Windward Islands 1978
– Why yuh kant just tell it?
– ‘Cause I ‘fraid nuh.
– ‘fraid-a what, Silvi? It ain’t like nobody don’t know already. Every damn body gossiping up a storm behind yuh back. Dats dee way dees folks does work. So wha yuh gon do ’bout it? Wha you gon find to say? If I was you? I would tell it, sis. Tell all of it.
Brent pushed back in the rickety old chair, his behind finely balanced over a hole in its wicker seat, which at any moment looked ready to bust loose sending his ass straight to the floor. The chair like the roof and other items of furniture and clothes in this rickety old house, had a hole smaller than the one Silvi was presently navigating the perimeter of but the irony wasn’t lost.
– All people is know, is dat I pregnant. And, dats only ’cause-a loud mouth Lian jumpin fence. She ain’t know a damn ting ’bout loyalty … yuh hear muh? Friend my ass! I ain’t never call nobody friend outside-a you, and you is muh brudder, so you gotta put up wid me regardless. But when Lian betray me so … shooting off she mouth ’bout tings dat don’t concern her? Well, I tell yuh, dat burnt someting terrible in here.
Silvi sucked her teeth, wringing out her damp face-cloth over the sink and wiping the back of her neck, her other hand falling to the small of her belly. A bulge, no bigger than a shaddock, all hard and sticking upfront, made her old dingy grey T-shirt look as if she was hiding a football underneath. She laughed.
Ain’t it funny how dee strangest memories does pop in yuh mind at the funniest times, Silvi thought, remembering how she used to tease Brent and dem youts up on dee pasture wid deh football. They had teams, goalies, a ref all carved out in their mind’s eye, like it was flippin’ Wembley or somin’ and not dusty dirt wid nuh shoes pon deh feet, two sticks marking goal and crazy Johnny as ref busy bending rules like sugar cane in a strong breeze. Silvi would sneak up on their game, which they treated like serious business. Stealing the ball, she would pop it under her shirt for a laugh. Look who got baby, eh? Who gon come and get it?
The boys would freeze watching Silvi parade around, hands akimbo, switching her hips provocatively, like she was on a catwalk or auditioning for a part in one-a dem American soaps on TV. Silvi loved to act out. And all the boys had a crush on her at one time or other. Her pride told her then, she was young with the whole world and everyone in it at her feet. Everyting done figure out … ‘xcept …
Silvi smiled at her broken reflection in the cracked mirror, her puffy red eyes, the black circles underneath like old truck tires looping, her sunken cheekbones from vomiting and a lack of appetite. She was unable to hold down much of anything these days. She could hardly recognize that face.
I used to be pretty, she thought. There was a time when the slightest smile would be answered by a wave of catcalling. She used to love to flirt, to stir it up. To bask in male attention. All eyes on her. To role a spliff, have a drink, a dance, a laugh. High on life. High on the innocence of impossible dreams made easy. One day. All she need do was get to hell outta here and don’t look back. In this place of country bush, palm, cart road, cane and rum shack, where nothing much changed, pockets empty, time stretched long, where there never felt like any ‘out’ in sight.
They didn’t call it Prat’s Bottom for nothin’… dreams here felt devoid of flight.
Still, the lone bell on the wooden church tolled. And Silvi didn’t want to burst her brother’s bubble. They’d been raised by Gran to believe in biblical overcomings. There were possibilities with the workings of God’s hand, his grace. Silvi had to concede it possible even if the pessimist had given up on belief a long time ago.
– Please tell it. I gon’ back you up.
Brent jolted her back to the present. He was now standing, straightening his black tie, his white button-down starched crisp. Church was in twenty minutes. The bustle of skirts and sent of soap already drifting in through the window on a soft breeze.
– Shame the whole lot-a dem into knowin. Mekk ‘em face it and live wid it.
He pleaded, standing and turning his sister’s shoulder so her hazel greens met his.
– I can’t do dat.
Silvi mumbled, raising a hand to her brother’s smooth cheek, her touch light, barely a caress, as if she was admiring a much-loved sculpture for the last time.
All Silvi could think was how besides Gran, Brent was the only real natural love she’d known. Dees two, the only two people who didn’t take but gave. Gran had passed when Brent was ten. Silvi had held onto her spirit and raised him alone.
– Twenty years old.
She muttered in awe, staring at Brent as if seeing him anew, her eyes wide and slightly bulging, swollen from hours of crying. He had grown tall, with the same smooth dark brown skin as her own and endearing almond shaped eyes. Although still a boy to her, with ample height and broad shoulders, he was occupying a body of a man.
– Tell dem.
Brent’s tone was insistent, ignoring her whisper as fresh tears brimmed.
– Tellin’ ain’t gon make tings better. In fact it gon mek tings a whole lot worse. Let me go, B. Let me tekk muh cross ‘n bear it.
Silvi gulped down a sob, her heart aching for strain. Losing Gran had been her first physical heartbreak, loving the Reverend her second, leaving Brent her possible undoing. Silvi’s face fell. Poor Brent, a treasure, a fountain of goodness.
Maybe if I hold him close enough, all dee darkness I got bottle-up gon burn off under dee fountain of he goodness. Maybe, but unlikely.
Brent’s good heart still clung to a belief in the village elders and the goodness of humankind. Silvi would call his optimism stupid, naive. But she wouldn’t do that anymore. Brent was the dearest brother and sweetest soul she’d ever known. His chances would surely be better. No one wanted to hurt him, but everyone was out to get her. So Silvi would face the lay of the land.
The facts of the current situation spoke for themselves.
The village was out for blood. Tongues were on fire. If they were dogs, they’d be foaming at the mouth. The married local Pastor had been disrespected. His good name fallen into disrepute.
God help dat poor soul. Lawd have mercy…
God help me. Silvi blinked back a tear but it spilt anyway. The pain of the indefensible already scratched at her eyes.
Brent wiped her tear, drawing his sister to him and locking her in his arms.
Silvi sobbed, her cheek pressed to the warmth of this chest, her words muffling.
– There can be no justice here, Brent. Not when dee man who work for God brekk muh heart and got muh in torment. Everybody love him. I is love him too. I know you tink I is all wrong but I ain’t been dee first. Remember Antonella? People will always see wha deh wan see and hide what deh got to hide. I is up against a pillar of dis Godforsaken community. Deh ain’t nuh pleasure in a position like mine. I is damned if I do and damned if I don’t, seen? Dat’s why I is ready to carry my person somewhere else. I gon find a place where nobody gon know or care ‘bout my ‘sposed damnation, and I gon send fuh yuh.
Brent’s arms tightened around his sister’s small frame. He was a man in size but he didn’t feel it deep. At that moment, he wasn’t sure he ever would.
– It ain’t fair.
– How many times I gon’ hav’ to tell it, Brenny? Ain’t a ting ’bout life dat is.
Silvi’s Lament ©2021 L.S. Bergman