In this collection of short stories the reader is escorted through young Jamaican boy Mappy's eyes into a tropical world where nature, play, folklore, and a sense of closeness prevail. In this peaceful community everyone shares in the delights of harvest, the spiritual upliftment of religion, the mysteries of old traditions, the joy of celebrations and pain of bereavement.
The story takes a dramatic turn once Mappy is uprooted from his tropical paradise and lands in Montego Bay, where a whole new harsh reality puts an end to his childhood innocence.
Jamaica Spirit World - - Matador Non-Fiction - Lee A. Hudson
A collection of autobiographical short stories depicting the experiences and adventures of Mappy, a young boy growing up in rural Jamaica in the 1950s and 60s.
After a happy few years in the country with his grandmother, Mappy is estranged from his only brother and taken to the town to be further educated by an aunt until his mother returns from England.
Through Mappy's eyes the reader is transported into a tropical world where nature, playfulness, folklore, and a sense of closeness prevail. In this peaceful community everyone shares in the delights of harvest, the spiritual upliftment of religion, the mysteries of old traditions, the joy of celebration and pain of bereavement.
Then everything changes when Mappy is uprooted from his tropical paradise and lands in Montego Bay, where a whole new, harsh reality puts an end to his childhood innocence.
As the serene radiance of kerosene lamps in windows above Pondside dwindled progressively, a cacophonic Interaction of frogs and exotic insects stirred expanses of the heavens. Outside little Mappy’s house, moonies, blinkies and fireflies dashed through the twilight, sporadically lighting up the night with dazzling displays of emerald illumination, flashing in one direction then another and twinkling like celestial bodies in the cosmos, as a persistent dog repeatedly howled like a wolf in the distance. Inside little Mappy’s bedroom a light breeze occasionally lifted the net curtain by the window while a fine mist rolled against the mystifying darkness through the peak dwellers valley, creating shapes and apparitions in Mappy's imagination that conjured images of native Carib, Arawak and Amazonian Indians, the indigenous people who fell victims of Spanish conquistadors in bygone times.
Mappy listened as a faint repetitive bass rhythm stimulated the night. Sounds of Ska, Blue Beat, Rock Steady music, dance and excitement was in the air. Earlier in the day he had seen numerous men ceaselessly transporting lengths of bamboo out to the pasture some distance across the valley. They were building what appeared to be a peculiar house and Mappy thought it strange that the place had no windows. Cows curiously roved around amongst the people, occasionally nibbling at small clusters of leaves that remained on twigs of the freshly cut bamboo. This annoyed some of the men who were hurrying to install poles in the ground and complete the structure before dark. They gently slapped the cows on their hide with the broadside of their machetes and the animals cantered off to graze in the abundant, luscious grass. The unusual structure had grown into its unique citadel form to host the dance currently in motion.
From a vantage point in his bedroom, Mappy looked beyond the wide chasm of the valley towards the high mountains. The spectacular panorama of daylight completely disappeared in the concealment of dusk. Only stars high in their heaven indicated a separation between earth and sky. A sense of calm prevailed as he pulled the window shutters close. The custom in rural Jamaica is to kneel by the bed at night and recite the Lord’s Prayer before going to sleep. Unfortunately it is also customary to hear the irritating hum of mosquitoes as they glide around the room selecting favourable victims for a late banquet.
Mappy stood up after saying his prayer but reflex action impelled him to jump backwards as a cockroach crawled across his foot in pursuit of sanctuary under the bed. He scrambled onto the divan, rolled under the patchwork quilt and settled his head into the pillow.
Without warning, the dull thud of a heavy object crashed into the ground outside his window. He jumped up so quickly the ancient wooden bed rocked, groaned and swayed like a fishing boat as he crawled across it.
‘Seville! Seville! Something’s going on outside, wake up!’ Mappy whispered urgently in his elder brother’s ear, but Seville simply grunted and rolled away to the far side of the bed, prompting Mappy to lean over and whisper into his ear again. Seville was not easy to rouse, it was pointless trying to wake him up.
He stood up and teetered awkwardly on the mattress. It was difficult to move across a double bed full of slumbering bodies. Odette, his cousin, and Joy, a girl his Grand mother Serena had recently adopted, were also curled up sleeping and were not content to be disturbed by Mappy’s feet trampling all over their heads while his tiny fingers clawed at their faces in his haste to look outside.
‘Hey! What do you?’ cried Joy, ‘watch where you going.’
‘Something going on outside, Shhhhh … Listen!’ ordered Mappy, as he clamped his hands over Joy’s mouth.
As they listened in silence, the distant sound of a goat bleating and some dull thudding bass lines from the bamboo booth across the valley were the only noise carried at odd intervals in the wind. Joy struggled to remove Mappy’s hands from her face.
‘Watch what you doing, Mappy! You just scratched my face with your long toenails, now you suffocating me. What a little nosy Parker! I don’t hear anything out there. Perhaps you wake me to listen to a goat?’ She was enraged by the interruption to her sleep after working hard all throughout the day carrying commodities on her head over several miles to sell at Hopewell market. She sighed hard, pulled the sheet over her face and started snoring again but Mappy was not deterred by her lack of interest. He bent forward determinedly against the window to peer through a gap by the side of the shutter.
Dense clouds hung in front of the moon, blocking his vision. Thud! A second louder bang reverberated on the corrugated bedroom roof making him freeze at the windowpane. He paused to contemplate what was going on while everyone continued sleeping as though nothing was happening. He heard the floorboard creak and thought an intruder had entered the house, but it was his tall and sturdy Grandma Serena. She tiptoed into the room telling everyone to wake up.
'Don’t make a sound I am not sure who it is but someone gone out of them mind and throwing all manner of objects about the place. I want you all to keep quiet as you can, climb out the back window. Go over to our neighbour Ms Bella and wait until I come for you.’ she whispered quietly.
'Odette! I want you to go and call Mr. Morgan the district constable. Tell him to hurry over here because a man gone crazy and something dreadful could happen. Hurry but take care not to stumble over in the dark and hurt yourself.’
Odette slid cautiously out the back window followed by Mappy, Seville and Joy. Rustling noises came from beneath the house as they slumped under the window. Chickens below the house were moving about uneasily due to the commotion.
As they sheltered in Ms Bella’s house, Mappy listened as she spoke furtively to her spouse.
‘I think its Mr. Simpson, he gets like this whenever he thinks of Ms Serena. He adores her but she could not tolerate his drinking habit any longer and banned him from her house. I cannot remember the last time he was in this state. Perhaps he remembers the first time they met because It was around this time of year when tamarind in season.’
Mappy would express anger whenever someone was taking advantage of another and not hesitate to defend Gran Serena tenaciously if called upon to do so, but tonight was different.
He was too young to know about Gran Serena’s affairs but accepted the evidence that Mr. Simpson was a lovesick man reminiscing about romantic times. From the security of Ms Bella's house, they listened to him tossing objects about while bestowing curses and condemnation on anyone and anything in proximity. The situation persisted for a very long time and Mappy shuddered at the thought of this individual attacking his precious gentle kind and generous Gran Serena. He wondered where she was hiding and considered the safest place was under her bed or maybe behind the big armchair. All this time, the drunkard marched around the house shouting at the top of his voice.
‘Judgment day is near, brimstone and fire. Love thy neighbour as thy self. Beware the wrath of God!’ Mr. Simpson expressed whatever came to mind and Mappy now understood what rum really did to its victims when misused.
‘He must have had one whole bottle of rum tonight’, said Ms Bella, ‘and I think…’
‘Look! Look him change into a dragon and blowing fire out of his nose.' Seville hollered in astonishment as Mr. Simpson propelled fire into the air. In reality, the discharge came from his mouth, not his nose, lighting up the night and leaping towards the house. Each time the fire gushed, Mr. Simpson’s face glowed bright yellow in the dark and his cheeks filled like balloons about to burst.
‘He is going to roast us like potatoes and eat us for supper,’ Mappy shouted.
‘Keep quiet,’ ordered Ms Bella, ‘I don’t want him to belch any of that fire on my house!'
As she spoke a burst of flame engulfed some low-lying branches of a tree that instantly caught fire. Mappy clung to Seville and buried his head under his armpit in terror.
‘Don’t worry yourselves,’ said Ms Bella, ‘he is only doing this to scare everybody, he can’t really breathe fire. He is only taking rum in his mouth, blowing it out and setting fire to it. He won’t do that for long. He won’t waste much precious rum in this manner.’
Everyone huddled together trembling until the voice of Mr. Morgan, the village constable, brought urgent relief. Seville, Ms Bella and her husband crept warily from the corners of the room followed by Mappy and Joy. Odette moved close to Mr. Morgan. The constable wanted to restore order as quickly as possible, so he wasted no time in asserting himself. He boomed out of the darkness with an authoritative voice and domineering tongue.
‘By the powers vested in me, I appeal to you. Cease from your destruction of Ms. Grant’s property and accompany me to the local Police station.’
A period of silence followed. More objects crashed into the house and rolled down into the undergrowth. That was the response to Mr. Morgan’s requests.
‘I will have you know that I possess a firearm, and if threatened I am prepared to discharge it, do you hear me?’
Mr. Morgan could not see where Mr. Simpson was in the darkness but the flow of supercilious language and hurling of debris in all directions continued.
Boom! Boom! Two loud bangs and simultaneous flashes of light issued from Mr. Morgan’s revolver. The sound echoed across the valley.
'This is my final warning to you,’ Mr. Morgan shouted through the gloom.
‘Cease from your threatening behaviour at once and present yourself in the yard where I can see you more clearly. If you fail to do as you are told and surrender to me now, I will rank you as dangerous and will not be responsible for your safety.’
Total stillness ensued as Mr. Simpson’s perception gradually brought him back to the reality that it was best not to provoke what locals describe as ‘legal guns’ in Jamaica.
‘Come into the courtyard where I can see you clearly,’ shouted Mr. Morgan.
The previous gunshots had silenced all the insects and the total absence of sound added to a gripping tension. Mappy’s nerves were at their limits. Everyone waited for a conclusion to the drama. Would it come by way of a volley from Mr. Morgan’s revolver or by peaceful settlement?
‘Morgan! Is you them send to arrest me and lock me up a jail?’ Mr. Simpson had finally started communicating.
‘Wait a minute! Is that you Simpson?’ Mr. Morgan inquired.
‘Is me man.’ replied Mr. Simpson.
The district constable had not realised the assailant he came to apprehend was a long time friend.
‘I never know it's you I was talking to all this time. What kind of nonsense you get yourself into tonight?’ Mr. Morgan asked.
After a short pause, Mr. Simpson spoke.
‘Me love the old darling and can’t get her out of my mind.’
‘I truly believe you upset by this affair. Come we sit down together and reason out the problem. If I leave here without you your safety could be in jeopardy. We know each other long time. It is in your best interest that you surrender to me before the soldiers arrive from Lucea Barracks. You don’t have to worry about jail. I won’t put you under lock and key.’ Mr. Morgan was sympathetic to his old friend. He knew Simpson was a man of good heart and would do no harm.
News had spread fast, as it often does, in the valley, that Mr. Simpson had a shot gun and plenty of ammunition. Further news suggested he was laying siege to Gran Serena’s house accompanied by several heavily armed associates.
Mr. Simpson reconsidered Mr. Morgan’s statement that soldiers were coming from Lucea barracks. He knew soldiers would not be called unless they had been given the wrong information and would not take kindly to interruption of their leisure at such a late hour. They would come with bad intentions. It took some time but eventually Mr. Simpson staggered from the dark, hauling his feet in slow cautious steps from around the side of the house while grumbling in a low deep voice.
‘That's right’, said Mr. Morgan, ‘keep coming. Everything will be all right. Come on, come on… Ok! Please put your hands on your head so I can see them.’
Mappy listened to the firm footsteps of Mr. Morgan’s size twelve boots reverberating as he walked toward Mr. Simpson who stood unsteadily with his hand on his head lamenting, muttering and mumbling unreservedly to himself in the yard. Mappy heard the metallic sound of handcuffs slamming shut on his wrists. Mr. Morgan was not taking any chances. He knew the consumption of large amounts of rum often altered personalities so, friend or foe, he would take no chance and exercise caution this night.
Everyone lent an ear and waited cautiously as the shuffling footsteps floundered through the darkness. The sound of Mr. Simpson’s utterances gradually grow fainter. Mr. Morgan spoke softly to pacify his old friend as they walked down the winding path to the country road.
‘Mark my words Simpson. A man may be wealthy or wise, pretty or ugly but if a woman don’t want that man, there is very little they can do to change her mind. Even if they are prepared for a long haul series of meticulous schemes to demonstrate sincerity, this may not be enough.
One friend of mine never had the patience. Some years ago he told me: Never run after a woman or a bus!’
Mr. Simpson still suffered severe effects from the substantial amounts of liquor he had consumed earlier but he sounded calmer now the crisis was over.
‘Never run after a woman or a bus? What kind of statement is this, what did your friend mean by that?’
'You may not believe in that saying but it holds a lot of truth.’
Mr. Morgan laughed as he continued down the path.
‘I… I don’t understand what a bus has to do with a relationship with a woman.’ Mr. Simpson could not grasp the meaning of the proverb, so Mr. Morgan explained further.
‘The long and short of it is this: It is of no use tearing out your hair because you just missed a bus. There will always be another one coming behind and it's the same with a woman or relationships in general. Screaming and hollering like a drunk in the night will only get you arrested or worst. Be patient and wait because for sure there will always be another lady or acquaintance that will have a closer bond with you.’
Mappy listened intently as both voices faded into the night but Ms Bella and her spouse were somehow sceptical of the advice Mr. Morgan had given.
‘Take my word for it Mappy, this incident could have ended in grief and it tells us to be careful and avoid addiction or obsession. Bad habits are very difficult to overcome once ingrained.
Your uncle Mayan went blind as a consequence of alcoholism and diabetes. Then he lost a leg because he failed to ease off drinking alcohol so the antibiotics given to him by his doctor for gangrene after he damaged his toe had no effect and the sore worsened. It is no use being in a relationship or marrying if one or other person prefers drink or drug instead of their loved one. The worst-case scenario comes when children are involved because they are often neglected or find themselves in a house filled with conflict, grief and despair. It is an almost impossible task to clean up a house or maintain any order with a drunken person in it and children most definitely should not witness such behaviour.
Youth should not be deprived of a healthy family environment. When you grow up, don’t forget I tell you this. Love and care for you wife, also treat her with tenderness and affection, then your relationship with the opposite sex will be fruitful until the end of your days. Simply learn to respect and moderate the use of liquor because it can affect everyone’s life.’
When she finished speaking, Ms Bella threw her hands around her spouse like they were newlyweds on honeymoon then she cast an affectionate look at Mappy before bursting into laughter as he shyly looked away.
‘Yes Mappy. Love is the secret of success and your Granny can discover someone good soon. So don’t forget! A woman should never run after a man or a bus either.’