Oh Gawd! What’s happening to us!
Franc is crying. Mammy is screaming, “GET UP! GET UP!”
I’m still half asleep. Theresa is shaking my kite-like, little frame, “ANN! ANN! They breakin’ in! Run!”
Franc starts to scream. She is now in spasms, I know her mouth’s open, but ah can’t hear anything but a hissing “whoop.” I wait for the next burst of scream. It comes, and with it I am lifted out of my bed and rushed out of the room. The last thing I see in the shadow of the street lamp as I’m dragged from the bedroom, is a dark boot stepping through the now-broken window pane, into the bedroom, and unto my bed. The owner of the boot is holding a cutlass in his hand. Mammy won’t like that. No shoes allowed in the house!
* * *
In the safety of the living room:
“Ah think he went back out, he only want to scare us,” Theresa whispered, grasping the baby, as we all stood trembling together in the living room.
“It’s the two of them!” Mammy shouted. “Derek wid him!”
I knew who Derek was straight off, he was our Land Lady’s crazy-hair son who’d run away from the prison. I supposed that the other one was his sister’s equally fugitive husband. Mammy always said, “Them’s dangerous people to get mixed-up with.”
One time Theresa had asked her, “Why you say that?”
Mammy had a very long answer to that. I can’t remember all that she said, but one thing that stood out in my mind was when she explained that the Land Lady was a dark spirits’ worker, and that people went to her when they wanted to put bad spells on someone.
“Ann, you go out the back door and call fuh help,” Mammy instructed me, jerking me back into the terror before us.
“No, doan send her out,” Theresa pleaded. “They still in front there shouting. One of them can easily run under the house and find her on the back steps.”
“No!” Mammy said, “They won’t hurt a child. Go, shout for help, Mr. Barry will come.”
“But yuh said that Derek is a murderer. She can’t . . . I’ll . . . I’ll go,” Theresa told her.
“You make the baby keep quiet!” Mammy shouted. “Go!” she said, and she and I crept through the dark kitchen to the back door.
She shoved me out.
Then I heard the bolt click.
* * *
No longer in the safety of the living room:
I am screaming before I can hear my own voice. I am wailing and crying, I am spewing like a volcano – a lava of tears running down my face.
“Help! Help! Somebody please help us!” The louder I scream the harder I weep. My body wants to do this so much. I don’t know why I’m weeping, my voice is breaking, but it’s not because of the shouting. It’s because I’m crying so hard now, I can barely say ‘Elp.’ I am exposed and only have moments before the two men walk under the house and come to deal with me.
I almost imagine footsteps getting nearer and nearer, closing in on me. I think of all the things they could do to me, and I see my half-grown body chopped up into tiny pieces, with the cutlass the person who stepped into the bedroom was holding. A bizarre voice in my head which was shouting louder than I ever could, ask, “But would that be so bad?”
I am shivering in the hot night air, feeling the not so foreign hand of fear take hold of my heart and squeeze and squeeze. I know my heart’s going to spurge its contents all over the hand in seconds. That’ll teach it.
I look for the men through my tears, while I reason with that voice, ‘But see, I am only little.’
‘Is that why I catch yuh thinking of dying?’
‘I doan want to die, please, I doan want to die. I’m really only little.’
Heavy tears stream down my face, and it’s then I hear him. I hear him blowing his whistle through the curtain of the night. It’s got to be Mr. Barry! By the time he reaches our house still dressed in his pyjamas, he has most of the street behind him.
* * *
Later:The two men had run away, leaving us with a bedroom full of glass and a lifetime’s worth of fear.
We survived the night of terror with the mad men from the prison. We all packed a little bag, Theresa packed two, one for herself and another bigger one for the baby. We slept the rest of the night in Mr. Barry and his wife Shirley’s living room. I couldn’t go to school the next day because the police wanted to question everyone who lived in the house.
“So we start from the top and tell me what happened,” said the big puffy policeman. I thought of him chasing after criminals and wondered how hard he would puff after 5 minutes of hard running.
Mammy began, and told them how the Land Lady’s son and son-in-law smashed our window with their cutlasses, but the police wanted to know how we were so sure it was them. Of course Mammy saw them clearly and they didn’t hide who they were either.
“So what did they say to you?” the big one asked again.
“They shouted down the house and cursed us about our so and sos, and then said we’d better move soon or else.”
“Or else?” he asked again.
“Or else they will do worse than break a window,” Mammy answered.
“Did they enter the house at any time?” the smaller policeman asked but his voice must’ve been very loud, because even Theresa heard him.
She said, “One of them stepped into the bedroom but ah think he went back out because he never come through the bedroom door. Ah think their voices were coming from outside all the time they were here, even when Ann was outside.”
“Who’s Ann?” Big puffy said, and my heart leaped into the wall of the visibly bony chest which held it inside my body.
“Me niece here,” she said, pointing at me.
‘Please don’t ask me, please don’t ask me, I not allowed to talk when grown-ups speaking. Besides I don’t know nothing.’ I screamed in my stupid head like I always do, too afraid to say anything out loud.
“What were you doing outside child, you obviously saw their cutlasses, you . . .”
“Well,” Mammy cut in. “She rushed out shouting for help, and then Mr. Barry come ‘round and they run away.”
“Mr. Barry? . . . Oh the P.N.C. Neighbourhood-Watch chap from up the street,” he answered his own question.
“So,” the little, loud-voice policeman said, turning to Mammy. “At which point did you call the police?”
“We doan have a phone, you see,” Mammy answered. “Mr. Barry went back home when he was sure they were gone and called you.”
“I think we have enough to charge these men with aggravated assault with a dangerous weapon, breaking and entering, and disturbing the peace, maybe more. Just one more thing, do you know why they want you to move?” the bigger policeman asked at last.
“They doing it for their mother, they just come out of jail and she send them,” Mammy said. A tiny ball of spit appeared on her bottom lip, and when she said, ‘them’ it transferred unto the upper lip. “She got someone else she want to rent the house to, and she want us out. I pay her rent, and when she tek me to court, the magistrate said she got no grounds for throwing me out, that she got to wait until I find somewhere else to live. She threatened to get me out in the court yard.” Her ball of spit – which I named ‘blit’ - rested finally on her top lip.
“As the magistrate said, she can’t throw you out.”
“But ah can’t stay here now, can I? And she know that, she show me what they can do. I got a young lady daughter, and if anything happen, you know how fast gossip will travel ‘round this place about what shame happen to me.”
“We are very sorry,” said the bigger policeman. “We will do what we can. Do you have anywhere to stay?”
“No, but Mr. Barry say that we can sleep in his living room until the end ‘a the week.”
“Then what?” he continued.
She shrugged, dejected like. Even I could see that she knew this was far from the end. I found that I wasn’t scared. I had buried worse than this inside the soft bits of own body. After all, I didn’t even get beaten today.
“Strange,” said the smaller policeman, “How people will destroy their own property.”