songbird part 3

Songbird - Part Three

March 21, 1941

To my dearest Stuart,

Ma’s funeral has come and gone, and I feel like I am once again trapped in a glass cage watching idly as time goes by. I have lost track of the days since she was laid to rest, and my memories of the service have all jumbled into one big blot of hazy misery and crying in my mind.

I feel like I am fighting a war myself, and I am losing.

Marcilli is no longer here. Father has sent her away from her school and has sent her to Trelawny to continue her schooling. He says Westwood would be a good school for her, and she would be away from all the ‘bad influences’ that is in the capital.

I tried to protest the move. Marcilli needs her family more than ever, but he remained unmoved.

He says that with Ma gone, it is time for him to give a firm hand to help guide our futures. I am unsure of what he means about that, my love, but he has been secretive as of late. I had thought it was the business deal he had worked on, but he said that the bit of business has been handled. He even invited his new business partner over for lunch a few times.

His name is Daniel Blake, but he insists that I call him Danny and that he will call me ‘Ells’. I have protested this, not wanting to seem too familiar, but he insists.

He is from Connecticut he says, and that he is looking to expand on the wealth he has inherited from his father. Father said that with Danny on board, the company is expected to grow to even an international market.

I have not the mind for business, but Father says that the future for the company is going well.

I am often the only one here in the house my dear, and it gets quite lonely during the day. I have tried to get into many hobbies to keep myself occupied, but I have yet to find the one that I truly love.

Singing has lost its splendor for me, and I have tried it all – drawing, knitting, reading – but nothing works. The only thing that brings me joy these days is your letters.

No matter how bleak your words may be, I look forward to your letters. They give me hope for a brighter future when everything else seems so dark.

Keep safe my love, I await your return to my arms.

Ellis.

September 13, 1941

To Stuart,

It has been months since my last letter and I have yet to receive a response from you. I hope that my deepest fears have not become true. Word from the newspaper is saying that the United States of America has been helping the Allies in their war in Europe. I hope this means that the war will be over soon.

Much has changed since my last letter. Marcilli is still in Trelawney, and I have yet to receive any response from her despite the fact that I have written to her many times. Father refuses to allow me to make the trip up to Westwood to see her, and I do not have the means to go there on my own. I hope that she is doing well and that maybe Father was right after all, and all she needed was time away from Kingston.

Father has spent more time away from the house now. It has reached the point where if I were to see him once per week, I would call myself lucky.

Fortunately, Danny has been around the house to keep me company. He has spent most of his days at the house playing on the grand piano. He is quite the skilled pianist – he had learned it in his youth and had dreams of playing in an orchestra before reality set his path in stone.

He reminds me a lot of you, Stuart.

He has insisted that he wants to take me out for a night out in the city. I don’t know what to say to him. Father says that Danny is a good man, who will treat me right, but I feel Father is only thinking with his pocket.

My mind is saying that there is no reason to decline his offer, but my heart is in turmoil.

Maybe if you were here, there would be no decision to make. But that is just wishful thinking.

Regards,

Ellis.

 

January 21, 1942

To Stuart,

I am sorry, Stuart, but I could wait for you no longer.

Danny has asked me to marry him. He says he has never met a more beautiful woman in his life. He wants me to leave with him, and to return to America.

I said yes.

We are due to leave on the sixth of February, and we will be wedded on the fourteenth. Danny says it is perfect for us to be married on Valentine’s Day.

I know America has joined the war in Europe now, but I don’t have to worry about Danny. He suffered an injury in his youth, and so he cannot be enlisted to fight.

This will be the last letter that I write to you Stuart. I love you.

Regards,

Ellis.

 

January 25, 1941

To whomever this may concern,

This letter is to the effect that Private Stuart A. Lincoln has been killed in action

By His Majesty’s command, I am to forward the enclosed message of sympathy from Their Gracious Majesties the King and Queen. I am at the same time to express the regret of the Army Council at the soldier’s death in his country’s service.

I am to add that any information that may be received as to the soldier’s burial will be communicated to you in due course. A separate letter dealing more fully with this subject is enclosed.


Songbird part 2

Songbird - Part Two

June 28, 1940

To my sweetest Songbird,

As I write this letter, my hands are trembling. I find it hard to put into words the many things I need to say to you, my Songbird. So many things have happened and I feel like I don’t have the time to tell you all of it. But I supposed you’ve heard by now. I’d think the news had already reached Jamaica at this time.

France has fallen.

The Germans have taken Paris and are planning to bring the war all the way to England. We don’t know when it will happen, but we know it will not be long before the darkness is knocking on our doors.

The men around the camp are tense, and we’ve been armed with more guns and ammunition in this past few weeks than the last several months that we’ve been here. Everyone seems to be on a tethering rope, and I fear that even the slightest breeze will be enough to force us tumbling into the abyss that lays below.

London is a ghost town. The entire air seems to be holding its breath – waiting for the next shoe to drop. The people have been forced to evacuate to the countrysides and bunkers, where they can hide as Germans, have increased their stranglehold on this war. They started to fly planes over the city. It seems like any day now, bombs will start raining from the skies in a shower of explosion and death.

It’s hard to stay, my Songbird. I want to come home

But I will fight where I can.

They say we are to be deployed soon. The Germans may be strong, but the Italians are weaker, and that’s where we’ll hit them hard. I can’t tell you much about what I will be doing, but they say I will be sent out to Italy with my regiment as support for the soldiers fighting there.

With Chamberlain ousted and Churchill at the helm, they are saying that we’ll be taking the fight to the Germans to protect ol’ Blighty.

The doctor is expected to arrive any day now, after that, we’ll be on the first ship out to Italy.

Stuart.

August 25, 1940

To my dearest Stuart,

Ma always said that a woman was to be strong – that it was a woman’s job to be the pillar behind a man’s strength. But now, I fear that my strength will not be enough. Not here.

Ma has died. She died in her sleep on a brisk Sunday morning. Marcilli has been inconsolable since and refuses to leave Ma’s room.

The doctors say they have no idea what had happened to her and have said she has died of natural causes. She had been so vivacious, but now…

I had hoped that you would never be involved in the horrors of war. That they would keep you safe, and away from the fighting. But now it seems all that hope has been wasted.

My love, I am afraid. I am not ashamed to admit it.

The war only seems to be getting worse by the minute, and now, even you, have been dragged into the darkness of war by old men too caught up in their own grandiosity and egos to see that they are ripping out the roots that would have grown to be a beautiful garden.

The Walters boy did it, you know. He volunteered. Apparently, he sneaked out in the dead of the night to join the ‘cause’ with nothing more than the clothes on his back.

Missus Walters got a yellow telegram a few weeks later… I need not know what it said to understand that the boy is dead. She collapsed in a fit of bawling so loud it woke the neighbours.

I fear one day I will receive one of those yellow telegrams.

Please, my love, keep safe and come back to me.

Ellis

 

November 3, 1940

To my sweet Songbird,

It has been almost a year since I last saw you, and been a few months since our last message. I feel, as I write, that I am a whole new different man than the one I was a few months ago.

My condolences are with you for your loss. Missus Hall had always been a woman of character and strength. I am devastated to hear she has passed. Send my regards to Marcilli as well. I know this death has been truly terrible for her.

This place is the heights of evil, and I feel I have been tainted with a brush of dark soaking red that I will never be able to wash off. They had planned to send us to Italy, but plans had changed and suddenly we found ourselves whisked off to Greece.

The fighting was brutal. Never have I experienced something so inhumane. I shall spare you the horrid details, my love, but know that in this no man’s land, I have seen hell on earth.

I killed a man. I have stolen the life of another and to this day, I am still haunted by his pleading eyes. We do not speak the same language, but at that moment, as he struggled for his last breaths, I understood him.

I stay up at night, thinking about him. How old was he? Did he have a family waiting for him on the other side of this war? Are they ignorant to the fact that their loved one is dead – killed by these hands?

I feel lost, my Songbird.

Stuart.

January 6, 1941

To Mr. Hall,

I am writing to you sir, as one man to another, and have come to you to ask for your blessing in a matter that I have thought about for these last few months.

As you know sir, I have deployed in Europe to help with the Allies’ fight against the Axis Powers. During my time sir, I have come to see the worst that this world has to offer. I have trudged through miles of mud and filth, I have been shot and injured and I have seen good men die young without too many regrets.

Throughout this, however, I have found a light that keeps me moving. A reason to keep fighting this dreadful fight.

Your daughter Ellis has been my beacon, and I intend to marry her as soon as I return to Jamaica.

I have yet to tell her the news of my plans, sir, as I feel it was most prudent to get your approval. She values your opinion as she should.

I know sir, that in the past, you have not had the best opinion of my relationship with your daughter. But I hope that this letter will convince you of my sincerity in my commitment to her. There is not a force on earth that I could not move, nor a mountain that I could not topple if it meant I get to spend eternity with your daughter by my side.

Certainly, if present circumstances were as they were, this would not have happened for some time. But the fragility of life has made me realized what your daughter means to me, and I hope, when the time comes, you will consent to let me have her as my lawfully wedded wife.

Regards,

Private Stuart Lincoln

Eighth Army.


dead on arrival

Dead on Arrival

It had begun on the 13th of March 2020. My vivid memory recalled that rushed, the worried announcement that had interrupted our communication studies lecture. Forced out of my dorm, I grudgingly made my way in hopes of returning within a month’s time. Back then, the virus had seemed so mundane to me, barely a threat. I spent most of my days reading and watching the steady rise of numbers on the news, still hopeful, and retreated to the confines of my room. My eyes and ears tuned for some miraculous news that the virus had been eradicated.

 

My mother had been the first who in her great heroism as a famous police officer had died in the line of duty, protecting the citizens of a nearby community. My brother, on one of our grocery trips, had bitten by an infected man, managed to drive me home, and committed suicide.

 

The melancholy did not quickly consume me as I had hoped it would.  My home would have been such an easy place to die, surrounded by all the things that brought me joy. I suppose you could say it was my instincts' futile attempt at living, shrouding myself in the depraved notion that somehow I would have been saved. A scarcity of food was something I had never known. My stomach would rumble in pity at the starved bodies on television and beggars on the road I came in contact with my normal life. I could never understand fully, how persons would resort to eating rats or cockroaches till I experienced it myself. I refused to leave home after the food ran out, crawling in the cupboards to catch the very creatures I was behaving like. In the coming weeks, I found myself slowly fermenting and emaciating, the lack of water and food creeping into my once plump, beautiful frame.

 

Now, I found myself laying on the floor of the forest pulling my starved legs to my chest in an attempt to comfort myself. I had waited till nightfall and went through a window, dressing in a T-shirt as a mask and black from head to toe. I left my childhood home undetected, limping my way to the nearby woodlands I would often play with my brother in.

 

Starving and delirious, I ate through everything my chaotic brain deemed edible. The berries were poisonous, bitter, and discolored staining my tongue, leaving a putrid taste. I didn’t care. Most of me wanted to die but I was woefully terrified of outright suicide. Eating the poisonous berries was simply assistance, an indirect yet direct way of suicide. I was starving and I hoped that whatever higher being or God would understand my plight.

 

The effects were slow, painless and I began simply just dragging myself on the drought-stricken earth that seemed to shrivel away with my weakened state. When I started to die, it was dusk and the air was filled with the sounds of the forest creatures that thrived under our demise. My body became rigid and every sound around me had turned to a soft hum. I could no longer feel the maggots picking at my wounds or the screams that had made their way into my daydreams. It was blissful, nothing but peace enveloping my broken body. My life did not flash before my eyes. I did not want it to. I had spent my whole life fearing the dark and the death and it was so beautiful. Slowly, I slipped away and as the last of my senses had disappeared I was jolted awake by fingers touching my neck.

“She’s alive! She’s alive” the masculine voice said.

I felt my body being lifted and the sounds of loud sirens. I opened my eyes to the sight of green uniforms and relieved smiles. I smiled back at them. But, soon the silence took me over as my vision again descended into blackness.


songbird part 1

Songbird - Part One

November 20, 1939

To my dearest Stuart,

It has been lonely without you my dear. I have tried too many times to resign myself to the fact that you were set to leave, but I had truly not thought of how lonely the nights would be without you here. I had felt so proud when I saw you standing there in your uniform, looking as dashing as any of the heroes in Marcilli’s books that she tries so hard to hide from me. I had fancied you brave beyond all measures then, but now I fear I have sent you off to your death… it scares me, love.

I hope this letter finds you well. You know how I tend to worry. But I feel like I’ve been trapped in a glass cage while the world seems to be moving on quite content without me in it.

I must sound so foolish right now – a right worry-wart.

I took a walk recently through the Hope Gardens where we would rendezvous under the blanket of the night. There is a beautiful row of fresh purple orchids in bloom this year, I would have loved for you to come and see it with me. I tried to get Ma to come along with me, but she said she wasn’t feeling well. But I know she would love to see the flowers and would have enjoyed a day out, so I intend to get her to accompany me on another day.

I would have tried to ask Father to come with me, but you understand the kind of man he is. He insists he has no time for such frivolities to be wasting his days in a garden. The man can be as stubborn as a bull these days, but he is a busy man.

He is rarely in the house these past few weeks and when he is, I feel as though his mind is a thousand miles away. Ma even cooked his favorite meal – a good Sunday roast, but he hardly touched it. He doesn’t speak much about it, but Ma has told me that Father has been getting a lot of interest in the company. It seems as though there is an investor from the United States of America who wants to do business with father, but Ma does not know the finer details and Father is being rather secretive about it.

Marcilli wishes you well. She says that she thought you looked rather handsome in your uniform – and she has made sure to warn me to keep her words secret under the threat of death, so you did not hear of that from me. She speaks highly of her new school, and she says that she has made great friends among the girls there.

She feared she would have been ostracized during her time there, but she is pleasantly surprised that the girls there had seemed just as nervous and unsure of themselves as she had been.

Oh, how I wish to be as young again. Her matters seem so trivial in comparison to ours. I long for the days when our only fear was our trysts being discovered by my father as I sneaked you out of the house. But those days are gone now, and you are away on a ship, carrying you closer to a war-torn world, and further away from my embrace.

I await your letters, my love.

Ellis

 

December 28, 1940

To my dearest Songbird,

I suppose at this time, you should be well and truly deep in the land of dreams brought by Morpheus’ guidance. As I write this, I am in the heart of London, bunkered down on a base set up for our arrival. There is not much of us here, I have counted just under 50 heads during the day, but there is news that we will be moved to meet up with the other men that have been drafted from His Majesty’s colonies in the West Indies.

Not much has happened as of yet, and as I lay here in my cot putting pen to paper, I can assure you that I have yet to see any form of action and that is not due to change. As soon as we had disembarked from the ship, we were shuttled quickly off to the camp, and have yet to see much of the city so far. The only thing I’ve seen is the odd motorcar making its way past.

The nights have been awfully cold, and I am not used to this weather. I have salvaged a glove to keep my hands warm but I fear it shan’t be enough. Some of the English boys that frequent the camp says that it will snow soon and that the weather will only get worse from here out.

I yearn for the timeless days that we wasted away together. Maybe if you were here now, the cold would not seem so bitingly cruel, but that surely is not meant to be at this time.

I miss you immensely, my sweetest Songbird.

Nothing would fill me more than to see your beautiful face once more – freckled cheeks with a smile that could blind Icarus. If you sound foolish, then I must sound like a love-struck fool – akin to a schoolboy passing notes in class. But it is not to be, my dear Songbird.

How have you been? What has been happening back home since I have been gone? Have you been keeping up with your singing? Maybe one day when I return, you can sing for me again. Has there been any news about more persons willing to join us over here in Europe? It truly would be a good sight to see more Jamaicans here – I don’t feel like we are much welcomed here. They stare at us when we walk past and shuffle away when we are being drilled.

You would think with us fighting the Germans, they wou..

I digress.

Hopefully, soon I’ll get to see you again. But for now, I will content myself with these letters – pale imitations of your voice they may be. I will have to stop here, lights will be out soon and the soldiers will be checking on us in a minute.

Sincerely yours,

Stuart.

P.S Tell Marcilli that I believe she is quite a beautiful young woman as well.

 

 

February 3, 1940

To my dearest Stuart,

I must confess, your letters have found me not in the best of spirits. Ma has fallen deathly ill since the last time I wrote you, and she seems to be getting weaker and weaker by the day. She is bedridden and rarely speaks these days. I fear there is not much more we can do than try to make her as comfortable as possible and hope she makes a swift recovery.

Marcilli has been affected the most by this. She loves Ma with all her heart, you know. She also saw Ma as invincible – if only she knew. I worry for her as well. She has not been to school for the last week. Father doesn’t know yet but I will not be the one to tell him. She stays in Ma’s room just watching – looking. I think she feels it is all one grand prank, and she’s searching for the punchline that will never come.

I will have to speak with her soon. She cannot continue like this.

Father is as busy as ever. He leaves the house for an indefinite number of days, only to return with his hands filled with papers and files and documents. Ma’s illness seems as though it has hardly affected him, far too occupied with more ‘important’ matters.

A lot has changed since you left.

The Walters’ son has said he would be joining his ‘fellow men’ over in Europe. Mr. Walter seems inclined to allow him to volunteer but the Missus made quite the scene when she heard about his decision. I cannot blame her though, he is her only son. She does not want to lose him to this war that is not even ours to fight.

But he is resolute. He says his English teacher fought in the Great War, and it made him a man. So now it is his turn to become a man.

Now ask me, what does a 17-year-old boy know about being a man?

My singing has been going well. Just last week I was complimented for it when I had gone to the market. I was singing to myself and I had realized that the stranger walking behind had heard my small tune. He said I had an intoxicating voice, something he would love to listen to again.

I’m sure he had his ulterior motives but I’ll take the compliments where I can.

I hope one day I can finally get the chance to perform for a crowd so large I can barely tell where it ends. I’ve seen pictures, you know, of the London streets and the women walking by looking like the belle of the ball. Maybe one day, we can walk those same streets together you know.

Father says my head is stuck in the clouds.

I say the clouds have the best view.

Sending you my love and warmth,

Ellis


golden table

DAVID AND THE GOLDEN TABLE: The legend of the golden table

The nighttime rain of Waterloo, Black River awoke David from his slumber. He was drenched in sweat, the entrails of a bittersweet nightmare leaving his limbs. It was pitch black in the small cottage home, the only indications of life being his small hands resting on the rising and falling bosom of his mother and the silent breaths that escaped her. The air was cold and dry and although he had been sweating in his sleep, he was wintry, colder than ice. They lived in a secluded farming village a few miles from Black River. He had been hearing that river for some time now, thumping into his head like the earworm of the rocksteady music his mother would play on her Saturday morning radio. He had always found the sound of the river peaceful and despite the dangers of wild animals lurking under its seemingly gentle surface, he had never once felt afraid, even reaching into its water and gently sloshing around the murky green in his fingers. 

He felt peaceful thinking of the river, but his mind quickly grew afraid and his clammy shoulders trembled uncontrollably. The river had always come after his nightmares and water was a terror in his family. His father had nearly drowned in the milk river shortly after his seventh birthday last January, latching himself on to a slippery stone for nearly five hours before someone found him there, in all his manhood, crying his eyes out like a baby cooing for his mother. His father was never the same after that incident, turning from an always smiling man into a still smiling, often delirious drunk who staggered in tears every Friday night to their mother who would sit and comfort him into the hours of the night. David’s mother called it “shell shock” and would talk to her sister and reminisce on their British father who had returned from world war 2, slipping into rages and eventually committing suicide in front of David’s five-year-old mother.  David’s father was a farmer, growing sweet cassava and pumpkin sharecropping with other members of their family.  He was known as being the best swimmer of the village and most of all the kindest, giving his family’s food away to anyone in need. Mama had always complained that David’s father had caused them to be poorer than they already were and scolded him that they could never own anything for themselves. When mama got pregnant again, he had seen his father begin to worry more, face wrinkling every time he saw her holding her belly. After his second brother was born, food had become lesser and lesser. David’s father would always try to always carry him out to the river in their small canoe, telling him the stories of the water. It was the only thing David looked forward to and his favourite was the golden table and how many men had tried to find it only to be sucked in by their own greed. 

“I look for that table David. I swim in dem water ere and nothing. I go almost to the bottom and you would think say is a ghost yard. No mermaid, no table”

David would listen keenly, nervously biting his nails for more. 

“But I know it down there. It juss a hide from me. Me is going to find it and give your mama and unnuh a better life. We woulda buy a big house, like in them magazine and a telephone and yuh…”

His father would trail off and David would still be picking at his fingers, blocking out everything his father was saying. David thought of everything he could buy with that golden table. He thought of the multicoloured vest and leather shoes he saw down by the market and how it would impress his friends at school. He owned only 4 shirts and no shoes and what he did own had begun to grow away from him, tautening around his torso and would never absorb his sweat when he was out helping his papa on the fields. His mother had always told him that they had belonged to her youngest brother, who had died and to be grateful that such fine clothes had been passed down to him. He would nod absent-mindedly, his mind drifting away to that golden table. 

David rolled out of the bed, careful not to wake his mother. His father was absent again tonight, as he had been for the past three months. He often overheard his mother crying to their neighbour, Miss Patsy about cheating and Miss Violet and how she was going to beat her up for taking his father away. One of his younger brothers had heard too and when he asked her, her eyes widened until he was sure they were going to pop out. She had run for her switch so fast that she tripped over a pail of hot water scalding her foot and she hadn’t beat them since.

The cold of the wet earth threaded across David’s bare feet. The wind was calm tonight with a gentle cold breeze circumnavigating his naked torso. He began to walk around, taking in the night sky. He never knew any names of the stars, but he knew some of the planets which he had learned in his social studies class. 

He always asked his teachers about the golden table and how to find it, but they never seemed to know. They called it a fable and laughed at his endeavours. Only his father had believed him and would carry him on his journeys to actively search, diving into the murky green water of the river. 

“David. David.” A voice said from behind him. He spun around to his father grabbing his shoulders. David’s father’s ebony skin blended into the night and he was wide-eyed and hugged his son fervently,  lifting him into his arms as if he was a baby again. 

“ David. I found it. I found the golden table.” he whispered happily. David was stunned and wrapped his arms around his father, happily spinning with him. His father placed him down on the grass and disappeared inside the house, reappearing with what seemed to be a bag and keys. He picked up David, swinging him across his back. 

“ Daddy, we going to see it now?” 

“ Yes David. It so bright. It glows in the night like dem sey inna the book dem.” 

“ That's where you've been all this time papa. Mama worry” 

“ I know but I did have to find it. This will make us rich. Mama won’t have to cry seh we cyaa buy shoes anymore. We can have all the shoes in the world. All the clothes. All the food” 

David’s mind drifted back to the leather shoes he could wear to school. He started to imagine his new house, just like Solomon had in the Bible. His mama had told him that Solomon had a beautiful castle with lots of banquets and riches. David had always admired Solomon and wished to be like him. In his admiration, he failed to notice that the air had grown much hotter and the scent of rot had started to thicken the air. 

They arrived at the river in no time and as his father had said, the golden table was right there. 

It was bigger than David had expected, taking up the majority of the river. He could only see the top part that unnaturally glowed in the darkness of the night. On top of it was a hat and a sword. He thought he would have been happy but he was terrified. The golden table almost appeared to be alive, the pulsating sound filling the thick, rotten air. When he looked up at his father. his eyes had gotten even wider as if they were going to pop straight out of his head. His father went to the edge of the river and fell to his knees, crying. David ran over to his father, trying to pull him away from the river. The smell of rot had grown even thicker and the water had started grumbling and gurgling under them.  

The water had now become congealed around the table and glowed a murky congealed green-black. The swampy water began to rise, and take form, red water spurting out of its “mouth”. David was paralyzed in fear and could not move his legs as if cement had firmly planted them to the ground. His father looked up to the figure. 

“What you want? What me need fi give you for this table?” his father bellowed at him.

The figure did not respond to him but eyeless, moved towards David reaching out for him. His father wasted no time, clumsily lifting him into the air as if offering. His father said nothing, looking only in the direction of the figure. 

He began to scream on top of his lungs, fighting the figure that took hold of him. He quickly realized that it was not the figure but his father who had lifted him into the air. His father said nothing, only staring up at the figure who had still been staring down at them. The stream of red engulfed David’s body, a strong metallic taste swathing his tongue and nose. He attempted to cover his mouth, only to feel his limbs seize into place. He could still see his father, holding out his hands to the figure, unmoving. 

He felt his body ascend and then quickly descend, hitting the putrid water with a loud splash. The water-filled his mouth, and then his throat, then he could no longer breathe as it sucked him down.

When he awoke again, he was laying down. The sun stood up top the hill, shining down on the now translucent green water.  His body was as dry as a bone and he was fatigued, coughing fits of green phlegm. He was somehow covered with what looked to be an old potato sack and the surface he was on was hard and metallic. David jumped up quickly as the memories of the previous night consumed and rolled off the tall table, hitting the ground with a thud. The enormous golden table was now sitting on the land as if it had always been there. The table was pulsating, filling the air with an eerie silence. It began to move as he moved, following every move and corner he made. He searched around for his father, calling for him loudly in the bitter bushes. To no avail, he began to trek home, the golden table with his father's wedding ring sitting atop it as his entourage.

 


By the River Stalk

River Mumma, the graceful brown-skinned mermaid with jet-black hair that cascaded down her glistening back, was the talk of my village after the ‘pastor’ incident. The village pastor, a white missionary from England had come to settle in rural St. Elizabeth after marrying one of the local women he’d become ensnared with. Outwardly, everyone adored him. He was the epitome of what a man was supposed to be according to the local women. High-coloured with a thick Queens-English accent and carefully enunciated words that grasped the ears of anyone who stopped to listen to him preach the word of God. I, quite frankly had no interest in him as to me, he was a mock-up, a counterfeit man of God who beat his wife into a miscarriage and cut the face of his son for trying to defend his mother. When the news of his untimely disappearance spread across our tiny village. I knew it was she; it was river Mumma who had been watching his sins in our village.

The day it happened. I was sitting on the veranda of my tiny home, my hands greased with beeswax that I coated my four-year-old sister’s coils with. She had her grass doll in her hands, mimicking my actions as I had delicately plaited her hair into four parts and finished it with colourful bubbles, signifying her innocence.

“Pastor drop inna di riva, him dead!” my grandmother had screamed at me, beckoning me with tear-filled eyes.

“Wha happen mama?”

She didn’t respond. Instead, she turned back in the direction she was coming from and ran. I immediately followed behind her into the town square where a group of village-people had gathered, murmuring and shouting loudly over each other.

“Me sure sey a her. The river mumma! It’s been sixty-years since she come back yah! That demon woman!”

The murmuring continued as I attempted to push through the crowd to get to the front of the chaos. My little sister held on to my neck, almost choking me from the fear of the screaming people. Sitting on the platform wrapped in a sheet was Gloria, the wife of the pastor. She was completely silent and her light brown eyes were wide with terror. Holding on to her hand was her youngest son, Alfred tightly curled into her lap. I could hardly see his face as he had it buried in his mother’s chest and his free hand over his ears in an attempt to drown out the crescendo of voices. Suddenly, the crowd hushed and a loud voice took over the air.

“There is no need to be so rambunctious citizens. What happened to our dear pastor was a tragedy. An unfortunate DROWN-ING” said the village lawyer, Peter.

He emphasized the drowning with a hack.

“But this Ri-ver Mum-ma nonsense has to stop. It has to stop! Our beloved pastor DROWNED. He was not kidnapped by some fable, folk tale mermaid that we have no proof exists. Even his wife said that the current was high. Right, Gloria?”

Gloria looked up and nodded but anyone could see that she was just agreeing to get out of the chaotic situation.

“It is pointless to search for him in the murky river. Even our best swimmers couldn’t get past ten feet! If his body resurfaces, we will give him a holy burial. If not, we will have his memorial. What we need to do now is to help support Gloria and her family who just lost a loving husband and father.”

Gloria didn’t look the least moved or shaken by this. In fact, I thought I saw her smirk, and chuckle under her breath. The village lawyer adjourned the meeting and we went back to our homes. Everyone was murmuring about what Peter had to say about River Mumma. Everyone, from children to great- grandparents knew it was no fable.

 

The next man to go missing was unsurprisingly, Peter. You see, River Mumma never liked when people deny her existence. It is said to make these spirits fade when people stop believing in them. I had read it in one of my father’s books before he left and never returned from the river himself. It was said that the Greek God Pan of nature, shepherds and nymphs had faded and with his last ounce of life had reached his voice to a sailor, Thamus to let everyone know when he reached Italy that the great God Pan had died. Peter’s bed was found wet to the touch and filled with muddy footprints leading in the direction of the river. His boots and coat were found by the village-people later that morning while some of the swimmers attempted to locate his body.

 

When I saw both Gloria and Peter’s wife a month later. They were riddled with happy faces and eyes skipping hand in hand down the road at night, silently. In public, they played the role of the grieving wife well but I knew they were happy to finally rid themselves of abusive husbands. The village people had stuck long poles into the water in an attempt to lure the River Mumma and men would take shifts in watching the river for any kind of disturbance, to no avail of course. The women, on the other hand, were secretly content as I heard in their women’s meetings in hushed voices and tones for their husbands not to hear their secret thank you to the spirit. The men found no trace of River Mumma, the bodies or as if anything had ever been in the river. It was always silent and eerie, even in the supposed moonlight she was to come, sit by the rocks and comb her hair in.

 

The last man to go was Fredrick, a miner from the village. He had publicly proclaimed his love for her, the River Mumma and after the men had left to the bars at night, he would swim in the river and call out for her. The village people mostly ignored him at that point as they had grown tired of trying to find her and she had slipped back into being a memory in everyone’s minds. Some men still believed they could find her and watched as Fredrick swam naked in the water calling out to her.

“Riverrrrr Mummmma, your darling is here! Come for me, come take me away and let me comb yourrrrr hairrrrr!”

That night, I had slipped out of bed and hid behind the bamboo stalks by the river. The silhouettes of the other men in the shadow of the moonlight. Suddenly, the river began to gurgle and spit, the black water turning a light blue and twirling around in an elegant, slow dance. Fredrick began to scream loudly, flailing his arms and legs in the air as the water began filling his lungs. When it stopped, he sunk into the river slowly, the blue of the magical water still faintly glowing. I stepped forward without realizing and immediately, I was grabbed by the man closest to me and a machete held to my face. The rest of the men stepped out of their hiding places, armed with various tools and instruments. It was silent for a moment then a face popped up out of the water. They were followed by two, three, four, ten more faces and all began laughing. Finally, a woman emerged from the water and sat up-top the rocks. She was glistening in the now glowing blue water of the river and had her eyes fixed on the men who surrounded her. Her jet-black hair did nothing to conceal her vivacious brown breasts, curves and beautiful face that the men began to gawk at.

“We, We- We want back our men! You demon woman!”

“Men, your men? The moment they ‘fell’ into my river. They became mine!” her voice lashed at them, venom in every word she spoke.

The men began to murmur among themselves, terror lacing each one of their eyes. The spirit looked at me and began to smile.

“What do you plan to do with this woman? Throw her into the river as bait?”

The man at the front raised his machete as if to challenge her.

“Yes. We are going to kill her and throw her body into the river River Mumma!”

“River Mumma?”

“Yes! That is what you are!”

“I am not River Mumma”

The men looked perturbed and began murmuring among themselves. The leader of the group raises his machete to her again.

“That’s impossible. You must be her! You have been leading the men to their deaths here. You just took one of them”

“I haven’t stepped out of this river in decades. In fact. I just take what is sent here by the real River Mumma.”

“And who is that?”

The spirit smiled and averted her gaze to me, longingly.

“Why, she’s right there”

Immediately, I burst out laughing. Laughing till tears ran down my cheeks. The man who held on to me immediately dropped his machete. I turned around to the crowd of men and began smiling and then I bowed, as actors and actresses do when they have finished their performance. I jumped into the water; my body enveloped by the blue of the river. A little girl with bubbles and plaits swam up to me, wrapping her hands around my neck as the glowing water began to fade.