We were accustomed to staying outside late at nights, and whenever Mama was going to the shop or to visit a neighbour she never locked the door. She would just close it. Now all this changed. Things would never be the same in our little village.
Little clues continued to crop up, but at first we did not take them seriously. Miss May missed her bag of salt and a few other small items from the kitchen, but concluded that her head must be running, and she might have dumped them by mistake.
Miss Hermin missed her Mortar stick and swore that Mass Sam Must have hidden it to spite her and Mass Egbert couldn’t find one of his Dutch pots.
Then one morning when I was at school, Yvette, my friend, called me out of class.
“Your mother is at the school gate,” she said. “Ask teacher to let you out.”
I held up my two fingers to form a V and Miss A, my teacher, allowed me to leave the class. Mama was at the gate waiting for me. I was surprised to see her in her yard clothes.
“Thief broke into the house and ransack everything,” she said. “I am going to the police station to report it. Go back to yuh class.”
She left, and I stood watching her as she hurried down the hill. I could not concentrate on anything else for the rest of the day. I had two shilling and six pence tied up in a white sock and I kept wondering if the thief stole that too. I had saved up for a long time to buy ice cream and light cake and grater cake at the school harvest. I could hardly wait for lunch time to come.
As the bell rang I dashed home and bored my way through the crowd that was milling around at my gate. The door of the house was still open and the house was ransacked from top to bottom. Clothes, furniture, even food was scattered on the floor. The trunks of clothes and bed spread were capsized and the ward robe was left ajar. All the drawers were pulled out. I got the impression that the thief was searching for something in particular.
The police came and took statement, but it took a long time before the crowd dispersed.
When they were all gone we cleared the things off the floor and tidied back our house. I was happy to find the sock with my money. The thief did not find it. However he took our radio, Papa’s watch and some pound notes that Mama kept in the machine drawer. He also took some of Papa’s clothes, and all the food we had in the house. I was so mad, I wanted to catch him and send him to jail.
The search for the thief started. People started combing the hills for evidence of his hide out. That thief was smart. He wouldn’t even light a fire, so they could detect where he was.
Doors were locked early at nights, and we were warned to stay away from the hills. Papa and the other men made sure to keep a well sharpened machete in the house, and the slightest noise alerted them at nights. To be frank, everybody was on edge.
Then one evening as I reached the square, I knew something was afoot. There was a large crowd and a lot of noise. As I came nearer I realized that they had a prisoner in their midst. He was a chubby black man. He badly needed to be trimmed and shaved. His face was greasy and he was awfully dirty and haggard. They were beating and kicking him. His hands were tied with a rope and all he was doing was grunting. I felt sorry for him.
Soon the police drove up in a jeep. They praised the people for catching the thief. I watched as they opened the back of the jeep to take him away. One held his feet that were tied and the other held him under his two arms.
“One two three,” they counted and threw him into the van on the count of three.
Long after they were gone the people still stood in the square, talking about the thief. It was the first I had seen a real convict up close. I was glad they caught him, but deep inside I felt sorry for him. They had beaten him badly and then they just threw him into the jeep. That picture stayed inside my head for days.
Patricia Whittle is Jamaican. She has published two books, namely Mi Waan Fi Publish A Book: An Anthology of Jamaican Dialect Poems and Johnny, Mass Tom and the Fatal Error: Three Short Plays for the Jamaican Audience. She is a librarian and a teacher of English Literature.