I plan to start my own magazine.
I would tell the guys about my plans but they wouldn’t understand. Or care.
It’s the last week of school before we break to study for the CXC exams that will end our high school career one way or another so it’s our last week of freedom, I suppose. Me, Markie and John-John are leaning against the wall in front of school, waiting on the Hampton girls to pass on their way to the taxi stand, when Staggy, our principal, walks by instead, his thick-soled English-leather boots crunching the gravel that last month’s flood deposited at the junction, his head buried in a newspaper. It’s the half-paper style that looks like The Jamaican Star but isn’t, immediately distinguishable since it doesn’t have pictures on the front. There probably aren’t any inside either. But Staggy is an intellectual; “a gentleman and a scholar” is what he calls himself at assembly, telling us to be so as well. It falls on deaf ears, of course. None of us have left country and no matter how many times we draw and label the map of England, it doesn’t make up for never having been anywhere like that. No matter what the Englishman tries to impress on us, we don’t have the same reality or even the same ideal.
But if The Star exists, people must be willing to buy other magazines. The one I want to start will have glossy pages, full-page photographs of men who are gentlemen and scholars. Maybe I just want to see pictures so I can prove that you don’t have to look like Staggy to be an intellectual. The name we would have called him if he’d given us his attention is Mister Stagford but Staggy or Shaggy Staggy is merited by the unruly mop of white hair brushing on his horn rimmed glasses, and the fact that when he arrived at the school, he kept saying his wife was coming to join him but it took almost a decade before she arrived, long enough for some boys to start calling him stag. The name stuck even if now he and his wife go everywhere together, her thin arms looped around his thick middle as they ride the Honda motorbike around. Which may be why Staggy has to catch up on his reading while he walks and why it’s unlikely that he’ll look away long enough to notice us. None of us move the foot we have flattened against the wall, the cool factor we hope will overlay our fifth form uniform. If we were to return next year, our white shirts under blue blazers, navy pants and blue-and-white striped tie will open doors for us, or more hopefully, introduce us to girls without either of us having to call to anyone. But the uniform befitting a “gentleman and scholar” will probably never be more than a dream. It’s unlikely that John-John will pass enough subjects to be invited back for sixth form and Markie’s dad ran off from the farm work program so long that he’ll probably be sending for his family soon. And me? Well, I want to start the magazine but first, I need a job at The Gleaner or JBC. An apprenticeship, except I need them to pay me. I’ve been mailing out applications since before Christmas but everybody knows you need to know someone who works there to take your letter and actually give it to someone. Right now, my letters are probably filling up somebody’s rubbish bin. Mine and every other graduate coming from country to town with nothing but our hopes and discarded letters to introduce us. Maybe after exams, I’ll take a bus into Kingston and see what happens if I stand outside for a while. See if the security guard will give me a bligh and let me through the gate so I can stand outside someone’s office instead.
In the meantime, when I think about the future, I draw a blank. Ma isn’t going to send me back to sixth form. Not when I’m old enough to work. Not when I’m old enough to take the JPS job Mass Donald says he can help me to get. But I want to climb up on light poles like I want one of them to fall on my head.
Or like I want Staggy to look up and say, Is that any way for young gentlemen to conduct themselves in the company of ladies? Come to my office tomorrow for a lesson.” His carefully worded question could be code for a caning or a lecture, and we wouldn’t know until we got there, although the latter would yield to the corporal punishment the former if we blew off the invitation. Yet, Shaggy’s interest in his newspaper reassures us. It might be that comfort in the presence of danger that makes me say out loud now, I should make one of those when I get big.
What? John-John asks. He’s usually the first to ask a question, to say, What, even if you’re sure he heard you the first time. First to ask a girl her name, even if when she answers, she’s almost certainly looking at Markie. Markie is the face boy, so he doesn’t have to talk. John-John, on the other hand, is the kind of boy the girls probably say has personality.
A magazine, I say, more hesitantly now, already regretting my decision to share my dream.
What kinda girls going to be in it? John-John asks. Girls like this one coming now?
We look in the direction of John-John’s gaze, at the two girls chatting animatedly. As they approach, I recognize the dark skinned one. Her name is Marsha and she used to come to church before her younger sister got pregnant. They both came then, but I guess nobody wanted her around after that. I wonder if she’ll say hello to me anyway. We were in the same Sabbath School class so I know she knows my name, even if we weren’t friends. But present circumstances, she’ll have to look over here, at least.
No girls, man. I say.
What you mean? So who ah go buy the magazine when you nuh have no girl inna it? Clearly, John-John is neither a gentlemen nor a scholar. What kinda magazine nuh have girls?
Which girl, I ask, instead of prolonging the exposition of my magazine. Obviously, I shouldn’t haven’t said anything. Nuh two girl a come? Which one you a talk bout?
Yeah. Two girls but only one browning, John-John says.
Maybe Junior magazine going cry for the black woman, Markie says.
He and John-John launch into a fit of laughter that recedes but doesn’t die down until the girls are almost past us. Marsha meets my eyes and says, Hey, Junior.
What’s up, Marsha? Your sister alright?
Marsha’s eyes dip before she nods and keeps on walking, her friend’s arm linked in with hers now.
Youth, a whey uh ask har that for?
I know. I regretted the question immediately as it came out but you can’t take back spoken words. That’s why I need to work with the written word.
Her sistah a breed, yute. Markie explains.
Oh, my yute. That cold though.
Yeah man, not even a dark skin girl should get catch like that. But seriously, man, why we let the browning get way without anybody seh anything to har? John-John asks.
Wrong time, JJ, Markie says.
Never a wrong time to check fi the browning, John-John says, taking off in running pursuit of the girls. Immediately, Markie and I shift to fill up the space on the wall. With John-John gone, we are the pair of boys who can’t be seen together in a community like ours. It’s enough that we go to a boys’ school – we didn’t have a choice there – but it would destroy our reputation for two boys to be seen standing close on the street. There’s safety in a group of three, even just protection from idle gossip, but two is a couple and we are definitely not that.
We’re safely leaning on opposite columns when John-John returns, a smile so big that it could brush his epaulets.
So what’s her name? I ask.
She name Tracy and she just inna fourth form so she nah check fi no sixth form yute.
Oh so you good?
Yeah, if she nuh want no sixth former, she perfect for you, Markie says, and we laugh.
Yeah, but she say she and Marsha a go come help we study fi CXC.
So what about Junior? Markie asks.
You mean, what about you? John John says.
Marsha still a check for Junior? My youth!
It look like them right about this thing. Sometimes you haffi act mean to get girls, he concludes.
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.
A few months ago, I started a new novel and shared some of these chapters on this blog. I am finally finishing up this project so I decided to start again at the top and release them to you. Over the course of April, I will share the entire draft here on this page. Come back tomorrow for chapter 6.