Country Roads

by Opal Gayle

I have not been home in twenty-three years. So, I’ve forgotten how to get to Red Grung, where the guava trees, pregnant with fruit, would droop towards earth. And where the pond fills up with water during heavy floods, and children are warned to stay away lest the giant whirl in the middle sucks us down into the belly of the earth.

I don’t remember what my father and our neighbor Mas Sweetie, argued about that rainy Sunday morning, but, after that, I was forbidden to set foot in his yard again, and I had to hide and play with his daughter Natalie.

What I do remember is walking those sparsely paved roads with my father and never arriving anywhere on time because he talked to everyone. They would discuss their health: the pain in their neck and back, the knee that had been bothering them for a whole month. The rising price of kerosene, Bay rum, and Tiger Balm. The corn on their toes that squeezed no matter which shoes they wore. And the left eye that had been twitching since the last time it rained.

And they would remember the good ol’ days when for only a shilling they could buy bread, salt, and a whole stick of butter. When saltfish was so cheap that people used it to shingle their house tops. When the days were longer, and Christmas had more Christ in it. The good ol’ days when children had manners and knew their place.

They recalled when Sir Alexander Bustamante, Jamaica’s very first prime minister, was in power and the labor party ruled. When the English pound was only five dollars, and people would wear a three-piece suit and their good church shoes to get on an airplane. The roads were in much better condition then, and the voting districts did not report more ballots than the amount of residents that the census bureau documented.

And if ever my father met a stranger they would dig up graves in their heads, naming all their relatives and going down the family tree until they discover that they were both cousins of Philemon Rumble, not the Philemon Rumble that Miss Dinah’s donkey kicked in the head. But, the Philemon Rumble who married Mary Lee, a dignified woman who was too proud to pass gas in public, so she held it with all her might, and it went back into her body, traveled up her spine, and into her head where it busted a blood vessel and killed her instantly.

No, I have not been home in twenty-three years. And yet my mouth waters every June because my taste buds remind me that it’s mango season. And I travel back in time to the sidewalks where the street vendors lined the roads with the blood-red otaheite apples and sing praises of their sweetness and unbeatable prices. And, today, when twilight comes, I lament the lack of ceremony as I flipped the light switch upwards. And I remember fondly the days when I baptized the soot-filled lampshade into the soapy water, and it emerged, the timeless message still impressed on the glass – “home sweet home”.

Opal Gayle grew up in rural Jamaica. She is a graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Saint Louis University. A poetry and language aficionada, she has been writing with Writers In Progress for over a year. She lives in Western Massachusetts where she teaches Spanish and French.


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