Sammy awoke when a soft, slimy thing fell on his face. With a swift stroke he slapped it away not knowing what the wet thing was. A draft enveloped him. Alma forgot to shut the windows, he thought shivering on a rock-hard bed in a damp room. Feeling for the bed sheet, he discovered there was none. He sat up and opened his eyes. It was pitch-black except for lights that shimmered through the not-too-distant trees. The unfamiliar room seemed immense, without walls. He barely made out the gray furniture that loomed in the blackness around him. Turning onto his side he reached for Alma. The stone-cold bed was empty. Sammy squeezed his eyes shut and thought of Alma Negron. Her face, square and plump, smiled at him from the bar stool at Aqui Me Quedo.
The night club Aqui Me Quedo sat on the highway which stretched to Red Hook dock on the eastern end of the Caribbean island of St. Thomas. Everyone knew each other there. At weekends and at Sunday cock fights, customers raised hell from early until late. Their boisterous companions were mostly Latin women who queened the bar stools, drank and flirted with men before dragging them off to tiny rooms upstairs. Alma Negron did not appear often, and when she picked up a man, she took him outside Aqui Me Quedo.
Sammy Smalls, a dark, stocky, dreadlocked mechanic and Rock Steady, his taller, muscular work mate, were addicted to the smell, the flashing lights, and the twirling rush of bodies at Acqui Me Quedo. Sammy’s felt warm all over the first time he saw Alma. He was seated at the back of the bar stirring his rum and coke when Rock Steady, elbowed him.
“Sammy, look! A wonder of de universe.”
“Sweet thing, eh. Is me lucky night, Steady.”
Alma sat facing them. The rum punch in her glass shook mildly as she swayed on a stool to a salsa tune on the jukebox. Her tight fitted jeans displayed plump, solid thighs and a small waist. Sammy’s eyes ran down her curving hips and up again. Huge breasts protruded from a green halter top. He wanted to rest his head between her cleavage.
“Steady, I feel I going win de lottery.”
“You think you could catch her?”
“Steady, she not a fish.”
“You know what I mean, Sammy. Rope her in with small talk.
“Well, I not roping anybody. She not a cow. That’s not me style.”
“You got style, Sammy?”
“No. I going be meself.”
“Sammy, you want her?”
“Of course, I want her.” His light brown shirt was damp under the armpits. He pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his sweaty face.
“Well, come up with something good.”
“Stop needling me,” Steady.
Sammy wiped his face again and stuffed his handkerchief in his back pocket. “O.K. I going.” He walked unsteadily to the front of the bar, looking back once at Steady. He straightened his slumping shoulders, then smiled. Alma Negron sat before him.
“Me name’s Sammy Smalls.” He extended wet hands. Alma’s plump, light fingers grasped his. He pulled his hands back, surprised at the weightlessness of the handshake.
“Alma Negron,” she whispered.
The deep-set grey eyes on her caramel colored face, hypnotized Sammy.
“Let’s dance. It’s carnival time, you know. No, no, no don’t stop de carnival. No, no, no, don’t stop de Bacchanal.”Alma broke out in song as she grabbed him and spun him onto the dance floor cluttered with gyrating bodies.
Dancing with Alma was dancing with air. She held him, twirled him around, leaving him dizzy, his mind in a whirl-wind. As they danced, her grey eyes glowed like a cat’s in the dark.
“El Gato.” The name popped into his head as her long nails clutched and clawed him.
“You like me?” she purred into his ear. Long nails walked down his back.
Sammy trembled. Alma held up his limp body during the next number, a slow cha-cha-cha. He woke from his trance alone on the floor. A couple clung to each other in the spotlight. A slow, oldie competed with drunken chatter in the room. It was just past midnight at Aqui Me Quedo.
Alma always left him like that every time they danced, he unaware of his surroundings, transported to another world. Steady said she usually escaped before twelve. Sammy suspected that she was married to a man who worked a late shift, maybe a security guard, who wasn’t stocky, and didn’t have rough, chiselled cheek bones like he had. He imagined the husband to be possessive of his tall, caramel-colored Venus. Sammy named Alma’s husband “The Bull Dog.” He hated this man who abducted Alma from Aqui Me Quedo around midnight. He wanted Alma for himself.
Sammy proposed to her each time they met. He brooded when Alma didn’t show up. She popped in mostly on moonlit nights. He waited for her outside the bar under a mango tree. Moonlight streamed through its branches. He watched her extend firm legs out the dark, blue taxi’s door . Then it would speed off, its occupants protected by gray tinted windows. He was convinced that Bull Dog dropped her off at Aqui Me Quedo on his way to work.
“So you come.” Sammy hugged her.
“Yes, I here. You think I wasn’t coming? I know you don’t trust me.”
“Yes, I trust you.” He held her soft, light hands and led her inside the bar. “Is your friend I don’t trust. By the way, what he do?”
“Business.” She smiled. Her cheeks swelled.
“What kind of business?”
“His hand in everything.”
“Wish I could mash them.”
“You too jealous!”
Sammy ordered her a banana daiquiri and she settled down on the bar stool. He sprinted across the room to the jukebox, watched his coins danced down its slot. A calypso blared from the machine. “Bend down, touch your toes, draw back and let your bumsy roll.”
Everyone dashed to the dance floor. Alma’s shoulders swung from side to side as she waited for Sammy to plough through the crowd to meet her. She took control. The flashing lights, reflecting on her grey eyes, dazzled him. She spun him round. He clung to her, his head stuck between large, breasts.
“You going marry me, Alma!”
“Who tell you that?”
“Me heart tell me.” He attempted to hold her still but she kept on dancing.
“Alma,” he shouted above the music. “I beg you, leave Bull Dog and marry me.”
“Sorry dumpling, I mean, you friend.”
She smiled enigmatically. “You can come home with me tonight.”
“What you say, Alma?” He thought rum had impaired his hearing.
“Tonight’s the night,” Alma whispered. “Come!”She pulled him outside and shoved him into the waiting tinted-windowed taxi.
Alma kissed him, her tongue reaching down to his soul. She chatted incessantly during the 20 minutes ride over Raphune Hill and across the town. They left the taxi near the Jewish burial ground. An old plantation house loomed ahead of them. The colonial structure, partly hidden by trees, stood behind the Jewish burial ground. The silhouette of a large veranda, which occupied the entire front of the house, seemed to dance between the trees. Alma led the way. Pulling a key from her purse, she opened a large door and flowed mirage-like into the front room. The ceiling was a high dome. Dark, velvet drapes covered the open windows that sucked the wind in and somewhere let in a little light from a nearby street lamp. Sammy shivered. White candles rested on long rectangular tables placed around the scantily fitted room. Sammy, befuddled by rum and the smell of Alma’s scented breast, stood, rooted. She glided silently into another room. Tired of standing, Sammy climbed onto a nearby table, removed the candles, stretched out and waited. He dozed.
Sometime later, he felt a thin bed sheet settle upon him. Alma slid under it and cuddled him. Her body was cold. But with sleep serenading him, Alma next to him and rum within him, he did not give a damn. Death could take him for all he cared.
A thunderclap followed by a downpour woke him again. Wet leaves swirled onto him. Gongolos dropped and crawled over his chest. He hollered at the sight of the large, black worms. Creeping daylight revealed his bed, a moss-covered grave. He closed his eyes, shook his head and wiped his face with the back of his hands. Opening one eye at a time, a cemetery emerged around him. Sammy fell down on his knees besides a headstone, shrieking. The screams, rushing from his mouth, reverberated in the trees. Terrified birds fled.
Grave diggers found his rigid body later that morning, mouth wide open.
Born in Antigua, West Indies, Althea Romeo-Mark is an educator who grew up in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. She has lived and taught in the Virgin Islands, USA, Liberia, England and in Switzerland since 1991. She earned a B.A. in English and Secondary Education from the University of the Virgin Islands and an M.A. in Modern American Literature from Kent State University, U.S.A. She also has a Cambridge Certificate in Teaching English as a Foreign Language. She considers herself a citizen of the world, having lived and taught in the US, Virgin Islands, the USA, Liberia, England and in Switzerland since 1991. She is married to Dr. Emmanuel F Mark of Hermitage, Grenada and is the mother of three adult children.
She was awarded the Marguerite Cobb McKay Prize by the Editorial Board of The Caribbean Writer in June, 2009 for publication (short story “Bitterleaf,”) in Volume 22, 2008. Was one of a hundred guest poets invited to read at the XX International Poetry Festival of Medellin, Columbia. She writes poetry and short stories and has been published in the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, The Bahamas, USA, England, Switzerland, Germany, Norway, Colombia, India, UK and Liberia.
She has published five collections of poems, If Only the Dust Would Settle, Authorhouse UK 2009, English-German, Beyond Dreams: The Ritual Dancer (Sabanoh Press, Liberia 1989), Two Faces, Two Phases (Speed-o-graphics, Liberia 1984), Palaver (Downtown Poets Co-op, New York, 1978), and Shu-Shu Moko Jumbi: The Silent Dancing Spirit, (Department of Pan-African Studies, Kent State University, 1974)