Caught in the Jim Jones Web of Deceit
Sly Mongoose is a work of fiction based on the murder/suicide of the Reverend Jim Jones and his People's Temple in Jonestown, Guyana, on 18 November 1978. Real names of Temple members referred to in this story have been changed for obvious reasons.
by Rosaliene Bacchus
Guyana Journal, November 2009
SATURDAY, 18 NOVEMBER 1978, GEORGETOWN, GUYANA
From her second-floor front verandah, Cheryl Collins watched the commotion outside the People's Temple Georgetown House, two houses down across the street. Two Guyana Defense Force army jeeps blocked the driveway. She called out to her teenage daughter in the adjoining sitting room.
“Dawn, come see this! Something happen at the PT house.”
Dawn joined her mother. The Temple's two-storey yellow concrete house glowed against the graying evening sky.
“The Jonestown basketball team is in Georgetown for a Guyana tournament,” said Dawn.
“The Jonestown boys don't wear Guyanese army uniforms. Where's your brother?”
“He's next door at Ricky's house.”
“Go get him. If I know Bobby, he and his friends are in the thick of things. If there's any trouble….“
“Bobby's running this way, Mom.”
Ten-year-old Bobby reached the concrete bridge over the gutter in front of their gate.
“Bobby, it's time to come upstairs,” shouted Dawn.
Bobby opened the cast-iron gate. He disappeared under the bottom-house. Dawn headed towards the kitchen to open the backdoor.
“Mom, come quick-quick! Something's wrong with Bobby!”
Cheryl rushed indoors. Her heart raced. She met them in the dining room. “What happen, Bobby?”
They led Bobby to the settee in the sitting room. Cheryl examined her son. His full, smooth-skinned, black cheeks were wet with tears; his lips trembled; his chest heaved. She could see no visible cuts or bruises.
“You hurt yourself, Bobby?”
“Say something!” Dawn grabbed Bobby's shoulders and shook him.
“Mark is dead.” He gulped for air. “Mark is dead.”
“Auntie Shirley's son at the PT house?” said Cheryl. Bobby nodded.
“You saw his dead body?” said Dawn.
Bobby shook his head. “Mommy, I got bad-feelings.”
Before Cheryl could get him to the bathroom, Bobby spewed bile on the polished floorboards of the dining room.
“Dawn, wipe the floor while I bathe off your brother.”
Dawn tiptoed over the mess and hurried to the kitchen for the mop.
Wrapped and shivering in a towel, Bobby went to his room to get dressed. Cheryl headed for the kitchen to brew a pot of sweet broom bush tea. When she entered his bedroom with the cup of warm tea, Dawn was already with him.
“Drink this, Bobby. You're going to feel better.”
Bobby sipped the sweet-smelling tea. “The soldiers say they're all dead.”
“What are you talking 'bout?” said Dawn, seated beside him on his bed.
“They're all dead.”
Cheryl took the empty cup from her son. “They who, Bobby?”
“Mark. Diane. Christine. Auntie Shirley.”
“Diane?” said Dawn. “Stop telling tales, Bobby!”
“True to God!” Bobby blessed himself. “Tall Boy, Father Jim's son, say it's true. The bodies are in the bathroom upstairs.”
“Oh gosh!” Cheryl sat down beside Bobby. Blood drained from her head. “Why would anyone want to kill Shirley and her children? They never trouble anybody.”
Dawn collapsed on the bed. Bobby held onto her. “Don't die too, Dawn!” He shook with sobs.
“Bobby. Calm down. Your sister only fainted away. Fan her while I get the smelling salts.”
Dawn jerked to consciousness when Cheryl put the salts near her nostrils. Bobby clung to his sister. Cheryl went to the kitchen for two more cups of sweet broom tea. She gave a cup to Dawn.
Cheryl sat on the bed with her children and sipped her tea. It was good for calming the nerves. She needed to stay calm. What Bobby told them must be true: The army would only be involved for something very serious.
“The PT house is always full a people,” said Cheryl. “How come some killer got in?” Concerned about their safety, she turned to Dawn. “You latch the backdoor?”
“Yes, Mom.” Dawn sat cross-legged on the bed with Bobby snuggled under her left arm. He had stopped crying.
Lamaha Gardens was a quiet neighborhood on the outskirts of Georgetown. Chickens disappeared now and again. Friends, a block down, lost a goat last month. Cows sometimes stray to the back dam. But the violence infecting the capital and coastal townships had bypassed them. Until now.
Where was Stanley when she needed him? Her husband had left after lunch for the Bourda Cricket Club. He was due back since five. She looked down at her sleeping son, cuddled up with his sister. She fingered his Afro-style hair: like his idol, Michael Jackson. Her children did not get her coarse wavy hair and sapodilla-brown skin. Her black blood mixed with Stanley's black blood had been stronger than the East Indian blood flowing through her veins.
“Mom, what's going to happen now?”
Cheryl gazed at her fifteen-year-old daughter. Her black face had turned to a slate color. “I don't know, Sweetheart. Maybe your father knows something.”
Cheryl leaned against the bed-head. Her heart tightened into a cricket ball. Shirley and her family had become a part of their lives. Their sudden death was difficult to digest.
When the American Church group moved into Lamaha Gardens around Easter last year, Cheryl had viewed them as CIA spies. In a dictatorship socialist country, you could never be too careful when dealing with foreigners.
Waves of newcomers from the United States stuffed the spacious PT house. All colors and ages, but mostly black, like a large part of Guyana's population. The eyes of the older folk danced with hope. The young people bounced with the thrill of adventure. The little ones learned to catch tadpoles in the swampy empty lots.
Newcomers stayed only for short spells in Georgetown before leaving for the People's Temple Jonestown settlement: a 150-mile trip by boat into Guyana's jungle. Their leader, Reverend Jim Jones, had created a tropical paradise for them. Cheryl feared for them. Guyana's Northwest Region was not for those accustomed to the comforts of city life. Walls of dense forest, a sticky furnace, frequent rains and mud, strange noises and creatures, and isolation awaited them.
Shirley had formed part of the PT public relations staff. A fanatic follower of Reverend Jim Jones. Never hesitating to defend him against attack from his enemies. What had she said or done to deserve this? Why the children? Mark was only eight. Christine eleven. A lifetime ahead of them. Diane….
“Diane was like a big sister to me, Mom.”
Cheryl startled at the sound of Dawn's voice.
“I know, Sweetheart. I'm sorry.”
“She was going to take me to Jonestown during the Christmas holidays.”
“The PT boat, Cudjoe, would take us to Port Kaituma. Then a PT truck would drive us to Jonestown. It's a seven-mile muddy road.” Dawn gnawed the cuticles of her right forefinger. “She was excited about showing me the work they had done.”
Cheryl was proud of the volunteer work Dawn did with Diane and other PT members. As members of Guyana's National Relief Committee, the People's Temple helped fire and flood victims. But Dawn had been spending too much time with Diane. The 19-year-old girl was too old for her. Cheryl worried about Dawn's infatuation with Jim Jones and the People's Temple.
Dawn had not been near the PT house today. Thank God. Diane had spent the day at the PT house with her father. He had come all the way from California to visit her. Did he know that his daughter now lay lifeless in a bathroom? To be so close yet not be able to protect your child.
Why was Jim Jones here with his People's Temple? Why had they settled in a remote jungle region? In this land behind God's back? There was talk about harassment of their Church in the States. Why were members tight-lipped about life in the commune? Secrecy spelled trouble.
Pressing Dawn for information was useless. She became more aggressive, more distant. Asserting her independence, her cousin and best friend, Chitra, had told her. Just a phase. Cheryl prayed this phase would soon pass.
“Why did she have to die, Mom?”
“Only God can answer you, Sweetheart. We don't determine the time of our death. Unless we decide to take our own life. That's another story.”
The phone rang in the dining room on the other side of the greenheart wall.
“I'll get it. It must be your father.”
Stanley Collins was a lean, six-foot, black man. Always well-dressed. Good smell. His good-looks and sweet-talk attracted women like flies to sugar syrup. She got stuck. She thought she had everything needed to deter the flies. But one woman did not satisfy her man. Fights over other women spattered their sixteen-year marriage.
His two-year affair with the sister of a government minister unfolded in April. His deception splintered whatever love still lingered. She had moved out, but her mother-in-law intervened. Think about your children, she had said. Her father reasoned with Stanley. He broke up with his outside-woman. She returned home for her children's sake. They declared a truce.
Cheryl picked up the phone. It was Stanley's father.
“Hello Major. Have you seen Stanley? There's been a tragedy at the People's Temple House.”
“Stanley's on his way home. He'll brief you. Are you and the children alright?”
“Yeah, we're alright.”
“Don't let them go outside.”
“Bobby's already asleep. Dawn….”
Her father-in-law had hung up.
Major General William Collins of the Guyana Defense Force was a man of few words. What secrets did he guard for their Comrade Leader, the Prime Minister of the Cooperative Socialist Republic of Guyana?
Cheryl returned to Bobby's bedroom.
Where was Stanley?
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