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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780714530239
Publisher: Marion Boyars Publishers Ltd
Publication date: 07/01/2000
Pages: 254
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.60(d)

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1 Kwaku's fall from idiocy

This is the tale of Kwaku, who was reduced to a state of idiocy by intelligent men, but made a spontaneous recovery. A quick look-round at his fellow men convinced him that there was much protection in idiocy, and that intelligence was like the plimpla palm, bearer of good fruit, but afflicted with thorns. So he fell back into a state of idiocy, only to recover again for love of punishment and a hankering after passion. All this took place before Kwaku was ten years old. And his latest remission occurred in the following fashion.

A sadistic teacher introduced boxing among the boys in the school. The arrangement was ostensibly in the interest of the budding character of his pupils, who had taken to playing girls' games like hopscotch in public and doctors in private. This had come to the teacher's knowledge through his class pet; and what alarmed him most was that in these private games the boys were invariably the doctors since the mad rage for the practice of medicine had taken the children. Kwaku — whom he detested from the bottom of his heart — had in his idiocy fashioned a stethoscope from the remnants of an enema tube and had a mind to sound his girl friends under their drawers as they relaxed with a book from the Mobile Library. The teacher enquired carefully into these allegations, which were vigorously denied by all the girls except one, who claimed that she had been so engrossed in the book and that Kwaku had been so gentle in his quest for her heart that she had noticed nothing.

Boxing was the only answer to the sickness, declaredthe teacher. And it was no coincidence that he had been advocating its introduction for years. He matched Kwaku, who was four foot tall, with an eleven-year-old giant bean-pole of six foot three.

The bean-pole rushed out of his corner and began making pretty patterns round Kwaku. At first bewildered by his opponent's display, Kwaku started to do likewise, but was promptly awarded a fist in full face and stood on the spot, listening to the peculiar sounds in his head. Gradually he recovered to see the bean-pole describing attractive diagrams round him and over him. Then, out of the corner of his eye, Kwaku spied the book-worm who had confessed to her indiscretion. But another flurry of activity from him was repaid by an uppercut to the chin and a rabbit punch which forced him into another lengthy period of inactivity. And when he was himself again the bean-pole was engaged in a dazzling show of skill with his feet and arms, feinting to the east and leaping to the north-west, slapping his gloves together and spinning like Mother Sally in her Christmas dance. In the end the fight was stopped for want of action, because Kwaku, seeing that his safety lay in doing nothing, allowed the bean-pole to perform round him with impunity.

And from that day onwards Kwaku renounced folly and threw in his lot with Blossom, the book-worm, who was to be his lifelong friend and conscience. In their days in secondary school they became notorious for their attachment, even when Kwaku started going out with other girls and Blossom fell in love with other boys. Often he was to be seen chasing her on the front road, he on a bicycle and she on foot; he shouting after her and she screaming that she would get her father to thrash him. And at other times when the orange trees were in blossom, at the start of the long, dry season, they would walk home slowly from school, with the cycle a good yard between them.

Kwaku was to discover, at the age of fifteen or sixteen, that Blossom was ugly, and that the strange sensations in his loins that overcame him in the company of certain girls were entirely absent when he was with her. And he saw this as perfectly natural and no matter for wonder, just as he saw in her albino skin no matter for wonder. So that when his uncle remarked that he would have to marry Blossom one day Kwaku informed him that she was already promised to someone else.

"O my godfather!" was all the stunned relation could say, while contemplating Kwaku as if he were a freak.

Kwaku shot up between the ages of sixteen and eighteen until, when he stopped growing, he was five foot six inches, with narrow shoulders and slight bow legs. Blossom, a good inch taller than he, had left school at sixteen to work with the Public Transport in New Amsterdam and promised to use her influence to secure Kwaku a job as driver of one of the great buses that crossed the Canje river.

But even then Kwaku believed in his superiority over other men, in a destiny that went beyond driving a bus-load of unthinking passengers past endless clumps of courida bushes to the end of the world at East Canje, where perpetual silence reigned and the only evidence of life were a few barefoot children and the odd one-eyed dog. When the cane fields were set alight to rid them of snakes and the sky was brilliant with orange and yellow, Kwaku knew that there was a profound meaning in the conflagration and the rain of ash that fell in its aftermath. An uncle had died a year before, trapped in a burning field he had set alight inexpertly; and Kwaku believed that there was a meaning to such a death. Did not the Yanoama Indians of Venezuela burn their dead and consume the ashes with crushed plantains?

No, he could not end his days at the wheel of a bus, the hero of small boys.

2 The centre of attention

Although Kwaku had left his idiocy behind, there were moments when he said and did things that surprised him and confounded those around him. One evening when the storytelling comrade among the group he used to frequent ran out of stories and the youths took to arguing about the superiority of the members of their respective families, one boy declared that his brother, who worked on a timber grant, had fourteen gold teeth in his mouth, a disclosure which earned him a minute of reverential silence. Then Kwaku, for no reason whatsoever, declared for everyone to hear that his mother had bigger bosoms than the mother of anyone else present. And immediately a commotion broke out, for Kwaku's mother had died when he was an infant.

"But she dead!" one youth shouted scornfully.

"I know," replied Kwaku. "I say she had, not that she got."

"You mean you remember she bosom, though you was a baby," pitched in another youth who seized the opportunity to put down Kwaku.

"My father tell me," protested Kwaku.

"But he run away years ago," the first youth reminded him. "And you was a lil' boy."

"He tell me before he go away."

"You mean," said another youth, "just before he run away he call you and say, 'Son, I runnin' away an' leaving you. But before I go I got something to tell you. You mother had the biggest bubby in the village.'"

Kwaku was now indeed the centre of attention, but not in the way he had expected. The more words he wasted in defending himself, the more impatient his companions became, until one youth said, "Don' worry with him; he stupidy."

So the argument came to an end and the youth whose brother had capped his teeth with gold became the centre of attention once more.

Another time Kwaku was on his way home on Blossom's rickety bicycle, which was making so much noise that pedestrians and vehicles had ample time to avoid him, despite the fact that the cycle was not provided with a lamp as the law required. Rounding the bend on the Public Road he saw a number of lights moving about in the distance and, on approaching, saw that there had been an accident. Two cars were locked together by their front bumpers and glass was scattered on the grass verge between the road and the lotus-covered trench.

"Any witnesses?" Kwaku heard one of the three policemen ask.

He had dismounted and placed Blossom's cycle carefully against a wayside tree lest it fell apart. Then he boldly stepped up and said, "I'm a witness," though the accident must have occurred some time before he arrived. And he and the others who were on the scene at the moment of the mishap were asked to give their names and addresses.

On the morning of the case, four months later, Kwaku was obliged to walk the eleven miles to court, for Blossom, the previous day, had refused to lend him her bicycle.

"It old," she observed, "and the way you does ride it would die on the way."

Blossom's husband-to-be backed her up, mistakenly seeing in Kwaku a rival for Blossom's affection.

Kwaku set out for court at five o'clock and arrived at ten minutes past nine, just after the hearing began, looking like a cat that was fed at the same time as the dog of the house and out of the same receptacle.

He was made to sit on the bench where the other witnesses were ranged, awaiting their turn to be called into the courtroom.

"How long this thing going last?" a young woman next to him enquired.

But before Kwaku could answer, an old man on her right said, "Can be all day. You bring food?"

"Just as I did think," muttered the woman.

Kwaku had no money. He was to start work as a shoemaker the following week and his uncle would neither oblige by cooking early in the morning nor allow Kwaku to cook a meal for himself, for all his pepper and salt would disappear mysteriously and the food would be inedible.

Kwaku was called at five minutes to four in the afternoon, after the prosecution witnesses had testified and the magistrate had warned that his clerk-of-court had to go home at six o'clock.

By this time Kwaku was hungry and irritable and regretted bitterly his hastiness in putting himself forward as a witness to the accident. And the sight of the well-fed magistrate, who must have been eating fried chicken during the recess, so incensed Kwaku that he decided to teach him a lesson and misbehave in the witness box.

"Will you swear on the Bible, please?" the uniformed gentleman asked.

"I don't swear," declared Kwaku. "My uncle tell me never to swear."

"Your what?" asked the magistrate, his eyes blazing.

"My uncle," said Kwaku defiantly. "And the church say you musn' swear, too."

"You'd better do as you're told," ordered the magistrate, "or you'll take the consequences."

So Kwaku swore. Then he was asked to tell what he saw on the road on the evening of the accident and he spoke his prepared account.

"I was coming down the road on my new bicycle ..."

The magistrate looked at his watch.

"... and slam, the yellow car turn out of the village road and knock into the blue car."

"So one car was yellow and the other blue, eh?" asked the middle-aged counsel for the prosecution sarcastically. "And what was the colour of your glasses?"

"My what?" Kwaku said.

"Your glasses."

"I don't wear glasses," Kwaku protested.

"Precisely! Without glasses the cars were both black!"

"Not when I see the accident," Kwaku corrected him.

The very thing the magistrate feared came to pass. A long-winded witness was going to spoil everything.

And Kwaku did. When six o'clock came the magistrate refused to carry on without his clerk-of-court, and the case was put off until a later date. The driver of the car, who had been charged with dangerous driving and who thought that things had been going well for him until Kwaku came into court, gave him such a withering look he was forced to avert his eyes.

Four weeks later Kwaku had to ask for a day off from his new job in order to attend court once more. It was granted him, without pay. He borrowed Blossom's bicycle, promising to buy her a new one from his wages if it did not last the journey. He arrived at the court-house before the sun came up, when nothing was astir save a flock of jumbee birds pecking in the damp grass, and the only sound was the high, plaintive wail of a bird-call.

Sitting down on the lowest step of the whitewashed court-house staircase he looked about him, at the tiny house opposite with its unpainted shutters, at the boats and the wooden bridge over the drainage canal. The villagers were asleep while he, from another village, was kicking his heels, anxiously awaiting the arrival of a hostile magistrate, who was bent on intimidating him just because he could not hold his tongue. He began to call to mind his follies which passed before him like a troop of galloping horses. And he resolved that after the court case he would curb his tongue, even if he had to chain it. He would also take care to show Blossom the gratitude she deserved. Which other woman in the world would consecrate a school friendship as she had done, at the risk of her relations with a husband-to-be? And what sort of life lay before his future wife and children if he fell prey to every impulse?

Day broke and with it came the noise and bustle of animals, men and their machines. Asses brayed, dogs barked, goats bleated, buses hummed like giant bees and magistrates slammed their car doors ostentatiously, in the manner of those men who dare not lay a finger on their wives and bang the window instead.

No sooner did the proceedings begin than the magistrate interrupted his clerk-of-court.

"There are those," he began threateningly, "who forget who they are. I am here and they are there; and they forget that. Oh, yes! I warned when the case was last heard of the problems that would arise if it went beyond six o'clock. But certain long-winded people ..."

And at this point the magistrate glared at Kwaku.

"... certain people who don't like taking advice, even when it comes from others in power — in power — go on and on and on as if it was morning time. But I'm giving this advice once again. Do not let us hear unnecessary chatter about the colour of cars; because I have to go early today. Not the clerk-of-court, but I. I hope that's clear."

The magistrate was now sweating profusely and frothing at the mouth as if he had been stung by a scorpion. When he recovered his composure he took up a thick, elegantly bound law-book, raised it and was just about to bring it down on the clerk-of-court's head, as it seemed, but changed his mind and smashed it on to the desk in front of him instead, in order to stress how serious his warning was.

Kwaku was made to take his place in the witness-box, aware that all eyes were on him and that the magistrate was crouching at his desk, ready to spring on him and bring him to order. And in a quarter of an hour the proceedings were at an end. The accused driver was found guilty of dangerous driving and Kwaku was allowed to leave the court-house under the scrutiny of the powerful magistrate.

"Lucky he din' make us charge you with perjury," remarked the constable who had brought the prosecution case. "'Blue car and yellow ear!' You ever see a yellow car in this country?"

Kwaku was about to say that his father owned a yellow car once, but luckily he bit his tongue and put on such a pained expression that the policeman believed he was about to burst into tears for the lies he had told.

On his way home under the heat of the morning sun Kwaku decided that, as he had little control of what he said and did, he would get married and so acquire a sense of responsibility. He was once told by his uncle that the tormented look he noticed on all married men's faces was simply the outward sign of a sense of responsibility. And already, on the way home, he was planning how best he would go about the business of choosing a wife from among the village girls.

3 How Kwaku acquired a sense of responsibility

Kwaku's uncle came into his own in the business of acting as go-between for prospective marriage partners. He took his duties so seriously that when Kwaku was required to explain what he expected his intended to be like his uncle actually listened, something that went against the very grain of his impatient character.

"She got to be tall," Kwaku informed him, "but not too tall. I'd prefer a school teacher, but a dressmaker would do. She muse' get vexed if I come home drunk, but she herself musn't drink. She must know to spell good, but she mustn't spend too much time reading. Unless she's a school teacher. She musn't have a flat chest or a huge batty, like Blossom. Blossom man-friend always falling out of bed 'cause she batty does stab him every time he turn. And now he going around with a dislocated arm, all because of she big batty. She must read she Bible and say she prayers. You remember how Miss Gloria started carrying on when she stop saying she prayers after she grandmother dead and she didn't have no one to supervise she conduct? She musn't make a noise with she mouth when she eating, like Blossom, who neighbours does know when is lunchtime by the slurping and sucking of the soup in she mouth .... Let me see ... aw ... le' me see! Oh, yes! She musn't harass me. That's one thing Blossom don' do, harass me ...."

"Is Blossom you getting married to?" Kwaku's uncle asked, exasperated by his nephew's exorbitant demands.

"She mustn't be too close to she mother, 'cause that's trouble. I don't got experience but I know that's trouble. And you got to find out if anybody in she family ever practice obeah. I don't want to get married to no obeah woman. It got to be a woman from another village, because everybody here know all you business, if you does pee in the yard behind you house or if you did wet you bed when you small ...."

"You did wet you bed when you were small?" asked his uncle.

"Me? Wet my bed? I never wet my bed! Was Bertram did wet his bed, not me."

"Who is Bertram?"

"The boy at the back of the yard who used to catch the hogs for me father .... If you don' believe me go and ask my father, ne?"

"How am I going to ask him if I don't know where he's living?" demanded Kwaku's uncle.

"Anyway, you finish?" his uncle enquired after reflecting awhile, hard put to remember Kwaku's list of requirements.

"Finish? I suppose so. Let me see ... I did say she mustn't harass me, didn't I? Aw ... Oh, yes! Very important! The most important thing of all. She must respect my friends. My friends must be able to come and go ...."

"But you in't got no friends," his uncle remarked, mystified by Kwaku's unusual demand. Even if he had friends he was not the kind of person to encourage them to come and go as they pleased, he reflected. He considered his nephew to be selfish, wilful and stingy, and was not surprised that no one ever came to see him. Now he was demanding that his wife allow his friends to come and go as they pleased. This bizarre demand, together with the unrealistic portrait of Kwaku's ideal wife, filled his uncle with dismay.

"Is not a wife you want," he observed, despairing of ever getting Kwaku off his hands, "is an angel."

"That's what I want. You did ask me, didn't you?"

"First of all, where you're going to find a teacher?"

"There's ..." began Kwaku, only to be brutally interrupted.

"One teacher's living in this village and she wouldn't spit on you. And which dressmaker would marry you with your reputation?"

"I don' got no reputation!" protested Kwaku, whose blood was now up, what with his inflated opinion of himself and his uncle's low opinion of him.

"You got a bad reputation! You don't have a good reputation."

"I never steal," Kwaku protested.

"I didn't say you ever stole," his uncle said.

"You say I got a bad reputation."

"But even the dogs in the village get out of your way when you're coming down the road; and the children does run from you when they see you in the back dam. They wouldn't do that if you had a good reputation. And the other day when you go past Mr Barzey water tank it suddenly started leaking. And it's a new tank. It's only five years old."

Kwaku's uncle hung his head, ashamed of having to own up to being Kwaku's uncle and guardian. All his consideration in the village had vanished since Kwaku came to live with him; and he, once known for his reliability and uprightness, was now associated with his nephew's misdeeds. He hoped to find a partner for him and start him on the road to responsibility. Or, even better, he hoped that he would marry and vanish. He even prayed that he would go abroad, for those who lived in a village and went abroad never came back, except on a visit.

Kwaku's uncle stood up without giving him the opportunity to add to his list of the virtues he required in a wife. And Kwaku, left alone, was yet unable to make out the true traits of his character in the mirror of his uncle's opinion of him. The only flaw in himself was a weakness for letting his tongue run away with him. He was not the only one who played pranks on people or threw stones at dogs when no one was looking. As for the children who ran away on spotting him from a distance, that had always been a mystery to him.

He watched his uncle through the window and recalled the afternoon when, as a small boy, he came walking down that strange village road for the first time and was introduced to Mr Barzey, whose house stood between his uncle's and the Public Road. He remembered his wonder at Mr Barzey's cylindrical water tank, now replaced by a new one. The old tank leaked mysteriously, rather sweated water on its rusted surface, rich-brown with secret incrustations, where gigantic pawn-flies came to settle and drink and spread their gossamer wings. Time and time again a man emptied that tank and, when it was thoroughly dried out, deployed his tools on the ground before setting about the task of soldering the offending spot. But the tank, as if determined to assert its independence, started to leak in another section; and the golden-brown efflorescences reappeared like exotic petals of new rust-flowers, to spread in triumphant splendour across the round surface of Mr Barzey's tank. The soul of that village was Mr Barzey's tank under the olive-leafed sapodilla tree with its half-eaten fruit, bespattered with bat-droppings and sweating copiously. Then early one morning six men came with ropes and sat on Mr Barzey's stairs drinking rum he had provided and chatting affably. Kwaku sensed that they came straight from hell, despite their laughter and pretence at being humans. And sure enough when the bottle was empty they began trussing up the tank, like a giant they had taken in battle. Kwaku ran into his house, sick at heart that no one else felt like him and was prepared to give his right arm to defend the leviathan.

From his uncle's house he could hear the grunting of the devil's men, like the noises from Blossom's bedroom when her young man was at home. And when they left he came outside to confront the disaster, a gleaming new metal tank, smooth and untarnished, a pot-bellied obscenity.

"The bats wouldn't even shit on it," Kwaku muttered to himself.

From then on he never addressed a word of greeting to Mr Barzey or his wife, or his lady friend who came up the back stairs when his wife went to her sister's in the neighbouring village, or to his decrepit father, or to his married cousins, who came to air their troubles in his house.

His uncle could at least try, reflected Kwaku. There was no harm in looking for a young woman conforming to his specifications.

And his uncle did try. God knows he had reason enough! He travelled the length and breadth of the country in quest of a woman for Kwaku. In June he was in Morawhanna, in August he crossed the Courantyne river to Nickerie in Surinam. In December he was on the savannah bordering Venezuela, surveying the vast scrublands for a likely partner for his demanding nephew. He even stayed a few weeks in the country by the Ireng river, attracted as much by the wild tree-less country as by the prospect of meeting a fatherless girl whose mother was prepared to put her through a course in dressmaking, so that she would be a suitable match for Kwaku. But those he did meet were too short or were poor spellers or read their Bible only occasionally, or ate noisily or were in some other way unsuitable.

But at last he found a young lady qualified, it seemed, in all respects. She lived in Beterverwachting and was seventeen years old, two years younger than Kwaku. Kwaku's uncle entered into extensive negotiations with her parents and finally got them to agree, provided the prospective bridegroom was reasonable looking and was not a boozer. And Kwaku's uncle, making himself out to be not as sprightly as he seemed, assured them that his nephew would inherit his land and house when he died.

The Sunday when the girl, her father, mother and their eleven other children came to the village to meet Kwaku and look over the land he was to inherit, most of the villagers were sleeping after their midday meal. Under the metallic, blue sky a chicken-hawk was trying to steer its shadow over the trees in the windless afternoon. Mr Barzey's father, who was sitting at the top of the stairs of his son's house in the manner of a large bird on its expertly made nest, greeted the visitors with his cavernous smile, from which one tooth winked like a candle-fly at night time. He must have guessed that they had come to see Kwaku's uncle, for he pointed to the yard behind his son's large house, to the small cottage where Kwaku and his uncle lived.

One by one the villagers woke, roused by the chatter of the fourteen-strong family who had arrived at the height of the siesta and by the barking of Mr Barzey's dog. Some of them, too sleepy to care, dozed off again, but others came to see who was making the disturbance.

The tribe tramped up Kwaku's uncle's stairs, believing that they were not expected, for there was no one to welcome them. But Kwaku's uncle, who had been in the habit of taking his nap at that time on Sundays, had fallen asleep in his rocking-chair and was dreaming of a herd of goats walking across his chest.

Kwaku had forgotten about the visit and was playing cards with Blossom and her young man when a small boy came shouting his name and informed him that his uncle was expecting him home because "his lady-friend" had arrived. So Kwaku left, accompanied by the jibes of Blossom and her young man.

On the way he plucked the leaf of a caladium growing near the trench and polished his shoes, which were covered in village dust. He tried to wipe the sweat off his face, but without success, and was obliged to go back to Blossom's house to wash and put himself in a state suitable for the first meeting with the woman he was going to marry and would surely grow to love.

At the house Kwaku found two strange little girls of about three and four sitting on the porch, sucking their thumbs, and he heard the whooping and calling of nine boys despoiling his uncle's fruit trees at the back of the yard. He opened the front door and was presented with the strangest sight a young suitor might ever want to behold as he was about to meet his intended.

His uncle and another man were sleeping in two easy-chairs opposite other, the former snoring so violently that the cloud of insects attracted to his sweating face was blown right across the room, only to be sucked towards him again when he breathed in as violently, and repulsed once more when they were about to disappear into his mouth. The other man, his eyelids fluttering and his mouth drawn across his face in a childlike grin, whistled a popular tune as he exhaled, and followed it with a drum-roll sound while inhaling. On the far side of the drawing-room a strapping lady and a young woman who seemed destined to grow into a creditable imitation of the maternal model were sleeping with their heads against each other as if to advertise their striking resemblance.

Kwaku went to the back of the house, counted the boys playing in the fruit trees, added five to the number and made the total fourteen. One and one made two, he thought; and he came to the conclusion that he and his uncle were no match for the tribe scattered about the house and yard. So he tiptoed past the sleepers, out on to the porch, and in one bound cleared the sixteen steps of his uncle's front stairs.

"Kwaku, is where you flying ...?" one of a group of loafers at the canal bridge called out. But before he could finish his question Kwaku had turned on to the back dam path and disappeared behind a cloud of red dust.

He waited aback until the moon rose above the locust tree and the candle-flies had ceased blinking among the termite hills; then he made his way home, thinking he would invent a story for his uncle in the morning, rather than rack his brain after the strain he had been under during the last few hours. And so as not to wake his uncle, Kwaku crept up the stairs on all fours, gently pushed open the unlocked door and slipped into his bedroom at the back of the house.

But the next day his uncle informed him that everything had been arranged and that the marriage would take place when he was twenty-one.

"But I wasn't there!" protested Kwaku.

"I did tell them you're shy," said his uncle dryly.

"I'm not marrying that girl, you can bet your bottom dollar."

Then his uncle, imagining years ahead tied to his feckless nephew, lost his patience and said:

"You two-mouth idiot! The girl's got nearly everything you asked for! She's a seamstress who used to be a teacher; she does eat like a lady and don't care for her mother."

"I didn't say she musn't care for her mother!" Kwaku said, pouncing on his uncle's words in a dance of triumph.

"You said she musn't be too close to her mother."

"But I din' say she musn't care for her mother."

"Right! I not going argue with you. You either marry her or you leave and fend for yourself."

Kwaku feared it would come to this. His uncle had threatened him with expulsion once before, and with no relations to turn to there was nothing for it but to comply. Now he was doing the same again and was in a position to do so whenever he chose.

"Right!" exclaimed Kwaku manfully. "Since you forcing me I going marry this freak with the wart on her ass."

"Who said she's got a wart there?" demanded the uncle, alive to all his nephew's ruses.

"No, I not talking 'bout it. You want me to married a woman who going parade her warts every time she get undressed, then I going to do it. Let's set the wedding for tomorrow. Come on, ne? What you waiting for?"

"Hold on! Just a minute. We going discuss this business in calm words. Now who said the girl's got a wart on her ... situpon? Who said so? Well, tell me."

Kwaku was looking at him scornfully. "Is common knowledge in BV. Ever since she was a lil' girl and use to skin up her tail 'pon ...."

"Just a minute! Can you produce evidence?"

"Yes," declared Kwaku.

"What kind of evidence?"

"The girl sheself."

His uncle pretended to be amused. "Haw haw haw!" he bellowed unconvincingly, slapping his thighs. "'The girl herself.' Haw haw haw!"

"Get her back here, ne," Kwaku said.

"What? So that you can make a fool of me again? In any case you can't very well ask her."

"Well, give me her address in BV and I going get her to come and own up to it."

"Ah, ha ha!" screamed his uncle. "If you don't even know where she's living how d'you know she's got a wart and which part of her body it's on?"

"Because," said Kwaku, lengthening the word, ostensibly to give it emphasis, but in reality allowing himself time to think up an answer, "because it's common knowledge. Even people who don't know where she living know it. Tobesides, I'm not arguing. I prepared to do anything you say. I not even going to bother to prove it. If you want me to married somebody with warts all over they ass I going to. I not saying nothing more. Just tell me what you want me to do and I going do it."

Kwaku's uncle thought of his dead sister, who had asked him to keep an eye on her son. She would turn in her grave if she knew that he was pushing her son into a marriage with a woman of that sort.

So Kwaku had his way and his uncle never mentioned the subject again.

Then one night Kwaku came home and declared that he was getting married to the same young lady from Beterverwachting. She and her father had come that day when Kwaku's uncle had been on an excursion in a launch. Kwaku had been promised two cows and the materials to build a house as a dowry.

"You know I can't understand you," said the uncle, torn between anger and a feeling of enormous relief. "What about her warts?"

"Well," remarked Kwaku, shrugging his shoulders and pushing out his lower lip like a man who knew a thing or two, "that was when she was a girl. It's gone now. These things come and go you know. You never can tell with warts."

"So in years you'll be a married man!" said his uncle, smiling and reaching for his evil-smelling pipe.

"No, they're publishing the banns next month in the BV church. It's in July. I told the minister. You've got to send your consent to him by letter with a duplicate for the marriage registry people."

Kwaku's uncle nearly collapsed with joy, and when he had recovered sufficiently, instructed his nephew on the morality of marriage.

"It's a union for life, and a very beautiful thing...."

While Kwaku was being lectured his mind wandered; and it occurred to him that it was within the bounds of possibility that Gertrude-Gwendoline had a wart after all. If she had, it was certainly not on her face or on her hands or on her feet or all the visible parts of her fat body. This thought so plagued his mind that he could hardly wait for the day of his marriage and the night of that day when, exercising his rights as a married man, he would be in a position to see whether his anxiety was unfounded.

The day of the marriage arrived and the night of the day when everyone speculated on the possible reasons for Kwaku's preoccupied expression. But when he was asked he only laughed, denying that he was worried about anything.

Finally the tribe and their relations and friends abandoned the barbecue fires in the yard and the music of an old violinist, playing for a pound of meat from Kwaku's cow when it was slaughtered.

After the farewells, the departure which lasted as long as the fete had lasted, Kwaku and his new wife bade his uncle good morning and retired to the large bedroom which Kwaku's uncle was allowing them to use until their new house was built.

So the moment that Kwaku had been waiting for came at last, when he would find out whether he had bought his sweet-potato field with his eyes closed. And with the shedding of each of Gwendoline's garments Kwaku's heart thumped violently, so that when the last unmentionable cotton thing was let down he swooned and fell to the greenheart floorboards with a thud.

"Oh! Ah! Hee! Kwaku! Not now!" exclaimed Miss Gwendoline as softly as she could, fearing that her uncle-in-law might draw the wrong conclusion from his nephew's state.

She hurried into the kitchen without even bothering to stick a postage stamp on her navel and came back with a jug of water, which she threw on Kwaku's face.

But Kwaku, believing that somebody had come to steal his new wife, leapt towards her, and in the ensuing melee discovered that her skin was as smooth as sidium, without so much as a mole or birthmark, without even the slightest discoloration.

"You skin!" crowed Kwaku. "You got such nice skin."

And the couple started to frolic as if they were still engaged, so that Kwaku's poor uncle, unable to bear the torture, took up his bedclothes and went to sleep at the front of his house.

Truly, that was the way Kwaku acquired a sense of responsibility, out of gratitude that he had got a bargain. He was even able to forgive his father-in-law for delivering to him three weeks later a broken-down cow and its calf, and materials to make a house even smaller than his uncle's.

Table of Contents

Book 1
1 Kwaku's fall from idiocypage 7
2 The centre of attention9
3 How Kwaku acquired a sense of responsibility13
4 The metamorphosis of Kwaku20
5 Blossom's man-friend24
6 Kwaku and the one-toothed storyteller29
7 The delivery of Fabian35
8 How Kwaku fell foul of his employer40
9 How Kwaku fell foul of the Party44
10 Miss Gwendoline's jealousy47
11 Marriage53
12 A plague58
13 The unsympathetic65
14 A fugitive72
15 The fancy-dress do79
16 Kwaku leaves home90
Book 2
17 The proposal102
18 How Kwaku acquired a reputation111
19 A change of fortune
20 The healer125
21 A quarrel140
22 Talk and drink148
23 Thechildren156
24 The hollow ball170
25 Miss Gwendoline's affliction175
Book 3
26 A dream of monkeys182
27 Family troubles191
28 A conversation overheard199
29 Rain in the night212
30 Destitution217
31 Blossom's visit230
32 Kwaku and Miss Gwendoline244

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Edward Blishen

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