You could tell a lot about a fella, by the way he move he hand when he walk downtown. You see that fella there, lifting a Guinness to he head and grabbing he balls with every five steps, he is a bad man; and that fella walking fast fast out the grocery store pulling up his bulging pants, he trying to survive; and that fella across the road with two briefcase and folder in he hand, he trying to make a dollar; and that fella with them locks on he head giving the white man a ball a foil, he trying to make a dollar too; and that white man receiving the foil, well, he on vacation. And you see that fella in all them rags, smelling like old piss and he hand twitching so, he’s an addict; and watch this fella coming across the way talking loud loud on he cell phone, looking at he watch and hailing everybody he pass at the same time, he is a big shot. And then look at this old man, hunchback and gripping his cane dead tight, he did obey he mother and father. Even this fella, with he hand round them schoolgirl waist, he popping cherry. You see, these the type fellas we use to everyday; so when Kencil Maycock walk on Bay Street with one hand propping up his waist like so and the next one bend at the wrist, he didn’t know what he get heself into.
• • •
When Kencil awoke, he was in the hospital. The smell of death and sickness confirmed it before he had even seen the nurses and doctors. As he struggled to consume everything in the eye that wasn’t swollen, he heard coughing and someone grasping for air.
“Hey boy, about time you wake up. I wish I could a sleep like that,” the owner of the cough said. It was an elderly man whose skin was as wrinkled and bleached as the linen that covered the beds. He was attempting to shuffle a deck of playing cards in his lap. It didn’t look like he was playing any game in particular but just laying the cards out and reaching into the deck to see what the cardmaker would bring him next.
“Where I is?” Kencil asked in a cracked voice. He knew exactly where he was, but he wanted someone else to say it; he needed someone else to tell him, someone to tell him that he was safe now, away from the mob and the shouting and the beating.
“Where are you?” the old man repeated. “Well let’s see, all these doctors round, people lay off look like they about to dead. I would say you at the grocery store. Where you think you is boy? Don’t tell me they beat you that bad. What you do so? You thief something, play with someone drugs, money? One fella catch you in he gal house? What you do boy?”
The constant pounding of questions fell deafly on the ground as Kencil’s memory teased him with short clips of how he had arrived there. Now it was all coming back to him.
He went to rub the staples that closed the wound on his head, when he realized that his head was the only part of his body above the sheets. He attempted to move his right hand, but it took less of an effort as his mind had led him to believe. There was buoyancy, and a disproportionate weight to it. Like a snake, he slithered upward from under his cotton prison and that’s when he saw the thick gauze on his arm, which was now shorter, stopping at his elbow. It all came back to him and he began to cry.
“So what you do, boy?” the old man asked again.
“I ain’t do nothing,” he said in between sobs as he reached over and rubbed the thick gauze.
“Son, I been on this Earth sixty-five years, ain’t nobody gone get beat bad like that for no reason, what you do, boy? You had to do something,” the old man asked as he continued to randomly lay out the cards.
“It gone,” the old man said curtly. “Is cheaper you realize that and accept it now.”
Kencil was loud in his silent protest. The old man continued to talk and wheeze for air, but Kencil did not hear him. He was thinking of all that had happened within the last two days. He was thinking about Jean and wondering if they had found him yet; and May and how she had betrayed him. He thought about Black Boy and Jah Ras and how they, along with a whole mob beat him, stepped on his chest, and spit on him.
Kencil’s thoughts and the old man who was still talking, were interrupted by the intrusion of a middle-aged doctor.
“Ah, I see you are awake,” the doctor said to Kencil.
“Where my hand is, boss? What y’all do to my hand?”
“That is quite a beating you took there, son. I am sorry, we could not save the arm, and we had to amputate.” The doctor flashed a light in Kencil’s eyes, read some machines and then wrote something on a chart that was attached to the end of the bed, before moving over to the old man. “Mr. Thompson, how are you today?”
“Well, doc,” the old man answered snidely. “I look in the obituary in this morning paper and I ain’t see myself, so I guess I okay.” Both the doctor and the old man laughed.
Kencil listened attentively to the conversation between the doctor and Mr. Thompson and overheard him talking about the cancer that was eating away at his body. Immediately, the mood of the hospital came and rested upon his shoulders. Across the room, a man slowly made his way back to his bed, as his gown flew open from the back exposing black skin. Another attempted to lean out of his bed as much as he could to stop the vomit from going in his lap. The floor and the sheets each claimed its share. Kencil looked back at the old man and now noticed all of the tubes that connected him to machines, and then he looked at his own hand. The doctor followed the same routine for the old man, as Kencil, before leaving the room.
“So you dying,” Kencil said.
“Oh, now you want talk because you feel sorry for me, ‘cause you hear I dying. I been dying from the day I born, ain’t nothing new about me,” the old man said as he continued to shuffle the cards.
“No, I….I just had a hard couple of days,” Kencil pleaded.
“No shit,” responded the old man. “You know how to play twenty-one?” the old man said as he eased out of the bed, careful not to tangle his tentacles as they followed him. It took him about a minute and a fit of coughing before he asked Kencil to help him push the empty food table in between them. “Let we play then. I deal first.”
About a minute into playing, Kencil said, “I work- worked downtown at the straw market.” Kencil had been working at the straw market for about two years. He sold little men formed from soda cans and wire and straw.
“So, who do that to you? What happen so?” the old man asked again.
“Some fellas who work at the market mess me up like this, Jah Ras and Black Boy.”
Jah Ras was a wood carver, who, as a means of making a little extra on the side sold marijuana to the tourists. Jah Ras would send out his boys who worked for him to go out by the dock and the nearby beaches to scout for tourists that wanted to buy something to smoke.
Black Boy did not have any stall in the market but he was there from nine in the morning until six in the evening, a constant figure. Nobody knew at first exactly what he was doing, but they placed the pieces together eventually when they kept seeing Black Boy with old tourist men in his car with young school girls.
“So what you do to get these fellas mad so, for them to mess you up?”
“I tell you before, I ain’t do nothing. They beat me cause I… They beat me cause I different.”
Confusion seeped from the wrinkles on the old man’s face.
Kencil took a deep breath. He contemplated if he should let Mr. Thompson in on his secret. Would he turn on me too? Hell, May turn on me and I was her friend.
May was a brown skin, saggy breast woman who sold everything but authentic straw work in the market. The little straw work she did manage to sell, were bought from somewhere out of Miami, instead of weaving it herself. To make her limited supply of straw work more appealing, she stopped placing the flamingo, and the Yellow Elder flower, and the rising sun on the bags and replaced them with images of Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob Squarepants. She had six children for seven different men; two were paying for one, something she only shared with Kencil.
“I never do Black Boy and Jah Ras nothing,” Kencil continued. “But they just used to talk about me. Every time I pass them or they used to see me, they used to shout stuff like ‘sissy boy’ or ‘break wrist’. My friend May tell some of the foolishness they used to say about me. She say one time she hear Jah Ras and Black Boy talking about me. She say Black Boy say, ‘Yeah Ras, see the faggot there boy. You better don’t bend over to pick up no wood to carve, ‘cause homeboy Kencil might give you a wood of he own,’
“And then she say Jah Ras say, ‘My youth, you have for kill them talk, star. I and I don’t friend no batty man. I and I hear fussy boy is sit down to pee you know, star,’
“And Black Boy tell him back, ‘That in nothing boy, I hear the man don’t even shake after he pee, he is pat he things with tissue.’
“I only speak to them once when they was laughing at my wrist. I tell them God give me this hand, God make me like this. Besides that, I stay out of they way, and try avoid them. I even tell my people don’t come round the market.”
The old man stared deeply into Kencil’s soul. Kencil was afraid of what the old man would say. He was expecting him to slam the cards down and throw the table to the side. He was waiting for him to call the doctors to tell them that he ‘don’t want sleep next to no sissy man.’
“Boy whatever you do, is your business. Ain’t no man perfect. Them set who big on that Bible thing say a sin is a sin. So all a we just as bad, because ain’t none a we perfect.”
Kencil was shocked by the old man’s response. He wondered if it was the drugs that had made him accepting of him or if it was the fact that this man knew that he was dying and figured he should not die judging someone else. Kencil sighed and relaxed himself more in the bed.
“Now, don’t get me wrong,” the old man warned, “I ain’t into them type thing, woman too sweet for that, but I just saying, to each its own.”
“That’s the thing,” Kencil said, more confident now. “I is don’t bother them. I is keep to myself. Everything just gone crazy when that cruise ship come to town.”
The old man laughed. “Aw, you mean the gay ship. Well I hear about that but I ain’t get my nose in it because I don’t like ships anyway. Boy you don’t realize black people and ships ain’t got a good history?” They both laughed. “Let me ask you something, though Kencil. I don’t want know all the details about how two fellas is get on, but how you find your self mix up in that kind a lifestyle though?”
“See, I know I different. I was never like other boys from I was a child. When we was in school and during lunch when all them boys was shooting marble, playing basketball, or playing socking, I only wanted to be with the girls and skip rope and play hop scotch.”
“Boy ain’t nothing wrong with being with them girls,” the old man interrupted. “I used to be round them girls when I was in school. Shit, that was long ago, hey,” he said rubbing his head. “I used to pray one a them girls jump rope too high or bend down bad so I could a see them panty. Now that you mention it, I think being round them girls got me the way I is now. I been marry forty years before my wife dead, but in that time I had couple sweetheart and some children on the outside. Anyway, let me shut my mouth before Janet come haunt me tonight. But being round them woman don’t cause that boy.”
Kencil sat quietly, thinking. It was as if the old man had made him question himself and his beliefs. “You never felt different, like you wasn’t complete, like you don’t fit in? Well that’s me. I just did never like being round them boys. Even my father used to pressure me, telling me how boys don’t cry; and trying to get me to drink Guinness, and what I should and should not be doing. I know I was different from long time. I born different.”
“You want a hit?” the old man said pushing the deck toward Kencil. Kencil shook his head no. “You sure you know how to play this game? You really ain’t winning, if you notice? So what you was saying about the cruise ship?”
“Yeah, the Christian Council did find out that the cruise ship was coming and they start all kind a protest and thing”
“Son, let me ask you something. You ever notice when its time for the Christian Council to speak up, you can’t find them. When that reverend was screwing the little girl he suppose to counseling you couldn’t find them. When that MP get charge with rape, you couldn’t find them. When ‘Tom n Dem’ meat store was selling old meat to the people through the Grove, they was quiet quiet. Boy I tell you…bush crack and man gone.”
Kencil shook his head and laughed. He was amazed at the amount of energy and insight the dying old man had. Kencil continued.
“Well anyway, they start all kind a protesting and they gone in Rawson Square with they posters and Bible. One fella was leading them, um Bishop um. I forget he name.”
“You mean Browne?” the old man asked.
“Yeah, that’s him, Bishop Doctor Browne.”
“Well Bishop Browne and he whole flock and couple people from the Straw Market was down there in the square waiting on the PM and them MPs. But, I hear them politicians ain’t stop, they just hurry pass and gone in the House of Assembly, saying they late. And some sneak in through the back.”
“You know why they ain’t stop right?” the old man asked Kencil as he reshuffled the cards and started the game over. Kencil searched the old man’s time worn face as if he had asked a rhetorical question. “Boy, them politician ain’t stop because next year is election year. You think they want say anything about that kind of stuff and risk losing them Christian votes?”
Kencil’s eyes widened and he shook his head as if the doctor had asked him if he wanted his hand back.
Two days before, downtown had turned into a carnival of Bible toting, praying and scripture verse reading. Bishop Browne and his disciples had taken to the streets in the front of Parliament, blocking the roadways, demanding an immediate response from the Prime Minister and the Minister of Tourism.
All the media houses, including some foreign journalist also made their way to the religious spectacle. Since the ship was coming from the US, a representative even came from the US Embassy to record the events. One reporter had managed to pull Bishop Browne to the side for an interview, but the crowd followed his every move.
“Bishop Browne, can you please explain the nature of today’s protest and what do you hope to achieve from it?” the young freckled face reporter asked.
“Well in the name of the triune God, Jesus Christ,” started Bishop Browne. “We are here to protest what is about to be a decay in the moral fiber of our country. This government is allowing a band of heathens to come into this country and parade downtown and turn it into a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah.” The crowd cheered in unison as if they had prepared for and practiced this moment. Bishop Brown continued, “Can you imagine how downtown will be when these evil people arrive. Man and man gone be walking downtown, holding hand, kissing, rubbing each other up. Is that the message we want to send the school children, the world, that we are a country of man lovers?”
The crowd exploded again into another roar, this time louder than the first. The little reporter had a hard time asking her second question over the noise.
“But Bishop Browne,” the reporter asked. “What about the many instances and the tourists who came before who may have been secretly gay or lesbian? Is it wrong now because they are open about it or because you actually know?”
The crowd went silent, waiting for a response from him. He shrugged his gray beard as he struck the reporter with his menacing eyes, before walking off and continuing his protest.
Kencil had explained all of this to the old man, too which he responded,
“So tell me how them straw market people get hook up in that?”
“You know plenty of them straw vendors leaning on they Bible hard. A whole crew of them close down they shop and gone down to the square and was protesting saying they don’t want no gay tourist and they funny money round them.”
“So let me get this straight?” the old man asked rubbing his head. “Them same straw vendors who crying poor mouth, saying they ain’t making no money and can’t pay they bills and blaming the government because the economy bad and saying the government aint doing nothing to bring tourist to the country, say they ain’t gone sell nothing to the tourist? Boy, you can’t please black people, hey? I can’t wait to dead and get from round here.”
As both men continued to talk and play cards a nurse walked into the room.
“She look sweet hey,” the old man said to Kencil as he nodded with his head toward the nurse.
“I guess,” Kencil responded.
“Oh shit, I forget who I talking too,” the old man said as he laughed. “Excuse me, miss nurse, I think I need another bath. I feeling dirty.”
“You just had a bath two hours ago Mr. Thompson,” the nurse said as she smiled. She turned her attention toward Kencil. “How are you feeling, sir?”
“Fine,” Kencil said.
“We called the police and they said they will be down as soon as they can find someone to send to take your report.”
The nurse checked Kencil’s bedpan and refluffed his pillow, before leaving.
“You know the police ain’t coming, right?” the old man assured Kencil.
“Boy you don’t know how things is work in this country yet? You think them police coming all the way down here to take report from you, and if they do, they probably ain’t gone do nothing with it anyway.”
“They have to come,” Kencil protested. “Look at me. Look at my head, look, my hand gone, they have to come.”
The old man exhaled and shook his head. “Son, you still don’t understand how things go in this country. The quicker you learn, the longer you gone last. But tell me, how you get hook up in all this mess anyway?”
“Well remember the woman May I was telling you about?”
“She was a real good friend. Well, she was the only family I have over here. I used to live on the Family Island, but my people send me to Nassau, when they find out how I was. My old man say, ‘he ain’t had no daughters, just sons, he don’t want me round him, carrying his name. He would rather kill me dead, than see me embarrass him. So my mother send me Nassau, with some money she had for hard times.
“I get one little place off Blue Hill Road and that’s where I meet May. She take care of me because I didn’t know nothing about this fast life here in Nassau. She know how I was right from the start. She say, ‘what I do, is between me and my god, and she ain’t getting in it.’
“I use to watch her kids for her at first when she was going out. Or when she was going out for long she use to look cross by my place and shout, ‘Ken, I going out, cast your eye on my place for me.’
Kencil continued to talk about May. The old man listened with his ears only. His eyes were glued on the cards in his hand. Periodically, they would be quickly peeled away toward Kencil, which was the old man’s way of asking if he wanted another card, or urging him to play quicker.
Kencil continued. “Is May who carry me round the market and thing. She saw me playing round with the little extra straw she had in her place and she edge me on to try create something and come out there and sell it.”
“So, is the woman fault you get your ass beat? Boy I tell, first Eve two thousand years ago and now woman still causing man they life,” the old man shook his head. “Play your cards, boy.”
“Well, it wasn’t totally her fault, I guess she just get caught up in all the drama going on.”
“What drama?” the old man asked as he captured another hand of cards from Kencil.
Kencil’s tone turned somber now. No matter how much the old man urged him with his eyes, Kencil did not play, or asked for another card. He stared deeply at the cards, as if the events that landed him in the hospital were printed on them.
He took deep breaths and the old man could see his chest falling and rising. The little nub of an arm twitched as the big vein in his neck popped to the surface before diving back down, deeper into his skin.
“May son, the youngest one, Jean, gone missing,” he said. “People say I take him. They only say that because I use to take him for true. When he come from school in the afternoon, I would take him and we would go by Baskin Robins or Candy HQ. May never used to mind, because she know he was with me. I love that boy, like he was my own. I would never hurt him.”
His eyes had left the cards now and were looking straight ahead at the glass mirror window in the front of them. The cards lay loosely in his hand on the bed. They were leaning over his fingers, knelt over like dying soldiers on a field. The old man just sat there listening to him.
“We look for him all day. We walk all up and down town. Gone by the dock, by the ships, by the horse and cart, by the fort, we couldn’t find that boy for nothing. When all of us get back to the market, May was crying and them people from the Christian Council was there hugging her up and thing; telling her how police on they way.
“And then Jah Ras and Black Boy start the whole thing. Black Boy say, ‘The faggot carry the boy, he take him. He carry him round he sissy friends that come in on that cruise ship’.
“I tell them I ain’t see him all day, that I ain’t carry the boy no where, and to stop talking foolishness before they cause problems. Then Jah Ras say, ‘I and I see Kencil with the youth today headed that way, by them cruise ship and I see him talking to one white fella. I think this sissy man sell your child to them fellas. I see thing like this before on TV, it gone be more than one fella, bout three, seven, thirteen of them fellas on your one little boy, May.”
“And I beg him to stop talking like that, cause the police did already have to come and bring order cause Bishop and he mob did already run and trouble them tourist that did come off the boat from downtown. They was done ready for battle and to see blood, but it was too late. People was done shouting and cussing at me saying ‘I sell the woman child, that I nasty and is a batty man.’
Kencil was still staring into the mirror, he had completely push the cards aside now, and was rubbing the think padding of his caste. Tears ran down his eyes.
“The Bishop start to comfort May, cause she start to faint now. Is like the crowd was waiting for her to give the go ahead. The Bishop ask her, ‘May is true? Is true you is let this man carry your child sometime?’
“May was silent and just stare at me. And I beg her. I say May is me, this me, May. She look me straight in the eyes and just start crying, and turn her head away from me. That’s when I feel the first bottle smash against the back of my head. Then everybody start kicking, and spitting, punching me in my face. Some of them had sticks, and some use couple conch shell that was round the place.
“And that’s when I remember Black Boy pick up piece of the pavement and he start shouting to Jah Ras, ‘Hold he hand out, hold the sissy hand out.’
“Then he look at me and say, “This gone teach you to stop bending you wrist and to keep you hand off of little boys.’ I just remember when the stone hit, that’s when I pass out.”
“And that’s when you wake up in here?” the old man asked. “Boy, this a hell of a world we live in hey,” the old man said as he started to cough.
“You don’t believe I take May boy, right. I’d never hurt May or she family.”
“Son, let me tell you something,” the old man said in between coughs and pointing at Kencil. “Life is like these cards.”
Before the old man could finish, the coughs had gotten worse and seized the words from his mouth. His body shook with each bark than ran out of his throat. Several machines attached to him, joined in the choir of cries and started to alarm. A mob of nurse and doctors ran in. It reminded Kencil of the mob he had faced two days ago, only thing, this mob was attempting to save a life that was already gone. The mob worked on him for about five minutes, with commands and orders being thrown above their busy hands and the loud machines, until it was all silence by the lead mobster.
“He’s gone, call it.”
When they cleared away, their victim’s body laid limply on the bed. The remaining cards that clung onto the white sheets fell softly to the cold floor, like a soft rain leaving the clouds. Kencil looked at the cards on the ground. Some had landed with their faces up, others down. Some sat on top of each other and others slid under the bed out of Kencil’s sight. Others would jump an inch or two each time the main door was opened and a fist of breeze ran through; and some cards, had lost their firmness and colour from the trample of the angry mob.
•••Emille Hunt is a young writer from the Bahamas whose passions are focused on the issues of identity, politics and culture. He is currently completing his manuscript as a MFA candidate at the University of The West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago. His fiction has been shortlisted in the Small Axe Literary Competition 2009 and 2010.