If you’re the only son of uptown Kingston parents, then you will have options. You can take Daddy’s Datsun or Mummy’s new ’68 VW and fly past street urchins who sell bag juice and ackee at red lights down Hope Road to pick up Reyha or Sanya or Cherie.
If a Reyha you pick, you will carry she to the drive-in where you can stroke she hair while unoo watch Bond ’pon big screen. Reyha’s family own the bread shop on Barbican Road where she work most afternoons, and you like sniff she hair since it always smell of coco bread or spice bun.
Is Cherie you like slow whine plenty nights down a New Kingston, whether Epiphany or Dizzy. She tease you, you see? Push up hard ’pon you in corners and grind she pelvis into yours before she laugh and push away.
A Sanya you like chat bad word with, so she you take a Hellshire to sit seaside and nyam escovitch snapper and chat bare fuckery till them tell unoo, You no see the sun gone and is time fi move you batty?
If you no careful, life go so carefree, till you daddy say, Time to get serious, boy, and stop all the play-play. Time to get job. Time to be a man.
If him say so, tell him say you wan’ go a foreign fi art school and learn fashion design, and don’ him see how your sketchbook full up with concepts and him can’ see you stylee?
But if you say that, him will answer, Fashion? A my son a si’ down an’ sew panty an’ frock? Wha’ kind of little-gal fantasy that?
But, Daddy, man in Europe study fashion from time, you will tell him.
Me know, him will say. Batty man.
You’ll ask him, How you can be so small mind? You’ll puff up your chest and pace the veranda and wan’ fling him furniture, because him can’ beat you like him did beat you when you were a pickney.
Even he know him can’ discipline you like before, so him say it calm: No bother with no foo-foo art school. If you can’ be serious, you go work for me. And if you can’ do that, you can leff me house.
And it don’ feel then like you have too many options at all.
So you start oversee him construction jobs, though is little you know ’bout how man build house. Mostly, is make sure man show up on time and don’ leave early. Mostly, is hunt worker down at bar after them disappear for lunch. When you run them down, the worker man malice you and call you rich man’ boy, though your daddy’ business not so big that him wealthy.
You don’ like the job, but your father say, Since when man supposed to like job?
But him pay you and let you use him work vehicle and soon after you can afford apartment in Mandeville, and after that you feel large.
If you carry on like before with Reyha and Sanya and Cherie, is Sanya who will come beat down your door and cuss you while Cherie sneak out back. You’ll make promise and beg you a beg for she hand in marriage one time. Is Sanya you love, like you love bread pudding and stew, which is more than you have loved before. You love that when she walk with she brass hand in yours, you can’ tell where yours ends and hers begins. You love that where you see practical solution to the world’ problem, Sanya sees only the way things should be; where you see a beggar boy in Coronation Market, Sanya sees infinite potential.
Most of all, is she smile you fall for. Sanya’ teeth and dimples flawless and you hope she’ll pass this to your pickney, and that them will inherit your light eyes, which your father passed down to you.
Sanya’ tall. You tall to rass.
She quick-tongued, and you passed seven A levels. So your children will be bright.
You only hope them get she teeth.
If you marry she, you will have garden wedding, and you will design your suit and pay tailor to stitch it. You will send out invitation, and it will seem like the whole of Kingston will come celebrate unoo and see how you and Sanya styling. Later, in Mandeville, if you breed she, you’ll make a boy, and it seem your every want must come to pass. You will thank Sanya for the boy, though you know it man give Y chromosome—you no ignorant gully boy. But you thank her still. And though it too early to know whether baby will have she teeth, him have your eyes, so blue them nearly violet, so you quietly grateful she no interfere with that. You will make the boy’ middle name Christopher, after you, even when most people know you as Topper. You will make him first name Delano.
You’ll drive Delano up and down mountainside when him bawl and can’ sleep. And you don’t speed like you did speed when it only your life JA’ potholes threaten so, you drive the car slow-slow. Sanya will sing Delano Irish hymns she grandmother sang she when she was a pickney. And when neither she nor you can hold open your eyes, you will ask Jodie, your helper, to push him stroller ’round the block until him drop asleep.
If the night sounds shift from croaking lizard to machine gun ra-ta-ta-ta, you’ll ask Jodie not to walk with Delano at night.
Your father will blame independence for the way things go, but you’ll say, No, man, is the prime minister and all him socialist fuckery that cause the trouble.
Don’ you voted Manley into office? him will ask you, like is you alone had the one vote.
Fool me once, you’ll admit to him. But me never vote for him in ’76.
Is rumor say that Manley buddy up with Castro, and what him thought, the Yankee them was going let a next island in them backyard turn communist? Rumor say it CIA flood the garrisons with cocaine and make JLP rudeboy war PNP badman with automatic rifle, when just yesterday them could’ve murder each other only with stone and rust blade.
If it just themselves the idiot boys slaughter, won’t nobody care ’bout them buttoo war. Soon shots grow close, though, and is uptown woman them kill in crossfire and police say them can’ chase the boy back in them slums because ghetto youth now outgun policeman. Then the military must get involved.
You daddy call, and you know from how him voice shake the war come show up at him doorstep. Gunman lick down them door and tie up you mummy and daddy, and thief off them money and jewelry and everything. Daddy them pistol-whip and you mummy . . . God knows how them feel her up so, even when she old to rass. But him tell you say it could have gone worse.
How it can go worse? you ask him. But not a month pass before them rape your neighbor and kill her husband in front of she.
The fucker them is all one man in your eyes. No, two man: Seaga’ man and Manley’ man. Though Uncle Sam’ man also tryin’ swing JA’ elections.
From then you send off for U.S. visa and ask your daddy’ brother fi sponsor unoo, since him been in the States for time. Things move fast: your visa come through and you ask your mummy and daddy whether them think you should really go, and them say, Boy, wha’ wrong wi’ you? You can’ see the whole of we island turn into war zone? And, This what we gained independence for? Them say, Better g’wan save yourselves.
Jodie ask can you bring she to the States, but you can’t afford to keep helper now. You tell she you mummy and daddy will take her, since them helper old and soon need help.
You think ’bout a New York, but is Miami you settle, because you visit your uncle Michael in Brooklyn one November, and if the fall can lick off your batty with cold tongue so, you no wan’ know what winter go do.
Is Miami you have your second son. At hospital, when them hand you the boy’ birth record to sign, under him birth year, 1980, in a section marked Race of Father them type Negroid. You tell the nurse, Me learn ’bout Negro, but what is oid? But she don’ bother with you.
You name your second son Trelawny to remind yourself of home. It long enough after you reach that you miss JA bad-bad. You miss walk down a road and pick Julie mango off street side. When you try pick Miami street-side mango, lady come out she house with rifle and shoot your belly and backside with BB. In the back of your Cutler Ridge town house, you start try grow mango tree and ackee tree with any seeds you come by, but no amount of water or fertilizer will get them to sprout.
In spite of him name, Trelawny grow up strange. Foreign. You blame the nursery school teachers where you and Sanya leave him when you go work each morning, where you bring him from him turn six months old. You blame yourself since you can’ afford to let Sanya stay home like when Delano did born. Still, when the boy start talk, you can’ believe it: is a Yankee voice come out. You read and talk to him as much as you can, but the boy no wan’ pick up nothing you say, not like him brother.
Him no say mummy for him first words, him say mom. Him have Sanya’ dark eyes and none of she teeth or dimple. Him grow and soon it pain your ears to hear the boy say water, which him pronounce “wah-der.”
You can’ spend all day talking to the boy. You work twelve-hour shifts on used-car lot, sometimes selling car, most times selling nothing, until the day you take a man out for test drive and him stick him pistol in your gut and drive out all a Everglades and tell you say, Get out and walk, and if you turn around you’re dead.
You walk and walk and wait to die, and when you hear him pull off, you walk some more. You no bother go back a work. Work fi wha’? So them can shot you? If you wanted bullet in your back you could’ve stayed a Kingston.
It four weeks before you admit to Sanya what happened and that you leave the job. In that time, when the house empty, you start sketch landscape from home off memory. You sketch Dunn’s River Falls and Cockpit Country and Fern Gully, and it shaky at first, but then your steady hand return to you. You take a dozen sketches to the weekend flea market down the road and stand up all morning, but don’ nobody wan’ buy no colorless landscape. Them want garish flamingo watercolors like the lady at the next table selling. But you can’t afford paint or canvas, or the time it take to put the two together. And when Sanya start ask where you find time to draw, and how it is your car sales drop from little to zero, you have to tell she the truth.
Sanya look at you cross and say, You think me wouldn’t rather stay home and doodle?
You know she right, but she didn’t have to put it so.
You call your daddy and say you wan’ expand him business into the States. But him say, The business barely holding on since Manley piss off the IMF and make price of everything skyrocket. You say, But, Daddy, don’t Seaga is prime minister now? But all him can say is, Chuh. Still him send you small loan through money wire.
You start basic. You go round and gather up man all a flee JA crime wave and see what all them can do. Is roof you can repair? Unoo know plumbing system? You can fix AC? You use you father’ loan to put out advertisement and soon you start broker deals, send man out on job and collect small fee off it. It don’ pick up straight away, and Sanya make more from she secretary job than you. She bright, so soon she them make office manager, even when no man wan’ woman manage them. Still, your combined income less than what you alone made in Jamaica and it seem you never can catch up back. But if you scrimp and scrounge and keep in luck’ favor, you family can just keep afloat.
If years slip by, Delano will grow athletic and is he the neighborhood boys will wan’ quarterback when them play American football in the street, and him afi quarterback for both teams, or else the boys cry, It no fair. Him start smile with him mummy’ mouth, and you can see how the young girls already crush after him. It seem him can do most anything. Him ask for guitar and lesson, and him pick it up fast-fast. The boy sing out in him bedroom “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” and “Purple Rain,” and play along as he sing. Then him play “Pass the Dutchie” and you know him never learn that from him teacher.
Trelawny no wan’ bother with sports or music. Him take book and you find him hiding in closet with flashlight. When you ask him a question, him twist up him mouth and stare on you blank with him big black eyes. If you say, Answer me nuh, boy, him look ’pon him brother, and if Delano repeat your question, Trelawny finally answer, like him need him brother to translate.
Every day is a next thing. Him start draw on him bedroom walls, and no matter how you threaten him with belt, him can’ stop. Him get As in class but can’ figure out how to tie him shoe, so him sneakers must have Velcro. You tell Sanya, Something wrong with the boy, but she tell you, Be patient. At him school open house, Trelawny’ teacher say she wan’ put him in t’ing called Gifted. You say, Wha’ that, special ed? She say is for advanced children so him don’t get bored, but you tell her, Teach him to tie him shoe, then we can talk.
Then him start shit him pants, even when he long past potty training.
If you take him for doctor visit, the pediatrician will come out the examination and say Trelawny have anxiety. What him have to be anxious about? Him no pay bills. Doctor say, Just give him time.
Then Hurricane Gilbert come mash up Jamaica, and you can think ’bout nothing but how the people back home devastated. You can’ get through to your parents, and the news say hundreds dead across the Caribbean. You call everyone you can think of in Jamaica to see whether them can check on your mummy and daddy, but don’ nobody phone work. The feeling you get is that everybody’ dead. And you never should have left them behind.
You sit Delano and Trelawny down for breakfast the next morning and try teach them them culture to make sure it survive. The tropical market on Colonial start carry canned ackee and green banana and salt cod, so you cook the boys ackee and saltfish and try explain why it Jamaica’ national dish. You see this here, you say. The ackee grow in a pod and it must open on it own or else the ackee poison you. You point to the picture on the can, so them can see how it grow, and it remind you that you never eat ackee out of no can before. You tell them, Enslaved Jamaicans used it to kill off slave driver and free themselves to the mountains. But you don’t know if them legends true.
Delano say, I remember Jodie used to cook it for us.
Trelawny say, It looks like scrambled eggs.
You think me would stand up a two hour and cook the thing if it only taste like scrambled eggs?
It better than eggs, Delano say, but when Trelawny taste it, him spit it out and say, Eew. How him can say eew?
Then your father call and say everything okay. Mostly it man who live in zinc house and homeless who live in the gullies that dead. Man and them children. Him say it just as well, since the people in the garrisons so ignorant, them don’ bother get prenatal care, then wonder why them baby come out malnourished or deformed. You say, Daddy, when you ever set foot in a tenement yard to know poor people business? And him suck him teeth like him done with you.
Him say, Send what you can, so you go buy canned food and baby formula and get the boys to help gather up them old clothes to send. You can’ help hoping it only bad-mind people the storm kill off—the ones who wrecked the island with them violence—so JA can return to how it was in your youth. But you know it never go so. It always innocent randomness choose to kill.
Work pick up, because now it seem you know everybody that gone and flee Jamaica. If not gunman, is Gilbert send them here. South Dade start fill up with Yardies, and if you hang out where them hang out, you get job, since them no wan’ bother with the Spanish man who them can’ understand or the white man who can’ understand them, even when all three speak a English.
But Sanya no wan’ see you hang out. She wan’ see you home.
She start malice you and say, If a work you go work, is how you smell like overproof? Is how you come home two in the morning? She don’ understand it through socialize you get job. It seem like one long fight you’re locked in.
Then Jodie call one day and you say, Jodie, if you go call long distance me know someone de go dead.
But you never guess she would’ve say is both. You know is gunman finally kill off you mummy and daddy, and you never should have left them there, but Jodie say it car accident kill them.
You call Uncle Michael in New York and tell him say is time fi go home. You both fly back straightaway to arrange funeral and when you go to collect them body, the policeman on duty have your daddy lay out on the gravel, baking in the rhatid heat.
Your uncle say to the copper, How you can have him on the ground like dog? And him say, Please, please treat him with dignity. All from him breasts to him belly a tremble with rage.
The copper say, Morgue full up. There’s no place else me can put the t’ing.
Uncle Michael cry, T’ing? T’ing? And him start bawl. Is then you know the man turn soft in a New York.
You tell the copper, Hear me nuh, boy. Take out a next corpse and bring my father inside until the undertaker reach. You can cuss and talk ’bout what him muma fi do and say duppy de go haunt him for disrespect the dead so, but you know it the twenty dollars U.S. that make the man do what you say.
Him and him partner lift your father inside and dump out a next corpse on the roadside with the others.
Only a Kingston have more dead than morgue, you tell your uncle. You tell him, You forget how things work down here? You say, That no Daddy, you know? Daddy gone.
But all him can do is cry.
At funeral, crowds come from so far as Negril, which take longer to reach from than Miami and maybe even New York. Even Reyha come to the repast and squeeze your hand when she think Sanya no look, and you resist sniff she hair to see whether she still smell of spice bun because Sanya always a look.
Is not till after funeral—after weeks sorting your parents’ affairs and after schoolboy show up at your daddy’ door and hand you him grade sheet and say your daddy promised to pay him tuition if him do well, and you tell him your daddy dead, and the boy start cry, like is he fate dealt the harshest lick, so you write out check to the academy, and after you slip under the white rum one mournful evening and let Jodie crawl ’pon your lap and start ride your cocky while unoo bawl ’bout how your mummy and daddy gone, and after you return a Miami—that Sanya say, Things must change now.
How you can say so, you ask her, when me parents dead a three week?
She say, Me no wan’ dead before you decide to come home at night.
But you no ready fi hear that. You rather sleep ’pon sofa. You rather things were the way they were in Mandeville, when you could take care of she and Delano, and she no worry so much ’bout where man supposed to be. You wish for some way to go back, but if a Kingston you stayed, your parents still would’ve dead. If a Kingston you stayed, you could’ve dead long time.
And you don’ wan’ admit you start get used to American convenience, too much to go back. But you know Sanya’ right, something must change.
Then Hurricane Andrew hit and everything change.
House roof tear off and you all must cram up in apartment in Fort Lauderdale. And for a month or so, it seems you and Sanya must come together and make up. But with everyone house blow down, and fema start hand out check, is more work than all the years you’ve been here combined. You start recruit man from Miramar where must have more Yardman than all South Dade’ neighborhood combined. And you’re on the road from dawn till deep night getting man working. Sanya stop complain because she know people need them house fix. And she know is like gold rush how the jobs come in. And even she get a next promotion at work, so in all the destruction unoo find your silver lining.
It nearly a year before your house can fix because you’re so busy a make money, you only can fix your house part time. One day, you’re back down a Miami and it late and you decide to stop by the Fence where all the Yardies start reconvene, even when the house next door still have blue tarp for roof. You sip ’pon your white rum when you feel tug from behind and you turn and see Cherie, still look the same like she travel through time. She hug you up and say how she sorry to learn ’bout your mummy and daddy. She tell you how she move up here when she house get destroy in Gilbert. You say, Boy, seem like storm knock we back into each other’ arms. But you no mean nothing by it.
If she hear song she say is she favorite, she’ll take your hand and pull you to the dance floor. She start grind she pelvis into yours and you feel you’re a young man again. But after three or four dance your legs start to ache and you know it time to put an end to the reunion. You know there’s no returning to youth. You kiss Cherie’ cheek and when you think she going beg you fi stay, she give small wave and start dance with a next man.
The drive back long, and when you reach, Sanya is up, waiting on the couch, like she have a sixth sense for Cherie alone. Wha’ you a go do? she start yell. Wha’ you go do? And is phone she have in she lap. Is just dance, you start say, when you’re sure is a suss suss business get back to she, but she say, Jodie call. She say, She call and the boy have your eyes.
If Sanya throw the phone you won’t bother block it. The handset clip your forehead and leave gash that later scar because you never get stitch. You deserve the scar and much worse. Especially since the vexation mark Sanya with white streak through she hair that show up overnight.
You sleep with she the whole time? Sanya want to know. And you knew she would think that, if she ever find out, even when you never look ’pon the girl Jodie before the funeral. And you can see it in Sanya’ eyes that suspicion and hurt start flood all she memories. Now everything sour, down to the root.
And you beg her. You tell her is Jodie take advantage of you in your weakened state. And of course you never touch the girl when Sanya was pregnant with Delano, even in the time you and Sanya stop having sex.
Sanya smile when she say, I believe you. And you go in to hold her and she box your face, even as blood leak from your forehead into your eyes. I believe you will regret this for the rest of your life, she say. And you know she mean it with that demented smile. And you hate yourself for taking away part of she and replacing it with disfiguration. And more than that, you hate that she is right.
If you go see the boy, it will be late summer. Jodie’ family called and called to tell you say you must come see your baby, but them never let you talk to Jodie and so you wan’ ask if there’s a baby fi true, or if this a kidnap scheme. But you no wan’ put that idea in them head.
Still, you fly down a Kingston alone, since your shame won’t let you bring witness. You hire car and drive to a shantytown buried in the mountains, halfway to Spanish Town. She cousin call the last time to say the baby sick, and is him give you directions, since where she live now don’t have phone, and when you pull off highway and start drive down dirt path and see shacks made of lean-to zinc, you can see don’ nobody here have phone. The shantytown walled in, like this a housing scheme, and you wonder whether it have name like Tel Aviv or Jungle or anything that signal man like you should not be here. Man who maybe should be here guarding the entrance and him tell you, you better park and walk in.
You made sure to leave home everything valuable, because you hear stories that things so bad now in JA that man hand get chop off with cutlass because thief want him wristwatch and don’t bother asking. The cash you brought over you hide in your sock.
You approach the guard and him say, White man, you ’ave business ’ere?
You almost laugh, but say, Is me you think is white man? And him say, You the whitest man me ever see, and him no say it with humor.
You say you’re there to see Jodie and the man wrap him arm around you and show big teeth and say, Cousin! You know him not the same man you spoke with on the phone, because this man say a whole heap of words now, and you can’ understand half of it, because you never hear a bush patwah like that. You wonder whether everyone in this shantytown is Jodie’ cousin.
Him start walking you inside and telling you how beautiful the baby you make is, but all you can think ’bout is how it good your mummy and daddy never lived to see this. More than that, you think ’bout how you break Sanya’ heart. And about how she make you choose between Delano and Trelawny to take back to the house you finally rebuild and how she say she will never set foot inside that house again. You told her you don’ wan’ take either son from she and she say, You think I go let you walk away from your responsibilities? Like that your plan the whole time. She say, You will take Delano, because me don’ trust you with Trelawny. And you can’ deny you felt small bit of relief.
Jodie cousin walk you past a group of barefoot pickney kick soda bottle back and forth between them and woman who all a carry bucket of water on them head, and when you peek in the gaps in them lean-up tin walls, and see is all one room and no plumbing or bathroom, you wan’ shout, But how people can live so?
You know then that you must take Jodie and the baby back with you, because no boy of yours can grow up in such circumstance—if the baby truly yours.
The man who say him Jodie’ cousin walk you into a rusted hovel and there you find Jodie sit down on a blanket on the dirt and hold a baby in she arms, and when she see you, she look up and smile. But the smile demented, like how Sanya smile the night she find out, and you never realize till now is a second woman you mutilate.
You kneel down next to she and when she hand you the baby, is two things you see: Him have your eyes, fi true, so him must be yours. And that the baby dead from time. Jodie cousin stand up at the entryway and menace you with him big teeth and say, You just miss him. You hand the baby to Jodie and untuck the bundle of cash you hiding in your sock and leave it in Jodie’ lap. Then you go back to the car and drive straight to the airport, certain them could no drag you back to this godforsaken island again.
If you’re a man who utterly failed his child, you can either lie down to join him in death, or you can do more for those remaining. If the latter you choose, the first thing you can do is call your wife and beg she to take you back. You can leave message on she answering machine and explain there’s no more reason you must be apart, and if it embarrass she feel, no one up a stateside has to know. At least, no one has to talk about it.
But if you do this, man will show up at your door early one morning, and when you answer him, Yes, I’m Topper, him will smile and hand you a manila envelope and say, You’ve been served.
It Trelawny you start worry after, because even when Delano don’t do too well in school, him is a boy who will make something out of nothing. The day him graduate, Delano start him own landscape business and have man your age working under him. But when you pick up Trelawny from Sanya’ new house in West Miami, the boy can’ hold nobody eye when him talk. And him barely talk, like him ’fraid of his own voice. Him dress up in baggy clothes and hoodie, like him hiding, even when it summer.
You stop bring him down to your house, because the first time you see how it hurt him to watch him brother and you living where him once had a proper family. It loss him feel, but you wonder whether it also envy of him brother. You take Trelawny out to eat instead, every few weeks.
And every few weeks him seem to change who him trying to be. First, is only tegareg rap music beat out his headphones. Then it booguyaga dancehall. When you ask how it only ghetto music him listen to, him say him wan’ connect with him people. You say, Boy, them buttoo singer not your people. You think your grandfather would let them type of man on him veranda?
But Trelawny say him don’ remember him grandfather too well.
If you buy two acres of land in Palmetto Bay and start make plans to build new house, you’ll try involving the boy. You sketch design of what the house could be, and it good to feel your hand drawing over paper after so long. You try show Trelawny your mock-up and where him room might be when he visit, but him no bother pay much attention and stare out restaurant window instead. You know him resent you for the divorce, and you wonder what ideas him mother put in him head. You almost tell him it Sanya split up your family and make you choose Delano over him, but you don’t want to have to explain the reasons why.
When the construction soon start, you ask Trelawny if him wan’ help, the way Delano helped rebuild the Cutler Ridge town house, but him say, How much does that pay?
You tell him you’re trying to teach him something, but him say, I already learned Lincoln freed the slaves. Him add, Maybe Delano should have paid more attention in school.
The boy think him smart, you see?
Back home, you ask Delano why him brother must be so cantankerous.
Delano say, We all have to be what we have to be.
You ask, Who told you that? And when him shrug you say, Unoo go soon learn, if you wan’ make it in this world, you best be better than that.
One day, while you and Trelawny out at lunch, Delano page you and say him have surprise, and you’re to meet him at the construction site in Palmetto Bay. When the two of you reach, you see is full-grown ackee tree Delano have him crew transplant in the backyard. Him say man in Coconut Grove paid them to chop it down, but him save it and bring it here instead. Them had to get tractor and trailer and permit to transport the thing, and if you have any luck at all, the tree should survive and start bear fruit in a year or so. Your eye start water and you see how it not everything lost after all; you see your legacy can grow, even in a foreign soil.
You thank Delano with handshake, and out the corner of your eye, you see Trelawny look bewildered, like him don’t get the significance, like him don’ understand why him brother would bother.
When he finally take himself away to university, you hope Trelawny will meet people like him, people who find them worth in books. Sensitive people. Him think him is hard, since him put off college for several years to work warehouse job. But when you suggest that him throw out him wardrobe and buy proper clothes when he arrives in the North, suggest that he’s old enough to stop wear clown clothes, Trelawny look like him wan’ cry. How him can upset so easy? Miami too rough, too much like home for the boy. You don’t see how him can survive here, where man always try test you, and always try get over. So you’re glad when him leave for someplace he can find his true self.
But when him graduate, Trelawny move back.
You ask him, What you go do now? But him only shrug and stick him hands in him pockets and say him go figure it out. But you no see him figure nothing. Only him hide in the room you give him in your new house. Only him sit down ’pon him computer and do God knows. Seem like university only make the boy less fit for work.
This is how it’s done now, Trelawny tell you. You apply online. No one wants me showing up in their lobby, reeking of desperation, him say. No one will hire me if they suspect I need a job.
But what kind of backward thinking that? You tell Trelawny to check his brother for work, but him say, You think I got my B.A. so I could start mowing lawns?
It just as well because Delano’ tree service struggling through 2009 recession. And now Delano have wife and pickney of his own, so him can’ carry his brother. And your business grind to a halt, so it better you just retire from now.
Anyway, you can’ tell Trelawny nothing. Him think them teach him everything up North and the whole of Miami is ignorant. When him reach back, you tell him that with all the job loss him better stay away from certain neighborhood, and the boy say, There’s no such thing as a bad neighborhood, and it’s systemic racism and white-collar greed cause the crime—like him knowing the source can stop bullet; like him will sit down with robber and explain to him ’bout subprime mortgage and school-to-prison pipeline.
Even if things tight, you’ll decide to hold retirement party, since you reach the age where all your friends start die off, and you wan’ show people the house while there’s still people left to show. Plus you start feel you no have too many ifs ahead, only bleak certainties.
Your house finally finish the way you want, with in-ground pool and bar and more fruit trees flanking your ackee tree, lining the backyard perimeter. It the house you always dream ’bout and a part of you sad Sanya will never see it, since she still hate your guts after all these years.
She called before Trelawny graduate and told you how she was moving back to Kingston. You said, Sanya, you crazy?
But she say, Just look after the boy, nuh.
And the boy Trelawny back not a two week and him say him going invite up him friend from JA—girl he meet when him spend him summer break in Kingston.
You think, Careful she not after you for green card, but it not nice to say those things. Instead, you ask the boy where him did apply today, and him admit him no apply for job today at all. Instead, him say him applied for a grant to go live in Jamaica for a year and do research.
You must wan’ study how to get your brains blown out, you tell him.
Him say next him go apply for Jamaican passport.
You say, Boy, is a death wish you and your mother share?
But the boy just turn back to him laptop like you not there speaking.
The night of the party, you make Trelawny help set up tiki torch poolside and get the yard trim up nice, and you get caterer to set up buffet in the backyard, and have them serve a jerk pork and ’bout three sets of curry. You put out old table, so man don’t brukup your good dining table with them dominoes. You drape lights from the roof of the pool deck and turn pool light on, so everything glow, even when you know none of your friends wan’ take off them shirt and frock to get in no pool at night.
The ackee tree bearing fruit now and some of the ackee pods start open, so you buy salt cod to pair with it for breakfast the next morning. The invite list long and even Uncle Michael fly down from New York and you can’ believe how him get mawga and him tell you him can’t believe how you get old.
Delano come with Shelly-Anne and them two boys, and when Shelly ask whether you wan’ hold the baby, you say no, because both him boys get your father’ eyes and you think ’bout Jodie’ baby and feel haunted.
Delano get him band to set up on the patio and play roots music and them bring all the young people, and all your old crowd from the Fence come through. Even Cherie show up eventually, but she don’t want nothing to do with you, besides be friends.
Trelawny’ girlfriend Zoë show up, too, and you can’ believe how the girl gorgeous, like girl you would’ve date in your day. And Trelawny stand up straight and tall like you never see him stand up. And him finally wearing clothes that fit properly. Still, you don’ want to admit you wonder what she can see in him. But maybe she see something you can’t.
The party go on late and man start in on the white rum and maybe you take down too much, because Trelawny start look ’pon you sideways. But the boy always look at you sideways, so you don’ know. In the kitchen, you start talk politics back home with Zoë, but Trelawny keep interrupt. Trelawny say Manley had the right idea, wanting to spread wealth to the poor people.
You tell him, Boy, is Manley mash up the country. Equal parts he and your CIA.
Then we should have stayed to defend it, the boy tell you, like he was there.
If we stayed, you wouldn’t be alive, you tell him, I can promise you that.
Then how come Zoë is here? he asks you. And him laugh. Her family stayed. They turned out fine. More than fine.
Zoë nod, but you can tell she’ uncomfortable.
You don’ wan’ say it, but ask her, Is how much bar your windows have? How much guard dog in your yard? You can walk down your street and feel safe?
She say, Me have car, me no need to walk nowhere, and she laugh, too.
You tell Trelawny, Pickney who grow up in a hellhole can’t know the difference.
Zoë start say, It have its problems, but—
Trelawny cut she off and say, I was just there and it’s better than this.
Better than what? you wan’ know.
This . . . second-class citizenship, him say. And you don’t know what rubbish the boy talking now.
What them teach you at school? you ask. Only self-pity?
Him say, You and Mom never should have left.
And that really make you vexed, so you say, Look here. Don’ tell me ’bout my business when you never lived through it. Talk ’bout Yankee business. No bother talk to me ’bout Jamaica. Don’t care what them showed you on vacation. You spend three week in JA and you think that make you more than tourist?
Him shrug and look ’round with him eyes low, like him embarrass, but you go on: Boy soft like you never could have make it. Boy who can’ take get him hands dirty. Your brother maybe, but you wouldn’t last a day. Soft boy like you would’ve dead long time. So just be grateful we left. Even if our leaving what make you turn out so . . . And you know you must stop talk, but you add the word you been thinking ever since him reach back a Miami, and long before him left . . . defective.
And you know from everyone face you take it too far. Trelawny won’t even look at you, but him head nod slow-slow. Uncle Michael looking at you disappointed and Shelly start carry she pickney away. You think him might need air, so you say, Trelawny, do me a favor, go take down some ackee for me, nuh, so I can make it for breakfast. And him nod still and you can’ be sure he even hear, but then him stand up and walk out back. Make sure it the open ackee only, you yell after him, because you can’ tell if the boy remember anything you taught him from him was a child.
You try smile with Zoë, but she look to the front door like she wondering how she can get home. You start get up and Uncle Michael say, You don’t have to give the boy such a hard time, you know. But him them already turn soft, so you no bother with the old man.
You go out to the patio and wonder why everyone is turned around in them chairs, peering off into the dark, but then you hear it: loud grunt and dull thud. And you see Trelawny’ silhouette under the ackee tree, all with ax in him hands. And him talking to himself now. And him swinging the ax.
And you start after him, but Delano grab your wrist and shake him head and hold you back. And is then you know it serious. And you think how Sanya’ right, you regret everything. And you wonder if it’s you must be defective since you ruin everyone.
And you know the boy ruin, because is same words him repeating like warped 45:
I’ll chop down your tree.
I’ll chop down your tree.
I’ll chop down your fucking tree.