Home > Your Corner Dark

Your Corner Dark
Author: Desmond Hall

 

One


frankie put down his empty water bucket on the side of the steep mountainside road that was just wide enough for a sedan and two well-fed goats. The sun had only just started to warm, too early for the post office to be open. Still, Frankie gazed at the ramshackle building. His scholarship letter could be inside. It was nearly all he thought about these days. If it came—if it brought good news—he soon might be headed off to study in America. Jamaica was so bankrupt it could hardly afford hope, but hope was Frankie’s light, and one he shined often.

In the distance lay miles of lush green forest and fields, and beyond that, the capital city of Kingston. A handful of twenty-story structures sat at the center of the skyline. Near the Olympic stadium, where he’d once seen the Jamaican sprinters practice relays, stood the University of the West Indies campus. Frankie knew he could get into their engineering program, but all a Jamaican diploma guaranteed was debt. Jobs for young people were just too hard to find.

Gnats circled. Frankie stuck a forefinger in the corner of his eye and removed a dead one. He studied it—his own career might be as short-lived, even if he got the chance to study at the University of Arizona. A classmate’s older brother had recently come back from America—he hadn’t been able to secure work even though he had a master’s degree in engineering. No way was Frankie going to let that happen. He flicked the gnat away.

The rev of an engine broke the early morning quiet. A black Toyota barreled down the mountain toward him. A thumping bass and pulsating rhythm rippled through the humid air, Sizzla’s raspy voice and reggae lyrics flowing from the car stereo. His uncle Joe’s long, sinewy arm emerged from the window of the shotgun seat, in his hand, a Glock revolving in a slow, tight circle like a predator stalking prey.

Frankie smiled, then pulled it back to a smirk. His uncle always kept a round in the chamber. Pulling the slide took time, and time was what you didn’t have when things got ugly. Uncle Joe had his finger on the trigger, and the road had a lot of potholes. A step to the left or right to get out of range would have been the smart thing to do—cuz accidents happened. But Frankie held his ground.

The Toyota rolled to a stop in front of Frankie. “Pop, pop, pop, pop!” his uncle shouted, his thick brown dreads making his angular face look even more so. He lowered his gun and extended his fist. Frankie bumped it with his own, catching a whiff of weed so skunky it had to be good. Uncle Joe’s red eyes confirmed it. Ice Box was at the wheel, engulfing the driver’s side with his massive frame. He was one of Joe’s enforcers. His other, Buck-Buck, sat in the backseat talking on his cell phone.

“Wha gwan, Nephew?” Joe asked. “You hear about the scholarship?”

Frankie couldn’t go anywhere without being asked that question. “Not yet, Uncle.”

Joe pulled back his locks, gazing at him. “If you get it, you going to run away from Jamdown. You going to leave your people.” Joe was still smiling, but his words felt like a slap.

“I’m not running away, Uncle.”

Joe held up a hand—wait—as his phone buzzed. He searched his pockets, pulled out a flip phone and a Blackphone, and answered the Blackphone.

The flip phone was prepaid, Frankie knew, with nothing that tied his uncle’s name to it, and the Blackphone had special encryption in case he had to send a message.

Like Joe had just sent a message with his dis: You going to run away from Jamdown. Sure, Frankie wanted to leave Jamaica for the job opportunities in America, all his friends did. Jamaica was like a messed-up parent: You loved it, but at the same time you wanted to leave it. You said bad things about it, but you’d get mad if anyone else said anything bad about it.

Frankie wanted to explain that. He paced while his uncle barked at whoever was on the other line.

Finally Joe clicked off the phone. “Yes, Nephew.”

“I’m not running away, Uncle,” Frankie said again. “Once I set myself up over there, I’m coming back, gonna do some big things for Jamaica.”

“Big things, eh?” Joe nodded slowly. “Ambition is important, just no forget is here you born, is here you should spread your roots. And you must watch out for Babylon. It’s even bigger in America than Jamdown.”

Frankie nodded back knowingly. For his uncle, and all Rastafarians, “Babylon” meant corruption in the government and police forces. Joe loved to rail against Babylon as much as he loved to smoke ganja.

“All the wickedness and oppression them perpetrate is a sin me tell you,” Joe went on. “Them allow rich man in suit and tie to steal money them don’t even need. Poor people steal to eat and them go jail.” He sucked hard at his teeth.

Frankie looked away toward the post office, then back to Joe. “But Uncle, you do jobs for the PNP.”

Joe wore an oh, please look on his face. “Me work with the devil that pays me. But that doesn’t mean me won’t call them a devil. P-N-P”—he slowly drew out the letters—“that’s supposed to be the People’s National Party. Now, you going to stand there and tell me they really do anything for the people except feed them bogus theories on how people fi live?” He tapped his gun against the side of the car. “And the other joke. JLP. Jamaica Labour Party—they don’t create any decent jobs for normal people.”

Frankie folded his arms. He’d been doing a lot of reading up on America lately—he might spend four years there! They had two main parties too. As far as he could tell, the JLP was conservative like the Republican Party, and looked out for businesses. The PNP was liberal, and pushed for the rights of workers. But it couldn’t be that simple. Some kids in school were really political, but Frankie thought they just sounded like they were repeating things their parents had said. Would he become more political if he went to America? He wasn’t now, here in Jamdown.

Joe shook his head. “JLP, PNP, whatever, every fucking political party is the same thing.” He frowned. “Yeh, mon, like me say, I have to work with them but me don’t have to agree with their bullshit.” He looked toward Kingston in the distance. “Them protect me from police, and me get them votes. And you know how important that is, right? Whoever wins the Kingston vote, wins Jamaica. I tell you, it’s just one big shitstem.”

Joe’s Rastafarian accent was thick, sometimes even difficult for Frankie to understand. But there was no doubt he was down for the people. It was probably the reason everyone in his posse loved him so much.

Ice Box tapped Joe’s shoulder. “We going to be late, mon.”

Joe turned to Frankie. “Me would give you a ride but me have business in town. Later, Nephew.” He slapped the dash. The Toyota pulled away.

Frankie watched until the wave of the dust kicked up from the tires settled. Things were always exciting when Joe was around, even if nothing really happened. Frankie liked that thrill. He knew he shouldn’t. Posse life wasn’t for him. But still.

It was time to get back to work. He headed over to the old standpipe on the other side of the road. Setting the bucket beneath it, he twisted the iron handle. Water rushed out, water he and his father would use to drink, cook, and flush their toilet. Bucket filled, he gripped the handle and began his mind game: in order to keep his daily task from becoming life-sucking boredom, he would challenge himself to spill not a single drop. He straightened up, but too fast; water sloshed toward the metal rim. Frankie froze. Losing before he even started would make his journey up the mountain feel endless. The water calmed, then settled. He exhaled, took a slow step. Next step, next. As he strode up the road, he moved faster and faster, putting more skin in the game, determined not to spill anything.

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