Chicken. At 3 a.m. in the morning someone is cooking chicken. I can smell it. Salt, pepper and lime bubbling in grease permeating the air. It makes me hungry. It makes the potcakes hungry too, I can tell by their hollow-bellied calls that echo into the morning air and blend with the sounds of passing cars. Rhythmic. Everything is amplified, the dogs, the cars, the beating of my heart. Thump, thump, thump—swoosh. Bark, bark, bark—swoosh—dog, car; car, dog; Chicken frying; 3 a.m; Fills Ally, Kemp Road.
Why am I here? I don’t want to be here.
I lick my dry loose lips and reach for the plastic cup that contains the remains of my fourth gin and juice. “Gin does make ya sin”; I crack a half smile as Kiki’s voice bounces between my ears. It ain’t gin, I think, some of us just born in it. Wallowing and never can get free. I take a sip, then another, despite the numbness of my skin, the thickness in my head and my heavy limbs; I have decided that I am still not drunk enough.
As if heaving a sack onto the back of a truck, I place the cup on the nightstand with an exaggerated motion and turn toward the bed; the small lumpy unmade bed that is pushed against the wall so that you can only enter from one side. The headboard is missing from the small bed but someone has painted the word ‘JAH’ in bold black letters where the headboard would have been. This is where I am going to sit. This is where I am going to lay. This is where I am going to fuck.
I reach under my skirt, remove my girdle and tuck it under the pillow. It is best to get rid of it first, in case he tries to undress me. “Girdle too hard fa man ta take off”. I look into the cup of gin expecting to see Kiki there. Nothing. A year ago I didn’t need a girdle. A year ago my 19 year old belly held tight above my jeans. Then one night the condom broke—that’s what Rico said just before he told me to go and sit over a bucket of steaming water. But later my belly swell, Tisha came out and Rico was gone. After that I wore the tight black armour whenever I went out, like a police vest- protecting. I can only be penetrated if I remove it. I do. I remove the girdle and now I am lying on my back with my belly sucked in so that the mechanic will not know that I ever needed the girdle.
There it is again. Chicken. Someone must be preparing for a cookout. I remember when we had a cookout for my grandma when she was in hospital needing an operation. No one person could pay for it, but everybody’s lil’ bit pooled together saved Mama.
The dogs start barking again. This time they seem to take exception to the cars disturbing them as they try to sleep on the warm tar road. It must be just as hard for them as it is for me to block out the scent of the frying fowl. Suddenly, I want to vomit.
Why am I here? I don’t even want to be here.
I take my blouse off and rest it on the bed. The pale yellow material feels soft, like Tisha. I pick it up again, it doesn’t belong there. It doesn’t belong on the rough sheets. The cheap line dried sheets—faded green and once white sheets. I place it on the night stand next to the bed, next to the cup, next to the cross that has been roughly gouged into the wood.
I remove my bra and place it on top of the yellow fabric. My breasts look like the street under the Poinciana trees, dappled with light and shadow – light from the street through the lace curtains. Dappled—I look into the cup again, this time I am looking for Ms. Frazier—‘dappled’ was her word.
Who puts lace curtains in a room like this?
A tiny room, with a tiny window close to the road; dingy lace curtains filtering the orange street lights. I don’t have to turn on the shadeless lamp, bare bulb exposed. I just sit on the bed next to the tiny window, close to the street. Close to the barking potcakes and cars going by. Who builds a house so close to the road that you could step off the government’s dark gray tar right onto the light gray concrete of the porch? And why are there so many cars on the road at this hour of the morning anyway? Where are they going? Are they passing to pay tribute to the leaning symbol of old Kemp road; the faded blue clapboard house elevated on blocks? Why are they not taking me? Don’t they know that I don’t even want to be here?
I close my eyes to stop the room from spinning. Maybe I should just go with it. Spin. Like feces twirling in a toilet bowl, descending into the abyss toward shit heaven. I lean and allow my back to touch the sheets. The rough, cheap, line-dried sheets; sheets that smell like motor oil. A mechanic. Maybe he is a mechanic.
“Be careful” Kiki always says. “Do it with your head out the bed. That way your hairstyle will last another week”. I drag my body around so that my head can hang off the side of the bed. What is taking him so long? And why is there a picture of Jesus in the mechanic’s room? Jesus, why is the glass broken? Why am I broken? Why is Jesus in the mechanics house?
I look at my breasts and wonder if my tongue can reach my nipples. I’ll try. Maybe tomorrow I’ll try.
I slip my thumbs into the waistband of my skirt and wiggle it down my legs. I will have to lift my legs to get it off. Lift my charcoal legs that match my charcoal arms that match my charcoal face. It is a good thing that there are lace curtains at the tiny window near the street to let in the orange light. I lift my legs and remove the quarter yard of black shiny fabric and drop it on the wooden floor. It does not deserve to lie next to the soft yellow blouse. It is ‘fresh’ uncle Frank says—a cock teaser.
Or is that me?
I sit up and take another sip of gin and juice. My breasts fall heavy against my rib cage. He will ask to touch them. My breasts. Ask. Ask as if he respects me, as if my saying no will stop him. Stop who? Uncle Frank? It never stopped him before. No, stop the mechanic. He’ll touch them. I’ll let him. He has the right; it’s his gin and juice I’m burping. “Gin does make you sin”. It’s Kiki’s voice bouncing again. And who keeps frying the damn chicken?
Why am I here with Jesus on the wall? I don’t want him to see me. I don’t want him to see that I am naked; naked in this wooden room with the wooden floor, the cheap sheets, the lace curtains, the small window and the brown wooden chair. There’s a chair? In the corner there’s a chair. Like Van Gogh’s room. Ms. Frazier said that Van Gogh cut off a piece of his ear and sent it to his love. I never got an ear or a cookout.
Now I really feel like vomiting. Maybe he will come soon and cum quickly. I hope he doesn’t mess up my hair or touch my face. I hate it when they touch my face.
I can hear music coming in through the cracks in the wood; Beres, I think. The potcakes can hear it too. Maybe it’s the neighbor giving us music to make love to. Make love? Love?
WHY AM I HERE? I DON”T EVEN WANT TO BE HERE AND WHERE THE HELL IS THE MECHANIC?
I lie down on the green and white sheets again. The cheap sheets that smell of motor oil, that make me want to vomit. “Make sure he buy you the phone card from the gas station gal before he take you to his house”. Kiki has worn out her welcome in my head; my head that is spinning and my eyes that are closing. It feels like peas soup is draining down my face, from my hairline toward my neck. I want to tell Kiki to get out. To take the shoes I borrowed from her and get out. I am naked and Jesus is watching me so she has to get out. The room is spinning. I have to get out.
Get out before the greasy mechanic comes, smelling of fried chicken—wanting to touch my breasts. I look at the floor. I don’t want to be here.
The girdle is off; let him touch your breasts; let him penetrate you. Let—Him—save—you. I close my eyes to wait for him, to wait for his touch, his smell. I wait and wonder what would have happened if the chicken had gotten away before its neck was twisted, its blood drained, its feathers ripped from its skin; before it was hurt, dissected and left naked; before the cruel bubbling oil could transform its raw flesh; before it could make the sacrifice to save Mama.
I wait… and as I fall asleep the mechanic comes into the tiny room with the tiny window, the lace curtains and the chair. He walks over to the lumpy bed with the cheap faded green and once white sheets. He stands in the orange light filtered through the dingy curtains; he sits next to my naked charcoal limbs. He pulls the rough sheets over my shoulders—and covers me.
I exhale. The fading scent of gin and juice weaves itself into the chicken scented air.
•••Being a 21 year veteran educator and a mother has given Deborah Thompson great pleasure and spawned some of her proudest moments.
A. Philip Armbrister
Your piece reminds of Ishmael Andrew Smith’s ‘Crack Conch and a Hot Guinness’ when you say, “Make sure he buy you the phone card from the gas station gal before he take you to his house”. Things a changin eh?! Thanks for recording another snippet of Bahamian life. Keep writing.
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