Remonstrating with granny was pointless.
She caught us with our pants down. Way down.
Like myrmidons under Achilles’s command, we walked our bikes single file behind her all the way home but we all knew this late attempt to tread within the confines of her command was tantamount to reaching. Our sudden obedience would add nothing to the case to exonerate our diametric opposition to her edicts. She might as well be Nantez.
We stood erect and as usual, pretended to take copious notes from the upbraiding she had no choice but to deliver. A monologue, attributing to the interminable list of reasons for steering clear of ‘cass cass’ and people’s business, was her segway into the announcement of the latest development.
Traditionally, my little sister spent her summers with the other side of the family in Mandeville, where cousins closer to her age, roamed the verdant plains of the country side with reckless abandon. For reasons I constantly forgot to investigate, she no longer enjoyed the salubrious town and was shipped south of the parish to join our entourage. Amused we were not.
I was burdened with the idea of my appointment – by default – to the position of shepherd. Once she arrived, I was cajoled to assume a secret- service-like persona, dodging bullets on her behalf as she consistently provoked the ire of every other person with her intrusive and precocious questions.
“Why are you making excuses for her?” the village gossip asked. “She should know better than to ask someone how much their ‘boasen’ weigh?” That the entire community openly guessed the poundage of the shoemaker’s protruding, overgrown inguinal hernia was not relevant.
“You Kingston pickneys too ups and outa order.”
By the time I decided it best to allow my sister to bear her own ten year old cross, it was too late. My sheltering her from the consequences of her inquiries only whetted her interviewing skills. The cusp of the patience of those who had a glimpse of her inquisitive mind truckled under her probing. She quickly claimed the tag of chatterbox and within three days of her arrival, she was the callow, ‘faas pickney from town.’
A quick scan of granny’s grocery list harvested a barrage of the five w’s and h.
“Is Betty short for Elizabeth?”
“Does she condense the milk herself?”
“Why don’t we buy the whole loaf?”
“What is that?”
Unlike her, my only concern was awakening granny’s wrath by taking home little gilla instead.
Granny joined my not so secret service to protect her from the fireball of fury that propelled the shopkeeper’s kvetching only minutes after my sister brazenly asked if he planned to extract his obvious, rotten teeth any time soon.
“Kadene Bradshaw, kibba your mout,” my granny ordered, purposely in the earshot of the shop-keeper, who was appeased by her treatment as a hostile witness. My granny and I chortled incessantly once we disappeared from the shopkeeper’s sight. My sister was riddled with confusion.
On our way from the grocery shop we spotted Lief sitting on the fence by the two hundred year old Anglican church that was the icon of the community square. I stepped slightly behind granny to wave for his attention, but Lief was too enthralled in a lyrics contest with about a dozen other boys to note his approaching quietus. We were just in time to witness his turn to throw suggestive raillery in the vicinity of Victoria Myers, who wore the label of the ‘stooshy.’
“Pretty girl…I want you to be my submarine…we are seamen and would like you to take us to the deep, dark, wet unknown.” The dog pound erupted into cheers and jocund high fives.
“Idlers always end up in prison,” retorted the décolleté-defined bank teller.
“I will go to Sing -Sing for that pum pum,” Lief returned.
Before she could act upon the disgust that took domicile on her face, my granny vindicated Victoria’s honour. She agreed with the prison bit and flicked Lief’s forehead to help him absorb the message in his ‘board head.’ “Why must you siddung pon payza and trouble people?”
“She means plaza,” I quickly explained to my sister before she interrupted granny’s hortative ranting to which Lief stood at keen attention.
Our leisure calendar drastically changed once my grandfather got wind of the story. My uncle was recruited to help my granny control ‘di bad pickney dem.’ Thereafter, every Saturday morning, the eight of us – we developed acute amnesic tendencies and forgot to lug my sister along every single time – populated my uncles red dinghy that transported us to a tiny island three miles or so offshore, called Booby Quay. Although the name of the land-locked inlet was derived from its abounding, freckled, bird eggs also of this nomenclature, Tex and Lief convinced the other boys with their own version, adventitious with inferences from the female anatomy.
We raided dozens of nests for the biggest eggs after my uncle helped to perfect our back crawl.
The water there was brackish and warm and apparently infused with a relief solution for stubbed toes, colds, and ‘cocos’ that emerged at bamboo growing speed when our foreheads were introduced to hurling rocks and other missiles that characterized guinep fights.
Our fainéant, obese dog, Lion, despised water. Just a trickle on his face was the only crow-bar that motivated him to release the door mat from his embrace. But the lagoon-like catchment on the quay was Lion’s aquarium, partly out of necessity. My uncle diabolically displayed his lack of fancy for our canine friend by tossing him overboard against meandering waves in mid stream. “Don’t allow that mutt in my boat,” he shouted. Lion swam breathlessly behind us and when he kept pace with the engine that squealed like a budget hotel hairdryer, my uncle accelerated leaving his bête noir in the torrent. We revolted against uncle’s unkind hectoring, but his justification remained unchanged. “Let him exercise his fat behind!”
Underscored by his mission to keep Lief from faring the exigencies of incarceration, my grandfather added another dimension to our activity agenda when one ordinary Thursday evening, he gave us two rifles. We were now part of his bird bush team. We wished Lief would get into more trouble.
Kelly-Ann and my sister were not invited. Kadene by virtue of her age and Kelly-Ann, my grandfather declared, should not venture near a picture of ammunition of any kind, let alone shoot at birds when human beings happened to be on the same planet with her. She threw a conniption fit after a pertinacious but futile plea to prove calumny. When she was calm, my grandfather reminded her of the time she tested the velocity of the fan blade with her right pinkie. Just in case the thought of labeling grandfather’s verdict unfair entered her mind, my granny delved further into the history of my maladroit cousin. Kelly-Ann proved the nine life legend a myth when she ran her bike as many times over Shakespeare, my foundling kitten. Up to the day of Shakespeare’s burial, Kelly-Ann could not fathom why no-one had tested this theory before.
Raquel is a Communications Consultant/Writer living in Toronto