Ezekel Alan

This blog is about: cotton candy, cold milo, midgets, mangoes, sex, aged rum – everything but writing my next book

Archive for the tag “Jamaican superstitions”

Losing touch with one’s roots

It is a clear sign of how much I have lost touch with my roots. Yesterday, a nasty, inconsiderate bird offloaded its burdens on me while I was on the way to the office. I was wearing a suit, and a fine one. If something like this had happened thirty years ago I would have saved my lunch money from school and, on my way home, stopped by the local Dropon man to buy the numbers. I would not have hurled expletives at disappearing feathers and cursed Noah for bringing two birds on-board the ark.

If my palm had itched me terribly thirty years ago I would have tried to cajole my cousins into playing marbles for money, knowing that luck was with me, and I was sure to win. When my palm itched yesterday I worried about bacteria in the metro and on the rails I had held.

It’s more than the Oceans that separate me from my homeland now. And it’s much more than time. I no longer know what leaves are good for what ailments, how to smell death on someone soon to die, what to do if I want to see ghosts and such. I’ve been so long out of the ghetto that I can’t even fake being ghetto any more. The culture of my old community feels like an alien insect that’s been extracted from beneath my skin and taken away for study.

This is perhaps why I never saw it coming. Why I didn’t realise what the bird shit and itching palm portended. You may have seen the news by now – Disposable People was, first, short-listed for the very prestigious Commonwealth Book Prize 2013. Then it won the Regional Prize for the Caribbean!

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Regional Winner- Commonwealth Book Prize 2013

The funny thing about it is, when I was writing the novel it felt more like a catharsis than a work of art. A purification of the soul, getting rid of memories, superstitions, wickedness, rottenness and things unspoken. Now a panel of international judges thinks that the purge was good. Well blow my fish!

All I can say now is that if I see a fat woman sneeze today I won’t be thinking of Avian Influenza; I will be dragging my skinny negro ass and watermelon belly out on  the town tonight to see just what else Destiny has already decided.

book-regionalwinner-2013

Who knows, I already see an email in my inbox from a potential agent…

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The first time they took me to an Obeahman (witch doctor)

Matane cemetery

Cemetery (Photo credit: Bête à Bon-Dieu)

They had already killed my father, and drank his blood, but their thirst was not yet quenched. He was buried in the public cemetery, amongst the poor and destitute, as  there was no space in the Baptist Churchyard, and we hadn’t enough money to buy a plot in a private burial ground. His soul could never find peace in a public cemetery, forever roaming with strangers. This is what they had wanted.

But they were not finished. Three months after he was buried, they also buried one of their own beside him; an old man who had known no love throughout his life, and whose job was now to ensure that my father got no rest until the day of Judgment. They did not put any marks on his grave, though in our minds we had written the words that belonged there: “Herein lies a Wife-beater, Child-Molester, Thief, and Drunk.”

In 1981 when we buried my father I was 11 years old, and I knew the kind of people who had killed him, and the kind of witchcraft they had used. They were not the normal grudging, malicious ‘back-biters’ that we often spoke about, sometimes in hushed tones, sometimes openly. We all knew who those persons were and the petty acts of spitefulness that were their trade. We laughed at them, and jeered them, and sometimes cussed and scorned them in public to shame them for their petty-mindedness. They were irrelevant cockroaches that scampered away when enough light was shone on their deeds.

The people who killed my father were different. They were to be feared because they kept company with death. They never showed their faces, and never left the shadows. They would sometimes meet you on the streets after dark, or come to visit you in your house, but always wore a mask and strong perfume to camouflage the stench of their rotting souls.

They killed my father, my aunt told us, because we had too much life in us, and their spirits were already dead. We were building another room onto our house; my father had bought a bicycle for my brother and often came home with a large bag of groceries. We had a television – the only one in our neighborhood. We were on the waiting list for a telephone. My father’s business was doing well.

So they killed him.

In 1982 they started to come for my mother. She had gone back to work, started a little shop selling snacks, sodas, cigarettes and such, and it was doing well. She was still sending me to school and I was about to take exams.

She started getting sick often, started losing weight rapidly, started having dark and darker blotches beneath her eyes as the evil spirits they sent tormented her nights and kept her from sleeping. On the morning that she woke up in April and vomited a pile of insects and green phlegm, my aunts came and took her away for the day. I wasn’t allowed to see her the night she came back, nor the day after. Three of my aunts took turns staying with her inside the second room that she had completed building.

When I saw my mother again she looked different, brighter – not in cheerfulness but more as though she had a glow around her. She kissed me and told me everything would be fine. I remember this because of how unusual that act was in the tenement yard where we lived.

She started to read her bible often, and every morning and every evening she sprinkled oils and certain powders around our house from two bottles I could never find after she had used them. Whenever I came home from school and visited her at the shop I would see her sprinkle oils from another bottle that she would then tuck into her bosom where it hid alongside the handkerchief she used to wrap the cash she collected from her customers.

My mother remained healthy after that, and we continued to do fine, staying just outside the reaches of severe hardships and poverty. But we always knew that we were being watched from the shadows.

On Sunday July 4, 1982 I learnt that I had passed the Common Entrance Exams and would go to a good school. The news travelled far, to my aunts, uncles, and cousins in Toronto, London, Brooklyn, St. Mary, Portland; to my elementary school teachers who came to visit and congratulate me at home; to the local pastor who also came to visit (without his wife or young mistress); to my father’s spirit in the cemetery, giving him a rare moment of contentment and pride; and into the far reaches of the shadows. I would be the first to go to a good school. I would be the first to get out.

It didn’t take long for something to stir in the darkness. Months later some people said that they had known that something was going to happen because they smelled a kind of stench in certain places or heard a sound like the rattling of hollowed bones when they passed certain corners.

Something had moved, and the wait had begun.

Sometime in the second week of July my eldest aunt rushed to convey a message to my mother in the middle of the night. By the next day everyone had heard. The pestilence that walks at night was coming.

No one told me what was happening, and much of what I know I found out months and years later. But I knew we were all waiting.

The first strike was not long in coming. The morning of Tuesday, the thirteenth of July, was grey. Ominous clouds tormented the sun and gave cover to a vicious rain which fell hard and pounded shards of silver into the powerless ground. From the depths of the shadows that morning, they threw a harpoon right through the center of my heart. They killed Tommy.

I was a little older then, old enough to love, and I loved Tommy. He was my best friend. (Tommy’s story is told in Disposable People.)

His blood was dripping from the sides of their mouths, but their thirst was not yet quenched. That was only the beginning.

I was the chosen one; they wanted me.

Months later I learnt that one of them had gone to St. Thomas, and another somewhere on the South Coast to awaken spirits that no force of nature could stop. It was rumored that a baby’s grave was found dug out in St. Thomas, and the grave of an Indian woman in St. Elizabeth. Depending on which one reached me first, the Baby Duppy* or the Coolie (Indian) Duppy I would be dead in either a week or a month. If both arrived at the same time, I could be dead within a day.

My grandmother had no leaves that could protect me. There were no barks of any tree that had powers to stop what was coming. My mother’s love, while comforting, was not shielding. The spirit of my father may have been strong enough to guard against one of those evils, but not two, and certainly not the two most horrifying coming together. There might have been shelter inside a church, but I would have had to live there without ever leaving, because those evil spirits had nothing else to do and nowhere else to go, and would wait for me at the gates, for however long it took.

I would be dead before the end of August. My mother knew, my aunts knew, everyone knew. No one told me exactly what was happening, but I sensed it; I sensed a darkness coming from afar, coming towards me, coming for me. I stayed close to my mother who didn’t go to work anymore, and who prayed much more than before.

I never learnt whose idea it was, but before July ended it was decided. We would not wait. There was an old man who had the powers to stop what was coming. The research had been done, all the elders had been consulted, my aunts abroad who still wore their charms of protection had called a neighbour’s house and spoken with my eldest aunt. It was decided. He was the most powerful, and the only one who could stop the two evil spirits that were coming from different directions and drawing closer. He lived in a small village about 3 miles from Vere in Clarendon. We could not wait another minute, we would go to him.

Note: * Jamaicans refer to ghosts or evil spirits as ‘duppies’.
I’m sitting here on my patio, thinking back on the early days and all the times and for all the reasons I was brought to see a Obeah man. Now I must go back to writing the second novel. Almost 3/4 way through!

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