Guineps are sweet, but can be sour. And when you crack the seed, everything tastes gummy.
As a child, he had loved guineps. How the fleshy orange ball slides around your mouth, dangerously threatening to block your throat. But you pull it back at the last minute, rolling and slurping with your tongue. Then you grind off the pulp with your teeth.
But sometimes, you bite down too hard and crack the seed.
"Mek sure you bring back $5,000. Doan bother come home widout it," his mother speaks.
She sits on the edge of the one mahogany dresser, still on hire purchase from Courts. The $10,000 weave shows blonde and bumpy along her black hairline. White plastic roses suffocate nearby, dusty misery reflected in the mirror. Her blouse strains at the fourth button where another victim of life is just starting to show.
Three children, three different men.
He comes from behind and folds her in his arms, crushing the flowers as he sits. Caressing her fallen breasts in full view of the boys. The odour of unwashed vagina and stale ejaculate wafts through the thin dividing curtain.
"What yuh standin' round di house for? Yuh a big man now. Go out a street an' work!" he laughs, gold tooth glinting in the dull light. "Big man mus' bring home money."
BE A MAN
Be a man like him. Beating stick of the local area don. Extortionist. Pimp cane. Winding cable cords round windpipes till men throttle blue, and brown themselves. The death rattle. His friends come round and boast about it.
He slaps him on the bottom where lash marks eat like salt into fresh wounds. Then playfully kicks him through the doorway, like a donkey.
He says, "Nasty likkle bwoy. Ol' enuf to have sex an' breed up 'ooman. Yuh mus' look 'ooman!"
She says, "Tek Jamar wid yuh. Carry piece a bullah off di table. Doan figet di guinep."
He does not ever intend to leave Jamar behind. There is a well-spring of malevolence which heats up in fertile loins. It finds expression in eyes and in hands. It forms dirty words of abuse and hatred. It afflicts the man who looks upon the countenance of a child and does not see his seed stamped there.
He picks up the cardboard box and guides his little brother through the maze of narrow lanes and zinc fences. It is Saturday and Jamar is not at school. For his own part, he stopped going to school when he became a man.
Yesterday, after taking Jamar to school, he had left behind the seething mass of boxed-in lives. Layer upon layer of compressed lives producing more lumps of dirty black coal, hard as shit. Full of compacted hatred and violence.
For one brief moment, he was zigzagging along red dirt footpaths, skipping over white rocks in riverbeds, mist in his lungs. Sucking yellow cheeseberries from passing bushes, and inhaling the scent of green coffee; while on higher ridges, pine trees teetered towards the sky. Green parrots screeched noisily in flocks above, and solitary donkeys grazed peacefully below. Up there in the cool foothills of the Blue Mountains, shimmying down guinep trees that grow wild and free, pregnant with their natural bounty.
For one brief moment, he had forgotten his wounds. He had his fill and filled the box.
On the descent, looking over a precipice into the vacuous maw of Kingston, he had felt his life force ebbing away.
He does the math. Twenty bunches of guineps at $100 per bunch. Two thousand dollars is all he can make; assuming they sell. He knows and she knows. Yet she, every day, she sends him out.
He makes a quick calculation. Less traffic on the road today. Aim for the stoplight near the plaza. All along the way, people are selling guineps. Guinep fi stone dog. Guinep more than flour.
Busta is already there, car-chargers coiled like snakes in hand. He nods from the other side of the street. Busta is his protector, saviour from older youth who would steal his money, beat him up, kick him off the corner, or stab him to death.
The noonday sun bears down mercilessly like a ball of fire, burning his too-short pants. Khaki relics from nostalgic school days stained with guinep juice, sweat and something more sinister. He buys a bag filled with coloured syrup and gives it to Jamar, placing him under a bush for shade.
Women go past in expensive SUVs with shamefaced looks. They avert their eyes so they do not see.
He shouts: "Guinep, Miss? Hundred dollar a bunch!"
Words fall like rain on thick, dark glass.
Eventually, one rolls down.
"What you doing on the street?" she asks.
"Beg yuh, Miss. Mi have fi help mi likkle bredda. Mi cyaa go home til everyting sell."
He knows these kinds of women. They have rings on their fingers and guilt in their eyes. They have offered to take him to police stations and churches, missionary shelters, places of safety, and government homes worse than workhouses, where charred remains of children lie in burnt-out buildings.
"How old are you?"
"Very small for 12. You shouldn't be on the street."
She gives him $500.
"Keep the guinep. Sell it to somebody else."
Guilt money.Blood money. I-don't-know-what-else-to-do money.
(Five plus four. Nine hundred dollars).
Clouds gather on the horizon. Lightning streaks the sky. Torrential tropical thunderstorm. Typical. Cars splash up dirty water on the sidewalk. They shelter outside a frigid shop window. Diamonds glow warmly inside.
"Don't come in here, boy. You too dirty. We don't want no guinep!"
Two rain-lashed hours pass. Dusk gathers. The window of opportunity is closing.
(Five hundred. One thousand. Fifteen hundred. Sixteen hundred dollars).
A man stops a way off down the street and flashes his headlights. He knows these kinds of men. They smell of Old Spice and fresh kill. They inspect his teeth and skin like meat for sale on auction blocks.
These men never ask his age.
"That your little brother?"
"Not him. Only me."
"I will pay more."
"OK. Get in the car?
"No. Meet me 'roun' the corner. Give me $2,000 now."
These men never haggle over price.
Busta has gone. He crosses the street and leaves Jamar under an orange floodlight in the gas station. Attendants stand nearby.
"Stay here till I come. If anyting happ'n, run inside di shop an' bawl. Hide dis money inside yuh brief."
There is an open lot with short mango trees and tall guinea grass. Not a guinep tree in sight. Street dogs hunt here in packs at night.
Again, he remembers the time he almost choked to death.
"No. Don't bite down."
Lungs turn blue. Vision turns black. You cannot breathe.
Till his mother held him upside down and clapped his back.
For a while after that, she used to crack the seed, like they do for babies.
Now he cracks the seed, and everything turns gummy and rancid in his mouth.
Three nights ago, his mother's boyfriend had whipped him in full view of the entire yard. A length of electric cable from the illegal connection overhead.
"Mi watch when dis bwoy go a tylit."
Whop! Whop! Whop! Whop!
Stroke! Stroke! Stroke! Stroke!
"Him goin tun fish! Mi know from how him leg scrunch up an' bottom cock out funny."
Whop! Whop! Whop! Whop!
Stroke! Stroke! Stroke! Stroke!
"Nasty bwoy! I goin cut one tree cross yuh bottom!"
Jamar had watched from the doorway, sucking his thumb, belly distended, navel-bump protruding. He was not yet six and still wet the bed.
Eventually, his mother had stepped out into the charged night air and said:
"OK, Dessi. Lef him now. Is enuf!"
He could leave. He could run away and live like Ras Jubbi up in the bush. Mullet, janga, callaloo and yam; one herb patch and four lacatan.
He will never leave Jamar. He will defend what remains of his younger self.
He returns scorched and seething, pocketing the last $2,000. Jamar has not moved; sitting inside the cardboard box under the harsh glare of orange light. For all the world, an innocent babe wrapped in the luminous bubble of his mother's womb. He is eating the guineps because he is hungry. The seeds are not cracked. He could easily choke.
His brother's heart lurches out into the night with tiny tentacles to try and save him.
- Janine Josephs