NYU Black Renaissance Noire Spring 2015 - Page 158

By COLIN CHANNER LEA I. They played coc’nut bough cricket in the growing season, attended school half time, otherwise worked with grown ups, cutting, ratooning, drawing water from the spring that drove the wheel. Thirty years, a generation plus from slavery, and Lea, my mother’s great grand-dad and Nev, his closest friend, were living mostly in their great grandparents’ world, one of long views to far hills, but tight boundaries, force and sense and habit keeping people in their place. When militias killed a thousand blacks out in St. Thomas back in 1865, put on that famous vigilante pageant that began with muskets firing on protestors in a courthouse square, my mother’s great grandfather was a child, still, busha called him for his labour, told him to get Nev, made him lead on his pardy, to the lignum vitae woods to work with grown survivors heaving corpses into graves. Imagine that boy, his friend and other children massed on the bank of a hole, handling bodies, lifting, passing, easing down, the cadence like the one employed to pack ox carts with hogsheads, barrels of molasses. Spitting ashes. Coughing dust. 156 Now follow born-free and ex-chattel, going home at twilight, slow marching, dressed in rag calico, burlap, osnaburg, using foot beat to hold a rhythm, no talking, passing burnt houses, cottages hit down, then seeing up ahead odd statues cast in shadow, set in bush, no, folks grief struck, heads down. 003-Main-Content.indd 156 II. It’s a detail Lea included when he told the tale to Phyllis Fay his great-grandchild, my mum, who asked about a photo framed in pewter on a bureau in the bungalow he lived in on a farm in St. Ann, way, way far from St. Thomas, beyond a watershed, decent acreage in Gibraltar hamlet in low hills, all small holdings, good people, stone fences, woods lush with bamboo, and fat white cows. It rained for days he told her, like Bible, and the whole place smelled of war, and ’cause everything was broke up they slept for days in mud until, thanks be to God, sunshine came back slowly, and things took time to dry out, and life – well, it went back to normal, to duties and habits, same difference, old usual, scratching dirt, doing what you do as ‘cording to what season, planting, reaping – if busha don’t need you – maybe little school. That’s how it was – you worked as you should, kept your mind on now, left behind whatever happened – as they learned you with the switch from early – what to keep, and what to talk. And so it was. Forgotten. There, but as a dust of disquiet, a fog of unease until that first Easter after martial law when he and Neville, same Inspector Bledsoe in the photo, sneaked away to idle, hunt birds and play cricket in a clearing near some cedar woods and corpses started poking from the ground. Now to this moment add rain. 3/30/15 9:51 AM