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Election Day



Growing up I remember the river being a friend…

…We’d carelessly continued to play….

…I’d turned to look at Hezron picking up almonds on the bank; Shem and Carl splashing one another in the shallower parts….

… We’d been knocked off our feet….

…I’d been taken under, kicking and punching as the muddy water filled my mouth and nostrils…

“Shem…” my lips had moved uselessly in the water as I’d begun to drift off…{{more}}

…The ringing of the phone startled me out of my morbid recollections…. its Christopher’s voice again….

“Congratulations!” I softly declare.

“It’s strange we are on opposite sides; yet when I win you are the first person I want to celebrate with…”

“Christopher you need to celebrate with your woman and your son….”

“I know it’s that time of year – coming up to Christmas. I know you thinking about what happened… I think about it too; but we have to let go now Kita…”

… I go out onto my porch for fresh air but once again I am a breathless nine years old being dragged and battered by a big, angry river…

We couldn’t afford coffins; so some of the men in the village knocked together wooden boxes to bury our brothers. They’d found Shem in Yamboo. The women had restrained my mother as she’d tried to tear through the crowd that had gathered to view his mashed-up body.

“Nah mek she see him,” Mrs Kelva had shouted.

My mother had passed out.

They’d found Carl the next day in Argyle, bloated and unrecognisable. His father had spent most of the days following the accident in Brutus’ rum shop.

We knew these things only because Hezron had told us. Christopher and I had been in the hospital.

Christopher’s kneecap had been smashed. Afterward he’d walked with a limp until years later when he had been able to afford reconstructive surgery. My arm had been broken and my rib had been fractured.

I remember those horrible nights in Kingstown General. It took hours for us to be seen and in the mean time, the powerful pain had kept me alert. But even after the pain relief had finally come, the peaceful amnesia of sleep had still eluded me.

Every time I’d closed my eyes I’d been sucked back into the belly of the river. The memories had attacked me like sharp, stabbing shards of electric light….

They’d come in bits and pieces: the moment Christopher, who was holding tenaciously to a hanging vine, grabbed me; the first rush of air on my face; the clutching in my stomach as I vomited half-digested mangoes and dirty river water; the unbearable awareness of the pain attacking my right arm; Christopher’s sobbing in my ear… Hezron running in the distance….

Then I would zoom back to the first scream – just before I got knocked off my feet and I would yank out of my sleep with a scream. My heart would be racing so fast I would be scared it would suddenly burst through my chest….

Every time Christopher would be there… staring blankly at me. He knew how to avoid the nightmares – he stopped trying to sleep.

The first night back at home I had laid awake too… listening to my mother wailing and Mrs Kelva, soothing her. She had not so much as looked at me since I’d arrived. Hezron had cried himself to sleep and Christopher had sat on the ground with that now familiar, vacant look in his eyes. I can’t remember him saying anything in those aftermath days; until the night after the funeral.

I had been sobbing because I had been tired but terrified of sleep. He had suddenly risen from his threadbare sheet on the hard ground and stood above me. Then he had tentatively touched my shoulder as he slowly sat down on my bed and said…

“Ah try fu save them Kita… ah try fu save everybody….” Then he could not say anything else because he’d started crying. I had got up and hugged him and he’d hugged me back and our tears had mingled and soothed and healed us just a little bit… enough for us to fall asleep in each other’s arms.

At daybreak we’d jumped up; afraid because we’d known that there was something inappropriate about us sleeping like that. But there was a comfort, a strange power in that physical contact…. It protected us from the ominous threat of the nightmares and it gave us the peace of sweet, forgetful sleep.

Looking back we understand that we were both suffering with posttraumatic stress; but in those days these terms did not exist in our small village in Mespo. There was no help for us; so out of necessity, one could argue, we created our own warped therapy.

After the first night and then the second and the third the guilt and fear of it begun to dissipate and on the forth night he whispered the rules to me. We would wait until Hezron fell asleep, we would get up early before anyone else and we would pray that no one would find out….

The days would turn into weeks, the weeks into months… we would continue to sleep hugged tightly together until…

More next week….