GOWANUS Winter 2002
by Christopher A. Williams
bird came to visit me every day at work last year. It was a little robin
with yellow trim, and at precisely four-twenty every afternoon the ‘little
man’ would fly up to the pneumatic-powered entrance door (flapping and
tweeting excitedly), perch atop the single push-bar handle, and peer in
at me. It watched me for exactly six minutes, and then was off.
For the first few months I paid the bird no mind; it was--like all of us--a creature of habit. And besides, who was I to say it was the same bird each time (most robins have yellow trim, was what I was telling myself)? Then, one bright Wednesday the damn bird started talking to me, relaying to me some really deep, disturbing shit.
I’ve lost you, I sense, gentle reader. Perhaps if I began from the most logical of places…
You see, I knew that little robin--from here on out known as Señor Peebles--from the womb. I remember playing with Señor Peebles as I floated in my mother’s stomach, remember actually trying to grab at him with those underdeveloped arms of mine, giggling like a coy schoolgirl. Therefore, it really didn't come about as a major surprise to me when, one day thirteen years later, my mother told me, and quite frankly, that I had caused her great pain during her pregnancy; I think that is why I am an only child. What my mother told me didn't come as a major surprise--that was what I said, right? I was surprised, but also not surprised, would pretty much sum it up. My mother’s words rang true to me, not to the point I could have jumped up and said, Yes! Mom, you know, I remember kicking you incessantly in the gut as I tried to grab that damn Señor Peebles! No, back then it was more like a vague remembrance.
I grew up from that skeletal thirteen-year-old black bwoy to the massive, strapping man I am today. I went to university, and at twenty-four years of age had myself a library science degree, a wife and a house--the ultimate dream of any Jamaican male…. I beg your pardon, the ultimate dream of any educated or education-minded Jamaican male. My wife--my first wife is dead now, died just last year, matter of fact, an aneurysm--she just left for school one day (she was a high school teacher), and I never saw her alive again. Life is one big gamble, let me tell you. You gamble when you drive, when you eat, when you sleep, when you’re careful, when you go or don’t go to the doctor for that routine checkup. Nothing in life is certain, nothing but death. I never mourned for her…because of that distinct aforementioned fact. Well, maybe that’s not too true… Yes, I was sorry in a sense that I lost Arlene, I loved her after all, but have you ever known tears and heartache to bring back a soul from the grave? Pre-sactly! Besides, she’s probably in a better place now.
I married again, just recently, a lovely latina by the name of Emma Sanchez, now Emma Sanchez-Williams--an opinionated, independent type, but I think I’ll grow to love her.
I am a die-hard 'northener.' For those of you unfamiliar with that term, it means that I love the Island’s north coast, and will not leave it for anything or anyone in the world. I grew up in Ocho Rios, went to high school there, learned all the intricacies of life there, had sex with my first prostitute there. ‘Ochie’ (the truncation for Ocho Rios) is my home, and I can see myself living nowhere else. University life in Kingston was irie, and I enjoyed myself a lot in the big city. University life and real life, however, are two hugely different things, and I couldn’t see myself living in that huge pot of vice. Let me tell you something, nobody can screw you like a Kingston girl, and nobody can show you a real good Jamaican time like a Kingstonian, but to me life is--or should be--about keeping one’s self alive for as long as possible against this ‘gamble’, and living in Kingston is not conducive to that mindset, not in the least bit. So, I came back home a more experienced man, met my first wife at church, had sex with her a week later, and--against my parents' will--married her two months later. As you may have guessed, my parents disowned me as a result. Arlene’s parents loved me to death, though, and beyond that they were rich. North coast Indians are usually rich, not that that was my reason for marrying her… Hell, maybe it was initially…'initially'-- a good excuse of a word.
Credit it to Arlene’s parents, I found myself at the Ocho Rios public library as head librarian. It never hurt much being related to rich, influential people, and if anyone reading this atrocious excuse of a memoir disagrees with me, you’re nothing but a lovely hypocrite.
As librarian I had two assistants, two lovely ladies. Janissa Merlson, a lovely black girl, worked with me during the days, and Miriam Chung, quite possibly the most voluptuous Jamaican-Chinese girl I have ever laid eyes on, worked the afternoon shift. Both of them were heavenly in bed--or should I say in the library’s storage room--especially Miriam; that girl knew how to give a married man a good time, let me tell you… Again, I smell a lovely hypocrite; well, you just go and sit on it.
I worked from eight to five, and my job basically entailed the processing and ordering of library materials. My lovely assistants did the rest--and then some! I had nothing to do, in short, no muse life to beat anything out of me. Not even Señor Peebles had any luck in snatching my attention at that time. He was, after all, just a stupid creature of habit who always managed to sit his little behind on that push-bar door handle every day at precisely four-twenty p.m. for exactly six minutes. There were times though--before the madness--where I’d find myself gazing at Señor Peebles with an elusive kind of wide-eyed suspicion-slash-interest. Damn weird, I would think, what a damn weird bird.
And as abruptly as that, in comes the lunacy…
I was at work when things started to go all crazy and stuff.
I had been processing forty new books at the circulations desk that bright Wednesday, wonderingly absently what Arlene was going to cook for dinner. Señor Peebles fluttered up to the library’s entrance door as usual, and I beheld him with nonchalance as usual, and then, as simple as that, the little bird informed me telepathically (it must have been telepathically because his beak was shut tighter than a trap) of my parents' death. Señor Peebles’ beak began to open and close in a noiseless chatter thereafter, and suddenly, with no effort on my part--my eyes had welded shut-- I was able to see it all: Daddy in the kitchen, bending over the sink, those bushy graying brows of his creeping up his forehead in bafflement. Why de damn garbage disposal giving so much trouble and I bought de thing just last week? he whispered to himself, then shook his head in disgust. Dad was on his knees, just about to open the cupboard beneath the sink when a thick, excruciating pain paralyzed his chest, and as he grabbed for his breast he fell backwards.
In that same time frame, mommy was in the living room, morbidly engrossed in that soap opera of hers, wondering why in God’s almighty name Stephen had left Stephanie for Brenda, seeing that Stephanie was a much nicer, prettier girl than Brenda. As Stephen and Brenda ('the brunette bitch', as mom liked to refer to her) were about to consummate their newfound relationship, mom arched forward: What in de hell happening to me? halfway out of her mouth, and fell out of her rocking chair without so much as a scream. Unlike daddy, mommy felt hardly any pain as eternal darkness enveloped her.
When I was released from this horrific clairvoyant vision, my eyes slowly opening, my lips trembling, my mind a-whirling--a bubbling, murky pool of disorientation--I knew my parents far better than I would have ever cared to know them. Secrets about them that had mercifully been withheld from me as a child became revealed to me as though they had been my own secrets, momentarily forgotten, then hurtling back into remembrance with the impact of a bullet in full trajectory. I should have broken down and cried out my soul for several hours, but there was not so much as a lump in my throat, and rather than turning over at the loss, my stomach growled because it was hungry. No tears threatened to flood my eyes, and insanity was as far from me as the moon is from the sun. Up to that point I didn't know what a cold man I am, but I guess we only know the fabric that truly constitutes us by our reactions to the bad things that happen to us.
Six minutes later--after Señor Peebles had flown away--I picked up the phone, called the hospital, explained the situation to them, gave them the directions to my parents' house, and resumed processing books until Miriam nipped at my crotch, informing me it was six o’clock and asked why I was still here, then pushed me around the back into the storage room where Janissa was patiently waiting.
When I got home I found Arlene had been crying. I hugged her and we made love into the wee hours of the next day.
Two weeks later she herself was dead. In like manner as with my parents, Señor Peebles notified me and showed me everything the very moment she fell face-forward onto her work desk. I am a jaded man: the fact that Arlene had been harboring certain thoughts for another man at the time of her premature death did nothing to help fuel any modicum of grief that may have been rising within me.
I no longer work at that library. I am a teacher now. I teach grade seven English and library skills at Ocho Rios junior high. I still think about Señor Peebles, though. I think about him all the time. I really don’t know how I got to give him that name, but I have a funny feeling that was what I called him when I was still eating predigested food from a string attached to my stomach in my mother's womb. It's just one of those things I don’t question but simply accept as is.
I especially remember Señor
Peebles on my last day working at the library. He flew up as usual, and
as he was about to dispense with the day’s ‘secrets’, a huge black bird
swooped down and swallowed him. Happy riddance, I had said, but I don’t
especially like the things that raven, or whatever bird it was, tells me
sometimes now: He tells me I am a no-good, sex-crazed bastard with ‘issues’.
He is constantly describing to me how my end will come about. He’s cursing
me. God knows, I have tried to trap the bitch time and time again, but
He just keeps getting away. I’ve tried shooting Him. I’ve tried luring
him into my classroom window with promises of bread crumbs soaked in arsenic.
But He keeps on flying away unscathed and laughing--
(Christopher A. Williams hails
from Jamaica. At the age of two,he moved to the Cayman Islands where he
has been living ever since. He began writing seriously some seven years
ago, and is presently attending the University of the West Indies, Trinidad
Campus, reading for a B.A. degree.)