Coromanti Drums - A story by Janette B. Fuller

 Coromanti Drums - A story by Janette B. Fuller

The music of the crunching of stones under my feet, the bu-dum bu-dum of my heart and a head full of grown up thoughts accompanied me as I jogged down the dirt steps. The steps led to a dirt track that resembled a squiggly mark that a child who had not yet learnt to write had scribbled on a page. My body traced its curves until I reached its end. A hop and I was on the main road which was not much different from the track, but wider.

I was ready to experience the first of many firsts in my life. I ran past silent houses, free from the constant bickering of their owners. After rounding two more corners of silent houses, I reached the guango tree that guarded other silent houses. The guango tree provided shade for people and beasts. I stopped, not because I wanted solace from the blazing sun overhead. Stopping there was what travellers did when they reached that spot.

Climbing atop one of the gnarled, sprawling roots of the guango tree, I gazed to my left at the far end of the field. A group of parents, grandparents and their adult children mingled, forming a red blob. Their animated body movements fascinated me, as well as the splintered bits of conversations, rife with intent, that wafted on the breeze towards me. I inhaled and readied myself to absorb the experience.

I slid off my perch and skipped down the uneven surface of the road to join the fray. The full scene opened like a closet when I rounded the final corner. Closest to me, there was the blue camp. I’d not seen them from my perch on the root of the guango tree. They were hidden by the health centre that bordered the playfield. The rowdy members danced around on the spot and clapped their hands, showing off their stained forefingers, as they laughed at their jests. I allowed my eyes to wander beyond them to the red camp. ‘He’s there,’ I muttered, as I walked down the incline.

Morning,’ I said to the members of the blue camp. I didn’t wait for a response but I was sure that none of them responded. ‘Morning,’ I said to the members of the red camp. They threw lots of ‘good mornings’ at my back.

Stupid like ar puppa!’ Those words slapped me in the back. I paused mid stride. She wasn’t really talking about me, was she? I turned to see all eyes on me. I averted my gaze, shifted my weight from one leg to the other and adjusted my clothing that I was sure needed no adjustment. I peered out from under my eyelids and caught Miss Margaret’s glare. She looked at me as if I were a nasty creature that she wanted to squash.

I shivered and slunk towards the school house – two low buildings that formed an unfinished quadrangle. As I stepped over the broken down fence into the school yard, Mas Bobby’s baritone cut through the silence. ‘Take that back, Margaret!’ I stopped. Another afternoon matinee, another open air production, with another diverse cast reenacting the story of their freedom was about to begin.

Make me!’ Miss Margaret slapped her chest and ambled towards him. They met each other at the mid point between the two camps. I sucked in air and inched close to the people who were converging around them.

Is a child you talking to! She never trouble you!’ Mas Bobby was fierce.

If you don’ like it, Bobby, bite it,’ Miss Margaret said in her sing song voice and stepped close to Mas Bobby until they seemed to be joined. Mas Bobby stepped back. Miss Margaret stepped forward and shoved him. He stumbled.

You a provoke me, you know Margaret. You a provoke me,’ Mas Bobby said, pointing his left forefinger at her, while steadying himself. Miss Margaret laughed down at him and shoved him again.

Stop hitting him!’ I screamed in my mind.

Fight! Fight!’ Grinning men shouted and jumped around.

Lick him, Margaret!’

A cacophony of shouts, laughter, whistles and curses swelled as Miss Margaret pranced around Mas Bobby. Her jiggly arms flayed like those of an awkward boxer as she threw punches at him. I felt every punch that landed. Instead of fighting back, Mas Bobby turned his body away from her and used his left palm to cup the side of his gaunt face.

Bobby, you a statue? Slap de ooman!’ The voice of one of Mas Bobby’s comrades boomed and seemed to blast away some of his indecision. Like a cornered mouse who’d finally decided that it was do or die, he spun to face Margaret. Then he stopped.

She pulled her two hundred pounds frame above him, then drew her left shoulder up to her left ear, then her right shoulder up to her right ear, again and again – one shoulder up, then the other. While she was doing this dance with her shoulders, she swayed her hips, her feet moving to the rhythm of invisible coromanti drums. Her fingers took on the rhythm of her dance and her forefinger snaked out to poke Mas Bobby on his forehead.

He teetered. His comrades who had formed a semi-circle behind him steadied him and shoved him back towards Miss Margaret. ‘They mean him no good,’ I thought. ‘Suppose they stop the fight!’ I wanted to help Mas Bobby but I didn’t know how.

Miss Margaret beat her large bosom, looked down at Mas Bobby’s balding head and said, ‘Lick mi Bobby if you bad. Lick mi if you bad.’ The tinkling undertones of her voice tickled my ears. The old and young became a part of a chanting, taunting, threatening, divided mob who lent their support to either Miss Margaret or Mas Bobby.

Lick ‘im again, Margaret! ‘im ‘ave no use!’

Lick back de ooman, Bobby. You a man or wha’?’

Mas Bobby didn’t budge. Miss Margaret poked him in his face again. He slipped and fell to his knees like a worshipper before her.

Bobby, you not a man? Lick back de ooman!’ One of Mas Bobby’s comrades continued to plead with him.

Mas Bobby ignored those pleas and remained on his knees, while Miss Margaret and the members of her camp laughed. I wanted to slap the laughter from their faces but they were big people.

Stan’ up an fight, Bobby! Stan’ up an fight!’

Mas Bobby knelt there, head bowed. None of the voices moved him.

I should say something. Probably he would do something,’ I told myself. But I didn’t.

Miss Margaret snorted at Mas Bobby, swung her wide hips and sashayed towards Mas Bobby’s camp. She cleared her throat and sent the contents flying in their direction. Incoherent words, curses and gasps escaped the members as they scattered. Then stillness. Stillness like a just captured photograph from nature’s lens.

The image soon fractured. ‘Wha’ de ooman just do? Wha’ she just do?’ Shock, anger, the threat of retribution, and disgust infused those questions, questions which stirred Miss Margaret to do her little dance again. She raised both shoulders, one after the other, swayed her hips, took two measured steps towards the red camp and faced them head on for a minute, then she twirled and flounced back to her camp, swiping Mas Bobby with her right foot as she did so.

Mas Bobby sprang to his feet and lunged at her, grabbing her around her waist. The span of his arms was barely enough to snag Miss Margaret’s girth. She tried to loosen his arms from her midsection. When she failed, she thrashed about, dragging Mas Bobby along until she tripped over her feet and tumbled to the ground, with Mas Bobby still clinging to her. I winced as they rolled down the slight incline of the field and settled on the grassy turf, with Mas Bobby sprawled across her chest. They lay there panting like they had just concluded a quick romp in the grass and were resting from their exertions.

As if somebody had poked him in the back with a sharp stick, Mas Bobby raised himself and straddled Miss Margaret. He clutched the front of her t-shirt with his right hand, crumpling the face of the smiling political hopeful emblazoned there. He then clenched his left fist and raised his arm above his head. He paused as if he’d heard my silent screams begging him not to hit her. Miss Margaret wriggled under him and screamed into his face.

Get off me you good for nothing son of a bitch! Get off me before I… before I...before I...’ She tried to lift herself from the ground but her weight didn’t make it easy. She fell back to the grass. ‘Whoi! Whoi! Whoi!’ Her groans mixed with the mingled expressions of rancour and sympathy which swirled around her.

Get de man off o’ de ooman!’ a man shouted. A tinge of laughter laced his voice.

I waited to see if someone would help Miss Margaret but both camps held their ground. Should I go help Mas Bobby? I looked around at the crowd and shook my head.

The man dressed in red on the front of Mas Bobby’s t-shirt grinned down at Miss Margaret as he tried to pull her towards him. ‘A feel like… A feel like...’ Mas Bobby bit his lips again and again and his arm shook in the air. He released his grip on her t-shirt and allowed his arm to fall to his side. He then used Miss Margaret’s body as a prop to drag himself to his feet. He dusted off his hands over her and limped back to his camp.

Wimp!’ Miss Margaret sneered at him from her supine position. ‘Wimp!’ Her supporters joined her in her chant. The fair-skinned man dressed in blue on the front of her t-shirt beamed at the blue sky dotted with its floating cotton candy clouds.

Mas Bobby didn’t look back. The members of his camp welcomed him into their red glow, while the taunts of the blue camp sounded like the toll of the bell in the Anglican church yard.

It was the season for general election, a festival of killings, maiming, beatings and partying. Music, alcohol, rhetoric, slogans, promises, red and blue draped everywhere, night-long revelry, soap boxes, oratory, diehard supporters – a political circus.

During the months leading up to the election, members of both camps had climbed up my hill to talk with me. ‘Vote for the cymbal. You going to college now. We will help you if you vote for us. We are the only choice for young people.’ They’d given me what they claimed was ‘irrefutable evidence’ of their record of helping young people.

Vote for the Whistle. You going to college now. We will help you if you vote for us. We are the only choice for young people.’ And they, too, had given me what they claimed was ‘irrefutable evidence’ of their record of helping young people.

They’d dragged me to the left and to the right, both different, both the same and implored me to make the ‘right decision’.

I returned to the school yard to join the queue that had re-formed. The feet of the hale, lame, young and old crunched the loose stones as the queue inched forward. Rivals contested several debates at different spots in the queue. ‘Miss Margaret gi Bobby a backsiding’ was the topic of the debates.

My mind raced as I cringed inside the bubble of the babble that enveloped me. Miss Margaret should have know better than to start a fight with Mas Bobby. Every Sunday she dressed in her Sunday best, head wrapped like an African queen, in church praising the Lord and testifying: ‘Once I was blind but now I see. The Light of the world is Jesus'. What was her testimony going to be next Sunday? ‘I fought the good fight with all my might and the Lord gave my party victory?'

The queue inched along while my thoughts raced in circles. Miss Margaret, Mas Bobby and the people in their camps were poor. What were they fighting for? One of the few houses for the ‘poor" that politicians dole out to their supporters? A few drinks? A few dollars? Some farm work tickets? A few slaps on the back? The ultimate sacrifice? The right to choose their own oppressors to the beating of coromanti drums?

My eighteen year old head hurt by the time I stepped into the building. The people in the room were blurs to me. The instructions went over my head. I pulled the curtain aside and stepped into the voting booth. Everything that I needed was there. There was a pencil with an eraser. In case I changed my mind? I looked at the ballot in my hand. The cymbal, the whistle and two other symbols. I placed my ballot on the tiny desk and grabbed the pencil. ‘Cymbal, whistle or whatever?' I drew my X, two diagonal lines extending from both ends at the top of the ballot to the two ends at the bottom. I exited the room and deposited my ballot in the box.

Hope you did the right thing,' somebody shouted, as I stepped across the fence back on to the road. I looked at my right forefinger stained blood red. ‘Red or blue, one and the same.' This thought played over and over in my head as I walked home.

Who you vote for?' Mas Bobby was waiting for me at the entrance to the squiggly track. Under his arm was a jug of water that he’d collected from the spring down the road.

All of them,' I told him. ‘All of them.' I smiled at his confused face and entered the track.

Your father is no coward, you know dat, Susan?'

I know,’ I said, as we trudged up the track.

The cackling of hens and the crowing of a rooster welcomed us home.




Comments

  1. An exciting story with vivid descriptions. I felt as if I was watching a movie.. I want more.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Marsha. I'll keep on dreaming them up. :)

      Delete
  2. Intriguing! Loved the ending! Keep them coming!
    Janet Crick

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for reading, Janet. Let's see where my imagination leads. :)

      Delete
  3. Exciting and dynamic, excellent storyline

    ReplyDelete

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