Marjorie Blackman, a.k.a. Rasbaby, studied her left hand with its three missing fingers, and its sprinkle of brown spots and bulging veins. She counted nineteen of the accursed specks, then traced the maze of bumpy, winding veins around her hand before resting her hazel eyes on the three stumps that, a year ago, had been her ring, middle and index fingers.
The mildewed office chair squeaked deceptively as she leaned back and closed her eyes, picturing her three missing fingers, covered in blood and lying on a pile of fish scales and guts. She jumped out of the chair and ran into the bathroom on the opposite side of the room. A few minutes later, she lurched out with her eyes red and her face dripping water unto her bony chest and acid wash jeans dress. She slumped into the chair and looked at her watch.
It was 2:47 p.m. Thirteen more minutes to go. “That number again.” She was the thirteenth of fourteen children; at 13 she’d become pregnant, had an abortion and dropped out of school; the 13th of August, five years later, accompanying her weary parents on a Caribbean cruise vacation, she’d hit the streets of St. John’s in search of souvenirs, found love instead, and never returned to the boat.
A young woman, two plastic bags in one hand and a cell phone plastered to her ear, burst into the room. She looked at Marjorie, bobbed her head and sat down on a bench beside the chair.
“No, no…,” she said to the other party on the line, “a jus’ me and one white woman…tall, some corn flakes and milk me bring…who fu cook?…gal, u crazy? You see ring pon me finger?”
Marjorie looked at her left hand and thought of her silver band. It had been the cause of their first row. She’d wanted a wedding ring, he hadn’t; said it was a Babylon thing. She’d thought he had no money, and no balls to say so. After a few back-hand slaps, followed by loud threats to call the Police, She bought one and he shoved it on her finger three weeks after they met. Now, it was gone, along with the finger it had been on.
The room was quiet and she looked up and saw the young woman staring at her hand. Marjorie offered a weary smile and received a ‘plastic’ one.
“Miss,” said the young woman, “don’t say me nosey, but wha happen to you hand?”
Marjorie looked at her left hand…
The door opened and a tall, heavy man with dyed-black hair entered the room. He had on the standard brown uniform of Her Majesty’s Prison.
“Ladies,” he said, “who’s first?”
“I am, but she can go,” Marjorie said.
The young woman grabbed her plastic bags and stomped out of the room.
Marjorie was alone with her thoughts. He was expecting her as he’d done the last Friday of every month for the last ten months. He was expecting his Ital rice. He was expecting her locks to be aloe-washed and a bit longer. He was expecting her to talk about their dogs and cats; their bush neighbor, Memba, and his six children; their Ganga cultivation and trade. Everything except her three missing fingers.
She opened the lunch bag and took out the food flask, went over the plan in her head. She looked at her watch; it was 3:13 p.m. Her flight to London was scheduled to leave at 6. Thankfully, her suitcase was already at the airport. She’d asked Quami, Memba’s oldest son, to take care of the house and crops for a few days. She told him she was going to the hospital for surgery on her hand. “Again?” He’d asked and she’d simply said, “Again.”
She had spent a month in the hospital after losing her fingers. She’d lost a lot of blood and gone into shock. The hand had healed stubbornly due to her diabetic condition and the doctor said it was a miracle she hadn’t lost the whole hand. The psychological damage was even worse. The social worker at the hospital recommended a therapist and she’d been seeing him weekly since then.
Marjorie rubbed her temple and patted the clumps of hair on her head. She’d forgiven that first slap from their argument over the wedding ring. She’d even forgiven his affair with Memba’s queen. But she could not forgive the loss of her wedding finger. Yes, she loved him. She’d loved him from the moment he approached her, bare-chested, dreadlocks swinging, with a coconut in hand, crooning, “coconut water for my lover….” She’d known then there would be no going back to her boring English life. They’d gone on an island tour and ended up at Fort Beach. There she’d smoked her first joint; when the cruise ship had whistled its departure tune she’d been giggling uncontrollably in response.
The iron flask felt cool in Marjorie’s sweaty palm. She opened it and pressed the long ochro further into the dampness of the rice. She had measured and practiced taking no more than two inches of rice from the safe zone underneath the long ochro. Now, she must execute it.
The same officer in uniform peeped into the room.
“Are you ready?” He asked.
“Yes,” Marjorie whispered and closed the flask.
“Who are you here to see?”
“Ma’m, what’s the prisoner’s name?” The officer said looking at a greasy paper on a clip board.
“Ah, yes, Iba. Follow me.”
Marjorie followed the officer outside to a small house adjoining the inner prison fence. A big female officer, with heavy breathing, patted her down and searched her bags.
“What you have there? Food?” Asked the female officer.
“Is it poisoned?”
Marjorie blinked her eyes several times, her hand twitched toward her pounding chest, skin running hot and cold at the same time.
“Miss, are you o.k.?” The female officer asked, shaking her roughly.
Marjorie counted and breathed in and out deeply as the therapist had taught her. Her heart rate slowed and her mind cleared.
“Yes. No. Yes. I mean, I am o.k. and the food no. I mean the food is not poisoned.”
“Well, let me see what you have. Take out your fork…”
Marjorie rolled away the ochro and slowly scooped up the rice underneath. She chewed slowly, gauging every sensation in her body.
“Okay. Go and sit down on the bench. The prisoner will come to the other side of the barbed wire partition. You have twenty minutes.”
Marjorie wobbled to the bench and sat down. Her stomach churned angrily and her feet felt like they were on their own. Her mind raced back and forth. Had she put enough of the green pellets into the food? Would the coconut milk mask its deadly flavour and would the ochro disguise its color? Could she actually sit and watch him kill himself?
“Rasbaby?” Iba interrupted her thoughts. His thick, black lips were had been ambushed by a greying mustache and beard. His white shirt and blue trousers swung on his skeletal frame. His prized locks were clumped together and stuffed, unsuccessfully, into a torn stocking.
“Iba.” Marjorie said and forced a smile. “How are you?”
“You bring the Ital? They starving me.”
She pushed the flask and fork through the wire opening, fell back on the bench and closed her eyes.
Iba spun the lid off with two turns and started to eat. “Yes,” he said, “good…a little different but good…must be the ochro.”
She listened to his familiar questions between chomps with eyes tightly shut. Her lips were dry and her ears were ringing.
Marjorie opened her eyes and met Iba’s dilated pupils. “…I’m sorry. I am not feeling well.”
Iba flashed an incomplete set of yellow teeth, “You carrying the youth?”
Marjorie looked away and Iba returned his attention to the flask. He tossed the fork on the table and wiped up the remaining rice at the bottom with the middle and index fingers of his right hand.
Marjorie gritted her teeth and stared at him. “Sucka,” she whispered. He wouldn’t suffer as much as she had. She imagined at most two days.
She’d been cleaning fish in the cool of the evening when Iba came home. She’d known he was drunk by the way he dragged and shouted her name. She did not answer. His voice became louder and her name shorter. She heard his heavy breathing and smelled his perfume of ganga and alcohol. She continued her task, sending fish scales into the air like a frisbee.
Her memory of the event remained as that of a child. She told the doctor he pulled the knife out of her hand from behind her but when she spoke to the Police she was convinced that he was facing her. She wept when she shared with her therapist his nasty insults and threats to kill her as he held the knife to her throat. But she remembered none of that here. Her mind, the overworked editor, replayed only the swiftness of the butcher knife as it hacked its way through her three fingers. Her last memory was her three bloody fingers lying on top a pile of fish scales and guts.
“I have to go, I am really not feeling well.”
Iba looked at her, wiped his mouth with his hands, then pushed the flask back to her. “Next month? Same thing?”
She put her left hand on the counter, reached for the flask, slowly pulled it to her. Iba looked away and stood up. “Next month?”
“Next month,” she said softly.
Iba went to the door and pounded. “Open! I’m done!”
“Yes,” Marjorie thought, “you’re done.”
The red prison gate slammed behind her and Marjorie staggered a few steps and crumpled on the side walk crying.
•••Devra Thomas was the overall winner of the 2011 Wadadli Youth Pen Prize Challenge and winner of the 18 to 35 age category with her story Sands and Butterflies. She has since become a volunteer-partner with the project and remains passionate about writing. The Missing Fingers is her first published piece post-Wadadli Pen.