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Caught in the Jim Jones Web of Deceit

by Rosaliene Bacchus
Guyana Journal, November 2009

A car engine idled at their gate. The iron gate clanged. The engine died under their ten-foot-high house on stilts. Stanley was home.

Cheryl followed Dawn to the sitting room.

“Are you okay, Princess?” said Stanley, locking the front door. “Where's Bobby?”

“He's sleeping. He threw up. Is it true, Dad? Auntie Shirley and her children are dead?”

Stanley hugged his daughter. “It's true. I'm sorry, Princess.”

He kissed Cheryl on her cheeks. “Sorry to be late. I was at Pops.”

“I know. He called. I'll heat up supper.”

Stanley did not like being bombarded with questions before he had his supper. Cheryl let him bathe and change into house clothes. She warmed up the food: yam soufflé, pumpkin fritters, and meat balls with brown sauce. Dawn set the table and carried the dishes with food from the kitchen. Cheryl decided not to wake Bobby.

“Dad, what's happening at the PT house?”

“Let your father finish eating, Sweetheart.”

Dawn brooded and nibbled at her food. Cheryl told Stanley about Bobby's reaction to Mark's death.

After supper, they cleared the table, refrigerated the leftovers, and washed up. In the sitting room, Stanley put on his favorite Brook Benton record album.

Cheryl and Dawn joined Stanley on the verandah. Mosquitoes attacked their exposed skin in the cool night air. Brook sang “Rainy Night in Georgia.” It was after eight. Movement at the PT house had intensified. The house blazed with lights. Guyana Defense Force soldiers remained on guard.

“Is serious, nuh?” said Cheryl.

“Yep,” said Stanley. “Shirley knifed her children, then slit her own throat.” He hugged his daughter. “I'm sorry, Princess.”

“Shirley? Don't talk nonsense, man!”

Dawn pulled away from her father. “Auntie Shirley would never do that. Why you making up such lies, Dad?”

“Dawn! That's not the way to talk to your father!”

“Dad never liked Auntie Shirley.”

“Jim Jones radioed the orders for the murders and suicide from Jonestown,” said Stanley. “I warned you about mixing with those crazy Americans.”

Cheryl gripped the edge of the verandah. Everything swirled around her. Why would Jim Jones do such a crazy thing? Had he gone mad from jungle fever? She could never kill her own flesh and blood. Her children were her life, a blessing from God. Shirley also doted on her children. Why would she kill them?

“Noooo! It's a lie!”

Dawn's outburst jolted Cheryl.

“Father Jim would never do that! He loves children!” Dawn looked ready to pounce on her father.

“Dawn! Stop talking back! Listen to your father!”

“I don't wanna hear. Dad hates Father Jim.” She turned on her mother. “You don't like him either.”

“He's a con man,” said Stanley. “There are things you're too young to know.”

“You-all don't like him 'cause he's white,” said Dawn.

“What's his color got to do with this?” said Stanley.

“Father Jim is not racist like you-all. In Jonestown, black people and white people live and work happy together. That's why I'm moving to Jonestown when I reach eighteen. You-all can't stop me.”

Dawn stomped off. Stanley went after her. Brook Benton sang “BornUnder a Bad Sign.”

Cheryl didn't understand her daughter anymore. She wished that her mother-in-law was there. She alone knew how to handle Dawn when she got into one of her tantrums.

She didn't like the Reverend Jim Jones. He was a fake. Besides, she didn't trust men who hid behind dark glasses. From the little she had gleaned over the past four years, Jim Jones was intelligent, cunning, and deceptive. A sly mongoose.

Four years ago - before he disappeared into Guyana's tropical rainforest– Jim Jones' fake healing service was talk-of-the-town. Out of curiosity, she and her mother-in-law had attended the service to see the so-called healer. A modern-day prophet. The crowd crammed into their National Shrine - a church built in 1861 by Portuguese immigrants. They were lucky to get seats.

The Reverend appeared to loud cheers. He wore a white shark-skin suit, black shirt, white tie, and dark glasses. Not a strand of his sleek black hair slipped out-of-place. The white man had looks and charisma.

His divinations and healings were all theatrics. News spread of the big hoax. But this did not stop Jim Jones from registering his Church in Guyana. His Church even gained membership to the Guyana Council of Churches. The church leader had influence in high places.

Did Jim Jones even wield total power over the life and death of his followers? Cheryl shuddered at the thought of Dawn spending the Christmas holidays with such a monster. Jonestown was over 150 miles away in dense jungle. No roads to get there. No way out except by air and steamer.

Cheryl killed a blood-sucking mosquito on her left arm. She watched the movement at the PT house. A taxi dropped off a white male. It crawled past their house on the dark narrow unpaved street. A small airplane flew low overhead.

“She's locked herself in her bedroom,” said Stanley, returning to the verandah. “They get a little schooling and they think they know everything.”

“She's upset about Diane.”

“That's the only reason I'm going to ignore your daughter's silly accusations.”

“My daughter? I didn't make her alone.”

“You encourage her. You let her have her own-way. You and your bosom-friend, Chitra, fill her head with foolish ideas. I could lose my chance to get the Mayor's seat in the coming election.”

“Our daughter is facing a crisis and all you can think of is losing the Mayor's seat?”

Cheryl moved towards the door but Stanley grabbed her arm. She pulled away.

“You manhandling me now? Is not enough Chitra stop coming to my house because of you?”

“Listen, woman! There's more to this People's Temple affair. It could jeopardize Guyana's relationship with the United States.”

Cheryl stood in the doorway of the verandah. She placed her hands on her hips. “I'm all ears.”

“Around five this afternoon, armed men from Jonestown attacked an American Congressman and his delegation at the Port Kaituma airstrip.”

“An American Congressman is here in Guyana? How come we don't hear these things?”

“It wasn't an official visit. He came to check up on Jonestown.”

“Isn't that the job of the American Ambassador?”

“Would you let me talk?”

Cheryl pouted and folded her arms.

“The Congressman received complaints about Jones. Relatives in California claim he orders beatings and lock up trouble-makers in a box in the ground. They also say he uses drugs to keep others in line.”

“Nobody complained to the police at Port Kaituma?”

“Cheryl, how am I supposed to know all that?”

“What happened at the airstrip?”

“If you'd give me a chance, I'd tell you.”


“Jones' gunmen disabled the Guyana Airways aircraft. A twenty-seater. The pilot radioed Timehri Airport for help. They called the Prime Minister; he summoned the American Ambassador.”

“Something's definitely wrong at Jonestown.”

“Pops doesn't know yet if anyone was killed or how many injured. The Congressman had chartered an extra six-seat Cessna plane to bring out the people who wanted to leave. That plane got away.”

“Some people left Jonestown? Then the Congressman's visit was not in vain.”

“An army unit is preparing to go into Jonestown early in the morning. They're travelling by train from Matthews Ridge, thirty miles away.”

“By train? Can't they fly in?”

“Jones' gunmen could be waiting in the dark to gun down the plane.”

“Our government should never have allowed Jones to settle in the bush. This is what you get when government officials sell their souls to the devil. And for what? Free foreign liquor and white women.”

“Watch your mouth, woman! The wrong people could take offense.”

“Your own mother told me our ambassador to Washington flaunts the PT white cutie public relations woman in diplomatic circles. You want to hear who else your mother say sleeping with the white Temple women?”

Stanley advanced towards her. Cheryl stood her ground.

“Is funny how your mother didn't know about your sweet-woman.”

They faced each other. Eye to eye.

“I can't take anymore of this rass. I ended my affair. I've done everything a man can do to make it up to you. But that's not enough for you: You want to run my blood to water.”

His voice was low and steady. His words stabbed the air. The hot air of his breath reddened her cheeks. He stepped backwards, punching the air with his forefingers.

“I want a divorce. You can keep your daughter. Bobby stays with me.”

He pushed pass her into the house.

She had known this day would come. Stanley was set on achieving his political ambitions. His betrayal had gouged a hole in her heart that could not heal. She was not a forgiving wife like her mother-in-law. She was her mother's daughter.

Cheryl locked the verandah door. Brook Benton sang in his silky-smooth baritone: “Where do I go from here?”

She slept in Bobby's bed that night.

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