You see, I can’t speak her name because she put a curse on me…You who are standing on the other side of a millennium, where everything’s explained on the Internet, can’t fathom…
Blue Boy left Kingston about nine a.m., shortly after the Chinese New Year, 1973, and wound up into the clouds. Onny (Own-ee, close, but not her real name), had her things strapped to the roof of that old, bright blue school bus. Of course, I was the sole white man onboard, and the only one who wasn’t from the island. There were many stops, to be sure, along the way. Not all were to let folks off or on. Some were just for pleasure, or to eat, or because a stubborn mule was blocking the road, and the driver had to get out and twist its ear off to get it to move along.
People have told me I should relate these events. I don’t know if there’s a story. It’s changed so many times in my mind over the years. Corn and yams baked in husks in the coals, the roots were mostly white, and went well with extra hot ox tail soup, or smelt cooked whole, so their yellow eyes were staring back at you.
“Just bite their heads off…good for you. Make you smart.”
If I was so smart, and college educated, why was I trying to import ganja from Jamaica, and shacked up with a Kingston prostitute?
The Blue Mountains only look blue from a distance, like down below in Kingston, looking up. Slow going, hairpin curves, her curves, her moist hand holding mine, she was excited as hell, showing me off. Hell yeah, she had caught a man, all right.
“He an American College Boy with lots of money…an very smar’too,” she beamed to everyone onboard.
“Him white, you know!” they responded, not referring to my race, but how incredibly pale my Nordic/Irish flesh was next to hers.
”Mmmmm,” she purred into my ear.
Fuck, it was getting hot inside the Blue Boy.
Once we climbed over the hills, we darted along a bit quicker, except for the scenic rest stops, and the inevitable, four-legged delays…
It was dusk by the time we reached our destination—Albert Town (alber’town), on the other side of the island, nestled in the sleepy hills not too far from Montego Bay. Albert Town may have been named after someone called, Albert, but it was hardly a town. There was a Post Office/General Store with electricity, and running water, there at the crossroads. And a steep pitched mud road winding up into the hills. A lone street light stood sentinel, while the driver unlashed her belongings. He and another passenger gently unloaded them onto the lip of dry, packed dirt, in between the pot-holed road and the merry mud road that led uphill to her one-room shack—her house in the country, paid for and built with her trick money.
As the Bus chugged away, a deafening quiet covered my ears unlike anything before…Sure, I had spent plenty of time, already, off by my lonesome in the Rocky Mountains. But this silence was primordial, textured, enchanting, musical and penetrated my lower abdomen with a drug-like intoxicating blend of ecstasy and dread.
As this dark quiet quickly descended and consumed all, inquisitive stars poked through the mist. I stared up at the deepening blue.
“We need to get up dat hill before it get dark.”
Huh? Looking around. Obviously, I couldn’t imagine how it would be up here on a moonless night, with no city light washing the sky. As night folded us in, I could barely make her out. The invisible woman, I could only see her light beige turban and blouse, her faded grey skirt, while her skin, along with the road and the outlines of everything else, simply disappeared.
Her large propane stove was inverted on the ground, legs kicking up. That I could see because it was white…like me! She had placed most of her belongings inside the metal well of the inverted stove. She bent over and somehow secured the metal ghost, lifted it off the dirt, and rose up on her high school sprinter’s legs, holding the stove conveyance containing her goods in her wiry arms. Then, with a grunt, and a deep bow in her legs, she hoisted the entire thing up on top of her head, and found a place, also invisible, to adhere the teetering stove to her headdress…which I only now realized, was not a fashion statement, after all, but sitting on her head waiting for this purpose to be fulfilled all damn day long.
A second later, she was darting up the hill.
“Let’s go! Keep up!”
Keep up, is right. I could not make out any features of the gullied mud road. Only by staying right in line behind her, could I follow her footsteps, and not just slip, slide, fall down, or wander off the road into the rocks and shrubbery. Shit. And I could not keep up!
She was carrying at least seventy pounds on top of her head, while I had about ten pounds comfortably held by a handle in either hand, and I was constantly falling behind. Every fifty to a hundred feet, she would have to stop and wait for me. Because I was beginning to get a clue about how dark the night could really be. And I absolutely could not navigate the mud incline without the sound of her steps, and the ghosting white of her blouse, her turban and the stove, to guide me.
“Stupid college boy,” her proud chest heaving in the night, “what are you good for?”
It was playful jeering, but still, the humiliation stung my hot cheeks even hotter.
“Good for fucking and smoking ganja all day…and dat abou’ dit!” laughing uproariously.
As she turned back up the hill, I had no come back. My legs and arms ached and my chest burned. Sweat was stinging my eyes but I could not wipe them. I was only twenty! Just a few years ago I was running track. She was older, maybe thirty. She smoked heavier than me…and right now I was completely outmatched, physically.
Luckily, her little house appeared around the next bend. I could tell we had climbed up a few hundred feet. It was colder, as I set the belongings down in tall grass.
“Not dere! It wet. On deh porch!”
I heard more than I saw her put the stove down on a little concrete stoop. As I approached it, bags in hand, the outline emerged. About four by six feet and a foot off the ground, how did they get concrete up here…
As if she heard my silent question. “Wheelbarrow, all deh way up from down dere, just like us, but it was light out!” she laughed like a schoolgirl, the peel of her laughter almost hurting my ears, as it sliced through the fragrant night like a paring knife.
She pushed the door open and she was inside. In a minute she had found a candle and lit that with her cigarette matches. I sheepishly stepped inside her abode. Well, it wasn’t bigger than a breadbasket. One room, all right, with a single window next to the front door. No glass in the window, probably not needed, yet, as it was protected by the overhang of the porch. I’d guess the room measured fifteen by eighteen—poured concrete floor, walls made from some textured plaster fashioned out of all that mud we just trudged through. Her shoes had been off the whole way up, sitting inside the inverted stove. My Georgia work boots were now resting on the front porch. The cool floor felt good under my hot, bare feet.
She lit a cigarette, Craven A, red and white pack, and blew the smoke my way.
I stuck two fingers up and she passed her cigarette to me. I took a deep pull. Smoke filled my lungs and exited out into the room where we would be staying. She took her cigarette back, and circled my waist with her arms. I reached around and felt the taut muscle in her back. I was already erect. In fact, I think I had a hard on from the moment I stepped into this little love cave.
She ground her hips against my stiffness. “Tomorrow we get Mascone to help us make a bed.”
Her hand was rubbing the front of my pants. “Tomorrow morn’ you see we climb all the way up into heaven…This is where I grew up, Erik.”
Back in my outlaw days, I called myself, Erik, but had a driver’s license that said I was Johnny.
“There some blanket in the corner. We sleep on top of them. Hold each other to keep warm.”
I strained my eyes but could not see the blankets, as she wordlessly unzipped me.
Her strong, slightly rough hand circled me. “Mmmm, deh one t’ing you good for, college boy.”
On cue, the rain started to patter upon the corrugated aluminum roof.
In the city, in her one and a half room apartment above the New Apple Bar on East Street, with all the noise and bustle—heavy trucks rattling down to the harbor—it took me forever to come.
“You gonna kill me wit’ dat t’ing,” she would squeal, only half kidding.
But that night, I was barely inside her when the lights went out in Georgia. It was like she was connected to the evening, the hillside, the earth itself, and some sprite was moving through her strong legs, grabbing onto me and shaking me like a sapling branch.
I fell into sleep, deep as the night. When I awoke, it was still dark, but the rain had died down. It was midnight in the garden of time, when the music started, as we lay in each other’s arms. Her sleep still guided by that woods spirit, or whatever it was that lived there, knew her, and was welcoming her home. Only I was awake to the frogs, in chorus extraordinaire, rising up to fill the night with their song. Ebb and flow, reaching their crescendo and dwindling back down till there were only two left singing to each other. Then building again to an immaculate climax. So exhausted, I couldn’t stay awake to listen any more. I know I dreamt only of their sound. It had colors. It was everywhere. I could ride in it, like a vessel…or an angel has wings, and their song carried me through out the hills.
In the morning I met her neighbor, Mascone. And saw heaven, too.