Being dead is most definitely an impediment to writing a book, under ordinary circumstances. But the narrator of this novel, Taddeus Augustus Baps, has turned into a duppy—a ghost renowned in Caribbean folklore—and he has a story to tell.
At first, he thinks that his new status as a spirit will provide some mischievous fun, but he’s in for disappointment. He gets whisked off to heaven—via minibus—where he meets not only God but some other interesting characters, and finds that the afterlife can be more irritating than one might expect . . .
This smart, rollicking, and ultimately uplifting tale is a delight from the prize-winning author of The Lunatic and other comic novels. As The Independent said of Anthony Winkler’s work, “It’s almost as if P. G. Wodehouse had strolled into the world of Bob Marley.”
|Publisher:||Akashic Books (Ignition)|
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About the Author
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One Saturday morning, not very long ago, I dropped dead and turned into a duppy.
Some finicky members of the book-buying public will no doubt challenge this opening. (I welcome this opposition.)
They will gripe, as a friend of mine did when I showed him this first page, "Baps, you expect me to pay hard-earned money for a book whose writer dead in de opening sentence? If de writer dead in de beginning, who write de book? Duppy?"
Being dead is most definitely an impediment to writing a book — under ordinary circumstances. Proof that death is a challenging obstacle to a literary career is to be found in the fact-that, to the best of my knowledge, there is not a single case of Jamaican duppy ever publishing a book on the island. Not-one.
Moreover, as everyone knows, the common pastime of a Jamaican duppy — to romp on the naked bellies of sleeping church sisters — is an entirely frivolous one that requires no formal schooling, literacy, or intellectual skills. Indeed, it is widely believed, and I myself believe it, that Jamaican duppy is illiterate, no free places in the schools ever having been set aside by successive governments for education of the substantial duppy population known to roam the island.
The pertinent point is, if the writer is dead in sentence one and duppy is an ignoramus who can't even recite his ABC's, how came this book to be written?
All these questions, and sundry others, will be fully addressed and answered in the coming pages.
For now, I beg the reader just to grant me this: One Saturday morning, not very long ago, I did drop dead. And I definitely turned into a duppy.
My name is Taddeus Augustus Baps. I was born in Kingston, the only child of a decent working-class family. At the time of my death I owned three country shops, although strictly speaking I had been trained to be a teacher and had taught in the secondary schools for some ten years until dire poverty compelled me to take up a more commercial livelihood.
I started out small, buying my first country shop from a retired gentleman who was migrating to Canada to join his grown children. A few years later I expanded to a second shop and then to a third.
On the morning of my death, I had woken early and shuffled through the dawn dimness cobwebbing the hallways of my Kingston house, intending to go over my accounts.
I sat on a hassock in the drawing room and did the books while the usual nightly gabble of dog bark over the neighborhood was quieting down along with the throbbing of distant sound systems.
Except for the scratching of my pencil and the sounds of a rooster gargling dew in the dawn light, the morning was peaceful.
I was carefully writing down a naught when I felt a vicious tearing inside my chest like a crab had squeezed behind my breastbone and was ripping my heart out with its claws. My breath was abruptly stopped up. I scratched at my chest and moaned with a wicked pain.
Before I could even bawl out a common Jamaican shopkeeping phrase such as, "Stop, thief!" I toppled off my chair and hit the floor with a loud crash that rattled my house down to its very foundations.
I was only forty-seven years old.
I was also stone dead.
But I did not immediately realize that I was dead.
That is the strange thing about turning duppy: at first you don't know it. Your duppy floats out of your dead body and you look around and think, "Boy, dis is funny! I slip and drop on de ground, but I feel better now!"
So it was with me. Indeed, when my duppy got up off the floor, I felt a little giddy but thought that I was still in the land of the living.
I looked around the room and tried to grasp what was happening when I noticed that the exercise book in which I kept my accounts had flown out of my hands and landed in a corner and the pencil had dropped beside the hassock and rolled under the chair.
As I am a man who hates untidiness, I got down on my hands and knees to pick up the exercise book and discovered, to my shock, that I couldn't grab hold of it, that my hands suddenly seemed made of wisps. Every time I grabbed at the book, it slipped through the mist of my fingers.
Next I tried picking up the pencil and found that my fingers passed right through the shaft. Perplexed, I thought to call Mabel, my new maid, and beg her boil a cup of strong breakfast tea to clear my head.
I had just opened my mouth to bawl out Mabel's name when I glimpsed something funny in my drawing room. I couldn't tell what it was at first because of the fuzzy morning light, but as I drew closer, I saw that it was the body of a heavy-set black man lying crumpled on the floor.
What was this? I indignantly asked myself. Had some ole negar come and dead in my drawing room at this early hour without asking permission?
I was about to kick the brute and tell him to get up and go dead on government road when I realized — to my horror — the ole negar dead on the floor was none other than me, Taddeus Baps.
I started one unearthly piece of wailing. I bawled out loud:
"De ole negar dead on de floor is me! Lawd, Jesus, I dead and turn duppy! And I wasn't even sick! Now me dead!"
Then I flew into a temper, for I am not a man who yields lightly to life's obstacles.
Who said I should dead now? I asked myself angrily. I was only forty-seven years old! I certainly wasn't going to dead without a fight!
Getting down on my knees, I tried to ram my duppy body back inside my carcass.
But my own earthly body had become a wall that my duppy couldn't penetrate. My duppy hand bounced off the fleshy limb. Duppy foot wouldn't slide into real foot. Trying to stuff my duppy head back inside my skull was like bucking against a rusty engine block.
I stood up and started my bawling all over again. I cussed bad words and popped wicked oaths and swore that I wasn't leaving my body behind for worms to eat.
But all my wailing and cussing didn't make the slightest difference.
As you will find out for yourself one day, once your time has come to dead and turn duppy, no amount of bawling can bring you back.CHAPTER 2
In the dimness of the Kingston dawn, I was standing confused in my sparsely furnished drawing room trying to decide what to do now that I was a duppy instead of an enumerated voter when I heard a scuffling noise coming from the hallway and my maid, Mabel, calling, "Mr. Baps! Mr. Baps!"
"Help, Mabel!" I yelled. "You poor employer dead and turn duppy!"
I cocked my ear to listen for an answer but heard only the shrill thread of a rooster's crowing unreeling in the blurry light.
A few seconds later Mabel renewed her bleating. She shuffled into the doorway, poked her head cautiously around the doorjamb, and squinted into the dim room.
She stared, hesitated, and without even drawing closer, blasted out a howl. "Mr. Baps dead! Mr. Baps dead!"
I yelled back, "Yes! And dead because of you! If I told you once I told you a hundred times, don't cook wid de blessed coconut oil dat so full of cholesterol! But you wouldn't listen! And now because you so hard o' hearing, you bad oil kill me off in me own drawing room!"
I was going to add that perhaps the whole thing was a mistake, a dreadful nightmare, but I kept this encouraging thought to myself because I have always frowned on open familiarity between employer and domestic unless the domestic's drawers were down and she was wriggling underneath her employer, in which case some familiarity and sweetmouthing were clearly warranted.
Before I could say another word, however, Mabel had scampered screaming down the hallway, her frantic footsteps rumbling through the wooden house, making the walls tremble.
She returned a few minutes later dragging Hector, the old gardener, into the room, and the two of them approached my dead body cautiously on tiptoe. The gardener bent over and felt for a pulse while Mabel tried vainly to pry open my closed eyelid with a greasy thumb.
"What happen?" she asked in a quaking voice, kneeling beside my body.
"Mr. Baps dead, is what happen," the gardener replied sourly, lumbering to his feet with much popping of old bone.
"Listen to me!" I urged, trying my best to stay calm. "I can still see and hear you, so it's not as bad as it looks. Can you hear me? How I look? Do I look dead? I don't feel dead! I just outta me body! Odderwise, I feel strong. How I look?"
It was obvious that they could neither see nor hear my duppy self, for the two of them ignored my questions and just stood there staring down at my dead body.
Mabel's face hardened like quarry rockstone. "So because Mr. Baps decide to dead now, I must go look for a new job? You think work easy to find?"
"Oh, no," the gardener said amiably. "But Mr. Baps clearly dead. And if you think him was tight with money when him was living, now dat him dead you really going see tight."
"I wasn't dat tight! Shame on you, talking so 'bout you employer who just dead!"
They moped around in the drawing room staring glumly at my dead body as if uncertain about what to do next.
"Him pay you for de week before him dead?" Mabel asked.
"No," the gardener replied sullenly.
"So check him wallet! If de police find any money on him, you know dem bound to thief it."
The gardener eagerly obeyed and found my wallet stuffed full of money, for I had not yet made the weekly bank lodgment.
He counted out his week's wages and gave Mabel her own and was about to return the wallet when she asked crossly whether he thought it was right for an employer to dead without giving staff proper notice.
"Notice?" the gardener sniffed legalistically, as a thiefing gleam spread across his wrinkled face. "No, dat definitely not right, for de law say two weeks' notice always must give. No exception."
"You think man dead like bus run?" I quarrelled with them. "If I had known I was going to drop dead, I would have gladly given de proper notice and saved two weeks' wages. But how you expect me to know?"
This logical point, however, made no impression whatsoever on the two hardened criminals, who gladly pocketed another helping of my hard-earned money with hoggish snorts of pleasure.
The gardener knelt down and was again about to return my wallet to my back pocket when Mabel scowled and rapped him sharply on the shoulder.
"What about Christmas bonus? Is our fault dat Mr. Baps dead out of season?"
"No," the gardener said slowly, rubbing his chin as if in deep thought, "clearly is not our fault. I never tell him to dead at dis special time. You tell him to dead?"
"Me? No, sah!"
"So him just willfully make up him mind to dead on him own?"
"Exactly! So why should we lose we rightful bonus just because him decide him mind to drop dead before Christmas?"
This was too much. I shrieked, "I never pay a Christmas bonus in me life! Don't make me pay one now dat I dead!"
Nevertheless, Christmas bonus money drained out of my wallet into their pockets and no matter how I grabbed at this one and kicked at that, I was powerless to prevent this unlawful transfer of funds. I yelled and screamed and cussed bad words and made a lot of duppy noise but it did no good.
In addition to bonuses for Christmas, Boxing Day, and Easter, the two wretches also found excuse to thief birthday and leap year money (I laughed with scorn at the ignorant brutes who didn't even know that this wasn't a leap year!), and when they finally returned my wallet to my back pocket, it was as flabby and limp as a fat fish after gutting.
Whistling, the gardener strolled down the hall to call the police while Mabel settled into an easy chair, cocked up her bare foot on my head, and picked at knuckle skin like she was born mistress of the house.
"Lawd God," my duppy moaned, "I just dead and already ole negar using me head as dem footstool. What further tribulation can dis terrible day bring, eh?"CHAPTER 3
In my youth, I was a worthless, good-for-nothing, undisciplined idler. And I might have stayed that way, too, except for a life-changing sermon I heard one Sunday morning on the radio.
It was given by an evangelist who griped that people relied too much on the influence of preachers when what they really needed to better their lives was daily self-preaching. For what was wrong with a sinner preaching to himself? the evangelist asked. Who better understood a dirty lowdown sinner than the dirty lowdown sinner himself? Who knew more about nasty, stinking sin than a nasty, stinking, sinning wretch?
This message made so much sense to me that from that day on I started practicing a stern treatment of self-preaching. And I preached at myself so often that one morning when I was in my late thirties, I awoke convinced that a parson had set up manse and pulpit inside my head.
So on the morning of my death, after the initial shock had passed and I was beginning to feel sorry for myself, I counteracted my downheartedness with this sermon.
"Baps, you lazy, good-for-nothing brute! Woe unto you! Stop-you snivelling! You dead and gone! You maid and garden boy thief out de weekly lodgment money! You turn dirty duppy, Baps!"
After this spontaneous outburst of devout feeling from my indoor parson, I thought to look at the positive side of things and take a moment to count my blessings as a duppy.
It struck me at once that from now on I could observe all crooked money changing at the bank. I could overhear scandal and rumor, eavesdrop on backbiting and tale-telling, as well as witness all unlawful maid grinding taking place between employer and domestic in the corporate area. I could walk through brick, concrete block, wattle and daub, or wooden wall to personally see which government minister had his hand in the cash pan.
To prove that all this was so, I waded through the outside wall and stepped into the unkempt side yard. After that, I sifted back through the solid wall and ended up again in my own drawing room where Mabel still slouched in my favorite chair, picking at her knuckles, her bare foot cocked atop my head.
Suddenly I suffered temptation: If my hand could pass through a wall, couldn't it also pass through frock and drawers? Indeed, as I scrutinized the luscious shape of Mabel draped across the chair, it occurred to me that the one benefit of being a duppy was that there wasn't a woman in the world I couldn't feel up from now on without fear of scandal and prosecution.
To test this newfound duppy power, I ploughed my hand deep into Mabel's crotch. My duppy fingers glided through dress and drawers and came out wriggling giddily on the other side of her fatty rump.
But her crotch had no feeling to my touch; there was no wholesome grit to the pubic hair, and the pum-pum felt empty and wishy- washy like idle land.
Although I was disappointed with the results, I remembered that it was church sisters who were always complaining about duppy riding them at night. Obviously, if Mabel had been a church sister instead of a stinking thief, things might have turned out differently. What I needed to find was a sleeping church sister I could take on a test ride.
I was pondering this hopeful thought when there was suddenly a sharp rap on the front door. Mabel didn't move a muscle but continued to peer into space like an old woman listening to her own growling belly. The knocking grew louder.
"Who's it?" I bellowed, and into the room through the closed door stepped a boy named Hopeton who used to live and work in the neighborhood.
For a moment I couldn't believe my eyes.
The boy had been dead for years and yet here he was standing before me as solid as a ripe breadfruit. I blinked and squinted and my mouth dropped open. "Hopeton?" I blurted, gaping at him. "Is you dat?"
"Yes, sah," he grinned.
"But don't Mr. Byles shoot you dead five years ago when you try to break his house?"
"Yes, sah. Kill me stone dead."
"So what you doing here, man?"
"I come to escort you across, Mr. Baps," he said, waving duppy finger in my face.
"Kiss me backside!"
Before the boy could take another step, I raced down the hallway, flew through the side wall and out into the backyard, where I scurried high up into a mango tree and crouched behind a thick clump of leaves.
I was ducking behind the shiny leaves high up in the crown of the mango tree when I heard Hopeton scouring the backyard and bawling out my name.
"Mr. Baps!" he was hollering. "Oyea! Mr. Baps!"
He bawled some more, and when I finally got enough nerve to timidly peek out I saw that he was standing at the root of the tree, squinting up at me with his arms on his hips, looking peevish in the bad light.
"Hopeton!" I cried, ducking behind my leafy cover. "I wasn't feeling up Mabel! I didn't even know my hand had passed through her pum-pum and out her batty! I not used to duppy finger!"
"Mr. Baps, come down, sah! I don't business who you feel up."
"I wasn't going to ride no church sister, either! It was just an idle thought! You can't carry a Jamaican to hell just for thinking! Dis is not Castro's Cuba! Socialism days done! All I did is feel up one thiefing maid!"
"Mr. Baps," Hopeton chuckled after a long crack of silence, "dere is no hell, sah! Dere is only one place, and dat is where I come to carry you."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Duppy"
Copyright © 2008 Anthony C. Winkler.
Excerpted by permission of Akashic Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Americans may view Jamaica as paradise - but Jamaicans view the US as the promised land. Life is easy, the horn of pleanty abounds - no dutty johncrows to deal with. In this book, our hero dies at the beginning and is taken to heaven. But heaven is divided into nation states and cultures. God is a wanted deity in the US heaven for not punishing sinners. Our hero meets and makes friends with God, who has taken haven in the Jamaican heaven in the shape of a peeniwallie (or lightning bug), and travels with him around heaven and the universe. On the face of it, in this book Anthony Winkler - a Jamaican professor based in a US university - writes about a Jamaican's ideal heaven. This heaven is much like Jamaica, but with a free and easy life style - devoid of any of the Christian hang-ups which otherwise prevent Jamaicans from procreating and enjoying themselves to the fullest. But just as intriguing is the American heaven he portrays, with puritanical angels, harps, clouds and sheep. But in this short, hysterical book there are many truths hidden along with an intriguing philosophy on the meaning of life, God and the creation of man. This book is for anyone from Jamaica, any American with a self-depreciating sense of humour, anyone who has difficulty being religous in an age of reason and anyone who likes to laugh their socks off. I've read three of Anthony's books so far - but this is the best. It captures the essence of Jamaicans and their inherent conflict of religiousness vs. bachaanal. I can't wait for his next book....
Very strange book. The author uses the protagnist's duppy status to explore religion, sex, Jamaica and American societies and their values. A very entertaining read. I found the discription of sex and the sex organs in particular to be juvenile. I didn't quite buy the protaginist's personality. His character wasn't rooted in realisty. You knew that you were reading satire because he was so fake.