Ayanna St. John was startled from her deep slumber. Squinting at the alarm clock, she searched the bedside table for her glasses.
With a groan, the disgruntled teen flopped back down and pulled the covers over her head. Eight was too early to be waking up on a Saturday morning. She saw no reason to be up before ten if she had no school.
“AYANNA!! Ayanna, yuh nuh hear me ah call you?!?” Ayanna’s mother stood in the doorway.
From under the covers, Ayanna mumbled a reply, but her mother paid her no mind.
“I need you to go into town and pick up some medication. Then drop it off by Grandma Cici, down Old Road side,” her mother instructed.
“Can’t I go a little later?” pleaded Ayanna, peeking at her mother from beneath the covers.
“No, I need you to get back early to look after your brother and sister. I’m going out with Harold tonight. Now hurry up and get ready.” She then pulled the cover off Ayanna and stormed out of the room.
With a groan, the sleepy teenager stared up at the ceiling. She had planned to sleep in for a few more hours. Maybe hang out with her friends or go to the beach with her siblings, but all of that was out of the question. Reluctantly, she dragged herself out of bed, making her way to the bathroom.
After a quick breakfast, Ayanna threw on her red hoodie and grabbed her bag. The red hoodie was a gift from her father who now lived in the United States. When she first got it, she doubted she would need it down here in Antigua, but the mornings had gotten nippy and Ayanna found herself wearing it more and more. She wore it so much that her friends started calling her Little Red Hoodie.
Just as she was about to step out the door, her mother called out to her, reminding her that the money was on the kitchen counter. It was rolled up between two prescription slips. Ayanna tucked them in her bag, and left the house.
In town, Ayanna managed to get both prescriptions filled, even though she had to go to two different pharmacies.
Having collected the medication and Grandma Cici’s favourite fried chicken, Ayanna made her way to the West Bus Station to take the bus to Old Road. She bought a newspaper to read on the way.
The headline screamed, “RAPIST STRIKES AGAIN”. There had been an attempted rape the night before. This time the victim was a well known young man. The story went on to read that the rapist thought the victim was a woman and upon discovering he was, in fact, a man, knocked the victim out and took off. Ayanna shook her head, chuckling to herself.
Ayanna continued to browse through the newspaper and came across the cartoon which made her burst out laughing. The cartoon had a caricature of a man dressed as a woman talking to a television camera. The caption read, “Hide yuh wife, hide yuh kip woman, hide yuh pickney, hide yuh husband! Dem raping eb’rybody!!”
Ayanna composed herself, wiping tears of laughter from her eyes. She was not aware that she had caught the attention of Reginald De Wolfe. Reggie, as his friends called him, was a handsome charmer of a man, but very few people knew that he was a deportee. Yes, he was born in Antigua, but he had grown up in the Bronx, New York, visiting the little island only twice before Uncle Sam unceremoniously booted him from the only home he knew.
He had been in Antigua for six months and although he was still getting used to island life, De Wolfe had found something to keep himself ‘entertained’.
He stood a few yards away from Ayanna, close enough to watch her every move, far enough for her not to notice him. When Ayanna boarded her bus, he made a point of sitting right next to her. As the bus left the West Bus Station, De Wolfe turned towards the teenager in the red hoodie.
“Hi,” he said, smiling broadly at Ayanna.
“Hi,” she replied before turning her attention to the scenery outside.
It was clear that Ayanna was not interested in conversing with the young man beside her, but De Wolfe refused to give up.
“Can I see your paper?” he asked pointing to the newspaper on her lap.
As she was finished with it, Ayanna handed the newspaper to him.
“How far are you going?” De Wolfe asked opening the paper. When Ayanna looked at him suspiciously, he explained himself, “I just want to know how long before I have to give you back your newspaper.”
“You can take your time, I’m going to Old Road,” she replied, a bit embarrassed that she had assumed the worst.
“Oh, do you live out there or do you have family there?” De Wolfe asked, casually.
“My grandmother, she lives there,” answered the teen.
“Now, who is your grandmother? I have family out there who I visit frequently. I may have met your grandmother.” The only family De Wolfe had in Antigua lived in Willikies, but Ayanna did not know that.
“I doubt it. Grandma Cici isn’t very social. She sticks to herself and doesn’t talk much with strangers.”
“Cici? Is that short for something?” De Wolf asked.
“Yes, her name is Cecilia, but her grandchildren call her Grandma Cici and everyone else calls her Mrs. Cici or Mrs. Gomes. As I said, I doubt you’ve met her.” With that said, Ayanna ended the conversation by looking out the window.
As the bus continued on its way south, De Wolfe pretended to read the newspaper, watching Ayanna through the corner of his eye, waiting for an opportunity. That opportunity came when Ayanna removed her glasses to wipe her face.
“Are you near-sighted or far-sighted?” he asked.
“Near-sighted,” she answered.
“Can I see your glasses?”
“Why?” Ayanna asked, uncomfortable with the idea of a stranger handling her glasses.
“I just want to see how strong they are. You don’t have anything to worry about, it’s not like I can run away with them. I promise, I will be careful,” De Wolfe said.
Ayanna looked at the man sitting beside her. He seemed harmless enough, plus what was the worst he could do?
“Alright, but don’t put them on,” she relented, handing her glasses to De Wolfe.
“Oh, wow, the prescription for these glasses is strong,” he said peering through the glasses. “You are almost blind.”
“Ha, Ha, very funny. Now hand them over,” the irritated teenager said, reaching for her glasses.
At that moment, the bus dropped into a pot hole and, with a little, extra effort from De Wolfe, the glasses broke at the bridge.
“WHAT THE…! My glasses, you broke my glasses!” Ayanna yelled, attracting the attention of the other passengers.
“I am so sorry,” De Wolfe said handing the ruined glasses over to Ayanna.
“You’re sorry?!? What am I going to do? How am I going to…..” Ayanna ran out of steam. She took a deep breath. “You know what? It’s okay, I’ll just stop at the shop and buy a roll of tape and tape them together.”
“Look, I am sorry. Here,” De Wolfe pulled a business card out of his shirt pocket and gave it to the teen. “This is my number, call me in the week and I’ll buy you a new pair of glasses.”
As Ayanna took the card, bringing it close to her face to read it, De Wolfe noticed that they had entered Old Road.
“Where are you coming off?” he asked.
“I’m the last stop,” she answered.
“Oh, okay. I’m coming off on the next stop,” he said as the bus slowed down to a stop. “I’ll pay your fare, it’s the least I can do,” he got up and exited the bus. As the bus pulled away, he yelled, “Remember to give me a call next week.”
Recognizing that his time was limited, De Wolfe went in search of someone who could tell him where Grandma Cici lived. He soon became irritated that the villagers were reluctant to give him directions to Mrs. Gomes’ house.
“What you want with Mrs. Gomes?” asked a large woman at a standpipe.
“I have a delivery for her,” he lied.
“And what? They didn’t have her full address?” she asked, turning the pipe off and switching buckets.
“That’s right, all they have is Old Road,” De Wolfe replied, his face a mask of innocence.
After a short interrogation, the woman gave De Wolfe directions to Ayanna’s grandmother’s house. As he made his way through the village and into the outskirts, De Wolfe made a call to information on his cell phone. In a few minutes, he had Mrs. Gomes’ phone number and continued on his way.
Mrs. Cecilia Gomes, affectionately known as Mrs. Cici, lived way up in the bushes. To say where she lived was isolated from the village of Old Road was an understatement. Yet the little house was wired for electricity and cable, and had an antennae to receive broadband internet. It took De Wolfe some time to reach the house, but he was certain he had an ample amount of time before Ayanna would arrive.
Just before knocking on the old widow’s door, De Wolfe dialed her number on his cell phone, and then slipped it in his pocket, keeping his thumb over the call button. He then knocked on the door and waited for Mrs. Cici to open the door. The woman who opened the door was small in stature and there was no doubt in De Wolfe’s mind that this was the teenager’s grandmother. As he began to introduce himself, he pressed the call button. In the depths of the small house, a phone started to ring.
Although the phone was ringing, the old woman stood at the doorway, expectantly.
“Yes, can I help you?” she asked.
“Oh yes, I am…. Do you want to get that?” De Wolfe asked, pointing into the house.
“If they really want me, they will call back,” she said, making no movement to answer the phone.
“You never know, it might be an emergency. I’ll wait while you take that call,” he offered.
Reluctantly, Mrs. Cici turned and went inside, letting the door close behind her. De Wolfe stopped the door before it closed completely and followed her, quietly. Just as she picked up the handset, he struck her down with a short galvanize pipe he carried for just this purpose. He then lifted the unconscious woman and hid her in the clothes closet in her bedroom. Reggie then searched through Mrs. Cici’s possessions, finding a wig and a dressing gown, both of which he put on. He went back to the front door and ensured it was left unlocked. He then climbed into the old woman’s bed and waited for the teenager in the red hoodie.
Upon exiting the bus at the last stop, Ayanna immediately went to Mrs. Martin’s shop. The only tape in stock was electrical tape and Ayanna had a lot of trouble with it. The electrical tape did not adhere well to the textured plastic frame. Every few yards, the teenager had to stop and secure the tape to the frame.
The whole predicament slowed Ayanna’s progress to her grandmother’s house. As she entered the little house, she called out to Grandma Cici. Getting no answer, the teen went through the house in search of her grandmother. She eventually found her in bed.
As Ayanna entered the room, her glasses fell apart, clattering to the floor. With a frustrated groan, she picked up the remains of her glasses and slipped them into her bag. The teen then turned her attention to her grandmother.
“Good afternoon, Grandma Cici. Are you okay? How come you’re still in bed?” Ayanna asked with concern.
“I woke up and didn’t feel too good, so I thought I would stay in bed for a while,” spoke the woman under the covers, her voice raspy and not its usual strength.
“Oh. Well, I brought your medication and some fried chicken for us to eat. Would you like to take your medication now or do you want me to put them away?” Ayanna asked.
“I’ll take them later, but can you come and adjust this pillow behind my neck? I can’t get it into a comfortable position,” growled the old woman.
Ayanna shrugged off her hoodie and rested the bags on the dressing table, and walked over to her grandmother. At ten steps away from the bed, Ayanna exclaimed, “Grandma Cici, you need to keep out of the sun, you look darker than usual. When I come back this way, I’ll bring some cream to tone down your colour.”
At five steps away, she exclaimed again, “Granny, did you buy new dentures? Your teeth looking bigger than usual.”
As Ayanna reached down to adjust the pillow, she took a good look at her grandmother, only to see it was not her grandmother at all. De Wolfe quickly grabbed her and clawed at her clothing, stripping them off. He twisted her arm behind her and pinned her to the bed, starting to undo his buckle. Ayanna screamed out, but the house was too far out for anyone in the village to hear her screams.
The screams, however, roused Grandma Cici from her unconscious state. She found herself on the floor of her bedroom closet. She peered through the slats of the closet door and saw a man wearing her favourite robe, pinning down her favourite grandchild.
Now, most people believed that Mrs. Cecilia Gomes was a nice, little old lady who liked her privacy; that could be the only reason she lived so far from the village. It would have shocked them to learn that Mrs. Cici grew marijuana in her backyard. In fact, Grandma Cici grew Premium Marijuana, the kind of weed that made regular marijuana smokers high from the secondhand smoke. The last thing Mrs. Cici needed was neighbours snooping around her profitable cash crop.
About four years ago, two bad ‘bwoys’ from Villa, up at the north of the island, sought her out, trying to cut into her business. They would have succeeded too, if not for her unrelenting desire to be the sole owner of her business and her late husband’s old hunting knife. The Villa boys were now buried in the hills behind her house. Since that day, Mrs. Cici had been stockpiling firearms and ammunition and had them hidden beneath the floor boards throughout the little house. She also had many hours of target practice under her belt, and at long last, here was an opportunity to put her practice to good use.
Just as De Wolfe pulled down his tighty whities, Grandma Cici quickly opened the closet door, letting it slam against the wall, a Colt .45 grasped in her hands, held high like she had trained with a big city SWAT team. Hearing the unexpected sound, De Wolfe spun around and found himself staring down the business end of a gun held by a very pissed off grandmother. It was the last thing Reginald De Wolfe saw as a hollow point round pierced the small space between his eyes. The round broke down after impact and quickly reduced De Wolfe’s brain to mush as the fragments ricocheted against the walls of his skull. Mrs. Cici only stocked hollow points, if ever she had the need to take someone down, she wanted to make sure they stayed down.
The room was quiet for what felt like an eternity, but it was more like two minutes.
“Well, don’t just lie there, letting him bleed all over my good sheets,” commanded Ayanna’s grandmother. “Cover his head with one of those plastic bags.”
Grandma Cici’s command, snapped Ayanna into action and she did as she was told, her hands trembling all the while.
“Go put on some clothes, those rags are only fit for the garbage bin,” said the old woman, pointing to the remains of Ayanna’s clothes.
It was only at this point that Ayanna was aware that she was almost naked as she stood only in her underwear in the middle of her grandmother’s bedroom. She scurried to one of the other bedrooms where she knew she had a few pieces of clothing stored for the times she would sleep over in Old Road.
As she shrugged on a button down shirt, the severity of what had just happened became very real for the teen. With this came questions, questions she was afraid to ask.
“Ayanna!! What are you doing? Making the clothes?” Grandma Cici’s voice broke into her thoughts. Ayanna turned around to see her grandmother in the doorway, face devoid of emotion. “Go on. Ask.”
Ayanna said nothing.
The old woman’s true age seemed to have returned as she entered the room and sat heavily on the bed. “What now?” she looked at her granddaughter. “Are you now scared of me?”
The teen shook her head and sat down next to her grandmother. “I’m not scared… well, I’m not scared of you. Just shaken by… by everything.” She looked around the room as though seeing it for the first time. “I… I was almost raped,” she said quietly. “I should have been more cautious.”
Mrs. Cici cupped Ayanna’s chin in her hand and turned it so they were looking into each other’s eyes. “You were not raped. That is the reality. Don’t go around carrying this ‘almost’ as your burden. Rest assured that that man who almost raped you will never have another chance to do the deed. To you or to any other young girl.”
Ayanna heard the conviction in her grandmother’s voice and knew she was speaking the truth. She nodded but that didn’t stop a tear from falling. Grandma Cici gathered her into a fierce hug.
It was a few moments before Ayanna’s sobs subsided. Finally, all that could be heard were a few sniffles. The old woman sat back to look at her granddaughter.
“Do you feel better?” she asked.
Ayanna nodded, wiping her cheeks with her fingers.
“Good, we have work to do.” Grandma Cici removed a pair of glasses from the skirt pocket of her dress, handing them to Ayanna. “Wash your face and meet me in my bedroom. We have a body to dispose of.” With that said she left the room.
Ten minutes later, grandmother and granddaughter stood over the dead body of Reginald De Wolfe. This was the first time Ayanna had ever seen a dead body; even though she had attended Grandpa Donald’s funeral, she had refused to view his body.
“Should we bury it up in the hills?” the teen asked.
“I suppose…. I already have a few bodies up there, but what’s another body? There is a lot of space for an extra body,” the old woman said, thoughtfully.
“What bodies, Granny?” Ayanna asked, turning to look at the old woman.
“It doesn’t matter, all that matters is that we have to get rid of this body,” Grandma Cici said. “He’s still warm and pliable. We are going to have to work fast before rigor sets in.” She walked over to the vanity and removed two pairs of latex gloves from the back of the top drawer. “Put these on.” She handed her granddaughter a pair.
Ayanna stared at the gloves.
“Look, it was you who brought this man to my house, so it’s only fair that you help with the dirty work,” Grandma said, crossing her arms. “What? You prefer I had let him rape you?”
Ayanna shook her head, then reached out for the gloves her grandmother slapped into her hand. Wordlessly, the teen helped the older woman move the body to the bathroom. Once it was situated in the shower stall, Cecilia Gomes, with the precision of a surgeon, dismembered the body of Reginald De Wolfe. Body parts were handed to Ayanna who placed them into black, plastic bags.
By the time their gruesome task was completed, the sun had set and darkness had descended on the village of Old Road. As Grandma Cici rinsed the last of the blood down the drain, she instructed Ayanna to place De Wolfe’s clothing in a bag and the bed linen in another.
As she placed the last pillow case in the bag, Ayanna heard the phone ring. A minute or two later, she heard her grandmother’s voice.
“Oh, hello Ingrid… Oh dear, I should have called you. Something came up and I needed Ayanna’s help. I’m going to need her to stay until tomorrow….. It could not be helped…… You had plans to see Harold? … Well, you can see him another time… Look, Ingrid, I have to go, I’ll talk to you in the morning.”
Even from the other room, Ayanna could hear her mother ranting before Grandma Cici hung up the phone with a decisive click. With a sigh, she gathered up the bags of bed linen and De Wolfe’s belongings and went into the hallway. Her grandmother was carrying a package wrapped in black plastic and duct tape.
“What is that, granny?” she asked.
“This is the answer to the questions you are afraid to ask me,” was the answer. Grandma Cici motioned for Ayanna to follow her.
She lead her granddaughter into the kitchen where she placed the package on a stack of similarly wrapped packages sitting in the middle of the dining table. She sat down at the dining table and indicated to Ayanna to sit down across from her.
“This is why I have a gun, more like twenty,” Grandma Cici began pointing at the stack. “This is why there are bodies in the hills.” She removed a hunting knife from her pocket and sliced into one of the packages. She then removed dried leaves from the hole.
“Marijuana,” Ayanna whispered, barely audible.
“Not your everyday marijuana, this is Premium Marijuana. The best of the best and I am the only one who grows it. This is a dangerous business, especially if you grow a product like this. The guns are my protection and the bodies up in the hills were people who meant to do me harm and take over my little business.” As the old woman spoke her eyes never left the eyes of her granddaughter.
It was a while before Ayanna spoke, the ramifications of what the old woman said sinking in.
“How long have you been in business?”
“Long enough to know that it’s a good business and long enough to know the rewards outweigh the risks,” Cecilia Gomes answered. “The only reason I’m telling you this is to avoid you walking around with questions in your mind. Before long your curiosity would get the best of you and you will ask the wrong people the questions you should be asking me.”
“Grandma Cici, you know I would not do that. I would ask you,” Ayanna exclaimed.
The old woman shrugged, then said, “The Ayanna I knew would ask me, but that Ayanna has never been sexually assaulted. That Ayanna never saw her grandmother kill a man and dismember him. I can’t vouch for the Ayanna sitting in front of me who has gone through all of that.”
Once again, Grandma Cici rendered her granddaughter speechless.
“Can I trust you, Ayanna? Things have changed, your perception of me has changed, but apart from what you’ve seen and heard today, I’m still your Grandma Cici. And from what you saw, I love you and I will never let anyone harm you,” the old woman reached across the table and took the teen’s hand. “Can I trust you to keep my secrets? Can I trust you to keep our secret?”
Ayanna looked down at their hands. This hand had taught her how to turn cornmeal. This hand had comforted her and disciplined her. This hand killed a man who tried to hurt her. She tightened her grip on the hand that was always present in her life.
“You can trust me. You trusted me in the past, you can trust me now and you can trust me long into the future. Our secrets are between us and there they will stay.” The teen looked up at her grandmother, a resolve glimmering in the depths of her dark brown eyes. “So, where are we going to bury De Wolfe?”
A smile of relief spread across the old woman’s face.
“The same place all bad men go, to the dark side of the hills,” Grandma Cici said darkly with a twinkle in her eye. “There is a wheelbarrow with a couple shovels in the back. We will load it up with the remains and I will lead the way to where we will bury them. Go get the wheelbarrow and bring it to the back door. I’ll start bringing out the bags.”
Ayanna followed her grandmother’s instructions and in short time the wheelbarrow was loaded. By the light of an old kerosene lamp, Grandma Cici led Ayanna to the secret burial ground. The journey took the better part of two hours; every now and then the teen had to take a break from pushing the full wheelbarrow up an incline far beyond where human traffic ever ventured.
At last, they entered a clearing and Ayanna was surprised to see in the weak moonlight four graves marked by wooden crosses. She came to a stop next to her grandmother.
“Even though they came to do me harm, it doesn’t mean I should disrespect them by not giving them a decent burial,” Mrs. Gomes answered the question not yet asked. “It is not my place to judge these men, I leave it to God. And when it is my turn to be judged, I can only hope that my sins can be forgiven as I have already forgiven these men of their sins against me.”
As their time was limited, the old woman and her granddaughter went to work, digging the grave for De Wolfe. After hours of backbreaking work, the remains of Ayanna’s would-be rapist were disposed of. The hole was not six feet deep but it was deep enough to ensure that stray dogs, though there were unlikely to be any this far up, were not drawn to the fresh grave.
After replacing the displaced earth, Grandma Cici fashioned a cross from broken branches and stuck it into the top of the newest grave. She said a prayer, hoping that the young man’s good deeds outweighed his bad, and that he entered heaven a forgiven man.
“We are done here,” the old woman said after a long silence. She turned to Ayanna, “Time to go home, time to forget what happened.”
“What if I don’t want to forget?” Ayanna asked.
The old woman shrugged, collecting the shovels. “It could go anyway. This experience can make you timid and weak, afraid of your shadow. Or it could make you hard, sucking out all of your innocence. Then again, you may find yourself in that happy medium where you are no longer naive and you are open to whatever life brings your way.” With that said, she started to make her way back to her house.
Ayanna turned to the graves. Here lay five men who had made decisions that cost them their lives. They had not thought twice about acting on their decisions, expecting everything to go their way. But in time, they crossed the wrong person. It was a macabre way to learn this lesson, but it was a lesson she had to learn: every decision counted, no matter the size.
As she swung the wheelbarrow around and followed her grandmother, the teen decided she would not leave her temperament to fate. She decided that she would reside in the happy middle. In her heart, she knew she would not be alone in that space. She caught up to her grandmother who looked across at her and winked. No, she would never be alone.
The journey back to Grandma Cici’s house was shorter as it was all downhill. Without saying a word to each other, grandmother and granddaughter entered the house and collapsed into the couch and arm chair in the living room, both incapable of making it to the beds in the rooms to the back.
It was a little after noon when Ayanna was awaken by her grandmother shaking her.
“Time to get up, Ayanna,” the older woman said, standing over her. “Your mother has been calling every hour on the hour.”
“Wha? Oh, okay,” the teen mumbled wiping sleep from her eyes. Stretching, she got up and went in search of her bag. As she hitched her bag onto her shoulder, she entered the kitchen where Grandma Cici was taking out the forgotten fried chicken out of the microwave.
She placed the plate on the dining table and told Ayanna to sit. After a quick prayer, they tucked into the reheated meal of chicken and fries.
“About yesterday….” Grandma Cici started, prompting Ayanna to complete her sentence.
The teen placed a drumstick back down and looked her grandmother in the eyes, “I promise you, what happened yesterday into early this morning is our secret. That secret will be buried with me.”
Cecilia Gomes nodded her head, satisfied with the answer she got. “Hurry up and eat, your mother is probably huffing and puffing.”
Despite the serious nature of the last 24 hours, grandmother and granddaughter fell into a light conversation which had them laughing and enjoying the remainder of the meal. Afterwards, Grandma Cici brushed aside Ayanna’s offer to help her clean up. She shooed her granddaughter out of the house and wished her luck in facing her mother.
Days passed and then weeks. The two women fell back into their daily routines. Ayanna went to school and Grandma Cici continued growing and selling her Premium Marijuana.
On the little island, the number of rapes reduced dramatically. Some people said the police were doing their job and the rapist was in their custody. Some said he had left the island. Only a few people thought that he must have crossed the wrong individual and he was dead somewhere or other. Only two people really knew the truth.
•••Kimolisa Mings was born and resides in Antigua and Barbuda. Originally a poet, Kimolisa decided to try her hand at writing stories which led to self-publishing her first eBook, Martine. Her second book, a poetry collection, is entitled She Wanted a Love Poem. Kimolisa said, “Little Red Hoodie started out as a thought that blossomed into a story that insisted I write. And so it was written in one sitting. Then it wanted to be shared, refusing to be hidden away in a notebook. It was then that steps were taken to have it edited and polished and now it is being shared with anyone interested in a dark, modern remake of a classic fairytale.” To find out more about Kimolisa Mings, visit kimolisamings.com.