Short Fiction by Andy Mead
Watchie Williams heaved the heavy motorcycle back onto its stand next to a battered blue Toyota. He removed his helmet and laid it on the saddle, his long black hair falling to his shoulders. Climbing the steps of the bar he found Earl Barrett hunched over a large glass of rum at the counter. Miss Sadie, the bar owner sat in the corner, trying to read a newspaper, by the light of a single low wattage bulb. She shifted her bulk uncomfortably on the old metal chair and looked up. The bar was small and sparsely furnished. At the counter, worn smooth by countless transactions, stood a couple of high stools. Two giant posters covered opposite walls, one for Reggae Sunsplash 1980 and the other a portrait of Bob Marley, smoking a giant spliff.
‘Evenin missa Williams,’ she said. ‘Yu goin to work now?’ Her voice was low and harsh, the result of near strangulation by her late common law husband, killed five years previously, by a tractor he didn’t see, through a rum induced fog.
‘Yes, Miss Sadie. Gimme a Red Stripe nuh. Di evenin warm.’
Popping a beer, she placed it on the counter. Watchie Williams took a long pull and glanced over at Earl Barrett, just the man he was looking for.
‘Yu ave mi money?’ he asked. ‘Ah see yu buy di car.’
Earl looked up from his glass. ‘Ah wi pay yu nex Friday,’ he said. ‘Mi kinda short dis week.’
Watchie Williams face remained impassive. ‘Yu tell me di same ting last week,’ he said, ‘and di week before.’
Earl shrugged. ‘Business slack now,’ he said. He turned back to his glass, tapped it on the counter, and motioned to Miss Sadie to pour him another. She kissed her teeth and struggled to her feet.
‘Yu drink too much a’ready,’ she said putting the near empty bottle down in front of him.
‘Yu owe mi fe di whole bokkle now.’
‘Ush yu noise, ooman.’ He unscrewed the bottle and poured what was left into his glass. ‘Yu ave ice?’ he asked.
Miss Sadie who had just sunk back into the rickety metal chair, kissed her teeth loudly and hoisted herself to her feet. ‘Yu ave money fe buy rum in ere every night, but yu no ave money fe pay back Missa Williams. Wha kinda man treat people like dat?’ She took a small empty ice tray from the freezer. ‘Ice finish,’ she said, and sat down again, slamming the freezer door.
Watchie Williams finished his beer and turned to Earl. ‘Mi wah mi funds Monday mawnin,’ he said, ‘or mi goin come round yu yaad wid Missa Singh and di res’ a dem.’ He threw four, hundred-dollar bills on the counter.
‘Keep di change Miss Sadie,’ he said, and started down the steps.
‘Monday mawnin!’ he shouted from outside before kicking the big bike into life and roaring away in a cloud of dust and fumes.
Earl Barrett took the last mouthful of rum, swirling it around his big mouth before he swallowed. ‘Yu tink me fraid o’ dem coolie’ he said. His voice was thick with drink and resentment. He lurched off the stool and staggered to the door.
‘Yu goin pay me?’ Miss Sadie called after him.
‘Tomarrow.’ He stumbled down the steps. ‘Mi wi pay you tomarrow.’
Leaning against his car, he unzipped his fly and urinated noisily against the front fender, before falling into the driver’s seat and slumping against the steering wheel.
He was still there when, at ten o clock, Miss Sadie came out and put up the shutters. She was having a rare early night. The usual Friday night domino players were up at Fairmile, playing a match. Earl Barrett was not one of them. He was not part of any group in the locality
Miss Sadie shook her head as she locked and bolted the door. ‘Mek im stay deh all night,’ she muttered to herself. ‘Dat man is a waste of time, I don’t ave no pity fe him.’
Miss Sadie was older than she looked. She had known Earl Barrett, and his good for nothing father for a long time. She had been a good friend of his mother and considered it a blessing when her husband, Augustus Barrett, had left and gone to Kingston. When the useless son left to join him, Jocelyn Barrett went back to work in Miss Sadie’s shop. She and Jocelyn shared some good rum-soaked evenings together then.
After a few years, Jocelyn developed cancer which eventually killed her. She had contacted Earl, asking him to come home when things got really bad and heard nothing. Miss Sadie went to Kingston to look for him, and found that she wasn’t the only one looking for Earl Barrett.
‘Di whole a Kingston a look fe im,’ she told Jocelyn. ‘Di bwoy tief money, sell ganja and Gad alone know how much woman a look fe him fe money fe di baby him lef dem wid.’
When Jocelyn died Earl reappeared, moved into his mother’s house and had been there ever since. Miss Sadie had no time for him at all. ‘Wutless, tiefing piece a dawg shit,’
The next morning, Earl Barrett woke up at six with a head like a bruised melon. He retrieved a small cloth bag from under the empty chicken coop behind the house and put it under the spare wheel in the back of the car. He set off, down the rough potholed road toward the beach. The sun was already high in the sky and the car was like a sweat box. The air con didn’t work, and the perspiration poured down his face and neck, soaking his thin cotton shirt.
A mini bus, packed with people going to the market and the airport, overtook him. The overloaded luggage rack was swaying violently as the driver threw the bus round the corner, horn blaring.
Just beyond the next village was a series of sharp blind bends. As Earl Barrett’s Toyota rounded the last of them and began to accelerate away, Earl saw what looked like a body lying in the road. He slammed the brakes on and swerved across the road to avoid it. The car lost traction on the rough gravelly surface and spun round in a hail of stones and dust. Coming to rest facing the other way, Earl found himself beside what turned out to be, the contents of a suitcase. A pile of women’s clothes and shoes that had fallen off the careering minibus. The suitcase lay smashed and empty in the long grass, several yards away on the verge.
Earl got out of the car. He bundled up the clothes and threw them on the back seat. They must be worth something to somebody he thought. He picked up a scanty pair of lacy briefs, sniffed at them hopefully, then stuffed them into his pocket. He got back into the car, swung it round and carried on.
At the beach he parked up under the sea-grape trees near the bar. He sat on the wall looking out to sea at the planes coming in low to the airport two miles away. The beach was nearly empty at this time of the morning, a few Jamaican families with small children, no customers. Bigga, the lunatic, came stumbling past carrying two black plastic bags. His long unkempt locks swinging round his big, glistening face. He shouted something unintelligible at Earl, cleared his throat and spat. A glob of phlegm hit the wall and crawled down to the sand like a fat yellow slug.
‘Res yourself Bigga you mad rasclaat,’ Earl called after him. Bigga turned and spat again. ‘Watch yuself bwoy,’ he shouted back. ‘Hell fire a go bun you up if yu keep rob di people dem.’ He staggered off along the beach cursing all sinners, fornicators and blasphemers.
There was no sign of the Singh brothers or Watchie Williams. Earl knew they would be there by the afternoon and he hoped to have got rid of his herbs and be gone by then. He knew what would happen if they caught him down here on their territory. Last year two youths from Negril showed up on this beach selling crack. The Singh brothers dealt with them. When they got back to their car after being chased off the beach, they found it smashed up. Every window, front and rear lights, bonnet, boot and roof. Nobody took liberties with the coolie mafia.
Slowly the beach began to fill up. The young white boys arrived from the hotels in town, looking for girls and ganja. The old white women came, looking for well-built Rasta men for sex. He moved among the groups, offering his bags of ‘quality’ ganja. He tried hard not to sound too desperate and by the time the sun was high in the sky, he had sold most of his supply. Earl walked back to the car to count his takings. He had three hundred and fifty U.S dollars and a few thousand in Jamaican notes. With the three hundred U.S. he had stashed at home it was enough to pay off Watchie Williams and Miss Sadie but left him nothing to buy more herbs or more gas for the car.
He started back up the hill, the old Toyota labouring up the rough steep road, leaving a stink of diesel and burning clutch. He passed the spot where he had spun the car, the suitcase was still there. At the village he pulled the car in beside the hardware store, out of sight of oncoming vehicles, and waited. Twenty minutes later, the Singh brother’s black Pajero came through. Watchie Williams was not with them. Him mus a work tonight, Earl thought to himself. Williams worked at the secondary school in Montego Bay as a watchman at weekends, hence his name. Watchie was also known to work the streets around the school selling ganja to the kids. Even Earl wouldn’t go that low. He started the car and continued slowly up the hill, thinking about the clothes in the backseat. A plan was forming in his mind.
That evening he sat on the front step of his small house smoking weed, watching the sun go down behind the coconut palms. When it was dark, he went into the house and pulled out a crumpled cardboard box from under the bed. He took out the insurance certificate for the car read it carefully and left it on the table. He had never had car insurance in his life, but after the last one was stolen and wrecked by two kids from Montego Bay he wasn’t taking any chances. He owed Watchie Williams $1000 U.S. for the old heap he had now, and he was sure he could get more for it wrecked, off the insurance.
He drove slowly down to Miss Sadie’s and sat in the car waiting. At six thirty, he heard Watchie Williams’ bike coming down the hill, watched him park up and go into the bar. He waited a few more minutes before following him in. The domino players were back, sitting outside the bar, around a table made from a cable drum. A single bulb, strung in the logwood tree and orbited by hundreds of moths, lit up their faces. The dominos slammed down, and their shouts echoed across the valley.
As Earl walked into the bar, Watchie Williams glanced up and Miss Sadie struggled to her feet.
‘Ah not servin yu till you pay mi mi money,’ she said.
‘Hush yu mout ooman. See yu money ere.’ Earl threw three, thousand-dollar notes on the bar. ‘Mi ave yu money Missa Williams. Nat all ah it but mi wi gi yu di res Monday mawnin. Ah swear as Gad is mi witness.’
‘Lawd ave mercy,’ Miss Sadie snorted. ‘Ear dis man a call pon Gad after all di wickedness im commit.’
Earl held his tongue. He didn’t want to get in an argument this evening of all evenings.
He took the $650 U.S, from his pocket and handed it to Watchie Williams, who took it, counted it carefully and pushed it into his back pocket.
‘Tankyou Missa Barrett,’ he said with a sneer. ‘Mi won’ ask where yu get dis money,
but mek sure mi get the adder three fifty by Monday mawnin, or you might find yuself in a likkle bit a trouble.’
Earl looked across at Miss Sadie, who had returned to her seat in the corner.
‘Dis ah no di only bar in di worl’ he said. ‘Ah wi come back when yu treat mi wid some respec.’
Miss Sadie’s big frame shook with laughter. ‘Yu tink mi care ‘bout dat,’ she said. ‘If yu wan respec’ fram people yu haffee treat dem right.’
Earl opened his mouth, but decided it was best to keep quiet. He stamped off down the steps. He could hear Miss Sadie’s hoarse cackle and Watchie Williams’ mocking laughter as he climbed into his car and rolled off down the hill. He had to move fast, Watchie Williams would be finishing up his beer and setting off soon.
The village was empty except for Rudy’s Bar, where a huge wall of speakers was pumping dancehall tunes into the darkness. A small crowd of partially dressed young women, were bumping and grinding, watched by a group of hungry looking boys. Earl Barrett kept driving. He had no time to watch women.
As he rounded the last of the blind bends, he pulled to the side of the road, cut the engine and listened. A pick up loaded with smartly dressed young men crawled past him, going up the hill to Rudy’s, and a huge Rasta man on a tiny moped shot past, going down. As the silence rolled back, he heard the sound of Watchie Williams’ bike in the distance. He started the engine and pulled into the middle of the road. He took the bundle of clothes off the back seat, and by the light of his headlamps, he arranged them on the road in front of the car and slid back into the driver’s seat, he had to be quick.
He switched off the lights and reached across to the glove box for his little bag of weed. He was about to get out of the car, when Watchie Williams’ bike, travelling far more quickly than he had calculated, roared round the bend and, with a horrific crunch of metal and glass, smashed into the back of the Toyota. Watchie Williams was catapulted through the rear windscreen and would have gone through the front had he not been stopped by Earl Barrett’s head which caved in like a pumpkin. Watchie William’s neck snapped like a dry stick.
There followed a very brief period of dead silence till a spark, from an exploding indicator bulb on the bike, ignited the fuel from both gas tanks. The explosion echoed around the dark hills and a huge ball of fire erupted into the night sky.
Within minutes a crowd had gathered, men, women and children appeared and stood staring at the conflagration. Bigga, dressed in a dirty white robe, with a bible in one hand and a giant spliff in the other shouted to the sky,
‘Ah did warn him, ah did tell im, hell fire shall burn di wicked. Jah shall wreak vengeance pon di liad and di tief. Di judgement of di Lawd descen pon di two a dem.’
He waved his bible in the air and took a long draw on his spliff. His head disappeared behind a huge cloud of smoke.
‘Hush you mout Bigga’ came a voice from the shadows, as the eldest Singh stepped forward into the light. He walked around the burning wreckage and the crowd moved out of his way. He looked at the scene from all angles as if trying to work out what had happened. As the flames subsided, he stopped, lit a cigarette and stood still watching the bodies burn, as his brother joined him.
‘Yu know how much im was carryin?’ he asked his brother.
‘Bout six poun a herb an a ounce a crack,’ his brother answered. Singh kissed his teeth.
‘Stupid rasclaat, he said. ‘Dat is a whole heap a money, gawn.’
‘Barrett gawn too,’ his brother grinned. ‘Im save me di trouble. Ah was goin give im a beatin im wouldn’ feget.’
The older one ground out his cigarette with his heel and they both disappeared into the darkness. Bigga, his big face lit by the flames was left, calling down fire and retribution on all thieves, liars and murdering bastards.