Making an Example of Charlie
By Richard Rupnarain
It is understandable why the residents of Uitvlugt sugar estate would breathe a sigh of relief on that Saturday evening in August 1973 when a sustained stream of cool air drifted into their neighborhood from the Atlantic Ocean. It was a day of sweltering heat and stifling humidity, so unbearably hot, that the tar on the asphalt roads was melting, the trenches were all dried up, cows and horses were jostling for position at watering holes, and the estate management, concerned about low levels in the Conservancy, restricted the use of water to essential services only. But as the breeze washed gently over the concrete sea walls and journeyed its way in a southwesterly direction across the coastline the people opened their doors and windows to welcome it into their homes as they would for a dear friend whose visit was much cherished. Besides its soothing effects upon the body, the cool current of air, filtered and accelerated by the branches of waving coconut palms, had the effect of a huge vacuum cleaner, sucking up the black dust from burnt sugar cane and transporting it back to the canefields, leaving homes clean and with the scent of sea breeze freshness.
Mr. Saywack and his wife Sattie sat on their verandah and bathed in the cool breeze as they chomped on their dinner favorite of sada roti and bigan choka with salt fish, onions and a healthy dose of bird pepper.
"Let abie hope this heat finish now. Me can't remember when last place been so hot. Me coulda jump out me skin today, yeh?" Mrs. Saywack sighed.
"We better pray for some rain or all them bhaji and bigan plant done wid," he replied as he choked on another mouthful, "this choka sweet, gal, it mek me lehleh leak."
"Fuh true! You na see how me a chatay me finga. Me just add libbit shallot and bird pepper and some black pepper with two bit salt fish," she explained as she licked the remnants of choka off her fingers. Abie bigan na taste so sweet.
"Dat is because me prappa pack fertilizer in abie greens."
"Is dat same fertilizer a give cancer, you know."
"But you can't mek no money if you don't put fertilizer."
Their house was by intent larger than all the other homes in the area and it was conspicuously situated at a major intersection in the small village. Mr. Saywack was, to say the least, a vain and haughty man who wanted everyone in the village to know he was rich. So he built a big house, unnecessarily so, as he had neither children nor friends, and painted it bright green, save for the white trims around the windows. The windows and doors of the house were overlaid with matte black wrought iron grillwork as a safeguard against break-ins and, although the ironwork was intricate and professionally done, it gave the house the similitude of a prison. Around the house he erected a six-feet high fence, the staves nailed so close to each other that the fence looked like a white wall; but this too was intentional as Saywack wanted to keep out his prying neighbors and their animals from his yard.
Along the sides and at the back of the house he cultivated a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, ranging from sour sop, guava, ginippe, bora, ochra, seme, sijan, tomatoes, thyme, married man poke, carilla, and interspersed between banks of mustard and poi bhaji were assorted peppers. He also planted coconut palms along the sides of the lot adjacent to the fence and from those he reaped an ample and continual supply of pointer brooms, coconut oil, and sugar cake which he sold at the local market.
To the extreme rear end of the lot he built a pigpen for his half-dozen sows, a wire-meshed pen for white fowls, a chicken run for creole fowl, and a sheep pen for his burgeoning flock. He was almost fully self-sufficient and rarely needed to leave his home save for items such a garlic and salt, things he could not produce. If not for his stinginess and mean-spiritedness he would be hailed as one of the villages true success stories, a veritable hero of the working class. Instead he was despised with a passion by adults and children alike, so much so that the children would move over to the other side of the street whenever their paths intersected.
It is hard to say why he was so mean and stingy. His parents were amicable and gentle souls, liberal with their possessions and loved by everyone in the neighborhood. In fact Saywack was a very spoilt child who wailed his way to everything he wanted. He wore ready-made shirts and terylene trousers to school while his peers donned home-made cotton shirts, often fashioned from bits and pieces of leftover curtain or dress material. He wore leather shoes whereas his colleagues had the option between yachting boots, rubber slippers, or going barefooted. He hung a leather satchel on his shoulders while his classmates had to be satisfied with book bags made from recycled flour sacks. He was always loaded with money, which he made no bones to flaunt, buying fudgicle instead of ice-blocks, and cheese roll and chocolate milk instead of polouri and channa, all for himself, until the day he realized that money could buy friends and then he used it strategically to lure most of the boys in his class into a gang he called the X-Men, so named after the Marvel comic team. The X-Men met every day at the cake shop across from the school where they had their upper arms checked for the red inked X on the shoulder, after which, if found faithful, they were treated to milk and cheese roll. Of course Saywack was so full of himself that it never occurred to him that his band of cheese roll mercenaries were just following him for the food.
In the absence of a clear explanation for his repulsive nature the estate coolies derived their own. Some of them contended that he was an angry man because he never received a penny of the dowry his father-in-law had promised him at the arrangement of the wedding. Others explained his bitterness as a result of being in a childless union and the reproach he suffered as a result. Some of the people even rumored that he was impotent and that made him furious; but not as furious as when a woman at the market with whom he had an altercation said that God was punishing him because God knows he will make a terrible father with his "bad-mindedness."
Whatever the reason or reasons for his intemperance and ire, the fact is that he was detested by his neighbors and villagers, so much so that very few customers patronized his stall at the local market which in turn made him angrier still. Yet for all their animosity no one dared pick a quarrel with him as he possessed an unlicensed firearm and was known to use it with reckless abandon. Anything that moved in his yard that did not belong to him was curry for dinner or meat to be sold at the market. To date he had racked up a long list of bounty, including Rosie's clean-neck fowl, uncle Bobby's meggy, and auntie Kamla's turkey that decided to forage in his yard without making an appointment. And as if to maintain the intimidation factor every Saturday morning he would bring out his rifle on the verandah and clean it in full view of passersby.
Besides being the holder and reckless user of a firearm he was notorious for his refusal to exchange damaged merchandise or substandard goods and heaven forbid that someone should ask him for a refund of their money, as poor Mr. Sonson learned the week before Christmas. It was a Friday morning when Sonson decided to drop in the market on his way from the pay office and pick up some greens. New to the village and unaware that he was doing anything to offend anyone he strutted up to Saywack's stall and began to examine his stock of bora.
"Look! Na fingle fingle if you nah buy," snapped Saywack.
"Me gat fuh check before me buy," the poor fool replied.
"Check for what? You never see bora?"
"Me just want fuh see if the bora hard."
"So you gon bruk out the tip from all me bora? Wha you tink? Me a sell hard bora? You tek you eye pass me, nah?
Then the infuriated farmer stooped down and pulled out his gun from a rice bag and aimed it at Sonson.
"Look! Tek all dem bora that you bruk and put me five dollar pon de counter. Now!"
Poor Sonson was so afraid cold sweat ran down from his forehead like a Niagra and he left his five dollar bill on the counter and charged through the crowd without his merchandise, shouting at the top of his voice, "Oh me mumma! Dat man gat real gun and he been going and shoot me. Ayo call de police!" But to Sonson's shock the people remained indifferent to his plea and continued with their business as if nothing had happened.
As the days went by Saywacks temper grew even worse and his trigger finger began to itch for blood. His last victim was Abdool's mangy rice eater that managed to hedge its way through a hole under the fence. Realizing the peril that awaited him when he found himself staring down the barrel of a gun the dog spun around midhole and tried to beat a retreat but not before Saywack fired a round and lopped off its tail, save for about two inches. Nowadays the dog can be seen wandering around the market, sporting the sleek look of a bobtail dog, but at the mercy of the bummer flies against which, without his tail, he is defenseless. And from that day onwards all those who wish to make their dogs boptails were instantly, though facetiously, recommended to pay Saywack a visit.
Two days later he again brandished his rifle, took aim at a jumbie bird that lighted on his back fence and fired, just as the bird completed its funeral dirge. The shot plucked every last feather off the bird and it flew away naked, never once looking back, flying faster, thanks to its featherless body, to warn its friends of the danger that awaits those who trespass on Saywack's property. Unfortunately for Saywack the bullet did not lodge in the body of the jumbie bird, for then it would have stopped its journey, but it continued on after defeathering its target and decapitated a rooster in the middle of its cock-a-doodle-do call. Despite threats of legal action from the owner of the rooster, and other illegal recourses if the law did not satisfy him, Saywack continued to employ the use of his potent firearm against any and everything that violated his land and air space.
The only one that seemed able to calm his rage and coax him into a state of childlike innocence was his ram-goat, Charlie, a black and white bearded goat that had become the pride of his livestock. He had raised Charlie from birth and perhaps his fondness for the goat had something to do with the fact that Charlie had sired an entire flock, twenty kids to be precise. After all Saywack was a capitalist and anything or anyone that could make money for him was deemed a friend. Charlie qualified on that ground but as the years went by the horned beast became more than just an economic partner. He had taken up residence in a part of Saywack's fat heart and the two of them had formed a special bond like that of the biblical characters of David and Jonathan. When Saywack came home from the market Charlie was the first to greet him with a leap and a lick and he in turn would reward the creature with a banana peel. Then the two of them would retire to the lowest rung on the staircase where the master would stroke his friend's beard and rub his head and tell him all about his trials and tribulations at the market place until they both fell asleep.
Now the goat was eight years old and had become an integral part of Saywack's life and his daily routine to the point where his wife became jealous of their relationship. Saywack did not kiss her before he left for the market but he would stoop down to Charlie and whisper sweet nothings in his ears. When he returned from the market he would not ask her how her day went but he would ask Charlie if he had enough to eat. One evening, as he stroked Charlies beard, he even confided to the goat that he had a terrible nightmare in which Charlie was stolen and how he had searched in futility for him despite the rumor that Ramgoli, the good-for-nothing drunk from back street, had sold him to a butcher from Mahaica. As he narrated the story the tears began to flow and he stuttered like a child who was trying to speak while sobbing. In response Charlie licked his fingers and nuzzled up against his feet.
As nine oclock approached and darkness blanketed the Uitvlugt neighborhood homeowners began to close up their doors and windows. The same ocean breeze that was welcomed a few hours before was now denied entrance as it made the blood run cold. Mrs. Saywack unplaited her legs and rose up with her enamel plate hanging loosely from one hand and her flinted cup in the other. Remnants of choka stuck to the back of her hand and she tried using her blackened fingernails to extricate bits of eschalot that were caught in her dentures.
"You done eat? Gimme your plate!" she asked with outstretched hands, "I going inside. It cold out here."
"I coming in later," replied her husband.
Just as the door closed behind him he heard a crackling sound in the bushes beside his front gate.
"A who dat?" he asked. "Answer me! he demanded. But no one answered and the sound continued. Cricks! Cracks! Cricks! Cracks! "Aright then, you na answer. Me gon see who is big man tonight!" With that threat he retreated into the house and emerged seconds later brandishing his gun. "Come out before me kill you dead!" The sound continued but no one emerged from the darkness and the trigger happy gun totter decided to shoot first and ask questions later. Taking aim in the direction of the crackling sound he fired and waited, then fired again. After two rounds the crackling sound ceased but the silence was soon replaced with the sound of dozens of footsteps racing towards the house. The neighbors wanted to see whose animal was gunned this time by the gun totting Saywack. Mrs. Saywack emerged from the house.
"Is who you shooting at now, man? You crazy or what? Is night time, you can't see nothing and you know how you blind. Even daytime you can't see proper. One of these days that gun gon get you in real trouble" she railed.
"Look, you go inside. Me gon handle this! Bring a gas lamp."
She returned minutes later with the gas lamp. But it was hardly needed as several of the curious neighbors came running with bottle lamps.
"Bai Bai!" auntie Bosie shouted out to her son, who along with other children, most already in pajamas or nighties, charged to the scene despite threats from their parents to bring out the buckle and "tar them skin" with licks, "Abie sheep na come home yet. Better check and see if that mad man kill abie sheep."
Bai Bai approached cautiously when he saw Saywack making his way to a gaping hole that the gunshot had opened up in the fence. Extending his bottle lamp outwards in the direction of the hole he pushed his head in for a closer look and then jumped back in relief.
"Ma, is not abie sheep. That look like a ramgoat. It got a beard."
Following close behind her husband, Mrs. Saywack overheard Bai Bai's comment and held her chest.
"Na tell me you kill abie goat."
The crowd became silent as Saywack approached the dead animal. He too had overheard the comment and his heart melted like cheese in a microwave oven. Was this another nightmare? He wished! Putting down the gas lamp he cuddled the goat to his heart and began to sob quietly, fully aware that no one could see his tears in the dark. He had shot Charlie in the head, straight between the eyes. The goat had no chance. He felt faint and nauseous and for a while sat prostrate with the bleeding goat on his lap. Then suddenly, as if on cue, the crowd broke out into synchronized laughter.
"Saywack kill he own goat!" they shouted, jumping up and down and congratulating each other just as they did when the West Indies defeated England in test cricket. And he, realizing what such jubilation meant to his reputation, reacted just as suddenly. Summoning every last ounce of strength in his trembling limbs he arose and, like a victorious prizefighter he raised the dead goat high above the fence for the shocked onlookers to behold, and with the blood dripping unto his face and his shirt, he cried out into the night, "Listen! Me know you all laughing that I kill me own goat! But this is no accident. I plan it! I do this to set an example for all of you! So ayo betta na mess wid me!"
With that said he limped slowly back to the house. But from that moment the neighbors were no longer afraid of his threats and they continued their celebration in the streets, late into the night, mocking and mimicking his words as they slapped and kicked one another and explained their actions as, just an example! They knew Saywack had unintentionally killed his goat and they hoped that the pain would precipitate in him a change of heart. So did Mrs. Saywack! Amid the smell of gore and undissipated gunpowder she held tightly unto her husband's biceps and escorted him back to the house, slowly and deliberately, as one would do for a child who had pierced his sole on a rusted nail.
Richard Rupnarain formerly from LBI, Guyana, lives in Toronto, Canada. He likes to write short stories.