The blood will be a sign for you on the houses
where you are; and when I see the blood I will
pass over. – Exodus
Sister Inez, who keep in tune to the world by listening to her radio day in and day out, heard it first. She hauled up her skirt, ran outside and shouted the news, “Flood water! Hurricane a come!”
Everybody panic. It was going to happen again. Whatever hinged the heavens up in space had loosened, and the sky was going to crash. The winds would gather and the waters would rise.
Ten years ago the sky fell. They told us Hurricane was nothing but a lot of rain, but when we did lock up in the houses and we hear the animals outside crying out when they breathe in water and their chests burst open, and we hear the trees falling and the rain pounding and things hurling into the walls, we say – that is not just rain…is the sky fall down baam!
When the waters left and the sky rose back up, we went outside. All the animals dead and some houses that we knew to be in one place end up in another place. Some houses we just never see again, and they find three bodies at the bottom of the gully. It was destruction and death, wearing faces we had not seen before.
The first man I see die – with my own two eyes I see it – was Old Man. Old Man so old that no one remember his right name. But it never had to be his time. The poor man lock up in that house and couldn’t get no food and too sick and shame to ask for help. When we find out it was too late. Is me, little girl that I was at the time, who hold him small head in my lap, his eyes yellow and sink in, and try to feed him. But him lips wouldn’t open. That is how it always come here: destruction and death – bad luck so hard and so real, you could almost touch it and put it on the what-not beside the porcelain dogs and say ‘See there is why I can’t move. See there is what tie me down!’ When the sky fell it was the same old destruction and death again, but they catch us by surprise, for we never knew they came in wind and in sky.
So there was Sister Inez running outside like some warner woman from out the hills, come to tell us bout impending doom. We all look up and we crouch a little cause now we knew how hard the sky could hit you. We pack up fast to leave. Suitcases, boxes, bags. We put the little money we had in plastic bags and lodge it between our breasts. Everybody’s hands was full and we march out with the animals to higher ground where the radio said was safe.
But not everybody did pack up. A few believed they could face the sky again. Mostly it was the men who did nothing but idle by the shop, playing dominoes and laughing at everybody who pass them. I feel is just the liquor that in them stomach and in them head that pin them down to that death trap. But a woman who stayed back as well – Miss Yvonne. A plump dark lady with large breasts and grey streaks in her hair. She had raised six sons and buried one. She took the five boys (the oldest was sixteen and the youngest was seven) and her animals in the walls she believed would be salvation. Miss Yvonne even stand up in her doorway that evening and offer her house as shelter. “Come people! Come! Don’t mind how the house small. We all can stay in here. Nothing going to touch this house.” But nobody listen to her.
So the woman who had five sons left locked her door tight and there was a feeling of safety inside. Even the oldest boy who could hardly remember a hurricane when he was six took comfort in the words his mother was repeating like a psalm, “It will pass us over. Trust me.”
And Miss Yvonne believed this with all her heart because there was blood on her door.
Miss Yvonne boy William was never really bad. He had a gold tooth and a long scar cross him left cheek and him did walk with a swing and a dip in him shoulders. But that is just how you have to move if you live where we live. But William not troubling nobody and him was polite and generous to most people. A slight temper, yes, I give you that, but everybody I know from George’s Park have a slight temper. William was just ordinary…nobody that we did form no big opinion of, not until they spread him name cross newspaper. Sometimes papers have a mind of their own, you see, and they say what they want to say. Sometimes there is a story behind a story. So let me tell you as a fact, William was not no ‘area don’.
Still, Miss Yvonne first born get cut down early. Too early. Is the fair skin woman him used to do yard work for, put down eight thousand dollars on the lamp table by the door and when she come back she never see it. Same time she screw up her face and walk outside asking for the ‘Dutty Yard Bwoy’ and when William come she say she want back the money. William try hard not to make him slight temper show and him answer politely, “Ma’am I don’t know what you talking about.”
The lady stand up firm with her hands akimbo, and say “Listen here! I can’t bother with the thieving likes of you people. Just give me back the money and get out or I’m calling the police!”
William slight temper get out that time, and him raise the cutlass and in two twos rest the blade against her neck. Her skin like it get grey that time and all the power drain from her body. But William not troubling nobody, you understand. Him only look on her and say “Listen, I don’t got no money for y-y-you…” And him stammer on the rest and just never say anymore. I think is the speech him wanted to give. The same speech that all of us with no opportunity have well up in we belly and we want to tell it to the powers that be one day. But we don’t know how to say it ourselves, so we listen to Garvey, and Martin Luther King and when Bob Marley say “Them belly full but we hungry”, we spirits nod for him find the words that we can’t always find. William let the cutlass fall from him hands and him walk off, both him and the lady crying. She thanking God to save her life from this vicious black man. Him cry because him hungry still.
William walk all the way home, and we knew not to say anything to him, for him walk straight without any swing or dip and a man round here only walk like that, when him vex for true. And when we see the police Land Rover ease into the district like some western movie – we did just know. We know that them was coming for William for is so trouble always happen round here. They drive straight behind the man they see walking with a slight temper, four of them in the vehicle, with guns pointing outside the window, into the sky. The driver ask, “Is you name William?”
But like William never hear for him reach the gate and turn in and was walking towards the door of the grey wooden house. The police car stop and they pile out and they ask again angry this time, “Hey bwoy! We ask if is you name William!”
William turn round to them and so much hate was in him eyes, the police decide for true is him that did rob and attempt murder on the white woman on the hill. And I don’t know exactly what William say but I feel is probably the speech him did try to get out of him belly again – for there are times when the speech is like it rise to our throats and we almost choke on it. But whatever him say or half say, it get the police angry, for in a moment gun was drawn and shot was fired and William dropping and him was gushing blood. Blood. Blood. And him dead with the hate still in him eyes. Him dead. Dead. Miss Yvonne run out and hold him head in her lap and pray hard, so hard. She was praying to God but she was remembering a turtle. And later she tell us that though she prayed she knew it was in vain, for she heard about the time when the world was still young and two turtles try to take the moon and a dead man cross a river; the one with the moon sink a little but then come up safe on the other side but the one with the corpse sink and drown with the weight. From then on a dying moon returns, but never a dead man.
A white lady on a hill wake up the next morning to find eight thousand dollars had fallen behind the table and ever since she twitched nervously with guilt. But that wasn’t the story in the newspaper. They reported instead on an area don who opened fire on police, and the police returned fire and killed him.
We scrambled in front of the news camera to set the record straight and to say he was a good boy. Him not troubling nobody. But Martha who do domestic work up in the hills say she see us on TV and her heart swell with pride and sadness – but her boss kiss him teeth and switch the channel and say “Is so them damn fools always protect those criminals!”
When the news people left, we went to Miss Yvonne, for there were things to do there. The men cooked curry goat and set out the white rum. Older women sang soft and low like sorrow itself, “bawl woman bawl/ If yu nuh bawl, if yu nuh cry/ if water nuh come a yu eye/ Yu body and yu soul will part/ Bawl woman bawl and ease yu heart.”
I came with wash brush and soap powder and bleach, and we start from the walkway removing the blood stains, and we work our way up to the door. But when we reach the door Miss Yvonne come outside, her eyes red from easing her heart and rolling Jordan, her breasts not looking as robust as their usual self. “Don’t touch the door,” she say to us “for I can’t take no more grief. Leave the blood of mi first born there, so the Lord will have mercy and pass me over.”
So William’s blood stayed on the door, and is like it did protect the family for true. For when the water in the tank was contaminated and everybody get sick and three children died, Miss Yvonne and her house drink the pipe water same way and not a thing happen to none of them. The year when they complain that we was living on ‘capture land’ and threaten to remove the squatters, them come and demolish the house on Miss Yvonne’s left and the one on her right. But nobody touch her house, and before they could return we block road and push up we face in news camera again and cry for injustice and they stop bother us ‘bout we squatting. Is not one or two times gun war break out in George’s Park and every house have bullet holes in the zinc to prove it. But not a bullet even graze Miss Yvonne house after William dead and she said there was power in the firstborn’s blood to save her from destruction and death. And that is why when she heard the sky was going to fall, Miss Yvonne stayed right where she was.
The hurricane came at the hour the sun should have risen so it was like night just carried on. The rain start to fall and the boys laugh and ask “Is this the people them going on so bad over?” They agreed that it was good to have an excuse not to go to school, but why Courtney and Portia from next door, and all the neighbours in fact, had to leave on account of simple rain was beyond them. It never take long for them to open the door which Miss Yvonne had locked tight, and went outside. They played in the rain because they was only children and children is always careless and stupid. The two older ones just stand up under the awning, getting wet and in a quiet way grudging the smaller boys who could were skipping in the mud and the rivers and the puddles. They asked each other again, “Is really this the people them going on so bad over?” But then the sky did blaze up and lightning strike the big mango tree and one of the biggest branches crash down right in front of two of the boys, and when the muddy water splash them good and proper, it never seem like too much fun again. Without even saying a word, they all agreed it was time to go back inside.
They lock the door behind them and dry off quick before Miss Yvonne could see their wetness and give them one of her famous beatings. The rain was getting heavier and their questions were changing. It seemed that Portia and Courtney and all the neighbours might have had sense after all. “Mama, you sure we awright?” The sky outside blazed up and a thunder like Armageddon shook the house, and no one could hear when Miss Yvonne answered, “It will pass.”
Miss Yvonne look like confidence itself. The wind not shaking her faith, and the darkness outside not scaring her. She sat and sang There is power, power, wonder working power in the blood. She sat there so still and calm because she believed; but also it was because her mind was far away on other things.
She was remembering her first boy William, who for true never really bad, and who get cut down so early. The first child who she ever put to her breast, and who needed her, and made her feel like a woman – not no ‘wutless girl who gone a road go breed’ like her father had said, but a woman just like her mother and her grandmother. She found a simple job, sweeping hair from the floor of a barber’s shop and it was never ever shameful work. She was looking after another life, earning money to feed him and clothe him and give him opportunity. She tell us it was in him that she did find it was better to give than to receive. And she did love him. Miss Yvonne love him so much that a tear now rolling down her face. She wondering why the damn turtle had to drown – but then there was Lazarus and even when him did dead and the worms did start to take over his body – even then Jesus call him back, so why Jesus couldn’t call back her son!? And Lord, she thinking now, is not just for protection sake make her keep the blood on the door, but is cause is William life. Not like the memories she have of him, not like the pictures or him baby clothes that she keep in a box underneath her bed. No. The blood was his actual life. It was a thing that was inside him, and kept him smiling and walking with a swing and a dip. The same blood which flood him head one day when a man did tell him to go suck him mother, and William never back down – him pick a fight though this man had a weapon; and it was the same blood which drip down him face when the man give him a long scar across his cheek.
Outside, the water was rising and washing away the earth. More trees had fallen cause they couldn’t stand up against the lightning or the hard rain digging away the dirt beneath them. The wind and the rain moved together, plotted and destroyed together like evil sisters. They noticed the grey wooden house standing up in the middle of all their work and so the sisters decide to try their hardest and swallow it. They pelted the walls and the door. But the door stood up strong; the rain only managed to clean the mud and the grime from it. The mud, and the grime, and then the blood. The water tore into the stain and slowly lifted it. Red water ran down until there was no blood left on the door.
The children inside all scream out loud, for at the same time they all felt something cold and slimy bite their heels. They look down to see that the water was coming in. They look outside but could see little. Everything was black. It was like the sky and everything was one – like they was in a dark heaven already.
But their mother was walking round confident, as if she was walking on dry land. She sang loud with the drumming the rain did on the roof There is power, power, wonder working power in the blooood of the laamb! In her heart of hearts she believed there was still blood on the door, even as the water rose to her knees. All five boys was crying now and thinking of bad luck – bad luck so hard and so real you could touch it and put it on the what-not beside the porcelain, and say “See! See there is what tie me down! See there is why I can’t leave.”