this is JLP town and PNP in power. I keep walking. By the time I get to the edge of Jungle, the sun almost noon and I hear music and somebody’s radio. Disco. I hear wet squeaking, a woman washing her clothes with her hands around the back of her house, near the standpipe. It’s like I don’t know nobody or everybody I know gone.
Josey Wales asked me two question when he meet me. I was walking down the road from Jungle to the Garbagelands and he pull up in a white Datsun and stop. Two other man was in the car, Weeper and a man I still don’t know. He said he hear me was good with a gun and ask how come, since all ghetto man do is shower people with bullet. I said I was good because unlike them I have certain man in particular to kill. Then he said, You good but plenty man good, what I want know is if you hungry. He didn’t have to explain it to me. I did know exactly what he mean. That was a week ago. I meet up with him every night at the train shack. One night a white man show up and said that a shipment at the wharf and nobody watching it and it would be a shame if something happen to it, but this is Jamaica, right? Things go missing all the time.
This is what you need to know. Somebody need to know where me coming from, although that don’t really mean nothing. People who say they don’t have a choice just too coward to choose. Because it’s now six p.m. We go to the Singer house in twenty-four hours.
Gig like this got its own juice. I’m in Kingston, somewhere between Studio One and Black Ark, thinking there must be a reason why hippies have such a hard-on for this scene. I mean, a poor boy can’t do nothing but sing in a rock and roll band. A rich boy, on the other hand, can stop cutting his hair, call himself a hippie along with some hairy armpit chicks, confuse having the means to tune in and drop out with the conviction to fucking do it and call himself a Rastafarian. Then he goes off to St. Bart’s, or Maui, or Negril and Port Maria, sticking it to the man in between rum punches. Always fucking hated hippies. Worse, now you have rich bitch Jamaicans imitating hippies imitating Rastas, what the fuck. But hey, it’s Jamaica. At least everybody should be pumping some Big Youth and Jimmy Cliff.
And yet when I get here, first time in a year, the only thing playing on the radio is More More More, How Do You Like It How Do You Like It, and I’m thinking this rep is bogus. I flip to another station and it’s Ma Baker She Knew How to Die! Switch to FM radio and it’s Fly Robin Fly up-up to the Sky! I asked this busboy at the hotel, So where do I hear some Mighty Diamonds or Dillinger? He looks at me like I just asked to suck his dick and then says not every Jamaican sells the collieweed, sir. Even Abba gets more play than reggae here. I’ve heard “Dancing Queen” so much I can feel myself turning fag.
I’m at the Skyline, the hotel with a commanding view of . . . the hotel in front. In Kingston you go down this street there’s a black guy and white guy and lots and lots of mixed guys, and they’re all at the same hotel, or at the Singer’s house or just on the street. Even on TV the weather guy is black. You see black people all the time in the States, right, but you don’t really see them, certainly not reading the news. You hear them on the radio all the time but once the song is over, they vanish. They’re on TV but only when somebody just acted like a jive turkey or somebody just made them say dynomite! Jamaica’s different.
A Jamaican is on TV. A white woman just won Miss World, but she’s from here. She just said that the Singer is her boyfriend and she can’t wait to go back home to be with him. No shit. Some stone foxes live in this city, and they can all dance. Out the window even the traffic has music to it. That and people telling people about their bombocloth. In the resorts the Americans say bumperclat, and think they’re cooler because they got their head braided by a Girl Friday (not from the movie, this is some Robinson Crusoe black personal slave shit, no kidding, and they looked at me weird when I dropped my drink the first time I heard it) and learned to talk like a real Jamaican, mon.
People let it all hang out here, they move with a kinda swag, but nobody forgets their place. And if you talk to enough people in the hotel, you get the white tone, people being polite to a fault because that’s how they were trained to talk to you. And because it’s all about race—it fucks up all the time. One time this black guy asked for the busboy to take his bags and the boy just walked off. Guy started shouting that this is some slavery-loving Uncle Tom bullshit right here for them to realize he was American. And even then the boy asked to see his room key. Go out on the street it’s the same thing until you walk far enough and the people get realer.
Still, it’s Jamaica and this place is kinda ace. Serge Gainsbourg, the ugly French dude who keeps making cheesy records and scoring hot chicks, has a story. So he comes to Jamaica because eez ere to do zee reggae and motherfuckers at the studio just laugh him off, right? Like who the bombocloth this skinny likkle frenchy think he is. Serge says but I am zee biggest pop zinger, they say we don’t fucking know you, the only bombocloth French song we know is “Je T’aime.” Serge says, “Je T’aime,” that iz me. Gainsbourg was a God in Kingston after that, square biz. So I’m at Studio One and ask one of the men here if he could get me a cup of coffee, black no cream, and he says, What? You hand sick? Go get it you bloodcloth self. Classic, man.
I’m supposed to be on Mick Jagger’s tail but nobody is going to call Black and Blue a misunderstood masterpiece, not in ten years, not in twenty and I said so in print. Fuck him and Keef anyway and fuck Rolling Stone Random Notes gossip bullshit. I’m this close to getting the skinny on something big. “Armagideon Time,” square biz. The busiest, most vital music scene in the world is about to blow up and not on the charts. The Singer, he’s up to something and it’s not just the peace concert. It took putting in a few years uptown and downtown and some convincing to prove to people that I wasn’t some stupid white boy waiting for the limbo party for people to start talking to me. The fucking Kingston sissy at the front desk doesn’t even know who Don Drummond is, but he keeps telling me that everything I might need is in New Kingston.
There’s this too, Jamaicans and not just the ones working at the hotel, but brown and white men who are always drinking rum at the restaurant and who, when they see my camera, first ask if I’m from Life magazine then tell me where not to go. Go where they go and you end up at the Liguanea Club where it’s fucking “Disco Duck” and boring rich bitches who’ve just finished tennis and want to ball. I tell them I’m bailing for the Turntable Club and they look at me in wonder, worse when I don’t bother asking for directions, because I know they wouldn’t know. I asked the concierge just a few hours ago, Where’s the jam session? He says and I quote and kid thee not, “Sir, why would you wanna go mingle wid them element of society?” I was this close to saying dude suck a dick already, it’s cool. But this story, it’s something.
I’m in the taxi heading to the hotel and the taxi driver asks me if I bet on horses. I’m not a betting man, but he is and who did he see at the tracks a couple weeks ago? The Singer. He was there with two guys, one of them calls himself Papa-Lo. I did some checking around on this Papa-Lo. Racketeering, extortion, five counts of murder, only one reaching trial, acquitted. Runs a shanty town called Copenhagen City. So here is the Singer, along with two hoods from a political party he’s supposed to not support and there they are chummy together like old school pals. The next few days, he’s seen hanging out with Shotta Sherrif, the godfather of the Eight Lanes, controlled by the other party, the other side. Two top goons in one week, two men who pretty much control the fighting halves of downtown Kingston. Maybe he’s just being a peacemaker. I mean, he’s just a singer. Thing is I’m catching the drift that nobody is ever just anything in Jamaica. Something’s cooking and I’m already smelling it. Did I mention there’s an election in two weeks?
And if white boys from New York are catching a whiff, then the trail is already cold. Coming on the same flight with me was that little asshole Mark Lansing, trying extra hard to not see me. No shit. Crappy filmmaker still using Daddy’s little bucks to make a movie is here in Jamaica to film the peace concert. He said the record label hired him. Maybe, but when a dim motherfucker like him suddenly shows up in Jamaica to film a concert despite no previous experience doing anything of this magnitude, my brain gets a case of the shits.
My taxi driver is just trying to win enough money so that he can fly out. He thinks that if the People’s National Party wins again, Jamaica might become the next communist republic. I don’t know about that, but I do know that just about everybody has eyes on the Singer, as if a lot of stuff is riding on what he does next. Poor brother probably just wants to release an album of love songs and call it a day. Maybe he feels it too—everybody is feeling it—that Kingston is on boil. Two nights in a row now, the concierge has slept behind the reception desk. He didn’t have to tell me, I could see it in the bags under his eyes. He’d probably say he was dedicated, but I’m betting he’s just too scared to go home when it gets late.
In May some guy named William Adler said on local TV that there were eleven CIA operatives working here in the U.S. Embassy. By June seven had left the country. Come on. Meanwhile, the Singer, never one to pull punches, sings Rasta don’t work for no CIA. In Jamaica 2 + 2 = 5, but now it’s adding up to 7. And all these loose strands knotting around the Singer like a noose. You should have seen his house today, security like Fort Knox, nobody being let in or out. Not the police guarding him either, just a posse of goons I found out are called the Echo Squad. Everybody is squad, posse or guard lately. Some poor chick was waiting out there all day, probably claiming she had his kid or something. Does Lansing have a way in? He said he was filming the concert for the label, he must be doing some behind-the-scenes shit. The only problem is to get any info would mean actually being nice to the fucker, and one can’t have that.
I’m trying to not seem so hungry. Twenty-seven years old and six years out of college my mother keeps asking when I’m going to stop being a pinko on the hustle and get a real job. I’m impressed that she’s heard of pinkos but I think she got “on the hustle” from my little sister. She also thinks I need the love of a good woman, preferably not black. Maybe she’s looking at me and smelling wannabe. I think I’m trying to convince myself that I’m not one of those white boys drifting around trying to find something to belong to, something to fucking mean something because after Nixon and Ford and the Pentagon papers and fucking Carpenters and Tony Orlando and Dawn there’s nothing to believe in anymore, God knows not rock and roll. Rolling into West Kingston, the rudies left me alone because they knew I had nothing to lose. Maybe I’m just a stupid kid bitching about the world. I think I got problems but I ain’t got no problems.
The first time I came to Jamaica we flew into Montego Bay and drove to Negril, me and a girl whose dad was ex-army. I loved that she had no idea who The Who were, but listened to The Velvet Underground because she grew up with German kids on the army base. After a few days, it wasn’t as if I felt I belonged, nothing as cheesy as that, but I did get the feeling, this sensation or maybe it was just a belief that said, You can stop running now. No, that did not make me want to live here. But I remember waking up early one morning, right at the point where the temperature finally dips, and saying, What is your story? Maybe I meant the country, or maybe I meant me.
I’m being obvious. I’m better thinking about what’s ticking in this country, right about to boom.
The general election is in two weeks. The CIA is squatting on the city, its lumpy ass leaving the sweat print of the Cold War. The magazine is expecting nothing much from me but some paragraph on whatever the Stones are recording, complete with a stupid pic of Mick or Keef with headphones half on with a Jamaican in the shot for some color. But fuck that. What kind of game is Mark Lansing running? Cocksucker isn’t smart enough to pull a total scam all by himself. I should head back to Marley’s house tomorrow. I mean, I had an appointment. Like that means anything in Jamaica. Who is this William Adler anyway?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I'm half way through the book and feel I am missing a really good story and artful writing. I find I spend more time wishing I understood more of the Jamaican dialects and how to read English without benefit of punctuation. I've had a very rough time trying to remember the characters, figuring out who is talking if indeed they are talking and not just thinking, imagining, or hallucinating. If after rereading parts multiple times I can figure that much out, then I have to figure out where sentences break to begin to understand what is being said or thought or dreamt and there are still many words I haven't begun to figure out what they mean, like "r'ass bloodcloth". Perhaps a glossary would be helpful and a little more give on the author's part towards using some traditional English punctuation, which was devised to make reading easier and more understandable for the English reader. I feel cheated. I know I'm missing a really great story but it has been a grueling amount of work to get this far. Really don't know how to rate it.
Kind of reminded me of Faulkner, but Jamaican and maybe an easier read. Does a great job weaving the narrative through multiple character's perspectives.
Tough read in the electronic version with a bunch of characters, language writing style, and jumping back and forth. Quality of truth to story most appreciated by knowing the story ahead of time so you can follow easier. Recommendation by Sherman Alexie as book to read, so book club took this on. Most found challenging, some would not recommend, so if looking for a challenging read, this is the book.
This book was an amazing and detailed retelling of a story I already knew. James is a magnificent storyteller!
So glad I purchased this book. So many voices, so many details. Loved it.
This complex novel, which revolves around an assassination attempt on Bob Marley, is a portrait of Jamaica in the 1970's and ends up in the 1980's crack wars in Brooklyn and the Bronx. It is epic. It is violent. It is pornographic. Poetic language alternates with patois. Here you will find gangs, as well as politicians and the CIA. It is disturbing. One must put it down from time to time. But then--not unlike crack--one must pick it up again. Brilliant and intense.
In a book that's reminiscent of Faulkner, Marlon James takes readers on a tense and suspenseful whirlwind through Jamaica, starting in the 1970s in Kingston and masterfully spiraling outwards and onwards from there. The story Marlon tells is neither brief nor confined to only seven killings, but it is a masterful work that will have you white-knuckling the page at points. Told in stream of consciousness form, the sections in Jamaican dialect can take a while to get used to if you're not familiar with the dialect, but you do pick it up. It also has a cast of characters so large that, as vivid as they are, you'll be grateful for the character glossary, including CIA operatives, gun-toting teenagers, American reporters, and ordinary Kingston citizens. It's a masterful story you will never forget.
Long, violent, with tons of Jamaican patois and slang. This is one of those books that demonstrates American interference in Latin America as a less than good idea. But it also gave me, an American, plenty of insight into that country and its troubles.
I bought this book with great expecctations based on the reviews. I was disapointed. It was almost impossible for me to read because of the Jamaican language used. This might be a good book but is tiresome to read