Friday, 18 March 2011

Somebody Can Just Dead So? - If Only Fish Could Talk!

There is a Jamaican saying, or maybe it's Caribbean, "If fish come from riva battam and tell you say dung deh deep, believe him!"

Well, when I stood in the autopsy room at Cornwall Regional Hospital to identify my father before the nice lady doctor could cut him open to try to find out what had killed him, I tried my best not to look at the place where his mouth used to be, where all that I could see were my father's teeth.

What an awful way to die! A man, who no one had ever bothered to take a photo of while he was alive, so horribly disfigured in death that it would not make any sense to try to take a photo of him even after they fixed him up for burial.

I could not wrap my mind around the fact that my father's missing upper lip was in the bellies of the likkle crayfish dem that me used to help turn over rockstone to catch!

Catching Crayfish in the River
While I turned the stones, my bigger cousins would hold the baskets below and the crayfish, disturbed from their hiding places, would swim frantically down stream to be trapped by the baskets.

It was a brilliant plan! Never mind that by the time we were finished we would be wet from head to toe and would either catch a fine beating or a cold if our clothes weren't dry fast enough, we were catching fish so our lunches were secure.

I can still remember the triumphant faces of my cousins as they hoisted the baskets out the water quick, quick and inspected their catch before stuffing them into their pants pockets, where devoid of oxygen, they would stifle to death.

I also remember as if it was yesterday, the tangy taste of the crayfish soup on my tongue which would sometimes be painfully scorched when I hurriedly drank the soup before it cooled properly, anxious to be off to our next adventure and not wanting to be left behind by my very nimble cousins.

By the way, almost everybody in Belfont were cousins, known and unknown. It was a small district and it wasn't hard when we put our heads to it to trace the family connections.

So I had a large pool of cousins and friends to run around with. I was the third youngest of my mother's 13 children, (one died during child birth so most times I just say she had 12). By the time I came along, at least three of my older brothers had moved to Kingston and my one sister Precious and my older brothers considered me an annoyance and would make sure I didn't see when they were leaving the yard so I wouldn't follow them.

They felt I talked too much and anything they did, when I got home, I felt the need to share. That would earn them plenty licks from my mother, as if she asked, I told. I, in turn, would get plenty licks from them when she wasn't looking, so me hanging out with my cousins instead worked out fine for all parties involved; well all except my mother, she had to figure out other ways to find out what my older siblings were up to.

So back to the crayfish soup.

Dem days the only seasoning was salt. The crayfish and any little green bananas we could find were the only other ingredients. If we cut off any of the bananas from the bunch my mother had leaning against the fire side, we made sure we took the smaller, baby ones near the top of the bunch that she would not miss.

The soups were cooked in either condensed cans (the empty tins that condensed milk comes in), when we only managed to catch a few fish, or cheese pans when we had caught a whole heap of fish that day.

The baskets we used to catch the crayfish were made from thin bamboo strips. They were the pride and joy of the owners and belonged to anybody in Belfont careless enough to leave them outside after returning from grung with them. The baskets were used to carry ground provisions from the farms and also to carry anything to be planted to the farms which in Belfont and many Jamaican rural districts, were called grungs, the Jamaican word for ground which makes perfect sense when you stop to think about it!

Now, no adult liked when we used their grung baskets to catch fish as the water from the river would weaken the bamboo strips making them mash up quick! The price for a grung basket was plenty money in those days and for people who only farmed to feed themselves, that was a whole heap of money! Their grung baskets were treasures, rivalled only by the yellow, soft or haffu yams they would place in them before hoisting them on their heads and making their way over rivers spanned by makeshift bamboo bridges, hurrying to reach home before rain to cook dinner.

Yams were the main things carried in the baskets, as they bruised easily. Other ground provisions like sweet potatoes, pumpkin and ockras were carried home in crocus bags slung over shoulders. Bananas were simply hoisted onto heads on kattas made from banana bush or leaves and carried by the bunch.

"A hope a no mi basket unno carry go a riva go ketch fish enno!" my mother would yell when she spied us huddled around the fire in the outside kitchen making crayfish soup.

Our unisoned "No mama!" if even not convincing, would be confirmed by the sight of her grung basket dry as chip, still leaning against the roses tree in front of the kitchen where she had left it. Now Cow Son or Dada would have different stories! They had no children, so could not run dung anybody to beat when they found their grung baskets soaking wet and sometimes with gaping holes in the sides where the force of the water rushing out had burst them when we hoisted the baskets out the riva fast, fast, to prevent the small crayfish dem from escaping.

By the time they made the rounds of parents to complain and got to our mothers when they bucked them up at Mass Maxie shop or over Miss Fan's house or down a river, we eat dem deh cray fish long time and was busy hunting guava in bushes to full we belly until the whole basket argument cool down and we could risk 'borrowing' another one to go round up some more crayfish.

"Well, I haven't eaten crayfish since my father's death and now that I stop to think of it, maybe them schwims (shrimps) that I bought on King Street in Kingston when I was in first form at Kingston Technical High School which gave me the worst colic I have ever had in my life was a premonition of my father's death and the horrible injustice done to his upper lip by Belfont Riva crayfish them!

Jamaican Shrimp Vendors
I never bought schwims from those vendors again, I suspected the lady probably had the schwims dem for days as sales was slow and sold me stale schimps to almost kill me off.  I swore off schimps from then after spending an entire night on the toilet seat and retching into a chimmy at the same time. Colic is the most terrible affliction, ask anybody who has ever had colic!

Colic I believe is the body's violent reaction to stale or spoiled food ingested. The simultaneous, repeated vomiting and bowel movement is the body's frenzied attempt to expel the offending matter.

So when the crayfish dem do mi fadda so bad, mi already neva like dem from mawnin!

My final memories of my father were of him lying under the cruel glare of a bright strobe light, his teeth grinning obscenely to the sky or rather, the hospital room ceiling. After the first horrified look, I made sure not to look again, but felt confident in telling the doctor that it was indeed my father, from the bright green shirt and faded jeans pants he was wearing. I also recognised the soles of his feet, which were encrusted and hard. As far as I can recall, my father rarely, if ever, wore shoes.

I hurried out of the room before the doctor could cut my father open and she, the kind lady that she appeared to be, allowed me to stumble to the door, my eyes blinded by hot tears, before she made her incision.

I finally found the door, yanked it open and stood, staring with unseeing eyes in the direction of the houses over by Cornwall Gardens beside the hospital. As I fought back the tears, bitter thoughts flooded my mind and an awful feeling of loss and a yawning emptiness settled in my stomach.

I think it was then that it finally hit me; my father was well and truly dead.

No way was he going to ever come back now! Certainly not after the doctor used the short, very sharp looking knife she had positioned below his neck, just above his chest to cut him open down the middle.

Three Jobs at The Same Time at 22 years old
I had been away in Kingston when my father died. On the final leg of my required orientation period after getting a job at Telephone Company of Jamaica just a few months before. It was my second full time job after leaving the Montego Bay Community College where I had gone to study for one year after I graduated from Kingston Technical High School (KT) and returned home to Belfont.

I had worked at the Water Commission's (NWC) office at Bogue in Montego Bay after I left Comm. College and while there, I applied for and got two part time jobs. One working as a customer service representative on week ends at a ground handlers airline, Ajas Ltd. Ajas handled check in and operations for mainly chartered flights into Montego Bay and a few private planes.

The airline also had a cargo service which was a huge part of its operations and which generated a significant part of it's income. A lot of stories circulated about clandestine drug running opportunities and activities especially at Ajas' cargo, but poor innocent me from Belfont had no clue about the sinister implications of those rumours at the time.

While I was holding down those two jobs, Irie FM, Jamaica's first radio station to have 24 hour broadcasting of only reggae music, was just taking off.

In an island where reggae was the cultural voice of the grass roots people, Irie FM was like water to parched tongues.

I remember in the days when I would walk down Church Street in Montego Bay's town centre which was and still is small like mi hand miggle, small bad! (where you would run into the same person 10 times in half an hour), I would hear Irie FM blasting from every taxi window, the multiplying effect making it seem like one giant radio was blasting reggae music nonstop!

The radio station capitalised on its early mass appeal and popularity and spun people's reactions to its refreshing programming approach and content into humourous, catchy jingles that helped to establish the station's brand presence.

Irie FM emerged at the top of the all island media survey with the most listernership after only a few years.

At a time when radio programming was very traditional and predictable,  Irie FM's emergence truly reflected 'the heart beat of the people,' (another tag line).  The radio station appealed to a mainly grass roots audience, including ghetto and country youths who were musically talented but were not being given many opportunities in the very competitive local music industry.

Irie FM changed all that and gave young artistes a chance fi buss. 'Revolutionizing radio.' (Another tag line)

Poor people began to hear themselves on radio instead of Allan Magnus, Dorraine Samuels or Marie Garth with the Colgate Cavity Fighters Club. When they turned on their radio,they were able to hear their own voices or that of their relatives or friends, blasting on a riddim over airwaves.

Irie FM basically took off like a rocket!

While doing the one year business course at the Montego Bay Community College, I had done my compulsory internship at The Gleaner's Western Bureau.

My first article was published in the Gleaner then. (A short story I had written while I was in high school, was published in the Sunday Gleaner while I was in first form, but that's a whole different story for another blog post.)

My internship at the Gleaner had fueled my love of writing.

Having decided at 14 that I wanted to become a journalist, I was still alert for any possibilities to work in media although I was employed at Telephone Company as a Clerk/Typist and had performed the same duties at my first job at National Water Commission and was doing something entirely different at the airport.

While working at Telephone Company in 1993 on my way to buy patty and coco bread in the patty shop in front of Home Town Supermarket one day for lunch, I spied the Irie FM sign above a door to the side of the super market building and resolutely mounted the stairs to make my job pitch.

The lady who was branch manager at the time, listened to me, but told me that all the news correspondents positions were filled but they were hunting for sales reps. Well, if it meant I would be working for the hippest radio station at the time, of course! So I took the part time advertising sales position.

That is how, at about 22 years old, I had three jobs at one time.

Well, when my father died the year before in 1992, I had only one job at the time and was in Kingston being trained to take up my position in Montego Bay. So I wasn't even in Belfont when he was found dead.

I was not among the crowd that gathered incredulously to peer over the high bridge/culvert to where he lay wedged, face down, between two rock stones.

I did not get to see who from the district walked through the bushes to that unused part of the river to turn him over and helped to lift and take his body out of the river and place it on the roadside on a sheet of zinc.

Watching the Dead, An All Night Vigil
I wasn't there to keep my mother's and my brother Earl's company when as night wore on, the people in the district moved away one by one to go home, leaving them alone to watch over my father's body.

My mother was fearful that if it was left alone, dogs would feast on it, finishing the task the dreadful crayfish had started.

I wasn't there, but when I did get home two days after on the week end; I listened in silent horror and disbelief as Earl, the talker that he was, bitterly confided that Miss Roada, whose verandah light was the only one near enough to where my father's body was, had turned off the light when she went to bed, plunging the entire area into pitch black darkness. She had said no when she was asked if my father's body could be placed on her verandah until morning.

The bulb from Miss Roada's verandah had beamed on my brother and my mother and made the night seem less scary, especially after everyone else went home and the two of them waited for morning to arrive.

Those days and even now, no piped water or street lights were in Belfont. Electricity had arrived in the district but only some people had light.

I don't remember if I passed and told Miss Roada howdy from that day! She is dead now so I can pass her house and hold my head straight with a clear conscience. But knowing how I hold on tight to a grudge, I don't think she got any more howdy dos from me before she died!

Our house was too far up the road to carry my father's body to. Besides, the road was very bad and if people weren't willing to stay and help watch his body, you think them would help to lift it up and carry it so far? Then there would be problems again to carry it back down when transportation came to take it to the morgue. Because, right where my father was found dead is exactly where almost every car that came to Belfont reach and stop as the road was too bad for any driver with any sense to try to go any further. Everybody walked from there.

As the evening turned to night, (Miss Bibby Joy had found my father's body after four o'clock the Thursday evening) everybody began to realise that the vehicle wasn't coming to take Blood anywhere that night.

My brother eventually convinced my mother to go home long past midnight to try to get some rest. She later told me that she did not sleep a wink that night, but lay awake looking at the ceiling. Her husband and father to nine of her 13 children had just been found dead in the river. I imagine she had a lot to think about that night. They hadn't lived together for a long time before his death, but he was still her husband and she was responsible for burying him.

Earl told me that after my mother left, he sat on the concrete wall that ran along side of the river, right across from where my father had fallen to his death and tried to hurry the night along by just wishing day would light out quick, quick, quick!

Earl was a brave soul, because he was sitting with the body of my father right across from the pass that led to Mass Wedderburn's house. I guess just a few hours after my father's body had been found, Mass Wedderburn's duppy may not have been the prime suspect yet, people were just frightened and puzzled.

But the duppy had been discussed, as my father had only buried Mass Wedderburn the day before and since nobody could figure out how my father had died, it wasn't hard for the rural people to put two and two together.

I am not sure if Mass Wedderburn was on Earl's mind as he prayed for day to light out, but I imagine that a freshly dead duppy could perform only so many murders for the week and as far as we knew, Mass Wedderburn and Earl never had anything between them. Mass Wedderburn would go to Earl's shop to buy things from time to time, Earl would sell him, give him back his change and that was that.

Earl made it through the dark night without incident. The hearse driven by a man known only as G, did not arrive to collect my father's body until after 10 o'clock the next morning after many messages were sent to Cambridge to him. He had a contract to collect bodies for Madden's Funeral Parlour for people who died in Belfont and some other nearby districts.

I was incensed when I heard what he said when the first message reached him about my father's death.

"Well him done dead aready! Him naah go no whey! Blood affi wait until mawnin before me go fi him!"

The Autopsy - More Questions Than Answers
So there I was a few weeks after my father's death seeing him for the first time since I had given him some money and left for Kingston (I had come home for the weekend); his upper lip missing and his lifeless body about to be cut open by a lady doctor at the Cornwall Regional Hospital morgue.

However, the autopsy didn't help solve the mystery of my father's death as we expected. The doctor sat me down after she was finished and she and I had a frank discussion.

She appeared very puzzled about what could have killed my father, but she did rule out drowning.

"There was a some liquid present in his lungs, but not enough to drown him," she stated. " However, he did get a hit in his forehead with enough force that his forehead caved in and almost touched his brain," she continued.

No police was present at the autopsy. It never became an official murder investigation.

I was the only person at the autopsy. I guess this was my penance for having been absent for the gruesome find and the subsequent all night vigil to watch his body from the district dogs. I had no problem doing it alone. It felt good to be alone with my grief and I felt that my brothers, especially Earl and my mother had been through enough.

Everybody knew that I had gone to witness my father's autopsy so the questions started as soon as I alighted from the minibus in Marchmont Road square. The answers the doctor gave me and which I shared were not very helpful. The death certificate cited cause of death as 'Death due to blunt trauma to the forehead'.

The people in Belfont were not buying it.
The fireside of an outside kitchen. Note the condense cans
on the ready to boil eggs or a draw a cup of tea or cook some 

crayfish soup.  A cheese tin is also beside one of the milk tins 
near the pudding pan. You have to look closely to see it! :)

More Suspicions
"Look here! If somebody did lick Blood inna him forehead, the man would have died with him hand dem raise up so!" one person offered, gesticulating furiously to drive home his point.

"And pon top of that, (furthermore,) the half a bread that Earl did sell him did still under him arm! That means him neva did a try defen' himself!! Wish man ago see a man a go lick dem inna dem face and no raise up dem han' or try to fi do nuttin fi defen' himself?!," someone else asked incredulously with a lot of aggrieved teeth kissing.

I was just as puzzled and so the mystery surrounding my father's death deepened.

Even if I had gone back to Belfont and borrowed
somebody's grung basket and go down a riva go start turn over rock stones fi meck fish run out, fish cannot talk. So although they may have been the only witnesses and apparent accessory to my father's death, they could provide no answers at the time.

Besides Mass Wedderburn's duppy, (Please refer to blog post below for more details or click THIS link.) two other convincing, if not as popular theories of what or who killed my father, were also explored by the district 'jury'.

Belfont was is a very quiet place, where nothing much out of the ordinary happened. Life in Belfont followed a daily, predictable routine. People either died in their beds at home after a long illness and many trips to the doctor or at the Cornwall Regional Hospital.

The quietness was only broken by the roar or soft hiss of the river (depending on what nature induced mood she was in), the occasional train horn and accompanying clattering as it lumbered through the bushes in the hills high above my house either on its way to Montego Bay (going down the line) or headed to Kingston (up Stonehenge way) and the occasional sound of thunder when it was about to rain.

Miss Hilda had also been found dead, but in bushes near her home a few years before (See first blog post: A Borrowed Dream or click THIS link), but I was younger then, Miss Hilda  and I were not related and people were not nearly as disturbed about her death as they were about my father's. She had been wandering around mad for quite a while before my mother found her dead at the side of her house.

My father, on the other hand, had been a hearty man who was only drunk that night and as far as we knew, rum no kill nobody! And as some helpfully pointed out: "If rum did fi kill Eustace, him woulda dead long time!"

In addition, he was a very popular if controversial person in the district. Everybody knew him and had been entertained by his drunken antics and other exploits at some time or other.

Armed with new knowledge from the autopsy, the district 'jury' began to cast around for possible suspects other than Mass Wedderburn's duppy. Besides, Mass Wedderburn was already dead so there was little satisfaction to be had by convicting him as the killer. So in the process of ensuring that satisfactory justice could be served, the district court explored other possible avenues.

Busta, a Rastaman who lived in an old shop on the edge of the river, just a stone's throw from where my father's body was found, emerged as murder suspect number two. In the ensuing discussions, it was also decided that he had an accomplice.

As we made preparations to bury my father, the murder investigation being carried out by the entire district, continued.

If anybody had bothered to take a photo
of my father, he would look a lot like this


  1. Wow! Andrea it gets better with every chapter. This has been my favorite so far, it stirred feelings of sadness and homesickness. It evoked so many memories of happier times and simpler life styles back in the days. I also felt your pain of having to see your father like that. Hats off to you girl.

  2. Very well written and you brought every thing to life.It was if I had gone back in time and was a witness to the whole thing. I heard the sounds and saw the sights. I was not allowed to go catch shrimps with my brother and his friends in Guy's Hill, but when we went to Harkers Hall for summer vacation, there was a river behind the house where we used to bathe and catch shrimps just as you described in the story. BTW you are brave I could not handle Dominic's autopsy, neither could I go view his lifeless body while it was at the funereal home.

  3. Thanks Lecia and Sharon. Lecia this is helping me face some personal ghosts that have haunted me for a long time. Ever since my mother died two years after my father did, I have only visited her grave about two times. It has all been too painful.

    But as I continue to write this book about my experiences growing up, I know I will finally be able to go home and visit her, sit by her grave which is sandwiched by the graves of my father and one of my brothers and do some serious closure and coming to terms with things.

    It is great to have the support and encouragement of friends like you both and so many others in my Face book circle to encourage me and support me as I do this.

    All my life I have championed the causes of other people, through my work as a journalist and then as a development advocate and also as a private activist for other causes and individuals, some of the latter campaigns you both know about.

    However, I kept moving so fast, kept being asked and kept trying to so so much that I had no time to be there for myself. Something catalytic happened to me last week and I just took a deep breath and STOPPED, and said to myself; you know what!? Forget what is expected of me by some sometimes ungrateful, unsympathetic demanding people! I am taking some time for ME!

    So when I finally stopped, turned and faced myself, God handed me this gift he had been chasing me to give to me for years! The gift of myself, the gift of my life, the gift of the wonderful and sometimes painful memories that make me the kind of woman that I am. And I reached out my hands, took it and I am now unwrapping it, one layer, one blog post, one word, one memory, one chapter at a time.

    I am now reminded of one of my favourite poems by St. Lucian Poet, Derek Walcott:

    LOVE after LOVE

    "The time will come
    when, with elation
    you will greet yourself arriving
    at your own door, in your own mirror
    and each will smile at the other's welcome,

    and say, sit here. Eat.
    You will love again the stranger who was your self.

    Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
    to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

    all your life, whom you ignored
    for another, who knows you by heart.

    Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

    the photographs, the desperate notes,
    peel your own image from the mirror.
    SIT. Feast on your life."


  4. I feel you on that girl, I have told you before that you are too talented not to consider doing your own stuff even if its part-time. You have so much to offer, you are truly an inspiration. I am also happy it is helping you to attain personal growth and confront the demons of the past so you can embrace the present and the future. Love you girl and you know you have my support 100%.

  5. Powerful, moving, funny, layered, deep yet accessible. It feels as though you're baring your soul so unselfconsciously, that as the reader I'm taking it for granted (does that make sense?)

    Thank you SO much for this blog. It isn't just a record of your past - it's also preserving valuable snippets of authentic Jamaican culture.

    Eagerly anticipating the next chapter!

  6. Thanks Nicole. Glad you were able to relate so effortlessly.

    Appreciate the comments. Thinking about the next chapter right now. :D

    I am also a great fan of your work Nicole! I was listening the playlist on your FB yesterday after I joined the pahe and really love the first song on your playlist.

    Do you write your songs and did you write that one!? LOVE IT!! Its so soulful among other things.

  7. Andrea this is a mastercrafted masterpiece. Raw talent that you have harnessed and used so colourfully so selflessly to share your life, your story, your world, right here with -the world!
    In an environment and climate filled with stigma and bias, a world filled with people defining others by their perceptions of 'who you are and whe yuh cum from' it clearly delineates your consciousness of who you are and where yuh come from; and instead of making it paralyze you, you have demonstrated your strong sense of self.
    I am sure you have given many others power and self-will to accept the things they cannot change, courage to change the things they can and the wisdom to know the difference, and still live 'loud' and proud! Kudos great work I'm enjoying the read!
    ~Sharese C. Ajuzie~

  8. Wow. You are full of strength. How are you able to share such a sad story so beautifully? I admire you and your work. Amazing and everything else the other readers said. Big thanks for preserving real Jamaican culture. Looking forward to reading more.

  9. Thanks Sharese. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Thanks also Ruth-Ann. We all have stories to share. I am happy I can share mine here with my friends and hopefully, eventually, the world.

    Hey Sam, Thanks for reading. There will be more. But it takes time and effort to write these pieces. Sifting through memories, which is sometimes a painful process.

    I will try to write another entry this week-end to post by tomorrow. But have to take a break next week to get some other work done. I think I will then try to work with the one post per week goal/rule I had promised, so that I can try to balance other crucial activities in my life with maintaining the blog.

    Thanks to all again. Appreciate the kind words.

  10. sorry that you had to see your father's body like that. Glad that you were there, since you were his favorite, I'm sure he would have been happy to know you were there taking care of things. This books gets better and better with every post. I can't wait to read each post. I read them on my phone but was compelled to comment here...So very proud of you and very happy to share this walk down memory lane with you baby girl. :-)

  11. Beautiful, Andrea--as always. Your eloquence has addressed your father's death with dignity. It was neither vulgar or tactless. It has also given you an unheard of strength, (me woulda dead!)and you funny as hell, too. I am glad that you are sharing your gift with us. AND where you get these pics to go with the story?

    There are so many questions though, i.e. Why were you, one of the youngest, at the morgue? Except for poor brave Earl, where were your other siblings? How did your mom died? How did you feel about your father?

    I know this must be hard for you, coming from a deep place, but I am glad you sharing it with us. I eagerly await your next blog. (I hope you working on the novel at the same time)

  12. Thanks for taking the time to read and for commenting Monica.

    Thanks too Deborah and also for the probing questions as always. They will all be answered soon as the story unfolds. Why ruin the surprise? :)

  13. This is your friend Pam from Kenya.
    Andrea, your life is such an encouragement to many me included. I met you once and only know you for the two weeks we were in Canada. As I read your story I now feel am getting to know you more. Am inspired to share my story as well even as I wait for the same winds that blew me you to blow again.

  14. Thanks Pamela. I am happy I made a lasting, positive impression on you. You impacted me as well. We really had some memorable times and moments. Canada 2006 was a great experience.

    Your story will be written in time. Mine took a while to arrive and it is still arriving.

    Thanks for taking the time to read and leave a comment.

  15. Very interesting...shed some light on you.

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  17. At Paal: *NOTED*. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.