Georgia’s Fantastic Journeys

Georgia’s Fantastic Journeys

Georgia was wearing her best dress, a striped pink pinafore with a lace-trimmed organza apron.  Her thick wooly hair was piled on top of her head and pink organza rose-buds held together with satin ribbons were threaded through her hair.  She wore Mary Jane shoes with white stockings, and her palms were sweaty as she nervously held on to her shiny little patent leather purse which carried her hanky, lip-balm and a few grubby dollar bills.  Georgia felt like a princess – like the luckiest girl in the world.  Who would have thought that she would be having tea at the palace?

Georgia felt a little like Cinderella and her heart soared with joy as she watched the grand procession inch forward in the receiving line.  Gloved ladies wore fantastic wide-brimmed hats and precariously perched fascinators, in red, blue and green and all colors in between.  They waited nervously as the line inched forward slowly.  Georgia wanted to pinch herself.  She was happy to have arrived early and among the first to meet the queen and her consort.  Because of this she had time to wander around under the huge tent erected for the occasion, and further off among the beautifully kept flower beds and the pond filled with colorful fishes, ducks and other wildlife.

Georgia was hungry, but the food appeared so beautiful, so grand, it seemed a sin to eat.   Ribbon sandwiches, rainbow cookies, fruit tarts, cakes of all shapes and sizes, fresh bread, jams, jellies, fruit platters, Crudités platters, all kinds of cheeses and varieties of butter – it was a uniform explosion of color that Georgia had only read about in story books.

 Her wandering eyes caught the fruit sculptures.  Watermelons and cantaloupes carved with intricate designs depicted various figures from Greek Mythology.  She recognized Zeus, Aphrodite and Athena; the others she couldn’t quite remember who they were. 

Georgia wandered around as the nattily dressed orchestra played classical pieces.  Above the music was the constant chatter of the aristocracy as they greeted each other shared juicy gossip and snide remarks at common enemies.  No one noticed her, although some man resembling her mother’s boyfriend Alan was following her around.  She could quite see his face, but she recognized his smell.  She was not afraid of him; let him tail her if he liked.   Someday, she was going to tell her mother what he was doing when she wasn’t home.

Georgia watched the ladies-in-waiting very closely as they ate.  Daintily, they first slathered butter and then jam on a strange pastry she heard them call a scone.  There were oh’s and awes as they nibbled conscious of expanding waistlines.  She didn’t remember having heard of a scone before; it was not on the list of items at the local bakery; however, she selected one from the high-piled crystal tray perched on one of the rows of tables.  Following the women’s lead, she first slathered butter, then jam, on the pastry. The delicious flavor of the soft, still warm scone exploded in her mouth and she smacked her lips with delight. It was sheer good fortune that she was there; If only her mother could come too, but she spent so many hours at work these days.  Her mother!   My goodness!

Georgia returned to reality with a start.  She squeezed her eyelids shut willing herself back into the Palace’s Rose garden, even just to finish her food.  But it was not to be.  She was back in her mother’s bed.  The sheets smelled like a weird combination of her mother’s cheap perfume and the herbal shampoo she washed her stringy brown hair with.  Alan was no longer in the room. She didn’t even notice when he left, but the chill on her bare skin as darkness fell over the town reminded her she needed to put her clothes on. 

She was so hungry.  She was always hungry, that brute Alan always made himself humongous sandwiches which he never offered to share.  Of the long string of men coming and going out of this house, Alan stuck around the longest.  The others were no trouble; they just came and went.  But this ghoul had taken a sick interest in her. Georgia wished he’d just disappear.  He was a grumpy and obnoxious creature who had this weird odor – much like a combination of evil, bad cologne, cheap beer and sweat.  Didn’t he ever take a shower?

Georgia’s mother, Dian, worked the cash register at the nearby farmer’s market.  Her mom liked it there and most evenings brought home left over cut fruit, deli meat and day old bread.  By the time her mom came home, Georgia was so hungry; it made her head light.  Dian often asked Alan why he hadn’t fed her, he never gave and answer and she never pressed for one.   

Thank goodness her mother would be home soon.  At least she would make her something to eat. Dinner would fill that hole in her stomach that made her constantly hungry. 

Georgia hated Alan with all her might, she kept out of his way for the most part, but he always sought her out after he watched those tapes.  She never knew what they were about, but she could tell from all the weird sounds people in the movie were making and the grunting sounds he made as he watched.  She wished she didn’t have to relive the terror she felt each day when Alan dragged her from her room. Her heart pounded as she heard him come down the long passage to her lockless door. Here we go again.

Alan knew what he was doing was wrong, but he couldn’t stop.  He’d been at it for a year already and so far he hadn’t been caught.  If the little lass didn’t tell anybody yet, then it is likely she would never speak of it.  “I’ll kill you and you stupid mama if you ever speak of this,” he’d told her over and over.  Georgia knew better than to say anything.

He liked Dian a little, but it was the shy dark-eyed little bitty of a girl that got his attention.  She was so quiet, not talkative like his sister’s twin daughters, constantly yapping about Hannah Montana, Disney Princesses and stuff.  He’d never touch them, because he knew they’d scream like a banshee.  Not Georgia; she was perfect.  She went stiff and cold, almost as if she was in a trance when he laid her on her mother’s bed each day.

Dian heard from Georgia’s father two times a year at most.  He always called on Christmas day and on her daughter’s birthday.  He had re-married and his new wife bore him two other kids; she didn’t care – as long as the checks came every month.  The child was a minor nuisance, always skulking around; always reading some dumb book.  Thank God for Alan, he didn’t seem that passionate about her, but as long as he continued to volunteer to watch the little bugger, then he could stick around.  That’s all he was good for anyway, plus he paid most of the rent each month.  He seemed to like the kid, always buying her ‘them’ dumb books about princesses too.

Despite being annoyed by her daughter’s mousy look and skittish behavior, Georgia was all Dian had.  A deadly tornado has swooped through the tiny Midwest town where her parents lived and killed four members of her immediate family.  The rest, she was never close to, so everything she did, was for the benefit of Georgia.  She only wished that she could do more.

Georgia attended the nearby public school.  She was unremarkable and did her best not to attract attention.  She wasn’t a particularly great student as she spent the entire school day going on fantastic voyages to exotic locales.  In addition to Disney World, she had been to Buckingham Palace; her trip to Washington DC took her to the Whitehouse and the National Air and Space Museum where she was accidentally locked in for hours.  That happened shortly after she watched a Night at the Museum on TV.  She had been to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, beaches in Hawaii and the Bahamas; she’d also been skydiving and deep sea fishing.

For the most part, Georgia had no idea what her teacher was talking about.  She was only able to focus for a minute or two when she was called on to answer a question which she never ever know the answer, how could she?  She was physically in the classroom, but her mind was a million miles away.  She drifted from lesson to lesson, half listening, half awake, and always dreaming.

Miss Dillon didn’t know what to make of the untidy little girl sitting near the door.  At first she believed the child couldn’t read, however, putting her theory to the test proved her wrong.  She was a good reader; her reading style was great too, except she tended to jump over commas, colons and periods. Why was she going so fast?  She was only seven years old, “she’ll learn as she gets older,” Miss Dillon thought.  At least her essays were fascinating to read, the last one on her visit to Walt Disney World was vividly and imaginatively written, and you couldn’t help being transported there while you read.

How did this quiet child end up with writing these stories? Miss Dillon thought when she read the latest saga from Georgia – The Queens Garden Party.  As far as she knew, this child had not left the United States recently. How could this reserved little seven-year-old baby write with such imagery and minute detail about a place she’d never been to?  Quite unusual.

Just before lunch break on Wednesday, Miss Dillon asked Georgia to have lunch with her.  Georgia was nervous.  What had she done now?  Georgia warmed up to Miss Dillon as she shared a most delicious and filling lunch with her.  She spoke animatedly about her visit to the palace, describing the things that she saw and did.  “They had this brown thing they called a scone and I eat it with jam and butter – at the same time,” she smiled and “I thought it was gonna taste bad.  But it was really, really good, and…and…” the little girl went quite, her eyes wide with terror as she remembered her abrupt trip back to reality.  “And what” prompted Miss Dillon. 

“And, and I was cold and I had to put my dress back on before my mother came home,” Georgia squeaked.

Miss Dillon was a young teacher who had hopes of someday becoming principal.  She was astute, well liked by the faculty and most of the students.  Some of her kids didn’t care for her as they believe she was too much of a disciplinarian.   Overall, Miss Dillon was the right kind of caring coupled with genuine hope and concern for the future of her charges.

It took all of the teacher’s willpower not to run immediately to the principal.  She didn’t want to further frighten the child.  Besides, what would she tell the principal?  She best thread lightly on this one

The wheels in her mind turned faster and faster; just how was she going to handle this.  Georgia needed her help and by Jove she was going to help her.  Whoever was creating a nightmare in this child’s life was going to pay if she had anything to do with it.

Miss Dillon took several deep breaths to calm her racing heart.  As her heart slowed, reason returned and she smiled at Georgia who was rapidly stuffing her face with food.  “Who so you live with?” she asked the little girl.  “Oh, I live with my mother, we’re divorced,” Georgia piped up.  “Is she at home now?” Miss Dillon prodded, “O course not!  She’s the cashier at that Farmer’s market on Main Street; do you know it?”   “Sure do;” said Miss Dillon, I just love getting my fresh fruits and vegetable there.  It’s lovely there and I know most of the cashiers, which one is your mother?”

The terror of reliving her nightmare behind her, Georgia continued gorging on the food Miss Dillon provided as they chatted.  “My mom’s Dian, no ‘e,’ she loves working there too, sometimes she brings me fruit and sandwiches from work.” 

“I’ve known a few Dianes but never one without an ‘e’ in the name,” Miss Dillon said laughingly, “I should say hi to her next time I go to the farmer’s market.” Georgia smiled at her teacher, “It’s unusual isn’t it?  Mom says it’s because she’s unusual too,” Georgia quipped.

The bell to signal the end of the lunch period startled them both, and as they cleared they table together Miss Dillon said’  “So, wanna have lunch with me again tomorrow?”  “Georgia’s eyes lit up, “Sure would, this lunch is the ‘bestest’ ever!”

Parking was quite a drag and it took 27 minutes for Miss Dillon to find a parking spot near the farmer’s market.  It seems as if many others wanted to patronize the businesses in the vicinity.  She would take the train, but it looked like rain, and she didn’t want to fight with commuters on a rainy afternoon, plus, if Georgia’s mom couldn’t get a few minutes to talk, then she would wait and offer her a ride home after work.  She had to find out who was hurting this precious child.

There was chaos inside the farmer’s market, there was a foul smell coming from inside, security guards were keeping customers away and there was water pouring out of the shop’s doorway.  Employees were leaving one, by one, Miss Dillon stood around for a few minutes considering whether or not it let it be for one more day.  She quickly decided against it then approached the guards to inquire whether or not Dian had left yet.  “And you are?” the burly guard asked.  “I am her daughter’s teacher,” she said with more confidence than she had.

The Farmer’s Market was having some sort of plumbing emergency and all employees were being sent home.  Sewage was pouring from the bathroom, and the handful of employees still left in the store had given up on preventing the foul smelling matter from pouring all over the floors and spreading into all areas of the market.  The manager had called in the big guns; this was no amateur job.

Dian had stayed behind to secure the days cash, and she was still putting on her jacket when she ducked through the doorway.  She looked around in confusion, the guard pointed out Miss Dillon and she stepped forward.  “I am Patricia Dillon, Georgia’s teacher.”  Dian focused on the woman and stretched out her hand to greet the teacher.  She looked vaguely familiar, “have we met before?” Dian said. “I’m sure we have, I’m a regular customer here.  I love your stuff, so fresh!”  There were a few minutes of uncomfortable silence as both women sized up each other.

Dian wasn’t sure what to make of the teachers, she seemed pleasant enough, but why was he here?  Miss Dillon was on a mission and knew the ball was in her court “I wanted to have a very private talk with you, is there somewhere around here where we can have a cup of coffee or something?”   Dian sized her up, still confused, but cooperated, “well there’s a coffee shop one block up, I usually grab cinnamon buns there sometimes, delish!”

Dian went from denial, to confusion to blinding rage as Miss Dillon explained her suspicions.  “I have to go; I have to go; I have to go; Dian whispered.  Grabbing her purse as she stood up, Dian again whispered “I have to go. I have to catch the train.”   Miss Dillon didn’t know what to do, she felt helpless, she had just delivered a huge a giant blow to Dian and she didn’t know what to do next.   “I can give you a ride home, maybe it will be quicker that way,” said Miss Dillon, clutching at straws.  Dian’s wild eyes focused for a minute, she shrugged; “Ok!”

The women navigated the city streets mostly in silence; Dian gnawed her finger-nails and gave disjointed driving directions.  She wanted to scream each time a traffic light further delayed them. She felt like she was going to explode. 

Dian literally flew out of the car the minute it pulled to a stop outside her house.  She made a mad-dash for the door nearly tripping over her own feet.  She took a deep breath to calm herself as she fitted the key in the lock, dreading what she would find inside. 

 It took Miss Dillon a minute to park the car in an approved spot and ensure the doors were locked.  Once she did this, entered Dian’s yard but opted to stay outside…she paced nervously.

She was awoken from her revere by a blood-curdling scream from Dian.  A man was begging someone to put the knife down.  “Dian, it’s not what you think.” 

Miss Dillon was still, her ears trained to the commotion in the house.  Her heart went out to the little girl who was saying “mama the blood, there’s blood on me. With trembling fingers, Miss Dillon felt around inside pocket for her fashioned flip phone, slowly she dialed 911.   There was only one ring, “911, what’s your emergency.”  She shrieked as a bloody Alan stumbled out of the house.  Weak from the loss of blood, he collapsed fell down the front steps, his confused eyes staring at Miss Dillon as she shrieked. 

Dian stumbled out after him, blubbering through tears.  Georgia was still screaming “Blood, blood, blood!  Miss Dillon took a deep breath.  “Hello, hello, are you still there?  Is this emergency?  Yes, please send an ambulance, a little girl has been raped, and there has also been a killing.”

 

Short Fiction – Bongo Benny

 

By Fern I. White

In the 1920s, Marcus Garvey founder of the United Negro Improvement Association, preached black pride;  “Africa for Africans” and sought to found a black state in Africa to which blacks all over the Western world would be transported.  Garvey’s words were held in high esteem by the masses.  He foretold that a King would be crowned in Africa; “Look to Africa, when a black king shall be crowned, for the day of deliverance is near,” said Garvey.

 

On November 2, 1930 Ras Tafari was crowned as the Emperor Haile Sellassie, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah.  News of his coronation was carried in the Daily Gleaner newspaper.   A few Jamaicans who had heard Garvey preach consulted their Bibles to see whether or not this was the King about which he spoke.  They cite a number of biblical texts to prove their point, one of the strongest being Revelation 5: 2-5

 

2 And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof? 3 And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon.4 And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon.5 And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.

 

The idea that Haile Sellassie I is the living God was developed by several people independent of each other. However Leonard P. Howell is regarded by historians as the first to preach of the divinity of Rastafari (Smith).

 

This story is about Benjamin “Bongo Benny’ Ritchie-Haughton’s discovery of the “truth” and the subsequent reaction of his family and community as he became a Rastafarian.

 

Marion

Marion lived with her aunt, Myra, in a little shanty town called Grants Pen Gully.  The community ran alongside a man-made gully which carried water from the suburbs of upper St. Andrew into the Kingston Harbor.  The area housed about 3000 people and was dubbed Gully by those who lived there in abject poverty and even by those who lived close by and viewed Gully’s residents with disdain. 

 

In Gully, wooden bungalows occupied leased plots on either side of extremely narrow lanes.  Each house was protected by fences made from discarded pieces of aluminum roofing and metal drums, opened and hammered flat.  Wooden poles driven into the earth criss-crossing each other supported the makeshift fencing.  Gully’s households were headed by mostly single mothers who were unemployed or underemployed.  The women, poor but proud, worked as domestics for wealthy families in nearby high-brow communities of Arcadia, Barbican, Cherry Gardens, Norbrook and Stony Hill.  Marion’s aunt worked as a house-keeper for Professor Trevor Turner, who taught at the Norman Manley Law School

 

Marion has been living in “Gully” since she was two years old when her mother packed all her measly belongings in an orange leatherette bag and took her via train into Kingston. She did not remember much about her five-hour journey from St. Elizabeth to Kingston, but 30 years later still remembered the moment when she realized that her mother was leaving her — for good.  Two pairs of hands came out of nowhere to hold her back as she ran after her mother.  Feral screams erupted from her belly as she flailed her arms kicked and screamed for mother

 

Marion cried for hours, but later as sheer exhaustion took her body, she became aware of her aunt rocking her back and forth and singing.  Her comforting voice, humming a lullaby, soothed her spirit.  Marion fell asleep like that, and continued to fall asleep like that for another five years. This was August of 1973; Marion would be three years old that December. It didn’t take long for Marion to warm up to her Aunt Myra, but she had abandonment issues and would cry every time her aunt left her.  The first two weeks of pre-school were the worst; she would not be in class for more than 15 minutes before she darted out of the little wooden school room and ran all the way home.  Bystanders got used to seeing the chubby little girl in the red plaid uniform race past them, legs flying, tears streaming down her face. 

 

Benny

Benny always knew he was different.  He could not put his finger on it, but he knew something was amiss.  It was the Christmas of his 10th birthday. While staring at a new family portrait that Benny realized that he did not see himself in his family. He did not have the soft, wavy hair his parents or siblings had.  He did not have their light olive skin – he had rough woolen hair, and he was dark, very dark.  His siblings were exceptionally brilliant; he was not.  His oldest brother, Damian, was an academic whiz who was featured in the local papers.  Damian had completed medical school and was doing his residency at the University Hospital.  His sister, Lauren, was also on the academic fast track. She was in her first year at Medical School.  His baby sister Celia attended the same prep school to which they all went. 

 

Benny’s father, the Rev. Samuel Ritchie-Haughton, didn’t really work.  The Ritchie-Haughton family owned the local soft drink bottling plant and brewery.  The company held licenses to manufacture several international brands.  His father, uncle and brothers managed the day-to-day operations and while his name appeared on the letterhead as a director and he got a salary each month, he really had nothing to do with the company.

 

Rev. Ritchie-Haughton was a fiery preacher, a well-respected bastion of the community.  He performed baptisms, weddings and funerals with a flourish.  He was everything to everyone in the nearby Grants Pen Gully, but more of a spiritual leader and friends to his neighbors in Cherry Gardens.  Through him, many a Grants Pen single mother got jobs cleaning houses and caring for children in Arcadia, Norbrook and Cherry Gardens.  From as early as 6:30 am, women clutching babies and the hands of toddlers came to Benny’s father to solve problems; money for medicine; son in jail and needing a lawyer; lunch money and bus fare for school; sick kids and sick parents; the list went on and on. 

 

Elizabeth Ritchie-Haughton didn’t have to work and wanted to.   She had a Masters degree in Education. She took breaks to care for her young children; however, as soon as she could, she was back at school.  She took the meaning of well-heeled to another level and easily won the unofficial dress parade which took place at church each Sunday. 

 

Benny coasted through school just doing enough to ensure that he graduated.  At graduation, he was awarded most outstanding student in woodshop, and in addition to a voucher to pick up his own tool box at a local hardware store, he was given a paid internship at the best woodshop in town.  Benny was elated.  His parents were shocked.  They didn’t even know that Benny liked working with wood.

 

The family gathered in the most expensive restaurant to celebrate the last of Benny’s high school career. The dinner was enjoyable for the most part, and a photographer from the social pages even took several photos of the family.  Things went downhill that day after his brother commented on Benny’s prize and whether or not he would decline the internship to go to college.  “That’s one of the things I wanted to talk to everyone about, Benny replied.  “I’m not going to college….” He then ventured into how he planned on opening his own woodshop after learning the business if his father would lend him the money.  

 

“After all we’ve done for you, this is how you choose to repay us?” Benny looked at his mother and was surprised that she was crying.  “We took you into our house, gave you our name… gave you everything and you look at us and say you’re not going to college?”  The Ritchie-Haughton family was attracting attention, and the good Reverend would not have it.  He summoned the waiter for the bill and the family left before dessert was served.  There was no tip for the waiter.

 

Benny’s older siblings hugged him and got into their own cars for the drive back to the Hospital and university campus respectively.  He was left to face his parents’ wrath all by himself.   Between his father’s brooding silence and his mother’s silent tears, he felt like a scoundrel as he replayed his mother’s words over and over trying to figure out if he heard what he thought he heard.  In the back of his mind, he always knew he was adopted, and tonight, his mother’s unwitting words confirmed his suspicion.

 

Rev. Ritchie-Haughton had barely backed the car up into the expansive garage before Benny jumped out.  He locked himself in his room unwilling to add fuel to the fire.  About 30 minutes later, his father came knocking.  Benny tuned up his stereo and sang along to Bob Marley.  He no longer felt like hiding his music from his parents.  He would play reggae whenever he wanted. He gave respect and he wanted to be respected in return. “They are treating me like a boy.  I am 18 years-old; I am a man. From now on, things are going to be different around here.” 

 

[1]Yeah, I’ve been down on the rock for so long, (so long)
I seem to wear a permanent screw; (screw-oo-oo-oo-oo)
I’ve been down on the rock for so long, (so long)
I seem to wear a permanent screw. (screw-oo-oo-oo-oo)
But-a I – I’m gonna stare in the sun,
Let the rays shine in my eyes.
I – I’m a gonna take a just-a one step more
‘Cause I feel like bombin’ a church –
Now – now that you know that the preacher is lyin’.
So who’s gonna stay at home
When – when the freedom fighters are fighting?”

 

Benny woke up with a start the next morning.  It was Friday; a work day for his parents and the house was already empty.  He felt aimless for the first time in his life; his time was his to do whatever.  He stood in the air conditioned living room and looked out the bow windows into the immaculately kept gardens.  Winston, the gardener, was pruning rosebushes.   Someone cleared there throat behind him. He spun around to find Sonia the housekeeper smiling shyly at him.  He had an unusual bond with Sonia who’d been working at the Ritchie-Haughton residence for longer than he could remember.  Sonia studied her feet. “Can I fix you something Mr. Benjamin?  I made Mackerel Rundown[2] for breakfast, but if you want something else…”  Benjamin smiled warmly at her. “Sonia, Sonia, Sonia:  how many years have I been telling you to stop making such a big fuss over me? I’ll take the Rundown. Did you make Johnny cakes?”  She laughed, “Of course I did. Your parents wanted green bananas, but I knew you would want Johnny cakes[3], so I made you a dozen. There’s coffee too,” she said as she sailed out of the room.

 

Johnny read the Daily Gleaner and ate heartily, the troubles of last night far removed from his mind.  Later he got dressed and called his father’s office at the church; Carlene, the secretary, answered and put him on hold.  He held the phone for eight minutes before his father’s voice boomed from the other end.  “Papa, I know it’s Friday, the busiest day of the week for you, but can I come see you?”  Rev. Ritchie-Haughton paused, took a deep breath and said, “I suppose so. I’ll be here,” then hung up.

 

 

Truce

The crowds parted like the Red Sea when Benny arrived at his father’s office.  Women who knew him called out to him.  He smiled and waved, touched some of the babies, bent down to speak to some of the children and produced lollypops for each child.  A young girl in an advanced state of pregnancy was just leaving when Benny walked into his father’s office.  As soon as the door closed behind her, Benny ploughed into his rehearsed speech, anxious to get it all out before he changed his mind.   “Dad, I just want to say thanks for everything that you and Mom have done for me, but I’m 18 – an adult and I want to make my own decisions.  I worked really hard in wood-shop, I’m very good at it and I am going to do that internship whether you like it or not.  I’m sorry if you paid good money to get me a place in that college, but that’s not what I want. I love working with my hands, and that’s what I want to do. Will you tell mom?” 

 

The Rev looked at his son with a mixture of pride and resentment.  He knew there was nothing he could do to hold him back. His dream of having Benny follow his older siblings into medical school was dashed. He’d been telling his friends that he was all set on having four doctors in his family.  “I guess I’ll have to settle for three,” he mused.

 

Nelson’s Fine Furniture

Benny turned up at Nelson’s Fine Furniture a full hour before they opened.  He was deliberately early and he did not want his prospective co-workers to see him being dropped off in a fancy car.  Nelson’s was located along Arnold Road, which ran through several slum communities into downtown Kingston. The neighborhood still had a few government offices, a few manufacturers, long closed factories, and houses that had seen better days.  The community used to be home to Jewish merchants, top notch government types and the uber fabulous; they left in droves for the upper St. Andrew 30-50 years ago. 

 

Benny sat on the steps of the Nelson’s Fine Furniture and waited for his new boss and co-workers to arrive.  It was not yet 9:00 am but the sun was ablaze.  It was not unbearable as a cool breeze wafted up the street from the Kingston Harbor.  Mothers taking their children to school glanced at him before glancing away.  Some wondered who he was. He stuck out like a sore thumb.

 

Someone was listening to Doraine Samuels on RJR 94FM, Benny recognized her honeyed voice.  Across the tiny bridge a small boy was weeping as a young mother scolded. Benny’s attention turned south as his ear picked up a kind of rhythmic chant.  He kept looking in the direction from which it came; soon a group of flowing tunics appeared on the horizon.  They all wore [4]Tams and carried wooden staffs.  The youngest of the group walked in front and carried an Ethiopian flag on a pole. 

 

At the top of their voices they repeated over and over:

“It’s a new day! Give thanks and praise to the Most High, his Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I,( the first.)  Jaaaah! Rastafari, the Kings of Kings and the Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Ever Living, Ever Faithful, Ever sure, the truth, the way,  the light.”

 

 

Benny recognized the group as [5]Rastafarians.  His brother Damian had told him of their shenanigans on Campus and how scandalized his uptown friends were.  His mother despised them, calling them  ganja[6] smoking heathens but admitted they sold the best veggies around town.  She always made sure to buy several bundles of [7]Calaloo off their carts when she saw them along Oliver Road.  She also bought their clay pots, baskets and mats. “Full of talent, if only they would cut that abominable hair,” his mother once said.  Benny laughed at the memory.

 

The Group of Rastas came to a stop at the steps of Nelson’s Fine Furniture, not six feet from where Benny sat.  It was not until their chants died away that they acknowledged him.  “Hail king-mon” said one, as he bowed and made a strange gesture with his hands. “Bless-up soldier,” said another as he bowed. They all followed suit with their greetings.  Benny was awed.  “Suh who di I-Man a wait pon” asked the defacto leader.  “I am waiting for Nelson’s to be open.  I start working here this morning,” Benny responded.  “[8]Rhatid! A you name Benjamin?  Mi hear that you good pon di woodwork thing man.  Your teacher was here talking about you. We all looking forward to working with you man.  Welcome, welcome, welcome. May the blessings of Jah Rastafari guide you as you go down this path, seen!”  One by one the other workers arrived and Benny was introduced.  Cecil, the assistant manager, soon arrived and the shutters were opened.

 

Benny was not allowed to do any hands-on work for the first few weeks. It made him impatient and frustrated.  His job was as an observer.  There was one salvation; he put in three hours of office work each morning.  Nelson had no end of praise for him as he had not mastered the computerized accounting system himself and was elated that someone in the shop knew how.  Accounts payable and receivables were now only a few keystrokes away.

 

Within a few months, Benny knew his way around the shop like a pro.  He spent a few hours each day in various departments.  His favorite, however, was the group of Rastafarian carvers who made elaborate designs come to life.  Not only did he value their talent; he was extremely curious about their faith and spent as much time as possible with them.  They explained the virtues of vegetarianism and even shared their meals with him.  Their vocabulary was strange; however, he recognized words from some of the music he was secretly listening to.  They were surprised he knew about Peter Tosh, Burning Spear, Michael and the Sons of Negus,   and many other Rastafarian singers who made social commentary through their work.  He also began to understand why most of their words began with I.  Bongo Herman, the de facto leader of the group and carving supervisor, explained, “Rastafarians have developed their own word system which is used in everyday speech.  The letter “I” is used to show oneness with [9]Jah and replaces the beginning of many words.”  (Watts)

 

Benny was an adept student; their words gave him much food for thought.  He watched and listened to them and thought about his parents who often spoke out against Rastafarianism.  Benny was a little surprised at how deftly Bongo Herman quoted from the Bible to support his socio-political views. He questioned his father about Bongo Herman’s assertion that Rastafarians were being targeted by police, were being beaten and thrown in jail for their beliefs.  As he became more enamored with this faith, he found he could not get home fast enough to read for himself the evidence to be found in the Bible.  Bongo Herman also bought him copies of various holy books including the Apocrypha.

 

Benny had heard about Marcus Garvey before but now saw him in a new light.  He had no idea that Marcus Garvey had foretold that a King would be crowned in Africa who would save and redeem blacks.  Rastafarians see Emperor Haile Selassie, the 225th in the line of Solomon, as that black King.  (Scrach)

 

Nothing his father said in the pulpit had motivated him to read his Bible the way Bongo Herman did.  Herman encouraged him to pay special attention to the teachings of the Old Testament and other books including the Apocrypha and the book of Enoch and the Kebra Nagast.  Benny had no idea that there were other books of the bible left out of the King James Version, but it was not until he read Revelation 5: 2-5 that he decided to stop shaving and getting haircuts.  He was totally convinced.

 

Sonia was the first to notice the change in Benny. “Yuh turning Rasta Mr. Benjamin,” she asked one morning.  “I’m not sure, I’m still searching for the truth,” he replied. Sonia looked alarmed.  “Yuh modda and fadda is not goin’ to like it,” she said shaking her head from side to side.  Benjamin was alarmed when she started wailing. “Lord Jezzus help me,” she said huge teardrops streaming down her face. “What going to happen to yuh.  What going to happen to yuh?  Benny was stunned.  What’s her problem, anyway?

 

Benny went to Bobo Hill in Bull Bay with Herman and the crew on Saturday November 2.  There was a celebration to mark the coronation of Emperor Hailie Selassie.  The event was marked with hours of singing, drumming and a large fire around which women and children danced.  A large pipe was being passed around by the men.  Benny refused to participate in this ritual.  He knew it was ganja by the smell alone and was not interested. He returned home exhausted at 6:00am. 

 

Benny was not asleep for two hours before his mother burst into the room.  She had not been in there for years.  “Benny! Benny! You haven’t been to church in weeks, come on, get up!”  She threw open his closet door and began to rifle through his shirts.  Benny rolled over, squinting to focus.  “Mom, I’m not going to church.  I have decided to become a Rastafarian. Sorry, but I’m not coming to church ever again.” Elizabeth dropped the shirt she was holding, spun around and looked at her son to see if he were joking.  For the first time she noticed that he was unshaved and his hair was matted. How did all this escape her notice? At the end of the pandemonium that ensued, Benny found himself standing on the side of the road with only one suitcase.  He was homeless.

 

 Benny knew how to get to Grants Pen Gully even though he’d never been there.  The women and children knew who he was, and assisted him in finding Sonia’s house.  Sonia folded herself into a tight ball and wailed when she saw him.  She looked defeated, confused, but said: “You came to the right place, I’m going to do all I can to help you.” 

 

“I want to tell you something, but please never speak of it again.  I am your real mother. Rev is your real father.  He knows, but Ms. Elizabeth does not know.  I was very happy to give you up so you could get all I couldn’t give you.  You have passed the worst, my son. I am proud of you.”  Benny stood riveted to the spot for a full ten minutes.  Things just fell into place.  Things fell right.  No wonder she’d always looked out for him and fussed over him.  That evening, Benny met ten siblings he never knew he had.  They looked just like him.  Too bad he couldn’t tell them.

 

Later that evening, Benny accompanied Sonia to her parents.  They lived alone.  Her diabetic father was blind and the mother severely arthritic.  They knew who Benny  was immediately.  As Sonia made a meal, he made himself useful.  She was relieved he was so helpful.  She proposed he stay with them as they had more space.  Benny accepted the proposal.  His grandparents were elated.

 

The Ritchie-Haughtons made no attempt to contact Benny and he continued his internship at Nelson’s Furniture.  Bongo Herman was his mentor both on and off work.  He found Benny intellectually astute asking intelligent questions and making smart deductions.  Soon he was introduced to other members of the Rastafarian community, who helped him with his transformation.

 

Snubbed

It was not long before Benny found himself being snubbed by the very women and children who always had a smile and greeting for him when he was heir apparent in his father’s church.  He wasn’t surprised. Herman had told him what to expect.  Just the other day, Benny was chased by a group of young men who, had he not used quick evasive tactics, he would have been beaten and his head shaved. He also grew accustomed to elderly women cursing him under their breath and children who now ran when they saw him. He felt especially bad for Marion, the little girl next door, who ran away in terror each time she saw him.  Life was hard, but he was determined. Marion lived in constant fear of the Rastaman next door.  She tried her damndest not to wet the bed, or do anything that made her aunt mad.  Last time she had a little accident, her  aunt, Myra promised to feed her to Benny if she ever did it again.  She was terrified at the thought of being eaten by that big, black hairy man everyone called Benny.

 

Myra often warned Marion not to play with matches, but Marion was left alone in the house.  She was bored. She wondered when her aunty would come home. One by one she

lit each match and stared at the flame until it burned short and was just about to singe her fingers.  Next she lit the candles that were used when the power when out.  She distractedly stared at the flames until she was sleepy.  She curled up on the coach and fell asleep.

 

Benny was burning incense and chanting; he was in the zone.  An acrid smoke permeated his consciousness.  Something was burning. Something more pungent than the aromatic incense that he was using as part of his daily “oneness” with Jah Rastafari was burning.  He checked around the house.  Nothing burning here he thought, as he looked in on his benefactors.  Suddenly the calmness of the night was shattered by screams of fire! fire! fire!  He ran outside.  His neighbor Myra had dropped to her knees sobbing; fruits she intended to sell at the market were strewn around her.  Her house was on fire.  

 

Benny looked around for the little chit of a girl.  He elbowed his way toward Myra and when he was within earshot said “Where’s Marion.”  Myra pointed at the house too distraught to say anything.  “Move!”   The gathering crowd parted at Benny’s command and he sprinted towards the house.  “Get water,” he flung over his shoulder just before he kicked in the front door.  The flames were coming from the living area and had not yet spread to the other rooms.  They had curled up to the ceiling and spread towards the window leaping towards what little oxygen came from their unsealed windows.  The flames licked at him, his eyes watered and the heat made him gag.  Then he heard the choking sounds. Using his ears for his almost useless eyes, he followed the sounds to the sofa in the corner. It was already ablaze.  The little girl was gasping for breath but she was alive.  Ignoring the now searing pain in the soles of his feet, Benny grabbed the little girl and ran for the door.  The world went dark.

 

Rev. Richie-Haughton called each member of his immediate family when the story of Benny’s heroic efforts made the front page of the Gleaner next morning.  Members of his extended family were calling one after the other.  They wanted to know why Benny was living in Grants Pen Gully.  It was time to build bridges.  He loved his son and he missed him, even if he had become a dirty Rasta.

 

Thirty years later

Benny fingered the yellowed newspaper clippings.  He never knew that his father kept these.  He was very sad.  Benny was sad for the lost years and the uneasy truce between him and his father.  He was happy they had a chance to clear the air before his father made his transition.  From his hospital bed, he finally told Benny the truth.  “Benny, I know you think you’re adopted, but you’re not. You are my son. Sonia is your mother.”  Benny looked at him and smiled, “Dad, I’ve known that for thirty years. Sonia told me that when you kicked me out, I was just waiting to hear it from you.”  His father looked at Benny for a long time and with tears running down his face he said:  “Son, I wronged you and I’m sorry.”

 

Many things have changed since Benny’s conversion to Rastafarianism.  People are far more tolerant.  Schools have loosened the rules on admission to Rastafarian children, and they have become accepted in all spheres of Jamaican society.   The movement has spread even further and can be found in dozens of countries around the world.

 

 


[1] From Talking Blues from the Album Natty Dread 1973

[2] Mackerel Rundown – pickled mackerel cooked in coconut milk

[3]Flour cakes made with butter and milk and fried in oil

[4] Tam: a crocheted cap featuring the colors of the Ethiopian flag

[5] Rastafarian or Rasta: referring to people practicing Rastafarianism, a belief that Haile Selassie aka. Tafari Makonnen aka Ras Tafari) was and is the second coming of Christ

[6] Ganja: Marijuana

[7] Callaloo: The spinach-like leaves of a tropical plant (genus Xanthosoma) of the arum family.

[8] Rhatid: Mild expletive used as an exclamation

[9] Jah:  (from Jahova) referring to HIM Haile Selassie I

 

Works cited

Smith, M.G.; Augier, Roy; Nettleford,  Rex: Report on the Rastafari Movement in Kingston, Jamaica   Institute of Social and Economic Research – Jamaica (1960)

 

Watts, Franklin: I am Rastafarian  Golden Square London (1986)

 

Scrach, Papa Rasta Revelation, Kings Books NYC 1994