As predicted, the rain persisted until Sunday afternoon and then the skies cleared up and the sun came out again.
The Weather Report that evening stated that Hurricane Gwen was still a threat to the island and, in fact, was just a relatively short distance away from Morant Point.
Due to the dramatic change in the weather, however, some persons were convinced that the hurricane had changed its course.
That night Junior’s Daddy called from Canada. He had heard the news and was checking on his family to make sure that they were adequately prepared.
“Veronica, yuh sure that you and JR going to be all right?” he asked with great concern.
“Yes, Brian. Mi tell yuh already to stop worrying yuhself,” Mummy insisted. “Is just another storm – wi will be okay.”
“And yuh sure that yuh have enough food in the house?”
“Yes, B! Plenty food is here. Wi went to supermarket yesterday and purchase some supplies. Matter of fact, Junior even tell mi that him think wi buy too much things!”
“So yuh buy matches and drinking water? Remember that the light and water might go away yuh know, V!”
“Brian, relax yuhself nuh man!” Mummy laughed and tried to reassure her husband that everything was in order. “I have things under control…”
“What about the ackee tree and the almond tree – yuh get somebody to trim them?” Daddy was starting to act like a teacher who was giving a student a pop quiz now.
“Cho man, B! Mi deal wid that from last month. Yuh know say mi don’t like wait till last minute to do anything!” Mummy replied. “Remember is Veronica yuh talking to, you nuh.”
Daddy laughed with Mummy for a few seconds. “All right, V…yuh right! Mi send off the money to buy JR back-to-school supplies this morning. Make sure yuh try and collect it tomorrow because wi don’t know what going to happen after the storm pass.”
Mummy agreed. When a hurricane or tropical storm hit the island it usually left lots of damage in its wake. It was a given that infrastructure would be affected. Some businesses would remain closed for days on end until they were able to restore computer networking systems, telephone circuits and so on.
“If I go early in the morning I should be able to reach home back before Gwen make landfall,” Mummy told him.
“All right. Do that then.”
And so it was that Mummy awoke at the crack of dawn on Monday.
She prepared a pot of banana porridge and roused Junior out of bed for his breakfast.
“But, Mummy, is holiday!” he protested. “Why a have to get up so early?”
“Because a need to make sure that yuh eat before a leave, little boy,” Mummy scolded him. “A can’t afford for gas to take yuh up at a time like this.”
The news said that the Government had declared a state of emergency to be effected at noon that afternoon. They had also ordered all businesses closed by that time. Subsequent weather reports confirmed that Hurricane Gwen would hit the island around about two o’clock. Mummy told him this meant there would be no going to work for her that day.
They ate together and then Junior watched as Mummy got dressed to go on the road.
“Junior!” she spoke to him sternly. “A going to Halfway Tree to collect the money that yuh father send to buy yuh school things. A need yuh to stay in the yard until a come back. A would take yuh with mi but a not sure how far away the rain is. And the last thing I want is for yuh to get wet up and catch cold. Mi not into the doctor thing in no hurricane.”
“But it don’t look like the hurricane coming again,” Junior said. “A hear Missa Roy them saying that it turn back, Mummy.”
Mummy rested her handbag and the mega-sized umbrella on the settee as she sat down to slip on the fashionable pink patent leather water boots that Daddy had sent in the barrel for her last Christmas and sighed wearily.
“Little boy, is not all the time yuh must listen to big people, yuh nuh,” she told him. “Sometimes wi talk foolishness!”
“But, Mummy, it must be true!” Junior insisted as he ran to the front door and pointed outside. “See the sun coming out there!”
Mummy picked up her bag and umbrella and walked towards him. “Junior, don’t yuh was listening to the weather report with mi a while ago?” she asked gently.
Junior nodded and knitted his brow thoughtfully.
“What did the man say?” Mummy asked.
“Him said that the storm coming and it will reach by two o’clock,” Junior replied.
“Good. So who yuh going to listen to? The bright man on TV…or Mister Roy?”
Junior pouted stubbornly and bit his bottom lip. “The man on TV,” he mumbled, hanging his head and using his toe to play with a dead leaf that lay on the verandah floor.
“Good boy,” Mummy said. “I’m going to hurry and come back. Make sure say yuh DON’T-LEAVE-THE-YARD…mi warning yuh cause mi know how yuh hard ears and who can’t hear will FEEL! A don’t want nothing to happen to yuh. Yuh hear what a say?”
Junior fiddled with the hem of his t-shirt. “Yes, Mummy!”
“Come and lock the gate for mi!”
About twenty minutes after his mother had gone, Junior’s playmates – André and Romario – came calling.
Junior went to the zinc gate, slid back the bolt and opened it so his friends could enter the yard. “Where Miss V?” Romario asked, craning his neck to see into the house.
“Shi just gone to Halfway Tree,” Junior answered.
“Good – that mean say yuh can come with wi then!” André said happily.
“Where ounu going?”
“Wi going bush go pick guinep!” Romario revealed.
One of the boys’ favourite summer past-times was the many treks they made down to the river and up into the nearby hillside to raid the tamarind, mango, guinep and june plum trees that flourished there.
“Now?” Junior asked, eyes bulging horrifiedly.
“Yeah,” Romario replied, roughly. He was the biggest of the three boys and the ringleader. “Remember when wi go up a bush last week, them did a ripe up, yuh nuh! Yuh want David and Greg them pick them before wi? Plus my mother gone downtown! This a the best time to go!”
“And my mother gone a work,” André said, boastfully.
His mother, Miss Dionne, was a nurse and so she had to work all the time. Nurses were always in great demand at the hospital especially when storms were threatening to lash the country. There were sure to be many emergency situations.
Most of the time André was left in the care of his sixteen-year-old sister, Pinky, who could not manage to keep her little brother under control. Because of this, the boy got into trouble very often.
“But the hurricane a come!” Junior reminded them. “Wi can’t go bush now!”
André and Romario looked at him like he was crazy and started laughing loudly.
“What ounu laughing about?” Junior folded his arms and glared at them.
“Which hurricane yuh talking about, bwoy?” Romario sputtered. “Yuh nuh see sun shining bright?”
“Ehhh!” André jumped in. “Look on the sky, Junior…not even one cloud!”
Junior looked up and saw that his friends were right. Not a single cloud was in sight. The sky was a beautiful azure. And just as he had pointed out to his mother earlier, the sun was rising fast, shining so brilliant that Junior had to shield his eyes.
And there was no breeze either. The weather was perfect!
Surely the Weather Man had to have been wrong. Hurricane Gwen must have turned back. After all, the rain had stopped yesterday afternoon and not another drop had fallen since.
It was after eight now. If the hurricane was supposed to be there by two o’clock, surely the rain would have started to come down already.
Plus, it was just last week on Independence Day that Mummy had cancelled their plans for an outing at the beach after that very same Weather Man had forecasted thundershowers for the entire day.
They had stayed home, to Junior’s great disappointment, and aside from a light drizzle early in the morning, the weather had remained fair all day long.
He must be wrong again, Junior thought. There was no hurricane coming to Jamaica! And, anyway, they had never come before. Since he was born, there had been numerous hurricane threats but they always bypassed the island and went to Cuba and up to Florida or out over the Caribbean Sea or to Central America instead of hitting Jamaica!
Ma Lou always told Junior that it was because Jamaica was “God-bless country”!
And, Mummy was wrong too. He wouldn’t miss out on all the fun with his friends and those big, sweet, gummy guineps that melted against his tongue when he popped them into his mouth simply because she was fretting over a hurricane that was not even coming again and wanted him to stay locked up in the yard like a house-rat!
He would just make sure he came home before she returned from Halfway Tree. He was sure that the lines at the money transfer center would be very long – they always were. He was confident that they would make it to bush and back before his mother did.
“So, Junior, yuh coming or not?”
Junior took one look at Romario’s ‘I-dare-you’ expression and made up his mind. “Of course mi a come!” he said. “Just let mi go put on mi sneakers.”
The three boys crept stealthily through the lane taking extra care that none of the neighbours saw them. When they got to the main road, they broke out running until finally, just as they were growing breathless, they reached the fork in the road where a little pathway was located. They walked along this path for a few minutes until they arrived at the little dirt track that sloped down a steep bank covered by small trees and shrubbery that led to the river below and the hill that loomed majestically on the opposite side.
When they reached the bottom of the slope and were about to cross the river, a voice called out to them. Romario, who was leading the way, jumped with fright and slipped on one of the smooth, flat river rocks that was used as a stepping-stone and lost his footing.
André and Junior reacted impulsively, each grabbing one of their friend’s arms and pulling him upright as they looked behind them to see who had spoken.
It was Blacka, a young man who lived next door to André. Blacka was an unemployed hustler who earned his living by doing odd jobs around the community. He chopped grass and bush, cleaned up yards, ran errands, trimmed trees, burnt and sold coal, built and fixed fences and worked as a labourer when persons were doing construction on their houses. But he sometimes came to loggerheads with some people when he broke into their yards in their absence to raid their ackee, apple, banana and breadfruit trees. Blacka was usually seen walking around Hope Town with a long bamboo hook-stick that he would use to pick these fruits that he would sell. On the rare occasions when Junior saw him without his trusty ‘hooka’, he always found it funny how strange the man looked.
Blacka was shoveling sand and emptying it into a big, white flour bag. Nearby stood a wheelbarrow in which several full bags already lay in a small pile. Junior knew that persons with zinc roofs used these to secure them during the hurricane season. The logic behind this practice was that sand got heavier as it got wetter. So when several bagsful of sand were evenly arranged across the surface and around the perimeter of a roof, hurricane winds – no matter how strong – would not be able to lift and blow off the zinc.
During the hurricane season, Blacka was kept busy as many residents scrambled to utilize his services in that respect. He always made decent money from this activity.
Blacka stopped digging and leaned on the handle of his shovel as he looked at the three little boys with curiosity in his flashing black eyes.
“What ounu doing down here?” he asked.
“Nothing!” André and Romario blurted out quickly.
“What ounu mean by ‘nothing’?” Blacka said as he sank the shovel into the sand leaving his hands free now. “Mi never born big so, yuh nuh! A can see that is bush ounu going!”
“So what if wi a go a bush?” Junior folded his arms and stuck out his bottom lip in a combative fashion.
“Ehhh!” André backed him up. “So what?”
“Yeah! If wi want to go a bush that is not your business, Blacka!” Romario said defiantly. “You is not wi father!”
Blacka shook his head in disbelief as he looked back at the youngsters who were all glaring stubbornly at him.
“Listen. Is ounu business if ounu want to go bush but, tell mi something: ounu don’t hear say storm coming?” he said as he walked over to the trio.
André and Romario started whooping.
“No hurricane not coming again, Blacka!” Junior told him as if he was speaking to a five-year old. “Them say it turn back.”
Blacka stared back at him like that was the stupidest thing he had ever heard anybody say. “Junior!” he spoke in a commanding tone as he planted his hands on his hips. “The weather report say the hurricane going to reach by two o’clock! Who tell yuh say it turn back?”
André had stopped laughing. “Blacka, how yuh so fool-fool?” he exclaimed, rudely. “Sun a shine! The sky blue and pretty! Look there! No rain not falling! It look like storm a come to yuh?”
Blacka folded his muscular arms across his bare chest that glistened with sweat and set his feet apart in a no-nonsense stance as he looked down intimidatingly at the three little boys.
“Little bwoy! Maybe mi never finish school and get a good education but mi know when storm a come!” he roared. “This is what the scientist them call ‘the calm before the storm’! Ounu teacher never learn ounu that?”
André and Romario glanced at each other, then at Junior before looking quizzically back up at the tall, jet-black adult. A split second later, they dissolved into loud raucous laughter while slapping their knees, clutching their tummies and pointing jeeringly at poor Blacka.
“Come yuh hear!” Romario said when he had finally stopped laughing. He proceeded to walk across the river once more. “Wi waste enough time with Blacka already.”
Junior sprung to life at the mention of the word ‘time’. “True thing! Come, Dré! Wi have to hurry up!”
“Later, Blacka!” André sang, sticking his tongue out at the man mischievously. “Mi promise to bring back couple bunch of guinep for yuh, yuh hear!”
“Ounu gwaan, man!” Blacka shouted after them. “Ounu little youth-man nowadays think say ounu too big to take telling. Just remember say who can’t hear will feel!”
“Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” André and Romario mocked him as they reached the other bank.
“Gwaan same way, yuh hear, Missa André!” Blacka called out as he went back to his digging. “I going tell Miss D when I see her later.”
“Then gwaan then. My mother know that me a go bush already,” André lied with ease as he started running towards the pathway that meandered up the hillside. “Come, Junior! Don’t pay Blacka no mind…him is a mad man!”
Copyright © September 2011 by Mandisa M. Parnell