Thu | Dec 8, 2016

The devil's footstool

Published:Sunday | September 21, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Paul H. Williams, Contributor

Jerry Finch had been languishing in jail for two weeks - two weeks of taunting and beating, and waiting to be charged for burning down The Redemption AME Zion Church, robbery and attempted murder.

No amount of claims of innocence could appease his suffering. His tormentors, including the police, did not believe his story. Some members of his family, too, had doubts about his innocence. It seemed like a clear-cut case that turned the village of Redemption on its head.

Last week Monday, while Finch was trying to ward off another beating, and shouting for help, he heard someone bellow his name. Then there was silence as everyone in the cell stood still. Footsteps marched towards his cell door. Keys rattled until the big metal door was pulled open. All eyes were on Finch as a stout policeman stood looking into the cell.

"Take yuh stuff and come," he thundered.

"Sarg, but anno court day yet, or a change yuh a change mi cell?"

"A say tek yuh stuff an' come and stop wasting mi time!"

The confused Finch scuffled around the cell gathering his paraphernalia as his cellmates, looking puzzled, were motionless as Finch dropped his stuff into a big black plastic bag.

When he was finished, he tied the mouth of the bag and went straight through the door without looking back. "Fire!" someone shouted after the cell door was slammed shut by the burly sergeant.

The policeman led the way up the passage. Not a word was spoken between them. At the end of the passage, they exited the cell block. Strange, Finch thought. Not court day, no handcuff, no new cell.

They approached the board building that housed the offices. They marched along it towards the front, where they trod over four steps, and landed on a verandah with board floor. The sergeant led him into what seemed like a waiting area. There was a counter over which policemen were sitting at desks.

When the sergeant and Finch appeared, they all looked up at them. The sergeant turned to his right. Finch was still behind him. Suddenly, a very tall man bolted from a seat and extended his right hand to Finch, who dropped his black plastic bag, and stood with his mouth wide open.

The man was Pastor Ralph Josephs, for whose attempted murder Finch was charged. He was supposed to be in a coma. Pastor Josephs' smiling face was in stark contrast to the look of rebuke and scorn that Jerry Finch saw in his semi-drunken stupor the Sunday morning when he found himself in Pastor Josephs' church.

The congregants were in the spirit, dancing and trumping in the cramped space. It was the annual harvest celebration. The drums beat, and people sang lustily. Then there was a little commotion at the back, which abated the fervour.

Pastor Josephs, tall and imposing, peered over the crowd from a platform. The crowd parted as the 30-year-old, five-foot, robust Jerry Finch, staggering from side to side, made his way through. The scent of his stale-rum breath assaulted people's nostrils.

"Raaaalllph," he slurred, as he approached the visibly upset Pastor Josephs. "Wheh de rally money deh?" He was referring to the proceeds from the previous night's concert. The singing and dancing had completely stopped by now.

"I answer to no man, you whore-mongering infidel," Pastor Joseph shouted as he jumped from the platform.

Finch, with only one shoe on, was now halfway down the aisle. "Gimme some a de money nuh, yuh ole tief," Finch said as he stood at a spot, trying to hold on to something. The gathering was most uneasy, with some people vocalising their disgust at Finch's presence in "the house of the Lord".

"Let me deal wid him!" Pastor Josephs exclaimed as he moved towards a table in the centre of the church. On it was an enamel basin of water in which there were some floating green leaves and silver coins. "Yuh no stop trouble de likkle pickney dem yet, Ralph," Finch asked by the time Pastor Josephs reached the basin.

He grabbed the basin and broke out in song and dance as he moved towards Finch. About three feet from him, Pastor Josephs threw the water in the basin at Finch. Coins fell to the floor. "Get out, get out, you are the devil's footstool. How dare you defile the house of the Lord!?" Pastor shouted as he hit Finch twice on his head with the enamel basin. Finch fell to the ground.

"Get this rum drinker out of here," Pastor said to his deacons, who obeyed and dragged Finch down the aisle and through the door. Near the church gate, they deposited Finch along the road.

Now, back at the police station. Pastor Josephs, smiling, was vigorously hugging Finch, who wriggled himself out of Pastor Josephs' embrace and turned to the officers and asked, "Soh wha dis mean now?"

"You are free to go."

"Yes, and thanks for saving my life," Pastor Josephs chipped in, "You are not as bad as I thought." Finch looked long and hard at Josephs, scratched his head, and stormed out of the police station. He didn't look back when he heard a car coming behind him as he walked along the road leading from the station.

When the car caught up with him it stopped. Pastor Josephs alighted. "Yuh sure yuh don't want a lift home?" he asked.

"Mi awright," Finch said in a subdued tone.

"Come on, man. It was an honest mistake. I apologised on behalf of the police. It was I who told them you were innocent."

The angry look on Finch's face matched his voice when he said, "Mi a de devil footstool who pull yuh from hellfire. Mi glad fi know say yuh alive. Mi no waa defile yuh car. Mi a go home go bade and den go a de bar go beat some whites."

With that, Jerry Finch continued his walk, leaving a stunned Ralph Joseph holding on to his car, and staring at the back of a limping Jerry Finch and into the Saturday night when he was in his church preparing for Sunday service ...

... Jerry Finch was on his way to a dance when he saw fire in a window at the back of the church. He ran towards the building, looked through the window and saw a figure lying on its back. The board floor was on fire.

He pushed a back door, but it was locked. He scurried around the building. All windows and doors were locked. He returned to the back door, kicked it open, ran around the fire, and grabbed the figure lying near it. It was Pastor Josephs.

With all his might, Finch pulled the strapping man through the back door, and into the yard, away from the board building. Suddenly, he recalled the incident in the church when Pastor Joseph drenched and hit him. He became afraid. People would say he killed the pastor, he thought. He took one look at the motionless reverend, and dashed from the churchyard.

It was about 11 o'clock, and Pastor Josephs had gone to the church at about eight. He spent most of the evening looking for some documents, but to no avail. There was no bulb in the small back room, so he lit a kerosene lamp and stood on a stool to search some boxes on a high shelf. In moving one of the boxes, he lost his balance and fell sideways.

The right side of his head hit a table and then the ground when he landed. The lamp fell from his left hand and broke, starting a fire which grew around the unconscious Josephs.

The fire gutted the church, despite efforts by villagers to save it. It was one of the villagers who saw Finch running from the churchyard, and had alerted the police.