Cocks, Hens, Dogs and a Swine

Sleep doesn’t come easily.  It never really did.  Ever since I was little I would lay in bed with my hands behind my head listening and waiting, gazing at nothing in particular, just the blackness of my room.   
Mum kept guard in a corner of our dimly lit living room, shaking her thighs as if she had a circulation problem.  Always did shake herself like that ever since I was little.  And she hollowed the floor with the feet of her chair to the point that that tight space of the room had become that chair’s permanent quarters.  And mum shook herself in earnest, taking brief pauses to distinguish pedestrian sounds.
I knew the sound of my father’s footsteps.  My ears had become sharp with years of practice.  He made heavy plods that were nothing short of burdensome.  Father’s gait wasn’t filled with purpose but came off as a listless shuffle where his big feet grated anything in their path.  That was father’s way.  Unmistakable and different from the marches and swaggering sounds of the people I have become used to hearing on the roadside.
***
I sit in church the next morning knowing full well what happened last night and I wonder if anyone else knew.  As I steal furtive glances around me, no one looked my way which strikes me as odd since most are neighbours and my house is pinched up beside each of their own houses where a cough sends a mild breeze through the jalousies.  Gossip doesn’t travel any different hence the reason for my suspicion.  Maybe they aren’t concerned.  Perhaps what occurred last night comes off as nothing but common practice.  Maybe they do know what happened at my house, but right at this moment, God is more important - I tell myself these things, trying to settle my nerves, yet still; I couldn’t help but think about last night.
Last night father dragged his feet under him like bags of cement.  He let off a mean laugh that at that instant stopped my breath.  That sinister laugh pierced through my bedroom window - the window closest to the roadside that led to the entrance of The V Spot where cocks meet hens.  The V Spot sells barbeque chicken and chips as well as birds of a human variety.  That establishment prided themselves on those hairy chicks.  Said the legs were sumptuous and the breasts were the most 'tenderest' of parts.  But the cavity was the crux of the matter of which its patrons paid dearly.  Unlike father, I preferred real chicken thighs; had a taste on my thirteenth birthday because father prided himself on the fact that that day was my right of passage into manhood.  Nothing at the V Spot was left to the imagination so there was an eye-full, enough to raise my nature and cause me much embarrassment. Got kisses and was smothered into the bare chests of the women who thought I was cute - kept it all a secret to this day.
Wendy’s stocks and sells spirits and lagers from along the island chain that more than quenched my father’s thirst.   Never had the taste for beer or rum and don’t need it.  Don’t even like the smell of alcohol.  But father wallowed like a swine without a conscience.  As if he thought about nothing else cause there was no one else to benefit from the coppers he squandered on himself.  As if he were single and could hangout for as long as he saw fit.  Like there was no one sucking a thumb, holding on to his mother’s skirt tail, looking all pot-bellied and sickly from hunger and longing in his eyes while mother bawled her lungs out at an empty cupboard. 
Well, I’m man enough now to bare hunger knots.  But it was that bad not so long ago and from time to time there was some confusion in my ability to think coherently.  Even though mum expected me to do well in exams I find it difficult to concentrate in school, when my eyes refused to stay open and when my stomach gave out my business. 
I’ve seen a hungry dog before.  In fact, I’ve seen a great many and have wondered, do I look like them?  At times I’ve felt like them – heads hung, tongues flapping outside the mouth, tails between the legs, bones sticking out, walking aimless, looking all mangy and dirty, half dead and flat-faced with sad eyes.  I’m convinced that I do look like them - nothing but skin and bones with a droopy posture, looking older than I really am.
Last night, before father came inside, he jerked my heart with that mean laughter of his; that thundering sound, cracked with such a magnitude through his thick, rum burnt lips so much so, that his emaciated frame couldn’t support its power.  Father tilted forward, leaned on the sideboard of the house and stumbled more than once.  I was praying he wouldn’t come inside that he would somehow fall asleep on the steps or perhaps collapse at the slimy gutter side where his kind belonged.  The plywood door rattled and creaked just as much as my stomach did.  The hollow floors, too, murmured just as much as my heart did.      
‘Go right back to bed.’  I jumped when mother caught my shadow in the living room.  ‘This is between your father and me.’
Isn’t it always? My mind argued.  I spoke up, taking a chance at getting a box behind the ears or a fat lip.
‘Please mum, not tonight,’ I begged, knowing she would never win.
But before mum could deliver a strong back hand, father said to me, ‘Go straight boy.  Do as the lady say.’
As I scurried away, my heart drummed a constant rhythm, as if a boxer was using it for a speed bag and almost made me choke on my own spit.  My head pounded so hard that the bed shook itself from under me or so I thought.  No one ever considered what all this was doing to me. 
‘Dagan, where you coming from this time a night,’ mother asked, as if she didn’t know the answer.
Father must have staggered off because while his feet scraped the floor my mum’s trembling voice and impatient steps followed behind.
‘Every night you come in here smelling stink, stink and we must accept it.  We aint nobody.  You can find money to squander on hairy bank but you can’t take care of who inside here.  We’re hungry, hungry like dogs but your stomach full.
‘Move out the way,’ father said.
‘No.  Don’t touch me,’ mum said.
‘Then make me pass.’
‘I said, no,’ mum’s voice trembled more.
So had the walls from the commotion between them in the living room.
‘Don’t put your nasty hands on me, I said.  I don’t know where they’ve been,’ Mummy struggled to speak. 
Her voice lessened and she blew short of crying.  I jumped right out of bed the second I heard her gasp for air and crouched down behind the old couch. Father held mum round the neck like a chicken I once saw him butcher on the farm where he works.  Mum put up a fight, though.  She scratched and kicked and dug her nails into his face.
‘Dora,’ father groaned, ‘I just want sleep.’
‘Not in my clean bed.  Not in this house with your ripe rum breath and sour body.  You smell stale, stale.’
‘What you mean by that?’ father slurred.  ‘Who pay for this?  You see me?  Me can come when and anyhow you see me feel like,’ Daddy argued. 
‘You, pay what?’ Mums voice cracked.  ‘You aint paying a thing.  Me pay.  With the little I make cleaning one house or another.  I use that to feed me and child.  I’ve managed to stretch what little I have for light, water and still food.  Sometimes I don’t know how I make it and most times it doesn’t work.  There are times when the bills are so high just because I’ve neglected to pay them.  Just because I ask myself what is more important at the time.  Just because I get so frustrated with this kind of life and rather buy food.  But, do you even give a damn about anything inside here, or anybody?  Your own son goes to bed on a night on a empty stomach and it seems as if you don’t give two kicks.  We’ve been paying ever since I said, “I do,” to your worthless piece of fart.  Should have followed my mind and left you standing with your hand-to-mouth pockets.  Can’t feed me nor child.  You don’t set any good example for him.  Go back where you come from, you hear what I tell you?  You and them alike so make sure them put you up for the night.’
Father chucked mum to the floor, dealt with her as if she were his sex and size and he shouted words mother warned me from repeating.  I startled back to bed, feeling my temples throb.  I dumped a pillow on my head to stifle the sound of my own screeches.

***
‘Let us pray,’ Father Ifill said.
I move forward to kneel on the pew like everyone else.  When I close my eyes, darkness descends upon me and embraces me like a cloak and I’m indeed amazed at how much I am comforted by this.  Darkness promised to feed mother and me with its own kind of spiritual food that I may never hunger in this lifetime or in that to come.  Father is nowhere in this revelation.  Mother and I are living life in a mansion furnished with only the best of everything imaginable.  We are not in want for nothing.
But there are also awesome wonders to behold such as been preached to humankind for centuries; in this vision, fire-breathing dragons emerged from the dark; dragons with multiple heads that wore spectacular diadems even greater than any earthly gem.  And those dragons torched Christendom, razed her mighty backbone to cinders.    
‘Amen,’ Father Ifill said.
My eyes are opened but the fire bright light is unbearable.  In the darkness I can see what I need in life but in this light I am blinded by hypocrisy. 
Father Ifill’s prayer goes through one ear and out the next and I’m sure it goes over the heads of others who are just as miserable.  My soul is still troubled and my flesh grows even weaker. 
‘My father for another night of quiet, sleep and rest…”  The organist pumps her feet and scratches the ivories.  I love this song but now isn’t the time to enjoy it.  And though the choir sings exceptionally, I can’t help but drift back to last night.  I can still hear my mother begging father to stop.  I can hear his short grunts; the vivid tumbles and clashes; the collision on the weak partition to my bedroom.  My sobs and snivels; my pounding temples because I thought he was going to kill mum. 
‘For all the joy of morning light thy holy name be blest,’ the young voices chorus like something out of heaven.  They beckon me to listen, summoning my spirit back into the pews from the ugliness that reels in my mind.  Their voices spray numbness all over my body and as I tingle from the sensation, I realise how little the words mean to me.  In fact, the words mean nothing.  There is nothing joyful about the morning light.  The house I left behind is filled with the rustiness of father’s rum scent and the salty air of his perspiration.   
In the light I left mum with a bloody swollen face and she can hardly move for all the bruises about her body.  Yet mother didn’t forget what day it was and even though there wasn’t a soul to deliver her from evil, she insists that I go to God’s house for worship.  And while mother licks her wounds father sleeps soundly in bed.  I’m in the benches confused and sleepy with a tight, grumbling stomach.  And no amount of divination can comfort me. 
Father Ifill passes his basket around for his own pastoral needs.  I pass it along, gazed at it as if I don’t even know what it is for.  Can’t offer what I don’t have.  But mum always paid.  Mother is a staunch Christian woman and as much as we don’t have to eat, she makes sure to drop a few change in the collection plate.  I see what father does.  Would like to do something about it but deep down – my better judgement keeps talking, telling me, stop.  You mustn’t think that way.  It’s a sin to raise your hand against a parent no matter the circumstance.  So should I watch father kill mum?  Isn’t that a greater sin? On my way out I glare hard and fast at the long-suffering saints on crosses.
It’s a pity I’m only sixteen; too young to do anything about father; too young to free my mother of the evil Father Ifill constantly preaches about.  It’s not to say that I can’t do anything for I’ve heard about teenagers my age taking matters into their own hands, killing a parent or two for whatever reason – going to ‘juvee’ – getting out for good behaviour.  Come to think of it, if I did out my father’s light, there will be three meals a day in it for me which is way more than I am getting now.  I will get a decent night’s rest and still be afforded an education; all free but at what cost?  Lord knows I would do anything for some food in my stomach; to spare myself of the gases that wring and grind my insides, causing me to double over in cold sweat.  I have the will to do something about what father does to mum but when I think deeply, I often wonder, what will mum think, what would Jesus do, and can I really sacrifice my freedom and in the end give mum even more heartache?  ‘No’ I say.  But then, darkness fills my head again and reminds me of ‘an eye for an eye’.  I really can’t just sit around like some coward and watch my mother suffer anymore.  I need to do something for real.  Even though my hand is forced, I don’t want to think that way.  And even though the darkness is so enticing, mother raised me with a good head on my neck.    
The sun is out in a sky filled with grey cumulus, shooting down raindrops like stray bullets.  A thick crowd assemble in front of my little chattel which is unusual when there’s heavy rainfall.  I’m accustomed to seeing people scatter for shelter.  Some even lock themselves in their homes whole-day.  But the rains couldn’t deter my neighbour’s curiosity. 
There are flashing strobe lights on top of quiet police cars and an ambulance outside of my house.  Tighter knots replace my hunger murmurs.  I pick up my heels and at the same time a sinking pain occur in the pit of my stomach.  As I approach the crowd, familiar faces confront me.  ‘There he is,’ they all pointed at me.  I feel like a maypole drawing magnets of stares.  The whole neighbourhood started barking opinions and clucking like mad.  ‘There was a ruckus!’  Someone yells.  Two police officers grab hold of my arms and drag me aside. 
‘Let me go, I live there,’ I say.
‘We know, son.  Where have you been?’ they ask. 
I look down at my clothes and shoes then back at them.  They want to know what happened before I left the house.  They ask about my mother and my father.  I stiffen up, didn’t know what to think or say but keep on looking at the house for any one of my parents.  The men in blue strolled out carrying a stretcher in their hands and the body lying down is covered with a starch white but bloody sheet.  My eyes search the faces of the two men who had dragged me aside and when I try to speak, my whole body seize up. 

“Who is that?” I groan.  “Mummy,” I cry, bolting after the body but the police grab me up.  The sky turns red then black.
 “What happen to you?” the policemen catch me as I faint out.
“I feel nauseous and my head is spinning.”
“Sit down here,” they put me on the sidewalk. 

****
Police now order the crowd aside so the men in blue could get inside the ambulance but the hard-ears people still saunter round.  They seem to think they are at a block party liming with friends having a chit-chat and laughing hard.  Their hot breaths and sweaty bodies make the place unbearable to breathe in.  I didn’t want to see them, hear them nor smell them.  I rest my head in my hands, looking at the slimy gutter below trying to block them all out of my mind.  But in trying to do so a tepid tear trickles down my nose. 
A hush stills the air.  When I spring round from the gutter-side, the skin on my scalp crawls and tickles my head.  Goose-pimples swell my flesh and give me chills.  My mum is so unrecognizable to everyone that they are silenced.  She walks out the house her barely visible eyes, fat lips and the swollen bruises on her face – looking as grungy and as bloody as father did after a day’s work on the chicken farm.  The murmurs and chatters begin again.  Mum waves an awkward hand down her dress, pressing the creases flat, straightening her butterfly collar and raking back her messy hair until it was almost presentable.  She limps down one step.  She takes a look at the people round her.  An officer nudges her to move ahead.  Mum holds a hand up and mutters something to him.  He talks back in a defiant manner from the looks of it.  Mum raises her voice, “I am a God-fearing woman and a law-abiding citizen.  I won’t run from what I have done.  With that the officer backs off and mum looks around again.
“Did you all come to see his masterpiece,” she addresses the crowd.  “Take a good look at his work,” she urges all.  “You come here to spectate so you can carry news back where you come from?  You,” she points to a set of faces belonging to next door.  “You have heard my screams for help.  Did you ever come?  Did you ever call a soul to help?  Did you even pray for me the woman bawling for murder?  Not once!  You did not have the gumption to help me but you have the gall to spread gossip.”  Mum’s lips tremble. 
“And you,” she looks at my father’s friends all ganged up to one side.  Have you ever spoken to Dagon about the way he treats me?  You ever tell him to treat me right – to take care of his son so he can grow up to live life right.  I know you know all that happen inside here.  I know you have given him advice on what to do and what not to do?  See your work and delight in it.” 
Mum’s hand trembles toward the authorities behind her.  “How many times have I called and how many times have you ignored?  Why didn’t you listen to me?  Is it because I am a woman?  I know you are tired of hearing my voice on your phone, annoyed with this face in your office, sick of the same old complaints of Dagon beating me over and over again and again. 
Who have helped?  She glares at the brothers and sisters of her faith.  Who of you have helped when we are hungry?  Who comes to visit when we are sick or unable to attend any of the church services?  Who of you?” 
“Mummy,” I call out.  Mum’s chest begins to heave and she snivels.  My lips quiver too, tears surge down my face and my shock fades into deep sorrow.    
“Don’t worry,” mum’s voice trembles as she speaks, “God is in the midst.”
I hold my head in my hands again this time wondering, is he?
----------
 Tammi Browne-Bannister is a fiction writer from the island of Antigua who did a creative writing course at the Barbados Community College.  Her short story entitled, “Mango Belly,” has been published in Anansesem, an online children’s magazine.  “The Night You Left,” another short fiction about the death of a kindred spirit was short-listed in the 2012 Wadadli Pen Challenge Prize, a prestigious writing award on the island of Antigua.  Tammi has also written “A Muddle or a Revelation?” a critique for the visual arts department of the Barbados Community College for an exhibition entitled, “COME OUT TINGS.”  Her short stories have been awarded at the National Independence Festival of Cultural Arts (NIFCA) in Barbados.  Tammi lives in Barbados with her husband and children.

3 comments:

Robert Gibson said...

Tammi!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I LOVE THIS.... I couldn't stop reading.... this is brilliant writing ... I am totally in love with this piece.

TamBrann said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Graham B said...

A very strong and meaningful piece. Should be used to promote dometic violence issues. Loved it.

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