Walk wit’ Me—All Ova Guyana
“Go away!” I said, not wanting to be interrupted.
“Johnny come,” my four-year-old sister insisted.
“Johnny in Australia, ah ritin’ ’im a’letta, suh go an’ play.” CeCe persisted, so I decided to investigate after she said it for the third time. I heard voices coming from directly below the sitting room window and leaned over to take a look. My father and Johnny’s sister were standing in front of the factory door chatting, but there was no sign of the man in question. CeCe pointed to the front door; I opened it, and there he was, bounding up the stairs. The moment that followed has been frozen in time because the unexpected surprise was too much of a shock. I did not know it in that instant, but his homecoming was going to mark the end of a very important and precious era of my life. The yearning to document the tapestry of those poignant memories has been quelled many times in the last twenty years for one reason or another. No questioning; I know it was meant to be like that because I firmly believe nothing happens before its time.
The Slow Boat to China
Joel and I joined the long queue to board the big black vessel which is called the M.V. Malali. A man clipped our ticket and gave it back as we went through a small gate. We walked a short distance before we crossed the gangplank to get on the steamer. I was so happy we were safely on board.
I had to wait until we got on the steamer to look for a toilet because I was too afraid to use the one on the stellin’ in case the steamer took off. Can you imagine if that had happened to me? The steamer has a top deck so I am going to go up there as soon as I finish peeing. Maan, it was so easy to find that toilet; all I had to do was follow the smell. How anyone can pee up a wall is beyond me; I had to hold my nose. I climbed up on the seat and squatted to pee because there was no way I was sitting on that seat. I made a vow never to have to pee if I go to Pomeroon again! You bet I meant it. I went to Pomeroon many times after that and never once used that stinking toilet.
The cafeteria was a small cubicle just by the foot of the stairs. The smell was so enticing when I went past; I wondered what I would be able to buy with the few remaining cents. I joined Joel who was already upstairs leaning over the rails to see what was going on below on the stellin’. A big lorry was crawling into the bowels of the steamer; the boards on the gangplank made a rattling sound as it entered, then a line of cars crawled in...okay it was three cars but it was a line to me. After a lot of shouting and some big ropes being removed the Malali moved off like a sloth. We were now in the mighty Essequibo River where the water was the colour of rich chocolate. The captain cruised close to shore guided by the giant mangroves along the route. At times it was so shallow the mud churned up behind the steamer. By this time my worms were getting restless. We had eaten the food Mummy gave us on the train and I was looking forward to buying a nice treat. My mouth watered just from looking but I could only afford a Salara and a Vimto; my favourite sweet drink. I still had five cents left over; not bad at all. I was so shame because Joel was so big eye, he pointed to the biggest white-eye (a sweet bun) as he stammered, “Da, da, da one be-be be-ine de te-te, tenis roll.” Thank goodness he didn’t have to ask for a glass of sarsaparilla. He mercifully ended my shame by pointing to the bucket of mauby. We went back upstairs to mole-up on the back deck behind a big drum to eat because I was too shame to eat in front of everyone. How I enjoyed that treat.
After what seems like an eternity we stopped at a place called Hogg Island, but I didn’t see any pigs on the stellin’. What I did see was a man standing on top of a big pylon throwing a cyas’-net into the river. I was hoping he would fall in so I could laugh at him; I always enjoy a good laugh you know.
The next stop was at Wakeanam; a well known East Indian settlement so a heap of Coolie people got off there. Adventure was not too far from there; we could see it in the distance shortly after leaving Wakeanam.
Patsy Is a Man
Everyone picked up their bags and started heading for the gateway of the ferry like a herd of elephants getting ready for a stampede. They were all anxious to get a seat on the bus. I remembered Mummy telling us we had to hurry here. She said to find the yellow buses that belonged to Kass and to tell Patsy we are Jose D’Agrella’s grandchildren. I was quashed between the other passengers as I followed them out through the gate. I heard a voice saying, “Dis way, tickets please,” but I couldn’t see the person. I followed the crowd and finally saw a short black man clipping tickets; I gave him mine as I squeezed through. He kept the ticket because the fare ended here. We didn’t have to walk far to get on the road. I spotted the yellow buses right away. There were two, but it didn’t matter because they both belonged to the Kass family who live at Charity. Mummy said we should ask for Patsy, but I forgot Patsy was a man so I was still looking for a lady when Joel beckoned to indicate he had found Patsy. Joel was standing next to him so I went over to his bus and said, “Good afta-noon mistah.” Patsy gave me the biggest smile, ruffled my hair and said, “Gyurl, yuh resemble yuh muddah bad, a’went to school wid yuh muddah yuh no, guh ’pon de bus.” I smiled shyly and climbed aboard hoping for a front seat, but the bus was already half-full. I found a seat down the back but Big-’ead beat me to the window seat so I had to sit on the end. I had to crane meh neck to see out ’pon de road. More people came on and they were all puttin’-up things above my head on a slatted rack. Joel was trying to put up our grip when a big-big tin of Golden Cream margarine slipped off the rack and just missed my head by inches. The man who the tin belonged smiled broadly as he apologised, “Sarry lil’ gyurl, yuh lucky de t’ing didn’t ’it yuh ’pon yuh ’ead eh?” Rant, de man ’ad some fire-rass gol’ teet’ an’ nearly bline meh wid ’e smile. Patsy yelled out, “All aboard, ’old on,” and the bus took off. Maan, I don’t know how that bus moved. Every seat was full, and people were crammed together in the aisle. A stout black lady stood next to me holding on to the rack above for support; her armpit was level with my face. She was using the same deodorant Mummy used; the smell of MUM was strong. I took a sly look and saw a strip of the pink cream under her armpit. I sucked meh teet’ in disgust but not loud enough for her to hear.Everyone was quiet for about five minutes before they started making friends with their neighbour. My ears pricked up for any juicy gossip. I heard a lady say, “A’went to tung to see meh dauttah who ’ad a’bouncin’ baby bhai in Public ’ospital, ’e name Leroy.” I remembered that because I had a cousin name Leroy in de Riva. We called our Leroy by his false name which was Zex. He got that name because he was partial to salsoap with that name. Aunt Maud could never find her salsoap where she left it at the waterside when she went to wash clothes. He probably couldn’t get sweeties; poor boy. I wanted to eat a banana, but I know everyone would stare at me so I didn’t bother. I thought a man was looking at me until I realised he had bad cock-eye. He looked so funny I wanted to laugh, and then I gave Joel a nudge to show him the man so he could laugh too. We were travelling on the Essequibo Road en route to Charity. Lush rice fields and coconut trees paved the way on either side of the extremely bumpy road they called ‘Abortion Highway’. An array of colourful flags fluttering on Jandhi poles gave the densely populated villages an air of carnival. People wave all the time, and we even had to stop a few times to allow cows or donkeys to get off the road.