Free Book Chapter 4

1987

 

Me love mi car, me love mi house, me love mi money and ting

But most of all, me love mi browning.

Me love mi car, me love mi house, me love mi money and ting

But most of all, me love mi browning.

It is the chorus to a popular song in our little community. Scratch that. Browning is popular all over Jamaica. If you walk through the square, even if it is just the junction of the two roads that run through a small village like ours that neither has a record shop or the income to support one, it’s a guarantee that someone’s radio will be turned up loud and sitting on the window sill, perhaps behind burglar bars so nobody gets any ideas to take the music in a more literal sense, and as long as there isn’t a West Indies cricket match being broadcast, as long as it’s not during the daytime call-in programs hosted by Mr. Thwaites or Miss Gloudon, if you listen long enough, you’ll hear that song. Browning. If you get into a mini bus or taxi to go anywhere from Kingston to Montego Bay or any point in between, not that I’ve ever been, but I’m sure you would heard Buju Banton’s ode to the Browning. The Browning is the light complexioned, favored woman of our generation, with smooth skin and light eyes that are the result of centuries of mezzo blood, the daughter of African slaves raped by their masters, their half-breed children not good enough to live in the house but too delicate to survive too far outside it. Browning is pretty but not too pretty to be one of us. She has the curves we admire, full breasts and a buxom bottom, like all of our other women, but when she walks, music follows her rhythm. The song is just the vocal chant to accompany centuries of worship.

The song’s popularity isn’t because Buju is the best vocalist. Maxi Priest would have won that fight hands tied behind his back. But the sound clash has never been about the quality of the music, just how the people respond to the song.

Buju had given voice to the intonation of every black man that had inhabited the little land of wood and water since slavery had put him outdoors, tired from chopping said wood and standing at the door of the kitchen, waiting for a drink of water while the Mistress moved around inside. The men, most of them dark from their overexposure to the unrelenting Caribbean sun, loved the light hued women, loved the milky smoothness of the skin she showed and dreamed about the even more enticing milky softness that she didn’t. They traded their hours in the sweltering and tanning sun so their women didn’t have to, even gave a little extra besides if she said yes, she would buy the Ambi or Nadinola to even out a couple of dark spots that marred her face or legs.

The lyrics to the browning song resonated with every man, even the ones who refused to acknowledge their preference for the light complexioned women we all obsessed about. The men who, no matter how many hours they traded, still couldn’t afford one of those pretty women who demanded to be kept, men who weren’t educated enough or church-going enough or just decent enough to find a good one on their own, and so were left to scrabble for one of the leftovers. Offer that man a couple of cold Red Stripes at the right time of night and he would tell you that no matter how many children he had with the dark skinned woman who came to him from Maroon Town and never looked back, no matter how good she cooked or that she walked three miles to his mechanic shop every lunch time to deliver his shet pan full of rice and peas and sweet potato and stewed chicken with lots of gravy, the food still warm from the coal fire she made his meals on daily, that she waited for him to eat it so he wouldn’t even have to carry the empty container home afterwards, and that when he came in, she still didn’t complain when he went to play dominoes at the shop side after dark. Get that man sweet enough from a few beers and he would tell you that he still had dreams of the elusive browning.

Like a mermaid, Browning was in high demand and men risked everything for her.

Me love mi car, me love mi house, me love mi money and ting

But most of all, me love mi browning.

The words rang true in every mind. Which is when I saw one at the opposite corner of the square, me coming out of Jack’s Hole and her facing like she had come from down The Gap, I sprung into action.

No matter that I had two buckets to fill with water. No matter that it wasn’t yet six o clock in the morning and I hadn’t even washed my face yet so there probably still matter in eyes. I was afraid to rub at it, afraid that she was a mirage that would disappear if I blinked or rubbed the illusion away.

No matter that I am dragging broken down shoes on dusty feet and that my toe is lame inside. No matter that I’m just sixteen and I have no clue what to say or how to say it. No matter that I have nothing to offer her and so if she doesn’t rebuff me, I’ll know that she’s stupid so it wouldn’t matter if she said yes because then she would just be a stupid browning. But there are no stupid brown girls and right now, her mental state is my least concern.

Source

I stand the white pail under the pipe and turned the giant faucet, bending to hold the bucket steady in anticipation of the water pressure that will come soon, moving automatically because I don’t dare take my eyes off her.

The pipe gurgles, beckoning the water, teasing it out of the massive cistern behind me until finally a stream splashes out and the bucket starts filling.

Finally, I uncurl my back, a little more than necessary but only so I will look a little taller. I’m five foot ten inches, taller than her by several inches, but you never know, she might like tall guys. An extra inch or so won’t hurt.

Top of the morning, I sing out.

The sound waves displace the early morning air and filter across the street, until it reaches her ears. I can see the exact pulse when the sound pushes into her ear drum and penetrates her consciousness, can see when she spins around to face me and the spark of interest that dances on her face when she looks me up and down in the early morning light.

She doesn’t say anything.

But it’s a good sign. She doesn’t scream, Leave me alone. She doesn’t shout, whey you a call to me fah?

She doesn’t say anything. So I leave the bucket under the now-steady stream of water and walk across the street, not too fast that I might falter on a rock so my feet might come out of the flattened down clogs. I wish I was wearing anything except these broken down shoes on my feet but it doesn’t matter that right now, I look the worst I could. No matter; I’ll take the chance.

I could filled the buckets and gone back home, taken a little more care and come back when I’m on my way to school, on the off chance that she’ll still be here. But in half an hour or so, the mechanics who work in the garages at the end of The Gap will be passing on their way to work and who knows which one of them is still on the lookout for a browning. The farmers, after tending to the little plot of land in the backyard, might be crossing the street to tie out their goats in the land lease and one of them might be looking for a browning. The teacher man who lived down the road already had a brown skin woman who came from St Elizabeth but she went to university so nobody expects her to come back and he’ll soon be walking down this way to catch the bus. There’s no way I’m leaving this one here without trying. Yes, I could go home and come back more prepared, later. But later would be too late.

 

Men dive off rocks to search for mermaids for the same reason. True, they could have gone back and gotten a scuba outfit, strapped on an oxygen tank, told someone where they were going so if anything happened, someone would know to look for them. But a man who has seen a mermaid, usually doesn’t hesitate. He’ll dive in after her and stay in the water past the point where he still has breath because he knows that if he doesn’t keep going, he will lose her forever. There is just that one chance and she means everything.

So, yes, I could have gone back home but I would have never seen her again. So I cross the street and say it again. Top of the morning to you. This time, I don’t sing; I just stand there in front of her, daring her to look at me or look away.

This time, she looks behind me, to where I am coming from, the corner with the stand pipe, Jack’s Hole in the dark distance, and says, Your bucket is overflowing.

Yes it is, I reply. When I stop grinning, I can feel the white squall has migrated from my mouth corners to my equally unwashed ears.

And yet, she smiles back, perfect teeth illuminating a now-perfect morning.

 

*****

Eventually, Buju Banton recorded what everyone knew was his compromise song.

We nuh stop cry fi all black woman,

Respect all the girls dem with dark complexion.

From a politically correct standpoint, the latter song was just as inappropriate. Why, in a country of two million, where 98 percent of the population is of mixed-African descent, why would anyone care about complexion and what should be a moot point of discussion in a country where almost everyone had ties to the same racial background? Well-known university lecturers discussed it ad nauseum. For six weeks straight, Rex Nettleford had “That Song” as the main topic of discussion on his Sunday afternoon call-in chat. After Sunday dinner, sometime between the overindulgent meal and the consequent afternoon nap, people tuned in to listen to him go on and on because after all, it was Rex, son of the soil which mean that he was dark skinned too, but he had gone to England and studied and so sounded like the person you wanted to be or wanted your children to be when you grew up. But in a lot of cases, it was just passive listening. The mailbags of the editors of both major newspapers were flooded with letters decrying the song, demanding that the first song be banned. In a country where the previous chart-topper had been one with pornographic lyrics, nobody took those demands seriously. But Buju’s song of compromise was too little, too late. It was also never going to be enough to erase centuries of pain.

One man had expressed his honesty. Hundreds of thousands of others had voiced their assent. No matter that you tacked a don’t-bother sign onto it afterwards.

Me love mi car, me love mi house, me love mi money and ting

But most of all, me love mi browning.

I couldn’t believe that at sixteen, I had already found mine.

Copyright (C) 2017 by Karen Wright

The above is an excerpt from an ongoing creative writing project which will probably be heavily edited in the future. Please do not copy or otherwise share this content. 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental. 

 

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